“This is no place you ever knew me,” writes Adrienne Rich in her major new work, “…These are not the roads/you knew me by.” As always in her forty-year career, this major poet has mapped out new territory , astonishing and enlightening us with her penetrating insight into our lives amid the beauties and cruelties of our difficult world.
Black Zodiac offers poems suffused with spiritual longing—lyrical meditations on faith, religion, heritage, and morality. The poems also explore aging and mortality with restless grace. Approaching his vast subjects by way of small moments, Wright magnifies details to reveal truths much larger than the quotidian happenings that engendered them. His is an astonishing, flexible, domestic-yet-universal verse. As the critic Helen Vendler has observed, Wright is a poet who “sounds like nobody else.”
I hate and—love. The sleepless body hammering a nail nails itself, hanging crucified.—from “Catullus: Excrucior”
In Frank Bidart’s collection of poems, the encounter with desire is the encounter with destiny. The first half contains some of Bidart’s most luminous and intimate work-poems about the art of writing, Eros, and the desolations and mirror of history (in a spectacular narrative based on Tacitus). The second half of the book exts the overt lyricism of the opening section into even more ambitious territory-”The Second Hour of the Night” may be Bidart’s most profound and complex meditation on the illusion of will, his most seductive dramatic poem to date.
Rae Armantrout has always organized her collections of poetry as though they were works in themselves. Versed brings two of these sequences together, offering readers an expanded view of the arc of her writing. The poems in the first section, Versed, play with vice and versa, the perversity of human consciousness. They flirt with error and delusion, skating on a thin ice that inevitably cracks: “Metaphor forms / a crust / beneath which / the crevasse of each experience.” Dark Matter, the second section, alludes to more than the unseen substance thought to make up the majority of mass in the universe. The invisible and unknowable are confronted directly as Armantrout’s experience with cancer marks these poems with a new austerity, shot through with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking. Together, the poems of Versed part us from our assumptions about reality, revealing the gaps and fissures in our emotional and linguistic constructs, showing us ourselves where we are most exposed.
Paul Muldoon’s ninth collection of poems, his first since Hay (1998), finds him working a rich vein that extends from the rivery, apple-heavy County Armagh of the 1950s, in which he was brought up, to suburban New Jersey, on the banks of a canal dug by Irish navvies, where he now lives. Grounded, glistening, as gritty as they are graceful, these poems seem capable of taking in almost anything, and anybody, be it a Tuareg glimpsed on the Irish border, Bessie Smith, Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth I, a hunted hare, William Tell, William Butler Yeats, Sitting Bull, Ted Hughes, an otter, a fox, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Joscelyne, un unearthed pit pony, a loaf of bread, an outhouse, a killdeer, Oscar Wilde, or a flock of redknots. At the heart of the book is an elegy for a miscarried child, and that elegiac tone predominates, particularly in the elegant remaking of Yeats’s “A Prayer for My Daughter” with which the book concludes, where a welter of traffic signs and slogans, along with the spirits of admen, hardware storekeepers, flimflammers, fixers, and other forebears, are borne along by a hurricane-swollen canal, and private grief coincides with some of the gravest matter of our age.
Repair is body work in C. K. Williams’s sensual poems, but it is also an imaginative treatment of the consternations that interrupt life’s easy narrative. National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Williams keeps the self in repair despite love, death, social disorder, and the secrets that separate and join intimates. These forty poems experiment with form but maintain what Alan Williamson has heralded Williams for having so steadily developed from French influences: “the poetry of the sentence.”
A collection of poems from the author’s earlier books combined with a dozen new poems interweave memory and history.
This is Frank Bidart’s first book of lyrics—his first book not dominated by long poems. Narrative elaboration becomes speed and song. Less embattled than earlier work, less actively violent, these new poems have, by conceding time’s finalities and triumphs, acquired a dark radiance unlike anything seen before in Bidart’s long career.
Mortality—imminent, not theoretical—forces the self to question the relation between the actual life lived and what was once the promise of transformation. This plays out against a broad landscape. The book opens with Marilyn Monroe, followed by the glamour of the eighth-century Chinese imperial court (seen through the eyes of one of China’s greatest poets, Tu Fu). At the center of the book is an ambitious meditation on the Russian ballerina Ulanova, Giselle, and the nature of tragedy. All this gives new dimension and poignance to Bidart’s recurring preoccupation with the human need to leave behind some record or emblem,…[more]
In his fifth collection of verse, Henri Cole’s melodious lines are written in an open style that is both erotic and visionary. Few poets so thrillingly portray the physical world, or man’s creaturely self, or the cycling strain of desire and self-reproach. Few poets so movingly evoke the human quest of “a man alone,” trying “to say something true that has body, / because it is proof of his existence.” Middle Earth is a revelatory collection, the finest work yet from an author of poems that are “marvels—unbuttoned, riveting, dramatic—burned into being” (Tina Barr, Boston Review).
The Figured Wheel fully collects the first four books of poetry, as well as twenty-one new poems, by Robert Pinsky, the former U.S. Poet Laureate.
Critic Hugh Kenner, writing about Pinsky’s first volume, described this poet’s work as “nothing less than the recovery for language of a whole domain of mute and familiar experience.” Both the transformation of the familiar and the uttering of what has been hitherto mute or implicit in our culture continue to be central to Pinsky’s art. New poems like “Avenue” and “The City Elegies” envision the urban landscape’s mysterious epitome of human pain and imagination, forces that recur in “Ginza Samba,” an astonishing history of the saxophone, and “Impossible to Tell,” a jazz-like work that intertwines elegy with both the Japanese custom of linking-poems and the American tradition of ethnic jokes. A final section of translations includes Pinsky’s renderings of poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Celan, and others, as well as the last canto of his award-winning version of the Inferno.