Probing Meditations

THE ART OF THE LATHE.

THE RADIANCE OF PIGS.

BLESSINGS THE BODY GAVE.

Ohio State University Press.

Texas poetry has always come in many shapes and sizes, just as Texas poets can hail from any place in the state. Witness three new collections by poets B.H. Fairchild, Stan Rice, and Walt McDonald, born in Dallas, Houston, and Lubbock, respectively. All three are fairly thin volumes, but all are filled with distinguished work. Fairchild’s The Art of the Lathe and McDonald’s Blessings the Body Gave have each won prestigious prizes (the former garnering four, including the Texas Institute of Letters Award for poetry, and the latter the Award in Poetry from Ohio State University Press). Just the distinction of publication by Alfred A. Knopf puts Rice’s The Radiance of Pigs in the running with the best of any year.

All three volumes revisit scenes of childhood. The first sections of Rice and McDonald’s collections are devoted to such memories as catching a rabbit (which Rice leaves alone and goes to tell his folks to come see: “Stupid to think a rabbit would stay”) and baptizing a dog (McDonald: “I thought he’d rise / and talk like Balaam’s donkey, but he thrashed as if drowning…. I had to drag him out, his glazed eyes hopeless”). Fairchild’s adolescent memories are mostly about wishing he were somewhere other than unromantic Kansas or the machinist’s shop described in a number of his poems (including the title piece), in contrast to a wished-for world of beauty and art.

Fairchild’s work is intriguing first because of the casual way he can begin a poem. The first two pieces both open by setting the imagined scene with the same two-word phrase:

We are at the Bargello in Florence, and she says, what are you thinking? and I say, beauty, thinking of how very far we are now from the machine shop and the dry fields of Kansas

– “Beauty”

We are kids with orange Jujubes stuck to

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