Prayer Circle

Beginning when he "first took up writing poems seriously," former U.S. poet laureate Joseph Brodsky, who died in 1996 at age 56, wrote a Christmas poem each year. Of the 18 Nativity Poems of this holiday collection, 10 are previously untranslated, and are presented bilingually. Among the renderers are Seamus Heaney, Anthony Hecht, Paul Muldoon, Derek Walcott, Richard Wilbur and Brodsky himself. Glyn Maxwell's excellent version of "Speech over Spilt Milk" finds "God/ has lighted in the blue immense/ the planets, icon lamps to glow/ before the face we cannot know./ What's poetry but a review/ of the existing evidence." (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22 160p ISBN 0-374-21940-0; Nov.)

First published in German in 1905, Rainer Maria Rilke's The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God has not been wholly translated into English in more than 40 years. Annemarie S. Kidder, a native German speaker and interim associate pastor at Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, who has previously translated works by Jurgen Becker and others, here presents careful, rhymed versions of the entire three-part work, which reflects on the duties of the artist and his or her relations to various institutions and constituencies, including God, kings and "the house of the poor," which is "like a child's hand." (Northwestern, $19.95 paper 236p ISBN 0-8101-1888-2; Dec.)

Rabindranath Tagore's poetry is notoriously difficult to transport intact from Bengali to English, even when the poet himself was doing the translating. Yet in a new selection of Tagore's Final Poems, written as the poet anticipated death (which came in 1941), Wendy Barker (Way of Whiteness) and Saranindranath Tagore, a great-nephew of Rabindranath and professor of philosophy at the National University of Singapore, have succeeded wonderfully. The collection is padded with the translators' long preface and introduction, but the 50-odd pages of poems are rife with hard clarity: "Sorrow's dark night over and over/ has come to my door./ Its only visible weapons—/ pain's deformed poses, fear's monstrous forms—/ play out their deceptions in darkness." (Braziller, $18.95 120p ISBN 0-8076-1488-2; Nov.)

Textual Reclamations

"Did I know you, split-levels? What it's like to inhabit your dangerous divided spaces with views of celery plantations?" Long listed on the pages dedicated to "other books by John Ashbery" but largely unobtainable, The Vermont Notebook, the poet's wonderful 1975 collaboration with artist Joe Brainard (1942—1994), is finally seeing accessible print. Nearly 50 page-sized pen-and-ink drawings are matched with diary-like prose pieces, pairings that remain offhandedly perfect. (Granary [D.A.P., dist.], $15.95 paper 108p ISBN 1-887123-59-8; Nov.)

While Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's work of poetry Dictee has received due critical attention (most recently from poet Juliana Spahr), her artist's books and other art works are less well known. Dictee will be re-released this October, along with The Dream of the Audience, a book documenting a travelling exhibition dedicated to the Korean-American Cha (1951—1982). In addition to excellent reproductions of Cha's handbound texts and images from her performances, the book includes essays by Berkeley Art museum curator Constance Lewallen, Whitney Museum of American Art curator Lawrence Rinder and critic and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha. (Dictee: Univ. of Calif, $15.95 paper 184p ISBN 0-520-23112-0; Dream: Univ. of Calif, $40 224p ISBN 0-520-23287-9)

After recent acclaim for its edition of Coleridge's Marginalia, Princeton returns with a monumental two "part" (i.e., two separate books with one ISBN) reading text of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetry: Poetical Works I: Poems (Reading Text), volume 16 of the press's complete Coleridge edition. Edited by J.C.C. Mays, professor of modern English and American literature at Dublin's University College, the text will be definitive for the foreseeable future, and includes headnotes and footnotes contextualizing each poem as a whole, single lines, phrases and words. While a must for scholarly libraries, most poets and lay readers will have to save their pennies. (Princeton, $150 [through 1/31/02] 1608p ISBN 0-691-00483-8; Nov. 4)

From 1966—1978, poets Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh edited the magazine Angel Hair (six issues from 1966—69) and published more than 60 low-tech, high-quality books, chapbooks and literary salvos from their Lower East Side press of the same name. The two poets have returned to their youths to cull angel hair sleeps with a boy in my head: The Angel Hair Anthology, which collects work from press and magazine, representing such poets as John Ashbery, Ted Berrigan, Clark Coolidge, Barbara Guest, Joanne Kyger, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, John Wieners and 62 others. The book is a beautifully produced snapshot of an extraordinary time and place in American poetry. (Granary [D.A.P., dist.], $44.95 660p ISBN 1-887123-504; $28.95 paper -49-0)

Sense and Sensibility

Best known as the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany and other memoirs of life in the Italian province, Frances Mayes until recently chaired of San Francisco State's creative writing department, and has published five books of poems. The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems is the product of all her reading and writing experiences, with chapters on "Meter," "Rhyme and Repetition," "Subject and Style," covering all the bases with plenty of canonical exemplars. (Harcourt, $16 paper 320p ISBN 0-15-600762-2; Nov.)

"The historical body of poetic forms is more and more an archive of lost sensual experiences…the sound of wind in uninhabited spaces; the weight of ripe things not yet harvested." In Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, poet and critic Susan Stewart (On Longing) tracks poetry's sensual engagements, drawing on a truly incredible number of classical and modern canonical texts to show how poetry constructs its peculiar phenomenologies. (Univ. of Chicago, $22 paper 392p ISBN 0-226-77414-7; $60 cloth —77413-9; Jan.)

As the first scholar to gain access to the papers of Pound's longtime mistress, independent scholar Anne Conover has unearthed plenty of insights into the daily life and thought of Ez and those who surrounded him. Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound: "What Thou Lovest Well" documents the whole of Rudge's long life (1895—1996), with emphasis on all things Ezra. While mostly for the faithful, Rudge's 20th-century transcontinental existence as a violinist and musicologist (helping to revive Vivaldi's work) holds interest for feminists and others with interest in the status of women in the arts. (Yale, $35 352p ISBN 0-300-08703-9; Nov.)