|RILEY LOOKS SQUARELY AT DEATH, LANGUAGE, LOSS, AND SORROW AND RISES TO THE OCCASION|
Denise Riley's new collection, Say Something Back, from Picador, is not just a good book of poetry. It is, in a very quiet way, truly great.
Line after line, phrase after phrase, pivot and lift with a certain extra sense of all the ambiguities, ironies, and possibilities, not just of deploying those particular words in that order, but of saying anything, at all - and deeper, of even the possibility of constructing any kind of sensibility at all; especially when the tongue and the poet come up against death's impasse.
Or is it one? If language has any chance of outlasting what ends us, Riley's new poems, believe it or not, with terrible solemnity, much learning and bravado, and not a little black-comedy, offer options for what kind of poetic ectoplasm might gather and remain. If at all.
They say the brain is plastic and grows smarter in the presence of intelligence. Every poet, every writer, who wants to grow into using words, and feeling words, and feeling being itself, could grow from reading this modestly encompassing masterwork.