STARRED REVIEW
April 2015

Hidden poetic moments

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Providing a moment of repose in our accelerated era, poetry is an enduring art. Just in time to celebrate National Poetry Month, we’re exploring three new collections that address the joys and challenges of contemporary existence with compassion, wit and linguistic ingenuity.
STARRED REVIEW
April 2015

Hidden poetic moments

Feature by
Providing a moment of repose in our accelerated era, poetry is an enduring art. Just in time to celebrate National Poetry Month, we’re exploring three new collections that address the joys and challenges of contemporary existence with compassion, wit and linguistic ingenuity.
April 2015

Hidden poetic moments

Feature by
Providing a moment of repose in our accelerated era, poetry is an enduring art. Just in time to celebrate National Poetry Month, we’re exploring three new collections that address the joys and challenges of contemporary existence with compassion, wit and linguistic ingenuity.
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Providing a moment of repose in our accelerated era, poetry is an enduring art. Just in time to celebrate National Poetry Month, we’re exploring three new collections that address the joys and challenges of contemporary existence with compassion, wit and linguistic ingenuity.

In The Beauty, her eighth book of poetry, Jane Hirshfield continues to do what she does best: sift and refine reality—the experience of the self in its surroundings—into poems that contain startling moments of recognition for the reader. Throughout this unforgettable collection, Hirshfield excavates the everyday and finds romance in the routine of being human.

In poems that are tidy and efficient, with brief lines that are notable for their lack of extravagance, Hirshfield celebrates the status quo—“the steady effort of the world to stay the world”—and imbues the homely, plain or pedestrian with wonderful significance. The mundane, everyday items that fall in her way present fresh opportunities for poetic moments. In “A Common Cold,” she makes a common ailment seem cosmopolitan: “A common cold, we say— / common, though it has encircled the globe / seven times now handed traveler to traveler . . . common, though it is infinite and surely immortal . . . ” Now, at the age of 60, Hirshfield also reflects upon her own meandering timeline in a series of equally rewarding and astounding “My” poems. Poetry is embedded in the world, and—fortunately for the reader—her ability to recognize it seems inexhaustible.

LATE-LIFE MUSINGS
A new batch of poems from Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate Charles Simic is always a cause for celebration. The Lunatic marks a welcome return from a writer who’s singularly attuned to the absurdity that attends the human condition. The narrator is frequently a tragicomic figure who grapples with a sense of identity and the unrelenting passage of time. Many of the poems find him caught in the grip of history, as the past invades the present, and the intervening years constrict into a single utterance or remembered vision: “The name of a girl I once loved / Flew off the tip of my tongue / In the street today, / Like a pet fly / Kept in a matchbox by a madman,” Simic writes in “The Escapee.” “Oh, Memory” fixes upon a central, haunting image drawn forth from the speaker’s boyhood: “a small child’s black suit / Last seen with its pants / Dangling from a high beam / In your grandmother’s attic.”

Short and incisive, biting in their brevity, the poems are full of black humor and diluted joy. Simic writes with a winning humility: “I’m the uncrowned king of the insomniacs / Who still fights his ghosts with a sword, / A student of ceilings and closed doors,” he says in “About Myself.” Simic’s mining of the human psyche and portrayals of the creaturely discomforts that come with being alive in the world make this a sympathetic and penetrating collection.

AN AGE OF UNCERTAINTY
A visionary book, beautiful and bleak, that speaks to the ills of the current era, The Last Two Seconds is the seventh collection from acclaimed poet and 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award winner Mary Jo Bang. In this tense, unsettling and apocalyptic collection, Bang focuses on the nature of time as it relates to contemporary experience—on what it’s like to live in a world that’s both speeding up and winding down.

Bang is an expert at depicting the machinations of the modern mind, and in this collection, she portrays that interior space as a place of terror and isolation. A character in an extended three-part poem called “Let’s Say Yes” is trapped inside her own thoughts, “the edge of her mind turning meaning for hours / at a time. Hours and days. A sound like a sickle. / Her head a bunch of heather.” Many of the poems address the difficulties of processing the here and now, of sorting out reality. The overall atmosphere is unsettling: One narrator hears “the cricket voice of suffering.” A loaf of bread is like “a dead armadillo.” Disturbing imagery abounds as, again and again, Bang turns the mirror toward the reader. Having arrived at the precipice, where humankind has achieved and yet destroyed so much in this world, we struggle to navigate the most critical of moments. This is a collection that demonstrates Bang’s rare gift as a writer: her uncommon capacity to shake and awaken us.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

The Beauty
By Jane Hirshfield
Knopf

ISBN 9780385351072

The Lunatic
By Charles Simic
Ecco

ISBN 9780062364746

The Last Two Seconds
By Mary Jo Bang
Graywolf

ISBN 9781555977047

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Get the Books

The Beauty

The Beauty

By Jane Hirshfield
Knopf
ISBN 9780385351072
The Lunatic

The Lunatic

By Charles Simic
Ecco
ISBN 9780062364746
The Last Two Seconds

The Last Two Seconds

By Mary Jo Bang
Graywolf
ISBN 9781555977047

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