David Shapiro is one of the most companionable of shape-shifters, image-makers, and meaning multipliers in contemporary American poetry. Of all the poets associated with the New York School, any generation, he prevails as the warmest and most charming. Shapiro is the kind of poet to pop up from behind, lure you into an alley, show you his blue neon dream-catcher, and teach you how it works. He also will convince you that it is much more, a lyrical instrument for catching your breath.
Shapiro’s latest book of poetry, In Memory of an Angel, is his first full-length collection in fifteen years. As in previous collections, he displays a lavish love of learning and language without blowsy extravagance. His giddy assault on conventions of poetry is delivered with gem-like sharpness. It is easy to get a contact high from the joyousness of his moving menageries, which are sometimes zany, often tender, and entice me to engage energetically with the names, subjects, and situations described in these poems. The reader frequently has to catch up with Shapiro as he generates, mutates, and recombines meanings. However, this hodgepodge of ideas, never humdrum, revises received notions of how objects and sentiments might be inventoried and understood.
In “A Note & Poem by Joseph Ceravolo in a Dream,” from Shapiro’s 1994 collection After a Lost Original, he writes of his late friend and fellow poet Ceravolo: “He is a possibilist poet.” This equally applies to his own art: Shapiro’s work invigorates the reader with its relentless desire to tease out so many possibilities of what seem gradually focused story-like musings that arc away from expected turns and conclusions. He is indeed by deed and words a “possibilist.” Amen! May that neologism become officially approved with acknowledgment to this poet under consideration.
Each poem accumulates and disperses subjects and insights in a performance that operates as both ars poetica and sensitivity restorer. Here is the first section of the poem “A Man Without a Book”:
1. Poem in a Dream
I would like to comb
the haiku from your hair
vertical braid of language necklace of
words pinprick of a single sound
I work in black and white
much more than you thought.
As I work blindly.
Today is today –
I am a poet only a poet
and I am no better than any other poet
and no poet is better than me.
No client, no commission, “no site, “Oh, it’s just an idea.”
Night enters the spiral.
Braiding together senses, moods, and impressions, Shapiro designs exquisite sensual tapestries of ideas and notions, where text and textures are welded to one another: “the haiku from your hair” conjures both the force of lyrical comparison and the weight of its thingness – a haiku resides in the hair. That triple copulative of “of language necklace,” “of words pinprick,” “of a single sound” creates figurative and figural patterns. Words shine, touch, feel, ring and chronicle the present-ness of the moment: “Today is today -/these geese”…”Night enters the spiral.”
Unlike poems of jarring, intentional disjunction, these poems veer and morph, fluidly visiting various landscapes and people, including his friends, the poets Joe Ceravolo and Ron Padgett, and artists such as Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Older historical and literary figures such as Pessoa and Shelley also appear as guiding spirits. In Memory of an Angel is an angel’s trumpet blast celebrating all creation, that of the poem and the world. Reverie and reverence are seldom so richly paired.