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A God at the Door

Tishani Doshi.. Copper Canyon, $16 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-55659-452-6

The illuminating fourth collection from Doshi (Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods) wrestles with the anxiety and existential despair of environmental peril, the pandemic, and the oppression of marginalized peoples. A native of India, Doshi writes with clarity and melodic language of anti-immigrant sentiment in "The Stormtroopers of My Country": "sir you promised us good/ governance but the evidence is mounting of brown/ soldiers massacring brown shops mosques stick// with the pogrom." In "Tigress Hugs Manchurian Fir," a concrete poem in the shape of a tree, she reflects on an award-winning photograph, meditating on the strength required to contend with the 21st century's greatest challenges: "I begin my diaries with Chipko means to hug in Hindi./ And even though I know the history of the ecofeminist/ embrace is fierce, not cute, it helps me understand the gap/ between my life and the denuded hillside." Turning inward in "My Loneliness Is Not the Same as Your Loneliness," she writes: "Singers say they hear the next note/ before they sing it. My loneliness/ is something like that. I know/ not just what it is, but how it will sound." With her finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist, Doshi crafts vivid poems that are a balm for a fraught world. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Father | Genocide

Margo Tamez.. Turtle Point, $18 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-93352-704-8

The bracing latest from Tamez (after Raven Eye) movingly explores the genocide of Indigenous American peoples, weaving it into the story of Tamez's father's death, as well as the death of her mother when she was a child. Formally, the poems appear in discrete sections, punctuated by vertical lines, as in the book's title. Tamez likens this effect to the penitentiary posts she counts in the book's opening poems. "When I was a girl/ the river wasn't a border," she writes, and the poems enact this push and pull between memory, possibility, and ongoing violence in the "liquid flow" of circular time. While the book is prompted by a cassette recording of Tamez's father speaking, the most complex and lyrical moments emerge when she traces a feminist arc through her family and cultural history: "I am a polity, the lawmaker, my grandmothers are/ the roots of fecund rose and swan lady of the lake." Many of these pages are filled with Tamez's reflections on, and advocacy for, traditions that have survived despite colonialism's most malicious efforts at control: "Live softly on earth./ Have a good system to live softly on earth," she advises. This is a necessary, urgent, and affecting work. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Symmetry: Poems

Ari Banias.. Norton, $26.95 (112p) ISBN 978-0-393-86813-5

The subject of Banias's expansive latest (after Anybody) is contrast: the present is overlaid by the past, human life intersects with the natural world, abundance is met by scarcity, the personal meets the political. No moment is discreet and each image carries its shadow: "the lit up LA FITNESS sign reflected in the marsh water"; "Athena's temple, scaffold-covered wreck"; "Across from the Nashua river not eternal/ a Wendy's and a Kohl's not eternal." Banias's chief strength as a poet lies in observation: "I feel a history of/ overlooking/ toggle in me," he proclaims in a long poem titled "Spectra." Indeed, Banias enacts multiple ways of looking, observing people and places that are often ignored to illuminate disparities in wealth, access, and justice: "twenty-nine sleeping bags lined up beneath the overhang,/ and each one inhabited." But these poems are also a study in scope, moving from Greece, where much of the book is set, to the White House, from antiquity to a future of ecological wreckage. In this memorable work, Banias offers readers a guide to seeing the world, and its incongruences, more clearly. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Bestiary Dark

Marianne Boruch.. Copper Canyon, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-55659-637-7

Written with unabashed awe, the bristling 11th collection by Boruch (The Anti-Grief) describes her experiences on a Fulbright Fellowship in Australia in 2019. Inspired by Pliny the Elder's Natural History Encyclopedia, which was written from "his collecting, recollecting/ every blur and fine point" of the natural world in 77 CE, the collection is divided into five "books." Boruch's enthusiasm for the animal world is evident: "OMG, the native welcome swallows swoop for insects," she writes, with palpable excitement. She describes an unforgettable image of a pelican’s throat lit up in the sun, the silhouette of fish thrashing inside, and elsewhere admits her ignorance: "I understand, I said to the Indigenous Elder. No you don't, he said." Boruch keeps her touch light and selfdeprecating as the world that the poems describe disappears, or has already been destroyed by the bush fires that killed or displaced an estimated three billion animals shortly after her time there. The Great Barrier Reef is "still gorgeous except those places of die-off/ quiet gray out." But she believes that to "recollect is to rescue,/ to invite back the plain astonishments." These poems offer delights and fascinations at every turn. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Cry Back My Sea: 48 Poems in 6 Waves

Sarah Arvio.. Knopf, $28 (110p) ISBN 978-0-593-31950-5

The meditative fourth collection from Arvio (Night Thoughts) considers the contradictions of romantic love and how passion can be both exhilarating and toxic at once. A translator of multiple languages, Arvio emphasizes sound over meaning with mixed results. The lack of punctuation and erratic enjambment can drive the poems forward with a propulsive and frenetic energy, as in "Shrew," which begins, "I hate my heart What is this wild and bad/ renunciation I hate my heart Why/ does it hurt me even now after so// much raking over." In less successful poems, Arvio's approach can read as a lack of technical proficiency, as in "Whorl": "All those hard words heard in my ears/ Our word hoard is harder than a hatchet/ heavier than a heart on the warpath." Arvio is at her best when employing straightforward language and a touch of humor, as in the poem "Shoe," which addresses the challenge of reckoning with one's own mortality: "Can you stand the thought of being dead/some days I think I'll take it lying down/Sometimes it's good to take a stand/though I think I want a standard-issue death." Readers fond of phonetic lyricism will enjoy Arvio's attention to sound, despite the pieces' occasional lack of depth. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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How to Not Be Afraid of Everything

