March 15, 2016 Booklist 15 www.booklistonline.com
contributors selected poems by established poets. Writers Siri Hustvedt
and Elena Ferrante, and Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Joyce Di-Donato, picked Emily Dickinson. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie chose
Derek Walcott. Others introduce emerging poets. Human-rights activist
Hyeonseo Lee, who fled North Korea in 1997, shares a devastating poem
by a fellow defector, Jang Jin-sung. Azar Nafisi presents a poignant poem
by Earl Mill, an African American who was illiterate until his forties,
when “writing poetry became his way of re-discovering both the world
and himself.” Readers will discover new perspectives on the human condition in this expressive, thoughtful collection. —Donna Seaman
By Wayne Miller.
Apr. 2016. 96p. Milkweed, paper, $16 (9781571314703); e-book (9781571319210). 811.
In his fourth collection, Miller (The City, Our City, 2011), whose
awards include a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, is witty and solemn, stoic and
nimble. He favors brief lines and couplets, but his tercets and quatrains
are just as lithe and whipping. Winter is the prevailing season, and
“Post-Elegy” is a recurring title as he tracks the aftermath of a death
with disarming, reverberating matter-of-factness, focusing on such details as “a skim of decay” inside a cup of coffee in the car owned by the
deceased that was retrieved from an airport parking lot. In evocative
and metaphysically crisp poems about a house on fire, a flood, the
reflection of one’s face in a train window, and a street protest violently
suppressed, Miller maps the endlessly shifting terrain between body
and soul, life and death, us and them. In incisive, jolting poems of the
here-and-now, he takes measure of debt as a legacy, and the repercussions of constant mass shootings. Shrewdly pithy and nuanced, edgy
and commiserating, Miller’s poems are beacons: “Through the trees,
the campfire / made a nest of light.” —Donna Seaman
By Keith Leonard.
Apr. 2016. 122p. Houghton/Mariner, paper, $17.95 (9780544649675). 811.
As the word ramshackle suggests, Leonard’s debut poetry collection conveys fragility in a flickering flame in “Memorial,” a shoe-bruised stretch
of silt in “After Foreclosure,” a trembling silhouette in “Sovereignty.”
Enchantingly, these juxtapositions are often accompanied by playful variations in syntax (in “Elegy,” three words—“this,” “isn’t,” and “it?”—are
repeatedly inverted to spectacular effect) as well as spurts of humor (“My
banker calls me / by my pet name: Sir,” Leonard writes in “The Name of
My Banker”). Intriguing and triumphant, Leonard’s collection embodies
the subject matter it so aptly depicts, whether it’s a storm or steeple or
meadow. —Briana Shemroske
By Sjohnna McCray.
Apr. 2016. 80p. Graywolf, paper, $16 (9781555977375). 811.
Winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award, McCray’s debut collection
is anchored to the body, that theater of feelings, that edifice of inheri-
tance, that engine of longing. The speaker in many of these startlingly
intimate and forthright poems is the watchful son of a black American
soldier serving in the Vietnam War and a Korean woman surviving as a
prostitute. Growing up in Cincinnati, McCray’s narrator ponders the
attempt to match the color of a prosthesis to the stump of his father’s
amputated leg, endures the neighbors’ baffled response to his immigrant
mother, and, as a junior scientist, attempts to collect living specimens,
hoping to contain life’s wildness in a jar. McCray writes tenderly, ex-
plicitly, and musingly about same-sex attraction and same-sex love. And
his many-faceted elucidation of the dangers of desire takes on particular
force in “Cinéma Vérité,” when a woman lustfully admiring a lineman
atop an electrical pole seems to ignite a fatal conflagration. These are ar-
resting, richly corporeal poems about the self as defined by race, family,
and sexuality, and forged in rapture. —Donna Seaman
By Eleanor Chai.
Apr. 2016. 112p. illus. Farrar, $23 (9780374269487). 811.
Chai’s riveting first book, a poem cycle, fuses myth and memoir in a
profoundly intricate and pensively elegant response to shocking revelations. The narrator, perhaps the poet, is in Paris with her father where
they are both thunderstruck by master sculptor Rodin’s Head of Sorrow,
a portrait of Little Hanako, a Japanese dancer and actor then performing in Europe. This haunting artwork induces her
father to tell her the long-hidden truth about her
mother and why she didn’t raise her. Chai, or her
speaker, remembers fragments of her early years with
her mother’s Korean relatives, of seeing a photograph
of her mother (“She looked / like a mask, she looked
like my skin”) and of being sent back to live with her
father and older brothers, who did not speak Korean,
leaving her without language. As this tragic tale of
postpartum depression, cultural dissonance, and ancient taboos violently
violated slowly unscrolls, standing water, a life-sustaining element and
a “breeding kingdom for vectors and disease,” becomes a symbol for
the narrator’s secretly harrowing past. A brilliantly formed, gracefully
devastating poem sequence about the timeless struggle between men
and women, the annihilation of innocence, and the alchemy of the self.
National Poetry Month has reached its twentieth anniversary, a landmark celebrated with the release of a remarkable
number of outstanding best-of collections, including Dana Gioia’s
99 Poems reviewed on p. 14. Below we recognize retrospective
gatherings by seminal poets of the past (Adrienne Rich, Delmore
Schwartz, Stevie Smith) and other judicious combinations of the
old and the new by shining poets of the present (Jay Parini, Lucia
Perillo, Ron Rash, Kevin Young). While these titles certainly enhance robust poetry shelves, they are of particular value to small
and medium-sized poetry collections. Reviews of the following
standout titles can be found on Booklist Online. —Donna Seaman
All the Poems. By Stevie Smith. Ed. by Will May. 2016. 806p.
New Directions, $39.95 (9780811223805).
Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015. By
Kevin Young. 2016. 608p. Knopf, $30 (9780385351508)
Collected Poems, 1950–2012. By Adrienne Rich. June 2016.
960p. Norton, $50 (9780393285116).
New and Collected Poems, 1975–2015. By Jay Parini. Mar. 2016.
248p. Beacon, $27.95 (9780807030134); e-book (9780807030141).
Once and for All: The Best of Delmore Schwartz. By Delmore
Schwartz. Ed. by Craig Morgan Teicher. Apr. 2016. 336p. New
Directions, paper, $17.95 (9780811224321).
Poems: New and Selected. By Ron Rash. Mar. 2016. 192p. Harper-Collins, $24.99 (9780062435507); e-book (9780062435538).
Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones. By Lucia Perillo. 2016.
200p. Copper Canyon, $23 (9781556594731).