Douglas Crase’s poems are objects of profound and gentle beauty, both in their deliciously poised idiom, and in being monuments to the protean moments of a vast genera of life. When I read a poet like Crase I am astonished by the ease with which demotic language and form coincide to make a poetry as ‘natural’-sounding as it is sweepingly declarative.
Part of Crase’s loving update of transcendentalist, multitudinous vision into his own time is to fit it out for a period of erosion, commerce and reckoning.
For various reasons, The Revisionist has stood as Crase’s sole book of poems. Fortunately, it has just been reissued in a new edition by Nightboat Books, now gathered together with a more recent work titled The Astropastorals. The book’s reappearance has been greeted by glowing reviews.
Q: What were the ‘lucky encounters’ that remixed the Whitman for you?
A: By lucky I'm thinking of the kind of encounter for which there is no syllabus. The luckiest, without a doubt, was my meeting by chance a real live poet who happened to be John Ashbery—made even luckier because he had just published Three Poems. It was like Leaves of Grass all over again.
I had heard that Douglas Crase’s only full collection, The Revisionist, was something else, but I was still astonished to encounter its grand, cracked, almanac voice.
This is verse so meticulous in its construction, exquisite in its intelligence, and ravishing in its imagery that fellow poets cannot help but feel both daunted and inspired by the achievement.
The title poem of The Revisionist shapes an address to the nation as though it were whispering in a lover’s ear.
Crase’s use of ‘you’ allows America to be ‘land and air and rock’, but also a kind of Audenesque lover. And such a combination does allow the writer and reader to distance themselves from the rearrangement. Well, perhaps it allows the European reader to distance themselves; the American reader might feel pulled into the poem as both creating and colluding … and to be part of that wincing compromise.
This expertly framed volume marks a lasting contribution to American poetry.
The entire body of Crase’s work invites the kind of close attention that is usually reserved for poetry.
Through Crase we learn that a return to our transcendentalist past will not reverse the damage done during the American Century. Instead, our most Emersonian writer looks to the dump itself for refuge. ... It is a difficult, dirty, and partial kind of redemption. The poems that emerge out of a poetics of this hard promise may be characterized with language Crase has used to describe the poems of a close friend: they are ‘invitations to the unending contemplation of ourselves, and things beyond us, that makes the human species a window on creation.’
Crase’s view of the human process is one of moving towards and away from safety ‘perpetually on the verge’; a projection of humanity’s impulses for both home making and home threatening, particularly the ‘home’ of the Other. He seeks to observe ‘other worlds’ and implores us to preserve them.
The Astropastorals serves as a reminder that the history we are brooks no conclusion, so that it remains in continual need of revisionists (and therefore of The Revisionist). Crase’s first book is not, after all, a closed case, a done deal. We still need him.
I feel safe in saying Crase may be the most important poet of his generation.