JUNE/JULY 2006
A review of

Hapax

by A. E. Stallings

Central question: Can haiku keep pace with twenty-first-century life?
Format: 92 pp., paperback; Size: 6-1/8" x 8-1/2"; Price: $14.95; Publisher: Northwestern University Press; Editor: Susan Betz; Print run: 1,000; Cover design: Paul Perlow; Interior design: Marianne Jankowski; Typeface: Sabon; Author composed opening Latin lyrics for: The Sum of All Fears, starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman; Poetic forms featured: Sonnets, couplets, blank verse, haiku, Sapphics, and limericks; Book’s title is ancient Greek for: “once, once only, once and for all” and “onceness”; Representative lines: “You who are both Orpheus / And She he left in Hell.”

The first line of “Aftershocks,” the first poem in Hapax, reads: “We are not in the same place after all.” And indeed, the rest of this highly polished second collection of verse by A. E. Stallings bears out that realization by offering new, and occasionally daring, plateaus from which to see traditional poetic forms used to engage the complex and protean nature of contemporary life. For instance, her remarkable sonnet “On the Nearest Pass of Mars in Sixty Thousand Years” begins with a classically appropriate apostrophe, directly addressing the red planet as the eponymous Roman god of war. “War or Strife—yes, you were always painted / Incarnadine, hematic, flushed with passion.” But by the poem’s end she is not praising some Roman ideal with a familiar, all too familiar teary-eyed bark of cultural inheritance (or disinheritance). Rather, a mood of skepticism has overtaken her. She can neither care much for Rome’s “created / Gods and goddesses of loathing, doting,” nor the “telescopes that taper into nothing” that offer these gods as galactic objects and astronomical events—grand because so says science, but “nothing we can treasure,” nothing that affects our lives.

This shade of skepticism is a mark of Stallings’s voice and lurks always beneath her allusive poise. It also helps to know that, for Stallings, the classical allusions are not showy pretense but spring from her own experience—she lives in Athens, Greece, and studied classics at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Such prolonged immersion in the facts and fictions, the legacies and ruins, of the ancient world allows a graceful note of irreverence to enter her verse, a note of a piece with her immersion within, and familiarity with, the ancient world.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Milton L. Welch

Milton L. Welch is moving to Raleigh, N.C., to join the faculty at NC State.

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