PanThe New Criterion... Graham’s new poems lounge across the page, the words split, scarred, filleted from their sentences, if there were sentences to begin with. Graham has always been an aficionado of daredevil risk-taking, yet her work, no longer grounded in art and literature, has become a pleasure garden of shiftless dilly-dallying. Her bravery is tattooed with hubris; and each new book seems cursed like Milton’s Satan, every abyss concealing a deeper abyss ... Her poems have all the old sprezzatura, that of Seurat first dabbling at a canvas. Graham’s pointillism, however, seems increasingly pointless as the poems go fluttering into the misty reaches of Nowheresville ... A few poems in Runaway arrive with lines so truncated they can’t catch a breath; but most are so long they’d test the patience of a saint, going on for twenty or thirty syllables and printed in a type so small even a mouse would need a magnifying glass to read them ... One of the greatest modern novels is full of such guff, and it’s riveting. Graham’s no Joyce, unfortunately, her staccato ruminations no more attractive if you hold them upside-down and try to parse them in a looking glass. The poems pretend to skim off thought like scum off a pond, but manner alone rarely makes brain work gripping, just as conversation transcribed never achieves the crisp attention of speech purveyed by novelist or scriptwriter. Realism has its point, a point reached when the reader runs screaming from the room ... Alas, too many poems descend into wild-eyed ranting ... The politics aren’t deep—they’re more of the o tempora, o mores variety...Graham makes you wish stream of consciousness had never been invented ... The poems so often suffer from terminal rambling, that even if you decipher her intention the method’s so hectoring that after a few lines you feel oxygen deprived ... the few good lines here make you long for her early work. Not a poem in Runaway would have been worse had it ended after a single page.
Maria Dahvana Headley
MixedNew CriterionHeadley apparently knows little Old English, and it shows ... here and there she forces in the feminine, not always persuasively, she does make a case for reconsidering Grendel’s mother—perhaps she was not a monster at all, just a fierce woman warrior ... The classics deserve a good shaking up once in a while, so those who love a short sharp shock should turn to her battling, ball-busting Dark-Agers ... Her steampunk translation of Beowulf, an in-your-face, fists-cocked performance preposterous and irritating by turns, should not be trusted as an accurate rendering of what scops sang in mead halls. Headley’s loosey-goosey style, slightly rattletrap in the expression, never quite rivals Heaney in richness or effect ... Headley’s \'wine-drunk, mead-met men,\' like many another phrase, is a clumsy invention not in the original ... her version still bears some of the gloaming spirit of the ancient text. What cripples the reinvigoration of this hoary ancestor of English verse is her frantic voguishness. The translation is so stuffed with market-fresh slang ... in about five years these gobbets of slang, most of them, will be...stone cold ... There are so many silly lines in Headley’s Beowulf, I’d have trouble choosing the worst[.]
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewPhillips has a brooding eye that can render landscapes as more than pretty passages of nature ... Such advantages shouldn’t be wasted, yet in many poems all that’s ventured is not gained ... There’s far too much lala-ing in this book. A few poems live in the real city of New York and act accordingly. Four cops walk into a cellphone store. Great premise, but the poem seems paid by the word, the poet tracking every gesture for an anecdote never as necessary as his dedication to nuance suggests. Phillips wants to say something about authority, and threat, and the violence that seeps through the bulletproof vest; but what the poor reader gets verges on caricature ... You can’t simply throw around hulking abstractions like \'lies\' and \'fear\' and \'terror,\' expecting the reader to mistake speechifying for wisdom ... in Phillips’s new work I feel like Hansel and Gretel after losing their bread crumbs. Living Weapon begins and ends in prose, and the poems between come like a forced march in a manner infected by Wallace Stevens at his blowziest ... stray pleasures are typical of this often frustrating book.
PanThe New York Times Book Review\"The Flame has a little of everything for Cohen fans and nothing for anyone else ... The poems are monotonous scribbles of the moody-undergraduate school, what young Werther would have sung had he been Canadian ... Cohen favors an Audenesque quatrain with none of the puckish genius Auden used to refashion the form ... Genial, sloppy, full of conventional lines, they sometimes have little twists that save them from disaster ... Cohen could turn this stuff out all day, and it’s not half bad; but lyrics without music, even decent lyrics, look like dried lungfish in someone’s den, mounted on varnished plaques. The difference between his lyrics and poems is tissue-paper thin except when he was writing some wretched approximation of free verse ... Those who love Cohen may find in this gallimaufry the answer to their prayers. For everyone else, the only proper reaction is to shutter the windows and wait for the fever to pass.\