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This review is taken from PN Review 120, Volume 24 Number 4, March - April 1998.

LITTLE MIRACLES OF SADNESS JAMES GALVIN, Resurrection Update: Collected Poems 1975-1997 (Copper Canyon Press) $16.95

By adapting to his own vision the meditative and imagistic strategies of poets such as W.S. Merwin, James Wright, and Marvin Bell, the American poet James Galvin has created a body of work both recognizable and innovative. His deceptive simplicity has emerged as his primary strength, lending a subdued and taciturn atmosphere to Resurrection Update, which collects the poems from his four earlier books and adds a dozen new ones. Although Galvin 'was looking for a world / to walk into emptyhanded' ('The Small Self and the Liberal Sky') his style is not sui generis. But to label him an imitative poet would be to underestimate the achievement of many of these poems, the best of which are filled with 'little miracles of sadness' ('Druthers').

Although two sensibilities - meditative and narrative - recur throughout Resurrection Update, Galvin's meditative lyrics are more successful than his narrative poems, which too often employ lazy associative leaps or feeble attempts at humour. When the language lacks Galvin's characteristic tension, the poems, especially the prose poems from his first collection Imaginary Timber, can read like vignettes: 'Ray, my neighbor, was born in a claim shack that didn't belong to anyone, but Ray owned the whole mountain if owning means you don't have to share. He was twelve years old before he ever saw a stranger: a peg-legged fisherman working the ponds on Nigger Bob Creek.' ('On Sharing What We Never Had'). Galvin's lyric poems, on the other hand, are usually engaging, ...


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