Ask the Fact

The Revisionist

by Douglas Crase
Little, Brown, 85 pp., $10.95; $5.95 (paper)

The Everlastings

by Norman Dubie
Doubleday, 78 pp., $6.95; $4.95 (paper)

The poets who mean the most to us are those who tell us about what we cannot see by reason of its very proximity. What we look for in the voices of young poets is news of the freshest modifications of our consciousness. Some of the interest our friends (and our lovers) have for us seems to lie in their ability to tell us things about ourselves we could not otherwise have known. While poems can hardly take the place of friends, it does not seem right for friends entirely to take the place of poems. The man who would know himself will not wish to forgo either.

Of course, only the strongest and most intuitive poets (like friends) can provide us with real insights about ourselves; we are anxiously looking for them, for only they have the power, by showing us the way we live our lives, to enable us to change. So we scan the emerging poets of this country for signs “of the metaphysical changes that occur

Merely in living as and where we live,” to use Stevens’s phrase. What we find mostly, of course, is evidence of changes in the models used for imitation. The best of our young poets, however, show us the various paths open to the contemporary mind.

The disconcerting quality of Douglas Crase’s poems seems to lie in their straightforwardness. Crase states even his most peculiar propositions in a tone so matter-of-fact that one is likely to be caught off guard, forced to retrace one’s steps to grasp the import of some seemingly unarguable statement. The self in Crase’s poems does not make its own performance the matter of the poem, does not indulge in gestures trying to expose or erase the self. Even Crase’s “I,” because it addresses a “you” at once personal and extended, seems to take on that extension, and present us not with opinions, but with statements of fact. Statements of imaginative fact, to be sure, but information, nevertheless, delivered in a broad summarizing way that tends to submerge peculiarities of voice and viewpoint.

The intense and steady concentration with which Crase grasps and works at his subject suggests attention to the Emersonian admonition to “Ask the fact for the form.” Crase seems to give us the energy of thought brought directly to utterance:

Nothing is ever over in a place like this, which is one
Of the reasons why people come to look at it. As an
Exhibit the waterfall is naturally unsurpassed: part of
Its fascination must be in the way it demonstrates how
An event can be still permanent when it depends for its
Definition on continually going over the edge….

The revisionism that Crase announces in his title lies in his attempt to read, in the “sediment of history,” the crucial points of contact between the past and our own situation. Crase has an exact sense of the pressures of historical time and cultural place, neither diminishing those forces …

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