Don’t miss Ted Kooser’s Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon), a poignant collection that spans nearly five decades. The work, featuring more than 50 pages of new writing and generous selections from 11 previous books, including “Delights & Shadows,” which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, is remarkably consistent and clear. Kooser, who served two terms as U.S. poet laureate, draws on small dramas and the vast Midwestern landscape to create emotionally resonant writing. He notices subtle details — a change in the weather, a long-married couple who no longer make eye contact, solar-powered stars in a churchyard — and masterfully uses description and metaphor as he writes about the people and creatures around him. In one new poem, he senses his dead parents leaving a room before he enters; in another he recalls a paint truck “spraying a perfect line, along the edge of the road, so white/ that it glowed as if lit from within.” As Kooser records everyday pleasures and griefs, he remembers those he will never see again and underscores the deep need we all have for connection, moments of respite and the abiding sense that our ordinary moments matter.
Movies provide a narrative lens and a backdrop throughout Donna Masini’s 4:30 Movie (Norton). Slipping into a theater provides the speaker respite from her sister’s terminal cancer diagnosis. But the relief is only momentary. The speaker’s mind, pushing back against impending loss, becomes a constant screen, replaying certain moments and movies, such as Steve McQueen’s “The Blob,” experimenting with various camera angles, and creating and deleting scenes. In one such scene, the speaker comes again “with my abra/ cadabra, my gang of language, to beg/ harangue” and tells God to “Leave me elbow-deep in/ your whole grab-bag/ of disaster. But bring/ her back.” He doesn’t. Instead, Masini and readers are left with these urgent, varied poems, which can be playful, surprising and sad by turns, or meditative, as in eight “Water Lilies” pieces where “the weariest/ come to rest.”
Diane Seuss’s Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf) is the much-anticipated follow-up to “Four-Legged Girl,” a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer. The title poem refers to the Rembrandt painting in which a girl gazes wistfully at two exquisite peacocks that have been killed to provide delicate meat for the well-to-do. Throughout this rich collection, the speaker uses art to show how women and the lower class have been portrayed and framed, so to speak, by social norms and expectations. She challenges long-held ideas about worth, privilege and beauty, and creates an alternative landscape through self-portraits and gothic still lifes. In “Self-Portrait With Levitation,” for example, the speaker notes that “embodiment has never been my strong suit./ All right, I flew when I was five. Levitated, I guess.” The poems, ranging from darkly challenging to direct and moving, require readers to levitate above their own assumptions and embrace a world that is, in many ways, “a paradise of vagaries.”
Elizabeth Lund writes about poetry every month for The Washington Post.