Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, August 6, 2006

Many excellent movies and novels have dealt with the ordeal of alcoholism. So, too, has poetry, including the recent book by Californian Kenneth Fields. Reflective and vivid, cool rather than melodramatic, these compact poems have a grotesque comedy that makes the booze-curse more dire, not less. Fields presents his characters -- "Billy," "Burton," a woman called "Billie" -- with blunt appraisal, clear-eyed sympathy and understated judgment.

Though the material is sad, the poems have the bracing, redeeming and even exhilarating effect that comes from precision. Fields has also mastered the difficult art of writing good dialogue in verse:

Cutting His Losses

Bars were his life. He kept getting thrown out.

"I drinks a bit," Billy would tell his friends

Back when he had them. He never threw things away,

He simply lost them, or he left them behind,

So a little less of him came back each day.

"It'll be safer there," he always said --

A shirt, a knife, a photograph, his name,

A list left in a bar or on the bus.

He drank a bit the morning he walked downtown,

Only two beers on the way to the liquor store,

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