Kate Daniels

The poet W.H. Auden once dismally proclaimed, "Poetry makes nothing happen." Since September 11, however, poetry seems to have assumed an increased visibility and importance for many people. Perhaps because poetry is the language most attuned to psychically extreme states, it is the medium we tend to turn to in moments of high emotion: births, weddings, graduations, the intentional crashing of jet airliners into two skyscrapers full of Tuesday morning workers.

Whether or not poems are capable of making anything discernible happen in the public world, it is clear that poetry is still influential in the private worlds of people. What poetry makes happen on a private scale is soul-soothing. Here, for National Poetry Month, are two fine volumes that do just that.

In Lay Back the Darkness (Knopf, $23, 73 pages, ISBN 0375415211), his sixth volume of poetry, Edward Hirsch (recently named president of the Guggenheim Foundation) gives us an elegiac, but celebratory, collection of poems that move back and forth along a dialectic of life and death. Numerous poems feature the author's father, who died last year of Alzheimers: <I>My father in the night shuffling from room to room is no longer a father or a husband or a son but a boy standing on the edge of a forest listening to the distant cry of wolves . . .</I> Even though these are poems of loss, the overall tone remains life-affirming. Hirsch is a purveyor of grand-scale perspective: "Life flows on," he says in "Reading Isaac Babel's Diary on the Lower East Side," "wretched, powerful, immortal /and voices blur across the century." As always, Hirsch reveals his passion for the visual arts, embellishing the collection with poems emanating from the work of Gerhard Richter and Agnes Martin. A particularly compelling poem is "Two Suitcases of Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944." Even here, at a Nazi concentration camp, Hirsch's essential optimism asserts itself. Even if the only release possible is the cathartic release of art, it is still an experience to be valued. At the end of this harrowing poem, Hirsch insists on the spiritual freedom to be found in art: "Somewhere a blue horse floats/over a sloping roof/and a kite soars away from its string." Kevin Young is a younger poet, the author of two previous volumes of poetry and the editor of <I>Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Poets</I>. In his new collection, <B>Jelly Roll: A Blues</B> we find 184 pages of short, energetic, tensile, often sassy and sexy poems that capture much of the kinesis at the center of the music and dance tropes Young uses for the occasions of poems like "Torch Song," "Country and Western," "Early Blues" ("Once I ordered a pair of shoes/But they never came.") and "Honky Tonk." Like the blues, the poems are adept at juxtaposing incongruous emotions: the tragic and the comic, the cruel and the mundane unselfconsciously bump up against each other in these poems, releasing a marvelous energy in their broken phrasing and shimmeringly sculpted lines. Clearly, Young has read his Langston Hughes, Robert Creeley, Amiri Baraka and Denise Levertov, for his poems <I>move</I>. They glide and grind, stop and start, are slow and fast, loud and soft. An amazing repertoire of musical and aural effects is unleashed in what is one of the most purely enjoyable books of poetry I have read in years.

If it's the blues, there must be a woman at the center of it. And so there is. First, love is good: "To watch you walk/cross the room in your black/corduroys is to see/civilization start." Then it's not: "It finally forms the stank/of days without you . . . " By the end of the book, the poet's personal grief has broadened into a larger apprehension of the place of suffering in our human experience: "I have folded instead/my sorrows like a winter/garment . . . I will/no more wear . . . " <I>Kate Daniels' most recent book of poetry is</I> Four Testimonies <I>(LSU Press)</I>.

The poet W.H. Auden once dismally proclaimed, "Poetry makes nothing happen." Since September 11, however, poetry seems to have assumed an increased visibility and importance for many people. Perhaps because poetry is the language most attuned to psychically extreme states, it is the medium we tend to turn to in moments of high emotion: births, […]

<B>Function and form: poetry's place in contemporary America</B> The poet W.H. Auden once dismally proclaimed, "Poetry makes nothing happen." Since September 11, however, poetry seems to have assumed an increased visibility and importance for many people. Perhaps because poetry is the language most attuned to psychically extreme states, it is the medium we tend to turn to in moments of high emotion: births, weddings, graduations, the intentional crashing of jet airliners into two skyscrapers full of Tuesday morning workers.

