In Brief: Hera Lindsay Bird, Michelle Bitting, Bruce Bond, Aracelis Girmay, Connie Wanek
“If you slit your wrists while winking,” New Zealander Hera Lindsay Bird asks in her debut collection’s opening poem, “does that make it a joke?” Emblematic of her punk-rock aesthetic, Bird’s rhetorical question is the first of many self-interrogations readers encounter in Hera Lindsay Bird, a spectacle of a book where irony, crassness, and unvarnished emotional disclosure intentionally overwhelm poet and reader alike. The book’s cover sets the tone: Bird herself appears crouching, her face hidden by a mop of brown hair, her body swallowed by a canary yellow rain slicker above her name printed twice in all-caps.
Mark Yakich: Poetry: A Survivor’s Guide
Metaphor is a form of illness. Sometimes writers ought to clothe rather than bare their souls. If we don’t know a word we encounter in a poem, we should look it up or die. These sort of irreverent and often profound pronouncements define Mark Yakich’s Poetry: A Survivor’s Guide, which seeks to bridge the gap between those haughty academic treatises on verse (such as Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading) and those quaint, but ultimately limited, workbooks brimming with writing exercises.
Lucia Perillo: Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones: Selected and New Poems
Esteemed sports writer and NPR commentator Frank Deford is, at first blush, an odd choice to narrate the 2002 PBS documentary The French Impressionists. Thankfully, most viewers are oblivious to, or quickly overlook, Deford’s lack of scholarly credentials upon hearing his emotive and nuanced voiceover, which is particularly moving on the work of Edgar Degas. “Although a traditionalist in so many ways,” Deford asserts, “Degas was absolutely daring in his art—none of the other Impressionists ever chose such unusual perspectives.”
Grevel Lindop: Luna Park
In “O Taste and See,” one of her most famous poems, Denise Levertov rejects the brooding grimness that defines Wordsworth’s Industrial Revolution lament “The World Is Too Much With Us.” Though she acknowledges grief and death by name, Levertov ultimately seeks a courage beyond poetic condemnation, beckoning us to go on “living in the orchard and being/hungry, and plucking/the fruit.” Though “O Taste and See” is often hastily misread as a carpe diem poem, Levertov chose the orchard as her final symbol purposefully, since it suggests that the beauty and bounty of our world require patience, cultivation, and protection.
Mahtem Shiferraw: Fuschia
“In the Lion’s Den,” a rare persona poem in Mahtem Shiferraw’s debut poetry collection Fuchsia, gives voice to the biblical Daniel, who yearns “to open my/mouth and tell them something, anything—/speak as if I have any authority upon/myself.” One senses Shiferraw herself behind these lines since her poems brim with questions of identity, as they traverse the fraught majesty of her native Ethiopia and Eritrea, and later, document a tentative relocation to the United States.
Adrian C. Louis: Random Exorcisms
Grief and irreverence rarely align in poetry. We have our wistful poets and we have our witty poets, conventional wisdom insists, and everyone guards their own dominion. In his most recent collection, however, Adrian C. Louis embraces mournfulness and mockery alike. Guided by a wife’s passing, Louis’ poems also lament the difficulties of aging, the marginalization of American Indians, and the legacy of regional decay, all while poking fun at academia, pop culture, and the male libido.
Christopher DeWeese: The Father of the Arrow Is the Thought & Amelia Martens: The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat
Paul Klee, one of the most gifted and prolific visual artists of the early twentieth century, defies easy categorization. A noted colorist, his vast oeuvre reflects several prolific periods, having been variously associated with the major movements of his time, including Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Christopher DeWeese’s The Father of the Arrow Is the Thought takes its title from a Klee passage, and like the dynamic painter, DeWeese contorts reality in order to extract meaning from reality.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Editor: The Oppens Remembered
When Of Being Numerous won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1969, George Oppen seemed like an emblematic poet for the zeitgeist: he wrote associative verses that were taut and mysterious, he championed syntactic innovation over sophisticated diction, and he embodied an urban political awareness that spoke to the decade’s social upheavals.
In Brief: Bond, de la O, Denham, & Moeggenberg
“This is how it feels, he thought, to be/the orphan of what you sacrifice to see,” Bruce Bond writes in “The Desert Fathers,” one of many stunning and accomplished poems in For the Lost Cathedral. As its title suggests, themes of spiritual yearning and transcendence unify Bond’s poems, which overcome the avoidance, cynicism, and refusal that so frequently inhibit our metaphysical inquiries in their search for “the heaven inside/a handful of water.”
Robert Atler, Editor: The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
When Yehuda Amichai died in 2000, the international literary community mourned the passing of Israel’s greatest post-war poet. For those of us reading him for the first time, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai encompasses an exceptional career. Spanning five decades, Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s retrospective gathers twelve previous books and represents the efforts of thirteen Hebrew translators.
Greta Stoddart: Alive Alive O
Greta Stoddart’s third poetry collection, Alive Alive O, takes its epigraph from the final verse of the famous Irish folk song “Molly Malone.” Regarded by many to be the quintessential anthem of Dublin—replete with its own statue on Grafton Street, no less—“Molly Malone” tells the sad tale of a maiden fishmonger (and part-time prostitute, depending on which version you sing at the pub) who dies of fever.
Daneen Wardrop: Cyclorama & Reginald Dwayne Betts: Bastards of the Reagan Era
It is a strange irony that despite all of our war documentaries, battle reenactments, and tourist traps, the American Civil War remains a half-told tale. The valiant sacrifices of everyday Americans—particularly those made by women, Native Americans, and African Americans both enslaved and free—are usually overlooked among the strategizing of generals. In a series of compelling persona poems, Daneen Wardrop’s recent collection Cyclorama strives to remedy this failure of conscience.