The New Spirit
Hank Lazer
Singing Horse Paper, $14 (paper)

Jerome Rothenberg calls Hank Lazer’s The New Spirit “a crisis in search of resolution through language.” Invert this apt description and you have another, equally true: this is language seeking its dissolution through crisis, “to hear this / the exact metaphysics / of your historical moment of listening.” The painful personal events Lazer considers here—“that scene / his labored breathing”—are opportunities to examine and threaten the most basic structures one uses to frame the meaning of experience in order to “let through /. . . acolyte space / a few certain sounds . . . beckoning of attention / chasm of [that] opening inward / precipice.” As the “new” of the title suggests, this is not your typical, anecdotally derived ascent to epiphanic intercourse with spirit. It is instead a text that interrogates “what might be of use here in this country / of domesticated soul.” Lazer demands that “the singing in his heart” be “a quiet threat / to gods gathered in that odd margin,” using an eclectic mix of Heidegger, Hebrew terminology, and allusions to many writers of “opposing poetries” (to quote the title of one of Lazer’s excellent, exacting prose collections) to question even the rhetorical frames to which these references might denote allegiance, “breaking up compelled incorporation.” Lazer makes good on his threat to those “gods” and complicates the hierarchies that one may, consciously or unconsciously, fall back on and serve. Lazer even wryly dispels the notion that this collection might stand for anything more, or for any moment longer, than the breathed instance of speaking the words themselves: the “force /of the poetry the life . . . is only for now incarnate this way.” While Lazer extols instant-by-instant incarnating, he also suggests “savor” and “an unextreme attitude toward extremity” rather than a rush toward intensity for intensity’s sake. Teshuvah, a Hebrew word Lazer uses repeatedly—which can mean return, reply, repentant introspection—suggests a counterbalance to the title’s “new,” reminding that we must look back as well as forward to fully appreciate what is “possible in any breath.”