Frozen Falls, Barry Seiler’s fourth full-length collection of poems, extends the range of his themes and poetic strategies. Readers of his earlier work will recognize Seiler’s concern with family loss, popular music and film, Jewish experience, and the intensities and disappointments inherent in the act of writing. But they will also find a series of brief, inventive poems on the inner life of domestic objects such as armchairs and vases, the best poems of this kind since Francis Ponge, and two long poems that anchor the book: “American Misfortune” and “Turns.” “American Misfortune,” a narrative sequence, meditates on the fragility of the lives we construct, the stories we tell to explain ourselves to ourselves. “Turns,” a journal of the seasons, uses lyrical fragments to chart the mind’s daily negotiations between the inner and the outer world, seeking the peace offered by the quiet rituals of rural life during the changing course of the year.
Sustaining the collection are motifs of falls and falling, from autumn to waterfalls, from stumbles to Eden. By turns hopeful and skeptical, the book considers the consolations of art and its limits – the wish that a life of writing will justify that life, and the fear that it may not. And holding everything together is a distinctive voice that brings to each new topic an attitude and manner of speaking that is Seiler’s alone. We hear a wised-up wit softened by a sympathetic understanding of failure, a balance between the struggle to live meaningfully and the grace to accept the simple pleasures of living in the moment. In these poems, Barry Seiler has perfect pitch, and he sounds like nobody else.