The American Ruin and the C&O Canal
My review of Francis Raven’s The C&O Canal (Publishing Genius, 2009) has just been published in the August issue of The Chapbook Review. Here’s the penultimate paragraph:
In many ways, Raven’s text displays attributes of what Stephen Burt has recently called the “New Thing” (his May/June 2009 Boston Review essay has sparked much lively discussion throughout the blogosphere), a recent tendency in contemporary poetry that represents, unlike the elliptical poetry of the 90s, a turn to reference, a focused attention on facts and things. New Thing poetry is restrained, unornamented, and concise—as is The C&O Canal. But according to Burt, the New Thing poem “finds, and emulates, some permanence” and aspires to the state of durable inscription. Raven’s poem, however, is more complicated as it assumes its own ephemerality even as it strives for a New Thing-like accuracy; the prefatory note ends with the claim that “[t]hese poems are a bit like those ruins, falling apart, but factually accurate.” And the poem proper begins with this compressed, assonantal rhyming couplet:
by the time the words reached
they were obsolete //
Raven reminds us of the noncoincidence between sign and referent—that his words will always be falling away from the object which they are supposed to represent. Yet, in a curious twist, this recognition of obsolescence, in fact, reinforces a correspondence between obsolete thing and obsolete text, between the C&O Canal and The C&O Canal.
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