Washington Independent Review of Books

July 24, 2015

Swimming Home by Vincent Katz
(Nightboat Books, 2015)

“July 2015 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri”

A monthly feature that looks at books of and about poetry.


Katz is an art critic and translator. He teaches at the School of the Visual Arts (NYC) so it’s not surprising that several of these poems had accompanied “limited editions” by artists.

His observations lead us to believe that by seeing he changes circumstances. From “Barge” (a 19 verse set of poems) XVl: "The memory of daylight would come, as through/ A veil, filtered light once seen in paintings’/ View of coming through woods to a field,/ A single thin cow at its edge, and the thought/ Of paintings in general, of all one has seen/ Over years and years…” And as he’s deciphering sights a great many poems are about the act of writing the poem. From “Luis” (stanza 1) I was walking along and thinking/ I saw a new way to write a new poem/ in stops and starts, close-ups long-shots, /establishing views of the entire city. / I had one doubt: I thought I should/ be absent, allowing the poem to accrete/ seemingly of its own volition over time, / Then I thought that was not necessary…” It’s unusual that the poet‘s preoccupation with his art becomes the substance and task of the art. The murmurings are the marriage of the artistic and the literary eye. And it’s all about communication; Katz is obsessed with how and why we do this. His every poem seeks the right ambience to write, (from “Barge lV”) “Poetry can’t mean that much, everyone asleep/ Another year, another weight of looking and thinking…”

There’s a suppressed passion in these events, as if the writer wants the perfect warm environment to finally speak and he pays attention every moment to find this. At the same time he’s capable of celebrating the physical properties of a cerebral world. Katz is a “today” poet and has inherited admirers of Frank O’Hara’s fame — so the work comes from a long and rich New York history. Turning language until it’s right never lets us down, as we see in “Sidewalk Poem”:

wet Asphalt, it rained, will rain, but now sunny haze breaks,
blue at edges, under light, white, clouds,
cold of January holds, pigeons in clean gutter,
families walk up avenue, down streets, sidewalk,
what propels them, ancient conveyance, desire,
walking its dog, body that drove one insane, that sudden face,
shift between walking, staying, America, Europe,
light that hovers and expels, families and individuals

I wouldn’t want to be like them…