Handsel Books, 2002 (ISBN 1590510208)
In lesser hands, what Daniel Bosch attempts in his first poetry collection, Crucible, might seem like a series of bad experiments by Introduction to Poetry students. However, the former poetry editor
for Harvard Review goes at it with flare, enthusiasm, and consistency. Bosch sets about the task of recreating voices and styles of others, often in tribute, while adding just enough of his own personality to make these poems explorations rather than approximations.
For the most part, the poems in Crucible are formal, with some sort of predetermined rhyme at the end. They flow neatly from form to form (or from honored poet to honored poet), sometimes owing a great deal to many authors at once. This is especially true of the title poem, "The Crucible," a sort of Beat-style cut-up piece using only titles from various books melded together to form lines, stanzas, the entire work:
Marry me. Far from the maddening crowd, the possessed
Bang the drum slowly against interpretation,
Pale fire, men and women, labyrinths, the best
Short stories of 1988, civilization
Much of the first two thirds of the book involves poems directly in tribute to the older works, including such titles as "Homage to Christopher Smart," "Invitation to Ms. Jorie Graham," and "In Memory of Derek Walcott," while others are subtitled with a dedication such as "after Emily Dickinson" for "The New Life" and "In memory of Joseph Brodsky" for "Home Thoughts from Aboard Continental Flight 94." This piece especially shows the skill with which Bosch uses form and voice to capture not only the past as others saw it but also his version of the present:
Over the palm-lined, blue Pacific
Cruise ships proud as banks
Wink as I look down
On the land of the swank.
Oh, to be over America!
Where flight attendants' prose
Lulls the savage child
In each of thirty rows,
Bosch, it seems, must have multiple personalities, or else a masterful ear for the peculiarities of other voices. Not just famous poets, either. In one of the collection's most remarkable poems, "BAM!," he captures the voice of an angry young woman heard perhaps in some public place:
. . .Don't be askin'
Me where I fuck'n been 'n
Shit. 'Cuz I'm like, fuck, "Do I
Know you?" I'm like, "If you ain't
Got fuck'n anything to
Say, don't say fuck'n nothin'."
Although Bosch copies and reinvents so well, the final section of the book, called "Passion Fruit," proves his skill as a poet in his own right. It consists of fourteen poems about different types of fruits, with simple titles like "Apple," "Cherries," and "Mango," providing interesting portraits as with these lines from "Grapes":
Double you. These smaller twins
Have no stems
But, upon reflection, cling like family,
Of venial sins.
These poems present the author's case for why his work should be read, offering a unique take on a simple subject like Picasso painting a bowl of fruit.
Recommendation: Bosch's Crucible lays out a Sunday buffet of styles, themes, reflections, and representations of the past. What seems important though is that the author achieves this in a way that never comes across as hackneyed, bland, or merely an exercise. In fact, often the poems in Crucible sing with the clarity of blues songs from the 30s digitally remastered for the modern age. If you follow exclusively the cults of Ashbery or Collins, this book might not appeal to you. Otherwise, it makes a valuable read. Give it a shot.