As I'm writing this, April, National Poetry Month, is drawing to a close, and I'm feeling grievously aware of my dereliction of duty in bringing hot new titles to the attention of our readers. Suffice it to say that there have been plenty of really good poetry books this year, and I shall now attempt, in the limited space allotted me, to raise the profile of a few.
First off, as any reader of this blog knows, I'm a hands-down fan of anthologies. One gets more pleasure for the money spent on this literary form than in anything I know, even a triple scoop of Ben & Jerry's Double Fudge Chunk ice cream on a hot summer day. And, on top of the pleasure of reading great poems, many for the first time, you also have the not inestimable gift of discovering new writers whose work you want to explore more deeply. This is certainly the case with Liz Nakazawa's Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon. The Pacific Northwest in general, and Oregon in particular, is blessed with a bevy of talented poets, and this book, beautifully and lovingly designed, is a ringing affirmation of that fact.
There are lots of great poets in Deer Drink the Moon, many of them known nationally, many of them regional secrets. William Stafford, Judith Barrington, and Floyd Skloot are all here. So are Janice Gould, Margaret Chula, Paulann Petersen, and George Hitchcock, the legendary founder/editor of Kayak magazine. The book's arranged geographically, with sections, for instance, on the Coastal Range and on the Willamette Valley, and the poets' work is included in a way that emphasizes the continuity of subject or region rather than of name. In the section on the Blue Mountains, for example, there are two poems by Richard Mack, but they don't fall one after the other. Instead, they are separated by other poems that help give a more holistic feel, and a narrative flow, to that section of the book.
Most of the poems in Deer Drink the Moon are best understood as poems of place. They're lovely idylls capturing moments of grace in which the writer experiences the ineffable, the numinous ? the magical in this fallen world. Take for example this poem by George Hitchcock:
Afternoon in the Canyon
The river sings in its alcoves of stone.
I cross its milky water on an old log ?
Beneath me waterskaters
Dance in the mesh of roots.
Tatters of spume cling
To the bare twigs of willows.
The wind goes down.
Blue jays scream in the pines.
The drunken sun enters a dark mountainside,
Its hair full of butterflies.
Old men gutting trout
Huddle about a smoky fire.
I must fill my pockets with bright stones.
Deer Drink the Moon is a perfect drink of water for these long spring days. Take it into your backyard, climb into the hammock, and enjoy.
÷ ÷ ÷
The next book is somewhat ? make that infinitely ? more grim, but, in so many ways, even more necessary, particularly in our historical period where crimes against humanity are once again raising their ugly head with increasing frequency. Charles Reznikoff's masterpiece, Holocaust, is an astonishing, deeply engrossing, absolutely horrifying book. It plumbs the depths to which human beings can sink, exploring in glaring detail the facts of the Holocaust.
Reznikoff was a singularly important poet, and one who worked almost uniquely in his form. The shape these poems take is free verse, and it is a clean, beautiful, majestic example of that form. These are, in fact, perfect poems, and it's little wonder that this book was considered his seminal work. The thing that really sets it apart, though, is its source: rather than having its roots in Reznikoff's imagination, Holocaust is composed entirely of the voices of the perpetrators and survivors of the genocide itself, gleaned from the court records of the Nuremberg trials and of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. There is no editorializing. This book is a simple, factual record of the damning evidence against the National Socialist regime and a paean to the simple humanity of the Jews. Holocaust is a reminder. Read it and weep ? but read it.