Shells (Yale Series of Younger Poets)

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9780300079098: Shells (Yale Series of Younger Poets)

A collection of poems by Craig Arnold. Arnold plays on the idea of the shell as both the dazzling surface of the self and a hard case that protects the self against the assaults of the world. His poems narrate amatory and culinary misadventures.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

paper 0-300-07910-9 W.S. Merwins first selection for the Yale Series of Younger Poets bodes well for his tenure as judge: he admires Arnold for his simple ability to give enjoyment in poems about the pleasures of food and sex, which Arnold celebrates (often together) with all the indulgence of a pansexual gourmand. In graceful, fluent verse thats formal without drawing attention to its technical expertise, Arnold saves his transgressions for his subject matter: he memorializes a cook who masturbates into a dish returned by a customer (For a cook); he instructs in cunnilingus while eating raw shellfish; and advises on proper locker-room behavior at the gym, despite an interest in others bodies (Locker room etiquette). If the body is like food, and vice versa, then enjoying both involves risks: the nausea of bad shellfish, for example, and AIDS, which are linked in Hot, a long narrative about a friend who loves spicy food but whos lost his taste with illness. Living with it makes things more explicit: its a short, bleak counterpoint of two men nursing each other till death. Food also serves as a way to avoid difficulties: lovers joke about artichokes rather than give voice to feelings (Artichoke); and, in the narrative Transparent, during a painful Christmas dinner with his family, they gorge on seafood rather than confront the ghosts of the past. Throughout the volume the shellfishs exterior becomes the controlling metaphor for the armor we build around ourselvesa smooth exterior much like the expert meters that house Arnolds disturbing thoughts. A wit born of excess leads to some to negligible poems about merpersons (not maids) and eccentric collectors, but also to moving elegies. A piquant debut. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

As subjects, cast-offs, or figurative devices, Arnold marshals mussels, crabs, scallops, clams and barnacles. In "Little Shrimp" he imitates the involutions of spira mirabilis, and narrates a night in a Spanish "bullfight bar," recycling the words "camar?nes," "pick" and "black eyes" as "Camar?n de la Isla," "Pick-/Me-Up" and "black light." Such moments of facile male desire, in all its guises, drive the book: a "Great dark man" ("his hand around the glass/ is dark with fur") wields a noirish knife; a "Merman" requires "all the covers/ kicked off to accommodate me"; an elegy for Joy Division's Ian Curtis praises "the ardor of a Bonaparte, a F?hrerA." A circumspect but not entirely unapproving examination of fleshy violence and bravado, "The Power Grip" contains directions for cunnilingus; "For a Cook" adds semen to an eggy alfredo sauce, then hair, and blood, and oil from the skin. The "weird housekeeping" of a "Hermit Crab" suggests Arnold's own watchful metric economiesAhis varied stanza forms create a rigid external structure, while the subjects wriggle beneath. But their hard control often yields to blurry, colloquial human voice: "You say You made that up. You say That's sick./ You say The things men think of are so cruel." Readers will find Arnold's pearly conceits hard to resist, but for all their inspired technique, they offer little beyond the masculine clich?s (straight and otherwise) they examine. As W.S. Merwin's first selection for the Yale Younger Poets series, this book is a disappointment.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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