cover image The Mind-Body Problem

The Mind-Body Problem

Katha Pollitt, . . Random House, $22 (82pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6333-8

Pollitt now enjoys national fame for her political columns and her personal essays; she gained attention earlier, though, as a poet—Antarctic Traveller (1982) won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Twenty-seven years later, this second collection shows her fine ear and eye, urbane tones, attention to the ups and downs of middle age and motherhood, and her debts to Elizabeth Bishop, whose most ardent fans will find Pollitt at her worst derivative, but at her best a wise and worthy heir. “Shore Road” just rewrites Bishop’s “Filling Station” (”somebody/ crew-cuts the crab-grass... puts out the plastic lawn chairs”). Poems about biblical scenes and characters seem thin compared to Bishop’s prodigal son. Yet when Pollitt uses Bishop’s careful and careworn tones for autobiography, she achieves wry, urbane retrospect and a power all her own: “Old Sonnets,” for example, recalls Pollitt’s undergraduate poetic ambitions; “Always Already” considers how the adult writer loses herself in the forest of other works, where “culture is a kind of nature,/ a library of oak leaves,/ muttering their foregone oracles.” No one is likely to call Pollitt’s verse radically new. Yet these poems can rise far above their promptings, as fleeting verse about an urban scene can rise to representative powers: often enough, Pollitt does. (June)