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Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand

Steven Cramer’s third poetry collection orchestrates a complex interplay of voices: lyrical, colloquial, mordant; even, at times, enraged. Whether in fixed forms or free verse, the raw energy of these poems derives power from Cramer’s restraint—his sense of line, of stanza, of pattern. Here are sensuous memories, mysterious as the unlit room in which a boy, “opens his eyes, and in the blue light/From the window sees, or thinks he sees,/The door open an inch or two, no more.” Here also are evocative homages to the “tutors” of the imagination: John Keats’ snow-swept heath, admonishing us to be “simple, watchful, true.” And here are fictions of the spirit, appeals to deities who wait at the top of the stairs. Sometimes narrative, sometimes startlingly associative, always shaped and honed, Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand is Cramer’s most diverse, and best, work to date.

“Auden once said that ‘a poet cannot bring us any truth without introducing into his poetry the problematic, the painful, the disorderly, the ugly.’ Steven Cramer’s exacting, orderly poetry is committed to the complicated textures of feeling; this poet’s made a sort of pact with emotional life which goes like this: Nothing here will be inflated, everything here will be confronted, and whatever music feeling will yield will be tuned to the heart’s true pitch. Thus, full as they are with the difficult stuff of the real, these poems also startle us with their plain and daily beauties. ‘The sturdiest houses,’ he writes, ‘have this lived-in look.’ These poems, likewise, feel lived-in, strong and genuine as houses.”

—Mark Doty

“Cramer is one of those characteristically American poets who is deeply skeptical of salvation unavailable to the senses. . . . The emotional and linguistic complexity . . . results in poetry so strong it’s almost overwhelming.”

Harvard Review