Since 2014, first for the Santa Barbara Independent and then for the California Review of Books, every National Poetry Month, I’ve offered one very short review of a single-author poetry collection for each of the 30 days of April. However, this past winter and spring, I was teaching in Rome, and I didn’t have time to give the Poetry Month reviews the attention they deserved. As a result, in 2022 I’ve moved my “month of poetry reviews” to December, just in time for holiday gift-giving. I read nearly 200 new books of poems over the course of four months, and while many of them were excellent, these are the 31 that truly stuck with me, those I felt I could recommend, without hesitation, to someone who wanted to gift a book (or two, or three) to a fan, or potential fan, of contemporary poetry. While this isn’t exactly a “Best Poetry Books of 2022” list, it does serve something of that purpose — to help readers sift through the many collections published this year. The books are listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name, and in keeping with the best traditions of poetry, I’ve tried to make each review as brief as possible. Happy reading!

Bron Bateman, Blue Wren

There’s a working-class wit and tenacity throughout Blue Wren (Fremantle Press), which is perfectly expressed in Bateman’s poem “Ambitions”: “My parents’ plans for me, / dizzying in their simplicity: / be the first in my family to attend university. / Be a teacher or a librarian. / Work hard, / pass, / get a job. / The soft bigotry of their low expectations — / surpassed.” The book’s triumph, though, is the sequence “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” which shows us images of the poet from age 4 to 56, as she deals with molestation, depression, academic accomplishment, and the birth of many children (her biography says she is a “mother of nine”). Not only does Bateman’s unconventionality and honesty make every poem a surprise, but it’s also a treat for those of us in the northern hemisphere to hear the distinctive voice of a poet from Western Australia.

Anuradha Bhowmik, Brown Girl Chromatography

Whether she is making acrostics from words in AOL instant messages or taking fieldnotes about growing up — “Big boobs don’t count if you’re fat said the skinny white bitches & their white boy counterparts,” Bhowmik, winner of the prestigious Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for a best first book of poetry, does a superb job of showing how the immigrant experience does, and does not, graft onto life in America. This memoir in poetry is full of painful recollections, as when she realizes the white women at the department store makeup counter “couldn’t match me to my proper foundation shade,” or when she recalls how her older brother “kept walking the halls / while jocks hurled taunts my way.” She is “the fat kid with OCD and B’s // in math,” while her brother would go on to “become Ivy League and Medical School.” In contrast, she “was only good at / the things that didn’t matter.” Ironically, of course, one of those was writing poetry. (Pitt Poetry Series)

Caroline Bird, Rookie: Selected Poems

To get a proper taste of Caroline Bird’s wickedly funny poems, a reader need only turn to the opening lines of the title piece: “You thought you could ride a bicycle / but, turns out, those weren’t bikes / they were extremely bony horses. And that wasn’t / a meal you cooked, that was a microwaved / hockey puck. And that wasn’t a book, that was / a taco stuffed with daises.” The line breaks work like pauses before a killer punchline, and it’s all in the timing for this poet of impeccable rhythm and golden irony, who resurrects the surrealist storytelling of James Tate and Charles Simic and hones her mini-narratives even as she is amping the surprise up to 11. (Carcanet Press)

Todd Boss, Someday the Plan of a Town

In the introduction to his book, Boss writes that “In June 2018, I sold nearly everything I owned … and began house-sitting my way around the world.” He “circled the globe for the next two years as a solo traveler, rarely requiring hotel accommodations, stringing together 30 consecutive house-sitting gigs.” This fact helps makes sense of the wide array of locales the speaker finds himself in — usually enjoying his freedom, although occasionally lamenting the relationship with his daughter gone deeply sour (she is no longer speaking to him). The poems themselves are vintage Boss, full of winsome observations and enough internal rhymes to put Kay Ryan to shame. Just one example: “Complicate your life. Confuse it. / What good’s a plot if you don’t use it? / The Wire, S1, Episode 10 — / nothing was at stake till then, / so the story didn’t matter much. / The game got real. Until you clutch / your bedsheets to your chin, life’s just / TV, a show. No — nonplussed / is how you want to go.” (WW Norton)

Victoria Chang, The Trees Witness Everything

The first thing a reader will notice about The Trees Witness Everything (Copper Canyon Press) is the book’s unusual shape: approximately four inches across and nine inches high. Initially, that might seem like a marketing ploy, but in fact the poems themselves fit comfortably into that vertical space. Often two to a page, they are trim and spare, though certainly not without heft. In this bounteous collection, Chang looks at birth and death, art and memory, and, as the book’s title suggests, she is especially attentive to the nuances of the natural world and our relation to it. In the “The Laughing Thrush,” for instance, she writes: “The thrush loves no one. / Why do we keep asking it / to be our agent, to help / us read poems to / the sky? Do humans know that / the leaves aren’t actually clapping?”

