Vain Empires

Author:William Logan
Publisher:Penguin USA

In the world of poetry, 1998 marched across the calendar cadenced by an unexceptional gait. Much of the output was either sentimentalized or ironic retreads of contemporary love — such as we received from Sonia Sanchez and Deborah Garrison — or, arguably worse, stiffly formal tours of the literati landscape that is mythic homeland to The New Yorker's implied upper-class audience. Logan doesn't escape the latter category; on the contrary, he exemplifies it with appreciable dexterity. Yes, the references are all there, sprawled across his quatrains like guilt on a plagiarist's face. But Logan truly shines when invoking the demotic as he pares language down to its evocative essentials. Artist Christo appears in a poem about gassing termites in Florida; a Chaucerian allusion caps “Raison D' État,” a poem dealing with human cruelty whose elegant formal execution illuminates — but does not eclipse — its subject matter.