The power of poetry reverberates within the pages of these collections.
Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon)
ISBN 978-1-55659-577-6, $17
The achingly beautiful fourth collection from Bibbins is a book-length elegy to a lover who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992. “Not lovers/ though we loved,” Bibbins writes. “Not boyfriends though we were/ friends and still/ boys in most ways when you died.” The collection’s title references a memorial to this beloved, the release of 12 balloons, crossing time to position the book as the 13th component. It’s a move emblematic of the book’s powerful ability to stitch the past to the present: “There are days when everything feels like a metaphor/ for your having died// There are days/ when nothing does.” The scope of this darkly humorous and always tender book paints a portrait of grief as a fellow traveler that morphs but loses none of its power over time—a power readers will be lucky to experience.
Asylum: A Personal, Historical, Natural Inquiry in 103 Lyric Sections
Jill Bialosky (Knopf)
ISBN 978-0-525-65709-5, $27
The elegiac fifth collection from Bialosky transcends genre, weaving tragedy, language, and perception in a poignant work of personal and public exploration. Embracing repetition and allusion, Bialosky confronts the memory of her sister, who died by suicide at 21, offering a view of a girl with “blue eyes bright// with the burn of knowing & barely/ a fleck of gloom, because she was young// & brave.” In addition to personal vignettes of loss, Bialosky extends her bereavement to mourn the lives lost to pandemic, racism, and genocide. She explores language as an all-encompassing source of longing, consolation, redemption, and preservation. She addresses internment camps and how one’s definition of asylum changes based on context: “some went mad from desperation—/ one we read took his life—asylum/ in which the mind seeks/ to keep itself from torture.” Erudite and devastating, Bialosky’s timely collection reverberates with a rare empathy and resilience.
The Essential Ruth Stone
Ruth Stone, edited by Bianca Stone (Copper Canyon)
ISBN 978-1-55659-608-7, $18
In this breathtaking distillation that draws from 10 collections and a nearly 60-year career, readers can see the literary evolution of the two-time Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the National Book Award in a new light. The poems are organized chronologically and selected by poet Bianca Stone, the author’s granddaughter. Selections from Stone’s 1959 collection, In an Iridescent Time, shimmer with rhyme. Later poems shift from structured rhyme schemes to the looser, more plainspoken style that Stone is known for. Many of these poems orbit around her husband, who died by suicide in 1959 (“This I often rearrange, I don’t accept”), and to whom she continued to describe the world: “My trouble was I could not keep you dead./ You entered even the inanimate,/ returning in endless guises.” Throughout, Stone transforms sorrow into something layered and full of life. This stands as witness to the inner workings of her world and the extraordinary life she lived.
For the Ride
Alice Notley (Penguin)
ISBN 978-0-14313-457-2, $20
Notley has long been synonymous with the second generation of the New York school, feminist poetics, political dissidence, and, in the last several decades, an epic mode that gives her jittery, particular, and inventive poems a novelistic sweep. This visionary book is a postapocalyptic adventure into an unspecified future, one that begins “in the l’Orangerie in Paris with Monet’s Water Lillies... a room of walls which come alive with images and words... like a mind?” but quickly accelerates into a transdimensional and gender-defying odyssey. What follows is a series of 28 chapterlike poems embedded with smaller poems, which gives Notley boundless opportunities to comment on society and to hopscotch through thoughtlike threads of language. This is a challenging, visionary work.
In the Lateness of the World
Carolyn Forché (Penguin)
ISBN 978-0-525-56040-1, $24
In her first collection in 17 years, Forché powerfully weaves poems of witness, a travelogue steeped in elegiac contemplation of life in Finland, Italy, Russia, and, most affectingly, Vietnam. These 41 poems vibrantly catalog human artifacts and those of the natural world. Throughout, the speakers are meditative but unflinching in the face of war’s aftermath and ecological crisis: “From here a dog finds his way through snow with a human bone... Even the clocks have run out of time.” “Museum of Stones” displays a delightedly crackling verbal texture reminiscent of poems by Seamus Heaney. Such weights anchor Forché’s genuinely moving consideration of “ours and the souls of others, who glimmer beside us/ for an instant... radiant with significance,” communicating an urgent and affecting vision.