Whether or not poems are capable of making anything discernible happen in the public world, it is clear that poetry is still influential in the private worlds of people. What poetry makes happen on a private scale is soul-soothing. Here, for National Poetry Month, are two fine volumes that do just that.

In <B>Lay Back the Darkness</B>, his sixth volume of poetry, Edward Hirsch (recently named president of the Guggenheim Foundation) gives us an elegiac, but celebratory, collection of poems that move back and forth along a dialectic of life and death. Numerous poems feature the author's father, who died last year of Alzheimers: <I>My father in the night shuffling from room to room is no longer a father or a husband or a son but a boy standing on the edge of a forest listening to the distant cry of wolves . . .</I> Even though these are poems of loss, the overall tone remains life-affirming. Hirsch is a purveyor of grand-scale perspective: "Life flows on," he says in "Reading Isaac Babel's Diary on the Lower East Side," "wretched, powerful, immortal /and voices blur across the century." As always, Hirsch reveals his passion for the visual arts, embellishing the collection with poems emanating from the work of Gerhard Richter and Agnes Martin. A particularly compelling poem is "Two Suitcases of Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944." Even here, at a Nazi concentration camp, Hirsch's essential optimism asserts itself. Even if the only release possible is the cathartic release of art, it is still an experience to be valued. At the end of this harrowing poem, Hirsch insists on the spiritual freedom to be found in art: "Somewhere a blue horse floats/over a sloping roof/and a kite soars away from its string." Kevin Young is a younger poet, the author of two previous volumes of poetry and the editor of <I>Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Poets</I>. In his new collection, <!–BPLINK=0375414606–><B>Jelly Roll: A Blues</B><!–ENDBPLINK–> (Knopf, $23, ISBN 0375414606) we find 184 pages of short, energetic, tensile, often sassy and sexy poems that capture much of the kinesis at the center of the music and dance tropes Young uses for the occasions of poems like "Torch Song," "Country and Western," "Early Blues" ("Once I ordered a pair of shoes/But they never came.") and "Honky Tonk." Like the blues, the poems are adept at juxtaposing incongruous emotions: the tragic and the comic, the cruel and the mundane unselfconsciously bump up against each other in these poems, releasing a marvelous energy in their broken phrasing and shimmeringly sculpted lines. Clearly, Young has read his Langston Hughes, Robert Creeley, Amiri Baraka and Denise Levertov, for his poems <I>move</I>. They glide and grind, stop and start, are slow and fast, loud and soft. An amazing repertoire of musical and aural effects is unleashed in what is one of the most purely enjoyable books of poetry I have read in years.

If it's the blues, there must be a woman at the center of it. And so there is. First, love is good: "To watch you walk/cross the room in your black/corduroys is to see/civilization start." Then it's not: "It finally forms the stank/of days without you . . . " By the end of the book, the poet's personal grief has broadened into a larger apprehension of the place of suffering in our human experience: "I have folded instead/my sorrows like a winter/garment . . . I will/no more wear . . . " <I>Kate Daniels' most recent book of poetry is</I> Four Testimonies <I>(LSU Press)</I>.

<B>Function and form: poetry's place in contemporary America</B> The poet W.H. Auden once dismally proclaimed, "Poetry makes nothing happen." Since September 11, however, poetry seems to have assumed an increased visibility and importance for many people. Perhaps because poetry is the language most attuned to psychically extreme states, it is the medium we tend to […]

<B>Don't be cruel: appreciating the year-round joys of poetry</B> For those of us who write poetry, this time of year is always occasion to reflect upon T.S. Eliot's dictum that "April is the cruelest month." For the past decade or so, April has become even crueler paradoxically enough because of the Academy of American Poets' proclamation of it as National Poetry Month.

