Like many others enduring this distended moment of political and cultural turmoil, I have wondered and worried about its psychic effects, its wear and tear on our personal and social consciousness. I feel the impulse to delete my social media accounts, or even more desperately, to abscond myself to the forests and mountains and wait it out. I’ve also been peering at how this constant tension is shaping or contorting our poets and poetry. Political engagement is one thing — our protest poems, or poems of witness, or poems asserting a historically repressed voice. But beyond (or in addition to) these expressions is a certain disposition, a weariness or wariness, which I’m keen to understand.
As this era grinds on, the interconnected anxieties over politics, terrorism, institutional violence, race, the environment, the economy, and so on — essentially the amorphous blob of the contemporary in all its self-contained turbulence — increasingly presents a test of our resilience. And it’s the rise of resilience — of bearing, almost bodily, all this uncertainty — that I see in much poetry, as evidenced and exemplified in two recent collections, Richard Greenfield’s Subterranean and Jericho Brown’s The Tradition. . . .
Read the review at Ron Slate’s On the Seawall.
I want to think about distance and Jane Gregory’s new book of poems, Yeah No (The Song Cave, 2018). Or something more like gapping. A space between concepts charged with those concepts’ distance, what holds discourse together (and molecules, and planets). I think, reading these poems, that the poems express the space between the world and the thought, that between the thought and the person, the person and the feeling.
I think the poems enact a beginning, one that is already foreclosed in an end, and within that circularity or polarity, we find a self enfolding in articulation. But I can only think toward these thoughts, and that feels about right, that the poems themselves can only think toward them. I hope you will receive this as notes toward that thinking, that thinking toward these thoughts.
Read the full notes at Michigan Quarterly Review
Shane McCrae is one of the hardest working poets in America. Not only has his output been prodigious over the past few years, but all of his books have worked, separately and together, to articulate richly nuanced understandings of race and racism as they operate at the crucial intersection of public history and personal experience. His fifth collection, In the Language of My Captor, a finalist for the National Book Award, takes this ongoing project into a new, dramatically realized mode, employing the constituent dramatic elements of scene, voice, and audience.
Read the review at the Boston Review.
The opening poems of Alan Felsenthal’s Lowly suggest a collection that will fall squarely within a familiar subgenre of contemporary poetry: newly crafted myths, fables, and parables. Taking up classic modes of speech and story-telling, many poems of this subgenre operate according to a fairly defined mechanic, developing tight, logical sequences that utilize inversion, tautology, and other structural maneuvers to arrive at illuminating surprises—often with a bit of jesting. . . . But as we progress we begin to see quickly that Felsenthal is interested in something more complex than the mere crafting of postmodern parables. By the fifth poem, “If You Need a Ride,” it’s clear that we are in a much broader project. . .
Read the review at Newpages.