Hayan Charara, These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit

The poetry of Hayan Charara is warm and often funny, but its humor is never far from pathos, as when Charara imagines what his father might have said to talk him out of a career in poetry: “poems won’t pay bills, / and the companies hiring / don’t give a shit // about all the poems / written in English / or Arabic, / or any language.” However, for those of us who remain convinced of poetry’s importance, Charara’s precise and imagistic poems will delight with their insight, acuity and — one of his specialties — outrageous exaggeration, as in the “unresolved haiku” entitled “Being a Mother and Father”: “Sometimes love means not / throwing a wailing infant / through a windowpane.” (Milkweed Editions)

Su Cho, The Symmetry of Fish

Things can be difficult for Su Cho’s Korean-American family — “We sleep on the heated floors of the church’s / nursery room every winter because // something is wrong with my mother’s / green card application.” Yet Cho treats her material with a light, magical touch: “We munch on vanilla // crème cookies from the gas station and make crosses / with the Slim Jims in our laps.” One of the most moving poems in the book is “We Are All Dying, Slowly,” in which the speaker describes her aging grandmother suddenly believing that the people in photographs have come alive. The speaker has apparently been a spectral visitor, though she hasn’t “been back in a decade, too busy living / in the U.S.A.!” while something like the ghost of her late grandfather has taken up resident in his wife’s apartment, “sleeping on the couch, farting up a storm.” Overall, it’s a portrait of family and immigration that is tender without ever becoming maudlin. (Penguin Books)

Rio Cortez, Golden Ax

The poems of Rio Cortez are frequently self-deprecating though never self-depreciating. Perhaps her never-failing sense of irony is partially due to growing up in Salt Lake City: “I consider whether it’s aliens / that brought Black folks to the canyons,” she thinks: “how do you come / to be where there are no others except / science fiction?” This idea is deepened later, in “Salt,” when she contrasts the exclamation of Brigham Young on arriving in Utah, “This is the place!” with a statement from the Afrofuturist jazz musician Sun Ra, “Space is the place.” Her wit is always sharp. In “Black Annie Hall,” “Black Annie has trouble / hailing a cab / after seeing her analyst.” In “Black Frasier Crane,” she asks: “what is more / important than the fine / dusting of cinnamon / on the perfect ratio / of foam to espresso / except the knowing / that you and / only you / have the sense / to complain.” Golden Ax is a master class in the use of popular culture to critique the foundations on which that culture is built. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. (Penguin Books)

Stephen Dunn, The Not Yet Fallen World: New and Selected Poems

According to his publisher, the poems in Stephen Dunn’s final collection are arranged “to further Dunn’s signature themes — mortality, morality, and the roles we play in the essential human comedy of getting through each day,” but it can be a bit perplexing to trace those themes through the book’s 13 unnamed sections. However, that’s about the only negative thing that can be said about a book by a poet able to explain “why when we speak a truth / some of us instantly feel foolish / as if a deck inside us has been shuffled / and there it is — the opposite / of what we said.” Like the poems of Billy Collins, Dunn’s work is accessible, often witty and frequently employs show-stopping metaphors, but Dunn burrows deeper into his subjects, often to his own sorrow: “when the newspaper arrives / with the world, / people make kindling of it / and sit together while it burns.” (WW Norton)

Mina Gorji, Scale

Working on a “scale” similar to that of William Carlos Williams, but with the ear for song of a Dickinson, Gorji has produced a gorgeous book of miniatures. Take, “Parakeet” for example: “Flash of green! / Up in the silver birch — / neon, squawking / gaudy green — / against the dappled quiet / of suburbia, its lawnmowers / and distant radios.” Or the final stanza of “Field Notes from the Edge of a Volcano”: “At night / the sky is glittering / with sparks — / between the darkness / and the dark / the planets / with their quiet / moons appear.” Like Dickinson, Gorji is interested in juxtaposing the very small — a snail, a millipede, a spiderweb, a dead tadpole “lying very still, / comma turned full stop” against the very large, “Out there, / above the furthest limit of our sky.” It’s a book one reads quickly and returns to immediately. (Carcanet Press)

