Space Walk, poems by Tom Sleigh (Houghton Mifflin)

Tom Sleigh's sixth book, Space Walk, crackles with intelligence and strangeness -- a voice so distracted by what it sees and contemplates that it speaks with both the directness of the keen observer and the oddness of someone just regaining his own balance from the sight of things. The first lines of "Premonition": "Oh yes, banality of mind to think / itself safe just because out there you / can see the first faint green of unkillable // weeds spring up in ther sidings ..." The declarative blurtings have the convincing sound of dared thought -- and the thoughts move ahead in unexpected phrasing, hewing to form that delivers us, at the end, to precarious insight. Sleigh sometimes gets rough with the reader even as he makes it possible to share his compulsions. He resists vaguaries and demands an immediate response from the reader. Check out the wonderful "Archaic Figures," a canny weaving of remarks about boxing and rape that accumulates into an archetype of violence. And the fanciful and moving poem "Space Station," the urge toward childhood reminiscence converted into something both more responsible and revealing -- and a key to the source of Sleigh's inventiveness overall. Hardback, list $22.00.