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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Donald Finkel, 79, Poet of Free-Ranging Styles, Is Dead

Donald Finkel, a noted American poet whose work teemed with curious juxtapositions, which in their unorthodoxy helped illuminate the function of poetry itself, died on Nov. 15 at his home in St. Louis. He was 79.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son, Tom, said.

At his death, Mr. Finkel was poet in residence emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis, where he had taught from 1960 to 1991. His work appeared in The New Yorker and other publications.

His books were published almost exclusively by Atheneum. Among his 14 volumes of poetry are “Simeon” (1964), “A Joyful Noise” (1966), “The Garbage Wars” (1970) and “What Manner of Beast” (1981). In 2003, Mid-List Press published Mr. Finkel’s collection “Not So the Chairs: Selected and New Poems.”

Mr. Finkel’s work could be mordantly comic and was often of epic length; a single poem could fill an entire volume. There was little high-flown abstraction in his poetry, and little lofty diction. Writing in colloquial free verse and butting normally disparate subjects against each other, he deliberately blurred the boundaries between the animate and inanimate, the mythic and the mundane, the sacred and the profane.

The title poem of “Not So the Chairs” opens this way:

The tables slept on their feet

like horses

could wait there

forever if commanded

no matter what men set on them

a strong back was all it took

and a little patience

the beds never got up at all

pampered in linens

sprawling in perfumed chambers

while on their breasts the gentry

shrieked and sweated

muffling from time to time a sigh

in a diffident pillow


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