JONATHAN (SAMUEL (ABNER )
(IBID AND HIS “LAST WORDS”
There is no way of knowing.
The sheep loathe the deer.
The fox rushes hindward, excreting a jewel.
There is no departure.
The stream copes with the stone.
More is the mercy.
The two fawns stand frozen.
Their eyes are all pupil.
For example, the Bible.
Each song spectacular & nothing is new.
The pepper is speckled.
The dogmeat uneaten.
The pig but in whispers.
The logical principle guiding the fishes.
If we cast wide our nets.
The fecund present trembles at bowlrim.
I have lost the lust of the goat in my tweeds.
His “Last Words” forgotten, the night nurse was dozing.
The salt contains rice grains to soak up the moisture.
I would pinch out the candle.
We are morsels of worship.
The hour is elastic, the lifetime a gloss.
May I punish no innocent.
He who murders his mother will always kill others.
Justice is juicy.
Mercy a lemon.
The darkness total.
After death I will go where I was before birth.
The soul in a haycart.
It will wear the black bonnet of discipline.
It will wear the throat lace and the brooch that weeps.
Down fucking & wisdom & liquid & solid.
To crack its gorged egg.
The trumpet’s gold mouth will turn red.
The saxophone hung from the beard will straighten.
Then I will know my doctor, my surgeon.
For all the entities will be but events.
And the fossils will squirm in the limestone.
I will see through my flesh like saran.
These eyeballs. These teachings. These sperm.
The lure will splash and the line be invisible.
No immaculate marble, no nymph fixing sandal.
The clouds in their eulogies will lose track and vanish.
I will run the film of my life. Backwards for laughs.
The whiskers of strawberries, the clean-shaven snakes.
I will sit up suddenly in the casket’s satin.
The moment, the hung dot, the cough in the audience.
I have worn out my welcome.
Take my ring and my nose.
The brain is a furnace.
Is transformed and transforms.
I have soiled my solo.
In midair the lit dust is swimming.
Ten thousand times random and then once a Rose.
To the does the meek sheep seem savage.
Mostly it’s music.
The cello is oxblood.
It is no sin that the skin fits so tightly.
He is stiff, but a candle.
Unnamed goes the embryo.
How many eyeballs to fill this straw hamper?
The jellyfish dangle.
Unlucky chameleon, lime green in black cat.
You are dead but don’t know it, he said. Yet I heard him.
I gave God a lamb but He spat it out.
That was pre-logic.
Which is why I was born.
May my dog not avenge me.
The piano is open. The strings gleam in the lid.
Its lacquer looks famished. Gorged,
I climb in.
I CALLED THE COW
I called the Cow
and she came to me,
black and brown, she bowed
her smooth blunt head, and said,
“I am one of the dead,
who come and go like flowers,
who rarely speak your tongue,
and so you think us dumb
beasts, but we are not so,
we are trapped between death and life,
unable to want, or choose,
I have no dread, I have no name,
all my faces are the same
black or brown, with blaze,
I eat, I drink, I stand
in the shade of the one shade tree
and try, like flames, to think.”
