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This review is taken from PN Review 135, Volume 27 Number 1, September - October 2000.

NAMING PLACES, PLACING NAMES JOHN MATTHIAS, Pages: New Poems and Cuttings (Swallow)

'Finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of places were all you could say and have them mean anything.' So wrote Ernest Hemingway, famously in A Farewell to Arms. His sentences make a good introduction to the work of John Matthias, another midwestern Europhile, whose new collection Pages: New Poems and Cuttings is his first since 1995, when Swallow Press published Swimming at Midnight and Beltane at Aphelion, his collected poems in two volumes. In this collection, as in his earlier work, Matthias makes names, dates and numbers the backbone of his poetics. Rightly complaining that American poetry too often mires itself in the narrow world of workshop confessionalism, Matthias uses proper names, specific dates, and significant numbers to write away from the self, to travel through history, geography, and intertextuality.

The first of the book's three parts consists of a group of short poems (along with a few translations) in which Matthias, involving the powerful aura of names, places, dates, and numbers, revisits some of his habitual concerns: music, elegy, violence, and history. The names of the poems alone show the power of Matthias' attraction to the kind of language Hemingway praised. A few will suffice: 'Two in New York', 'Easter 1912 and Christmas 1929', 'Two in Harar', 'The Lyric Suite: Aldeburgh Festival, Snape'.

Doubles and diptychs abound in these poems, allowing Matthias to draw connections between apparently discrete ...


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