Review of New and Selected Poems
(Publisher’s Weekly, April 26, 1999)


            As brave, conceptual and big-minded as Jack Spicer’s lifetime of conference calls with the underworld, North’s work constantly greets us with the deft presence of a mind devilishly enamored of improbable form and substantial ideation.  His signature baseball “Lineups”; his architect’s notes poems (“Six Buildings”); as well as poems like “The Brooklynese Capital,” a list of anglo-saxon kennings (“The gravy sopper,” “The tongue motel,” “The George Washington Carver of boredom”) apply typical Northian tweak to the function of poetic form, with a result that resembles a Duchamp readymade more than a Pound sestina.  One wants to patent these poems rather than sing them.  North’s conceptual acumen is somewhat less hard-edged than that of his contemporary, Paul Violi, and there is a pervasive wistfulness and lyric rush that pervades even the most artificial of forms, as if blueprint ink was running from the draughtsman’s tears: “One must have breakfasted often on automobile primer / not to sense an occasional darkening in the weather joining art and life; / and have read Paradise Lost aloud many times in a Yiddish accent // not to wake up and feel the morning air as a collaborator / thrown from some bluer and more intelligent planet…” (“Note to Tony Towle”).  And the gorgeous recent journal “Aug.—Dec. for Jimmy Schuyler” ends with this pair of elucidating quotations: “’The south west wind how pleasant in the face’—John Clare // ‘Basically, artists work out of rather stupid kinds of impulses and then the work is done’—Jasper Johns”  Far from being a rehash, this 30-year retrospective is a genuine poetic find, the kind of book that should be rescued from the attic and put on display at the Museum of Natural History, next to the moonrocks and downstairs from the dioramas.