cover image The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998

The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998

Alicia Suskin Ostriker. University of Pittsburgh Press, $16.95 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-8229-5680-8

The title of this deeply moving collection is from a Blake epigram, ""For we are put on earth a little space/ That we may learn to bear the beams of love."" For Ostriker, too, love and feeling must be endured and false comfort stripped, but this impulse remains at odds with the sheltering responsibilities of a poet as mother and teacher. (Ostriker is a Rutgers English professor.) Such enveloping contrasts--""The kernel of death/ Life wraps itself around/ Like chamois cloth/ Around a diamond// Ice/ Cold at the center""--are here made simultaneously funny and tragic, intense and conversational, politically charged and personally graphic. Ostriker writes textured, metaphorical descriptions of everything from the Holocaust, Monet, sex education guru Alan Gutmacher, and gym showers: the erotic imagination is ""a flock of puffy doves/ ...White contours begging caressing thumbs,/ the thready/ Magenta entrails."" Throughout her career, Ostriker has deftly employed rhythm and meter in such a way as to take a decidedly ambiguous stance toward tradition and continuity (for a son: ""you were those things/ I saw! and I have seen./ I shall be singing this/ when all the forests you have burned are green""). Though sometimes failing to make her lines move seamlessly between personal and political trauma (""So from now on you are responsible./ That is what we mean when we say/ consciouness is a curse""), Ostriker, with a rare intelligence, works to do justice to both. (Nov.) FYI: The Little Space has been nominated for a National Book Award.