Pretend that these poems by Lawrence Raab have come to you from very far away. Think of them as written by Poet Z, a heretofore-unheard-of Eastern European poet, a Kafka-Andrade-Calvino character from Serbo-Chechnya-Lithuania. What’s in his poems? Angels and human monsters, decades and generations, universities turned into ashes, the consolation of philosophy, despair in the middle of the night, a tutorial in lucid dreaming. Only his poetic humor gives away his American citizenship. His poems lead you into, then trap you, in strange worlds, boxes constructed of story, logic, and aphorism, which then are revealed to be exactly like life itself. Now, these poems by Z have finally been translated into an American idiom that is canny, sly, defeated, pessimistic, resilient, and perplexingly knowledgeable about the human predicament. They are also often beautiful, bewildered, disquieting, and full of paradoxical laughter and contemplative solace. Mistaking Each Other for Ghostsis a tender, lonely, deeply intelligent tour of that distinctive country of the soul.
A spectacularly vibrant and continually surprising collection from one of the poetry world’s rising young stars “Who the hell’s heaven is this?”. Rowan Ricardo Phillips offers many answers, and none at all, in Heaven, the piercing and revelatory encore to his award-winning debut, The Ground. Swerving elegantly from humor to heartbreak, from Colorado to Florida, from Dante’s Paradise to Homer’s Illiad, from knowledge to ignorance to awe, Phillips turns his gaze upward and outward, probing and upending notions of the beyond. “Feeling, real feeling / with all its faulty / Architecture, is / Beyond a god’s touch”–but it does not elude Phillips. Meditating on feverish boyhood, on two paintings by Chuck Close, on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, on a dead rooster by the side of the road in Ohio, on an elk grazing outside his window, his language remains eternally intoxicating, full of play, pathos, and surprise. “The end,” he writes, “like / All I’ve ever told you, is uncertain.” Or, elsewhere: “The only way then to know a truth / Is to squint in its direction and poke.” Phillips–who received a 2013 Whiting Writers’ Award as well as the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award–may not be certain, but as he squints and pokes in the direction of truth, his power of perception and elegance of expression create a place where beauty and truth come together and drift apart like a planet orbiting its star. The result is a book whose lush and wounding beauty will leave its mark on readers long after they’ve turned the last page.
The Beauty, an incandescent new collection from one of American poetry’s most distinctive and essential voices, opens with a series of dappled, ranging “My” poems—“My Skeleton,” “My Corkboard,” “My Species,” “My Weather”—using materials sometimes familiar, sometimes unexpected, to explore the magnitude, singularity, and permeability of our shared existence. With a pen faithful to the actual yet dipped at times in the ink of the surreal, Hirshfield considers the inner and outer worlds we live in yet are not confined by; reflecting on advice given her long ago—to avoid the word “or”—she concludes, “Now I too am sixty. / There was no other life.” Hirshfield’s lines cut, as always, directly to the heart of human experience. Her robust affirmation of choice even amid inevitability, her tender consciousness of the unjudging beauty of what exists, her abiding contemplation of our moral, societal, and biological intertwinings, sustain poems that tune and retune the keys of a life. For this poet, “Zero Plus Anything Is a World.” Hirshfield’s riddling recipes for that world (“add salt to hunger”; “add time to trees”) offer a profoundly altered understanding of our lives’ losses and additions, and of the small and larger beauties we so often miss.
Drawing on two decades worth of award-winning poetry, Marilyn Hacker’s generous selections in A Stranger’s Mirror include work from four previous volumes along with twenty-five new poems, ranging in locale from a solitary bedroom to a refugee camp.
A dazzling new collection from award-winning poet Amy Gerstler has won acclaim for sly, sophisticated, and subversive poems that find meaning in unexpected places. The title of her new collection, Scattered at Sea, evokes notions of dispersion, diaspora, sowing one’s wild oats, having one’s mind expanded or blown, losing one’s wits, and mortality. Making use of dramatic monologue, elegy, humor, and collage, these poems explore hedonism, gender, ancestry, reincarnation, bereavement, and the nature of prayer. Groping for an inclusive, imaginative, postmodern spirituality, they draw from an array of sources, including the philosophy of the ancient Stoics, diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease, 1950s recipes, the Babylonian Talmud, and Walter Benjamin’s writing on his drug experiences.
Poet Michael White, reeling from an ongoing divorce and custody battle, visits the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and unexpectedly discovers the consoling power of Johannes Vermeer’s radiant vision in The Milkmaid.
“A certain chain of events has left me open, on a startlingly deep level, to Vermeer’s gaze, to his meditation on our place on earth,” he writes. “Vermeer’s hushed clarity addresses me, is for me, as I stand here now.” Over the next year, White undertakes a kind of pilgrimage—to The Hague; Delft; Washington, D. C.; New York; and London—viewing twenty-four paintings in all, including most of Vermeer’s major works.
Part travelogue, part soul-searching meditation on love and an intimate discourse on art, this erudite, lyrical memoir encompasses the author’s past—his difficult youth, alcoholism and recovery, and the early death of his cherished first wife—as well as the present. At the end of his travels in Vermeer, the future awaits, where “nothing is certain except that everything is changed.”
In this moving, lyrical, and ultimately uplifting collection of essays, Michael Paterniti turns a keen eye on the full range of human experience, introducing us to an unforgettable cast of everyday people. In the remote Ukranian countryside, Paterniti picks apples (and faces mortality) with a real-life giant; in Nanjing, China, he confronts a distraught jumper on a suicide bridge; in Dodge City, Kansas, he takes up residence at a roadside hotel and sees, firsthand, the ways in which the racial divide turns neighbor against neighbor. Paterniti reenacts François Mitterrand’s last meal in a rustic dining room in France and drives across America with Albert Einstein’s brain in the trunk of his rental car, floating in a Tupperware container. He delves with heartbreaking detail into the aftermath of a plane crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, an earthquake in Haiti, and a tsunami in Japan–and, in searing swirls of language, unearths the complicated, hidden truths these moments of extremity teach us about our ability to endure, and to love. As he writes in the Introduction to this book, “The more we examine the grooves and scars of this life, the more free and complete we become.”