Type
Review

Views of the Hudson

Angela Gardner
Shearsman Books
ISBN 9781848610804, $15.55

This collection’s sixty poems are subtitled ‘psalms’ and each is numbered. There’s something immediately Scorsese-esque about the subtitle ‘A New York Book of Psalms’ but Angela Gardner’s New York experience is too coolly considered for that association. As her subtitle implies, New York evokes a religiosity: ‘I see moonlight as the promised land.’

The collection starts on the plane trip and records the poet’s discovery of the place and its culture. The ‘Views’ of the title suggests a detachment: Gardner is not inhabiting the place but rather looking at it, and this sometimes renders the poems vague or impressionistic. She plays with signs without displaying feeling or overloading them with meaning or irony.

Occasionally, there is a lament against materialism and its urban problems, but Gardner’s psalms offer no way forward. Helplessly, the homeless or vagabonds become ‘stylised’ – ‘while those left behind huddle in makeshift tents/(that laconic shelter left by incidental action)/He leans in the doorway almost stylised/a full length photorealist portrait’.

There is one startling instance of a raised voice when the narrator’s ‘shoes pinch at these new streets/and another day’s high tide/of litter hits the sidewalks’. The pilgrim declares ‘Emptiness, fullness what’s the difference?/Fuck beauty!’ yet, unable to sustain her anger, she collapses – ‘tears stream down my face’ – at the end of the poem.

Competent, confident, calm – these poems are not representations. Like the cover image, they comprise indistinct surfaces/textures, aesthetic shapes. This suite is minimal and exacting. It’s art-poetry, a sustained ‘looking at’ the views, like a film shot from a window.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Pam Brown is a practised professional amateur. Her latest book is Home by Dark (Shearsman 2013). She has been a contributing editor for various magazines including, from 1997–2002, Overland, and is currently editing ten booklets for Vagabond Press – the ‘deciBels’ series.

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