cover image Bicentennial


Dan Chiasson. Knopf, $26.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-385-34981-9

Chiasson (Where’s the Moon, There’s the Moon) delivers a fourth collection with his trademark poultice of wit, tightly honed formalism, and reimaginings of the world around him. In “Away We Go,” where his speaker sarcastically sobs, “O my collectible dinnerware,/ I’ve hunted everywhere for answers,” we find Chiasson addressing a bird as a member of the IRS auditing “the Spring’s enormous income/ while I piss my windfall zilch away.” “I turned the pain up/ In my poetry,” he writes in “Vital Signs,” and, true to his word, Chiasson explores a life lived without knowing his father through lenses of pop culture, history, and the raising of his own children. His more formally experimental writing, including two plays in verse and several poems that absorb echolalia, ventures into fascinating new territory, questioning the nature of existence and the creation of art with equal parts curiosity and dark resignation. “If you exist,” says a faerie in “The Ferris Wheel in Paris: A Play,” “you must use your existence to erase every earthly trace of yourself.” Such booming statements set the stage for the book’s eponymous closer, which moves via smash cuts through Chiasson’s youth in 1976, arriving at a place of startling clarity through a voice unencumbered by either literary decoration or expectation. Chiasson clears a new path towards “something enormous/ And potentially dangerous.” (Mar.)