(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Crossing the Equator: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2004 is Nicholas Christopher's eighth collection of poetry. His first collection, On Tour with Rita, was published in 1982. Over the years, Christopher has been praised for the Magical Realism that seems to inhabit his poems. While his first collection was not published until 1982, the poet has been writing poems that dazzle since the early 1970's. As a freshman at Harvard University in 1969, Christopher won admission into a class taught by Robert Lowell, based on the quality of the poems that he was writing at the time.

Christopher has created an amazing body of work that has been applauded by many fellow poets. His first novel, The Soloist, was published in 1986, the year his second poetry collection, the exotic A Short History of the Island of Butterflies, came out. Since the mid-1980's, he has not gone more than a couple of years between publications. He is the author of three other novels, including A Trip to the Stars (2000) and Franklin Flyer (2002). His fiction has been compared to such illustrious writers as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, while his poetry has been linked to that of such American giants of contemporary verse as Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop.

In 1997, Christopher's striking study of film noir, Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City, was published. To compose this work, Christopher watched more than three hundred films. This is important to note, because there is a distinct cinematic quality to his poetry. He is drawn to the solitary individual who is on a quest. As in the films that he absorbed, Christopher's poetry returns on numerous occasions to the image of someone who is always restless, always venturing into harm's way.

In addition to a generous gathering of poems from his previous seven collections, Christopher has included nine new poems in Crossing the Equator. The longest of the new poems, “14 rue Serpentine: A Paris Notebook,” is divided up into fourteen parts or interludes. Each part feels like a scene from a vintage movie. In part 5, the poet sets a cinematic scene “In the back room where a ray of light/ has penetrated the vine-covered window/ the green curtain that parts/ onto the circular garden/ you dip your hands into a basin of water/ and they blur away.” The Paris of this poem is an intriguing collection of flash cards. Characters appear and, just as quickly, disappear. The word “blur” is appropriate for not only this poem, but also for much of what Christopher writes. With one blink of an eye, an entire landscape may dissolve into something else.

Historical events and the past are integral to Christopher's poetry. He speaks of escaping both of these forces, but in the end escape is not possible. The expression “crossing the equator” conjures up images of an explorer who has earned the respect of his peers by sailing far into uncharted territory. The poet may have his feet on solid ground, but he is constantly eyeing what is out there on the horizon. The new poems open Crossing the Equator and signal that Christopher remains a poet of stature. It is probably more common for poets to put the new poems at the end of a collection that includes selections from their previous volumes. Christopher displays a bold confidence by placing his new work at the beginning of the collection. He is not about to seat what is fresh and new in the back of his proverbial bus.

After dazzling the attentive reader with his new work, Christopher introduces the uninitiated to selections from his earlier collections. There is a definite dreamlike quality to his 1982 collectionOn Tour with Rita. Crossing the Equator includes eight poems from this early collection as well as portions of the title poem “On Tour with Rita.” The title poem introduces the reader to a lively but nomadic character. Rita has been described...

(The entire section is 1620 words.)