“The titles of the minimalist poems appear at the bottom of the page; it means a slowed-down knowing and an after-the-fact awareness… a playful inversion. Delbos draws inspiration from Chopin, Philip Glass, Václav Havel, and pulls from disparate influences and reference points, from the Sex Pistols to Homer to Micro Machines. The result is an active, acrobatic collection.”
—Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe
“Delbos manages a clever feat with his new collection— he crafts an easily accessible opening with self-aware poems that lure the reader in and gain their trust for the more challenging poems that follow… He approaches his craft without any semblance of fear, and seems to expect that same thing of his readers. How refreshing.”
—Kenneth J. Pruitt, Rain Taxi
“Delbos’ language is so gorgeous… But the main feature of this collection is its windows that let in the light of illumination, the heat of passion, and the movement of language through its pages that will motivate poets to write, and readers to read. All with a bit of humor thrown in.”
—Terry Lucas, The Widening Spell
“Light Reading, operates, in a sense, as a verbal museum, where intellectual artefacts from various epochs and cultures are exposed in a variegated pattern that celebrates life and creativity.”
—Anton Romanenko, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars
“In reading this collection I had the feeling that these poems, these condensed, precise evocations of the possibilities—and limitations of language—seemed to be coming into being on the page, speaking to ghosts, alluding to the unutterable, to the moment captured in the empty spaces. Unconfined, open-ended and illuminating, Light Reading is a work that leaves plenty of room for exploration. And enjoyment.”
—Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
The poems in Light Reading interrupt silence with whispers, occasional shouts, erasures’ spaces. Delbos’ lines resonate with startling spontaneity and sprezzatura. A master minimalist, he writes with risible daring and poignance. His mind’s at poetic play throughout these refreshing poems, leaping with erudition, oneiric strangeness, and Czech allusions that would charm Kafka. “Your brain is a beehive” and “honey tastes like blood,” he writes in “Bagatelle for György Ligeti, Eternal Light & Honeycomb.” I love the buzz and blood of this book.
Fragmentary, elliptical, and aphoristic, Stephan Delbos’ lyrics resonate beyond the page. As he notes, “language / outlives us.” If American poet Bill Knott whispers below these cool surfaces, so too do Celan and Ritsos, allowing Delbos the “Ghost notes” of his interior yet cosmopolitan voice. There’s warmth too (“here / hang / your / shells / shadows / shame”) and playfulness (“I carry music like Samson / in my beard and later / on my Samsung”). Light Reading, as the title suggests, is breezy and prophetic, mirror and depth, and pleasurably “drunk on wordscotch.”
Lorine Niedecker called her work a “condensery,” and the term is equally appropriate to the poetry of Stephan Delbos in his brilliant Light Reading. His minimalist pieces are charged with rare wit and intelligence, his bagatelles are as poised and surprising as those of Bartok, and his tongue-in-teach suggestions for his fellow poets turn out, ironically, to be wise advice despite themselves (“A poem controlled by someone else / A someone who doesn’t speak your language”). According to Delbos, “What is worth believing / is impossible / to believe / and really only / that will save you…” And you better believe it.
This is a fascinating, disquieting book whose ghostly narratives emerge from tenuous connections between statements, between words, as well as between words and the page’s negative space. Ineluctably conditioned by the very writing of them, histories of walks along Prague streets, of places where the poet eats or drinks, have become forms of desire. Light Reading’s opening line, “what you cried when you came from the womb is your name,” reveals an intuition of experience that constitutes a radical departure from In Memory of Fire, the prior collection by Stephan Delbos. Midway through the new volume the equally laconic “Why Writing” makes this simple observation: “Even our names are words.” To be human is to be suffused by language. And to write is the most human act, which brings us to fullness. Naming allows us to belong, yet the poet, the artist, who makes marks in the world fashions our existential paradox; inscription throws the self into flux. Delbos has crafted a poetry of ideas. His marvelously lyrical insouciance both destabilizes and heroicizes our belief in the poet’s vocation.