Using minimal punctuation and loosely musical lines, Hahn's work is comfortably Merwin-esque, with an instinct for last impressions that confidently keeps this deft lyric exploration of holy days—days of writing, birthing, dying; days of pagan and Christian and political celebration—afloat. The book's final poem, a seven-part "swan song" about birthdays, is one of the strongest in the collection. Inspired in part by the familiar "Monday's child" rhyme, the song-poem includes refrains that sew it together unobtrusively, yet firmly: In one section "a suffering cankers the tongue and the world/ a thousand years ago was pocked with lesions," while in another, "a lovely silence beds the tongue and the world/ a thousand years ago was more/ than a small ornament...." Yet the artificial diction, for all its accomplishment, doesn't quite come off. In an Ash Wednesday poem, "The Woman Who Became All Ash," the narrator reports that "She's dug// sores into her smooth thighs/ as she delves for salvation./ Awaits deliverance like the others/ in the upheaval of these hours." The nice off-rhyme in the final couplet isn't enough to ground such observations. In other lyrics here a fertile woman is likened to a flower, a writer and mother to a larva that appears to die in becoming a moth—metaphors that aim to root this collection to ancient themes and rituals, but seem a little too far from our actual world to work. (Nov.)
Forecast: Hahn is the editor of TriQuarterly magazine and co-editor of TriQuarterly Books (published through Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.) so she is well known within the poetry world. This is Hahn's fourth book, and fourth published within the last 10 years by the nearby Univ. of Chicago press; it should do well regionally.
Release date: 10/01/2001