is a fabulous poet. She's also a noted champion of human rights, particularly in Latin America, and she's not afraid to mix the poetry with the political. Her newest book, Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez
, is a case in point.
This bilingual collection is beautiful. It's also difficult, as it deals with the abduction and murders of over three hundred young women in Mexico along the border with the US over the past several years. The book has a weighty and informative introduction by the translator, Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman, and a section of additional poems by Guadalupe Morfin, special federal commissioner on violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, the site of the majority of these murders.
I know, the book sounds horribly dry and depressing. But, it's not. Agosin actually manages to take the lives of these young women ? and their tragic deaths ? and craft something luminous and beautiful, a tribute to the human spirit in the face of unimaginable cruelty and hardship.
Only sometimes she
Goes into the garden
Which is no longer a garden
Just the vast silence
Of that which doesn't blossom
The fluttering shadows
But she goes into the garden
Trying to remember the names
Of certain flowers
The red poppies of her childhood.
Sometimes she goes out to the garden
To contemplate the
With her blurry eyes.
There is no one to ask about the poppies
Or about the dead who are so many
Sometimes she goes out to the garden
And touches her neck
To make sure that she is still alive
Wishing that someone will give her the promise of hope.
Agosin, in this staggering collection, gives just that promise. This book won't be widely reviewed, nor will it sell particularly well. But, I assure you, it deserves both.
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Landscaped is a wonderful little anthology from the pages of the magazine The Bear Deluxe. These poems were published in this fine little local journal from 1993 through 2005. It's a funny little book; Xeroxed and staplebound, with no spine. But, the poems are wonderful. Among the 30 contributors are Judith Barrington, Lyn Lifshin, James Grabill, Ce Rosenow, and Leanne Grabel, all of whom are well known in the Portland area. However, there are several poets who I don't know as well, and some of their work is very good. Take "Rattler" by Pat Gallagher:
stretched across the noonday trail
a poison tripwire
painted with rabbit brush.
Your eyes watch the dry earth crack
over the shallow graves of pioneer children.
The flinching stick that makes women dance
and boys prove their bravery.
Guardian of Hells Canyon.
You are the Wild in the West.
But right now, you are in my way.
The poems (and photos too, although these are somewhat grainy due to the low-tech production of the book) do carry an environmental theme. This is a great little gift for your local backpacker friend, or kayaking brother-in-law. I found it also a great read for my barcalounger, but that's just me.
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Wang Wei (701?761CE) was one of the great poets of China's greatest poetic period, the T'ang Dynasty. His poems, brief, imagistic, magically evocative of both natural scenery and states of mind, are among the treasures of world literature. And now, finally, they've been done justice in translation by the amazing David Hinton in Selected Poems of Wang Wei.
Hinton is prolific. He's translated Wang's great contemporaries, Tu Fu and Li Po, and also the Tao Te Ching, as well as many lesser works. This joins those other fine books as something exquisite, beautifully designed and produced, and full of refreshingly engaging poetry.
Wang Wei's work is heavily influenced by Buddhism and Taoism, and their gentle sense of oneness with the world at large is reflected in these poems. Wang's nature poems are justly famous, and bear reading and re-reading. So are his more philosophical poems, although where philosophy ends and nature begins can be hard to figure out in these heady gems.
"At Fathom-Change Monastery, Visiting Monk Overcast-Arising's Mountain Courtyard"
Holding a bamboo staff gnarled and knotted,
you wait for us where Tiger Creek begins,
then urge us on. Listening to the mountain
echo, we follow a stream up to your home,
wildflowers blooming everywhere exquisite.
A valley bird calls once. All isolate mystery,
night comes. We sit in empty forest silence,
and the pine wind seems like autumn itself.
This is a really good book. The poems are best enjoyed when slowly read and savored, much like the attitude to life that they depict.