Jim Harrison, Complete Poems

To say that Harrison’s Complete Poems (Copper Canyon Press) is Shakespearian in scope is probably an exaggeration, but only a little. Harrison certainly had far more time than the Bard to devote to his literary endeavors. As editor Joseph Bednarik notes: “Jim Harrison answered the call to become a poet when he was 19. Sixty years later he died at his writing desk, notebook opened to a fresh poem.” That diligence may have resulted, as it would in any poet’s oeuvre, in some less than scintillating work, and Harrison’s stated obsession with hunting and fishing and alcohol (not to mention “stripping”), may have moved him out of the mainstream in recent years. However, there is no denying the power and influence of his ghazals of the early 1970s, and if his voracious appetite for experience offends some readers, it’s clear he was one of the major poets of the last six decades, someone who believed “in the Resurrection mostly / because he was never taught how not to.”

Andrew Hemmert, Blessing the Exoskeleton

Hemmert’s poems are so clear and carefully illustrated by dead-on images, you might think they followed predictable paths from start to finish, but the opposite is true. “All month I have used / a parking ticket / as a bookmark, / so my place / is finally defined / by mistake and what I owe,” he writes in “Cocktail Theory,” and this sense of identifying and paying our debts, both to each other and to the natural world, is present throughout the book. As readers, we share the excitement of a young poet realizing that the medium can do just about anything its practitioner can envision, no matter how ecstatic or sorrowful that vision may be. As Hemmert concludes in “The Smoking Gun”: “We were a mistake / if we were meant // to be anything. If not, / we were a wildfire.” (Pitt Poetry Series)

Elise Hempel, Building Chevys

Readers longing for the tight and clever rhymes of Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay, but with a commonsensical, contemporary Midwestern overlay, could not do better than turn to the work of Elise Hempel, a female teacher who, unlike her male colleagues, displays her “wisdom / within … narrower margins, / my voice in its smaller font.” At times she is reminiscent of the great Elizabeth Bishop, as in “Wooden Duck,” which recalls Bishop’s “Large Bad Picture”: “the duck not real / or large enough to be a decoy, / too laden with minute detail / to be a toy; // … both wings tucked (much too small) / atop its back, like an insect’s, each / feather drawn, incised with individual / faint and tiny hairs.” (Pine Row Press)

Tony Hoagland, Turn Up the Ocean

Turn Up the Ocean (Graywolf Press) — assembled in the spring and summer before Tony Hoagland’s death from pancreatic cancer in October 2018 — was originally meant to be a chapbook. Readers are lucky that, due to the persistence of his widow, Kathleen Lee, we have instead a full collection of his final work, which, not surprisingly, retains a strong helping of wit and humor, despite the dire circumstances under which it was composed. “Sunday at the Mall,” for instance, begins, “Sweetheart, if I suddenly flop over in the mall one afternoon / while taking my old-person-style exercise, / and my teeth are chattering like castanets, / and my skull is going nok nonk nok on the terra cotta tiles of the well-swept mall floor… / don’t worry don’t worry don’t worry.” And in the final poem, “Peaceful Transition,” the poet uses a term normally applied to the passing of a human being to the passing of human civilization. He hopes people “will be calm in their diminishing,” but whether or not they are, he’s certain nature will survive; in the poem’s conclusion, he looks around his neighborhood and sees “the wren has found a way to make its little nest / inside the cactus thorns.”

Dana Levin, Now Do You Know Where You Are

There may never be a definitive collection about what it was like to be a poet during the Trump years, but Levin’s book is a good start. While the 45th president is far from Levin’s only subject, his malign presence haunts even poems where he is not mentioned. In a poem dated November 2016, she writes: “It has always been very busy on Earth: so much coming and going! The terror and hope ribboning through that.” More directly, in “Pledge,” a journal of poetic prose, she pictures “setting up a Twitter account called LOVE … and all I do is tweet love at Donald J. Trump.” Among the tweets she envisions: “You are enough.” Also: “Inclusivity = more applause, Donald J. Trump!” Her short poem “2016: A Biography” may be the most succinct account of the shock and despair Trump’s election visited on the poetic community: “I had wanted to think that America / was incidental, that I could go on with the same / lyric project, to lament the soul / in exile, having to endure the jail / of the body, what was / a president / to me.” (Copper Canyon Press)

