cover image A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on the Poet’s Novel

A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on the Poet’s Novel

Edited by Laynie Brown. Nightboat, $29.95 trade paper (600p) ISBN 978-1-64362-025-1

Poet and novelist Browne (Periodic Companions) compiles essays that explore the genre-bending “poet’s novel” in this ample if uneven collection. Browne asks, “What purpose does prose fill that poetry perhaps does not,” and the 57 poets who respond to this prompt dissect their favorite poet’s novel to investigate how each casts off novelistic conventions in favor of a hybrid form. The more poignant essays succeed when the author’s personality comes through: Norma Cole conveys tenderness by addressing her essay on Emmanuel Hocquard’s AEREA dans les forêts de Manhattan to her deceased friend, the poet Stacy Doris; Joshua Marie Wilkinson irreverently describes the “poet’s novel” in his essay on Roberto Bolaño’s Antwerp as “bastard of one, foster child to another”; and Traci Brimhall avoids the pedantic with a playful question-and-answer essay about Hilda Hilst’s The Obscene Madame D. But the themes central to a “poet’s novel” (the “incomprehensible” and “unknowable”) render many essays murky: Lynn Xu’s reading of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, for example, focuses on the Künstlerroman tradition and reads like an academic term paper. Nonetheless, this generous anthology will have a place on the shelves of literature professors and grad students. (July)