CAConrad: While Standing in Line for Death
Best known for the “(soma)tic” rituals that serve as the source materials for his verse and prose poems, poet, critic, and editor CAConrad is the embodiment of that old Whitman saw, a materialization of self-contradiction. In other words, he accepts, and thus enacts, the charge of the historical avant-garde: inaugurate the impossible as the negation (as if) of the world (as such).
Martha Collins: “Night Unto Night” and “Day Unto Day”
What are the heavens, and what is the firmament—what, a house, and for how long? How do we live, die, survive? Such existential questions, great and small, animate the devotional poetics of Martha Collins, translator and poet. With the recent publication of Night Unto Night (Milkweed, 2018), Collins completes a diptych twelve years in the making, which she first began with her collection, Day Unto Day (Milkweed, 2014).
Karla Kelsey: Of Sphere and Hermaphropoetics & Rochelle Owens: Drifting Geometries
In very different ways these two collections—Kelsey’s book-length “proem” (her Prelude) of prose ruminations interspersed with lyric poems, Owens’ book-length poem organized around mathematical objects and concepts—ponder the problem of perception in relation to the presumptions that underpin the “obvious,” the superficial, the prison-house of routine, all targets, historically, of both “bookish” religions and philosophical phenomenology.
John Matthias & Jean Dibble & Robert Archambeau: Revolutions: a Collaboration
Revolutions, the title of this collaboration among a Notre Dame-affiliated poet (John Mathias), a printmaker (Jean Dibble), and a literary critic (Robert Archambeau), is mildly deceptive; the book is less concerned with creating insurgencies than carrying out a more playful, syncretic practice within our revolutionary present.
Adeena Karasick: A New Salomè
The most recent performance of Richard Strauss’s Salomè I saw was staged by Palm Beach Opera in a shiny new auditorium named after a noted philanthropist, yacht designer, and inventor of the color laser printer. South Florida audiences are notable more for their money than their cultural sophistication, but I was still taken aback when the well-dressed elderly gentleman to my right, at the moment when Salomè kisses Jokanaan’s severed head, let out an audible snort of mingled surprise and disgust.
Krystal Languell: Gray Market:
“Look at / what passes for the new.” What are poetry reviews for? Today’s readers find poems more often than not via social media platforms, individual and bare, rendered stark and two-dimensional by the Adderall light of the Internet. It takes another kind of attention to find and read a book and then go on to tell those others who
Cameron Barnett & Maggie Smith: Two Reviews in Brief
Serving as reviews editor for Plume for the past two years has been a singular honor in my writing life. Long suspicious of reviews that stray into personal essay or academic treatise, I sought to embody a journalistic clarity, pace, and timeliness during my tenure as resident critic, while still acknowledging the serious questions of poetic craft and the limits of my own subjectivity. Though our wider culture is awash with incivility, ignorance, and intolerance, the poetry of America remains as inviting, vibrant, and diverse as her people. I hope the 38 titles I’ve reviewed over the course of 24 consecutive issues reflect that bountiful vitality.
Tim Seibles: One Turn Around the Sun
Halfway through his epic eleven-page sequence “Mosaic,” Tim Seibles echoes the closing of Robert Hayden’s oft-anthologized “Those Winter Sundays,” writing, “what did I know?” after recounting a terse childhood exchange where his father slapped him for “handing him/the scissors/wrong.” Given that so much of One Turn Around the Sun reads as an elegiac memoir-in-verse honoring Seibles’ aging parents, who endured the midcentury Civil Rights struggle with stoic resolve while cocooning their son in love, it is a jarring moment that nonetheless humanizes a father whose life demanded so much silence and sacrifice.
Nancy Chen Long: Light Into Bodies
In “Lapidary,” arguably her most commanding poem, Nancy Chen Long constructs a lush and brooding narrative about a rock collector who spots a flaw in her home’s masonry, leading the character to ponder the impermanence of her craft and her own transience “pocked with holes.” As with Frost’s “Directive” or “Birches,” though, the savvy reader marvels at the poem’s lyrical authority as well as its allegorical intricacy.
William Brewer: I Know Your Mind
According to a recent New York Times article, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Perhaps no region has been as decimated as Appalachia, where a handful of states account for one-fifth of all overdose deaths in the U.S. William Brewer’s first book, selected by Ada Limón for the National Poetry Series, casts its aching, hallucinatory poems against this backdrop of addiction and hopelessness in the poet’s native West Virginia—particularly the town of Oceana, which has earned the sinister nickname Oxyana.
Mark Cox: Sorrow Bread: Poems 1984-2915 & Bill Knott: I am Flying Into Myself
n the final stanza of “Joyland,” a poem teeming with amusement park ephemera, Mark Cox’s playful account of a mini-golf outing unexpectedly morphs into an ars poetica: “Let the warning lights of the water tower/blink off and on all night, let the planes traverse the sky,/there are these holes you have dug for yourselves,/this emptiness that need be aimed at, filled.” Wistful yet resolved, these lines are fittingly emblematic of Sorrow Bread, which culls the best work from Cox’s four earlier collections and also includes two dozen new poems since the publication of his previous book, Natural Causes, in 2004.
Patricia Smith: Incendiary Art
It seems fitting, if lamentable, that the poetry community must celebrate Gwendolyn Brooks’s centenary during the ever-mounting tensions of Trumpism, police brutality, and social injustice. Written in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination, “Riot” is one of Brooks’s most dense and electrifying poems, and as such, David Baker notes in a recent essay, it isn’t likely to find a cozy place beside “those anthologizable, more easily teachable poems.”