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Beautiful Signor

by Cyrus Cassells

ISBN 1556591241 / 9781556591242 / 1-55659-124-1
Publisher Copper Canyon Press
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

It's hard to say what the first human emotion was, but Cyrus Cassells's Lambda Award-winning book of love poems, Beautiful Signor, makes a strong case for erotic longing. Cassells's narrative arc begins with "The Magician-Made Tree," in which the dejected American speaker meets the Beautiful Signor, a young man from Venice. These Venetian poems read like philosophy interrupted by seduction, with clothes flying off characters and dawn arriving too early (attempting in verse what Harold Brodkey achieved in his novel Profane Friendship). As the lovers travel throughout the Mediterranean, the speaker's passion for the Venetian spins out of control, culminating in "The Fool, The Foreigner." Here, his emotions find a correlative in his lines, rising to a lavish Sufi ecstasy; from this tightly wound height, they can only unravel like wicker, as in the section "after, morning":

Amid scattered
bedclothes, dawn-lit
empty bottles, you sing
at my awakening...

Lift me from the armor
born of moments
full of sting
when my daft, abraided heart
felt no one's beloved.

Despite the speaker's lyrical power, the Beautiful Signor is ultimately unattainable, just as his relatives--Dante's Beatrice, Shakespeare's young lover, Ovid's fickle beauties--fell out of reach. Indeed, Dante's question underlies much of this book's soul-searching: "How could such a woman as Beatrice exist?" "Beatrice exists," is Cassells's answer, but in the final poem, "Amalgam," he's not so sure. The book's best qualities, however, lie outside the narrative in Cassells's line-by-line craft, such as "Today we embraced under a branch / in mummyish Linari." Although AIDS is never mentioned explicitly, the speaker's voice emerges from a backdrop of tragedy. In a world of wounded bodies, Cassells reclaims an idea of salvation through erotic love. --Edward Skoog [via]