While the brief and slightly heightened attention paid to poetry during these 30 days is, of course, welcome, it also serves to remind us of the diminishment of poetry in our time. Just as we need Black History Month or National Women's History Month to remind us of the historical invisibility of particular populations, we apparently require a special month for poetry. Or perhaps the situation is more dire than that. Could it be that National Poetry Month is as necessary National Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a kind of public service attempt to decrease a high mortality rate? However we may view the privileging of the form during the month of April, it is always a relief to come upon truly excellent and profoundly readable volumes of poetry that offer the promise of winning audiences back to the genre. Here are three.

In <!–BPLINK=0618152857–><B>Song ∧ Dance</B><!–ENDBPLINK–> (Houghton Mifflin, $22, 80 pages, ISBN 0618152857), Alan Shapiro continues the beautifully agonizing chronicle of the demise of his family. Earlier works have addressed the death of his sister from cancer and the aging of his parents. <I>"Did you ever have a family?"</I> he asks himself in the title poem. This new volume takes as its subject the struggle of the poet's brother, David Shapiro, with an incurable brain cancer. It is almost unbelievable that any one family should have suffered from terminal illness to the extent that Shapiro's has. And yet, Shapiro's real contribution lies in showing us how ordinary his family's suffering ultimately is. His poems impress upon us his vision of the great, ongoing human misery, and how that misery can be balanced out by the loving and loyal attentiveness of family and friends who stay the course. In the inventive, well-wrought forms of these poems, Shapiro reveals the company and solace that can be offered the dying and the bereaved. "By god it's summer and/you've cleared the bases," he says in "Up Against." "There's no one out./The inning could go on forever." With the testimony of poems like these, the author's brother is sure to "go on forever," and in that way no one shall ever lose him.

Charles Wright's new volume, <!–BPLINK=0374263027–><B>A Short History of the Shadow</B><!–ENDBPLINK–> (Farrar, Straus, $20, 96 pages, ISBN 0374263027), gives us his familiar, laconically philosophical voice and the long, limpid lines for which he has become famous. Though Wright is known for his elegant ruminations on nostalgia and the mysterious passing of time, this volume, with its plethora of seasonal allusions and insistent referencing of times and images past, has an even more elegiac cast than his earlier work. Perhaps it is the titling of one section, "Millennium blues" or even our realization of the poet's age (67 this year), that makes these poems sound almost like a last will and testament. "I think of nightfall all the time," he says in one poem. This is a hauntingly lovely volume of mature ruminations on memory, aging and the inevitable, but not unfriendly, approach of death by a poet who has lived richly, courageously and with profound dedication to the unsentimental practice of his art. In her six volumes of poetry, Linda Bierds has revealed herself as one of the most imaginatively interesting of the mid-generation of American poets. Her most recent book, <B>The Seconds</B>, gives us more examples of her sure hand with imagery and the delicate voicing she brings to narrative. Here, the poems often originate in a painting or in the details of an artist's or a writer's life Vermeer, Marie Curie, Andrew Wyeth, Zelda Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka and they are alive with the narrative imagery that Beirds is so good at evoking. This is a book for readers who love to lose themselves in the minutiae of poems constructed around a substantial thematic core. Decorative and detailed, Bierds' poems do not stop there, but address themselves to subjects that resonate with the realities of contemporary readers' lives. <I>Kate Daniels is a poet who teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt University.</I>

<B>Don't be cruel: appreciating the year-round joys of poetry</B> For those of us who write poetry, this time of year is always occasion to reflect upon T.S. Eliot's dictum that "April is the cruelest month." For the past decade or so, April has become even crueler paradoxically enough because of the Academy of American Poets' […]

<B>Don't be cruel: appreciating the year-round joys of poetry</B> For those of us who write poetry, this time of year is always occasion to reflect upon T.S. Eliot's dictum that "April is the cruelest month." For the past decade or so, April has become even crueler paradoxically enough because of the Academy of American Poets' proclamation of it as National Poetry Month.

