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June 2012 Contemporary Poetry Reviews

Each month, this contemporary poetry review series selects between five and ten collections published since 2000 to recommend to its readership. These collections are selected from a pool of more than a thousand books of contemporary poetry.
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Each month, this contemporary poetry review series selects between five and ten collections published since 2000 to recommend to its readership. These collections are selected from a pool of more than a thousand books of contemporary poetry. Publishers interested in submitting review copies to the series should contact the author of this article. All submitted books remain eligible for inclusion in the series for a 10-year period.

1. The Multiple, Calvin Bedient (Omnidawn Publishing, 2012). These stunning poems succeed not merely at the level of the poem or stanza or line but indeed the word -- Bedient leaps and pivots and lunges so kinetically the reader can only marvel at his dexterity. Rarely do nouns so completely surprise, organic energy so induce a continual shiver, tautness of phrase so gleefully marry eccentricity of sentiment. Bedient's world is comprised of a constellation of wonders inaccessible by any other means. [Excerpt: "Evening in the Company of Undecided Birds"].

2. Madame X, Darcie Dennigan (Canarium Books, 2012). It is fitting that Dennigan alludes early on to the Eleatic philosophical tradition (cf. Zeno), because these searing and seerlike poems herald just the sort of Apocalypse envisioned by the Monists: The great, terrifying Singularity into which all must invisibly collapse when we cannot or do not see time and its subjects as motion-enabled. Madame X is a Beckettesque epic inasmuch as it reads like the eloquent death-rattle of humankind. The ghosts of lost civilizations hover throughout, reminding us that without the cultural capacity for earnest epiphany and propulsive self-transformation we must, necessarily, be next. These are poems of the future briefly and beautifully manifest, in all their eerie horror, in the present. A mesmerizing and elliptical (in all senses of the word) must-read. [Excerpt: "The War"].

3. Victory, Ben Kopel (H_NGM_N Books, 2012). Of late, the postconfessionalist poem has gone supernova: In evidence, more and more, is the uncanniness of Apollinaire, the psychic expansion of Whitman, the reverence of Hopkins, the absurdities of Padgett, and more generally the mark, everywhere, of the contemporary -- which is to say, postmodern -- context in which all this suffering (and partial triumphs over same) strut the stage. Victory hails from this tradition-of-recent-vintage, and finds its home in a collective oeuvre that also includes other work produced along the I-80/I-90 Iowa City-to-Amherst corridor (with detours at various loci in Ohio and New York), such as that from Adam Fell, Emily Pettit, Mark Leidner, Laurie Saurborn Young, Nate Pritts, and Matt Hart. These poems move at the speed of thought, which can make their confessions seem salutory rather than enervating, their disjunctions as evasive as pixie dust rather than heartrendingly ogreish, their sentimental gestures hit-and-miss (and often intentionally so). The positioning is half the bright "So what. // So long." (from "Duende-Tripper") and half the rueful "[M]y life can save no song" (the very next line of the same poem). If we can only take so much of this, well, that's true of any aesthetic enterprise, and what's equally clear is that we must not have less of it. Kopel's Victory is another defining moment in the lifespan of American poetry, a moment in which our youngest and most promising poets see peeking through the gloom-and-doom of the poet's lot the possibility, too, of generative half-boheminan, half-institutional communities and the sort of cross-fertilization only possible in such close-but-frenetic quarters. Kopel is a leading figure in the coming-up generation of poets who believe in a poetry that is fun, performative, New York School-allusive (catch the sly Wilco references here), and vigorously alive -- which is far more than can be said of the implicit and sometimes explicit self-unmythologizing of those older generations whose prominent characters either never sought out, never found, never made joyously functional, or never successfully maintained such exacting bonds with their peers. [Excerpt: "Duende-Tripper"; "Ciao Mien, Morning Star"].

4. from Unincorporated Territory [saina], Craig Santos Perez (Omnidawn Publishing, 2010). This book, the second in a series of books subtitled "from Unincorporated Territory," requires -- more properly, demands -- careful study and consideration from both poetry-readers and historians alike, as it constitutes an ambitious act of historical recovery that challenges even as it educates. Perez's exhilarating investigation and elucidation of the Chamorro experience is necessarily fraught with complications: Some stories cannot be told in the ample linear narratives to which so many of us feel inclined when confronted with unfamiliar data, because the archives that normally produce such triumphant clarity have (as in this instance) been ravaged by time, interpretive drift, and violent colonialism. Perez is courageously seeking illumination and authority in the very act of inquiry, the unblinking cataloging of a national and international story as vast and studded with honor, mystery, horror, and splendor as the oceanic landscapes upon which it unfolds. Not only Guam's but Perez's own particular familial inheritances feature prominently here, and what results is an epic as affecting as it is instructive. [Excerpt: "ginen organic acts"].

5. Mother Was a Tragic Girl, Sandra Simonds (Cleveland State University Press, 2012). This glorious hodge-podge of dictions, idioms, and tonalities is liberally sprinkled with the sort of irreverence and antic but ingenious wit that makes being alive in contemporary America worthwhile. Global in both its hybridic formal gestures and its catholic obsessions, Mother Was a Tragic Girl performs the twenty-first century more acutely than an Internet browser or three-in-one remote, which is to say it is equal parts intimate cri de coeur and essential catalog of chaotic modernity. The poems buzz from one associative language-event to the next in a series of irreplicable creations that is never less than intoxicating and could only have come from the pen of this poet. The work is by turns funny, familial (that is to say, conspiratorial), indelicate, and -- is there any other way to say it than idiomatically? -- super-charged. Indeed, this may be the hardest-driving poetry collection of the last five years. [Excerpt: "Lines Written on Nursery Wall"].

6. Multiverse, Mike Smith (BlazeVOX Books, 2010). In the Age of Oulipo, we are conditioned to expect, now and again, a poem or series of poems extruded from some more or less obscure formal constraint; few, however, engage the process as convincingly as Smith, whose anagrammatic poetics is a jacked-up fridge-magnet enterprise in which every poem (at least in the first half of this delightful book, a medieval-style bestiary) must carry the exact same roster of letters. The results are so organic as to be alarming -- a testament to the wit and wisdom of this poet. [Excerpt: "From the Desk of William Carlos Williams: Notes Toward a Speech in Three Parts" (an anagram of Williams' "Spring and All" and "This Is Just to Say"); and "7 False Starts on Living in the Old Neighborhood" (an anagram of Auden's "The Unknown Citizen")].

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Seth Abramson is the author of two collections of poetry, Northerners (Western Michigan University Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Green Rose Prize from New Issues Poetry & Prose, and The Suburban Ecstasies (Ghost Road Press, 2009). Presently a doctoral candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has published recent work in Washington Square, The Southern Review, Minnesota Review, Bat City Review, Yalobusha Review, the website of the Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere.

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