Among younger American poets, Lee Ann Brown is one of the wittiest and most inventive. Her new book, Polyverse, comes from the stylish Sun and Moon Press in their New American Poets Series. Here's flavor. First, one about the fact that poetry only goes so far:


weren't enough for her.

She often made

high cat cries

and danced hard

on the blue carpet.

Brown lives in New York and pays attention. Here's something from public transit, a sort of urban disorientation haiku:

Subway Exchange

What time is it?

A little after nine.

At night, right?

And she is given to small observations, wry, ordinary, to which she sometimes gives a little spin with her titles. Like this:

South of the Mind

Covered with lotion

I watch


One of her poems is called "Definitions at 3:15"; it includes this:


a condensed form

of food & time

and, my favorite, this (you may have noticed that all serious academics use this word constantly of late):


talking fancy

without much to


This is, I guess, inspired doodling, something in the spirit of the late New York poet Frank O'Hara. One of the things I like about Brown is that she plays with the world, with her perceptions, and with language. She's always giving it a second look. She's the editor of a small press called Tender Buttons, named for a famous prose poem of Gertrude Stein's. So that is another influence. Some of her pieces look like not much -- this one, for example:


Ice Tea

Cream corn

Fried okra

plus one meat

I don't know what she had in mind here. But the day after reading it, I drove by a sports arena with a banner hanging from it and mentally readjusted the sign so that it said "TRACK MEAT." This suggested other possibilities: "I'll be down to meat you in a taxi honey," "Meat me in St. Louis, Louie." Conversely, I thought, butcher shops could help redefine the principal interaction between humans and other animal species by putting up a sign that said "FRESH MEET." "One meat" seemed like it might make a good slogan for some group. Animal rights activists? The United Nations? Anyway, this cocking of the hat of language and wearing it a little askew can be playfully subversive and can freshen attention.

In one series of poems, Brown turns the method to the description of flowers. Here's a little summer garland:


Showy, invisible

not concerned with cherry pit

Five sepals, four with black, one cherry dot

leaves mutate

Back hook hooded, capped

point thin vein mouth

monk's rigid tuning

to a hard yellow

"Monk's rigid tuning"? Maybe she means Gregorian chant -- for the way the flower flares from its dark center to its bright petals.


moist white collapse

Marilyn's red kiss tissue

soft drop all at table bunching tinged

range: mauve, magenta, white carnation blue

collar of ants populate taste parts

traditionally departing painfully from an idea

( 1999 by Lee Ann Brown, from Polyverse. Reprinted by permission of Sun & Moon Press.)