By Reason of Breakings – Poetry Project 2003: First-Book Reviews

By Reason of Breakings – Poetry Project 2003: First-Book Reviews – Book Review

Adam Tarleton

by Andrew Zawacki

The University of Georgia Press, 2002 72 pages; $15.95 paperback

Andrew Zawacki’s ear for the percussive music of consonants and vowels is so keen that on a casual reading, one might mistake these poems for five-finger exercises in soundplay. Consider these almost-anapestic lines from “Lessons in Chiaroscuro”: “while love is lever / to movement and where its trajectory / ends, it never immerses in motion.” By Reason of Breakings is not a merely playful book, though; it is too fiercely intelligent for that. Though he belongs in the American metaphysical tradition of John Ashbery, Mark Strand, and, more recently, Dean Young, Zawacki is not content with misdirection, displacement, and tangled syntax, as are too many Ashbery mimics. His are human poems, constantly searching for “what will never be seen, never known at the edge of the eye.”

In prose poems and firmly crafted lyrics, Zawacki gleans the best from the worlds of the naturalist and the linguist, often in the same breath. His education (he has been a Rhodes and a Fulbright scholar) is apparent in the endnotes, where allusions range from the Bible and Aristotle to Yannis Ritsos and James Wright. Many of these poems employ the jargon of formal logic, but formal logic in Zawacki’s hands always curls and fractures, leaving uncertainty rather than syllogisms. Most impressive in By Reason of Breakings are the poise and assurance Zawacki maintains through the breadth of form and subject and through the labyrinth of statement and un-statement, a sign of his skill and intelligence as a poet.

Adam Tarleton was a finalist for the 2002 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Modern Poetry Association. He lives in Greensboro, NC.

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