PositiveThe New YorkerThe title of Erin Belieu’s new book of poems...is a compact gadget of a phrase that embodies her tinkerer’s style of found puns, verbal doodles, and word games ... Belieu toggles troublingly between screwball comedy and...violence—part Howard Hawks, part Ovid ... The foundation of Belieu’s language, and also its primary defense, is paradox—the symbiosis of apparent opposites. The poems create insinuations in order to undermine them ... Belieu’s poems often present uneasy pas de deux between rivals, as though strained coöperation were the prerequisite for beauty ... The lightness in this collection is sometimes strained, deliberately so. Few poems pass without a joke, and some are, to my taste, jokey ... Belieu’s corniness is a nervous impulse to counter the unbearable tense silence that surrounds performance. It’s also a form of flinching ... Though these poems are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, it’s the groaners and knee-slappers—poignant for never quite landing—that distinguish Belieu’s style.
Eduardo C. Corral
PositiveThe New YorkerA striking long poem is one of the anchors of this book. In \'Testaments Scratched Into a Water Station Barrel,\' Corral gives voice, in Spanish and English, to migrants as well as to a few racists. The poem asks us to imagine each page as one of the fifty-five-gallon water stations set up by a nonprofit to help migrants survive in the desert. Corral’s texts are \'scratched\' onto the surface of the tank, each inscription effacing the last. Every new poem feels like an arena for survival; we imagine a person either desperate to live or eager to kill. Reduced to its bluntest purpose, all writing is a form of graffiti, an assertion that we exist in this time and place. These \'found\' poems of Corral’s arrive damaged, their syntax sometimes broken into mismatched columns, the type smudged or overwritten, but their strange beauty remains intact ... you find, everywhere, poems about the periodicity of desire, its alternating flights and crashes, in both private and political spaces ... In an extraordinary poem, \'Córdoba,\' Corral reaches out toward his reflection in a mirror, but stops just before his fingertips meet.
PositiveThe New Yorker...ordinary life shares a plane with the eerie, the uncanny, and the berserk. A menagerie of cats, snails, flies, bees, and other creatures fills these poems, acting simultaneously as heralds bearing news and scavengers feasting on our bodies ... Blizzard is a retrospective volume, seasoned by loss and disappointment ... Cole’s new poems practice a weirdly vigorous stoicism: their serenity seems like one of the terms of a treaty signed with panic. Cole is pacified rather than peaceful, the discipline in his style arising from a deep fear that he is capable of ruthlessness, and even of violence ... Blizzard, like many of Cole’s recent books, is full of sonnets. He has made the form his own: often they begin loose-limbed and amiable, with an anecdote, then fall through a trapdoor of reminiscence and rue ... Cole’s interiority is distributive, resting in oddly sentient neckties, rice puddings, and dandelions, each a repository of his imagination. The dreamer, as the old saw goes, is every figure in the dream.
PositiveThe New YorkerWhatever memory is, Memory was an exploration of the layers of what a person thinks they remember firsthand ... This spirit of transience extended to Memory itself, which for decades lived mainly in memory, surfacing every now and then in altered forms ... This year, the project has morphed yet again: all the photographs, along with Mayer’s original diary, have been published by Siglio, a new and beautiful embodiment of the work that speaks uncannily to our particular time ... Bound in a book, Memory is set free within time and space. The Airstreams and roadsters, the delis and coffees are there whenever and wherever we want to experience them, and they can be reanimated on demand ...It’s hard to quote from...since its dense linguistic braid unravels when you sever it ... At our moment in history, Memory reads in part as an archive of suspended (in both senses of the word) pleasures. \'Old cemetery we looked for a place to swim,\' Mayer writes. \'I showed grace the insane gazebo with wooden horse & carriage.\' These pleasures are privileges, too. Mayer and her friends are white: no Black American would feel as free trespassing in somebody’s woods—not then, and not now.
