Lake Antiquity: Poems 1996-2008

Lake Antiquity BY Brandon Downing. Fence. Paperback, 200 pages. $40.

The cover of Lake Antiquity

Drawing on the tradition of fanciful collage practiced by such poets as John Ashbery, David Shapiro, and Joe Brainard, Brandon Downing wields his own scissors to cut a distinctive patch within this New York School specialty. Other influences—Charles Henri Ford and Tom Phillips—may also be in evidence, but Downing’s assuredly contemporary sensibility marks both his choice of images and his orchestration of texts. Familiar visuals like those lifted from ’50s- and ’60s-era postcards, magazine ads, and grade school textbooks mix provocatively with rarer fare—a World War II plane-spotting guide, a stock certificate, and yellowed pages from a nineteenth-century book about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Of course, these materials have been sliced, diced, and adorned with found texts to create the piquant verbal-visual juxtapositions we expect from the collagist: Against a powder-blue sky, a biplane dives in to a dogfight, bracketed above and below by a slyly referential poem: “the inner history of the spectators was / so apparent on his face / you get different kinds of handwriting / in the line of the roadway / or the right way made for the open door / to the stark amazement and horror of all.” In the vintage ad below—for a steak house at an Americana theme park—the fantasy-inspired Indian princess appears to utter an unsettling warning: “some day you’ll be sorry for it / But not in this world.” Downing has sequenced his collages with cinematic pacing; you fly through these pages as you might in a dream.