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Tomas Rivera, Leon Stokesbury, Lorenzo Thomas, Tino Villanueva, R.G. Vliet, and thirty more. It is Oliphant’s most complete anthology to date. One of the most interesting aspects of the volume is that of the forty-five poets included, two are not represented by poetry. It might seem an odd editorial choice, but Oliphant has always been loyal; so Roundup celebrates even those poets who have drifted away from poetry. Stephen Harrigan recounts his reasons for abandoning poetry, and because of his stature as a Texas writer indirectly raises questions about the vitality and viability of poetry in the state. “There was something about poetry or rather something about me as a poet that left me unfulfilled and suspicious of my own work. Looking back, I realize I was drawn to poetry in the first place because it offered protection…. But finally [I] had to admit to myself that I was speaking a private language.” I want to take these comments seriously, first because Harrigan’s prose is appealing and moving he has had an illustrious, if interrupted, career as a novelist \(a new novel tains a successful career as a journalist and screenwriter and second because Harrigan was once the editor of Lucille, one of Austin’s most vibrant small press journals. While I too prefer his prose to his poetry, his decision to write prose because the reader “was entitled to a certain amount of real information” seems a bit too patly Platonic. However, Harrigan does raise an important point in considering this book: do poets have anything to say to us, and why would a selfrespecting adult in this age of 0.J., Monica, and high-tech stock profits bother to read, much less write the stuff? In 1973, Oliphant became one of the first to publish West Texas poet Walter McDonald, and McDonald answers easily the question of why he continues to write poetry. “What keeps me going back to the desk day after day is a simple faith that words will show me the way.” And McDonald’s way is not one marked by what Harrigan would call protection: “When I write, I’m curious eager and willing to find some splendid secrets, hoping to make some sense of what I find maybe something I’ve needed all my life, maybe something so awful I wonder how I’ll ever deal with it.” For McDonald writing poetry is neither an act of autobiography nor selfdisplay. “I lie a lot, in poems,” he says. “I am not there frank and undisguised.” McDonald’s poem confirms that real information can find itself in a poem. In “All the Old Songs,” the narrator speaks to his wife about their long years together: I never believed we’d make it the hours of skinned knees and pleading, diapers and teenage rage and fever in the middle of the night, and parents dying, and Saigon, the endless guilt of surviving. McDonald writes with an intimate knowledge of pain that recalls in us our own individual pain, but he also writes with the hope that survivors find beneath their sorrow: I know who I’ll find waiting at the gate, the same girl faithful to my arms as she was those nights in Austin when the world seemed like a jukebox … Naomi Shihab Nye writes, “I will continue to believe in that place poems take us which belongs to us all, via every mixture of wisdom, ignorance, and regret, every tint of quietude, every passionate belief, every knob, raised salute and moment of pause.” Not only does this statement illustrate Nye’s courage as a poet, but also her courage as a human being, as a fellow citizen. For Nye’s poem deals with visiting Palestine with her Palestinian father, and her response to a man who tells her, “Until you speak Arabic you will not understand pain.” Although stunned, halted by the man’s national and religious grief, Nye is alert her humanity is vibrant, undulled by the mediocrity of our shallow and sensationalized guilts and achievements. She concludes, “but later in the slick street / hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped / in every language and opened its doors.” Several poets examine their roles in contemporary culture as citizens in general and poets in particular. One of the most telling is Robert J. Conley, a Cherokee. When I go to the supermarket and buy some meat pre-cut and wrapped how do I apologize to the spirit of the animal whose meat I eat and where shall I build my fires? His answer is “My poems are my fires. / oh gods forgive me all / the things I have failed / to do.” In his commentary, Conley writes about the Cherokee sense of community and the circularity of time, as opposed to the more Texas/Western sense of the individual and linearity of time. Directly following Conley is Dwight Fullingim’s poem, “Upon Looking into the Broadman Hymnal Again After All These Years,” another confrontation with the claims of culture and time. From a childhood in wool pants, from the lap of a full-bosomed woman in white beads, I vanished many years ago the way a photograph fades with time…. It was a world in sweet accord, an alliance of intentions that can no longer be discerned not even amid the nostalgia aroused by thumbing through a notorious green hymnal. This is what poetry can do forgotten by many potential readers. By isolating emotions, scenes, and events, it can teach us who we are as human beings. In many ways, much contemporary poetry is essentially an act of intimacy. Is this what Harrigan felt he could not find a way to express? The work of McDonald, Nye, Conley, Fullingim, and many others in this book demonstrates that poetry can present honest ideas, shared memories, and real information in language not merely personal. Tino Villanueva’s “At the Holocaust Museum,” a poem in which the personal past and human past collide with the personal and national present, also comes to mind. In addition, the work of several poets illustrates the ways in which poets participate in a great dialogue of questions and answers, statements and restatements, contradictions and elucidations, revealing that the sources of their poetry, while often welling from their personal lives, are channeled, diverted, focused by their extensive knowledge of other writers. Among those mentioned in the commentaries are Robert Frost, Gary Snyder, William Goyen, Robert Creeley, Walter Benjamin, Euripides, and Gaston Bachelard. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23 JULY 23, 1999 .4, IWO: 44A