MADNESS OF CHANCE
I loved my madness
but it wrecked my car,
and threw me through the windshield,
and the windshield was real,
but I lived,
and my madness pretended to suffer death,
so I buried him under
the pear tree, the pear tree in my head,
my face was all carved up,
and chickenblood spewed on the road,
roosters of chickenblood,
but I put my face
back in place, it was changed
but still mine,
and the paramedic offered me wine,
but I said No, wine
drives me mad, and his white coat
burst open with numerous
female breasts, each
squirting milk, and I said
No thanks, my god
you look soft, but
it would be mad to drink
from you, and the breasts
changed into penises,
and each penis was mine,
but I only had two hands,
for which I was glad, so I got
out of the ambulance and stood
at the roadside with my thumb
stuck out, and a stranger stopped,
stranger than most, so
I didn’t get in, and he said
What’s the matter? And I said
it would be mad to do this,
and then it got dark and it rained,
so I walked into the nearby town,
and had some coffee and cherry pie
at the counter, where the local cops
bragged about scaring the shit
out of this driver and that, and I said
Officer, I just crawled from a wreck,
just look at my shirt (it was stiff
with blood), and the blond one said,
Are you crazy, I’m on my break,
so I threw the hot coffee
in his face, and he dropped
to his knees and began to beg, and
said, Forgive me, Forgive me, now
I understand, and I walked outside
and the rain had stopped and the ribbon
of blacktop shined to my right and my left,
and I knew I had outlived madness,
and it made me feel a little sad, but
I got a ride in a Cadillac with a nice
old man with silver hair who disliked talk, so I
crawled into the back and all the way to LA slept
the sleep of those no longer mad.
I told them
when he said
the room’s too yellow
you are no eagle
or Trojan band
gold is not squealing
in your basket
THERE IT IS
There it is. Each thing.
Were it not beautiful
It would be invisible.
Even death, and its preferences.
Salt rock & lightwave.
Eels on the creamy seabottom.
Snow held by branch in balance.
Some suffering unbearable, borne.
The snowcrust lives on in the shade.
No matter matter. Or the weightless idea.
Where else but uterus
Which is galaxy’s proxy.
Spider, personless. Prey, pure.
Each leg with its own brain
Arousing the ovaries to rapture,
Rupture. Shapely the aftermath.
Death gags on its masterpiece.
The seed of the apple of the eye
Pierces the pupil. The sapling
Unwrinkles its branches in brain.
Death’s tongue retracts
From the uterus. Uselessly
Hangs from the hair. Of the lips.
Of the lover. Of the murder.
That backfired. Each nerve
In concert, alert. As foetus,
Fatal. The dog treats its bone
As though the bone had a soul.
If it were not beautiful
We could not see it.
In the light of morning.
In the dazzling interior sapling.
There it is.
that’s my splendor.
Every bowl of icy gravy I remember.
I have seen the ladle
rise and fall
from the icy cradle.
And when I am really feeling
like the paper on the ceiling
icy gravy does the healing.
The dried up fly
on the sill between the panes
is my birthstone.
When I eat
icy gravy I’m complete:
feet and brain
make one full baby.
All completeness I can know
I partly owe to icy gravy.
When I die
and all my birthstones
come to see my soul congeal
write this on the box of bones:
Here lies one who ate his fill
Of icy gravy every meal.
and the lime
and the peach
fall on black
death like bleach.
Singing Yet: New and Selected Poems
Although Rice’s first book in nine years includes work from three earlier volumes, it also stands as a whole. In a rare declarative moment (most of the poems are musical and evocative), the poet announces his stance: “we hang between two seemingly irreconcilable facts / the capacity to Sing & the inevitability of Death.” This traditional and dark metaphysical theme is thrust into the harsh light of the autobiographical real; the crucial event shaping the book is the death from leukemia of the poet’s young daughter, which occurred when Rice was a young man. Angry as Blake, who is both a formal and a philosophical influence, the poet confronts the “Experience” of death as his lamb-child confronts it through her “Innocence.” The poems move toward and into the horrifying event, and then away from it, as the author considers its consequences. Subject matter and metaphysics can be treacherous—the first fraught with the danger of sentimentality, the second with the potential for cliche. Rice succumbs to neither. Instead, he affirms the physicality of language and flesh, the “doctrine of perception as animal things defined.” And through affirmation, he acquires compassion and tenderness. This is serious stuff, urgent and original.
May 11, 1992
“High Note: Poet Stan Rice Remains In Fine Voice In Singing Yet”
The new and selected poems in Stan Rice’s Singing Yet forcefully resist
categorization. They are not shaped or mannered to fit in anybody’s idea of a school of poetry, and yet they are equally uninterested in being ingratiating to the reader who is ignorant of contemporary poetry.
