September 6, 2007

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Broken World, by Joseph Lease (Coffee House Press, 2007, 66 pages)
Reviewed by Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

Joseph Lease’s new book is a modernist mess, on purpose one supposes, but that doesn’t make it any better. Like Eliot or Whitman, Lease is as interested as the spaces between the lines and the line arrangement as the words themselves. But unlike those masters’, Lease’s poems just feel fractured and incomplete, like outlines of poems that are not yet fully formed. The overwhelming attention paid to form left me spending too much time trying to figure out how to read the poetry. For example, in “Prayer, Broken Off,” the first line is “a stain of faded storm light in my hand.” The image and word selection is fine, but Lease mangles the form. The line is in italics, is all lowercase letters, is broken into two lines and begins indented to the far right side of the page. Why? In poem after poem, Lease is never content to let the words speak. The excess line breaks and visual disturbances feel like the desperation of a poet out of control.

The second half of the book, a long series of poem snippets and fractures, each titled “Free Again,” is even more frustrating. One of the hallmarks of today’s modernist school is white space — less is more. But Lease goes beyond creating a unique cadence. It’s like Broken World works so hard to break free from traditional poetic form that it forgets about making sense. D — Dan Szczesny