The Selvage

Linda Gregerson, Author
Linda Gregerson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23 (96p) ISBN 978-0-547-75009-5
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Gregerson opens her fifth volume with gritty American scenes—the farms where she grew up, with their Scandinavian immigrants, “the map// of blessed second chances writ in tasseled/ corn,” the school bus stops of blue- and of white-collar towns, occasions for lessons about place, about social class, about “honest work.” She then takes off into Latin literature, Christian tradition, Renaissance art, Greek myth. “Theseus Forgetting” compares the checkered record of that Athenian hero to the checkered records of our lives, and to the history of classical reading: “What comes to us in pieces—think// of Sappho on the midden heap—lays claim/ to us in ways the merely/ perfect can’t.” Gregerson uses her learning while trying to share it; weaker poems can read like remarks on their sources, but the strongest stand on their own, whether considering Ovid by the Black Sea (he didn’t give the place a fair chance) or reacting, without allusion or ornament, to grisly child abuse: “When I’m/ allowed to run the world you’ll/ have to get a license just to take the course on parenting and// everyone/ will fail it and good riddance we’ll die out.” She is not often so angry, but she can be that powerful, that direct, regularly. (Oct.)
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