The book brings together more than 100 poems (many of them in multiple parts) from three previous books, published in 1975, 1976 and 1983, along with substantial work from the past decade.
One of the pleasures of such a book is to see the concerns, sometimes even the precise words, that make up the continuity of a poet’s sensibility, as well as the evolution both of his struggle with his demons and of his own talent, his ability to make sense of, or at least rescue images from that struggle.
Rice’s ambition has clearly been to make considerably more interesting things than sense out of his experience, however. He has aimed for and in large measure achieved no less than song, from the opening of the book’s first poem: “All life / has song. Though the ear be sad / still it sings songs.”
The measured tone and reserve of those lines is deceptive though, for that poem, like so many of Rice’s, erupts into passionate imagery in between breath-catching moments of a sort of mocking calm.
Poems from Some Lamb, Rice’s second collection, include gut-wrenching laments, meditations and tirades on the death of a child, as moving and chilling as any work ever torn from that terrible experience. In the midst of it, Rice seems to touch bottom, but lightly; “Some night we will disappear; / A shock of glare, a flight of ears. / A wave will lure us out of here. / I write of nothing. / Nothing’s clear.”
The poems that follow in Some Lamb seem to represent a breakthrough poetically, a simultaneous easing up and bearing down. There are longer, lovewise pieces, as well as the magnificent six-part “Irrational Monologues,” in which the poet teases the idea of sanity. “Finally we come round to the art of common speech / as though in a canoe smoothly / past the black strawberries.”
In the poems from “Body of Work,” Stan Rice’s third collection, it becomes clear that his subject is, like Wallace Steven’s, the imagination itself, a theme not much in fashion in today’s poetry. Here, as in his new poems, Rice gives it all the human depth and humor required to make it presentable, but he is unstinting: “If you see that goat tell it / I have a color slide of the metaphor / of its death. I did not suffer madness. / I suffered facts. / And have the bloody photographs to prove it.”
He stretches out, as in the long development “Thunder & Rain,” which concludes: “And the rain is brain-colored. / And the thunder sounds like something remembering something.” Encountering an aggressive goose, Rice “felt the chill of the Actual / nearing . . . .”
Besides being increasingly quotable in his later work, a quality of voice emerges that is at once steady and relaxed – sort of heavy-lidded and unsurprisable, like certain French actors – but still drawn toward flashes of mad insight, sometimes laughing. The first poems among the new work all have these qualities, some disjointed, others tightly coiled and just as tightly controlled.
I will love you.
And you will have no say in the matter.
You will be sitting reading. I will step through the wall and take you by the ears.
Gold Latin will come out of your mouth.
Years will pass.
We will be old.
I will have loved you, against my nature,
no other being worthy,
thrown as I am on my own powers,
And as we sit together reading you will say
“Did you really love me?”
And I will be terrified.
If anything, the new work contains Rice’s most completely realized poems, small masterpieces like “I Called the Cow” and “The Madness of Chance” (“I loved my madness / but it wrecked my car . . .”), chancey but absorbing autobiographical rambles like “Time In Tool,” and a dozen short black comic riffs. Here, too, is an ambitious narrative poem, “Ndaaya,” based on an African oral poem. The book concludes with a jaunty dramatic monologue rescued from 1967.
Clearly a poet with much invention left in him, Rice has gone mostly undiscovered, even by the taste makers and poetry establishment, (the price of writing by his wits), as well as by the general public (the price of small press publication). But here, finally, is a handsome publication that sports an intriguing painting by the author on its dust jacket.
Stan Rice has lived in New Orleans for almost a decade now. Here is a chance to get to know his work, and, as it should be with good poetry, to be astonished.
New Orleans Times Picayune
July 5, 1992
“Struggling Through a Poet’s Life”
At times the poems in Singing Yet: New and Selected Poems, Stan Rice’s new collection, seem caught on an unending treadmill of pain, rage and fear of love that has its own power.
