Inspired by the miraculously mercurial potential of words, Stephen Yenser takes readers on a heady trip through a world full of promise yet compromised by human weakness. Set in sunny southern California and Greece, the poems of Blue Guide cast the shadow of mortality, and the tones are elegiac. This combination of the deadly serious and the exuberant is natural, Yenser notes; after all, work and orgy share the same etymological root, as do travail and travel, pledge and play.
Using various poetic modes, Yenser offers here a quatrain written to name a painting by Dorothea Tanning; a sequence of poems for his daughter; an excursive poem at once about Los Angeles and Baghdad and his father and a petty criminal; a group of prose poems set in penumbral bars; some postcards to a dead friend; and a meditation prompted by a sojourn on a remote Aegean island. The most unexpected work is an assemblage of quotations and glosses in the tradition of the commonplace book, except that in Yenser’s hands these entries are densely interrelated
“Stephen Yenser’s Blue Guide is an exquisitely intricate gallimaufry of feeling, thought, and language. His sensibility—mischievous, self-mocking at times—is a thrill in itself: ‘Look at this stuff. Riffrough. All over the place. First begging the question then bagging it. Quarrying the query. Crawling out of the wordwork.’ A brilliantly conceived orgy of origins, the book inhabits a ‘changing hue’ and is a fresh exploration of all things blue—music, paint, sky, sea, emotion. It is a profanely sublime work where ’everything is strings that vibrate’ with nothing less than the world’s whole hoard.”
“Stephen Yenser combines two qualities rarely found together: an extraordinary gift for verbal play and a bedrock seriousness about the emotional aims of poetry. Consequently he can do things almost no one else can: a poem reproducing the modulations of music; a poem in a dead poet’s style that becomes uniquely his own, through its meditation on intersubjectivity and immortality. Blue Guide is a masterly piece of work, a quantum leap beyond Yenser’s already excellent first book in scope and originality as well as skill.”
“Virtuosic and moving, placing itself where thought has already started, proximate to this or that moment of the world’s finally unmappable and inexhaustible variety, Blue Guide assumes the world, both believing in it and suffering it with exemplary generosity and affection. It also bridges traditional formality and a fractal, jazzy physics—it’s a new version of the new aesthetics of hybridity. It’s witty, it’s unexpected, it’s gorgeous.”
"In his second collection, Yenser ranges widely over subject matter, from meditation s on the California landscape to a retreat in the Aegean. The poems are eclectic in form as well, including a ghazal and a series of elegiac valedictions. Readers encounter the work of a technical virtuoso . . . Attentive readers who have high expectations of contemporary poetry will find much to hold their interest."
"As longtime emcee/curator of the Hammer Museum’s poetry-reading series, Stephen Yenser has presented many heavyweights and lesser-knowns of modern American verse. Since his pithy, personalized introductions have often resonated as much as the verse that followed, I’ve often wondered: What of Yenser’s own poems? It has been more than a dozen years since the publication of the UCLA English prof’s first — and only — collection, the Walt Whitman Award–winning The Fire in All Things. Finally, we have a chance to read — and hear him read — the original products of his restless imagination. As one might expect, Yenser’s new collection, Blue Guide, inhabits a creative zone where playful formalism coexists comfortably with flights of free association and jazz improvisation, where keenly skewed observations ripple through a steady-flowing current of parental and fraternal love and seriously tweaked humor. In one sense, Yenser is an L.A. poet or, at least, a Southern California poet, as underscored in the longer work, ’Los Angeles Fractals.’ But a wider sense of place, whether it’s the Westside or the rural Greece illuminated in ’Sfakian Variations,’ puts him in the camp of les citoyens du monde. He deeply cares about humankind but can’t overcome entropy’s overwhelming yank and pull or capture memory’s elusive clarity for long. Fond of alliteration, pun and cadence, Yenser seeks out syllabic and sonorous synchronicities, such as this couplet celebrating his daughter Helen in ’Tidepools: La Jolla’: ’Barefoot, braid swinging — from a broken breaker, your shrieks/Bringing a cloud wisp’s blush-brushed color to your cheeks.’ Whether perused on the page or heard aloud, Yenser’s poems reveal a contender in our midst."
Tom Cheyney | LA Weekly
"In his second collection (after the award-winning The Fire in All Things), Yenser, director of the creative writing program at the University of California, Los Angeles, ranges widely over subject matter, from meditations on the California landscape to a retreat in the Aegean. The poems are eclectic in form as well, including a ghazal and a series of elegiac valedictions. Readers encounter the work of a technical virtuoso, with the lyric ’To Fall’ an exquisite example, beginning with the epigraph ’Where are the songs of spring?" The poem continues, ’And what of summer’s own cadenzas/They’ve also gone.’ The promise of deep attention is fully realized in this poem and in others here. Attentive readers who have high expectations of contemporary poetry will find much to hold their interest. Still, one is left feeling the book does not go far enough, that the poems hold deep wells not brought to the surface. Highly recommended for larger public and academic libraries."
"There was a time . . . when poets could expect their works to be read painstakingly. For people trained in these methods, Stephen Yenser’s Blue Guide is a rewarding experience, while for others, Yenser is a wise guie, pointing the way firmly but gently toward what for many will be a new and rewarding way of reading."
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