PositiveThe New YorkerHass’s work is a fifty-year standoff between concentration and dispersal: part haiku, part road trip ... Summer Snow, with its patient count of tanagers, warblers, aspens, and gentian, its year-after-year audit of the dead, its tallies of everything from our country’s drone strikes to his friends’ strokes, is Hass’s inner history of the decade. It arrives right on time ... A Hass poem is a site of instruction, sometimes handed down from Hass’s own masters, like Eugenio Montale, Czesław Miłosz, and Stanley Kunitz. But it’s equally a site of distraction. Hass’s poems about his mentors are full of background, ambience, human overspill; the nugget of inherited wisdom is almost always ironized by circumstance ... This is the core feature of Hass’s work, in my view: an Etch A Sketch method that allows the surface of the completed poem to be erased and revised, with traces of previous attempts, along with gaps for when the lightning strikes. By my unscientific count, these gestures have only become more plentiful in the course of Hass’s career ... When I teach Hass, I always ask my students what they think of these fill-in-the-blanks passages. The response is a mixed bag; people have different histories with performed modesty. I love these moments and have learned from them how to do certain things in my own poems, but I’m also watchful, a little distrustful of that extended open hand.
PositiveThe New YorkerIt’s the mortal hurry in Feed that makes its flippancy terrifying ... a rich anthology of the surprising modes of interiority in our present moment. Pico’s model for thinking is a brand-new one, and impossible to separate from its contemporary context ... a road book, brightly discombobulated, written on the wing, full of grabbed meals, lucky sex, and appealingly corny jokes ... Its tactics are sometimes painfully transparent ... With these poems in hand, you can go out and experience a whole world of sensation. They steer you to a spot for two-dollar sushi rolls, and tell you which Connecticut rest stop has a Sbarro ... But his language is itself firsthand experience of the most startling intensity, variety, and durability. The dream of Feed is to escape the feed; by picking this book up and reading it, we’re already much of the way there.
RaveThe New YorkerThe resulting \'country music\' is the distinct twang of one mind, remarkably constant despite sometimes audacious changes of form. A prose poem, a sprawling free-verse composition, and a sequence of economical sestets: they sound little like one another, but they all sound like Wright ... Because these poems are both progressive and recursive, the present moment, with its \'armchair and omelette,\' is already hoary. Nothing in Wright’s work is ever new ... Once time is set up this way, we become contemporaries of our own ancestors. At moments, Wright’s work feels like an enormous, timeless front porch, where long-lost friends like Lao Tzu drop by ... Wright’s later poems attain visionary intensities, fusing belief and deflation. His gregarious asceticism—asceticism over drinks, as it were—bears traces of Dante, St. Ignatius, Augustine, and the Buddha ... A book this huge had better be excellent company. Wright—with his sometimes cantankerous affection, his sympathy for the reader who has, as he has, seen and heard this all before—is profoundly companionable. Within the repetitive cycles of his verse we find the loveliest surprises.
Reginald Dwayne Betts
RaveThe New Yorker... shows how poems can be enlisted to radically disrupt narrative ... Betts’s poems about fatherhood [are] some of the most powerful I’ve read ... The black bars of redacted text, which usually suggest narrative withheld, here reveal its true contours... Autobiography functions in this book in fascinating, risky ways ... For Betts, the way to expression passes through such troubled silences.
C. D. Wright
PositiveThe New YorkerOne with Others represents Wright’s most audacious experiment yet in loading up lyric with evidentiary fact ... The \'poetry\' of these books lies partly in the fuguelike structure of their information, contrapuntal patterns worthy of Bach ... The flip side of engulfing so much historical material, however, is that the book becomes a historical artifact, warily circulating in the world ... Difficult poems often strike an intimate tone, offering their honeyed nonsense as bait: come closer, they whisper. But this isn’t coyness; it’s caution ... An affecting element of this book is the way its elegiac impulses accord with, even as they chafe against, the documentary impulses ... One with Others celebrates the way aesthetic form can represent, and therefore recalibrate, social fact.
Tracy K. Smith
RaveThe New YorkerIts alternating cosmic breadth and intimate focus derives from the shared situation of poets and astronomers, squinting to glimpse immensity: \'bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.\' Smith’s own poetic focus, though polished, like the lenses of the Hubble, \'to an impossible strength,\' is often directed to the here and now: the book is by turns intimate, even confessional, regarding private life in light of its potential extermination, and resoundingly political, warning of a future that \'isn’t what it used to be,\' the refuse of a party piled with \'postcards / And panties, bottles with lipstick on the rim\' ... Smith’s central conceit allows her to see us, our moment, as specks in the future’s rearview mirror. Futures and pasts are, in astronomy as in poetry, all mixed up ... The issues of power and paternalism suggest the deep ways in which this is a book about race.