Jane Wong.. Alice James, $17.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-948579-21-6

Wong (Overpour) explores loss, grief, migration, colonization, and alienation in her searching and resilient second collection. "To be a good daughter means to carry everything with you at all times," she writes, enacting the heavy burden of carrying, where "Sometimes there is nothing to say or/ give at all." The works interrogate the Maoist Great Leap Forward, which resulted in 36 million deaths due to starvation, as well as question America, where the speaker wonders: "can't I have what I've been/ promised? This shore and this sea,/ shining always, thereafter?" Wong's poems subvert conventional ideas about America: "And what is there/ to see," Wong asks before answering, "rusty shipping containers." There's also a pointed critique of excesses of wealth set in a world where "we watch banks being built on ancient/ ground," and "hurricanes have/ the name of any decent receptionist." Wong's powerful poems draw the reader's attention and insist the audience not look away. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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O.B.B.

Paolo Javier.. Nightboat, $22.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-64362-072-5

The intriguing fifth collection from Javier (Court of the Dragon) collects six visceral poetry comics sequences with art by Alexander Tarampi and Ernest Concepcion. Inspired by Lynda Barry and bpNichol but wielding their own severe, fragmented twist, each entry explores immigration, the normative family, and the imaginative power of the juxtaposition between word and image. "Aren't You a Mess" presents pixelated images and fragments in parallel, while "Last Gasp" uses a more familiar comics style but pairs distorted cartoon and hyperrealistic schematics. Even "Remain as Beast," which takes the most conventionally poetic approach in generating a series of stanzas, seems inspired by the wide lens of the visual: "I see my/ baby don't leave partly falls aloud love to When you always I," one entry ends. In a long afterword, Javier offers a history of the comics-poem, describing his evolving interest in comics as a type of poetry, and briefly recounting the process of the book's composition. Readers interested in the potential of this unusual form will find the book's exploration and context invaluable, though those looking for a conventional reading experience may find the comics distract from the verse. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Philomath

Devon Walker-Figueroa.. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-57131-522-9

Walker-Figueroa's gloomy, atmospheric debut is driven by a steely-eyed perseverance in a desolate setting, as in the book's first lines, which explain the title and name of a town: " 'Love of learning' is what/ Philomath means." Philomath, Ore., is the setting for this gritty but lyric noir, where locals live and fight against their environment, be it the settled ghost town or the decaying natural world. Allusions to art are subverted by their grim failures: harps with gut strings warp out of tune, high school sculpture classes only poison the students' lungs, and an ill ballet teacher dies. One poem observes a neighbor "eating locusts again,/ as if a plague were just another/ point of view," while another's parenthetical aside observes that "What I'm learning/ to call pleasure is more/ akin to belief." Walker-Figueroa's vision of America is riddled with unusual characters, and she effectively uses caesura and passive voice to suspend a sense of closure throughout. These sharply observed poems imbue its portrait of place with wit and electricity. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Playlist for the Apocalypse

Rita Dove.. Norton, $26.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-393-86777-0

In Dove's commanding first collection of new poems since her 2017 NAACP Image Award-winning Collected Poems: 1974-2004, she explores apocalypses in their many forms: climatic, social, personal, and political. From her opening piece commemorating the life of Henry Martin, born into enslavement at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello on the same day Jefferson-"the Great Man"-died, Dove finds powerful moments of grace and resistance in the lives of those who have been oppressed and silenced. These pieces get to the heart of injustice in lines as direct as they are lyrical: "You think/ as long as we stay where/ you've tossed us, on/ the slag heap of your regard,/ the republic is safe." Whether examining the origin of the term ghetto in 16th-century Venice or ruminating on her struggles with illness, Dove's poems hold enormous historical weight and are enriched by her curiosity and keen perceptiveness. For Dove, language presents opportunities for renewed hope; as she writes, "each word caught right is a pawned memory, humbly reclaimed." Dove brilliantly breathes new life into the present age, revealing it as a time for urgent change. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Pregrets

Anselm Berrigan.. Black Square, $20 (104p) ISBN 978-1-73632-480-6

Berrigan's dynamic and unusual latest (after Something for Everybody) offers a smattering of wit and playful language in poems devoid of punctuation that riff on observations and ideas, musically building one detail into the next. Here, images are juxtaposed in delightful and odd ways, the titles playing on the word regrets. These poems feature curious constructions such as "driftwood nanobots," "flaming boogers," "orgiastic instacore hemorrhaging," and "imaginary dingleberries." Yet woven throughout are moments of astounding clarity and awareness: "Sorry about that," Berrigan writes in "Regrets," "I lack many life/ skills." While in "Egrets," he asserts, "we're very, very good at fucking up," and, in "Degrets," "it's very hard to retrain your listening." He opines, "if society is truly breaking down, it's not/happening fast enough." These moments flicker in the joyous and hypertextual riffraff of Berrigan's work, finding moments of lucidity in the noise that his poems enact. Through it all, Berrigan writes from a "permanent wound's perimeter" with a kind of mystical truth. These pages conjure the dizzy excess of modern life, engaging and challenging the reader with their ideas. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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