Review by Matthew Thorburn
by Stuart Greenhouse

Poetry Society of America, 15 Gramercy Park, New York , N.Y. 10003
2005, 27 pp., $8.00

Selected by Brenda Hillman for the PSA's annual chapbook competition, Stuart Greenhouse's What Remains brings together 14 poems about perception, how we take in the world and what we make of it, in terms of both making sense and making art. His work shows us how "the mind, tossing, tosses out new sounds, / or the same sounds thought different, continually." In the opening poem, "The Smell of Warm Grass, and Shakespeare's Majestic Silence," he addresses Perdita, The Winter Tale's lost girl, in shimmery language draped across a slippery syntax. This shifting light-on-water effect reflects his mind's movements and sets the tone for the book: "let me know myself why I grow vocal // in this down-light crusting March-frost-deep / a crow's back as if on and in were equal…." Elsewhere, making tea and musing on transformations, Greenhouse points out "the dry leaves as your readied sea of boil / drowns them young again, floating open, easy / as you once were, thinking words were."

The long poem "My Lead Hat" anchors the collection. Composed of 27 brief sections, it's a cubist, seen-from-all-sides meditation on a hat that seems to be a physical manifestation of the speaker's memory, or perhaps his guilty conscience – either way, the ballast that keeps his rhetorical ship from floating away. "Afraid to take off my lead hat as if, / if I forgot myself / I'd cease to be" runs one section, while another begins:

When I envision my heart
it is wearing
a little lead hat.
When I cry, my tears
are heavy with theirs.

Back-and-forthing between the jokey and the profound, this poem "after two masters" recalls Zbigniew Herbert and Wallace Stevens in equal measure.

"Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around a lake," Stevens once wrote, and these poems, too, exit their interior world to get some fresh air. In one of two poems called "Landscape," we see dusk arrive "over the mountains, navy blue pinstripe, felt hat in hand," while in the second "Landscape" an insomniac... tenuous
like a cloud pulled with each attention
from the medium otherwise known
as its world apart.

In such moments, these poems offer "proof that art is what we are / most when most ourselves" and make me look forward to Greenhouse's first full-length collection.


Matthew Thorburn's first book is Subject to Change (New Issues, 2004). More recent poems appear in The Paris Review, Michigan Quarterly Review and Pool. He has also contributed book reviews to Boston Review and Octopus, and writes about writing at

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