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by Rachel Loden,
Ahsahta Press, $17.50 (paper)
Richard Nixon’s eponymous reappearance in Rachel Loden’s long-awaited second collection (after 1999’s Hotel Imperium) signals neither masochistic nostalgia nor literary necrophilia. Rather, it suggests a Joycean awareness that the collective, national past haunts the present more than we consciously realize: “the body // politic, turning over / in its drooling, disappointed // sleep.” With remarkable craft and craftiness, Loden draws on her wide knowledge of history, politics, the poetic canon, and pop culture to create Vulcanic fusions (in both mythic and Spockish senses) that sizzle with rueful, subversive humor as they seduce with lyrical grace: “Why does the market swoon, dropping a hanky? / Investors have priced in a quick, successful war, // and if a hospital ship sails out of Baltimore / it must be filled, it cannot come home empty.” This is poetry Mort Sahl would love, whether or not he identified Loden’s intricate, often subtle allusions to Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Duncan, cult movies, and Seinfeld, or recognized her finesse with modified terza rima and the villanelle. The titles alone—“Cheney Agonistes,” “Sympathy for the Empire,” “A Quaker Meeting in Yorba Linda”—would lure him in. Where most poets relinquish political discourse to the ever-expanding empire of Critical Theory, or forsake the recurring historical meta-moment in favor of localized, transient events, Loden takes pains to discern and preserve the mysterious irony of circumstance and the last “broken century,” with its “apronful of monsters,” that brought us to this place in time.
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