Convalescent by Robert West
When Robert West opens Convalescent, his third collection, with Dickinson's observation that "True poems flee—" we know we're in for a treat, for West has already demonstrated in his first two chapbooks what a master he is at the "slight" of hand and ear. West makes poems out of flicks of thought and moments of insight that reach beyond the instant into longing's delightful frisson, as in this poem "Alarm":
Your lips were definitely clinging
I woke just in time,
my ears ringing.
The reader is not only at sea with every dream he or she has awaken from at a crucial moment, but also in the depths of desire and the unobtainable. There's a homespun familiarity and wit in many of these poems reminiscent of Ammons, of whom West is an expert, but with a contemporary spin that loosens the limbs a bit more than Ammons was capable of. And West has a singer's knowledge of sound and rhythm that playfully hums in the ear, as in one poem where he teases "one ripening yellow rose" into a "ready tear" which counts "these words ripe sorrow chose." And there's an epigrammatic West also where you can hear taut lessons learned from Fred Chappell and Dorothy Parker, as in the title poem: You told me I looked well today, / and maybe you were lying, // but every time you look my way / I do feel less like dying.
West's voice stays with you and the smallness of this volume gains weight as you carry it through the day. It's like a good friend muttering in your ear penetrating sparks—part in jest—part in all seriousness. The kind of friend you like to have.