Sunday, May 25, 2014

Poetry for summertime reading on the porch

In these days with endless opportunity of online publishing it's difficult to think of poetry-in-print as little more than a bookshelf in the far corner of the megastore, a disarray of thin-spined volumes of verse waiting for discovery. Self-publishing is only one aspect of overcoming the challenge of getting poetry to paper; here are five varied titles that are worth tracking down, works by the honored poet as well as the hungry one. The reviews are from selected sites, as noted.

(Above) The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems, Robert Hass (HarperCollins) This lustrous retrospective collection, drawn from five previous books, beginning with Field Guide (1973), opens with a generous selection of new poems redolent of Whitman and the blues. Narrative poems are droll and astringent in their musings over love’s paradoxes and history’s shifting claims, children’s pleasures, poverty, and danger. A National Book Award winner and former poet laureate prized for his insights into human nature and our place in the web of life, Californian Hass distills experiences down to their essence as he limns landscapes, portrays friends and loved ones, and imagines the struggles of strangers. The ordinary is cracked open to reveal metaphysical riddles in poems that feel so natural, their formal complexities nearly elude our detection. Legacies and ruptures, sex and food, the journaling impulse to stop time, the “strangeness of living,” all become catalysts for the tonic perceptions shared by this compassionate master poet who declares, “Joy seized me.” (Donna Seaman)

Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip, Lisa Robertson (Coach House) Robertson makes it clear throughoutMagenta Soul Whip that this collection of poems from different projects and times in the past decade or so is an investigation, a search: the writer as read on these pages is struggling along with the reader. We are both perhaps a bit insecure, definitely defiantly smart, and not entirely sure that epic precedents of history-as-it-has-been-remembered (and told) really can reveal the 'nature' of things. Robertson is also concerned with a more literal literary evocation of 'nature' — animals, elements, roots, honey, and 'the body' all circle into and out of these works despite the different voices and forms of the different sections. (MartinesqueAmpersand)

Other Flowers, James Schuyler (Farrar, Straus) From early poems in which Schuyler sensitively describes his youth in the Midwest and East Aurora, N.Y., to highly charged observations of the streetscapes, seasons, and social life of New York City, both longtime readers of Schuyler and those new to his work will find an abundance of surprising, moving material. Most of the poems are less than a page long, but nearly all are packed with visual and emotional punch, exploding with color and sensation: Downriver, by the delicately webbed gasometers/ and the antennae, frailly tensile,/ lumber kindles into golden flames/ curling like shavings from a plane. The editors have included useful notes, which give dates of composition where possible, and brief descriptions of the many poets, painters, and neighborhoods that Schuyler wrote his poems to and about. (Amazon)

Wait, C.K. Williams (Farrar, Straus) Williams’ poems enter the brain with such force and velocity, you don’t so much read as ride them. But for all their propulsion, every element stays in sharp focus: mindscapes of fractal intricacy. Landscapes where birds peck for food, heifers rush a fence, and a girl throws down her bicycle. Williams’ poems deliver us to strange crossroads, where a thrush feeds a chick with a misshapen head and a young woman pushes an infant with Down syndrome in a stroller. Where a family comes upon a POW camp for Germans in an American city park. Williams evokes beauty and “filth / and fetor and rot.” He rails against and marvels over time. He poses impossible metaphysical questions, undermines the cherished notion of moral evolution, looks squarely at death, and mocks poetry’s pretensions. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Williams has long been a poet of conscience and outrage, and how galvanizing are these magnificent protests against war and the entire spectrum of injustices. (Donna Seaman, Booklist)

Lighthead, Terrance Hayes (Penguin) With one foot firmly grounded in the everyday and the other hovering in the air, his poems braid dream and reality into a poetry that is both dark and buoyant. Cultural icons as diverse as Fela Kuti, Harriet Tubman, and Wallace Stevens appear with meditations on desire and history. We see Hayes testing the line between story and song in a series of stunning poems inspired by the Pecha Kucha, a Japanese presenta­tion format. This innovative collection presents the light- headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time. Fueled by an imagination that enlightens, delights, and ignites, Lighthead leaves us illuminated and scorched. (Amazon)

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