$22.00 • 476 pp. • 2002
“[Ratcliffe’s] Portraits is the best sort of daybook: at once teeming with uninterrupted attention to phenomena, while remaining firmly rooted in the world of experience.”
—Michael Cross for The Poetry Project Newsletter, December/January 2004-2005
Once I sat on a train from New York City next to a man who was reading (avidly, non-stop) a book of music. I am hit with this same sensation reading Portraits and Repetition, whose poems take the kyric impulse in a direction that favors silence. You can read them like pieces of sheet music, and though they appear to be simply painterly, they are ordered like abstract, mathematical notations. You hear what you see, and no one is there.
This book stuns me every time I go back to it—it’s so quiet, so calm, yet it accumulates into a tremendous presence based entirely in the senses. Ratcliffe begins with Stein’s wondering “what one saw when one looked at anything really looked. . .” and then proceeds to see. And as with those famous coastlines that keep getting longer, the closer he looks the more there is. He articulates it all in a syntax so attentive that it startled us back into the world.
Stephen Ratcliffe‘s more than twenty books of poetry include New York Notes (1983), Distance (1986), [Where Late the Sweet] Birds Sang (1989), Sound/(System) (2002), Real (2007), Conversation (2011), and Cloud / Ridge (2011). He is also the author of three books of literary criticism: Campion: On Song (1981), Listening to Reading (2000), and Reading the Unseen: (Offstage) Hamlet (2009). He lives in Bolinas, California, and teaches at Mills College in Oakland.