Stanley Plumly (Norton)
ISBN 978-1-324-00614-5, $26.95
Plumly, in his posthumous 12th collection, studies his own mortality “like a man in love with something,” as he writes in “With Weather.” In clear-eyed and powerful page-long lyric poems filled with questions and wonder, he takes readers from his Ohio childhood to Europe and into the natural world. Plumly’s life crossed with several other poets mentioned and conjured here, among them Galway Kinnell, Gerald Stern, and Wallace Stevens. Nature and memory are beautifully captured throughout, as in “Germans,” a memoir piece about 11 WWII prisoners of war who helped out with his family’s lumber business in Virginia. “It takes time,” he notes, “by hand, to humble a tree.” In “White Rhino,” the poem that opens the collection, he wonders, “How long a life is too long.” In that poem’s final lines, he describes the rhino’s “great heart lifted down,/ the tonnage of my heart almost more than I can carry.” That line echoes through the deeply felt poems and prose pieces of this meditative collection.
Pale Colors in a Tall Field
Carl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
ISBN 978-0-374-22905-4, $23
The rich, ruminative 14th book from Phillips begins midconversation: “—By fire, then, but within view of a rough sea?” it asks as though imagining how someone would like to die. It ends with an affirmation of spring in “Defiance”: “For by then all the lilies on the pond had opened.” These poems, which are filled with longing and a sense of the poet wrestling with himself, are made up of reflections that frequently run over 10 or so of Phillips’s signature long lines. He frequently alludes to water and juxtaposes memory and the body in resonant ways. His observations spring from probing mundane images (“say of the sea/ what you will, it’s the shore that endures the routine loss”) or by creating startling juxtapositions (“Like taking/ a horsewhip to a swarm of bees, that they might/ more easily disperse”). While Phillips is enigmatic in these poems, he is never coy, conjuring a rich intellectual and felt life on the page for the reader.
Postcolonial Love Poem
Natalie Diaz (Graywolf)
ISBN 978-1-64445-014-7, $16
In this exquisite, electrifying collection, Diaz studies the body through desire and the preservation of Native American lives and cultures, suggesting that to exist as a Native in a world with a history of colonization and genocide is itself a form of protest and celebration. She explores this idea in “The First Water Is the Body,” cataloging the destruction of this invaluable resource by those who seek to protect it. But it’s desire, both in its erotic form and as present in the will to assimilate, that drives the book: “Like any desert, I learn myself by what’s desired of me—/ and I am demoned by those desires.” “These Hands, If Not Gods” opens with a stunning lyrical address to a lover: “Haven’t they moved like rivers—/ like glory, like light—/ over the seven days of your body?” Diaz continues to demonstrate her masterful use of language while reinventing narratives about desire.
White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia
Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande)
ISBN 978-1-946448-54-5, $15.95
In this deeply felt fourth collection, Petrosino investigates her family tree—especially its roots in Virginia—and reports back on this exploration and its gaps. Results from a DNA testing kit become erasure poems that “cluster and/ spread/ and/ trade/ and/ carry” across the page like the DNA itself as it traveled in the bodies of her ancestors. A crown of sonnets winds together the losses of history, the loss of more immediate family, and structural racism. “Neat trick, close shave,” Petrosino writes about her experience in college, “How was I the dream, the hope, of the slave?” Moments like this, which consider the impact of the past on the present, achieve brilliance: “Only a few of our names survive./ We left you this: sudden glints in the grass/ The rest is grown folks’ business we say. Yet/ you keep asking who owned us.” This is an important and remarkable exploration of heritage.