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This review is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

IN POE TERRITORY PAUL BRAY, Terrible Woods: Poems 1965-2008 (Dos Madres Press) $22.50

The American poet Paul Bray writes with a literary historian's fascination for collection and the marvellous, for exploration and discovery, and for the nineteenth century. His Terrible Woods: Poems 1965-2008 opens in Poe territory, in what one would imagine as the very dreary library of Roderick Usher. But this isn't 'the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year', it is instead a mystical and alchemical place where obscure books gather dust together:

Secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae.
A somewhat corrupt Refutation of Newton by
Polypus. Lodowick Muggleton's On Human
Mirrors. Borinski von Moellendorff's mute reply.

Melanchthon's De Anima. Lohenstein's Blumen.
Von Gryphius' Guide for the Young Catechumen...

It's a list poem, which includes the kind of secret/sacred texts that Victor Frankenstein - whose own library included Paracelsus, a quote from whom opens Bray's book, and Cornelius Agrippa - would have admired and studied en route towards his creative effort. The poem is in free verse quatrains, almost every line enjambed (if not hyphenated), with an aaba, bbcb, ccdc rhyme scheme. All of this builds and pushes the list towards its closing, carnivalesque, one-line stanza: 'Compiled by a dwarf and a deaf monomaniac.' There's a playfulness throughout, which at its weakest moments devolves into silliness, but always has a sense of another era: not a nostalgia but a reminder of some of the nineteenth century's most important themes and ideas. This is ...


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