Book Reviews

  • 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
  • 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.

    Issue #62 September 2016
  • 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.

    Issue #61 August 2016
  • 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.

    Issue #60 July 2016
  • 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.

    Issue #59 June 2016
  • 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.

    Issue #58 May 2016
  • 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.”

    Issue #57 April 2016