PositiveThe New YorkerPragmatic but blessedly naïve—she calls herself \'gullible\'—Howe’s poetry takes a line-by-line approach to managing existential fear. Her work calls to mind a child’s tactics of self-soothing, like whistling in the dark ... an aura of wonder pervades Howe’s writing ... Like stained glass, her poems await illumination, but it is important not to flood them with a klieg light ... Love and I is a book about the frayed beginnings and endings of a person’s life, when consciousness provides no chaperon. It is full of excursions—a plane trip, a bus ride, a subway journey—that tempt us with their tidy trajectories (from then to now, here to there), only to swerve toward nonnarrative insight along the way.
RaveThe New YorkerPrice is not an elegist for print: her extraordinary grasp of every development in book history, from incunabula to beach reads, monasteries to bookmobiles, suggests that a love of printed matter need not be a form of nostalgia ... Price’s book about books reads like an anthology of ironies, including several that pertain directly to it. This book is self-consciously shaped by, and susceptible to, its own account of how we read now. Price takes divided attention for a virtue, and practically invites a reader to keep a device nearby to flesh out her examples. Almost every piece of data has its own story to tell ... Her radiant descriptions of the physical properties of books, the forensic traces—from smudges to candle wax—of earlier bodies holding them, immediately sent me to the Internet.
RaveThe New YorkerThe Government Lake (Ecco), a posthumous collection, makes a distinctly un-Tate-like ending to his career ... Often, an unstated figure of speech links Tate’s seemingly unconnected perceptions ... Yet a quotient of weirdness keeps the poem from being distilled into just an idiom or a cliché ... Tate \'goes through\' the strictly unnecessary medium of figurative language rather than stating things straightforwardly, and uses his madcap style as a vehicle for implying other, graver things ... Tate’s poems tempt you to interpret them as parables ... They belong to the New England intellectual tradition of looking for signs and portents in thickets of happenstance, but they usually stop short of facile meaning. You can ruin these poems by adding too much weight; even the saddest of them contain their own charm ... Tate’s final work will lodge him permanently in the landscape of American poetry[.]
RaveThe New YorkerLima :: Limón is rangier, freer to dip in and out of dreams, to try on voices, histories, and roles. Many of the book’s most beautiful poems shuttle easily between English and Spanish ... Her book is full of gorgeous, though problematic, cultural symbols; if you toss them out entirely, a world goes with them ... Like the fabric whose sutures create both its integrity and its vulnerability, people, in these poems, are real only insofar as they can be damaged, and complete only through the act of putting themselves back together. The tearing and stitching in Lima :: Limón isn’t exclusively metaphorical. This is a book about men’s violence against women; the sutures are often literal ... even pantomimed injury is, according to the logic of these poems, a result of real damage. Scenters-Zapico is at her best in lines that mingle pleasure and violence ... Scenters-Zapico often creates intensity in her poems by setting up an analogy, then knocking it down, only to prop it back up ... her astonishing verbal crossings reveal a mind as richly self-divided as any you will find.
RaveThe New Yorker... an especially vital book for this moment in time ... conducts its business, often, with melancholy, but also with wit and a sharable incredulity that sends you running to YouTube ... brilliant, disabusing.
RaveThe New York Review of Books... astonishing ... The narrative poise, the surface comedy, the quantum of quirk in Russell’s stories only suggest the depth of the waters below ... I sometimes wonder why Russell didn’t become a poet, since her verbal imagination at times seems to want to fly clear above the entangling branches of narrative ... Such descriptive wonders, so common that nearly every one of Russell’s long paragraphs contains a few, do not always easily recede into the surrounding story ... Russell seems the most natural storyteller alive, so completely does she give herself to premises that might undo a lesser writer. But she also seems, at times, to have chosen her stories and story forms the way a poet chooses forms, as sheaths or delivery systems for her own sparkling, idiosyncratic attentiveness. Though Karen Russell discloses nothing about herself, we seem to know her even behind the various masks; her stories feel like wild, bravura renderings of a sensibility consistently and essentially watchful, curious, considerate, wary.
