cover image Silver Roses

Silver Roses

Rachel Wetzsteon, Persea (Norton, dist.), $16.50 (104p) ISBN 978-0-89255-364-8

Gifts for wry humor, stanzaic and rhyming forms, and literary allusion animate the best parts of this sometimes sparkling fourth and final collection from Wetzsteon, who built up a serious reputation (in part for light verse) before she took her own life in December 2009. Delight in set forms, in wit and verbal games, and even inside jokes will stand out on first reading. "Pursuits of Happiness" retells the plots of Hollywood comedies in stanza forms from 17th-century metaphysical poems: "Go, and fetch the chilled champagne." The very next page addresses Ludwig Wittgenstein's famous philosophical illustration, the always-ambiguous head that could be either rabbit or duck, in stunt-worthy rhyme: "realists... shun the appeal its/ rare white fur holds, although they feel it's/ a rabbit full of pluck." But to read through the collection is to see, gradually, the screens of humor open on real fears: of existential dread and failed romantic love. The more clearly personal poems may not highlight her particular talents, but they stick in the mind. They are rueful, regretful, frustrated, if never quite desperate: Wetzsteon calls "misanthropy my default mode, my armor"; her poems about urban life, love life, family life do often seem to grin through tears. (Nov.)