Reading this week has been a stutter step–great or awful. A poet whose work I have long admired has, in the latest collection become a parody of his former self. He has gone from surreal and astonishing to shockingly obtuse and gritty. Gritty assand in the fried clams, setting my teeth on edge. I read about a third of the book and closedit firmly with a small epithet and plans to apologize to a friend who had warned me that this guy was not the real thing. Well, so much for the universal belief that poets ripen nicely as they age.
On the other hand, I read straight through Michael Adams’ Steel Valley. Mike is a Colorado poet whom I have heard read many times and whom I count as a friend. However, the chance to have his poems all to myself, absent the chit-chat and barista noise at poetry readings–well, that was shockingly good. I think it helps that I could hear Mike’s voice as I read, but had I never heard him, I would marvel at this work. The poems are vitally American, steel mills and mountain retreats. The language is wonderfully accurate and common. No trickery here. Honest witness to a man’s life that began in the steel mills and progressed westward to cleaner air and a loving appreciation of both.