Michael Longley, The Slain Birds

The death of his twin, Peter, and his sister-in-law, Catherine, haunt many of the poems in this book, although “haunt” isn’t quite the right word for a poet as full of hope and fellow feeling as Longley. Yes, he writes about the irony of the Christmas tree in Auschwitz, where the “Bodies of prisoners who had died that day” were “stacked as presents.” But he is always finding reasons for joy in his west Ireland townland of Carrigskeewaun, whether it is from flowers like the bog asphodel or Solomon’s-Seal, or more frequently, by observing the birds he loves so well — the flycatcher and the raven, the wren and house martin, the nightingale and tawny owl.  And when it comes to diction, Longley is among the most vigilant of our poets: “Every syllable — / Shh! — has to go on / Reverberating / As though your mouth / Were a Tibetan / Singing bowl.” (Wake Forest University Press)

Iman Mersal, The Threshold

As translator Robyn Creswell points out, “The verse of Mahmoud Darwish, Adonis, and Nizar Qabbani — three Arab poets who have been extensively translated into English — is the verse of latter-day prophets, a poetry whose dominant modes are those of denunciation, celebration, and grief.” In contrast, Egyptian poet Mersal writes with the candor and casualness of her contemporaries in Europe and North America. What’s especially wonderful about Mersal’s poetry is the clarity and unexpectedness of what she notices: “After years of observing it from the window / or stashing it in a backpack with Xanax, / love explodes in the least likely place.” And: “She said to him, When a woman warns you that she’s a little drunk / this is actually a warning that she’s liable to collapse at any moment.” Or, this, from a sequence about her father’s death: “Wordless women / line the hallways leading to your bed, / ritually preparing themselves / to scrape the accumulated rust from throats / that never make a sound / except when they wail together.” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Ange Mlinko, Venice

You have to admire Ange Mlinko. Stuck in the Florida of Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, she nevertheless manages to make genuine poetry from the state’s “cheap and easy exoticism” (to quote from the book’s epigraph, by Henry James). “This is the secret of summer eves,” she writes in “Venice, Florida,” “when ultramarine bands the earth, / twin to the blue hour in the north.” Still, you can hardly blame her for seeking inspiration abroad, primarily in Italy, where the real Venice offers delights like the “Morning glory folded in the scrolls / of columns” in the Basilica di San Marco, which “dissolved their claims / to mass in a bisque-blue apparition.” Sometimes she has to stretch to make connections between the two locales, but with lines such as “low Florida mist like laughing gas,” from “Naples, Florida,” her effort is rewarded. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Pamela Mordecai, A Fierce Green Place: New and Selected Poems

The selected poems of Jamaican poet Pamela Mordecai evoke an entire, detailed world, often through the use of dialect. As co-editor Stephanie McKenzie observes, “Mordecai has been having a conversation with her public, perhaps in particular with women, for her entire career” through her “capturing of spoken exchange.” While Mordecai does celebrate the joys of daily life, that life is often quite hard: “Love is / a dance hall song loud / on the radio a sharp clap / cross the jaw.” Nevertheless, language has the ability to lift and transfigure those who use it well: “A poem is a power. Invoke it and run the devil. Watch it good … See traces of the first word on it still. Numinous, it will eclipse the moon, call up mists, halt the sun in high heaven.” (New Directions)

Gregory O’Brien, House & Contents

Poetry and visual art are such natural companions, it’s a shame that they are not more often seen together. What’s even rarer is a book of poems with striking paintings by the author of that book, yet that’s exactly what New Zealand poet Gregory O’Brien delivers. Beautifully printed by Auckland University Press, the visuals in House & Contents don’t directly comment on the poems, but they do create an appropriate tonal analogue for the book’s often playful poetry. To give just one example: adjacent to a complex but fanciful painting of water pumps and waterfalls and waterwheels entitled “The Preservation of Southern Waterways,” we have an equally fanciful miniature, “Orchestra,” which reads in its entirety: “who is / playing / what.”

Nancy Reddy, Pocket Universe

Nancy Redding is co-editor of the anthology The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood, and in Pocket Universe (LSU Press) she again demonstrates her expertise on the subject, this time in unflashy, carefully crafted poems. Hers is not an idealized version of the subject, as we see in the ironically titled “My Sentimental Baby”: “When I say the new baby’s breath is milk sweet, / please know I’m speaking also of my swollen / lumpen tits, the spit and lanolin, the leaking / milk that’s dried around the aureola, the ducts / the milk shot through to where it meets / the baby’s flanged lips.” Reddy writes in the Acknowledgments that the “poems in this book grew up alongside my own children,” and, indeed, though the poems retain the freshness of brand-new experience, they are also full of the wisdom of a long-time mother.

