What to Read for Poetry Month, Part II
David Starkey Reviews a Book a Day
Thursday, April 10, 2014
I have written one review for every day of April, poetry month. Here, in alphabetical order by author, are selections for the second half of the month.
Kevin Young, Book of Hours: As its title suggests, Book of Hours has a devotional aspect, although the object of Young’s veneration is not Jesus, but his late father, a strong, compassionate man. Ultimately, these poems, which call to mind William Carlos Williams, move toward redemption. “Scars grow/smaller,” Young writes. “Why not sing?”
Robin Becker, Tiger Heron: Anyone living an ordinary life who has secretly believed her life deserves to be commemorated in poetry will embrace Robin Becker’s Tiger Heron. The casual pleasure of dogs and summer dinners and listening to Bach in the car—Becker transforms everything into language that is succinct, musical and richly imagistic.
Julia B. Levine, Small Disasters Seen in Sunlight: Julia Levine is a clinical psychologist, and she demonstrates the perspicacity expected in her profession not just in her technique but also in her subject matter. In one poem, as an abused child draws a picture of his house on fire, she realizes, “always another life burns behind this one.”
Frank X. Walker, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers: “Turn me loose,” were the last words of Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist who was murdered by Byron de la Beckwith in 1963. For many Americans, Evers’ death is ancient history, but Walker adopts the voices of Evers’ enemies and loved ones to bring the outrage back to life.
Marianne Boruch, Cadaver, Speak: The poems in the first half of Cadaver, Speak are grim, wry, beautiful, but it’s the long title poem, spoken from the afterlife by an old woman whose body is being dissected by medical students, that is likely to make the most lasting impression: “And now, here: the-never-will-be/was.”
Franz Wright, F: Franz Wright’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume Walking to Martha’s Vineyard was one of the best poetry books of the decade, so it feels wrong to complain that subsequent collections have failed to live up that marvelously inventive effort. Nevertheless, F, his latest, seems—despite some hard-edged successes—overwrought by comparison.
Joan Naviyuk Kane, Hyperboreal: “Marraa qaġrut pulaarut qatigaakiŋun/Tuġusuilaq”: so read the opening lines of “Maliktuk,” written entirely in Inupiatun. Poems like this dot Joan Naviyuk Kane’s second collection, but the majority of the poetry is in English—spare, clear, sharp lines that effectively evoke the book’s “rim of the world” northern landscape.
Pattiann Rogers, Holy Heathen Rhapsody: Pattiann Rogers has long been considered one of the best poets writing about science and the natural world, and Holy Heathen Rhapsody will not diminish her reputation. She writes with a field researcher’s close attention to detail, yet nearly every poem is also an attempt to connect with the transcendental.
Teresa Leo, Bloom in Reverse: The focus of Bloom in Reverse is a close friend’s suicide, and the book is generally dark. Still, there are moments of relief, as in “Poem Ending with Six Words from a Women’s Room Stall” and “My Friend Asks What I’ve Been Doing Lately, and by This She Means Men.”