In the Fall-Winter 2016 edition of American Poets, Jennifer Michael Hecht reviews twelve of the year’s most anticipated poetry collections.
Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001–2015
by Rae Armantrout
(Wesleyan University Press, August 2016)
Associated with the Language School, Armantrout surprises us by showing up as a body with aches and a temperamental gut. Still what marks this enthralling collection is the clarity of thought regarding thoughts that are constitutionally unclear. One of the poems, “Imaginary Places,” is a one-paragraph prose poem that begins with “Reading, we are allowed to follow someone else’s train of thought as it starts off for an imaginary place.”
by Ari Banias
(W. W. Norton, September 2016)
Ari Banias’s first book is the portrait of an inner life that asks itself steadily how anybody or any body can be said to be anybody—girl, boy, fox, or cop. This charming, chattering young self is preoccupied with emptiness: plastic bags filled with plastic bags; pockets, and poignant absences of pockets, as on a prisoner’s coat, in which you are not allowed to hide things. The empty spaces seem to signify dull fear, not knowing others, and not yet knowing the self.
by Anne Carson
(Alfred A. Knopf, October 2016)
One of the undisputed great poets of our time, Anne Carson has put twenty-three chapbooks in an acetate case. One is a collection of sonnets, one a clutch of prose poems, here a short work of translation, there a play, a familial biographical investigation, a jaunt of creative nonfiction, a puff of introspective diction, and so on. “Pinplay” presents as a micro faux-classic play about pins and is a joy-making rendition of a Greek chorus speaking in our vernacular....
by W. S. Merwin
(Copper Canyon Press, September 2016)
We all know that childhood is a garden path of firsts; a less ubiquitous truth is that the aged note the garden path of lasts. To be in the company of a masterful poet as he tells us about it is a wistful kind of Eden. The writing is limpid, poetically tuned to autumn tones, some repetitions of t and u, but nothing pyrotechnic. Often Merwin says things we know but in just the way to make you look at them afresh, as in his poem “The Wings of Daylight.” Most of the poems are short and feel like small gifts.
Wannabe Hoochie Mama Gallery of Realities’ Red Dress Code: New & Selected Poems
by Thylias Moss
(Persea Books, September 2016)
Thylias Moss’s New & Selected is a dense parcel of genius. “Spilled Sugar” starts, “I cannot forget the sugar on the table. / The hand that spilled it was not that of / my usual father, three layers of clothes / for a wind he felt from hallway to kitchen, / the brightest room though the lightbulbs / were greasy.” The poem only goes on a bit longer but packs in metaphysical conclusions and psychological puzzles.
The End of Pink
by Kathryn Nuernberger
(BOA Editions, September 2016)
Nuernberger’s second book is a visit to the end of innocence and an entry into the war-zone years of getting pregnant, giving birth, and early motherhood. The poet speaks this testimony through her fascination for nineteenth-century medical arcana and the various languages of science. On her own life she sneaks in wild testimony: there is blood and the memory of blood on nearly every page.
Contradictions in the Design
by Matthew Olzmann
(Alice James Books, November 2016)
Olzmann’s new book, his second, finds its author fascinated by duplicates and by time. The collection opens with an Apollinaire quote reminding readers that when we wanted a machine that could walk, we invented the wheel, which looks nothing like a leg. The image reminds us that there are solutions hidden all around us, not yet visible as appropriate. Olzmann’s prologue poem is titled, with wit and terror, “Replica of The Thinker.” Think of what that image means to someone giving his life to thinking and to art.
by Marie Ponsot
(Alfred A. Knopf, August 2016)
A masterpiece sixty years in the making, Ponsot’s lifework of poetry starts with a ferocious power coming into fear, familial escape, and a bruising wit striking everywhere. The poems come to speak in deceptively conversational memories and musings in untrodden corners of existential curiosity, as well as an authority at ease. The body parts of desire are as common here as say, the universe, as objects of our creative attention.
by Paisley Rekdal
(Copper Canyon Press, November 2016)
Perhaps every vessel is the pregnant human. Rekdal takes us into the world of vessels by way of their creation and their tendency to break or pop. “It is not miraculous,” she begins, describing being part of a little crowd of tourists watching a glassblowing demonstration. They are bored, the artist and the crowd, having seen the same show around the corner, but by the end, something shifts. “Our senses return stretched thinner, fine. / We can almost feel the shattering of the glass.”
by Martha Ronk
(Omnidawn Publishing, October 2016)
Ronk has written numerous poetry books, essays, and a memoir, and pays very close attention to what she looks at and at looking itself. She thinks a lot about photographs and takes the reader along with her in her thought process. The title of this new poetry book comes from Othello telling Iago that he needs something stronger than hearsay, and you couldn’t find a better symbol of how wrong one’s judgment can be.
My Private Property
by Mary Ruefle
(Wave Books, October 2016)
Ruefle is an essayist and the author of numerous books of poetry, and this new book will be a favorite. It is smart and strange, while remaining deeply companionable and reserving to the writer a measure of disdain for it all. There are many good ideas: “without rejection there would be no as-we-know-it-Earth. What is our ball but a rejected stone flung from the mother lode?” When I see the moon I often think about it as having escaped, but Ruefle is right, the winning image is that rejection in our lives somehow parallels the big bang and our blue planet ending up out here on its own.
by Monica Youn
(Graywolf Press, September 2016)
Like “John Doe” but for property, “blackacre” is a name one uses as a placeholder, for example, “Note the result if John Doe leaves Blackacre to Jane Doe with the stipulation that, say, she never marry Shorty.” Youn is a former lawyer and her book Blackacre is about an absence, ostensibly a hoped-for child, but also something yet more universal like a stake in the world or temperamental access to its richness. The book is a vivid rendering of waiting in a white room for a door to open up into the battlefield of motherhood.