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Wings in Time

Callie Garnet.. The Song Cave, $18.95 trade paper (110p) ISBN 978-1-73727-750-7

Garnet devotes her debut to memories, many of them centered on the strange and changing pull of media, and the ways in which remembrances shift and recirculate over time. Longer poems document obsessions (she writes with panache and humor about browsing video stores, and the delight of the films within them), while there is bite to her shorter visions, such as the brief poem "Hospitality": "It’s important to me that I age/ into a woman of power.// The dowager strokes the terrier, & is not barred from snooping// into any of the Wings/ of human experience." The motif of wings is recycled elsewhere, including in the title poem: "In Eric’s latest missive is a tercet that chills me to the roots of my hair. / Every mother is famous / And hated if they don’t beat their / Wings in time with the infant." In the short poem "AirBnB," she writes, "I adjust to a house by taking the trash out barefoot/ Bringing its nervous system down/ To low hum." Garnet’s fresh, unapologetic voice offers a panoply of particularities and surprises that are hard to forget. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Nick of Time

Rosemarie Waldrop.. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3053-7

In her first new collection in a decade, Waldrop (Driven to Abstraction) astonishes with poems that explore uncertainty and grief, and reckon with time, language, and memory. As her husband’s memory begins to fail, Waldrop turns to the intangible and abstract: "A sentence with the word ‘time’ in it already contains a shadow. Of the/ soul leaving the body." A German-born poet and translator of multiple languages, Waldrop is interested in the things that can’t be conveyed: "I search the cracks between my English and German for more words/ than either has." In the long poem "cut with the kitchen knife," Waldrop beautifully examines the life and times of German dadaist Hannah Höch with traces of wry humor: "Always, in the real world,/ the brute fact. Hunger, misery, the chill of winter. The sound of boots/ marching... There is dispute if creative/ ferment will lead to religion, the internal combustion engine, or/ National Socialism. But our object of veneration is now orgasm." These intellectual poems are suffused with intimacy, as Waldrop invites the reader to accompany her on a contemplative trek through the mysteries of the universe. It’s a trip well worth taking. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Curious Thing

Sandra Lim.. Norton, $26.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-393-86789-3

The introspective third collection from Lim (The Wilderness) sees the poet train her eye on the retreating shoreline of a life, a "thousand mile scent// Going all through the body." In these measured, graceful pages, Lim is "trying// to get at the work of the matter" through memory. "Part of me watches the rest of me being/ anxious, superior, and invaded/ by longing," she writes. Many of these poems double as ars poeticas, revealing that the urge to take stock of past decisions, relationships, and ways of being marries naturally with artistic self-scrutiny: "My moods were like conspirators in an opera/ then strange-faced, like a jury," she writes; "Florid eighteenth-century music against/ taciturn furniture. And there was just me and my human concerns." While Lim’s images are striking, some readers may find the air a bit too rarefied: "Summertime: parole for academics./ Long days, low yield." Elsewhere, she suggests that "[t]here is more to life than writing," but in a book as scrupulously attentive to craft as this one, writing reads as the main event. "The other day, my friend declared that she favored/ straightforward narratives: clear, unassuming, and, if tart,/ amiably so. I felt the reproach," she admits. Readers seeking contemplative poems executed with quiet flair will take pleasure here. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Stones

Kevin Young.. Knopf, $27 (128p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3256-1

With superbly crafted poems that engage the past and the present, Young (Brown: Poems) delivers another ambitious collection across seven lyrically powerful sections. The book's epigraph, "the stones hope to remember," signals Young's interest in history and memorializing, echoed in "Ivy," which ends on "the quiet/ of this place, the graves/ awaiting names," and in "Sting," "the agony/ of growing, the great/ effort, trying// not to die." Graves prove a powerful motif throughout. In "Vault," Young recalls his toddler son, who "skips stone// to stone, hollering happily/ on the slabs with bodies/ unmarked beneath." In the subsequent poem, "Boneyard," the image grows more historically complicated, "Like heat he seeks them,/ my son, thirsting/ to learn those/ he don't know/ are his dead." "Grief's evergreen," he announces in "Spruce," but there is ample hope across the collection, too, most of it derived from love. "Till the end/ we sing/ into the wind," he writes in "Dolor," while other poems emphasize the redeeming roles of family and parenting. These elegant, measured poems offer insight into the troubled moment through an exhumation of the past, while giving the reader plenty of depth and beauty to carry into the future. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Say What You Will

Len Krisak.. Able Muse, $18.95 trade paper (68p) ISBN 978-1-77349-090-8

Translator and poet Krisak (Prudentius’ Crown of Martyrs) assembles a well-crafted collection of translations and original narrative vignettes that abound with terse and scholarly insights. Krisak responds to art, old Hollywood, and poetry from Greek and Roman classics to Housman and Bishop. Approaching the present day with sober acceptance, he marvels at death (humanity’s common denominator) and memory and fantasy (its one true salve). Alluding to the Tower of Babel, he considers environmental plight: "Over and over, down and down,/ The drops, like tongues, confuse our lot,/ Until it seems the earth might drown./ And here we are without a boat./ What is it we are meant to learn?/ What have we done? What did we earn?" Krisak describes the healing symbolism of the Jewish Shiva candle, and then its evocation of the Holocaust: "What is it then that makes me want to flinch/ Each time I see this flame, to redirect/ My gaze? These candles make such meager lamps,/ Yet by their light, I see the chimneyed camps." Though some poems feel overlabored, the poet’s thought-%0D ful tone will satisfy academics and readers of poetry who prefer formalism over a more fluid lyric style. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Heard-Hoard