While the brief and slightly heightened attention paid to poetry during these 30 days is, of course, welcome, it also serves to remind us of the diminishment of poetry in our time. Just as we need Black History Month or National Women's History Month to remind us of the historical invisibility of particular populations, we apparently require a special month for poetry. Or perhaps the situation is more dire than that. Could it be that National Poetry Month is as necessary National Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a kind of public service attempt to decrease a high mortality rate? However we may view the privileging of the form during the month of April, it is always a relief to come upon truly excellent and profoundly readable volumes of poetry that offer the promise of winning audiences back to the genre. Here are three.

In <!–BPLINK=0618152857–><B>Song ∧ Dance</B><!–ENDBPLINK–> (Houghton Mifflin, $22, 80 pages, ISBN 0618152857), Alan Shapiro continues the beautifully agonizing chronicle of the demise of his family. Earlier works have addressed the death of his sister from cancer and the aging of his parents. <I>"Did you ever have a family?"</I> he asks himself in the title poem. This new volume takes as its subject the struggle of the poet's brother, David Shapiro, with an incurable brain cancer. It is almost unbelievable that any one family should have suffered from terminal illness to the extent that Shapiro's has. And yet, Shapiro's real contribution lies in showing us how ordinary his family's suffering ultimately is. His poems impress upon us his vision of the great, ongoing human misery, and how that misery can be balanced out by the loving and loyal attentiveness of family and friends who stay the course. In the inventive, well-wrought forms of these poems, Shapiro reveals the company and solace that can be offered the dying and the bereaved. "By god it's summer and/you've cleared the bases," he says in "Up Against." "There's no one out./The inning could go on forever." With the testimony of poems like these, the author's brother is sure to "go on forever," and in that way no one shall ever lose him.

Charles Wright's new volume, <B>A Short History of the Shadow</B>, gives us his familiar, laconically philosophical voice and the long, limpid lines for which he has become famous. Though Wright is known for his elegant ruminations on nostalgia and the mysterious passing of time, this volume, with its plethora of seasonal allusions and insistent referencing of times and images past, has an even more elegiac cast than his earlier work. Perhaps it is the titling of one section, "Millennium blues" or even our realization of the poet's age (67 this year), that makes these poems sound almost like a last will and testament. "I think of nightfall all the time," he says in one poem. This is a hauntingly lovely volume of mature ruminations on memory, aging and the inevitable, but not unfriendly, approach of death by a poet who has lived richly, courageously and with profound dedication to the unsentimental practice of his art. In her six volumes of poetry, Linda Bierds has revealed herself as one of the most imaginatively interesting of the mid-generation of American poets. Her most recent book, <!–BPLINK=0399147861–><B>The Seconds</B><!–ENDBPLINK–> (Putnam, $24, 88 pages, ISBN 0399147861), gives us more examples of her sure hand with imagery and the delicate voicing she brings to narrative. Here, the poems often originate in a painting or in the details of an artist's or a writer's life Vermeer, Marie Curie, Andrew Wyeth, Zelda Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka and they are alive with the narrative imagery that Beirds is so good at evoking. This is a book for readers who love to lose themselves in the minutiae of poems constructed around a substantial thematic core. Decorative and detailed, Bierds' poems do not stop there, but address themselves to subjects that resonate with the realities of contemporary readers' lives. <I>Kate Daniels is a poet who teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt University.</I>

<B>Don't be cruel: appreciating the year-round joys of poetry</B> For those of us who write poetry, this time of year is always occasion to reflect upon T.S. Eliot's dictum that "April is the cruelest month." For the past decade or so, April has become even crueler paradoxically enough because of the Academy of American Poets' […]

<B>Don't be cruel: appreciating the year-round joys of poetry</B> For those of us who write poetry, this time of year is always occasion to reflect upon T.S. Eliot's dictum that "April is the cruelest month." For the past decade or so, April has become even crueler paradoxically enough because of the Academy of American Poets' proclamation of it as National Poetry Month.

