The Salt Ecstasies

Part of the Graywolf Re/View Series, edited by Mark Doty, which aims to bring essential books of contemporary poetry back into print, James White's The Salt Ecstasies presents a collection of poems expressing desire and longing. White—who died in 1981—kept notebooks which included an autobiographical piece and a poem from 1978; both have found their way into the re-issue, further adding to White's poetic document of gay male experience. White's frank, candid commentary on sex, aging, and loneliness is gripping against a 1970s midwestern cultural backdrop (White lived in Minneapolis until his death) and accomplishes, through a mastery of Deep Image and an unflinching clarity, "sudden striking statement[s] that somehow manage to feel both unexpected and inevitable," as Doty writes in the book's introduction. From the poem "Making Love to Myself," which Doty cites as a proto-elegy, and one of White's masterworks:

We promised there'd always be times
when the sky was perfectly lucid,
that we could remember each other through that.
You could remember me at my worktable
or in the all-night diners,
Though we'd never call or write.

I just have to stop here Jess.
I just have to stop

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, fall 2010, issue 39.