Atomic Field: Two Poems

Nicholas Christopher, Author, Andre Bernard, Editor Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $23 (112p) ISBN 978-0-15-100553-6
All the old obsessions--stars, ice, girls, lost eras--are rekindled in Christopher's seventh book of poems. Two long poems--""1962"" and ""1972""--make up the entire collection, defining the poles of a decade in 90 page-long lyrics (45 per year). The whole might read like a Blakean ""Songs of Innocence and Experience"" were it not so tonally bland, a monotony emphasized on both sides of this rite of passage by each poem's single-page, single-stanza composition. Most stack up images that culminate in an epiphany. Many are sexy (""smoking blond hash in a Pyrex pipe--/ smoke the color of the moon's aureole--/ I unbutton your ankle-length tie-dyed dress"") and appealingly quirky (""where the numismatist / when he is not in his tiny shop / where every cabinet is always kept locked / cultivates the hydraponic tomatos from Egypt / and orchids from Java""). Others revel in a grotesque burlesque, summoning a hometown troupe that includes limbless freaks, morticians and gypsies. Christopher has ample moves to cut a lyrical rug, whether ruminating on an aqua-powered Hydromobile where a family donning space suits in 2162 are ""filling the car's fuel tank with a garden hose"" or documenting the dread of suburban ennui where a housewife prepares a meal ""for the bearded man naked/ under a quilt dotted with cigarette burns/ on a sofa with no legs, Daffy Duck on the portable/ television inches from his sleeping face."" But too many of the poems end statically on words like ""cold,"" ""nothing"" and in references to a cosmos both desolate and tired.There is a mythic, Ritsos-like ambition here, but the nostalgic quotidian of a decade joining the poet's adolescence and adulthood fails to generate the requisite sparks. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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