While the brief and slightly heightened attention paid to poetry during these 30 days is, of course, welcome, it also serves to remind us of the diminishment of poetry in our time. Just as we need Black History Month or National Women's History Month to remind us of the historical invisibility of particular populations, we apparently require a special month for poetry. Or perhaps the situation is more dire than that. Could it be that National Poetry Month is as necessary National Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a kind of public service attempt to decrease a high mortality rate? However we may view the privileging of the form during the month of April, it is always a relief to come upon truly excellent and profoundly readable volumes of poetry that offer the promise of winning audiences back to the genre. Here are three.

In <B>Song ∧ Dance</B>, Alan Shapiro continues the beautifully agonizing chronicle of the demise of his family. Earlier works have addressed the death of his sister from cancer and the aging of his parents. <I>"Did you ever have a family?"</I> he asks himself in the title poem. This new volume takes as its subject the struggle of the poet's brother, David Shapiro, with an incurable brain cancer. It is almost unbelievable that any one family should have suffered from terminal illness to the extent that Shapiro's has. And yet, Shapiro's real contribution lies in showing us how ordinary his family's suffering ultimately is. His poems impress upon us his vision of the great, ongoing human misery, and how that misery can be balanced out by the loving and loyal attentiveness of family and friends who stay the course. In the inventive, well-wrought forms of these poems, Shapiro reveals the company and solace that can be offered the dying and the bereaved. "By god it's summer and/you've cleared the bases," he says in "Up Against." "There's no one out./The inning could go on forever." With the testimony of poems like these, the author's brother is sure to "go on forever," and in that way no one shall ever lose him.

Charles Wright's new volume, <!–BPLINK=0374263027–><B>A Short History of the Shadow</B><!–ENDBPLINK–> (Farrar, Straus, $20, 96 pages, ISBN 0374263027), gives us his familiar, laconically philosophical voice and the long, limpid lines for which he has become famous. Though Wright is known for his elegant ruminations on nostalgia and the mysterious passing of time, this volume, with its plethora of seasonal allusions and insistent referencing of times and images past, has an even more elegiac cast than his earlier work. Perhaps it is the titling of one section, "Millennium blues" or even our realization of the poet's age (67 this year), that makes these poems sound almost like a last will and testament. "I think of nightfall all the time," he says in one poem. This is a hauntingly lovely volume of mature ruminations on memory, aging and the inevitable, but not unfriendly, approach of death by a poet who has lived richly, courageously and with profound dedication to the unsentimental practice of his art. In her six volumes of poetry, Linda Bierds has revealed herself as one of the most imaginatively interesting of the mid-generation of American poets. Her most recent book, <!–BPLINK=0399147861–><B>The Seconds</B><!–ENDBPLINK–> (Putnam, $24, 88 pages, ISBN 0399147861), gives us more examples of her sure hand with imagery and the delicate voicing she brings to narrative. Here, the poems often originate in a painting or in the details of an artist's or a writer's life Vermeer, Marie Curie, Andrew Wyeth, Zelda Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka and they are alive with the narrative imagery that Beirds is so good at evoking. This is a book for readers who love to lose themselves in the minutiae of poems constructed around a substantial thematic core. Decorative and detailed, Bierds' poems do not stop there, but address themselves to subjects that resonate with the realities of contemporary readers' lives. <I>Kate Daniels is a poet who teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt University.</I>

<B>Don't be cruel: appreciating the year-round joys of poetry</B> For those of us who write poetry, this time of year is always occasion to reflect upon T.S. Eliot's dictum that "April is the cruelest month." For the past decade or so, April has become even crueler paradoxically enough because of the Academy of American Poets' […]

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