Poems for the People

Seen on the racks above the other riders' heads for the last 10 years, the excerpts and full short poems of the Poetry Society of America's Poetry in Motion program inject verse into the lives of 13 million public transportation riders (and L.A. drivers) a day. Edited by the PSA's Elisa Paschen and Brett Fletcher Lauer, Poetry in Motion from Coast to Coast complements Poetry in Motion, which published the first 100 poems from the New York program. It includes 120 poems that appeared in 12 cities by poets living and dead, with some poems as short and incisive as N. Scott Momaday's "The Gift": "Older, more generous,/ We give each other hope./ The gift is ominous:/Enough praise, enough rope." (Norton, $13 paper 180p ISBN 0-393-32376-5; Oct.)

Poetry is a regular feature on Garrison Keillor's NPR radio show A Prairie Home Companion, but for the last five years, it has formed the core of The Writer's Almanac, a daily, five-minute, 7 a.m. show on which Keillor reads a poem. Good Poems selects 350 pieces of verse from among the thousands that have been read on the Almanac for "Stickiness, memorability.... You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan." Divided by subject—beginning with "O Lord," moving through "Day's Work," "Sons and Daughters" and through to "The End" and "The Resurrection"—the book includes work by writers past (Burns, Dickinson, Bishop, Williams, Shakespeare) and present: Robert Hass, Lisel Mueller, Tom Disch, among many others. Keillor will do a four-city tour in support of the book, and of the paperback release of his Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. (Viking, $25.95 448p ISBN 0-670-03126-7; on sale Sept. 30)

A chronological tour from Bradstreet, Freneau and Wheatley to Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver and Elizabeth Alexander, Poems for America: 125 Poems That Celebrate the American Experience hits many of the highs and lows of American life, from the expected ("The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to the happily surprising (Ishmael Reed's "black power poem"). Editor Carmela Ciuraru invokes her first-generation heritage in the preface, noting that "For me, patriotism resonates most deeply when I consider the American art and music and literature so essential to my enjoyment of life." (Scribner, $25 237p ISBN 0-7432-4486-9; Nov. 28)

X Kisses Narcissus

In his first verse since the 1999 selection Stake, Alfred Corn presents a speaker as casually sophisticated as ever, and with more interest in other people's lives in Contradictions. "My Last June in Chelsea" is narrated by a skillful flaneur inspecting gay Manhattan's center as he prepares to move uptown, while "New York Three Decades On" recalls how he set down roots. "Jerusalem," "The Mousetrap" and other poems superimpose a love for cities with Christian faith ("The temple abides in its myth/ but also in limestone fact"); shorter lyrics explore other languages (Persian, German) or art forms (Coltrane's jazz). The longest poems here, "Tenebrae" and the looser, fact-filled "Seeing All the Vermeers," make life a travelogue, exploring an array of friendships, love affairs, and bodily conditions—from a retinal tear to "men's hunger for sex." (Copper Canyon, $20 88p ISBN 1-55659-185-3; Oct.)

"This one has sex to prove the world exists, that one gets bitten by the dog." Such disarming aphorisms, along with paragraph-long meditations on death, sex, fame, and memory, make up the first and by far the better half of The Porcupine's Kisses, a well-constructed if somewhat repetitive volume of poetic prose from Stephen Dobyns, the prolific and accessible poet (Cemetery Nights; Velocities) and novelist (The Church of Dead Girls, etc.). That first half is all poetic, generalized sentences and paragraphs, linked by the speaker's sensibility. The second half, "Definitions," comprises hundreds of wisecracking or deflating definitions (loosely modeled on Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary), each one phrase long, in alphabetical order: "Erudition: necktie on a soapbox. Esthetic: the rhetoric of bad taste." With illustrations by Howie Michels. (Penguin, $18 paper 184p ISBN 0-14-200244-5 Oct.)

"he gets on/ he gets off he gets on/ he rolls it out/ he lifts it down the steps," begins "Biker," the first poem of Stephen Berg's new collection, X=. Most often here, X equals a multi-clause sentence beginning with the third-person masculine singular and recounting loss, grief, aging, and desire from the perspective of a 67-year-old white man living in a suburban area—a perspective the speaker is trying to transcend, perhaps, in "Death": "he practiced for the day when it would happen by erasing himself by never using the word I by pounding his face with an imaginary hammer ears eyes nose mouth eradicated so he'd be ready." In "Phonefun" the narrator follows "I could slash my wrists in homage to Rwandan suffering" with "I'd rather get my cock sucked on the phone by an old girlfriend," alluding to difficulty understanding his aging, his fear of women, and the world's changing economic, racial, and sexual politics. Berg, longtime editor of the American Poetry Review, dramatizes the speaker's awareness of this difficulty with Zen-like detachment and provides no easy solutions. (Univ. of Illinois, $30 72p ISBN 0-252-07091-7; $15.95 paper -002780-9)

