cover image Library of Small Catastrophes

Library of Small Catastrophes

Alison C. Rollins. Copper Canyon, $16 (96p) ISBN 978-1-55659-539-4

Rollins’s debut is a book of dissonance, with race and women’s bodies proving two unyielding concerns throughout this four-part work. In “A Woman of Means,” Venus Hottentot, the name collectively ascribed to two South African women displayed as freak show attractions in the 19th century, gives permission in the poem’s final lines to “enter—/ the opulence of this rabbit hole.” Research, classification, and even punctuation all provide metaphors and similes that are fresh and sometimes lacerating: “The amniotic sac a dust jacket// for the book of trauma” and “The boy is parenthesis,/ his shoulders curved,/ the huddled wings of a bird.” The library is scored with violence and etched with observations (“only things/ kept in the dark know the true weight of light,” “art is pain suffered and outlived,” and “We are never our own.// This is why we are so lonely”) that are gripping in their originality, precision, and breadth. Rollins conjures Borges and Whitman (“I sing/ the body hydroelectric”) as well as a hundred women poets from Dickinson to Tina Chang to Nicole Sealey in “Cento for Not Quite Love.” In poem after poem, Rollins demonstrates that she is finding her own way, shining a light, making darkness apparent. (Mar.)