Introduction by poet and critic, Quincy Lehr, editor of Raintown Review,
of David Katz reading from his new book poetry, Claims of Home
at the Bowery Poetry Club, Nov. 6, 2011
It is not just a measure of my respect for David Katz that I have jettisoned my usual practice of winging my introduction, but it has something to do with the subtitle of his second book, Claims of Home colon Poems 1984-2010. In other words, this, his second book, is the distillation of twenty-six years of work. From my perspective, I was eight when he wrote the earliest poem in this collection. The journey has been a long one, and one suspects that Ulysses in the title poem in a metaphorical sense refers to the poet working toward his second book. Katz writes:
When Ulysses floated into my shop, careworn,
Smudged like a burnt tin can just plunked ashore,
His hood fell away, and I could see his face.
So changed. His eye seemed fixed on final scenes
From so much gazing forward into sealight.
Certainly, on the surface, Katz seems quite different in this book from the author of The Warrior in the Forest, a collection that rather than circling toward home, looked outward toward the proverbial unknown. That collection, moreover, gave little hint of Katz’s future formalist leanings, being clearly situated in the modernist tradition of Zukofsky and Oppen. Yet, on closer examination, Katz, like his Ulysses, recalls the younger man.
Don’t let the end-rhymes fool you—Katz has retained the modernist mastery of commanding multiple registers. No middle-brow New Formalist cliché here. Katz is equally comfortable churning out a poem about James Dean as about Borges or Ulysses or Prospero, not so much in juxtaposition as in a cumulative exploration of a particular cultural time, bringing to bear the sum total of his knowledge and experience to his poems, and he is equally fluent riffing on the correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell and the classic horror film The Night of the Living Dead.
There is an intelligence here that is not arrogant or flashy, but, even in its moments of humor, serious. I mean this in the best way—Katz takes his own interests and obsessions, and he thinks you should, too, and he consequently produces well-crafted, erudite, frequently profound poems as a consequence. The craft here is not in the service of a series of virtuoso turns; the poems’ cerebral qualities are not in the service of self-aggrandizement. Instead, we have the result of a poet’s three-decade struggle with the alignment of medium and message, a struggle that has proven remarkably fruitful. This is a work of maturity and significance.
It is my pleasure and honor to launch David Katz’s Claims of Home.