RaveThe New YorkerSwift: New and Selected Poems samples eight of his collections and adds a ravishing suite of new elegies for his parents. The volume affords a longitudinal view of a sensibility that is itself devoted to observing change over time ... His metaphors buckle to contain...extraordinary, delicate sight ... Baker’s poems swerve with tangents and reversals, and often move forward by branching out. Sometimes you feel the tension between the torrent of language and the rigid banks of his chosen stanza forms ... But Baker can also moderate tension to allow sentences and the effects they describe to unfold at their own pace ... Never a partisan of any single poetic school or creed, Baker is free to toggle between tactics of attention. His forms vary depending upon what his senses perceive: jagged and tense around a mountain lion, long and languid next to a butterfly.
RaveThe New YorkerShane McCrae is a shrewd composer of American stories. His poems often piece together, for striking effect, swatches of material from divergent sources ... What makes McCrae’s compositions so ingenious are their marvels of prosody and form ... The result is beautifully up-to-date, old-fashioned work, where the dignity of English meters meets, as in a mosh pit, the vitality—and often the brutality—of American speech ... The first two lines so nail Trump’s rally patter that you can almost hear, as punctuation, the crowd’s roars ... New clusters of meaning, pressurized by the line breaks, undermine Trump’s familiar rhetoric ... Because his style is so distinctive, he’s a presence even when he’s not the principal subject: the voices in his poems are hammered into his style ... part of the urgency we pick up from his poems seems to stem from his realization of how many unheard voices are still left ... This is partly a book about current events, with poems about Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearings and a bill that attempted, and failed, to undo Obamacare. But its heroic dimensions emerge from deeper in the subconscious ... The authority in these lines arises, as with everything in McCrae’s work, from speech heard so clearly you want to punch that punk bird.
Sally Wen Mao
PositiveThe New Yorker\"These poems are haunted by images of human faces staring out from all kinds of screens, faces that are themselves screens upon which the world projects its fantasies and anxieties ... The poems in Oculus are rangy, protean, contradictory. They offer an alternative to the selfie, that static reduction of a person to her most photogenic poses ... Contemporary poetry is full of scrupulously researched, rather lifeless \'project\' books; a lesser poet than Mao might have stuck to the historical Wong, out of some misplaced sense of fealty or respect. But Mao’s fabricated Wong is a wild creation...\
RaveThe New Yorker\"But the Beuscher letters, included in the new volume, are different; they are among the most revealing pieces of prose that Plath ever wrote, in any genre ... [Plath\'s] letters re-situate these poems, and others, within the stream of lived passions, banalities, and interruptions that surrounded and fed them. We already know what Plath sounds like when she’s alone with the page, but here we find the reservoirs of composure that she tapped when she faced the world, and we see how abruptly they went dry ... The experience of reading these letters, even at their most joyous, cannot be separated from what we know is coming.\
RaveThe New YorkerPoetry often creates a supernatural-seeming rapport with the dead, but rarely has the communication between worlds felt so eerily reciprocal ... In Be With, he is at once adamant about the ineffability of grief and committed to getting his inchoate \'grief-sounds\' somehow into words. The book’s sputtering, flinching style, with its syntactical dead ends and missed connections, feels like both an accommodation to the necessity of language and proof of its inadequacy ... The book’s title gives away its most tragic insight. \'Be with\': the phrase is stripped of its object; the beloved has been ripped from the world. Reciprocity is suddenly broken, as though one player in a game had walked off the court mid-volley ... Gander’s poems call to mind those Thomas Hardy wrote after the sudden death of his wife, Emma. Hardy’s verse skips over his immediate, painful past to a moment \'when our day was fair,\' dwelling on the uncanny traces his wife left behind in \'a room on returning thence.\' Gander shares the intensity of Hardy’s grief—his morose fixation on moments squandered. The poems in Be With recall the happy parallel paths in life and in art that he and [his late wife C.D.] Wright followed—always within a holler of each other ... The book as a whole...is a self-suturing wound, equal parts bridge and void.
