One of the dirty literary secrets of the Internet, though, is that nearly every poem ever published is lurking out there somewhere, for those willing to spend 3.7 seconds to find it. I mention this only because in recent months, in need of flintier forms of solace, I’ve increasingly and somewhat guiltily been bookmarking on my laptop the poems of Mark Ford.
Mr. Ford, born in Kenya, is a British poet, academic and critic. He’s edited an edition of John Ashbery’s poetry for the Library of America and a volume of Frank O’Hara’s verse for Alfred A. Knopf. He writes regularly, and sharply, for The New York Review of Books and The London Review of Books.
He’s a reticent poet. He musters a book a decade. So far there have been three, each better than the previous: “Landlocked” (1992), “Soft Sift” (2001) and “Six Children” (2011). His “Selected Poems” is a tidy and welcome overview. It’s packed with cerebral pleasures and a complicated awareness of what Mr. Ashbery has called “the public gravitas of things.”
Mr. Ford’s stanzas do not resemble flowers slowly fainting in their vases. He’s a poet who pitchforks clashing detail into his lines, as if to destabilize them, to proclaim, as he does in “I Wish,” that “every second is underwritten/by an invisible host of dubious connections.”
Just as often, though, his work opens up emotionally, like a rolling vista that unfurls after a long hike through dense woods. In a poem called “The Gaping Gulf,” Mr. Ford pauses to declare:
Of all those on the verge of fainting
Today — teachers and alcoholics, long-distance runners, Tokyo-bound
Commuters crushed rib to rib. Their lungs
Wheeze and labor, and would rest; they need
A cold compress, a caressing breeze, some
Respite from the rattling drone of dried peas
In the inner ear.
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