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Alkali, by Craig Dworkin. Counterpath, 130 pp., $18.

Missing the Moon, by Bin Ramke. Omnidawn, 101 pp., $17.95.

Craig Dworkin's Alkali feels like the bastard child of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian geologist Charles Lyell, Darwin's friend, by way of Utah's Great Basin. Clark Coolidge is the tutelary master here, cited in an epigraph, a dedication, and several of the notes along with Derrida, Ponge, Bataille, Proust, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, the English art historian and theorist T.J. Clark, and a soupcon of vintage texts of natural history. Dworkin's ear, however, is finer than Coolidge's, and it's the ear that sets this collection apart. What Dworkin attempts is a tuning of the ear--the ear of the language, of language itself--to geology's refracting and refractible resonances. Dworkin's true metier is the philosophy of language, which imbues this volume with a sense of profound interposition, language settling into the crevices of a landscape Ponge never knew, into frankly gorgeous postures Hopkins nevertheless would recognize: "the martelling peen" "the lacquering staunch" "A wake of grain eddies from the lathes."

Bin Ramke's restless, particularizing intelligence orbits contemporary American poetry, these days most surprisingly and effectively in scientific and philosophical registers. Missing the Moon ranks (in spite of the cute title) with Tendril among Ramke's most ambitious works. Wild swings of idiom and diction are now standard in American poetry, but few accomplish these with as much high-wire intellectual panache: reading this is what reading John Ashbery might feel like if Ashbery's day job were as a research physicist. Etymologies, the Bible, Japanese landscape screens, the 20th-century avant-garde composer Giacinto Scelsi, differential geometry, Tristan Tzara, the early history of the periodic table--all achieve brief, glittering apotheoses amid the vortex of the speaking I and its intimate, autobiographical traces. Ramke is perhaps our only contemporary poet (with a dutiful nod to the late, lamented Jorie Graham of the 1990s) who can subtitle a poem "(Hilbert's twentieth problem, an elegy)" and mean it. This is the most intoxicatingly intelligent collection of verse I have read in recent years, more opulent and less severe than, say, Miroslav Holub. When Ramke insists (in "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis") that "Air takes its shape from gravity, its edge," I find myself holding my breath, while the world we think we know shifts slightly towards some truer guise.

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Title Annotation:Marginalia: Recommendations from Our Editors; Missing the Moon
Author:Waldrep, G.C.
Publication:West Branch
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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