EMPIRE WASTED
Becca Klaver

Bloof Books, 2016

Becca Klaver’s second full-length collection, Empire Wasted, traverses from the urban idyll of O’Hara to the current wasteland; it’s an updated view of what has always existed and may always exist in New York City—a place that both liberates and deteriorates a person. “Liberty in the Basement Light,” the book’s second section, takes off from O’Hara’s Manhattan: “Poem,” with its short lines and beguiled attention to the cityscape, renews the New York School with a contemporary slant: “my silhouette briefly the star of / Zen for Film // conceptual art / in a selfie world // as a nod to poet security guards / everywhere.”

In the notes to the collection, Klaver reveals the Internet origins of some poems (“as-is from social media”) and the radio-hit influences of others—“Diamonds (Dash Cam Remix)” is intended to be “read over Rihanna’s song ‘Diamonds’.” Klaver sets each poem within a precise moment of pop culture, leading with a lighthearted tone while also achieving an understated seriousness: Rihanna examines “a light which never happens in life” and the reader is forced into both the singer’s specific experience as well as her implied performance of the poetic voice. “I saw a light, // it looked like it was from a nuclear explosion, / like I had seen in documentaries. / It was a light which never happens in life, / it happens probably only in the end of the world.”

By the third section (“Decade Zero”), the speaker sees the city as one of the few places in the empire that can remain timeless: a place that concurrently embraces change and resists time. “Then suddenly from a bar / with open windows / our friends leaned out / and touched our hands / We’d died and / gone back two decades / to learn of / a small world / To our inner compasses! / we toasted / shy and triumphant.” Klaver concludes the collection with a section of “poem-howls,” which not only function as an homage to Ginsberg but also as a commitment to continue the riot of poetry, which still thrives despite the wasting: “Look there / ye mighty // back on the beach / it’s us // in our / hotpants // wriggling our way / out.”