99 Poems: New & Selected.
By Dana Gioia.
Mar. 2016. 208p. Graywolf, $24 (9781555977320). 811.
Rather than chronologically, Gioia presents his career retrospective
in seven sections, five thematic—“Mystery,” “Remembrance,” “
Imagination,” “Place,” and “Love”—and two, “Stories” and “Songs,” generic.
The mystery of the first is by turns spiritual and existential, the former in “The Burning Ladder,” in which Jacob sleeps oblivious to the
seraphim, and “Prayer at Winter Solstice;” the latter
in “The Road” and “New Year’s.” “Remembrance”
is where to find the shattering “Special Treatments
Ward,” on Gioia’s first child’s death. “Imagination”
is full of wry humor, seriously wistful in “Elegy for
Vladimir de Pachmann,” ruefully ironic in “A Short
History of Tobacco,” defiantly commonsensical in “A
Curse on Geographers.” The poems of “Place” are predominantly Californian, like Gioia; they’re visited by
fellow Golden Staters Raymond Chandler and the Beach Boys as well
as, elsewhere, John Cheever. The stories are very much in the criminal
and horrific mode, not untinged by other qualities, even humor in
“Film Noir,” as fine an abstract of that genre as has ever been written.
The songs genuinely are musical, reflecting Gioia’s training in music,
and the personal and domestic pieces in “Love” often commend themselves to singing, too. But then, virtually everything here resounds, like
the work of another elegantly musical poet whose corpus bulks little
larger than Gioia’s—A. E. Housman. —Ray Olson
Admit One: An American Scrapbook.
By Martha Collins.
Mar. 2016. 104p. Univ. of Pittsburgh, paper, $15.95 (9780822964056). 811.
Despite its innocuous-sounding title, Collins’ ( White Papers, 2012)
eighth poetry collection is an unflinching look at the underpinnings
of racism in the U.S., via key figures who used science to defend
sterilization, exploitation, discrimination, segregation, and dehumanization of nonwhites, whites not deemed white enough, and
anyone “less” than those with “superior” genes.
Madison Grant, for example, fueled the Ku Klux
Klan, initiated unfair immigration and “racial integrity” legislation, and offered tinder to Adolf
Hitler’s evil fire. (Hitler called Grant’s The Passing
of the Great Race  his bible.) With the 1904
St. Louis World’s Fair as a framework, Collins attempts to understand her family’s experience of and
participation in those times. Her poems are lists,
definitions, newspaper pages, historical time lines, and biographical
facts. These diverse poetic forms highlight the beauty of diversity
itself. But Collins never lets up on the driving themes of unethical treatment and collective culpability. In fact, “Postscript Three”
punctuates this powerful collection with the vitriol still spewed and
sensationalized, keeping racism depressingly alive in a supposedly advanced century. —Janet St. John
Get Up, Please.
By David Kirby.
Mar. 2016. 88p. Louisiana State, $39.95 (9780807162897); paper, $17.95
Normally a very funny poet, Kirby is less hilarious than usual in his
new collection, though still buoyant and cheerfully agnostic about the
ultimate meanings of things. The title poem takes off from an Indian
practice of touching another’s feet, as, for instance, when a tabla player
so acknowledges a tamboura player when they have finished a performance. An Indian mother explains to Kirby that this means “he thinks
the other // is a god. My children do this before they go off to school.”
Another Indian friend says “it means, ‘I bow / to the light within you.’”
It is Kirby’s happy extrapolation that the god, the light within, should
reply, Get up, please. Such recognition of the numinous and graceful
response happens again and again in these poems as, repeatedly, he
finds ordinary life—things like encountering the usual assortment of
neighborhood dogs—blooming with significance because of the poem,
the aphorism, the picture, the tune he brings to it. Seldom does art
inform life, and life art, so rewardingly. —Ray Olson
The Opposite of Light.
By Kimberly Grey.
Apr. 2016. 64p. Persea/Braziller, paper, $15.95 (9780892554713). 811.
In her debut collection, Grey, a recent Wallace Stegner fellow, uses
mental and linguistic acrobatics to explore what modern love and marriage really look like and mean. Her poems involve a search for symmetry,
as the first and second halves of the book mirror and complete each
other like lovers by revisiting paired topics and themes of invention and
reinvention, memory’s deconstruction and reconstruction, and relationships’ beginnings and endings. The poems further this mirroring dance
within their lines, as in “What we’ll always have becomes something we
lost,” and through such titles as “The Functions of X and Y” and “The
Function of You and I.” It’s apt that light and its opposite represent the
collection overall, since the poems often bounce in tone and feeling between brightness and shadow. There’s no doubt Grey took exceptional
care in writing, revising, and compiling these poems. They chime and
resonate like deftly struck, fine crystal. —Janet St. John
Poems That Make Grown Women Cry: 100 Women on the
Words That Move Them.
Ed. by Anthony Holden and Ben Holden.
Apr. 2016. 320p. Simon & Schuster, $26 (9781501121852); e-book, $13.99
The Holdens, father and son, joined forces with Amnesty International
to celebrate poetry, that time-tested vessel for sharing feelings, thoughts,
and hope, as a force that awakens empathy and compassion. Their first
provoking anthology, Poems That Make Grown Men Cry (2014), was
a surprise best-seller. For its equally powerful sister volume, the Holdens asked 100 diverse, accomplished women: “What poem has moved
you to tears?” Their choices, ranging across time and space, and the accompanying brief essays, create a uniquely affecting collection. Many