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notable exception would be the masterful work of B.H. Fairchild. Another poem in particular”SelfPortrait In A Trash Can Lid”conveys Christensen’s sharply honed critical sense with an ability to find the fantastic in the ordinary. Slyly allusive, he also mocks the witty self-centeredness of John Ashbery and numerous others who seem to find self-attention more promising than it likely is. A con- temporary figure whom Christensen’s sensibility would seem comfortable with is Mark Strand, who often wittily parodies self with enthusiastic journeys into the surreal. Listen to these phrases from Christensen’s “Self-Portrait”: “I can see where my eyes / should be, two dark planets where the liars / live.” In the closing stanza, he imagines himself strolling down a street adorned with matter from the trash can: My feet shod in melon rinds, my fingers adorned in cocktail onions, my tie a spine of catfish studded with blue bottle flies. The long i’s in rinds, tie, spine, and flies are so close together they create an echoic effect through assonance. What is notable about Christensen’s attention to craft is his ability to be precise in his poetic effects. He does more than glance at interesting subject matter and then let his phrases stay approximate. As numerous fine poets have done through the centuries, he links the rough with the smooth, the informal with the formal. That tying-together of seemingly disparate concerns sparks his phrasing memorably. An even more subtle stirring of power through allusion rolls like drumbeats at the close of “In The Garden,” where the repetition of the phrase “put down” nods effectively toward Ezra Pound’s paean against vanity and cry for integrity in Canto 81. Christensen knows full welland demonstrates in his judicious use of itthat allusions can marshal a wealth of forces to clarify meaning, not obscure it. What characterizes this new collection is a bigness of voice and a finely tuned critical sense. In “My Summer Afternoons,” Christensen extends his politically poetic range with a survey of disasters in the world: “Now it’s Darfur’s time to run / with blood, Janjaweed machetes blazing in the grass,” then “Not faraway … bloody stumps from war along the pipeline in Nigeria,” and “Jenin? That stone pile once a town, tanks rolling / over broken dressers, tables laid for supper / and no one left to eat the food.” In spite of these horrors and numerous others in his Whitmanlike list, there rises a simple gesture of hope: “Everyone cringing at the sound / of planes, the sudden thud of mortar / falling on a nearby hill, or was that thunder?” Even in dealing with traditional concerns about mortality, Christensen sees synthesis more than separation, the rise of a new order rather than the aggravating dissolution of an old one. This is movingly present in “What Aging Is,” where the spirit of reconciliation in this case son with father through memoryincludes the past that lives in one with what at first seems to be a disruptively vivid shock of humility. “Someone is coming to the surface,” the speaker says, “someone inside me whom / I fought against for years.” The closing lines of this deeply felt and finely rendered poem is worth quoting as a coda for the entire book: That flabby smile is mine now. I wear his eyes, god damn it, I even have his ugly ears. Aging has weakened my resolve against him; I am a haunted house in which his ghost roams freely, sharing my breath and blood. The deserts that Christensen has visited have done to him and for him what they have often done for other people with sizable sensibilities. They have lifted him beyond the limits of an old self and freed him for the possibilities of a new self that includes the past as intensely as it opens itself to the richness of the sublime strangeness of new vistas that one discovers one is already exploring. James Hoggard, author of 17 books and Perkins-Prothro Distinguished Professor of English at Midwestern State University, was recently given the Lon Tinkle Award for excellence sustained throughout a career by The Texas Institute of Letters. 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 6, 2006