Arcane Rituals from the Future
Winner of the 1913 First Book Prize selected by Claudia Rankine.
Leif Haven’s first book of poems, Arcane Rituals For the Future, resists having quotations picked out from it and set down to display the book’s brilliance or beauty. This is to its credit—but why? The best way to think about the question is to read the collection, to encounter these relentlessly questioning poems and their own un-self-satisfied rhetoricity, built of thinking, talking, listening, probing, and turning. There is music here, humor and play, and (not “but”) it is a deeply serious work of thinking, as if about many things and conversations at once. This, because the vision and intelligence from which the poems emerge is palpably generous: it (the work as a whole) wants to leave nothing out, and a question perhaps that the poems are asking is about what kind of language acts are least likely to do that—what can be made, now, of Wittgenstein’s ordinary language, what of ornament and what of song? The poems, often by their very form, invite conversations with them that one wants to be having and that poetry needs to be having and that aren’t always comfortable to have. Arcane Rituals For the Future refuses complacency as an orientation toward the future—the illusory teleology of which the title subverts—and it is made of poems that give pleasure. Despite the difficulty of extracting from a complex and marvelously made whole, how about this quotation as a glimpse of one aspect of Haven’s invitation: “What is important now is the matchbooks that are in the drawer. Get them now. Build a house out of them.”