cover image X


James Galvin, . . Copper Canyon, $14 (96pp) ISBN 978-1-55659-191-4

As in "Ex-": "Why was the last kiss May seventh/ And so shy?" Such unanswerable questions, and the sad moments that take the place of replies, make this sixth book of poetry from Galvin (Resurrection Update; Fencing the Sky) both his most focused and his most affecting. Though his work life is based at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Galvin has long spent part of each year in Wyoming, which he has described in a memoir and a novel: here, clipped short lines and trademark page-spanning sentences consider the "night sky pinned up with stars," the mountain pines, and the fires that threaten them, where "geography offers history few options." Most of the volume, however, grows from far more personal hazards and regrets: poems glance off or focus painfully on Galvin's recent divorce from the poet Jorie Graham. "So out of love with life am I," he muses, "No future will have me." Galvin moves trenchantly between terse reflection and pointed accusation: "Extremophile, you lied to everyone,/ Lies with wings." Galvin has always employed single lines and stand-alone sentences, and his poems end up eminently quotable; the best among them string those sentences together into harrowing meditations on landscape, deception or love now lost. A long, final, three-part poem detours through Italian spelunking, returns to the pain of Galvin's breakup ("like the opposite of/ Lamaze"), then closes the volume on tender words for his daughter, explaining the volume's mysterious title; X marks both the mystery of any life and the star-crossed events one poem compares to "broken limbs," "an inner din unending." (Apr.)

Forecast:This strong book would do well enough on its merits alone, but Galvin's influential position at Iowa and the frank, if laconic, poems about the end of his marriage to Graham may give this book a gossip-fueled boost.