ZYZZYVA: What It Means to Be Alive and Dying at the Same Time: Jack Mueller’s ‘Amor Fati’
Amor Fati, a thick volume of new and selected poems from Beat affiliate and once San Francisco fixture Jack Mueller, truly lives up to its name (Lithic Press; 177 pages). “Love of fate,” as the title translates, appears in these pages in many forms: as contemplative acceptance, surly fatalism, awed joy. One moment pondering the nature of death, the next exuberantly describing a bird, Mueller vacillates between optimism and resignation as he moves between the registers of philosophical abstraction and concrete observation. Distinctly the work of an older writer, Amor Fati tackles almost exclusively cosmic questions—about mortality, love, and our relationship to language.
While the more lucid, imagistic poems are generally Amor Fati’s most memorable, the majority of the book consists in abstract, existential declaratives. “We live, love, marry, suffer / and more,” one poem reads, while another comprises only the sentence “There is no science / but the science of poetry.” Mueller explores logic and physics, tautology and eroticism, with the tenor of someone who has thought long and hard enough about these subjects to have finally arrived at something true—something like consensus between his various and often inharmonious selves. (“I am, by condition, complex,” he writes, affecting Whitman, “I argue tomorrow and today comes / like a small surprise.”) Even when his subject is moral or linguistic relativism—which is often—Mueller speaks with authority: “I am not myself / nor am I something / other.” (READ MORE)
AMOR FATI. New and Selected Poems. Jack Mueller. (Colorado: Lithic Press, 2013; 174 pp., 5fx10, $17.00).
Reviewed by Richard Hack
Amor fati is love of destiny. Call it love of life. Call it love. Words are freeing, he says, words confine.
Here is a long-awaited and substantial collection by one of San Francisco’s best poets of the last fifty years. He is known in North Beach and has a long history well beyond the city limits. Here’s a book of work whose persona stands out from the rest. The diversity of its forms wide-ranging, with philosophical fullness and beauty of expression. It often has the conversational directness of the moderns, and demands thoughtful attention. As a whole it reads like a key part of the continual discussion of important matters by celebratory and critical poets and thinkers and servants of the world. We have lots to ponder and argue upon in this unusual writing accomplished with a sure hand.
Drift or no drift
a signal hill
on the side of San Francisco (from “Boxwork,” a poem in 13 parts)
He used to live on a very high part of the old northeast corner of town. If you go straight up Montgomery St. from Broadway, you can almost pull g’s before you make the little turns you need to get to Jack’s former building. The poet Eugene Lesser and his wife, Pamela Nittolo, lived there, too. A good percentage of the country’s poets lived right in the neighborhood, or downtown or in the Mission district or the Fillmore, in Manilatown and Chinatown and Japantown, or just across the Bay in Berkeley, Oakland, and Marin County. (CLICK HERE TO READ THE WHOLE REVIEW)