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Utahn's collection of poems focuses on a diverse world

BEND, by Natasha Saje, Tupelo Press, 72 pages,

The gift of writing poetry that speaks to the reader is rare indeed. Yet Natasha Saje, an English professor at Westminster College, unquestionably possesses it.

Although she can usually be found teaching and writing in Utah, Saje was recently awarded a Fulbright grant that will take her to Slovenia. Born in Munich, Germany, she grew up in New York and New Jersey and still teaches in the Vermont College MFA in Writing program.

Saje has written numerous poems and essays published in academic journals; her first book of poems, "Red Under the Skin," was published 10 years ago. It was so well-received by critics and readers alike that it has been through three printings, the third appearing this year.

Now she has written her second large collection, "Bend," an astonishing effort focusing on a diverse world through wise and experienced eyes.

Impossible to categorize in simple terms, her style and meter run the gamut — as does her mood, from thoughtful and erudite to the playful use of satire. In several instances, she calls upon the work of such famed intellects as Cotton Mather, Henry Vaughan, Nietzsche, Proust, Gertrude Stein and Mary Shelley for a jumping-off point.

This is a book that will easily appeal to a large group of disparate readers, especially if you believe, as does Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, that there is no magic kernel of truth to be found in every poem. A reader need not find the same meaning as a poet — and may even enjoy a poem simply for its sound.

Saje's most unusual and possibly most interesting poem is "Marcel at the Station House," introduced by a quotation from Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist: "If you find yourself being questioned about a crime you did not commit, resist at all costs the impulse to be helpful."

There follows a series of questions with poetic answers:

— Where were you the night of July 10? Answer: I am unable to say from what place, from which dream, anything comes.

— If you were to commit a crime. . . . Answer: I would prepare the hundred masks that must fit a single face.

— You would plan it? Answer: How many persons, cities, or roads does jealousy make us eager to know? I'd think about details.

Many questions later, the interrogator concludes, I'd like to try a polygraph, if that's all right with you.

Many of the poems are not only highly quotable — wonderful to read aloud — but the kind to be committed to memory:

— "Regrets," about all the personal regrets we may share, such as "the two vertical lines between my brows."

— "Bad News," about the writer's fear and anger at a snake who currently holds a coveted key to a Mustang.

— "Tale," about a woman who has a "tail emerging boldly from her skirt."

— "Wave," about memories from the youth of an only child.

— "Vice," about what happens at home when the Mormon parents go out.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com