Rice’s writing doesn’t change much in style or content during the 15 years represented, although the last part of the book seems to demonstrate a brave intention to experiment, especially in two long pieces. The poems that soar differ from the flat or obscure in degree of success rather than approach: When Rice’s stream of consciousness flows with sufficient manic energy, they work. A few of them can only be called perfect, immortal.
These poems come, not surprisingly, from the section, Some Lamb, the searing account of the death of Michele, Rice’s 6-year-old daughter, of leukemia. The poet, struggling “to tell the tale,” is always watching himself making art out of life or, rather, death.
I want to make it be in words, because
to get the poem right
is to have another baby
while the real one dies.
He brilliantly depicts a hallucinatory landscape full of dangers, psychic and otherwise, and the place where no distinction between the two is valid. “If we were statues we would fear earthquakes. / Since we aren’t we fear everything.”
The title poem, “Some Lamb,” “The Sleep” and “The Last Supper” are too perfect to extract lines from; they must be read in their entirety. Their themes, madness, overkill, eating death, eating innocence, and being consumed in turn – the cannibalization of grief, the nourishing of violation – are echoed in the rest of the sequence in an amazingly fertile and sustained metaphor. “Eating It” states flatly, “Dread is what we can’t eat most. It tastes like ****, / It won’t stay down.”
The theme is continued – “Yet the banquet goes on” – growing ever more excessive. “Christ / how hot death’s adolescence is,” says Rice. The rest of Singing Yet reads like an attempt to pass beyond that fevered immaturity and reach some sort of artistic high ground.
Rice’s style veers up and back between surreal pieces that at their best have an authentic, struck-by-lighting voice and strenuously simplified lyrics, most of which don’t come off.
Whiteboy, which comes before Some Lamb in this volume, although it originally appeared a year later, contains such fine pieces as “I Ride the Flying Pig” and “Storming Out”:
A bucket rises with my body in it.
She looks in it and says, Well, there you are,
chopped up in little pieces, and sure enough,
no guts either.
At the other extreme of competence, he writes:
much black eyes closed
moonlight on olive cheek.
And Durer gasped on first seeing Inca sun
six foot wide gasped silver moon...
Body of Work, which appeared in 1983, is reminiscent of the first two books but without much of their vital force. Two notable exceptions are “The Actual” and “The Allnight Hamburger Stand in the Dangerous Neighborhood,” beginning, “The Murder Burger / is served right here.”
“New Poems (1983-1990),” the last section, seems to find Rice, using most of his old themes, attempting to move out of that death-ridden emotional adolescence. The speaker is seen,
waiting, as always,
for some event, in energy, in matter, in psychology,
in what exceeds,
to open my skull cap, grasp my brain
and place it, beating, on the table....
Then, as before addressing madness: “What you have given is what I’ve outgrown.” Yet “After the Massacre” moves beautifully, horribly, back to “the same lies.”
“Time in Tool,” a narrative poem of more than 10 pages, has the ominous echo chamber effect of a family struggling against odds to hold on to a precarious sanity. And in “Walking With My Son to the Creek in the Dark Which He Fears,” the speaker, although hovering between sentimentality and cliche, achieves a painful honesty.
In his most successful poems, Rice manages with rare success to summon and hold in tension “two seemingly irreconcilable facts, / the capacity to Sing & the inevitability of Death.”