RaveThe New Yorker\"The term \'voice mail\' modernizes a classic understanding of lyric poetry, similar to the way Dickinson’s sense of her poems as unprompted \'letters to the world\' did. Like a voice mail, a poem is a performance that anticipates a response, shaped for a specific but absent audience: by the time it reaches its recipients, the author will have moved on. But, after death, it can be \'played back\' on an infinite loop, a material but fragile manifestation of voice. It is short, because we know the tape runs out ... These poems envision countless afterlives, each one more arresting than the last ... These poems envision countless afterlives, each one more arresting than the last ... Ritvo is now permanently located, and obliquely revealed, in his poems. It’s we, his readers, who come and go. When we close [this book], we miss him.\
PositiveThe New Yorker\"Hayes’s sonnets emerge out of a sense of peril, and the evasiveness and protectiveness it requires. He envies poets who have the luxury of wandering into all corners of American life ... There are formal and rhetorical puzzles in nearly every one of Hayes’s poems. Sometimes he uses sonnets to stump the reader...Alongside these gamelike poems are tributes to Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes, an appreciation of James Baldwin’s face, and the first #MeToo-era elegy I’ve ever read, working through the legacy of Derek Walcott. There are beautiful, personal poems about Hayes’s father and the consequences of being abandoned by him ... But Hayes isn’t describing canonical melancholy, the pined-for vision of mortality that poets sometimes indulge in. He fears a more immediate kind of danger, which can’t be aestheticized or glorified in verse. \'You are beautiful because of your sadness,\' Hayes admits. And yet: \'You would be more beautiful without your fear.\' \
RaveThe New YorkerThis is a book about the necessity of toggling between the enchantments of the page and the allure of the horizon: Xie’s \'appetite for elsewhere\' competes with a longing for the \'infinite places within language to hide.\' The poems dazzle in their local details, even as they pine for global reach and scale ... Xie comes across as a magician of perspective and scale, troubled by her own virtuosic illusions. Through Xie’s eyes, we can see the binds and paradoxes of being stuck inside a single point of view. When you’re at eye level with another person, however, you can be briefly prodded out of solipsism: you see yourself being seen ... Eye Level with worldly landmarks and private discoveries, mapped routes and circuitous thoughts, suggests a kind of Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guide to inner life ... Xie’s swallowed commands, shorn of their predicates, suggest that the rules of her art cannot be codified.
MixedThe New YorkerYaffe’s book is partly a study of what happens when a great artist, emerging as part of a scene, resists that scene’s assumptions and categories ... Yaffe charts these encounters with a sure hand, and is a brilliant analyst of how Mitchell’s songs are made. But he leans a little heavily on quotations familiar to fans...He also seems to have let Mitchell get inside his head. In a strange preface, Yaffe describes interviewing Mitchell for a New York Times piece in 2007, going to her house, and talking through the night, but getting 'bitched out' by Mitchell once the piece was published. Then silence from 'Joni' until years later, when, through a back channel, he’s taken back into her good graces. At times, his book feels as if its main objective were for him to never again be rebuffed by the 'strong, resilient, defiant' woman he admires who looked 'more beautiful than she did in the ads for Yves St. Laurent that were in all the magazines.' Add Mitchell’s biographer to the list of men she played like a paddleball.
RaveThe New Yorker\"These poems can’t make history vanish, but they can contend against it with the force of a restorative imagination ... At the center of many of these poems is the black queer body as it moves through a range of contemporary American spaces, some comparatively safe, many potentially lethal. The mind that tracks it—imagining its outcomes, adjusting to its setbacks, processing its sudden drives and imperatives—is a wild and unpredictable instrument. In an extraordinary poem about sex and death, \'strange dowry,\' Smith finds themselves in a strobe-lit bar, checked out by potential lovers...Spontaneity is the great virtue of this work, but calculation is a survival skill. The open-endedness of \'strange dowry\' is matched, in this book, by a grim determinism. In \'it won’t be a bullet,\' Smith’s advantages over \'the kind of black man who dies on the news\' are offset by H.I.V., which targets black men by a different standard of intention ... In this moving, unsettling work, the question is not simply one of craft. It’s about how the body and its authority can be manifested in writing, with only the spindly trace of letters to stand in for it ... it forces you, the reader, to say aloud, to embody, the words, while leaving a gap for the inevitable differences of race or gender identity, of illness and health, that might sometimes seem unbridgeable. They might be unbridgeable; but they are not unimaginable.\
Kay Redfield Jamison
PositiveThe New YorkerThe line between elevated spirits and mania, often recognized only after it has been crossed, is the subject of Kay Redfield Jamison’s groundbreaking book ... Jamison’s book isn’t a biography. It is a case study of what a person with an extraordinary will, an unwavering sense of vocation, and a huge talent—as well as privilege and devoted friends—could and could not do about the fact that the defining feature of his gift was also the source of his suffering ... Jamison’s book is a real contribution to the literary history of New England, whose damaged sages Lowell read as a way to understand his own peril ... Jamison’s study tells us a lot about bipolar disorder, but it can’t quite connect the dots to Lowell’s work. Poetry doesn’t coöperate much with clinical diagnosis.
