“His work is a modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy with a jazzy backbeat.” That praise appeared in the pages of The New York Times in 2005, but it applies no less to August Kleinzahler’s newest collection.
Kleinzahler’s poetry is, as ever, concerned with permeability: Voices, places, the real and the dreamed, the present and the past, all mingle together in verses that always ring true. Whether the poem is three lines long or spans several pages; whether the voice embodied is that of “an adult male of late middle age, // about to weep among the avocados and citrus fruits / in a vast, overlit room next to a bosomy Cuban grandma” as in “Whitney Houston,” or that of the title character in “Hootie Bill Do Polonius,” who is bidding “adios compadre // To a most galuptious scene Kid”—Kleinzahler finds the throbbing human heart at the core of experience.
This is a poet searching for—and finding—a cadence to suit life as it’s lived today. Kleinzahler’s verses are, as noted in the judges’ citation for the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize (which he won for his collection The Strange Hours Travelers Keep), “ferociously on the move, between locations, between forms, between registers.” The Hotel Oneira finds Kleinzahler at his shape-shifting, acrobatic best, unearthing the “moments of grace” buried under the detritus of our hectic, modern lives.