Subscriber-Only Content; You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to Publishers Weekly for only $15/month.

Instant access includes 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.

Tributary

Carey Salerno. Persea, $15.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-89255-529-1

The powerful second book from Salerno (Shelter) considers a river’s shape-shifting shallows, currents, sediments, and “swift debris,” through which the poet tells stories of loss and restitution. The river itself is dammed and damned. At times, the river is a beloved addressee with decidedly Whitmanian inflections: “Dear great river, part of my life/ unfailingly,// to where may I climb to pike your water?” Elsewhere, the river’s “mangled idiom” serves as a shadowy repository of crimes and abuses, “the blackwater mouth/ its loan ghost groan,/ soothing me into your sentient stone.” Conceived as a backwoods church service from processional to benediction, the book reflects an intimate, ambivalent familiarity with biblical scripture and fundamentalist practices. Angels rub shoulders with anglers, and lovers of fly-fishing will recognize their art captured in several poems. Salerno joins her voice to the river to “deny the paying of tribute” to the patriarchy: “I say/ I am the river/ I say/ I am grown I say/ listen/ to my rushing/ I say/ you will stay/ until I’ve finished/ my rushing.” Salerno delivers a bold, memorable, and capacious collection. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure

Hoa Nguyen. Wave, $18 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-950268-17-7

The ambitious fifth entry from Nguyen (Violet Energy Ingots) combines ghosts (a word that appears repeatedly in the titles of these poems) and language: “You lose every other/ word.” Here, word is synonymous with family and homeland. Woven throughout is a biography in verse of Nguyen’s mother, Diê.p Anh Nguyê˜n, whose presence amplifies the book’s longing, allowing it to act as a kind of testimony. Nguyen writes: “mother wept for not/ seeing ‘home’ again and then didn’t.” In these works, home is a place ransacked by Western violence; the aftermath of sanctioned attacks echoes throughout, captured in the pressing question: “and how do you protest disaster?” But there is playfulness in these poems, too, such as when Nguyen pokes fun at the English language (“The past tense of sing is not singed”), while also toying with the very structure and delivery of language itself (“This non-enough-ness/ learns me to be Tough”). “I rename myself a bell to ring,” Nguyen writes, and that bell rings with impressive tonal and melodic versality throughout her work. This dense collection, rife with the life of the body, is proof of what language can bear witness to, a testament Nguyen makes wholly her own. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
On the Mesa: An Anthology of Bolinas Writing

Edited by Ben Estes and Joel Weihaus. The Song Cave, $20 (258p) ISBN 978-1-73403-517-9

This enlightening anthology collects the poems of writers who gathered around Bolinas, Calif., in the late 1960s and early ’70s. According Lytle Shaw’s afterword, this edition paints a “picture of one of the great countercultural experiments of the later 20th century, the poet-run town of Bolinas.” Poems like Bobbie Louise Hawkin’s “Rainbow” show the attention these poets turned toward the natural world and their efforts to meaningfully reconnect with it and each other: “watching a gull’s clean glide/ breathing moist air/ as if I breathed// your breath.” Other poems reimagine social conditions entirely, such as Diane Di Prima’s “Revolutionary Letter #9” which addresses the importance of experimentation: “or, let’s start with no money at all and invent it/ if we need it/ or, mimeograph it and everyone/ print as much as they want/ and see what happens.” This delightful compilation offers a rare and deep engagement with a culturally rich and unique moment in history, contextualizing an artistic community and introducing readers to new voices. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Complete Stories

Noah Warren. Copper Canyon, $16 ISBN 978-1-55659-616-2

The insightful second book from Warren (The Destroyer in the Glass) wrestles with the many forms narrative can take. Warren surveys the possibilities of storytelling in poems that examine the tales people tell about themselves and their families. At times, Warren describes storytelling as a kind of empathic magical thinking: “In a previous draft, I was able to imagine you rising/ to walk around the city at the same time I felt the need to walk,/ or setting down a glass of water as I picked one up.” Blurring the distinction between lyric and narrative in the one-line poem “Village,” Warren writes, “Cedar smoke wanders between the yards, into the linen hung out overnight,” leaving the possible narrative arcs spiraling out across the lawns and beyond. Toward the end of the collection, Warren considers the legacy of his grandfather, Robert Penn Warren, whose racist statements and subsequent attempts at revision point to the dangers and limitations of the narrative process: “He saw/ in his South, an ‘image’—/ as he glossed thirty years later,/ very gently—‘of the unchangeable/ human condition, beautiful, sad, and tragic.’ ” In poems of striking musicality and formal dexterity, Warren reveals how public and private history is shaped by stories. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Little Elegies for Sister Satan

Michael Palmer. New Directions, $19.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-81123-089-6

“I told myself there were no more real/ poems left to write, only fake poems,” writes Palmer (The Laughter of the Sphinx) in his beautiful and startling latest, noting that such poems are “after all the best,/ like fake snow in a ballet.” Palmer’s preference for surrealism and symbolism is evident in his preoccupation with the immateriality of writing, perception, and repetition. The juxtaposition of poetry against historic atrocity finds a nuanced and sensitive portrayal in poems like “Since You Asked,” which abstains from ascribing a moral disposition to poetry: “Music is absolved of poetry,/ war in love with poetry./ (All war thinks it’s poetry.).” Others draw on parallels between speaker and author, such as in “At Readings”: “I try patiently to explain/ that as my truest friends in this life// begin one by one to vanish/ I must find new ones, equally strange.” Those are among the most successful pieces in the collection, demonstrating Palmer’s literary finesse and highlighting his thoughtfulness and unwillingness to simplify the complexity of imagination. Readers will find Palmer’s experimental style accessible, and his poems worthy of re-readings. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Beethoven Variations

