Results of the National Book Award in the year 2006.
Part antiphonal rant, part rhythmic whisper, Nathaniel Mackey’s new collection of poems, Splay Anthem, takes the reader to uncharted poetic spaces. Divided into three sections—”Braid,” “Fray,” and “Nub” (one referent Mackey notes in his stellar Introduction: “the imperial, flailing republic of Nub the United States has become, the shrunken place the earth has become, planet Nub”)—Splay Anthem weaves together two ongoing serial poems Mackey has been writing for over twenty years, Song of the Andoumboulou and “Mu” (though “mu no more itself / than Andoumboulou”).
In the cosmology of the Dogon of West Africa, the Andoumboulou are progenitor spirits, and the song of the Andoumboulou is a song addressed to the spirits, a funeral song, a song of rebirth. “Mu,” too, splays with meaning: muni bird, Greek muthos, a Sun Ra tune, a continent once thought to have existed in the Pacific. With the vibrancy of a Miró painting, Mackey’s poems trace the lost tribe of “we” through waking and dreamtime, through a multitude of geographies, cultures, histories, and musical traditions, as poetry here serves as the intersection of everything, myth’s music, spirit lift.
In his bold second book, Ben Lerner molds philosophical insight, political outrage, and personal experience into a devastating critique of mass society. Angle of Yaw investigates the fate of public space, public speech, and how the technologies of viewing-aerial photography in particular-feed our culture an image of itself. And it’s a spectacular view.
The man observes the action on the field with the tiny television he brought to the stadium. He is topless, painted gold, bewigged. His exaggerated foam index finger indicates the giant screen upon which his own image is now displayed, a model of fanaticism. He watches the image of his watching the image on his portable TV on his portable TV. He suddenly stands with arms upraised and initiates the wave that will consume him.
Haunted by our current “war on terror,” much of the book was written while Lerner was living in Madrid (at the time…[more]
Averno is a small crater lake in southern Italy, regarded by the ancient Romans as the entrance to the underworld. That place gives its name to Louise Glück’s eleventh collection: in a landscape turned irretrievably to winter, it is the only source of heat and light, a gate or passageway that invites traffic between worlds while at the same time opposing their reconciliation. Averno is an extended lamentation, its long, restless poems no less spellbinding for being without plot or hope, no less ravishing for being savage, grief-stricken. What Averno provides is not a map to a point of arrival or departure, but a diagram of where we are, the harrowing, enduring presence.
Capacity, the extraordinary new collection from the award-winning poet James McMichael, deliberates an earth that supplies what people need to live. Ocean, land, animate bodies, shelter, thoughts, feelings, talk, sex—each is addressed at the pace of someone dense with wonder’s resistance to take for granted even the smallest or most obvious parts of existence.
H. L. Hix’s newest poetry book, Chromatic, contains three sequences of poems. Each borrows its title: “Remarks on Color” from Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Eighteen Maniacs” from Duke Ellington, and “The Well-Tempered Clavier” from J. S. Bach. Exploiting those predecessors, the poems in Chromatic explore the full range of effects caused by human emotion.