San Francisco Chronicle
September 20, 1992
“A Silenced Lamb”
In 1960 Alfred A. Knopf Inc. published John Graves’ Goodbye to a River, a classic Texas
work of meditation on a passing way of life – a common theme in Texas letters. In 1992 Knopf has published – so far as I am aware – it’s first collection of poetry by a native Texan: Stan Rice’s Singing Yet: New and Selected Poems, a harrowing chronicle of the effects of a single passing away – a death in the family. Another beautifully designed and printed Knopf edition, Rice’s book features on the dust jacket a full-color reproduction of a painting by the poet: possibly a symbolic depiction of death raping innocence. This vivid and disturbing piece of art seems to relate directly to the central section of Rice’s collection, “Some Lamb” (1975), which is in two parts subtitled “During” and “After” and concerns the death of the poet’s daughter from leukemia. An excruciating, moving and even heroic series of poems, this section of Rice’s book represents a situation and its impact on the poet that may be characterized by a phrase from the collection’s final section of “New Work” (1983-1990): “I take the nursery rhyme into the slaughter house.” In many ways the poems from “Some Lamb” (with its epigraph from William Blake’s “Infant Sorrow” out of the Songs of Experience) pervade and permeate the rest of this powerful book, one of the most important collections of poetry ever published by a Texan.
Born in Dallas in 1942, Stan Rice was for many years at San Francisco State University as a professor and assistant director of The Poetry Center. One of Rice’s poems from the 1960's first appeared in the outstanding anthology, Quickly Aging Here(1969), and was then entitled “On the Murder of Martin Luther King” but is included in Singing Yet as “Whiteboy.” Section 3 of this piece recalls a practice from earlier years when, as the original subtitle has it, “The Young Texan returns to the Texas State Fair and sees the source of his racism sitting in a glass cage over a tank of water.” The object of this particular sideshow “attraction” was to dunk the “nigger” and “pay him back for his sensual blackness,” but he keeps “staring at you through the glass tank / like an animal that you can’t kill.” Section 2 of this poem was probably written before Rice’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, but it too, like the poems on her condition and its devastating effects on the poet and his wife, is about children, in this case “suave children black and brown” whose bodies are “full or echoes, / scary as Death in the ivy standing / knee-deep in the green ivy, / beating on the mouths of bottles with their palms, / grieving and smiling.” Despite the tragedy at the heart of Rice’s book, it contains writing that can bring smiles as well as grief, for the collection ultimately celebrates that fact that the poet is “singing yet.”
A lighthearted piece like “The Skyjacker” is told in the voice of a cowboy movie star: “I am carrying a pillow into the cockpit on which is embroidered / I am Tex Ritter. Howdy. / A calm falls over the cockpit. / The co-pilot takes off his extra ears and I tell them, / Relax. ... That this is not Eldridge Cleaver / This is Tex Ritter talkin / and ... We are going to Havana forever!” More representative of the book’s black humor is “The Allnight Hamburger Stand in the Dangerous Neighborhood” from Rice’s “Texas Suite”:
The Murder Burger
is served right here.
You need not wait
at the gate of Heaven
for unleavened death.
You can be a goner
on this very corner.
Mayonnaisse, onions, dominance of flesh.
If you wish to eat it
You must feed it.
“Yall come back.”
But certainly even such sinister humor is the exception, for Singing Yet is the agonizing equivalent of “the bust of my dead daughter in marble” that is being carved by the poet’s father-in-law in movement 7of the “Texas Suite.”
