Book Reviews

  • 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.

    Issue #74 September 2017
  • 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.

    Issue #73 August 2017
  • 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.”

    Issue #72 July 2017
  • Robert Gibb: After

    In “The Deer Lay Down Their Bones,” one of his last great poems, the oft-neglected master Robinson Jeffers shows an uncharacteristic vulnerability. Reeling from the death of his beloved wife and muse Una, Jeffers yearns for the “dense green laurel” and “sweet wind” that make a sanctuary for deer where their hunting wounds slowly claim them. Lyrical and intimate, Jeffers’s engagement with nature’s ancient pulse—its amorality, its indifference to human suffering, its sublime beauty and ability to comfort—render the poem haunting yet tender.

    Issue #71 June 2017
  • In Brief: Tommye Blount, Jennifer Ghivan, Saarah Pape, Shelly Wong

    With the sensuality of Carl Philips and the edginess of Wanda Coleman, Tommye Blount’s debut chapbook What Are We Not For searches for the self by interrogating the male body as a liminal site for desire and violence. Questions of race and queer love dominate Blount’s best poems, ranging from the anxious tenderness of “But the Weather, the Weather,” which depicts two new lovers chitchatting in a hotel room, to the hallucinatory “Of a Wicked Boy,” which reimagines a sexually awakened Pinocchio being stripped and violated by a mob of adolescents.

    Issue #70 May 2017
  • Janice N. Harrington: Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippen

    Two epigraphs from the esteemed Cornel West introduce the seventh section of Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin, and the latter seems particularly resonant for its melancholy poignancy. “Can the reception of the work of a black artist,” West asks, “transcend mere documentary, social pleading or exotic appeal?” Poet Janice N. Harrington’s third poetry collection traces the arc of this very question in its examination of Horace H. Pippin, a World War I hero and intuitive artist who began painting in middle-age to express his lifelong creative yearning, cope with the trauma of battle, and celebrate the richness of African-American culture.

    Issue #69 April 2017
  • Review: Frannie Lindsay

    In his exquisite, jazzy homage to Frederick Douglass, Robert Hayden resists the elegy’s gravitational pull toward mere grief or mere celebration. Instead, his closing lines affirm that Douglass’s crusade lives on when future generations strive to flesh “his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.” Though poet Frannie Lindsay has a far different voice from Hayden’s, she nonetheless shares his exploration of the elegy as a capacious form where readers discover a spiritual call to endure even as we mourn.

    Issue #68 March 2017
  • Anna Świrszczyńska: Building The Barricade

    The narratives of horror and depravity that emerged from World War II remain impossible to tally, defying hyperbole even seven decades later. While most American readers are familiar with the Normandy invasion and siege of Stalingrad, few may know the tale of the Warsaw Uprising, which lasted for sixty-three days when the Polish resistance Home Army, outmanned and outgunned, repelled German forces and waited desperately for Russian reinforcements that never came. The outcome was appalling: a quarter-million Polish casualties, the shame of surrender, and the near-destruction of a robust and cultured city.

    Issue #67 February 2017
  • Katharine Rauk: Buried Choirs

    The work of Marianne Moore, arguably our quirkiest American modernist, has recently enjoyed an overdue revival. Perhaps in our precipitous moment of technological obsession and ecological ruin, Moore’s poems affirm curiosity, morality, and respect for the natural world as bedrock values in our literature and our democracy. In “Avec Ardeur,” Moore cheekily lectures Ezra Pound, ending with a curt final couplet: “Nothing mundane is divine;/Nothing divine is mundane.”

    Issue #66 January 2017
  • 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.

    Issue #65 December 2016
  • 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.

    Issue #64 November 2016
  • 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.”

    Issue #63 October 2016