March 15, 2017 Booklist 15 www.booklistonline.com
“It is a small / green train / inside each car / there is a cloud.” The brief
poems echo the micrograms of Ecuadorian poet Jorge Carrera Andrade,
while some longer poems bear formal resemblance to Neruda’s odes, but
Argueta’s self-taught style is most similar to Mexican American writer
Lalo Delgado or Jimmy Santiago Baca. A prolific children’s-book author,
Argueta explores decidedly more adult themes here. —Diego Báez
YA: YAs, including those who read Argueta as children, will
appreciate his take on difficult, relevant experiences. DB.
For the Scribe.
By David Wojahn.
Mar. 2017. 128p. Univ. of Pittsburgh, paper, $15.95 (9780822964544). 811.
Recipient of numerous accolades and author of nearly a dozen books,
Wojahn (World Tree, 2011) delivers a sophisticated, meticulously erudite
collection. Most prominent is a series of baroque mash-ups, in which he
mediates on two seemingly disparate yet intricately connected entities
or ideas: paradise lost and a history of the noose; music producer turned
murderer Phil Spector and Incan death rites; the evolution of wolves
into dogs and drones over Waziristan. One especially moving example
blends an elegy for the poet Reginald Shepherd with a long walk through
museum taxidermy: “There you are, pinned in the lyric distance, small
point of reference I call love.” The remainder of the book is packed with
scattered curiosities and odd novelties, examined by a poetic, insatiable
persona, taking up FOXP2 (a gene linked to speech); Nim Chimpsky
(one of the first chimpanzees to learn American Sign Language); and
Gar.Una of Uruk (the first recorded signature, from 5,000 years ago). A
work of extraordinary range and grace. —Diego Báez
Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom.
By Rebecca Aronson.
Apr. 2017. 80p. Orison, paper, $16 (9780996439701). 811.
Aronson begins this incendiary collection with a poem entitled “I
Was the Girl Who Set the Field on Fire,” and that sentiment sets the
tone. Rife with hunger and volatility, these poems, rooted in the dry
heat of the American Southwest, circle an unnamed longing, and seek
release. Most of the book is anxiously anchored in the present, and
the frenetic quality of the poems gives them the heat of a fever dream.
Children—“ambassadors of a future”—linger, at first, at the edges.
New motherhood, a theme begun in the background of the collection,
eventually slides into the foreground, the poems taking on a quieter
tone: anxious, still, but not as frantic. “Desire is peril,” Aronson says
in a poem that feels animalistic in its urgency. “I want. / I want. I bay
at the door of wanting.” Through the heat of fire or the joy and fear of
new motherhood, she follows that trail of want, searching endlessly for
“a reason and a reason and a reason for joy.” —Maggie Reagan
In Memory of an Angel.
By David Shapiro.
Apr. 2017. 88p. City Lights, paper, $16.95 (9780872867130). 811.
So blithe, teasing, and buoyant. Yet these charming, whirling poems
are like bright, wind-tossed spray, the lacy frill and froth dancing at the
peaks of a deep, dark, brooding sea. Shapiro has been writing poetry for
more than five decades, and his riddling lyrics are veined with allusions
to literature, art, history, science, and religion. A member of the New
York School, he has written about the work of John Ashbery and was
a friend of Kenneth Koch. Shapiro calls out to them and other poets,
from Blake and Shelley to Ginsberg and Padgett, in his first collection
in 15 years. He muses on the curious act of writing poems and revels in
nature, especially on the wing, from fireflies to hummingbirds. Jewish
thought also shapes his quicksilver poems in which formal structures
provide intricate trellises for his blooming, swooping images and thorny,
vining thoughts. Shapiro asks, “If one saves a butterfly, has one saved
the world?” A musically musing, erudite, yet light-footed collection that
revitalizes a key poetic movement. —Donna Seaman
By Airea D. Matthews.
Apr. 2017. 104p. Yale, $20 (9780300223965). 811.
Matthews holds a Rona Jaffee Foundation Writer’s Award, and this,
her debut collection, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. In it,
she explores the (non)existence of truth through a range of registers
(from rebellious interludes that punctuate the book to narrative paragraphs of surreal prose) and a plurality of personas. In “Sexton Texts
a Dead Addict’s Daughter During Polar Vortex,” the mother figure
must resist an urge to “taste the throbbing / veiny eels her crooked
lovers forsook.” Another spiritual antecedent appears in “If My Late
Grandmother Were Gertrude Stein,” which mimics the great modern-ist’s stilted style: “Flour. Flower. Lard and swallow. Hardedge chew.
Chipped tooth bite. Tool chip. Bite. Bloat. Bloat. Bloat.” Throughout the collection, Matthews bends familiar sensory experience until
it bears only strange resemblance to the real: “Out where pasture led to
brackish / waters and red-hot mists rose from quartz / I lowered myself into rockpores.” Matthews has earned a place in the accomplished
company of Adrienne Rich and Muriel Rukeyser. —Diego Báez
By Rodney Jones.
Mar. 2017. 192p. HMH, $16.99 (9780544960107). 811.
Jones (Imaginary Logic, 2011) presents a novel-in-verse that is
wonderfully complex in structure and reach and lively in its characters and setting, the imaginary southern town of Cold Springs,
Alabama. Jones portrays Cold Springs over a century as he tracks six
boys as they grow beyond their ancestral home. With a mix of reminiscence and inventive points of view, Jones illuminates time slips,
multiple experiences, the inner recesses of the southern mind, family
mythology, mental illness, war, even Facebook. Any James Dickey
connoisseurs or fans of the films of David Lynch or Chris Nolan will
feel right at home on these pages. An accomplished poet, Jones is also
a founding member of the stalwart, under-the-radar writing program
at Southern Illinois University, which has included the likes of Kent
Haruf and Lucia Perillo, and he continues the rich tradition he and
his colleagues have forged. This is a gorgeous, thought-provoking,
and evocative book of narrative poetry. —Mark Eleveld
The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the
Ed. by Diane Glancy and Linda Rodriguez.
Apr. 2017. 120p. BkMk, paper, $14.95 (9781943491070). 811.
This unprecedented anthology brings together poems by 17 Native
Americans about the Middle East, broadly defined as a geographic region, political conflict, spiritual and emotional repository, and nexus of
social and cultural heritage. Each poet approaches the subject with a
distinctly individual focus. Joy Harjo’s “Refugee” questions the role of
sanctuaries during biblical times and the present day in response to her
visit to Israel in 2012 amid activist outcries insisting that she boycott
the country. In “the convention on the rights of the child,” Craig Santos Perez juxtaposes a vision of his 18-month-old daughter on Waikiki
Beach with a baby killed in a firebombing in the West Bank. Natalie
Diaz’s “The Elephants” confronts the turmoil and noise of today’s war-torn Afghanistan via her brother, a soldier suffering from PTSD. Each
contribution is bookended by “work notes” and biographical information, while addenda provide an extensive context for this remarkable and
unique addition to contemporary U.S. poetry. —Diego Báez