cover image The Math Campers

The Math Campers

Dan Chiasson. Knopf, $27 (128p) ISBN 978-0-593-31774-7

The meditative fifth collection from poet and critic Chiasson (Bicentennial) invites the reader to witness the poet’s processes of creation, retrieval, and revision as a writer and dreamer, father and son. Framed by ekphrastic poems that gloss murals by David Teng Olsen adorning the walls of the poet’s home, the book works by a loose Russian-doll principle: just as the murals reflect and refract details from the lives of the poet and his immediate family, so do these nested poems. As a teenager, the poet prays “that art/ would sometime send a ladder from the sky,” and that he might “become the love child/ of Sylvia Plath, Ozzy, and Alex DeLarge.” Years later, he finds himself “almost Ozzy, mansplaining/ to my eleven-year-old son the photo/ of a Louis Quatorze gilt dildo he found in our cloud.” Intimations of social crisis and environmental disaster glow on the horizon, “Caskets line up for the slip-n-slide./ A collarbone surfboards down the alley./ Through the mudslide we humans wade,” but the book centers on intimate dramas of adolescence, middle age, masculinity, and literary genealogy (poetic allusions from Milton and Eliot to Merrill and Bidart abound). These beautifully crafted poems are a memorable addition to Chiasson’s singular oeuvre. [em](Sept.) [/em]