Rane Arroyo's fourth volume, Home Movies of Narcissus, commits itself to many sources at once: its deliberately choppy lines and series, bringing in both Spanish and English sources, allude to his Puerto Rican background and family, his status as an American gay man, his residence in the urban Midwest, and his interests in myths, movies, and major modernists like Stevens and Yeats. Forthright about his speaker's life (including "leather/ and bare-knuckle cologne," and "strangers having sex in this dying/ city") Arroyo works in a Spanish-language tradition of larger-than-life autobiographical verse, to the point of constructing a dialogue with his imagined opposite, a cynical dream-vision of Ponce de León who explains "Any lyric is a terrible lie." Suggesting the recent work of Reginald Shepherd, Arroyo's hyperallusive free verse and his combination of themes drive this appealing mix of ambition and insight. (Univ. of Arizona, $14.95 paper 80p ISBN 0-8165-2195-6; Sept.)

Some Fall Firsts

Veteran New York poet Steve Malmude gathers "Little daughters/ in the middle of the night," "the perfume/ stewardesses lay so thin," "Jim/ Henson's/ hidden/ hands" and "A gagged aorta,/ a light prison, a field of azure-tinted wheat" into The Bundle: Selected Poems, his first full-length collection. In nearly 60 short lyrics, Malmude describes events as they happen: in one poem "You open/ the safe/ and begin/ the day," in another "I draw my snow cap off/ so you can see my age/ for I have walked enough/ in youthful camouflage." From there, "if it were a farm/ and he were a friend/ it would confer an/ axial sense on me." (Subpress/Goodbye [SPD, dist.], $12 paper 104p ISBN 1-930068-09-3; Sept.)

As a frequent reviewer for the New Republic and the New York Times, Adam Kirsch is one of the most visible of young poetry critics, but he also practices what he critiques. His debut collection, The Thousand Wells, won the New Criterion's Poetry Prize, and features 31 rhymed stanzaic lyrics in a diction elevated and hortatory—but not above humor. If Lowell was tamed by Miltown, Kirsch's "Zoloft" imagines "misery/ Will take its place with polio and plague.../ While madness and possession, shame and sin/ Survive, like the humors or astrology,/ To make us smile at errors that have been,/ Or figures to adorn our poetry." (Ivan R. Dee, $18.95 80p 1-56663-451-2; Oct. 4)

Effecting an off-site sifting of virulently sexualized, life-style-propping policies that kill people, Andrea Brady takes readers on a Vacation of a Lifetime, her first book of poems. An American poet now teaching in London, Brady works past First World lies and representations, taking idioms and ideology and warping them back from outside: "bullets/ bought by staff at the heart shaped café." Throughout, the book's deep engagement with lyric as valid and viable cultural expression, despite its imperial history in English, evinces a belief in imagining other truths: "If you can reach/ to pull your presents toward you, I am there/ at the breaking point, floodlit with you and different/ as the world is now: I found/ for you a brighter hemisphere." (Salt [www.saltpublishing.com], $12.95 paper 144p ISBN 1-876857-16-1; Sept.)

With the economic boom receding like a medical waste-bearing tide, Louis Cabri's The Mood Embosser, collecting work from the '90s, seems both prescient forecast and politicizing panacea, tracking "merge cartels," "Your 'yes' vote" and "The Telepathic Parrot." A founder of Ottowa's Experimental Writing Group, Cabri curates UPenn's PhillyTalks readings and publications (www.phillytalks.org). He organizes the book in seven alternating '1' and '0' sections (one bit short of a standard byte), summing up the era ("It was the disappointment of products, it was the efficiency of the times") and bringing us up to the latest versions of Newspeak: "Today is the greatest—Day of the pie." (Coach House [SPD, dist.], $16.95 paper 144p ISBN 1-55245-095-3; Sept.)

In six sections—"Calling Cards"; "Carded"; "Called Card"; "Cold Calls"; "Who Is It"; and "Tag"—Tyrone Williams forwards ("cc's") some serious correspondence in c.c. Beginning with torqued Web search sampling that takes Bob Hope as symbol of old guard hegemony ("discombobulated/ status qua 'ad lib'... Hope dressed up in another caper"), Williams moves through, successively, a "fetal,/ misshapened, delegged/ future 'i'," "Not de gustibus but homegoing, via Heaven's Gate," and "a relic amid the rattle of Charleston subways." From the zingers and, putdowns emerges a remarkable sensibility that purposefully seeks and synthesizes out of the way histories, commemorating figures like civil rights activist Ola Mae Quarterman, dancer Arthur Bell and Hayes Williams, a prisoner whose conviction was overturned by DNA evidence. Cimino's cinematic failure is thus just one force propelling these missives. (Krupskaya [SPD, dist], $11 paper 96p ISBN 1-928650-15-5; Sept.)

Correction: The format and price of Poems of New York (Knopf/Everyman's Pocket Poets) were misstated in the Poetry Forecasts of Aug. 19. The book is a small-sized hardcover priced at $12.50.