The Tame Magpie

This slim posthumous collection from the late Second Generation New York School poet, compiled by friends Charles North and Tony Towle, is an important addition to his oeuvre. With scholarly knowledge and ready wit, Paul Violi’s highly referential final work looks to an astounding number of sources, including art, Ancient Greek poetry, and automobile ads. The book comprises twelve poems—among them, “Further I.D.’s,” a twenty-page, sixteen-part sequence of riddle-poems inhabiting the personas of various (mostly) historical figures with pointed humor and an impressive imagination. The title poem, which opens the collection, takes Allessandro Magnasco’s painting of the same name as its inspiration then introduces the late-nineteenth century American satirist Ambrose Bierce into the mix: “‘That gangly man,’ says Bierce, / ‘Is he beseeching or conducting the bird? / Of art, who is hungrier, / He or that swollen magpie?’” Whether Violi’s demonstrating his comic gift in “Stalin and Mao Schtickomythia” and “So Much Depends” (“On / The white chickens / Martha Stewart / Fluffs / And / Blow-dries / Before / Letting them / Free range / On her front lawn”) or in the meditative lyric of “Fragments from Michelangelo and Elsewhere,” he remains an inviting and diverting poet. The collection’s prophetic final poem, a funny but tender tribute to Bob Hershon, is more poignant than ever: “Now I’ll never be able to finish that poem to Bob…”

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2014.