Everything and Other Poems by Charles North
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Charles North is the quintessential poet's poet. James Schuyler confidently named him "the most stimulating poet of his generation," while Harry Mathews possibly took it one step further to claim that Charles "belongs on the summit of our American Parnassus." To say that Charles North is a cornerstone in the home of contemporary American poetry would not be an exaggeration.
In Everything and Other Poems, his twelfth collection, the trademarks of North's poetry shine with an earnestness, ambition, intellect, and his modest sense of humor, capturing the many-faceted lives we lead. For example, in the 26-page title poem "Everything," we watch as the poet's mind, like a river, flows past, around, and lifts up the detritus of his imagination: books, movies, paintings, cartoons, animals, the silent letter "e," death, the moon, the weather, the rhythms, sounds, questions and textures of life itself. Prose poems, long-form poems, studies for poems, lists, plus a game of cat and mouse with some French Symbolists, North is at the top of his game in this collection. If anything, with a career spanning over 40 years, this book proves North to be the poet of, well, everything.
When Charles North writes “I mean, who isn’t heating up for the next life / on the order of Antoine Doinel, or a pot of unsweetened chocolate” I forget the world, and I forget myself, and instead feel “an apparently new range of colors, intonations, shapes, etc., / which is familiar and also entirely out of the blue.” Everything and Other Poems contains a wild and generative imagination. When Charles North offers us “the view of Niagara that nobody has” we are handed the impossible, impossibly. It is delightful. It suits our days. Why would poetry be any other way?
The excellent New York poet who shines his razor attention on the surfaces of everything certainly takes center stage on this one. Everything and Other Poems, a book culminating in an extraordinary long title poem, is an enchanting tour de force of sensory delights. Sly wit and encyclopedic reference command a subtle and upbeat tone, as if he is surprising himself along for the ride. Both philosophical and down home, we enter a scriptorium of beauty, bravado, literary and sports allusion and an impressive cast that includes Raymond Roussel and George Sand. I haven't felt so lifted by a book in ages, where “the soul can still go out for its walk.” Charles North is one of our consistently best and most generous of poets, praise be! Please applaud and have him take another bow.
What’s so paradoxical about Charles North’s mesmerizing and powerful Everything and Other Poems is that while there’s nothing in it that’s autobiographical in a literal sense, the feeling of a real person behind the poems comes through more palpably than if there were. They’re held together and carried forward not by the meanings of their words or the logic of a train of thought, but by the meanderings of the consciousness that permeates them, producing, as Kant said of the self, a feeling of existence without the least concept of it. And what an exhilarating feeling!
Charles North has published eleven books of poems, three books of critical prose, and collaborations with artists and other poets. With James Schuyler, he edited the poet/painter anthologies Broadway and Broadway 2 (Hanging Loose Press, 1989). His What It is Like: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2011) headed NPR's Best Poetry Books of 2011, and he has received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant, two NEA grants, four Fund for Poetry Awards, and a Poets Foundation Award. He lives with his wife, the painter Paula North, in New York City.