Conspicuous formalism

Rue du Regard

By Bert Almon

A review of Rue Du Regard by Todd Swift

Published on October 1, 2004

Rue Du Regard
Todd Swift

DC Books
$14.95
paper
78pp
091968811X

Todd Swift has a remarkably capacious imagination. He is one of the founders of “fusion poetry,” which brings together sound poetry, performance art, and innovative visual constructions. Swift’s conspicuous formalism has no arthritic joints, no neo-traditionalist pieties. His refreshing Rue du Regard celebrates pop figures as well as the high culture poet John Berryman. Swift also tackles the highest of high culture by rewriting Wallace Steven’s great poem, “The Idea of Order at Key West.” Swift’s version, “The Influence of Anxiety at the Seaside with Tea,” does not surpass the master, settling for a witty response rather than the overwheening revision the anxiety of influence might demand. Here and there the reader’s ear can detect murmurings of W.H. Auden in phrases like “Who writes this is faced with April.”

The book has two parts, one set in Paris and one in London, and is held together by the themes of marriage and a serious whiplash accident. The Paris poems lead up to the wedding, the London ones often explore the intimacies of married life. Unfortunately, some of the other intimacies shared with us are perforce medical, because of the poet’s injuries. “The Physiotherapist” looks at the solemn rituals of our “new mythic god,” Health. Swift adroitly plays with the difference between experiencing life as a body and looking at the “flayed monster” within it. Most dazzling, appropriately, is “The Great Rose Windows, Chartres,” a work in long lines that manages to evoke not only the splendour of the windows but also the processes of their creation. The French section ends with a long poem in quatrains about the cemetery in Montparnasse. The poem, “Monsieur Pigeon’s Best Machine,” describes a funeral monument depicting an amusing domestic scene: the inventor is shown doodling in a notebook while his wife tries to entice him into bed. The last poem in the second section also goes to marriage, but is not whimsical. “Lection” risks a large generalization worthy of the Philip Larkin of “An Arundel Tomb”: “Marriage is the finest, most fierce election / For the power we hold, the other, is to be lost.” mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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