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by Jan Richman
This is a book that will convert nonreaders of poetry into readers of poetry. Richman's wry and boasting voice interrogates the conventions and assumptions of the modern world, trying to make sense of the self in the midst of Nutrasweet and Naugahyde. She jumps nimbly from literary allusion (Hamlet and Horatio) to pop culture (Pop Tarts and Wile E. Coyote), but is firmly planted in the here and now: "I was conceived in the blue light/ of Johnny Carson's personality." Next to the voice in these poems is her searing wit. In one poem she has the devil's advocate threatening the devil and in another she tells us she's the boss "Because I alone can perfectly forge my signature." Topped with the raw eroticism of "Don't Move" and "I Still Dream of the Taste of You" and the revisionist telling of a date gone awry in "The Physics of Dating," this is a collection that defies elitist conceptions of poetry.
by Thomas Lynch
Thomas Lynch has two occupations: poet and undertaker. Wedding the two in this book of personal essays, he shatters our conception of an undertaker as wan, reserved, and staid, replacing it with one who is colorful, brazen, and whimsical. This is not a dry, dismal book about death. It's a book about life and those who attend to the grieving. It meditates on marriage, parenthood, Ireland, and medically-controlled passings. There's an absorbing essay on a poem about an artichoke, the mysteries of art, and the delicate conference between men and women, as well as a ribald essay, "Crapper," about our inability to deal with an actual dead body, let alone the mere thought of dying.Undertaking, as the title implies, stretches beyond mere caskets and morticians to encompass small tasks and larger struggles. At times a homage to grieving families, an indictment of the funeral business, and a meditation on death (and therefore life), this is a spellbinding collection.
by Olga Broumas
Winner of the 72nd Yale Younger Award, this is a lyrical collection bursting with eroticism. In it Broumas recasts figures of Greek myth (Artemis, Demeter, Calypso, Circe, others) and rewrites modern fairy tales (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel) in a distinctly female context. It is not an old hag who keeps Rapunzel locked away in a tower, but an older lover:
You can see that Broumas is not coy about her intentions. The whole book, pivoting
around themes of immersion and rebirth, longing and fulfillment, is filled with
explicit, Sapphic sexuality. This makes the book a political statement, but
read carefully, it's much more than that. It's a book of lyric outburst, vigilantly
attended to by Broumas's command of syntax, dense imagery, and musical phrase.
by Fernando Pessoa
Everyone loves the writing of Samuel Beckett (they claim to anyway), but few people have read Fernando Pessoa (let alone heard of him). Pessoa was a Portuguese poet who lived in the early part of the 20th century and can be credited for helping develop modernism in his homeland. He wrote under the "heteronyms" Ricardo Reis, Alvaro Campos, and Alberto Caeiro. What's remarkable is that each of these personas' styles and ideologies is distinct: Reis is a doctor and writes in classical forms; Caeiro is a shepherd who writes in free verse. In addition to writing their own discrete poems, these figures would comment on and critique each other's work. Pessoa, himself, was a translator. He lived and died in relative obscurity, and from what I've read he wanted it this way. The Book of Disquiet takes the form of a diary. It, too, was written by a "heteronym." This one Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper who takes as his theme contradiction between the intensity of his feelings and the banal reality of his daily life. Like Molloy who only has his inner thoughts to sustain him, so too does Soares. Yet both are utterly aware of the futility of even this last vestige of meaning. Soares: "I write down what I feel in order to lower the fever of feeling. What I confess is of no importance because nothing is of any importance." Molloy: "And truly it little matters what I say, this, this or that or any other thing." Like any Beckett book, The Book of Disquiet helps one savor a melancholy mood.
by Anne Carson
Meet Geryon: sensitive, stupid boy and winged, red monster. This is the story, written in verse, of his flight from an abusive brother and cipher-like mother. It's the story of Geryon coming to love a young man named Herakles, and losing him, then finding consolation in art, behind the lens of a camera. It's the portrait of an artist as winged, red monster coming of age into self-knowledge and acceptance. Both novel and poem, comedic and tragic, Autobiography of Red rewrites Greek myth in the present day. The story is both familiar and unfamiliar. It makes good fiction and even better poetry.
by Robert Hughes
I know nothing about the visual arts so you can be assured anything I say I've stolen from Hughes's The Shock of the New. A distillation of his eight-part BBC/Time-Life television series, the book details the genesis of modern painting, sculpture, and architecture, and postulates how the artists in these fields were influenced by the major events of the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th century. Scholarly, yet readable, The Shock of the New has over 250 illustrations and successfully blends history, anecdote, and art criticism.
by Roland Barthes
This is a book best read immediately after the end of an intimate relationship. Devoid of sentimentality, it is a meditation of a lover when alone. Written in fragments, the overriding theme is that the lover, I, never absolutely, truly sees the beloved, You. The lover only has language, which is ultimately inadequate, to express the longing s/he feels for the beloved, who is but a figment, a fabrication of the I.
by Joe Bolton
This is a collection of the work of a poet who committed suicide at twenty-eight, posthumously edited by his mentor Donald Justice. Loss marks these poems:
Still, in the soft metallic resonance of twilight,Written in form (most notably the sonnet) and controlled free verse, the poems are relentlessly elegiac and devastating. But mere pathos doesn't shape this collection. Bolton's sense of place, that of the contemporary American South, particularly Bolton's native Kentucky, locates readers in a landscape of "blue winter dusk," "small-town basements and garages," and "endless Nashvilles, / A jambalaya of women, whiskey, and pills." Primarily lyric, his poems are also filled with the presence and voices of others: the boys of Dexter, Kentucky, a group of insurance men breakfasting at a diner, a retired pilot walking his dog Boofy, Hank Williams, JFK, a sixteenth-century Spanish chaplain, and a "Bored Cop Leaning against Abstract Sculpture on Plaza Below Skyscraper." There is much to rave about in these poems. A meager review doesn't do them justice.
Oakley's Girl, The
Terrible Girls, What
Keeps Me Here