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which inject the work with the persuasive power of “real life.” Real language, especially. West has a very keen ear for the punch of everyday idiom. “We never show up dead, now do we?” begins the first poem of the collection, “And who always does the driving?” A moment later the mother’s retort will have put these lines into their worldly context, in the mouth of the lather at the wheel of the car on the way down the New Jersey Turnpikebut not before we’ve had a chance to contemplate the questions they pose in their disembodied, philosophical form. These questions are in fact tremendous ones, and the aftershock of their mundane context only hdlps hammer them home. At the same time, in some of these poems the suppression of the narrative makes the metaphors difficult to read. Poems need plots at least as much as stories dothough they may be simply road movies starring the imagination. At such times one is left to wonder just how tongue-in-cheek the poet is actually being, and how generally the statement applies, when she writes in “Tea-Stained, Vermillion,” a captivating and self-aware poem, “To tell the truth, who knows what/happened?” There’s no denying it though: She’s got the moves. Some of the preference for dramatic dazzle over narrative or rhetorical coherence probably derives from West’s experience as a founding member of Austin’s popular Blue Plate Poets, who began giving round robin-style group readings in 1993. The group aimed in part to foster the oral tradition in poetry, and many of these poems carry with them the acoustics of a performance hall and the rhythmic expectations of a live show. It’s not easy for an audience to follow the logic of a poem they’ve never heard before. Easier and more immediately gratifying is the saucy verbal duck-and-weave that West excels at. A sense of live drama lifts many of these poems off the page and embodies them, almostputs them into a voice, a presence. I love it when she pulls cheeky maneuvers like these, in “Edward”: I knew you like the flywheel or carburetor, which is to say I had no idea where to find you. But I do know how you sound, your voice clipped like tin. Everything since is guttural or too long in the speaking of. Anyway. Anyway! How’s that for efficient? Funny, too. Her transitions often make use of the most utilitarian hardware. “Close-up to lips…,” she’ll write. “Also of interest:…” West’s style is still coming into its own, despite the fact that she is good enough at doing the thing she does to apply for a patent. The matter of rhyme, for example, is unresolved. Occasionally she gets off a fine and subtle one, such as, “The birds were full of berries. We were /…catching/his words, but barely….” More often, though, she’ll drop a close and obvious onefright and height, sayinto the middle of an otherwise unrhymed poem, so that it seems like an accident that should have been edited out. On the question of musicality in general, she wavers. At times she can be quite lyrical, but then pull the rug out from under herself tonally, as though afraid to get “too pretty,” and settle instead for a more guarded and prosy blow-by-blow delivery. reaks and dislocations: The move ment within the poems dramatizes an underlying anxiety about influ ence, audience, and authority, the grasping and passing of the baton. Evident through out is a distrust of language as a material for bridging the gaps between people. Often we see it fail, for instance in the heartbreaking last lines of “Attar of Roses”: “What did he say? We lean for ward.//The things I keep trying to tell you.” West’s influences shine through a bit nakedly at times in her borrowings: Garcia Marquez lent her the conceit for “Attar of Roses,” in which a man is “shedding red flowers with every exhale,” and a younger Charles Simic could have written the opening lines of “Edward”: “The butchers knew a thing or/two, but they weren’t talking./just sawing away at another/old carcass….” But then, she’s working in a surrealist veinit’s understandable that the masters should make their appearances from time to time. Far more formidable bogeys for West, though, are the women, especially Plath. When she confronts her literary godmothers, we find her struggling against a strong tide, neck-deep in an argument over artistic responsibility and acceptable risk, and not always winning. In “Plunge,” West takes on Plath’s “Cut.” Both poems feature meetings between kitchen knives and thumbs. Plath begins with a gasp at the moment of the accident: “What a thrill/My thumb instead of an onion./The top quite gone/Except for a sort of a hinge//Of skin,/A flap like a hat,/Dead white./Then that red plush,” and goes on to build, through a series of audacious metaphors, a great charge of menacing eroticism. West’s concern, by contrast, is prevention. She would prefer that we be spared the sight of that red plush altogether. “Knives are dumb because/they don’t know what to cut./This is the bread, that’s my finger./Lay off the finger.” The poem goes on to remind the reader, Watch out for the sides of your hands, those slender hams: they’re not for chopping. Watch, too, for the tips of thumbs. They go like sticky butter pats, fall to the floor with a slap like a mouse dropping from a building out of fright. Chances are good he’ll dent your car if he fell from a far enough height. Somebody’ll ask if you hit hail. Oh, no, it was a rodent. He was plastered all over: the bon vivant of his crowd. DECEMBER 22, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13