cover image The Problem of the Many

The Problem of the Many

Timothy Donnelly. Wave, $20 (208p) ISBN 978-1-940696-49-2

Impressive in its precise articulation and range of insights, Donnelly’s dazzling third collection extends the thematic reach of his 2010 Kingsley Tufts Award–winning The Cloud Corporation. Charting the underbelly of Western capitalism, the speakers in Donnelly’s poems locate the imperialist impulse in humanity’s distant origins. “First living cell, what have you to say for yourself/ now?” asks “Chemical Life,” embodying the battle against entropy while “the universe tends inexorably toward disorder.” In “Fascination,” the speaker considers the historical and geographical journey of sassafras while drinking root beer, until “I hear the fingertips of history// thrum on tabletops in Roanoke and when popcorn bursts as it/ spins in my microwave.” In these long, associative spirals, Alexander the Great, Elizabeth I, and Nebuchadnezzar are invoked as influences on the present moment and as stand-ins for humanity’s misplaced self-importance. In contrast to human monuments, natural phenomena (such as clouds) pose a problem to conceptual borders: “manifold stuff of reality recombining// itself in response to key events free of regard to what humans take/ to be necessary distinctions.” Donnelly’s eye traces satellite images and contortions of fire above a refinery, while using deadpan humor with equal vividness. From gut flora to galaxies, these poems offer glimpses “that waver like air above lit candles,” restoring meaning to the world in the process. (Oct.)