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Poetry Review    

 

Visible Ink
By George Starbuck
University of Alabama Press, 2002
ISBN: 0-8173-1154-8

 

 
 

According to Kathryn Starbuck, "These George Starbuck poems were written, widely published, and anthologized from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. George had often spoken of his Visible Ink manuscript and given public readings from it...." 

Most of the poems included in Starbuck's posthumous collection were first published in the Atlantic Monthly, Grand Street, the Iowa Review, and TriQuarterly. The Nation praised Starbuck as a "brilliant stylist, a virtuoso of comic rhyme, of literary pastiche and pun." 

Starbuck created a form he called SLABS for his Visible Ink. Calling it his final formal invention, these poems were "Standard Length and Breadth Sonnets." They are fourteen line poems, with fourteen unspaced characters per line, forming a dense slab on the page. 

Thematically, this book returns to many of Starbuck's earlier obsessions.  He liked crazy word endings, playing with foreign languages, and the rhythms of bebop. Combining poetry with science, he refers to quarks, plays mathematical games, and praises the eternal beauties of physics. He returns to the war imagery of his youth. 

Starbuck's politic activism is alive and well in these poems. In 1963, he was fired from the State University of New York, Buffalo, for refusing to sign a loyalty oath. He initiated a challenge to New York's loyalty oath law and was successful when the Supreme Court of the United States overturned that law. He was also an anti-Vietnam organizer during the 19602. In the opening poem in the collection, "On An Urban Battlefield," the poet questions consumerism and politics in contemporary America. Throughout the book, Starbuck offers witness to the changes he's seen, both good and bad, during his lifetime. 

IN 1960, George Starbuck (1931-1996) won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for Bone Thoughts, his first collection of poems and in 1982, he won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for The Argot Merchant Disaster. He was the author of six other books of poetry. Starbuck, who taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and Boston University, was the distinguished chair in poetry at the University of Alabama before his death from Parkinson's Disease in 1996. His widow, Kathryn Starbuck, is a poet and former editor of the MILFORD (NH) CABINET. Elizabeth Meese, author of (SEM) Erotics, is a Professor of English at the University of Alabama. 

The Works, the collected poems of George Starbuck from the 1950s to the 1960s, is scheduled to go to press in 2002.

 

Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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