THE ANTIOCH REVIEW: Can You Relax in My House Review

Can You Relax In My House by Michael Earl Craig is the prose poem, that hybrid form, reinvigorating the poem now, offering back its nomadic, subversive tendencies? If this debut collection by Craig is the result of such redoubled pollination, we are indeed lucky. Question mark-less title aside, there is no forced oddity here, no pretense elevating the unpredictable shock value. Craig’s crafted use of line and space stabilizes the fragile worlds he creates, as does his flexible use of found forms: stage directions, monologues, letters, philosophical propositions, maxims (‘… a duck cannot think straight / but this does not spoil our hopes for him.’), and blues riffs (‘You were at that round table in the sun, / why did you move? I said why’d you move, / you were at that nice table, in the sun? / You were just at that table– / I said why’d you move dammit you were in the sun?”) If these forms seem to want to go to work for Craig, perhaps it is because he has such a keen ear and eye for the delicate, sadly human predicaments these forms so naturally frame, and because his images are set as finely as rare jewels into their slightly cockeyed facets–and set they are, never crushed in a torrent of easy, indulgent surrealism. Precise and solitary images (‘Pale green soapstone Buddha with a beam of light filling his head. / Sourdough pancake, with a mind of its own, much bigger than the table.’) are calibrated to produce tints of the unnerving, shadowy states we barely speak of: tugs and nudges of insufficiency, shame, powerlessness solidly root. It takes enormous fidelity to one’s vision and particular sensibility to produce the effects shown here. Craig animates a world we secretly share, and the tension and kilter of his poems reflect ‘dreamish autobiographical thoughts’ with great poise. ‘I’m back and snapping/my dark cape at the edges of / our notion of complacency’ the solemn, slightly threatening homesteader persona on the cover intones in ‘Courageously Yours.’ So, too, will readers eagerly anticipate Craig’s rousing return.”

Lia Purpura (March 2003)