Heather Sellers, Field Notes from the Flood Zone

I wish I could quote every line of Heather Seller’s brilliantly bleak yet bravely sardonic book of prose poems about impending climate catastrophe in South Florida. In “Dry Season,” for instance, as she wades along a beach, contemplating jellyfish “stranded on the sand, pink, like raw chicken breasts,” she still notes wryly of the music coming from a nearby wedding: “Once, twice, three times a lady … seems an impossible number of times to be a lady.” However, if her sense of humor offers reprieves, they are brief. Disasters abound, as when, during a flash flood, “A gray sedan, stalled on my lawn, held a woman waving, window down, her voice sucked into the storm” of “electric snakes, chemical blooms, the new world.” Toward the end of the book, Sellers writes: “At night in my bed, almost every night, I dream I’m underwater. Sometimes I breathe underwater. Sometimes I drown face down.” (BOA Editions, Ltd.)

Solmaz Sharif, Customs

Erasure and absence played a significant role in Sharif’s brilliant first book, Look, and they are here again in a collection that sometimes reads with the narrative force of a novel. Everything is connected. The conclusion of the poem “The End of Exile” describes the life of an Iranian street trader: the “thing he must sell daily / and every day he peddles // this thing: a without which // I cannot name. // Without which is my life.” “Without Which” becomes the title of the long middle poem, where silence, and silent thought — represented by two left-facing brackets, “]]” — are as important as the poet’s self-examination, which she evokes as “leather buckets // ]] // to pull up out of the dark / a cool, shimmering surface / to see yourself in.” Yet for all her emphasis on omission, Sharif is also a poet of memorable imagery: “Smelling the dried dill, / the day-old, slick fish — // even my hems wet / with the gutters of the kingdom.” She is very quickly becoming one of our most important poets. (Graywolf Press)

Alice Te Punga Somerville, Always Italicise: how to write while colonised

Righteous anger can produce good poetry, and bad, depending on how it is marshaled. Fortunately, Maori poet Alice Te Punga Somerville couches her calls for justice in memorable language and arresting forms. “An indigenous scholar’s request to other scholars” is two pages of footnotes glossing these three lines: “1. Engage with my scholarship. / 2. Engage with scholarship by other indigenous scholars. / 3. Yep that’s pretty much it.” But even as she excoriates the sins of the colonizers, she also laments what has been lost in the process of imperialism and dehumanization: “I miss those of you who have twisted words into ropes for our people. / Had you spliced your cords to the woven lengths the rest of us were making, / Instead of showing off your own lovely strands, / We could have slowed the sun.” (Auckland University Press)

AE Stallings, This Afterlife: Selected Poems

In addition to writing her own verse, AE Stallings is a renowned translator of Greek literature. However, though she alludes to mythology often in her original poetry, her project is not to beat readers over the head with arcane allusions, but instead to make the classical world come alive, as in the dramatic monologue “Art Monster”: “Minotaur, they said, O Minotaur, / You are unnatural, grotesque. / A hero will come to slay you, a hero // Who jilts princesses on desert islands. / It is heroic to slay, to break a heart, / To solve the archaic puzzle in the basement, // De-monster the darkness.” One of our best rhyming poets, Stallings sometimes comes close to light verse, but she rarely plays her rhymes purely for comedy. You can hear that subtle balancing act in the opening stanza of “Another Lullaby for Insomniacs”: “Sleep will not linger: / She turns her moon-cold shoulder. / With no ring on her finger, / You cannot hope to hold her.” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Courtney Faye Taylor, Concentrate

In her introduction, Rachel Eliza Griffiths argues that “Taylor pushes us beyond the poetics of language into a symphonic atmosphere,” and that sense of the deft orchestration of an abundance of powerful material certainly applies to Concentrate (Graywolf Press). After a brief prologue, the book-length poem begins with the narrator’s aunt pressing her niece’s hair and telling her to concentrate, which in the context of the book refers both to the “strong, hard focus” a Black woman must have to survive, but also to the $1.79 can of “concentrate” orange juice that 15-year old Latasha Harlins was wrongly accused of shoplifting, and for which she was shot by a Korean store owner. As the story unfolds, we learn a great deal about not only Latasha, whose murderer’s suspended sentence was a contributing factor to the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, but also about Taylor herself. The narrative makes use of free verse, prose, photographs, timelines, and a concrete poetry that would surely make Douglas Kearney proud. It’s a remarkable book, a worthy extension of the work begun by Claudia Rankine in Citizen and Just Us.

