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This review is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

AMERICAN LODESTONE GERALD STERN, American Sonnets (Norton) $12.95
JANE MAYHALL, Sleeping Late on Judgment Day (Knopf) $22

Gerald Stern's `American Sonnets' form a progression in the way that individual towns link up as one passes on a train. Each of Stern's poems, each American town, is distinct; they fall in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New York, Illinois-or are as particular as Lambertville, New Jersey, in `Spider', where a white spider speaks his New Jersey-ese: `How you like these threads... But how you like my steel? You like my window? / You like my big eye waiting?' The animals, the insects, the places-the recurrent motifs in these poems-inform the sequence as Stern keeps his `sonnet' cycle moving. The determined yet wistful voice in the first poem, `Winter Thirst', who announces, `I grew up with bituminous in my mouth' gives the series its momentum. The speaker moves on, `walking emptyhanded to the no. 69 streetcar / and how I dreamed of my bath and how the water / was black and soapy then and what the void / was like and how a candle instructed me'.

More `American' than `sonnet', these poems are songs driven by a particular sentiment. Nostalgia runs like a current through them. While the form Stern chooses (these `sonnets' run sixteen to twenty lines on average and he plays freely with metre) is atypical, poems like `The Inkspots', here in full, are typical of a sonneteer's economy and accommodation:

The thing about the dove was how he cried in
my pocket and stuck his nose out just enough ...


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