Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines

As National Poetry Month, April is the the ideal time to celebrate poetry. But these four collections offer poems to which you’ll return time and time again.

★ Lean Against This Late Hour

Some works of art can simultaneously break and build up your heart, a marbling of devastation and hope. Lean Against This Late Hour by Garous Abdolmalekian offers such an experience. These nuanced, nimble poems remind readers to “Take care of your sorrows.” Whether those sorrows are the public grief of war or more private, familial grief, the speaker laments that “We ought to accept / that no soldier / has ever returned / from war / alive.” These are poems written out of and for difficult days, but they succeed at a fundamental lift that feels natural, no sugar-spooning or sentimentality to be found. This lift is the hard-won hope found in self-awareness. “Staring at me from the table / an injured poem / has accepted its last lines.” Abdolmalekian is a major Iranian poet who should be a mainstay on bedside tables, syllabuses and award shortlists around the world. This is the first of his seven collections to be translated into English, and the transformation from the original Persian has been handled beautifully by translator Ahmad Nadalizadeh and novelist Idra Novey.

Ledger

Jane Hirshfield’s ability to distill a single image with vodka clarity is on full display in her ninth collection, Ledger. While reading these poems, “You go to sleep in one world and wake in another,” and before you know it, hours have passed, emails have gone unanswered, and the dog is scratching at the door to be let out. But you also feel human, humane and a little less worn by the world’s swirling. During what will likely be a divisive election year, I’ll surely return over and over to poems such as “Let Them Not Say,” “Cataclysm,” “Spell to Be Said Against Hatred” and “Things Seem Strong” to remind me of the power of witnessing and the power of resisting, not surrendering to, simplifications. Whatever exquisite form these poems take, they carry a haiku spirit. Ledger moves through a public and private accounting of sorts, but instead of striving for balance, as most ledgers do, these poems herald a natural world full of shifts, tilts and breaks, where “A house seems solid, and yet, in the living, any footstep shakes it.”

Foreign Bodies

Consumption is more than a measure of economic power in Kimiko Hahn’s Foreign Bodies. It is a measure of adoration and memory and a cataloging of lives. Inspired by a museum exhibition of ingested objects, these poems explore dynamics of ownership, objectification and personal history. Whether a coin, shell, harmonica, piece of broken jewelry or whale tooth, “Each feels like a story’s climax.” Initially the mind might wander to the TV series “My Strange Addiction,” in which people eat all sorts of objects. But there is nothing sensational about the big questions these poems conjure, like “How to store the object of your ardor,” especially as the speaker grapples with understanding childhood in the rearview  mirror and the ways we nestle parents in our minds as we grow older. Our relationships with things tend to shift when “Memory is falling away / as if an image shattered to shards then / re-collected for a kaleidoscope.” These poems pull at the delicate thread linking past with present, with versions of the truth desperately in need of closer investigation. Things—objects—provide the looking glass. Under Hahn’s masterful hand, these Foreign Bodies feel quite familiar.

The Age of Phillis

In 1773, Phillis Wheatley, a black woman enslaved in America, published a book of poetry. The text challenged a nation that would have preferred to view the writer through the lens of chattel slavery. Future generations of poets would hold Wheatley in the blinding light of legend. Now, 247 years later, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers rights the light and lens with The Age of Phillis. Here Jeffers is a researcher and historian, offering context through dates, quoted briefs, articles, letters, lists and, most satisfyingly, her account of the 15 years spent crafting this collection. But most assuredly, Jeffers is a poet. History is at the forefront of this collection—but gracious, these poems are deliciously good. Traditional and inventive forms deftly admit, “This is a complicated space. / There is slavery here. / There is maternity here. / There is a high and low / that will last centuries.” These poems teeter in the space between inhale and exhale, bidding the reader to continue. One poem asks, “And who must speak for me / in order for you to believe?” After reading The Age of Phillis, the answer will clearly be Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

 

Poet and ARTrepreneur Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines lives in Nashville, where she’s powered by pancakes, art and a furkid named Sugar.

As National Poetry Month, April is the the ideal time to celebrate poetry. But these four collections offer poems to which you’ll return time and time again.

Collections of poems are often the antithesis of page-turners. A single poem can call on the same amount of mental energy as a short story or novel’s chapter. There is a relieving aha when I read a single poem and am compelled to either close the book for respite or obsessively read it over and over for a half hour. At times, these intense reading experiences can be just what we want to wrangle in a deep tissue mental and emotional massage.

