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Invisible Horses.

In her eleventh collection, Invisible Horses (Milkweed Editions, 1997, $12.95), Patricia Goedicke once again displays her talent for writing poems that reveal that rare combination of formal, intellectual, and imagistic vigor. Her subjects include the nature of the sell particularly that odd, sometimes tenuous, relationship between the mind and the body, and the nature of language as an expression of the self. These are the poems of the thinking body, of "what the skin knows" ("What the skin knows"), of "crows falling from a brain sky/full of holes" ("As in a Cage," "Ten Billion Blackbirds"), and they tell us of ourselves like "whirling dervishes," "agitated beehives," buzzing and electric with the physicality of thinking ("Whirling Dervishes I").

What is "extraordinary," one poem tells us, is "being-here // or anywhere," that the body, that "collection of cells," goes about its business and we hardly pause to wonder at the luck of it, our ability to exist, to continue ("Danger of Falling"). And yet, again and again Goedicke does pause to wonder. And in the process these poems register the complexity of that reflection, recording both plenitude and loneliness, gratitude and loss. "Recipe," the book's first poem, offers a particularly compelling image of this difficulty: "the flesh you live in is an anchor/of damp stones, you cannot move with or without it." And again in "Whirling Dervishes I" the speaker marvels at the sheer power contained in the body and yet how slight our consciousness of it: "imagine/all that electricity fizzing/and nobody gets hurt by it." Yet "for every positive/a negative," another poem reminds us, and whatever we think we know about ourselves or one another still leaves us like "stones [that] sit next to each other,/stranded," unable to connect with one another and asking "who am I/really?" ("Under Cygnus"). It is this awareness of complexity and willingness to deal with ideas put forth by Einstein, Rilke, Nietzsche, and Steiner, to cite just a few of the individuals whose words serve as epigraphs in Goedicke's collection, that makes Invisible Horses a particularly challenging - and satisfying - volume of poetry.

Also responsible for the pleasure of reading this collection, however, is what might be called its formal or technical virtuosity. Here we read long-lined poems and short ones, poems heavily punctuated by commas and those without any punctuation at all, tight couplets and stanzas that travel across the page. And in each case the physical quality of the poem-its shape on the page, its delicacy or sprawl or breathlessness - arises from, as should be the case with all poems, the meaning of its words. Thus the poems of silence, of the difficulties of language, are spare, surrendering much of their pages to white space, to what they cannot say. On the other hand, poems that express the marvel of the body, its quickness, the cells buzzing along whether we know it or not, display their own whirl and buzz on the page, often with long lines and comma after comma rushing us along. The attentiveness that this union of form and content requires cannot be underestimated. In a contemporary poetry climate that is increasingly slack when it comes to "having a good ear" for one's subject, for being concerned about the way a poem's sound and appearance mirror its meaning, Patricia Goedicke certainly stands apart. Just as Invisible Horses takes as its subject the thinking body, the poems themselves are precisely that, having a true physicality on the page, and expressing a relationship that arises from deep within and often resulting in contradictory impulses, impulses of mind and body. "Frantic/as crabs" one moment, "exquisite/as a hummingbird" the next, finally Goedicke's poems are, like ourselves, electric ("Because We Are Not Separate").

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Author:Samyn, Mary Ann
Publication:Cross Currents
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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