Many of the book’s central images and motifs are introduced in “Elegy,” the first poem in the collection. Written during the daughter’s illness, this piece is a very private acknowledgment that the speaker’s pain cannot be escaped but it is also an effort to face death through offering “Detail by detail / the living creatures.” Throughout Rice’s book there are wondrous poems on animals – cows, cats, birds, a “tragic rabbit,” a “goofy gold, ever hungering” dog who complicates the poet’s life (“I can’t move with you. / I can’t bear the guilt of getting rid of you”), and, in one very significant case, a dying goldfish. In this last poem of this same title, Rice contrasts an oriental philosophy that sees death “as a continuity” with his daughter’s goldfish resisting it “like crazy.” The poet seems torn between these two views, faced as he is with the expected death of his own daughter. Much of the tension in the book comes from Rice’s constant struggle with two opposing sides, two incompatible philosophies pulling him apart. In “Elegy,” enigmatic lines only hint at pain or provide frequently a type of existential consolation: “If I bleed I must exist / Only hanging hogs get kissed.” Since the daughter’s disease is one that often attacks the blood, death and blood are everywhere in “Elegy” and the penultimate movement of the poem, number 20, concludes with one of many references in the book to savage sacrifice. In a passage written some 20 years ago, Rice evokes the recent Los Angeles riots, ritualistic sacrifice and his own sense of personal ruin:
And Durer gasped on first seeing Inca sun
six foot wide gasped silver moon perceiving all men
had Craft & Giant Heart & who is savagery? Lost,
my friends, they took the metaphors literally, lost
in ramshackle moonlight kicking meat
the bus pulls up they stand in its headlights
the 7-Eleven manager cries out MUCH MUCH MUCH
my business is ruined ... ketchup, all the ketchup broken...
they didn’t want to eat anything they just wanted to have everything...
This same allusion to human sacrifice is employed by Rice in “Time in Tool,” one of the most impressive single poems in the collection. In this piece from the “New Work” section, Rice makes an oblique allusion to savagery while he and his parents are in a Dallas shopping mall: “The beauty and safety of the Mall is our forefathers’ gift.... The sun is setting but we are immune. / We / go down into / manpower, humor, debt. We look at shirts. / We buy shirts. This is the moment / the flint knife digs out / the jumping heart of the sacrifice / slave. Then we sit calmly on the lip of the planter, / fulfilled.” The scene here is reminiscent of sometime Texas poet Leon Stokesbury’s “Day Begins at Governor’s Square Mall,” which may also suggest how shopping in the artificial confines of a mall has become a savaging form of escapism. Rice’s use of the mall, however, is more resonant in that it recalls the book’s many references to sacrifice, all deriving from the poet’s own personal attachment to an innocent victim.
Other images and motifs central to “Elegy” and to Rice’s later poetry concern eating: of flesh, by shadows, “a white moth” by a frog, “the gypsy’s dream” consumed by the lion in the Rousseau painting. Lamentation and bloodletting, “filthy grave” and “much morgue” are motifs that combine with details from life that, according to an old Japanese, cannot be ignored, in order for “godly sperm” to leap “from silkworm.” Again, a type of existentialism enters the poem: “No joy is merely a handhold on something less. / What it squeezes, it is.” Squeezing, bleeding, meat, eating, cannibalism and death are image-motifs around which Rice’s poems revolve, creating in a kaleidoscopic technique the heart-rending grief at the loss of a loved one but also achieving a deeply felt philosophy for survival.
A number of the poems confront the impending death of the daughter by seeking to recount the experience as it happens. Although later in “Time in Tool” the poet will confess that “it is not clear when autobiographical data should be suppressed,” in the earlier “The 29th Month” the speaker declares “ I want to make it be in words, because / to get the poem right / is to have another baby / while the real one dies.” In another poem from Part I of “Some Lamb,” entitled “Trying to Feel It,” the speaker again attempts to endure the experience through writing: “So I write this. So I / Try to give birth. Me, / a man.” In poem after poem, the poet peers unflinchingly into the jaws of his daughter’s death, as in a piece named after her, “Michele Fair,” which elaborates the imagery of death feeding on the young girl, even as it concerns how “Naked Knowing” is “the Substance Beast” that “keeps check on me / To see that I have fed it me / Just as policemen like to see / A proper show of humility in those they rule.” The most horrifying vision of innocence eaten is in “The Last Supper,” with its image of a child like a watermelon dropped on concrete by the “crusher of children,” the “Baby-eater.”
