cover image Squares and Courtyards: Poems

Squares and Courtyards: Poems

Marilyn Hacker, Hacker. W. W. Norton & Company, $21 (88pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04830-8

Dailiness and disease fuel the award-winning Hacker's ninth collection of poetry: a grim, painstaking survey of the effects of cancer and HIV on the author's wide circle of loved ones. Hacker conveys a strength of will with an evenness of tone, one that can handle difficult material while offsetting some of the more telegraphed formalism. She is at her strongest when most stark and direct, as in ""Twelfth Floor West"": ""The new bruise on/ her thigh was baffling. They left an armchair/ facing the window: an unspoken goal."" The book is separated into two sections, the longer of which, ""Scars on Paper,"" contains 19 shorter poems that harbor some heavy-handed imagery (""She herself/ was now a box of ashes on a shelf/ whose sixteen-year-old-shadow mugged at you/ next to a Beatles poster in your blue/ disheveled bedroom..."") and lines that often read like prose broken into triplets, quatrains and unnumbered short sonnet sequences. In the 40-page ""Paragraphs from a Daybook,"" however, Hacker drops her formal guard and finds the emotional pitch and range that most affectingly serve her primary subjects: courage and dignity manifested through ordinary behavior in the face of acute physical breakdown, suffering and societal disdain (several passages take on anti-Semitism)--and searing self-examination: ""However well I speak, I have an accent/ tagging my origins: that Teflon fist,/ that hog wallow of investment/ that hegemonic televangelist's/ zeal to dumb the world down to its virulent/ cartoon contours."" Readers will find many of the contours here precise and elegant. (Jan.)