Log In

Subscriber-Only Content; You must be a PW subscriber to access the Table-of-Contents Database.

Get a digital subscription to Publishers Weekly for only $19.95/month.

Your subscription gives you instant access exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, he latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time.

The Math Campers

Dan Chiasson. Knopf, $27 (128p) ISBN 978-0-593-31774-7

The meditative fifth collection from poet and critic Chiasson (Bicentennial) invites the reader to witness the poet’s processes of creation, retrieval, and revision as a writer and dreamer, father and son. Framed by ekphrastic poems that gloss murals by David Teng Olsen adorning the walls of the poet’s home, the book works by a loose Russian-doll principle: just as the murals reflect and refract details from the lives of the poet and his immediate family, so do these nested poems. As a teenager, the poet prays “that art/ would sometime send a ladder from the sky,” and that he might “become the love child/ of Sylvia Plath, Ozzy, and Alex DeLarge.” Years later, he finds himself “almost Ozzy, mansplaining/ to my eleven-year-old son the photo/ of a Louis Quatorze gilt dildo he found in our cloud.” Intimations of social crisis and environmental disaster glow on the horizon, “Caskets line up for the slip-n-slide./ A collarbone surfboards down the alley./ Through the mudslide we humans wade,” but the book centers on intimate dramas of adolescence, middle age, masculinity, and literary genealogy (poetic allusions from Milton and Eliot to Merrill and Bidart abound). These beautifully crafted poems are a memorable addition to Chiasson’s singular oeuvre. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light

Marge Piercy. Knopf, $28 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-31793-8

The multifaceted 20th collection from Piercy (Made in Detroit) touches on her identities as activist, teacher, cat lover, novelist, and poet. Among other topics, the poet confronts past pain, including failed marriages, recalling matter-of-factly, “earlier husbands were mixed bags;/ domesticity had its knives, needles,/ and pillows.” She shifts from these past relationships to the sensual “heat-seeking missile” of her current lover: “Yes, we make love in bed and on/ the couch, but we also make love... / out of ink and kitty litter, out of hours/ and days given to each other not/ because we must but from desire.” This tone contrasts starkly with her withering critique of current American politics: “We saw the cliff ahead/ We were warned/ We took everyone over.” Yet even in this fraught political climate, Piercy celebrates the beauty of the world through the joy of her furry companions, the bounty of her garden grown from seeds that “arrive in the mail, packets of hope.” At nearly 200 pages, even the most enthusiastic readers may occasionally find themselves fatigued. However, Piercy’s collection is full of life, companionship, and the importance of advocating for others. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Index of Haunted Houses

Adam O. Davis. Sarabande, $15.95 ISBN 978-1-946448-66-8

The elegiac debut from Davis is interested in haunting in all its forms. Davis wonders “how/ terrible the stars/ are,” or why “We orphan// everything// we touch” in poems that catalogue and consider losses. The world of this collection is one of debt and desire, ghost stories and foreclosures, where “weather is a borrowed room.” Yet these poems still offer delight in their alliteration and repetition. Writing of a “lack// of locks,” or “lye/ and lollipop,” or “lemonade light,” Davis’s work offers a respite of pleasure amid poems that ask what to do after “Wreckage.” Subverting a common trope that associates ruin with nostalgia, Davis refuses to gloss what has been left behind, as he wonders what would have been “If we had been/ better and awake,” and “If we had accounted.” The ghosts of these poems are not just ghosts of blood and bodies, but of money, choices, and myths. This is a collection of stark witness and testimony, with a voice that manages to sing. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Owed

Joshua Bennett. Penguin, $20 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-14-313385-8

The powerful second book from Bennett (The Sobbing School) intertwines the author’s multifaceted professions as poet, performer, and professor through powerful, crisp poems that celebrate the complexity, joy, and heartbreak of the Black experience in America. “I’m pretty good/ at not loving/ anything enough/ to fear its ruin./ The cruel speed/ of our guaranteed/ obsolescence suits/ me,” he writes in “Plural.” Packed with sounds that echo the rhythms and narrative form of performance poetry, the collection is divided into three sections, each containing a series of Bennett’s version of the ode, which is reclaimed as “owed.” This idea is echoed in his four poems titled “Reparation.” Bubbling under his Whitmanesque breadth and awe at the world around him is the danger of growing up Black in America: “we grew tired trying not to die.” In “The Book of Mycah,” dense blocks of text flesh out the frenetic pace and energy of the Brooklyn neighborhood where Mycah Dudley, “Son of Flatbush & roti & dollar vans bolting down the avenue after six,” was killed by police. With their joy, pain, and fierce descriptions of Black life in America, Bennett’s poems are more necessary than ever. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Every Day We Get More Illegal

Juan Felipe Herrera. City Lights, $14.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-87286-828-1

The timely, urgent book from Herrera (Notes on the Assemblage) pays homage to the “migrant children,” “immigrant children,” those “who died in custody,” and those “separated on the road north,” highlighting societal issues while exploring the nuances of how silence operates within a larger political discourse. A variety of forms ranging from prose poems to lyric fragments work in service of social justice, as Herrera questions the willful refusal to listen to those ostracized by a dominant culture. In “Border Fever 105.7 degrees,” he writes: “why do you cry/ those are not screams you hear across this cage/ it is a symphony—the border guard says.” Herrera’s use of white space within the poetic line evokes the fragmentation of the individual voice within this “symphony” of injustice and suffering. Elsewhere, the importance of paying witness through writing becomes evident: “Leap/ every human being in the village is an ever-opening story/ yes you must write about each one—it is the bravest gesture/ you must.” Herrera’s formal versatility lends subtlety and nuance to essential political considerations. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Runaway

