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“World”, Maxine Chernoff’s first full-length collection of poetry in ten years, explores the borders of personal and group experience, public and private language. From brief riffs on jazz to prose poem dialogues to long sequences about Emerson's essays and the problematic relationship of Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe (“World”), she examines the range of poetic possibility in “linguistic cuts and connections” that surprise the mind and ear.
Like her more recent previous collections, “New Faces of 1952”, “Japan”, and “Leap Year Day”, “World” is written in a mixture of styles and tones from the sonic, terse lyrics of the sequence “World” and the ten poems based on Emerson’s essays to the vernacular of the prose poems, which are lively, dialogue-based explorations of relationships.
Part One of “World” consists of individual poems that examine the relation of language to reality at the seams of representation. From collisions of the language of the personal and public in such poems as “Todorov at Ellis Island,” “Politics,” “Transactional” and “Next Song” to poems like “Nature Morte” and “The North Sea” that interrogate the relation of the world as object to the world as subject, Chernoff is interested in the meaning of the poetic act and its repercussions. Nothing is solid or sealed in these poems but rather in flux, nervous movement between the certainty of intention and the imperfection of words.
Part Two, “World,” is a poem in twenty-one movements, an “account” of the relationship between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stielitz in all of its complex loyalties. “How can I be jealous of a place?” the aged Stieglitz asks his reluctant partner and muse. How her own art and the New Mexico landscape vied for her affections is the story of their pained love. The poems, fragmented and abstract, explore the landscape of their long relationship.
Part Three appropriates the language of some of Emerson’s famous essays to discuss the American thinker in essential, stripped-down poems.
Part Four of “World” consists of prose poems, many of them dialogues reminiscent of short Pinteresque plays. The tension and illogic of human desires are examined in confrontations between two unnamed speakers, often a man and woman. These stark and comic prose poems are the latest of Chernoff’s work in this genre, which she has been exploring for nearly thirty years.
A strong and varied collection, World is certain to please new readers and reassure those familiar with her work of her consistent project.
‘Maxine Chernoff’s poems can be read and relished for their brilliant comic timing, but that timing is always indivisible from her extraordinary lyrical and metaphysical gifts. World, her first full-length book of poetry since 1990’s Leap Year Day (a new and selected), shows the writer in full command of her powers, lighting out for unmapped and radiant territory.’ —Rachel Loden, Jacket Magazine