Circular Stairs, Distress In The Mirrors

by Peter Klappert

with drawings by Michael Hafftka © 2008
Six Gallery Press, 94 pp
ISBN 10-09810091-1-5 ISBN 13-978-0-9810091-1-7 (paper)

A Review by Mary Morris
It’s not just the superb wit and eloquent writing embodied in this collection, but the constant stirring of surprises, of some great soul searching, if you will. The images are breathtaking. What is most ingenious about this writer is how he tackles difficult subjects, such as war and race, producing poetry with the social message he intends but with startling grace.


“This is not war,” he used to say, “it is
a comic opera with an occasional death.”

Down the dark street through
a wound in the wall
we go clutching stones
with our throats in pursuit.
This is the bottom of the well.
Try again. This time use both of your wings.
We go in flight
through a bandage of
newspaper up the dark
stairs at the top
of the light we forget
to inhale. Try again.
This time your claws, and your beak.

These fierce, engaging poems of Peter Klappert are accompanied by fabulous, often dark, surreal drawings of Michael Hafftka, a stupendous collaboration indeed. Klappert turns ordinary subjects into fascinating poems exemplifying the human condition. Hafftka complements these visions with figurative, deeply psychological impressions. Both use the surreal in a brilliant rendition. No surprise, both have been on the cutting edge for some time. Peter Klappert is the author of six collections of poems and a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Michael Hafftka is represented in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMA, the Carnegie Museum, and The National Gallery.

Each poem of Mr. Klappert’s is so skillfully executed as to alter subjects, creating works so original and awesome in a metaphorical, and sometimes metaphysical sense, as to be deeply intriguing, particularly in its condensed product. Klappert cuts to the chase without ever sacrificing beauty.


I am digging a pit
deeper than I will need.

on the other side of this mountain
Something is crying in a small hoarse voice.

It is breaking its teeth on my teeth.

Some shy animal is taking its paw
apart in the darkness.
Some poor animal is looking through its bones.

When I grab at my lungs they contract
like an old leather bellows.

Something the size of a very small boy
is kicking against that trap.

Devotions and prayers, gratefully original, align this book with titles such as “Lucifer Praying” and “The Lord’s Chameleons.” The latter, a radical, fantastical poem embraced by vision, explaining race. “But observing the long silence of God’s tongue/ the family fell into division./ Some argued. He’s the promise of all color,/ some No, he’s dark green (like the leaves/ where now He’s brooding). / Suddenly the air/turned mutinous with insects, an intimation/ of the coming of the Lord of Imitation./ The sun went dark as coffee, tongues/ of yellow lightning stunned their vision.”

What is apparent in this book is its vision, the vulnerability of the species, and the precision of its language.

Who else could write, “Today I read of people in South America who measure time by the blossoming of flowers.” “If he is beautiful/ he is beautiful with my losses, as a thief,/ exciting not by the value of his thefts/ but by the act/ and by invisible fine threads/ binding the object in time to its owner.”

Who could slip into the pace of a prose poem with hip engaging language, or turn the political, personal, a boy in a frame back in time in the country of Laos, as in, “Boy walking Back to Find his Father’s Cattle.” “If the water jar has been broken/ if a river is rising/ and starts/ again walking/ if he finds the five buffalo/ now back to Savanne/ from his village unsettled in ashes/a place/ if the T-28s remain grounded/ if rifles doze in the sun/ in the mind of his father, who would/ were it safe, walk back himself…”

A writer this savvy, along with the remarkable renderings of Michael Hafftka, form this book into a stunning collection.

Mary Morris is the recipient of the 2007 Rita Dove Award, The New Mexico Discovery Award, Finalist for the 2008 Stan and Tom Wick Book Prize and the 2008 St. Petersurg Review Prize. Poems have been published in Indiana Review, Quarterly West, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Gargoyle, and many others. Contact info: