April Is Poetry Month, Part V

David Starkey Reviews 30 Books of Poems

Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine: Seeing the world clearly and translating those perceptions into equally clear language ought to be something anyone can do, but of course that’s not the case. Fortunately, we have poets like Patrick Phillips who remind us how important it is to “be present, and watching, / and silent as stars.”

Sandra Lim, The Wilderness: “Feeling atonal and unconciliatory, / I went to see The Rite of Spring,” Sandra Lim writes, and The Wilderness does have the feel of someone wrestling with a difficult, not entirely pleasurable performance. “Spring obliges / my imagination / of return,” she observes in another poem, “then / annihilates it.”

Michael Longley, The Stairwell: The first half of The Stairwell contains Michael Longley’s usual paeans to Carrigskeewaun, the windswept townland on the west coast of Ireland he has celebrated for decades. Part Two is an elegy for the poet’s twin brother, a form in which Longley, like many an Irish poet before him, thrives.

Laura Kasischke, The Infinitesimals:
If The Infinitesimals isn’t as spectacular as 2011’s Space, in Chains, it’s still very good, and very dark. Ativan is a “Little, hopeful, insistent / song / about the future / sung / to a hanged man’s boots.” Her 50th birthday is “the carcass / of some rotting, welcome beast.”

J. Allyn Rosser, Mimi’s Trapeze: J. Allyn Rosser specializes in uncomfortable bursts of narrative: a professor whose lecture on happiness is so depressing it drives all the students from her class; a man declaring, “now that’s the sign of a good wife, / like a good waitress, you’re hardly even aware / when she’s there.”

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: Citizen — a combination of essay, memoir, and criticism written in prose and punctuated by full-color images — tests the boundaries of poetry, but Claudia Rankine’s description of what it is like to see the world as an African American, and particularly as an African American woman, is powerful almost beyond words. —David Starkey


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