cover image Swimming Lessons: New and Selected Poems

Swimming Lessons: New and Selected Poems

Nancy Willard. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44639-2

Drawing from 10 previous collections (excepting A Visit to William Blake's Inn) and adding 30 new poems, Willard focuses closely on the things of the world around her. While mundane interests often yield mundane poems (""The Patience of Bathtubs"" extols the characteristics of tubs, or ""Grief and the Dentist,"" describes a pulled tooth), poems that move outward (the title poem and ""Clearing the Air"" are both about events in Willard's youth that have a lasting significance) combine close observation with a wider focus. In praising everyday objects, she adopts a one-note wonderment that can pall. But there are flashes of wit (in ""Roots,"" the vegetable man recommends his parsnips: ""I know the family""). Willard is adept at retelling myths and fairy tales; the ""Biddy"" poems evince both rhythmic and narrative energy. This collection (following Among Angels, co-authored with Jane Yolen) demonstrates Willard's trademark observant eye and often fey sensibility but offers few surprises. (Nov.)