by Barbara Claire Freeman,
Counterpath Press, $14.95 (paper)
Pragmatic philosophy and the lyric are equal stakeholders in Incivilities, a collection whose power to depict the zeitgeist rivals the iconic image making of Dorothea Lange. Barbara Claire Freeman’s stern locutions are tempered by an epistolary plaintiveness—“Promise to write a promise in a script / that cannot be deciphered lest those who read / reject their fate”—and folded within a poetic discourse on, in the words of John Cassidy, “how markets fail.” The result: lines that make one flinch. “Perhaps money makes us human . . . debts unpunished in this world / can’t be forgotten in the next.” Freeman borrows bits of speeches and correspondence from American forefathers and spins them into poetry; this spells a second life for the lyric, one that supersedes and is yet discomfitingly inextricable from the obvious failings of our current time, namely violence, inflation, and greed. Here, hope that the future may more closely align the ugly realities of our capitalist system with representative democracy is an outgrowth not of “the whoosh and twist of things we called idiom” but of, paraphrasing Freeman, the tightening of sentences—precision of thought. Freeman, whose concerns include remembering the Romantic ideal of authenticity in an age of charlatanism (“Beware of solvents, counterfeit spirits, / the fragrance of honey”), hazards a unity of vision beyond the vagaries of weather by tracing the architectonics of an interred republic. That she does so amid eco-political devastation makes her work all the more remarkable and necessary.