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Poetry Collections

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Poetry is life distilled." -- Gwendolyn Brooks

Despite rumors to the contrary, poetry is alive and well in America and around the world. This spring brings extraordinary new collections from some of the most respected practitioners of the art, as well as from many new or lesser-known poets. Here, too, are a few of the recently published anthologies and compendiums, all just in time for this annual national celebration of poetry.

-- Christopher Schoppa

MODERN MASTERS

Behind My Eyes (Norton, $24.95), by Li-Young Lee. With distinguished fellowships and numerous awards to his credit, Lee's new collection, his first since 2001, has been highly anticipated. The poems reflect on the inherent beauty of the small, quotidian moments in life, a carpe diem attitude ever cognizant of life's finite nature. The book includes an audio CD of the author reading 22 selections of verse.

Earthly (Houghton Mifflin, $22), by Erica Funkhouser. Having grown up on a farm, Funkhouser is exceptionally qualified to interpret what it means to be at one with nature, and that she does in this lively round of verses. Her range is especially in evidence in the book's final section, sonnets in honor of (and in the tradition of) John Donne.

Fidelity (FSG, $20), by Grace Paley. The undaunted writer and activist completed this volume of poetry just before her death in August 2007. Its melancholy and wistful air is both moving and heartbreaking, heralding the tremendous loss to come.

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (Harper, $22.95), by Mark Doty. Admired as much for his artful memoirs as his verse, this volume unites work from Doty's seven previous poetry collections with 23 new poems that showcase his abiding fondness for examining the human condition.

The Ghost Soldiers (Ecco, $22.95), by James Tate. At 65, Tate has earned almost as many honors (from a Pulitzer Prize to a National Book Award) as he has published books. This 15th collection serves to bolster his reputation as a master of surrealist poetry.

God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, $22), by Thomas Lux. Unafraid to ridicule, Lux is equally adept at expressing compassion, and both are evident in this original body of work.

Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Marian Wood/Putnam, $25.95), by Cornelius Eady. The widely respected poet and teacher, founder (with Toi Derricotte) of the Cave Canem poetry workshop, follows up his last collection, a finalist for the National Book Award, with new work reflecting on advancing middle age and his sometimes jarring transition from urban to rural dweller. The selected work spans the past seven years and joyously sheds new light on some long out-of-print material.

Invasions (Ivan R. Dee, $15.95), by Adam Kirsch. Kirsch's second collection, a paperback original, comprises a series of interrelated poems reflecting on the foreboding of the post-9/11 world.

Old War (Houghton Mifflin, $22), by Alan Shapiro. A potpourri of styles enlivens this ruminative look at holding fast to love and joy in an often unjust, brutal world, inspired by episodes in his own life. Shapiro's ninth collection.

A Phone Call to the Future: New & Selected Poems (Knopf, $26.95), by Mary Jo Salter. The newest work by Mary Jo Salter, who now teaches at Johns Hopkins University after years of teaching at Mount Holyoke, incorporates fresh work, focusing on daily life both in the home and the world outside the front door, and some of her most popular earlier works, from the poem "Welcome to Hiroshima" to a handful of tender elegies.

Red Bird (Beacon, $23), by Mary Oliver. The esteemed poet's most hefty collection to date won't disappoint fans of her introspective touch and adroit observations of nature (often wincing at the exploitation of the planet and its peoples), but will also delight with an astonishing cycle of love poems.

Sea Change (Ecco, $23.95), by Jorie Graham. Winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Graham is back with a collection that speaks to the environmental degradation humanity has wrought.

Sixty Poems (Harcourt, $12) by Charles Simic. This near pocket-sized paperback gathers together some of the Yugoslav-born poet's most cherished verse, all in honor of his 2007 appointment as the 15th U.S. poet laureate.

Sleeping it Off in Rapid City: Poems, New and Selected (FSG, $26), by August Kleinzahler. The Jersey City-born poet, considered a master of the free verse, lades his first ever "new and selected" medley with older travelogue-style poems penned from the many homes he's made around the globe, and continues that theme in new work that also touches on a curiosity for various voices and diction.

Special Orders (Knopf, $25), by Edward Hirsch. The award-winning writer offers a remarkably personal scrutiny of his life thus far in a series of taut verses.

Unmentionables (Norton, $23.95), by Beth Ann Fennelly. The collection's title is also its theme, as Fennelly winds through a series of short narratives and diverse poetic forms to explore those things in life that words cannot adequately express. Fennelly, a mother and professor of English, nabbed the Kenyon Review Prize on her first outing in 2001.

