Inheriting the War: Poetry and Prose by Descendants of Vietnam Veterans and Refugees (W.W. Norton) gives voice to many still suffering from the legacy of the conflict in Vietnam . As Yusef Komunyakaa, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Vietnam veteran, writes in the foreword: "Whatever one witnessed in battle became a silence carried within. Soldiers are always dreaming themselves into the future as a way of getting beyond this, or moving forward." For many of their descendants, the future meant years of searching, literally or figuratively, for a parent. Gardner McFall, the daughter of a Navy pilot, beautifully captures this longing in her poem "Missing": "I imagined he had ditched/ the plane and was living on a distant/ island, plotting his way back/ with a faithful guide; or, if/ he didn't have a guide, he was sending/ up a flare in sight of an approaching ship." Others searched for a lost homeland, language or family history. Prose pieces by some of our most important poets — including Nick Flynn, Ada Limón, and Terrance Hayes — show how, as Hayes notes, those who were left behind "have to make everything up." Together, these vital works create a powerful mosaic that urges empathy and remembrance and may encourage, as the book's editor Laren McClung notes in her introduction, "the first step toward healing."
Poet in Spain (Knopf) is the first new volume since 1991 of translations of the work of Federico García Lorca, one of most important Spanish poets of the 20th century. In this bilingual edition, award-winning poet Sarah Arvio gives readers her version of Lorca, who was executed by nationalists when he was 38, by focusing on his "moonlit earthbound Spanish poems about love and death" and others that capture a Spanish voice and landscape. The book includes many chiseled lyrics, selections from "Poem of the Cante Jondo" — a sequence about the Andalusian music known as flamenco — and Lorca's famous Gypsy Ballads and Dark Love Sonnets. The complex play "Blood Wedding" is here as well, along with a detailed introduction and notes about the poems. Those who are new to Lorca's work may benefit most from this collection, which highlights his dexterity with imagery and color, as in these lines from the poem "Woodcutter," where the speaker recalls hunting bright stars "And when the hills fell asleep/ I came back/ with all the stars/ on my back."
Earthling (W.W. Norton) by James Longenbach opens with several delightful poems that combine plain-spoken language and imaginative vistas as the speaker begins to explore what it means to live on Earth at this time. Whether the subject is a suitcase or a crocodile reflecting on why it likes silence, the writing always captures both a ground-level perspective and a more aerial view. Here Longenbach, who has published four other books of poems and six collections of criticism, reflects on mortality and the lack of control we have over the forces — good and bad — that impact our lives. One of the things the speaker does know, as his heart and intellect remind him, is that "Things seem bad when really/ They're at variance with other things./ With things we may not see/ They're in accord." Literary references and allegorical narratives add to the surprises in this book, which shifts perceptively in each section yet ultimately reminds readers that "when you love one thing deeply, a/ person, a place/ Ultimately you love them all."
Elizabeth Lund writes about poetry every month for The Washington Post.