Atsuro Riley.. Univ. of Chicago, $20 (96p) ISBN 978-0-226-78942-2

The haunting second collection from Riley (Romey's Order) inhabits qualities of both lyric and narrative, animated by "The old ever-voice (with the tear through it) intonating, rivering." Drawing on a variety of human and nonhuman voices, the poems blur the line between story and song, speaker and place. The language strongly evokes the American South with its chiggermoss, quarter-pecks, and cottonmouths, but beyond that local specificity of the details lies a power drawn from fragments of speech repeated throughout. Of these varied and insistent voices, Riley simultaneously ponders and declares, "Hadn't they clung tooth and claw to branch and bark," pointing to the deeper considerations of place and belonging that shape many of these poems. Questions of foreignness and difference arise in such poems as "Stranger," which depicts a community's bigoted reaction to a perceived newcomer: "Word said and word'd spread She's some flotsam/ from that load of 'those' what flooded here by boat." Riley's oeuvre breaks new lyric ground with its singular style. This rich, polyphonic collection will keep readers entranced. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Everything I Don't Know

Jerzy Ficowski, trans. from the Polish by Jennifer Grotz and Piotr Sommer. . World Poetry, $16 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-954218-99-4

The first English-language translation of the work of Polish poet and WWII resistance fighter Ficowski (1924–2006) draws from 11 of the poet's collections dating from 1957 to 2006. Here is an unusual mind capable of masterful metaphors: "Down sits the black-bearded gardener,/ God the Father/ with the planets in his basket,/ and bites into the full fruit" ("Apricot Time"). Some of his images are surrealist, as in "All Around London," which opens "The yellow hands of bananas/ stick out from under the awnings—/ they're checking for rain," and later declares that "the Vistula/ is a dry smudge of blue/ on the map of memory.// Because here there are rains of tears/ that cannot revive anything." The atrocities of the Holocaust linger in these pages and are explored through Ficowski's direct but light touch: "I was unable to save/ a single life// I couldn't stop/ a single bullet// so I circle cemeteries/ that aren't there... I run// to the aid uncalled for/ to the rescue delayed// I want to get there on time/ even if it's already over." These surprising, clear, and appealing poems are to be enjoyed again and again, marking Ficowski as a poet readers won't want to miss. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Earthly Delights

Troy Jollimore. . Princeton Univ., $17.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-691-21882-3

The ruminative, elegant fourth book by Jollimore (Syllabus of Errors) opens with an invocation to the muse: "wear me like clothing." These poems relish allusions to visual art, as well as other writers, and personalize particulars in Jollimore’s own life. In the dense, three-page block poem "Marvelous Things Without Number," he nostalgically writes of "eventless days at the beach," and the sand he calls "a relentless ubiquitous grit." In vivid detail, he renders the atmospheric sense of an unrushed summer spent reading Rilke, alongside teenagers playing board games, and "For a while/ it feels as if everything is a reenactment/ of something that has already happened." The poem questions this feeling and its possible purpose, poignantly stating: "stay, you whisper,/ stay just as you are, just a little longer." There is an elegiac quality throughout; the long poem "American Beauty" seeks to look at the losses of Western history through the eponymous film’s lens. As the book’s title suggests, Jollimore’s delight and pleasure in description is evident in these gorgeously textured poems that are equally full of intellectual inquiry and feeling. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dear Diaspora

Susan Nguyen. . Univ. of Nebraska, $17.95 trade paper (84p) ISBN 978-1-4962-2790-4

The first poem of Nguyen's powerful debut asks: "At the center of your calamity, what grows?" That question serves as an entry point for poems that interweave grief, exodus, and girlhood. Through the character Suzi, the reader is faced with the complexity of reckoning with inherited grief. Suzi says, "missing someone... fills you with odd-shaped holes," and elsewhere, "worse than dying is disappearing." Throughout, Nguyen interrogates the American dream; in "Letter to the Diaspora," the phrase "I believe in the american dream" is crossed out. Later, she writes of America, "the dead remained dead." Her images ground the reader in distinctly American details, "SPAM fried with fish sauce"; "Lucy Liu's freckles"; "Vaseline kisses." Nguyen's poetry reveals a remarkable embrace of complexity while accounting for the difficulties of complicity, witness, and forgiveness. The final poem opens, "I am learning how to hold grief/ in my mouth." This powerful debut attests to that endeavor, and the way in which such work is necessary, beautiful, and full of complexity. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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All the Names Given

Raymond Antrobus. . Tin House, $16.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-951142-92-6

British poet Antrobus (The Perseverance) dedicates his powerful second collection to his mother, who supplied his surname, a name "so anciently English (Norse) that it has become foreign to itself." The rich complication present in these poems is that while his mother is white, descended from the titled Antrobus clan that enslaved Jamaicans, his father was Jamaican: "Tell me if I'm closer/ to the white painter/ with my name than I am/ to the black preacher,/ his hands wide to the sky," he writes in "Plantation Paint." Antrobus, who grew up deaf then was given hearing aids in late childhood, weaves his experiences negotiating language, race, and family, skillfully pairing love with anger. Of his mother, he recalls, in "It Was Cold Under My Breath": "You said I don't think/ I heard anything and left the room,/ and I hated you for not/ belting the brat out of me." Several single-line "[Caption Poems]" are inspired by Deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim, providing a formally ambitious and visually captivating "silence" on the page. Antrobus beautifully pays witness to the legacy of colonialism while providing another gripping meditation on language and communication. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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