A phenomenology of ignorance: Keith Waldrop’s Selected Poems

Daniel E. Pritchard in Drunken Boat:

ScreenHunter_2064 Jun. 29 15.23In “Six Further Studies,” which lies near the midpoint of Keith Waldrop’sSelected Poems (Omnidawn, 2016), the poet writes of a sundial that “does not, in the modern sense, ‘keep’ time, but celebrates its flight, its recurrence, its brightness.” It’s an apt metaphor for Waldrop’s own poetry, which over the course of half a century has not so much attempted to capture and communicate experience as to examine many modes of experience, the cyclical movement of being, awareness itself, and the experience of being aware of one’s own awareness, which cannot itself be fully explained or revealed, only constantly re-imagined.

Waldrop’s exceptional erudition is evident from the very first pages, not only from the innumerable allusions nested in his verse but also, far more clearly, from the interplay of ideas. The poems have been selected and arranged by the author and his wife, the equally accomplished poet Rosemary Waldrop. Together, the two have directed Burning Deck Press, an essential publisher of experimental poetry, for more than four decades. They approach the daunting editorial task of culling five decades of verse into a single, manageable volume each with a lifetime of experience, and it shows. The poems are grouped by the collection in which they first appeared, but they aren’t sequenced in strict chronological order, as is so often the case. Instead, the groups are arranged in an almost argumentative structure. The sequence builds and diverts, connecting common styles and themes, in a fashion not unlike a playlist.

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