★ Be Recorder
Carmen Giménez Smith brings readers an award-worthy, cling-to-every-word collection with Be Recorder. I found myself at the last line of several poems shaking my head with a rousing mmm mmm mmmmm. Divided into three sections, this poetry bliss moves through mythic moments of creation, calls to action and complex relationships. We take the expensive trip through “the past the present the lie / the reality the parlor game the miniseries / the battle older than me in my helix” and are told to “just charge it to my race card.” The foot never lets off the pedal as Be Recorder shifts toward the familial, taking on Alzheimer’s and motherhood. “I Will Be My Mother’s Apprentice,” “Beasts” and “American Mythos” make this book a standout gift for adult children of aging parents.

The Government Lake
James Tate’s The Government Lake, published posthumously, has a rigorously soothing effect. These poems deal with the odd, othered and imagined, with fresh precision. Don’t let the prose-looking pages fool you. Just when you’ve found your footing, Tate melts a clock and drips it over all the edges as only a poem or surrealist masterpiece can do. The poet offers a master class in enticing first and last statements, as poem bodies full of wit and manic ubertalk are enveloped in openings and closings like: “Oliver sat in his chair like milk in a bottle. . . . That’s not the sky, that’s just a bunny I once knew.” Let these humorous and reflective prose poems breathe and invoke their full topsy-turvy splendor.

No Matter
Jana Prikryl’s No Matter introduces us to a body of poems posing as an evolving or dissolving cityscape. Many of the titles in this collection repeat themselves. The multiple “Anonymous,” “Waves,” “Sibyl,” “Friend” and “Stoic” poems operate as a city block with identical building facades. Of course the inner workings are completely different, but each stokes the question: Have we been here before? Themes of cyclical development and destruction lie parallel to agape and eros love. The personal and public intertwine in a beautiful blur. Prikryl creates a subway experience where “it’s / the one place no one has to talk / and nobody feels guilty for / their place.” These sharp poems invite consideration about how our modern society makes us “a person dragged away from personhood.” And it’s all an utter delight.

Ahhhhh, the deep tissue massage of poetry!


Poet and ARTrepreneur Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines lives in Nashville, where she’s powered by pancakes, art and a furkid named Sugar.

Collections of poems are often the antithesis of page-turners. A single poem can call on the same amount of mental energy as a short story or novel’s chapter. There is a relieving aha when I read a single poem and am compelled to either close the book for respite or obsessively read it over and over for a half hour. At times, these intense reading experiences can be just what we want to wrangle in a deep tissue mental and emotional massage.

Jana Prikryl’s No Matter introduces us to a body of poems posing as an evolving or dissolving cityscape. Many of the titles in this collection repeat themselves. The multiple “Anonymous,” “Waves,” “Sibyl,” “Friend” and “Stoic” poems operate as a city block with identical building facades. Of course the inner workings are completely different, but each stokes the question: Have we been here before? Themes of cyclical development and destruction lie parallel to agape and eros love. The personal and public intertwine in a beautiful blur. Prikryl creates a subway experience where “it’s / the one place no one has to talk / and nobody feels guilty for / their place.” These sharp poems invite consideration about how our modern society makes us “a person dragged away from personhood.” And it’s all an utter delight.

Jana Prikryl’s No Matter introduces us to a body of poems posing as an evolving or dissolving cityscape.

James Tate’s The Government Lake, published posthumously, has a rigorously soothing effect. These poems deal with the odd, othered and imagined, with fresh precision. Don’t let the prose-looking pages fool you. Just when you’ve found your footing, Tate melts a clock and drips it over all the edges as only a poem or surrealist masterpiece can do. The poet offers a master class in enticing first and last statements, as poem bodies full of wit and manic ubertalk are enveloped in openings and closings like: “Oliver sat in his chair like milk in a bottle. . . . That’s not the sky, that’s just a bunny I once knew.” Let these humorous and reflective prose poems breathe and invoke their full topsy-turvy splendor.

James Tate’s The Government Lake, published posthumously, has a rigorously soothing effect. These poems deal with the odd, othered and imagined, with fresh precision.

Carmen Giménez Smith brings readers an award-worthy, cling-to-every-word collection with Be Recorder. I found myself at the last line of several poems shaking my head with a rousing mmm mmm mmmmm. Divided into three sections, this poetry bliss moves through mythic moments of creation, calls to action and complex relationships. We take the expensive trip through “the past the present the lie / the reality the parlor game the miniseries / the battle older than me in my helix” and are told to “just charge it to my race card.” The foot never lets off the pedal as Be Recorder shifts toward the familial, taking on Alzheimer’s and motherhood. “I Will Be My Mother’s Apprentice,” “Beasts” and “American Mythos” make this book a standout gift for adult children of aging parents.

Carmen Giménez Smith brings readers an award-worthy, cling-to-every-word collection with Be Recorder

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