Molly Twomey, Raised Among Vultures

You might think that a relatively well-adjusted 20-something woman recording minor adventures as she makes her way through contemporary Ireland would not necessarily result in gripping poetry, but if you did, you’d be seriously underestimating the unflinching eye and pitch-perfect ear of Molly Twomey. Two examples of her artistry: “God, I wish I could screech that I want to stop living / in that college flat where leeches of fat slurp // the oven’s glass” (“Pipistrelles”). And: “Over a dark slab of beef hiding mouldering chips / he unseals another rejection, // paces back and forth. Was it the gaps on his CV? / His limp grip of the manager’s hand? // The way a child shrinks to be whacked with a belt / he crouches by the fireplace, // holds out his slack fingers, useless wrists.” Knowing she has just begun her career is a cause for celebration. (The Gallery Press)

Adam Vines, Lures

That Adam Vines is the faculty advisor to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Fishing Team will come as no surprise to readers of Lures (LSU Press), a paean — in large measure — to freshwater fishing in the Deep South. While the poems do address other aspects of domestic life, fishing is the book’s most powerful image and metaphor. We learn, for instance, from the speaker of “Coursing the Joints” about the differences between rural and urban fisherman: “While setting trots and drops for channel cats / on the river where my family spawned, I sculled / the bank, around the bend and past the camps / where city folks launched boats with colors culled / from candy stores and tourist traps.” Vines shows us a dignity of purpose in the world of Southern men that has sadly been obscured by the culture wars to which we have become so accustomed.

Grace Wells, The Church of the Love of the World

Wells’s poems range from the cautiously hopeful — “I carry my sorrow to St Brigid’s well, / once more take refuge in her plainsong, / Everything tangled shall be unraveled” (“Naiad”) to the furious — “I pass through the crowded piazza / in the long skirts of murderous thought, // like Medea, or Clytemnestra, / nothing but disdain and blame, / and blood on my hands” (“Among Tourists the Eco-Poet Feels Her Myth”) to transcendence: “All around me gull cry and beauty. / How limitless it is, our capacity to love” (“Cill Grhá an Domhain”). Throughout the book, her joy in interacting with the natural world is limitless, just as her concern for it is urgent and eloquent. She is right to quote Wendell Berry: “It’s hard to be patient in an emergency.” (Dedalus Press)

Renia White, Casual Conversation

As described in Casual Conversation (BOA Editions), the trials faced by Black women span the gamut from casual everyday cruelties — “I am a woman made of flesh (first in this / context) and, somehow, the cashier asked / the second woman in line for her order” — to constant compromise — “Black women vote for who we must” — to the murderous: “some men look at me / and think, / let’s make a world minus this.” It’s a harrowing collection, with only brief moments of rest and renewal, but it’s a brave book, too, one that insists on the deep and lasting harm of racism. As White notes in a poem titled for the day after Donald Trump’s election: “they hate themselves so much they prove it. / look at everyone / not looking at me.”

Jenny Xie, The Rupture Tense

If there are occasional echoes here of Michael Palmer circa The Lion Bridge, it is only because of the grace and tensile strength of Xie’s lines, which often run long, but are never in danger of coming apart. Frequently, the narrator is moving uncomfortably between the cultures of her native China and the United States: “Going from one relative’s apartment to another, drinking plain boiled water, taking a mouthful of overripe melon on a full stomach. Recycling the same phrases, wrung to drain the heat of multitudes. Your health is good? Are you living well?” Her insights into the Chinese Cultural Revolution, via mediations on the photography of Li Zhensheng, are profound, but it is Xie’s facility with language — its great gifts and deep frustrations — that is the true centerpiece of The Rupture Tense: “What does it mean to answer by a name / in this city blur? // To recede so deeply into a verb / that one simply dissolves.” (Graywolf Press)

This review originally appeared in the California Review of Books. Editor’s Note: This review launches a new partnership between Santa Barbara Independent and California Review of Books and originally appeared here. We are pleased to begin sharing these book reviews with our readers on a regular basis.


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