cover image What Goes On: New and Selected Poems 1995–2009

What Goes On: New and Selected Poems 1995–2009

Stephen Dunn, . . Norton, $24.95 (203pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06775-0

Pulitzer-winner Dunn has, since the 1970s, offered pellucid free verse with a great deal of thought cast into deliberately plain diction, about the ups and downs, the epiphanies and the wisdom, of middle-class domestic life. This 16th book of poems and second Selected will certainly give loyal readers what they seek: prose poems and free-verse stanzas about small pleasures, houses and roads, disappointments, and sex, or the lack of it. “One night they both needed different things/ of a similar sort: she, solace, he to be consoled,” one subtle if typical poem begins; another finds Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein , “almost ready to praise this awful world.” In his recent poems (including 20 new ones) faithful readers will also find surprises, none harsher or more startling than the poems from The Insistence of Beauty (2004) about late-life divorce. Dunn also takes into his usually calm sensibility the public events of recent years—9/11, the war in Iraq; these politicized calamities give him unsettling backdrops for his pathos, and his ongoing search for consolation: “how sad it is,” he imagines telling God, “that awe has been replaced/ by small enthusiasms, that you’re aware/ things just aren’t the same these days.” (Jan.)