This review is taken from Stand 228, 18(4) December 2020 - February 2021.

Michael Waters, Caw (Boa Editions LTD, 2020)

Edmund Wilson once remarked of George Saintsbury’s prose, ‘It is sometimes said of entertaining writers that reading them is like eating peanuts.’ In the spirit of that remark, I would have to say that I have developed a taste for Michael Waters’s poetry this past ten years, ever since his Selected Poems (Shoestring Press, 2011). ‘Entertaining’ might seem a slightly pejorative term when discussing poetry, given its shroud of seriousness. Yet all art is meant ultimately to entertain, even the provocative. And Waters’s poetry is provocative, and also intensely physical, erotic and romantic, humorous and elegiac.

More recently there have been the collections Celestial Joyride (2016) and The Dean of Discipline (2018), among other literary projects. Waters’s productivity reflects the vitality of this American poet. In his latest, Caw, he continues to work highly inventive variations on favourite themes: the serendipities of language, the nature of desire, love, terror and fortitude. One difference here is the pervasive atmosphere of mortality, which is not restricted to the central sequence of dementia poems clustered around the poet’s mother, but extends to fond memories and anticipatory elegies. The epigraphs from Ginsberg (‘Kaddish’) and W.C. Williams (‘Crude Lament’) are both suggestive of conflicted feelings at a mother’s death, while the Ginsberg (‘Lord Lord Lord caw caw caw Lord Lord Lord caw caw caw Lord’) evokes the graveside and the cry of crows.  

Strong emotion prompts the first poem of the collection, ‘Self-Portrait with Doll (1920-21)’, which begins, ...
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