Pennyweight Windows: New and Selected Poems
by Donald Revell
Alice James Books, $18.95 (paper)

To read this selection from Donald Revell’s twenty-plus years of making poems is to witness the evolution of both an individual poet and the poetics of an entire era. These are poems that mine solitary landscapes and mindscapes in search of something solid and real only to find fragments of self, loved ones, politics, God. Little holds still long enough to be known. In “Belfast,” a meditation in terza rima from Revell’s first book, From the Abandoned Cities (1983), the poet writes, “Go north any way and sadness clings to the ground / like fog. The sound of voices goes wrong and can’t / be followed.” In a more recent poem, “A Green Hill Far Away,” in lines of shifting syntax and sense, he asks, “Was cleverness ever spared a broken heart / Because of cleverness?” Throughout his writing life Revell’s concerns have remained fairly constant, but his means of getting to them has varied widely. The traditional forms and regular lyrics of his early books slowly give way to radical experimentation and poems that approach “an outside of language that is not silence.” By his seventh book, Arcady (2002), Revell’s poems go so far as to crack their own sentences, lines, and words into pieces, as in “Hymnal”: “Do not THI / NK / Me / Mean / Spirited as the cars / ARISE.” In My Mojave (2003) and his newest poems, he seems to have stepped back from that precipice in favor of holding onto what he can: “The work of poetry is trust,” he tells us, and elsewhere, “I make no argument / I ache only for silence just one / With nothing to forgive.” Like any good agnostic, Revell both believes and does not believe in language and in what lies before him: “By faithlessness alone faith / Is earned. Walking through the pine woods here in Alabama / I am not walking at all. I am simply / Handed from oracle to oracle.” Revell has come out on the other side of his life and his life’s work thus far with much to celebrate.