Ruth Padel. Knopf, $27 (144p) ISBN 978-0-593-31772-3

Balancing a historian’s fidelity to archives and a musician’s passion for composition, Padel (Alibi) offers a lavish poetic biography of Beethoven from his birth in 1770 to his death in 1827. The psychological and musical effects of the composer’s deafness are sensitively rendered: “The almost-nothing bone,/ that little house of hearing... the new/ shocked calm of Is it true. Is this/ what it sounds like, going deaf?” Drawing on letters, diaries, and the handmade “Conversation Books” (in which those Beethoven encountered wrote notes to him once he lost his hearing), Padel tracks “the domestic minutiae against which his late style—introspective, cosmic, radical—evolved.” The tumultuous inventiveness of his late style (“havoc on the brink, a jackhammer shattering the night and soaring past world-sorrow”) emerges in the contexts of Napoleon’s violent rise to power and Beethoven’s own illnesses, lost loves, and legal battle with his sister-in-law (whom he called the Queen of the Night) over custody of his late brother’s son, Karl. Padel grows increasingly intimate with her subject, often addressing him directly, and even attempting to intervene in his self-destructive spiral, “trying to cancel/ the mathematics of strain.” Aficionados of classical music may draw inspiration from this ambitiously conceived and realized reconsideration of Beethoven’s genius. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Art of Fiction

Kevin Prufer. Four Way, $16.95 trade paper (92p) ISBN 978-1-945588-72-3

“My politics are rickety,” admits Prufer (How He Loved Them) in a cinematic collection that showcases a flair for blurring the line between fact and fiction—a precarious distinction in poetry. Shame and guilt are at the heart of these poems; Prufer staggers short lines across the page, advancing long intertwined narratives that blend the “real” and the fashioned, such as when a film noir plot is paired with a traumatic experience of death. In between bouts of exterminating invasive hogs with a (perfectly named, factually or not) poison called Hog Kaput, a farmer dines with his wife, who sweet-talks away his guilt. Other poems, such as “Wet Leaves,” dig closer to the root of pain and childhood trauma with a light hand. Here, terror is never far from the edges of consciousness, yet is often allayed as in “Cruelties,” which restores the sense of illusion after a gardener has gassed wasps: “the garden is perfect/ this is a perfect garden.” Prufer’s sensitive, strange, and brilliant poems explore darkness and pain with originality and verve. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Doppelgangbanger

Cortney Lamar Charleston. Haymarket, $16 (100p) ISBN 978-1-64259-265-8

The pensive and often playful second book from Charleston (Telepathologies) considers the lasting impact of racism, religion, and masculinity on Black boyhood. These poems are filled with memorable stories and different iterations of the self. Charleston excels at showcasing the fraught representational power of 1990s and early 2000s media, but also in his observations about perception, such as when he writes that “the camera has blurred my edges in the suggestion of motion,” or observes, “I’m beside myself almost always: A side, B side.” Throughout, the threats of racism and police violence are evident, but the Black community is never reduced to being framed as the object of such actions. The collection is full of musicality and rich turns of phrase: “I’m new to his neighborhood. He is equally/ new to mine—the two, divided by a dotted line/ like always, by colors and the casual violence/ that implies.” Charleston incisively brings an entire milieu to life in these urgent, vulnerable, and accessible poems. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Popular Longing

Natalie Shapero. Copper Canyon, $17 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-55659-588-2

The poems in the sharp, eloquent third collection from Shapero (Hard Child) juxtapose the world as it is and as it could be. Shapero has established herself as one of the foremost poets of wit, candor, and verve, capturing the pain of being alive, where “even worse is the other/ way around.” In one poem, she writes, “I was thinking of the times/ I have attempted to exit my body,” before contextualizing, “I was thinking/ of how I’d had nowhere to go.” These poems sit in the “absence of Heaven,” a state of nowhere in which nearly every decision is a wrong decision. They capture this mood with biting humor: “What are our choices,” she asks, “might I suggest/ LESS IS MORE against MORE IS MORE?” These poems are unsparing in their critiques of the self, the greed of capitalism, and violence; yet there is tenderness and human solidarity, a wish for something better, even if it feels like the odds are stacked against humanity, “Unseen as we are in this life.” Shapero is a poet willing to go deep into the collective heart of humanity to find the truth, however it humors or hurts. No book captures the loneliness of witness like this one. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Prometeo

C. Dale Young. Four Way, $16.95 trade paper (76p) ISBN 978-1-945588-70-9

The contemplative fifth collection from Young (The Halo) explores the places and lineages that provide the raw materials for self-invention and subsequent reinvention. Like the flickering flames of Promethean creation, Young’s poems challenge concepts of uniformity, revealing them to be fleeting and illusory. “Fractured, divided to the quick, I am incapable// of being singular,” he writes of his own ancestry. Young engages with the history of the Caribbean, Europe, and Mexico, a history that is tied to deeper, often hidden realities: “We are of this dirt. We cannot/ be killed off, the old women say. And in the base pairs/ of our DNA, we discover the truth. One can hide/ many things, but the truth is always there.” There is a strong connection between identity and place in these poems, which Young traces in the language of nostalgia and familiarity: “Alone/ on the soft sand, the surf mumbled the old language./ Like my great-great-grandmother who visits me/ in dreams, it said: Salt or no salt, trust no one.” Young powerfully maneuvers through complex issues of multiethnicity and heritage in direct poetic language, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the many truths his collection reveals. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2021 | 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.