The latest poetry collection from 2002 PEN/Voelker Award for Poetry-winner, Frederick Seidel, whose previous books of poems include The Cosmos Trilogy; Final Solutions; Sunrise; These Days; and Poems, 1959–1979.
The poems in Ooga-Booga are the richest yet and read like no one else’s: They’re surreal without being especially difficult, and utterly unpretentious, suffused with the peculiar American loneliness of Raymond Chandler. Even when writing about sex, Seidel sounds incurably alone. And the charges of elitism and starfucking fall apart as soon as one actually reads the poems—a lunchtime glass of Haut-Brion at Montrachet becomes a self-dissection, and Seidel is toughest on himself ... While I can think of a more likable book of poems, I can scarcely imagine a better one.
...the poems themselves seem almost designed to keep his readers at arm's length. Replete with cash and defiantly frank about the pleasures of spending it, brusquely honest about the compulsive pleasures of sex...his poems tend, as his editor Jonathan Galassi once put it, to be 'uncompromising to the point of cruelty' ... The shadows of age and mortality that have always lurked around his poems have crept in from the corners, throwing his particular brand of glitter into chilly, too-bright relief, and the ritzy trappings with which he is accustomed to defining and buttressing himself...are no longer enough to fend off the sense of an ending ... It is this pressing awareness of threat that lifts Ooga-Booga from the bitchy, venal, brittlely amusing entity it could so easily and entertainingly have been into the realm of excellence. Seidel's unique and compelling mix of unapologetic materialism and unsparing, unsentimental honesty has created a painfully clear-eyed apprehension of the value of life and the horror of its loss.
Seidel’s love of death is redolent of Rilke and Rimbaud. But in Ooga-Booga, we also hear the jazzy couplets of T.S. Eliot, the misanthropy of Anthony Hecht, and the self-involved yet skilled syllabic rhythms of Robert Lowell ... Devoted readers of Seidel will recognize not only people and places, but such recurring themes as the woes of Milton’s Satan—a 'soul bereft in its torment'—and the gifted 'American in Paris' who, like Henry Adams, assimilates but remains apart, casting a puritanical eye on the merry-making. Also found here is a mirroring of bifurcated selves, slaves and masters changing places ... Too many of these poems seem to be drafts of other, better poems, sharing not only characters and places, but also lines and metaphors. The inclusion of lesser poems that share material with stronger poems forces the reader to wonder why Seidel included them at all, whether he deliberately disregards his own craft or feels himself near the end of his career and must publish the dregs as well as the fine vintage of his art.