How to Do Things with Tears

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

How to Do Things with Tears is a challenging, provocative work which superimposes the mythic on the everyday. This poetry collection begins with the introduction of the Sighted Singer, a concept from another Grossman book. The Sighted Singer is to be the singer of the present, and unlike the traditional blind bard he must be able to see to deal with the complex sadness of this time and place.

Allen Grossman’s ninth book of poetry, this collection is a marvelous assembly of sublime and ridiculous, sadness and promise. Despite the title, the book has a few gleams of optimism, even if only in Grossman’s insistence that the singer has an important role in interpreting and even determining events. Grossman is similar to Wallace Stevens in the claims he makes for poetry. There are echoes of Stevens in the poems in style and tone, and one deliberately engages Stevens in the comic episode “Wallace Stevens Entertains a Sex Worker.”

This book contains individual poems and sequences. They transform physical places into metaphysical locations (like “The weirdest structure/ known: Town Hall, Enigma, MN.”) The collection focuses on travel and allegorical journeys with cryptic, elliptical signposts, and featuring a variety of travelers. The reader is sometimes on the edge of being lost, but hanging on finds much to illuminate and ponder.

Grossman has been honored with many awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Grant, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the NEA Fellowship, and numerous other grants and awards. His work has always been richly laced with philosophy. This work’s title, for instance, reflects the linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words. How to Do Things with Tears demands quite a bit of the reader but richly repays attention.