Jorie Graham. Ecco, $26.99 (96p) ISBN 978-0-0630-3670-3

Graham (Fast) begins her fifth decade of publishing with a bravura performance that probes the present for what the future will bring. In four sections of long-lined poems, many of which run two-to-four pages in length, moments that are seen, felt, and processed dazzle the reader. Graham sets the stage in the first line of the opening poem: “After the rain stops you can hear the rained-on.” The poem’s final image is both artificial and natural: “nothing to touch/ where the blinding white thins as the flash moves off/ what had been just the wide-flung yellow poppy.” Other poems include texting abbreviations (“u” and “yr”), and by the end, the reader’s world feels virtual. The second to last poem, “In the Nest,” has the speaker saying goodbye to “Mother”: “I tap/ again only to see your/ face erase itself//...An arrow points/ as I descend again/ into your room/ from the sensor// in your ceiling// watching u./ We think this is/ the past.” The book ends with a plea from the Earth to “Re-/ member me.” Through her signature urgent questioning, Graham makes plain the psychic and physical cost to humans of wrecking the Earth. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
How to Carry Water: Selected Poems of Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, edited by Aracelis Girmay. BOA, $28 (278p) ISBN 978-1-950774-14-2

The life work of Clifton (1936–2010) forms an incandescent prayer for self-determination in this vital selected volume featuring 10 previously uncollected poems. Keenly edited and with a foreword by Girmay, the collection is a love letter to Black womanhood and motherhood, a historical record of violence and injustice against Black lives, and a reckoning with illness and abuse. Additionally, Girmay acknowledges a generation raised by “Ms. Lucille” and honors what Clifton saw as “a lineage of possibility.” As always, Clifton guides the reader with her characteristic wit, repetition, and rage—“i am i am i am furious”—her unadorned lines and complex, shifting metaphors (which Girmay aptly describes as a “strange, triple-eyed imagery”). In these poems, versions of Clifton past and future, third and first-person, are on a quest toward understanding selfhood. “i am lucille,” she writes, “which stands for light.” That light refracts through the book as an insistence on survival, contemplation of the political, and delight in the ordinary. Clifton’s poems are profound and powerful to behold. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Gold Cure

Ted Mathys. Coffee House, $16.95 ISBN 978-1-56689-581-1

The elegiac 4th collection from Mathys (Null Set) draws on the associative powers of gold: fake cures, busted boom towns, fracking sites, and goldfish (live and edible). Divided into five sections, “El Dorado” riffs on Illinois’s “City of Daffodils” (“Go, Big Gold”), layering the place with images: “FREE GOLD// estimates at the local pawnshop... I arrive in Eldorado, downstate Illinois.” “Key to the Kingdom,” a long poem in sections, is especially powerful—a driving narrative with glints of rhyme that moves a mythic female protagonist in Florida through political awakening as rampant police violence overwhelms her. Other poems feature the absurdity of family life: a daughter’s kindergarten “family project” is to build a leprechaun trap, for which “success requires manipulation/ of corrupted little men/ through acts of imagination.” The sonnet sequence “Shale Plays” touches on the largest natural gas shale deposits in the U.S. In these imaginative and linguistically impressive political poems, Mathys excavates with ironic wit while addressing untapped American fears. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Negotiations

Destiny O. Birdsong. Tin House, $16.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-951142-13-1

Birdsong debuts with an extraordinary string of immaculate, brutal narratives about systemic violence and racism, and their repercussions for Black American women. Her linguistic structure is kinetic and eclectic, with moments of macabre spectacle: “I want you to rot,// piece by piece, with everyone you know unwilling// to enter the room—not because they love you,// but because they just can’t take the smell,” as well as intrinsic dread: “your body is all asymptotes and fractals.// your own skin splinters in the dark/ from its dense heat. the pieces// come back together under a halo of prescriptions/ steeping your head in yellow light.” Birdsong seamlessly shifts narrative perspectives, tones, and syntax, skillfully controlling enjambment and white space. Despite grim motifs, her work harnesses levity through sardonicism, riveting diatribe, and unromantic resilience: “I am destined to infuse/ survival with meaning,” she writes, inviting the reader to “feel powerful enough to translate each ache/ into inquiry.” Birdsong’s striking imagery and contagious fervor are a potent salve against apathy and foreboding. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
A Fine Canopy

Alison Swan. Wayne State Univ., $16.99 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-8143-4806-2

In this investigative, thoughtful debut, Swan carefully constructs an arc of grief and transformation through a wide range of poetic forms, including lyric strophes, tercets, couplets, and luminous fragments. The poems are unified by a recurring interest in the relationship between interior and exterior, and the porous boundary between the self and the world. As the book unfolds, the “red-winged blackbirds,” “train whistles,” and “passerines” that surround the speaker are subtly transformed by her wild flights of imagination. The speaker observes in “Succession,” “Wildflowers/ replenishing a charred mountainside/ offer answers, ways of seeing and being/ that affirm silver linings: the fuchsia-blue/ flare of fireweed and the promise of cones.” This poem reads as an exploration and interrogation of the way the author’s mind projects onto external objects, and the myriad ways the world may be changed by the observer’s psyche. “What sort of life inures one to the relief/ of knowing things we cannot see,” Swan asks. Teasing out possible answers to these questions, Swan offers a subtle consideration on the natural world through accomplished poetic craft. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

Parts of this site are only available to paying PW subscribers. Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here.

To subscribe, click here.

PW “All Access” site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com.

If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time for assistance.

Not Registered? Click here.