Watching the Spring Festival (FSG, $25), by Frank Bidart. Mortality is the leitmotif of this slim book of lyrical poems, which helped garner the Wellesley professor the 2007 Bollingen Prize for Poetry.

Wayfare (Penguin, $18), by Pattiann Rogers. The Lannan Literary Award-winner's 13th collection parses the variety of human creativity in six themed sections.

A Yes-or-No Answer (Houghton Mifflin, $22), by Jane Shore. As with her earlier collections, this batch of poems takes on the role of memoir as Shore contemplates the myriad ways her past reveals itself in the present.

POETRY IN TRANSLATION

Eternal Enemies (FSG, $24), by Adam Zagajewski. Born in Poland in 1945, Zagajewski has been compared to Milosz and Neruda for a body of work that scrutinizes the world from both a personal and historic perspective. Clare Cavanagh's translation reveals verse on language, history, place and elegies for dear friends and beloved writers.

In Praíse of the Unfinished: Selected Poems (Knopf, $25), by Julia Hartwig. Czeslaw Milosz himself anointed Hartwig "the grande dame of Polish poetry," and those unfamiliar with her work (or enthusiastic fans) can savor this first collection in English, spanning work from 1956 to 2004. Appreciation should go to John and Bogdana Carpenter, who translated the poems by Hartwig (who, ironically, is a well-respected translator of English and French poetry into Polish).

Nettles (Graywolf, $15), by Vénus Khoury-Ghata. Marilyn Hacker translates this new volume of work from the Lebanese poet and novelist, who since 1973 has resided in France. Cultural friction, womanhood and immigration delineate these poems presented in five sequences. A bilingual edition in the original French, with the English translation on the obverse.

AWARD WINNERS

The Earth in the Attic (Yale Univ., $16), by Fady Joudah. Joudah is a Palestinian-American poet with meritorious credentials as a field member of Doctors Without Borders. Now he can add to his resume "winner of the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize," one of the poetry community's most illustrious awards.

Empire Burlesque (Ohio State, $13.95), by Mark Svenvold. An often humorous, scattershot collection inspired by the letters of Jules Laforgue. Winner of the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry.

Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon, $15), by Brenda Shaughnessy. This emotional collection won the James Laughlin Award of the American Academy of Poets. Forthcoming in June.

Mission Work (Mariner, $12.95), by Aaron Baker. This debut collection, influenced by Baker's experiences as a child of missionary parents in Papua New Guinea, won the 2007 Katherine Bakeless Nelson Prize for poetry, awarded by Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. The head judge was Stanley Plumly.

The Royal Baker's Daughter (Wisconsin, $14.95), by Barbara Goldberg. Cooking as metaphor propels this new collection of verse by Goldberg, who lives in Chevy Chase, Md. It is the winner of the 2008 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, selected by David St. John.

Woman Reading to the Sea (Norton, $24.95), by Lisa Williams. Winner of the 2007 Barnard Women Poets Prize. An evocative title for an imaginative collection of verse.

ANTHOLOGIES

100 Essential Modern Poems by Women (Ivan R. Dee, $24.95), edited by Joseph Parisi and Kathleen Welton. Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, Marianne Moore, Louise Bogan, Judith Wright, Amy Clampitt, Carolyn Kizer, Marge Piercy, Marilyn Hacker, Kay Ryan, Carolyn Forché. How many poets, in that chronological listing, did you recognize? Spreading the word about female poets is the impetus behind this anthology of 150 years of exceptional women's poetry, along with lively profiles of the writers.

The Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present (Scribner, $30), edited by David Lehman. Lehman, the respected series editor of the two-decades old "Best American Poetry" collections, turns his gaze on the titillating, sometimes shockingly sensual poems produced by American writers. Even Francis Scott Key? You bet.

Catching Life by the Throat: Poems from Eight Great Poets (Norton, $26.95), by Josephine Hart. Irish novelist Hart, author of Damage and The Reconstuctionist, also made a mark in the literary world with a series of poetry readings at the British Public Library, which was wildly popular. Spurred by that enthusiasm, she selected eight groundbreaking poets, chose a number of their best verse, provided an intimate introduction of the poet and his/her work and then let a CD do the rest. Intent on initiating readers into the sound of spoken verse, there is a companion CD featuring a dazzling cast reading aloud, from Ralph Fiennes to Elizabeth McGovern.

Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry (Arkansas, $59.95; paperback, $24.95), edited by Hayan Charara. Work from 39 of the most prominent Arab American poets, from Kazim Ali to Naomi Shihab Nye.

Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (Norton, $27.95), edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar. An ambitious paperback original anthology that culls work by more than 400 poets from across the whole of Asia, divided into nine thematic sections. What the poets share is a delicate balancing act between a respect for centuries of tradition and the breakneck speed of modern society.

New European Poets (Graywolf, $18), edited by Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer. The editors' intention with this anthology was not a comprehensive survey of contemporary European poets, but rather to introduce to an American audience a wide range of dynamic, engaging voices from across the Atlantic. The poems herein are from 290 poets first published after 1970, representing every country in Europe and many being published in English (and the United States) for the first time.

The Poem I Turn To: Actors and Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them (Sourcebooks, $24.95), edited by Jason Shinder. An introduction by Billy Collins precedes a an inventory of various actors and directors' favorite poems, with short explanations for their choices. The bonus is an audio CD with those famed contributors reading poetry by the likes of e.e. cummings, Mary Oliver and Shakespeare.

EXAMINING POETRY

Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-1960 (North Carolina, $40), by Alan Filreis. How and why a coalition of politicians, poets and editors aimed to quash the modernist avant-garde movement by assailing experimental poetry with anticommunist bombast, and the aftermath.

The Making of a Sonnet (Norton, $35), by Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland. Two of the poetry universe's brightest stars examine how a humble art form - a mere 14 lines in a fixed verse and rhyme scheme - could have endured for so long, and how it has inspired poets the world over. That's 500-plus years captured in 300 poems, a compilation that also includes chapters on the sonnet's creation, reinvention, a selection of questions for a sonnet workshop, and personal takes on the form from both Hirsch and Boland.

The Modern Element: Essays on Contemporary Poetry (Norton, $25.95), by Adam Kirsch. It takes one to know one. Well, thankfully, Kirsch is a poet, as well as the book critic for the New York Sun, so his analyses have some experience to back them up. But Kirsch is well-known for bold, outspoken criticism, so expect a bit of controversy as he canvasses the work of some of America's most beloved poets and proffers some unique perspectives on the state of poetry today.

Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam (Soft Skull, $17.95), by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. The author, a poet herself, offers this first definitive look at the origins of the now ubiquitous poetry slam, from the Nuyorican Poets Café in NYC to more mainstream outlets and a national audience.

Why Poetry Matters (Yale Univ., $24), by Jay Parini. "Poetry doesn't matter to most people," Parini concedes at the outset, but then goes on to ruminate on his own relationship to poetry, and why the medium is essential to both life and our understanding of it.

BLASTS FROM THE PAST

A Coney Island of the Mind: 50th Anniversary Edition (New Directions, $23.95), by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The storied poet and co-founder of City Lights Books (and later publishing firm) gets his due all over again with a jazzy clothbound reissue of his seminal 1958 collection. Included is a CD containing new recordings of Ferlinghetti reading two sections from the book, and also a reading of another section originally recorded in 1957 with the Cellar Jazz Quintet.

Frank O'Hara: Selected Poems (Borzoi Poetry/Knopf, $30), edited by Mark Ford. The Massachusetts native became a driving force among the New York School artistic circle in the 1950s, with poems that oozed charm, resoluteness and confidence. This is a wide-ranging selection of his poems and includes some of his most pivotal works of prose.

LOCAL VOICES

Anna Nicole (Menendez, $14.99), by Grace Cavalieri. Yes, this verse collection's muse is just who you think (the saucy picture on the cover will dispel any doubt). Cavalieri, a veteran of the Washington area's poetry tribe, and founder of the "Poet and the Poem" program on public radio, offers this rumination on the late heiress and her oft-publicized life. As her foreword states, though, the poems herein are "unauthorized and fantasy."

The Kimnama (Vrzhu, $12), by Kim Roberts. Though this collection debuted in 2007, it's worth a mention here, by dint of the author, the editor of the online journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly, a valuable resource for local poetry fans, and the fact that it was one of the inaugural books of Vrzhu Press, a local enterprise aiming to give a voice to local talent. Those who have heard Roberts's readings at numerous poetry venues and series across the area will relish a chance to have her words right at hand.

Moon on the Meadow: Collected Poems (Gallaudet, $24.95), by Pia Taavila. The author, a professor at Gallaudet University, draws on her experience as a child of deaf parents to craft these strikingly visual poems. Her acknowledgments and introduction offer an illuminating glimpse into her childhood and artistic evolution.

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