PositiveThe New Yorker[Not] simply influence or homage, though Oswald is generous about crediting her forebears. The deeper urge is to collaborate with the dead, whose descriptions of badgers and foxes and flies are part of a timeless continuum that now includes Oswald and her readers, each new mind capturing the world according to its distinct angle and music ... Oswald is a remarkable, often very odd describer...Her images tend to thwart the mind—which keeps rusty handles and voices in separate boxes—in a direct appeal to the senses ... Oswald is fundamentally a poet of terror: vivid threats and incipient violence enter the mind through cracks and hidden channels in her work.
RaveThe New YorkerMany of these poems filter her earliest memories through the scrim of folklore, from which they borrow their swift, severe causality and, especially, their terror of abandonment. Their aesthetic is bright, kaleidoscopic, a child’s vision of abundance frozen and preserved ... Prikryl’s memories of childhood are intensely sensory: lacking a family narrative with a clear form, she presents, instead, unusually vivid, one-off impressions and colorful hunches about what they might have meant ... Language in this enchanted book sometimes seems to have an independent intelligence.
RaveThe New YorkerGraham started as a poet of brilliantly dissected subjectivity, more attuned to the flaws and the anomalies in her point of view than in anything she witnessed. But something dramatic happens in the course of From the New World, as her meticulous frame-by-frame inspection of reality begins to yield evidence of, among other things, ecological peril ... Because her poems enact the states—bewilderment, estrangement, panic, elation—that they describe, they are unusually subject to their own mental actions. Graham is sometimes faulted for language that is fuzzy or provisional; she is perhaps most notorious for poems that leave actual blank spaces or x and y variables where meaning apparently cannot, in the moment, be supplied ... This book conveys how poetry might function not as a well-wrought urn or cri de cœur but as an extension of the senses into realms where crucial sensory witness has been largely impossible.
Robin Coste Lewis
RaveThe New Yorker...a voyage requires both an origin and a destination, and so the eighteenth-century engraving and the twenty-first-century book operate as two shores in a trip from the lurid past, in which African women were transported to be sold into slavery as property, to the current day, when an African-American woman like Lewis can recast history in her own brilliant, troubling terms ... The sheer bulk of material that Lewis turned up in her research, and the relentlessness of the descriptions, suggests that the history of the black female body is inextricable from the institutions that claim ownership of its depictions; the subjugation is translated into symbolic terms but never undone ... [a] many-chambered and remarkable collection.
RaveThe New YorkerA Woman of Property is a study of the imagination’s darker powers and their daily, domestic insurrections. American poets have long sought to harvest symbols from ordinary life, from its drone satisfactions and shallow-end letdowns. Inspiration may be like finding the light switch in a darkened room, but Schiff’s poems—caged, skittish, aghast at their own force—more often attempt to dim the glare of an imagination that’s a little too trenchant.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksEvery Song Ever is a brilliant guide to listening to music in this new environment, where concentration must become aware of itself as its criteria shift abruptly from genre to genre, composer to composer, culture to culture. Ratliff proposes a 'language' that will allow such lateral moves between unlike compositions ... Every Song Ever is made possible by the world it describes. Nobody could have drawn these lines before free, or cheap, streaming; and once you’ve read about them in Ratliff’s book, you can listen (a playlist is appended helpfully to every chapter). If you upload the playlist to Spotify and choose the right settings, the playlist will grow while you sleep, as other users add their own fast, slow, repetitive, loud, or silent songs.