Along with such oppressive but artful pieces in Part I, there are, among others, two magnificently uplifting poems that even as they register the horror of the loss record a visionary coming to grips with life and death: “Only two choices / To stress: go on, or give in.” In “Testimonial” the occasion of death has heightened the poet’s senses, as it always does, and the poem manages to capture the paradoxical nature of this desolating yet maturing experience: “My capacity for belief increased / As my number of beliefs diminished ... I care so much / I don’t care any more.” The poet discovers that “Nothing mattered therefore / But the ambivalence of accurate / Illusions: art.” For Rice the function of his own art is to employ verbal charms as a magic ritual of exorcism. And yet what is involved in the four sections of “Incanto” – which begins with an allusion to Blake’s dichotomy of lamb/tyger (“Time / hath made off with the last lamb left”; “Which tyger shall eat the reflection?”)–is that the poet brings about a wedding of “Clarity & Vividness, both miracles,” by simultaneously describing the death scene in all its overwhelming detail and by asserting that “If I’m to go on / the terms of the slaughter must be known,” that such “cannibalism” of a precise art’s clarity is necessary for there to be “No more death.” Ultimately the poet believes that “To write this right is to cope with the corpse.”
The second part of “Some Lamb” deals with “After,” which engenders repeated and painful remembrance, drunkenness, guilt, loss or marital love (“Her thighs are tight. / My cock’s no cure”), insomnia, and, in the next section (“Body of Work”), near madness, as the couple “Now in disquiet / . . . slowly, slowly thrive / On what [their] luggage closed upon and ate.” However, even in these poems the poet is “singing yet,” as the last line of “Singing Death” affirms. And in “Anne’s Curls” the poet overcomes his guilt feelings – “Maybe / if I’d sought out a better doctor in Houston / Mouse would’ve lived longer. / Like you wanted to. Every / death’s a murder. A million maybes” – and arrives at a new understanding of his relationship with his wife: “To die of fear of revealing yourself / to the person who loves you is murder.” In the “Body of Work” section the poet has survived the “wreckage of remembering . . . Burying the never-to-beforgotten bone” and is now “Singing along with the wrecking ball.” Here he recovers “Tenderness” in the poem of that title: “To learn not to hate the original tenderness / that rendered you helpless.” At this point the poet seems to return to his childhood and to rediscover the thrill of sexual difference in “What Happened in the Hallway.” And even though he can still experience a death wish, as in “The Fishing,” the final movement of his “Texas Suite” –
Again I ache to slide from my body.
The lures lie naked in the tackle box.
I envy them. Above me the [electric] tower to which I am tied
is “singing.” I slip over the edge of the boat
into the cold water and wait
for one of the gods to take me by the hair
and pull my body off me like a nightgown
–in “Madness: Fullgrown” he can announce:
“Madness . . .
we have been, we have done.
What you have given is what I’ve outgrown.”
There are so many profound and finely constructed poems in Singing Yet (like the Whitmanesque “America the Beautiful” in which the poet pledges allegiance “this time to the vivification of our lost Body Politic, / nerves and follicles and arteries / ablaze in the suaveness of night”) that it is impossible to cover even a fourth of this collection, which runs to 226 pages. The sound and sense of even a shorter piece like “How Keep Dark and Pattern Off” cannot be appreciated unless the complete poem is reproduced. For me one of the most amazing pieces remains “Time in Tool,” a more prosy narrative–than Rice’s tighter lyrics–that builds cumulatively through 11 pages of “the most mundane things” to ask several crucial questions, such as “How is it possible to know when to stop remembering things?” Something of an urban version of Rice’s more nursery-rhyme-like pieces, with their often grim reminders of the cruelties visited on the innocent, “Time in Tool” defines to some degree its own masterful achievement.
“Though the tone wanders
the intent is song.
Sometimes it may sound like the cowboy song of a child.”
As a volume of selected poems from a major publisher, Stan Rice’s Singing Yet stands as a monument to the truth of the poet’s own life and writings as a proclaimed in the first four lines of this compelling book: “All life / has song. Tho the ear be sad / still it sings songs. / Men cannot be so gone.”
The Texas Observer
October 2, 1992