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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

AMERICAN NORM CHARLIE SMITH, Heroin and Other Poems (Norton) £8.50 pb
JEFFREY HARRISON, Feeding the Fire (Sarabande Books) $12.95 pb
DIONISIO D. MARTINEZ, Climbing Back (Norton) £8.95 pb

It is some time now since poetry in America last appeared to be guiding itself according to the dictates of grand debates or programmatic statements. One of the interesting things about these three volumes is the various ways in which they respond to their existence within a milieu that is best characterised as a sort of placid chaos. The three authors have all published a couple or a handful of previous volumes, and they can all produce an impressive list of journals in which their poems have been placed. Each of them seems to be at a stage in his career where he should be wanting to produce the work that will define his stance, yet these volumes are all, in different ways and with different results, afflicted by a certain nebulousness of purpose. The poems are often admirably proficient, but they are diminished by a general overdependence on influences and by what appears to be as much a refusal as a failure to be fully distinctive. It is almost as if, in the absence of compelling momentums, American poetry has succumbed to a sort of herd instinct.

Charlie Smith's Heroin is a highly accomplished, even suave collection of poems. The title poem, which also opens the volume, is a reminiscence of the speaker's past experiences as an addict of the drug and, as he is winningly able to add, 'one of the few who tended cattle'. The sonorous nostalgia with which the effects of the drug ...


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