A review of

Pennyweight Windows

by Donald Revell

Central question: Can a lonely scholar, a spiritual puzzlemaker, and an open-hearted family man coexist in the same poet?
Format: 240 pages, simultaneous paperback and cloth; Price: $18.95 paper, $26.95 cloth; Size: 6" x 9"; Print run: 3,000 paper, 300 cloth; Publisher: Alice James Books; Typeface: Scala; Editor: April Ossmann; Designer: Mike Burton; Sponsor for Alice James Books: University of Maine, Farmington; Title of poem about Amtrak or Metro-North service: “The Northeast Corridor.” Title of poem about mystical death and rebirth: “Light Lily Lily Light Light Lily Light”; Representative sentences: “A leaf is the shape of God/ Torn apart./ A father has no face after.”

Donald Revell’s spectacular new-and-selected amounts to three very good poetry books for the price of one—the first by a dejected urbanite who thinks he’s watching America, and his own private life, slowly collapse; one by a maker of puzzles, mazes, and spells; and one by an open-hearted, charitable, mystically inclined father, husband, and Christian believer who cherishes southern Nevada. I’d recommend any of those three on their own; the trio is irresistible.

Revell spent his early years watching urban decline; born in the Bronx, he attended graduate school in Buffalo, where he wrote about John Milton and John Ashbery. The Gaza of Winter (1988) reflected the elaborate syntax of those authors; the gloomy tenor of the Reagan-era Rust Belt; and an unmatched skill with consecutive abstractions. “Birthplace” called the Bronx “A place to be used, impossible really to love/ except as a thing survived, a scar.” The same poem made its neighborhoods an index for much larger disappointments: “These metal awnings,/ these Virgins tilting beside the failed trees and ashcans,” Revell’s verse argued, “pronounce the end of an idea: that people,// given the raw materials and time,/ will shape a place to their needs.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt is a Reform Democrat. He teaches at Macalester College in Saint Paul. (His books are Popular Music, a collection of poems, and Randall Jarrell and His Age.)

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