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Broken World by Joseph Lease
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Broken World

by Joseph Lease

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A long sequence of poems titled "Free Again" is the tour de force of the book-- "broken" between prose and lyric lines. The poem wanders through various perspectives and topics, but at its core is a meditation on socioeconomic class and identity: the speaker's lower middle-class origins are juxtaposed against the ciphers and so-called plurality of consumerist material ascendancy. Thus, the subtext of the poem is "I" vs. "us"--and in terms of lyric poetry, this means lyric itself, if it is to judged by its originary impulse of the "I," is suspect. The sequence seems to turn toward nature at the end (read "the fall of a sparrow" with all of the weight of its Romantic allusions). The risk of the poems is linking this nature back to the title. Because the nature imagery is subordinated for the urges of the speaker ("there is no nature--they were in a cab in the forest--they were in a bar in the forest--how do you become a flat lake--the lake could not answer") this is not the hippie/transcendental dream of being "free again." I am not sure if there is irony in the title, or a signal of the mere challenge to the romanticism of being "free again" in the poems. The sequence itself is not an argument that finds closure--or an arc of the thinking-through-- (of class and the failures of class mobility), but it does suggest the ultimate failure of lyric (which is Romantic, too, we must admit). This is overt (read: not obscurantist) engagement (what some might call political engagement), with important stakes. I was less engaged by the first half of the book, but perhaps this is unfair--the second half is so powerful and necessary-- it would be difficult for any work to compare.
  Richard.Greenfield | May 16, 2011 |
(For the purposes of full disclosure, I have to admit this is a somewhat biased review, as Joseph Lease is a friend, and I myself had a hand in the pre-press copyediting. That being said--)

Broken World begins in a low tone, an easing of whispered language, reminiscent of James Schuyler or Robert Creeley (himself somewhat of a mentor to Lease.) That ease soon fades as we move into the title poem, a eulogy for Lease's friend James Assatly, who died of AIDS at a young age shortly after completing a novel which remains unpublished. By eulogizing his friend in verse, he also eulogizes a bygone America, a bygone hope, and a faltered national dream and identity.

In many ways, Broken World is about death, but it does not mourn, it is death as transformation, death as opportunity, death as rebirth and re-imagining (the refrain of Free Again builds this into a chorus, a raucous mercy meal for the departed.) The world and its norms are failing all around us, but once the soul leaves its body, the next body is waiting, there is new hope and new life, and a new will to fight for what is important. Nietsche thought we could form the world with our will, and so does Broken World. It is our prayer.

It is also identity -- Jewish identity, middle class identity, American identity, and the collective history and baggage that comes along with it. Lease moves through form and line, verse and prose, image and breath, approaching these weighty issues with ease and grace from so many angles -- this death becomes our history, our refrain. His politic is subtext, and the lack of a heavy handed overture is refreshing. ( )
  PatrickDuggan | Jul 29, 2007 |
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