cover image The Broken String

The Broken String

Grace Schulman, . . Houghton Mifflin, $22 (84pp) ISBN 978-0-618-44370-3

Schulman's sixth outing goes all-out in attempting to represent joy: the kind that comes from works of art, in classical music, in jazz or on canvas, and the kind that comes from attention to everyday details. In the opening title poem, in which the violinist Itzhak Perlman advises (in Schulman's paraphrase): "make music with all you have, and find/ a newer music with what you have left." Other artists, other moments, provoke less optimistic thoughts: Masaccio's Adam and Eve, like Schulman with her former friend or lover, expresses "the long vibrato/ of sacred rage"; the painter Chaim Soutine, known for depicting carcasses, finds "light/ and the heart of dread." Schulman (Days of Wonder ) sounds most convincing when her palette grows darker: "Death" belies its stark title by presenting, in dense five-line stanzas, many cultures' ceremonies of mourning, from the Jewish "Kaddish that sanctifies and praises being" to a New Orleans brass-band funeral. Here, even more than in prior collections, Schulman seeks and finds a fluency in traditional forms: trimeter quatrains here and there, but by and large a supple, unforced pentameter, whether rhymed, off-rhymed or blank. Detractors may find the new work offers few surprises; admirers may find much to praise. (Mar.)