Nicole Cooley presents a kaleidoscopic view of intimacy and commitment in her crisp, engaging “Of Marriage” (Alice James). Using various forms, Cooley explores the complexities and constraints of being legally and emotionally bound to one person. The writing is by turns confident and questioning, as the speaker considers the promise of matrimony — lifelong contentment and security — and its realities. Unexpected line breaks and analogies convey the challenges she and her husband face as they navigate an enduring union and raise two daughters. In the poem “Marriage, a Zuihitsu,” she explains, “Under our bed is another world, branched and tunneled, where we could hide,/ where we could twine our bodies, knit our bones together, in the shimmer of/ river water, in the quiet magic space of marriage no one sees.” No matter how you view Cooley’s subject matter, in this, her seventh collection, she will make you think again.
For more than 40 years, cultural activist and award-winning poet Anne Waldman has challenged readers with her rigorous, eclectic writing and her insistence on overthrowing accepted notions about male patriarchy and female limitations. Her new collection, “Trickster Feminism” (Penguin) continues on this mission. In these pages, she calls upon multiple resources — spirits, suffragists and heroines alike — to help defeat the trickster who disempowers women through capitalism and other tools. The opening poem, “trick o’ death,” pits a woman against the trickster who wants to silence her and others. As the work unfolds, Waldman presents a complicated panorama of places and events — including resistance after the 2016 U.S. presidential election — in these accomplished, intertwined pieces. Underlying them all is an urgent message and realization: “Easy to forget who you are long days under siege./History/will decide moments, but you live them.”
“New Poets of Native Nations” (Graywolf) provides a wonderful introduction to the diverse landscape of native voices. Editor Heid E. Erdrich, an Ojibwe poet and scholar, chose 21 poets who have published books since 2000 and are creating “poetry of a new time — an era of witness, of coming into voice, an era of change and of political and cultural resurgence.” Some of the writers featured here, including Layli Long Soldier and Tommy Pico, have already earned critical acclaim for their shrewd, distinctive work that fearlessly explores their relationship to American history, the natural world and the traditions they learned from forebears who were powerless to defend their lands. As Long Soldier explains in the poem “38”: “Everything is in the language we use.” Bilingual poet Margaret Noodin also weaves compelling lines, such as these from “Sending Messages”: “I know there are different worlds/because our ancestors sent them messages . . . Are you the carved shoreline/and I the sweetwater sea/or am I the shifting wind/you cannot perceive?”
“A Memory of the Future” (Norton) by Elizabeth Spires is like a cup of tea for the weary. Here she describes life unfolding in what seems to be one long day where people step on or off an escalator moving toward change and the future. Against that backdrop enduring questions arise: Who am I? Who will I be when my memory fails or I die? What’s the relationship between the self and the psyche? Spires, who has written six other books of poems, also wonders whether words can save her — or anyone. These metaphysical concerns are grounded in refreshingly thoughtful poems as the speaker considers small moments through a spiritual, often Zen perspective. In the opening piece, “Pome,” she notes, “O I remember days . . . /Climbing the branches of a tree/ ripe and heavy with pomes./ Taking whatever I wanted./ There were always enough then./ Always enough.” Later in the work, she consciously chooses her beliefs and describes the soul as “A shirt I was born in./ I wear it. Or it wears me.”
Elizabeth Lund writes about poetry each month for The Washington Post.