Semblances 1962-1971
by Vincent Barrett Price
Santa Fe: The Sunstone Press
$4.95

In some of the most riotously fresh poetry of late, Vincent Barrett Price has established himself as a chanter of the self who demands our earnest attention. In each of the three sections of Semblances 1962-1971 (Parcels from Home, The Keepers, and Workshops from the Suicide Tank), Price explores deeply and often devilishly the struggle for individual awareness in a world where "The Smithsonian is/ the last wilderness left" ("Five Thousand Three Hundred and Twenty Five Wolves") and "All the right words" have been used "in all the wrong places:/ love, trust, truth/ –they can't be used again" ("Mutt Thoughts").

At the heart of Price's collection is a bold invitation, conveyed so lustily in "Christmas License," to "take liberties with your mind." Such liberties are certainly taken in "Prophetic Confession," whose speaker is "a recluse in riddles," or in "Marginalia on the Cuff of a Cynical Optimist in Quicksand," which closes with a splendid Whitmanesque bravado:

           If you must die,
           die vain
           as dying without doubt.
           Deliciously,
           nothing but death is at stake.

Closely related to Price's theme of self-exploration is that of faith and commitment. "The Minister's New Clothes" exemplifies the liberating creed that

           Love is liberty from suspicion.
           The more we realize the Unforeseen,
           the more we trust each other.

"Prophetic Confession" offers this poignant paradox, so vivid in its authenticity:

         ...we will close our eyes around each other and the dark,
         trusting only what we see;
         and my face will not smudge when you touch it.

Price's vision is both dynamic and disarmingly, unabashedly honest. He dedicates the poems from Worksongs from the Suicide Tank to "my own natural death," for instance, and, in "Counting Sheep" (from this third section), he writes with audacity: "Rip van Winkleis my patron saint." Here indeed is a self-reliant poet, witty and compelling in his joie de vivre, mighty and provocative in his challenging of the sinister or mundane. The illustrations by Rini Price and James P. Rini, haunting in their intensity, are fitting accompaniments to the text.

–Joseph Lawrence Basile

This review originally appeared in the Winter 1976-77 issue of South Dakota Review