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Winter Recipes from the Collective

Louise Glück. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (64p) ISBN 978-0-374-60410-3

"Everything is change," Glück (Faithful and Virtuous Night) writes early in her quiet but powerful first work since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2020. An overarching philosophy—"Also everything returns, but what returns is not/what went away"—drives the collection, with Glück’s speaker standing at the precipice of great change, as though facing a coming winter. Glück considers a primary human loneliness in humane, reflective poems that are deeply engaged with the idea of being alone with oneself: "There is no one alive anymore/ who remembers me as a baby," Glück mourns. But as she looks back on her life––hard work, loss, some joy––she also looks forward. Not toward an afterlife, necessarily, but toward a place of peace: a "house in the distance, smoke is coming from its chimney." Death, these poems purport, is inevitable, but one need not be afraid: "All hope is lost," she claims; "We must return to where it was lost/ if we want to find it again." With this magnificent collection, a great poet delivers a treatise on how to live and die. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Revolutionary Letters (50th Anniversary Edition)

Diane di Prima.. City Lights, $17.95 trade paper (242p) ISBN 978-0-87286-879-3

The commanding 50th anniversary edition of beat poet di Prima’s 1971 classic, published with its original cover designed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is a time capsule of the 1960s protest movements that remains remarkably relevant to the present moment. The poems guide the reader through the anarchist lifestyle, with prudent tips for protesters: "go to love-ins/ with incense, flowers, food, and a plastic bag/ with a damp cloth in it, for tear gas, wear no jewelry/wear clothes you can move in easily… it will take all of us/ shoving at the thing from all sides to bring it down." Her commentary about the threat of environmental collapse reads as especially prescient: "there will not be/ a cadillac/ and a 40,000 dollar home/ for everyone/simply/ the planet will not bear it." Di Prima added to this collection of poems through 2007, and later pieces offer insight into her views on subjects including the war on terror and immigration. Readers will find inspiration in her wisdom and uncompromising passion, and these poems should rightfully find a new audience with younger generations of activists. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Machete

Tomás Q. Morin. Knopf, $27 (96p) ISBN 978-0-593-31964-2

The perceptive third collection from Morin (A Larger Country) asks readers to go beyond seeing the world at face value, offering vivid descriptions and cutting political critique. In "New Year’s Eve," while analyzing "The Racial Dot Map of America," Morin notices the only color unassigned to a racial category is white, leading him to the conjecture that "White is//where the brush waits for a spark/ to burn it all new." Elsewhere, critiquing state violence in "Extraordinary Rendition," Morin imagines a CIA agent belatedly coming to difficult realizations: "a therapist will one day say guilt,/ forgiveness, and pain to our agent/ to unsuccessfully explain how death,/ when it comes from the sky, makes a music/ so hypnotic you will never forget it." Morin’s unique powers of observation also extend to intimate moments, as in a poem in which his young son becomes a geometric embodiment of completeness: "I drop my shoulder/ and now the baby// is at a 45 degree/ angle. He’s the hypotenuse// that closes my triangle." Playful and piercing, this impressive collection demonstrates a radical kind of empathy. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Gigantic Cinema: A Weather Anthology

Edited by Paul Keegan and Alice Oswald.. Norton, $19.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-54075-8

Keegan and Oswald (Falling Awake) deliver a dazzling anthology of more than 300 numbered works of poetry and prose that enact, contemplate, and celebrate the fluctuations of the weather. As they note in their introduction, "Weather has no plot. It is all mutability and vicissitude, and so is this anthology." This explains the wide array of voices, including Pliny, Wordsworth, and O’Hara, and the range of writings structured "as a notional ‘omniform’ day[…] an impression of weather as nonstop interruption." Titles and authors appear discreetly at the bottom, allowing these poems and excerpts to naturally slip into one another, forming unexpected and gratifying echoes. For example, Entry 57 is an Aristophanes chorus, which begins: "It is from us, the birds, that Man receives all his greatest blessings." This is beautifully juxtaposed with entry 58, pulled from poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’s diaries, "July 1872–Nov 8. Walking with Wm Splaine we saw a vast multitude of starlings making an unspeakable jangle." This astonishingly accomplished and varied assembly of poems and literary gems will delight readers yearround, and in any weather. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Flowers as Mind Control

Laura Minor.. BkMk, $15.95 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-943491-30-8

"This is the magnificent story of ruining things, weeping bottles, flying tuna-fish sandwiches," writes Minor in her panoramic debut that explores setting (mostly Florida), relationships with men and women, illness, friendship, depression, and suicidal ideation. Its dedication "to women everywhere who refuse to give up their dreams" signals the collection’s interest in resilience, a theme that’s powerfully captured in the final poem, "Manifesto for the New World": "For women who fall down in the dark and lift with dawn/ For children biting their lips in war’s opened cage… I am your water, your bandaged healer." There are striking images throughout, such as when Minor observes, in "To Be Alone Is a Gift": "the blue sky has always been the online stuff of birds." In other moments, a habit of describing emotional experiences with military metaphors (land mines and advancing tanks, among others) feels slightly too familiar. Some of the best poems draw from allusions to cultural figures, such as Jeff Buckley or Esther Williams, and a particularly strong elegy inspired by the punk rock band Rites of Spring, "For Want of You," finds the rush of that "luminous scholarship of the stars." Readers will enjoy Minor’s fierce, unabashed voice. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Different Distance: A Renga

Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-57131-551-9

In the spring of 2020, Hacker (A Stranger’s Mirror) and Naïr began exchanging stanzas that took the shape of a renga, the Japanese poetic form that weaves multiple authors in dialogue. These stanzas, which alternate between the two poets and between red and black font color, are links in a poetic chain that grew as the lockdown and pandemic dragged on. The poets document their days and health, attempt to glean meaning from "this fearsome time," and reveal how time in lockdown paradoxically constricts and expands. A trip from one part of Paris to another becomes impossible: "Where the métro took someone home’s a foreign country now," Hacker observes. Meanwhile, Naïr marvels at joining a virtual party from the suburbs of Paris while others attend "from Bangalore, Delhi, Dhaka, Calcutta…. The Sundarbans fill our maskless minds, and laughter, our ears." Granted, some may find that the subject matter of "pandemic intimacies: Whats-App, FaceTime, telephone" to be exhausted, but the two authors offer both a useful reconceptualization of distance and an ode to friendship. Hacker and Naïr bring wisdom and empathy to a challenging historical moment in these rich and thoughtful pages. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Past

Wendy Xu. Wesleyan Univ., $15.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8195-8046-7

“What can I do, except continue to demonstrate love?” asks Xu near the beginning of her ruminative third book, which includes a poem titled “My Dissent and My Love Are Woven Inside Me.” Xu, who was brought from China to America as an infant just days before the Tiananmen Square massacre, was praised for her good behavior on the airplane: “Perhaps Mom and Dad cried in lieu of me/ I had not yet known about my losing.” As an adult, the speaker of these poems feels caught between cultures, languages, the private and public, and—most vividly—past poverty and recent privilege. Her self-described “agitated bouquet of ideas” examines itself for authenticity before discovering the fallacy of that notion: “I begin to feel trapped inside the tower of white Western intellectual/ consideration/ I feel sick, and worse, ‘misunderstood’ ” (“Notes for an Opening”). Moving glimpses of family—Mom, Dad, Uncle—veer toward the abstract: “China green, the sound aspiring/ to evidentiary music but the jasmine/ takes no milk, won’t froth the way you like.” “Traditional” Chinese forms are subverted into English, and a series of erasures (“Tiananmen Square Sonnets”) give the collection formal variety and depth. These poems offer readers a memorable exploration of the “fantasy and nightmare” of “immigrant dreams.” (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners

Sarah Mangold. Fordham Univ., $19.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8232-9770-2

“What interested me was/ the way ladies survive/ as acknowledgements/ in other people’s prefaces,” Mangold (Giraffes of Devotion) writes early in her exploratory fourth collection. Indeed, the book-length poem, which features several photographs, has gender as its principal theme and preoccupation as she explores “woman’s work” through naturalism and taxidermy in the American Museum of Natural History. The book occasionally mimics the form of placards or labels on museum displays, one page simply stating: “Method of Pinching a Butterfly// Manner of Skinning an Elephant.” Other times, the list form is used in these untitled poems, “Delia Reiss Akeley (first wife) Appearance of Bill buffalo hunting divorces elephant hunting illnesses marriage breakup of marriage pet monkey interest in primates see Kirinyaga expedition// Reluctant Pioneers and Gentle Tamers.” Occasionally, the syntax and sense of the line gets muddled, and the reader is at risk of losing track of its meaning: “I kept hold of my departing senses/ doubt cast and describer suspected/ so much to be remembered by hereafter.” Though this poetry is not traditionally lyrical and occasionally bends heavily toward nonfiction, Mangold’s project and ambition are admirable, and readers who enjoy experimental, genre-bending, collage-like poetry will find themselves enthralled. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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My Darling from the Lions: Poems

Rachel Long. Tin House, $16.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-951142-71-1

Divided into three titled sections, “Open,” “A Lineage of Wigs” and “Dolls,” the striking debut from Long interrogates girlhood, adulthood, and gender politics. These pages are rich with memorable phrasings (“wedding rings glinting/ like mouths not used to smiling”) and skillful uses of musicality that lend these poems, full of appealing anecdotes themselves, a rhythm: “I was a choir-girl. Real angel—/ lightning-faced and giant for my age.// Mum let us stay up late/ if we went with her to night vigil.// It started at midnight, a time too exciting to fathom./ How the minute and the hour stood to attention!” A series of short, repeated poems called “Open” provide an unusual and delightful refrain to the collection, the minimal alterations between each making them continually new. Long’s self-reflective, playful language is often philosophically deep, balancing two modes and tones: “Last night, I missed my train by seconds./ So close that one part of me did catch it/ and waved from the window to the other half/ still panting on the platform” (“Apples”). These gripping, vivid poems announce Long as a notable new voice.

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lightning Falls in Love

Laura Kasischke. Copper Canyon, $17 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-55659-636-0

Magic and survival are at the center of Kasischke’s marvelous 12th poetry collection. A master of the symbolic, Kasischke (Where Now) evokes shadowy figures and totems: a tongue “as white as a strip of paper” in a glass jar; “a stranger [...] wearing high black boots in the rose garden;” “a bird that makes its nest/ in the highest towers/ of the children’s hospital/ out of the softest/ children’s hair.” But these poems are set in reality—on highways, in kitchens, backyards, and bedrooms—and many recall trauma plainly, without the protections of allegory: “My mother woke me up/ to tell me it was time for swimming lessons again./ Yes, I got raped, but, still, I had to learn/ how to swim.” Oscillating between the real and the surreal, and memory and imagination, these entries will leave readers feeling as if they’ve emerged from these pages as though stumbling out of murky water—“the deepest, the darkest, the/ muddiest lake of them all/ in which the bones of corpses/ dissolve into cattails”—having paid witness to the secret world hidden there. This book is a triumph of storytelling by a master of craft. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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