When I read on the back of the book that The Infinitesimals is Kasischke’s tenth collection, I reconciled with my feelings of complete unworthiness as a poet. I’ve only published two collections, maybe by the tenth I’ll be Laura Kasischke! The poems are that good. Half the pages in my book are folded; poems I liked so much I wanted to eat them. The Infinitesimals is about death, illness, the body, mortality; sharp lyric poems written by a mature poet who has experienced death and illness and isn’t using them as motifs but coming to terms with hard facts. At 117 pages this is also a pretty hefty collection.
A poem: (format of all poems altered by WordPress)
The dirty songbirds
that were my breasts
and ate me
forty-eight years, three
months, one week, six
days (a portion
for foxes, you
shake your head)
on my chest, and left
these wrecked nests.
Loom isn’t brand new, but I did begin reading when it was hot off the presses, put it down for a couple years and then finished it. I read about 1/4 of the book initially and felt I wasn’t connecting with the poems. Maybe I was distracted. That happens. Or maybe I just wasn’t ready for this collection. Jump ahead to 2015: I approach the book slowly, reading all the back matter, which really helps with certain collections you may get lost in, and learn that and underlying theme of Loom is Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallott. Carl Phillips called the book a contemporary Book of Hours. Poems in the first and last sections of the book appear to be two serial poems; lineated lyrics, sparse, with a lot of space, occurring over several pages. Poems in the middle of the collection are small titled paragraphs floating in the center of each page. But whether stand-alone or pieces of a longer poem, they do not exist in a vacuum. I would say the poems in this collection are meant to be read as a whole, not piecemeal. Gridley is building imagery, telling Tennyson’s own story and the tale of The Lady of Shallott in verse. Many of the poems aren’t easy. Even when there are elements of story present, these poems aren’t aiming to tell encapsulated stories. I felt as though something was being woven as I read, as one poem flowed into the next and, like a piece of woven cloth, you have to stand back, consider the whole to really understand the pieces.
A poem (from the last section titled Half-Sick of Shadows)
A twig puncture– a laying in of eggs
by the female gall-wasp– will produce in time
a lump beneath the bark
Gall is used
“to sadden” other dyes.
Mordant binds with dye and gall
to fix the red
of madder root.
The first collection by poet Sarah Rose Nordgren, Best Bones, won Pitt Press’s Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. It has been called “fable, folklore, science fiction, strange childhood stories” and has been said to “court the uncanny”. I believe these ‘airy’ descriptives get at the fact that the collection isn’t about anything, the way The Infinitesimals is about illness and death. I found these poems more contemporary standard fair than those in Loom; less-than-one-page lyrics for the most part. Nordgren calls on historical source-material, other poets and artwork for inspiration; all impulses that I admire. Like other contemporary books of poetry by younger poets, this one has a quirk factor, but the writing is surprising and the poems pan-out, so the quirk isn’t for quirk’s sake as it is in a collection like To See the Queen whose conceit I found flat and ineffective. The following poem from Best Bones is a nice example of Nordgren’s strong, simple lyric.
I can see where you live but only
through a veil. I let you take care of me so
you will feel close to all the little details
necessary for me to grow.
But you have daily appointments
with the wide world. Like a practical child,
you desire then lose patience with
my adoration, holding me at the length
of an outstretched wing. How will I keep you
if this is the loudest I can sing?
Disclaimer: this is a Parlor Press book, publisher of my second collection. But it’s still awesome! A project book extraordinaire, poets Berlin and Marzoni took several trips over many months along the Mississippi River. Besides the road trips and the river itself, they cite as inspiration, influences and source material, an 1887 map of the Mississippi, flood, wind, topographical and river maps of all stripes, NOAA river weather forecasts which contain little lyrics like: “the rivers may respond discretely, other than indicated”, documentaries, museum installations, NPR programs they listened to while driving, etc. etc. No Shape Bends the River So Long was chosen by Cole Swenson as the winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize. It’s not clear if each poet wrote different poems or if they collaborated within poems, but the result is a unique collection that I read over a number of weeks, always eager to immerse myself again. All the titles are the poems’ first lines which makes for intriguing titles like: “Wake to what we long ago learned to call” and “En plein air the fields themselves”. I would call this book experimental, not only because it was written by two poets, but because the style of the poems is unique. These are lyric poems at heart, all written in long-lined couplets, but they’re full of fractured sense and sentences. Thoughts are often left incomplete, but the logic sparkles.
Inside the Levee, Call It a State
park, recreational pastime & past
time, nod to the Works Progress
Administration in years of deep flood,
then parched fields, hunger. Or call this
place to cut the motor & drop anchor, drift
under shade, toss a line out– zip & distant
splash of light, sky like metal, all of it
blisters at touch, but everything touching–
or call it desperate, one last & only.
Call it survival. A fine haul
to reel afternoon out & back in
without a hitch, drag slow & regular
over placid, give it all back up. What doesn’t
find its way back to this river? What doesn’t.
One last word, no single poem is representative of an entire collection. All of these books contain many great poems, don’t rely on one poem to decide if you like a collection. Also, I chose short ones to post here because I was doing all the typing:)