Poetry's true subject remains words themselves and their delights and vagaries, which is why I want to mention, before considering the books of poems at hand, a nonfiction book with a title that opens a poetic door into what we'd classify as creative nonfiction -- a book that is true and not true. And imperturbably biased, which makes it funny. The title is irresistible -- The Accidental Adult. The book's subtitle is "Essays and Advice for the Reluctantly Responsible and Marginally Mature" and the author is Colin Sokolowski (from my hometown, St. Paul, Minnesota.) The book is well-written, and ironically demonstrates the confusion admitted to in the title by not including women in its running anecdotes about failed maturity. Only men figure here -- in particular only men from a regional, emphatically heterosexual land of "guys." The word "adult" was not gender-specific the last time I checked, and, despite Sokolowski's "universal" list of "adult skills," there are whole areas of the country where being an adult does not entail knowing how to load and discharge a shotgun (and where this knowledge might be a reason to think one less of an adult, more an object of deeply wary regard.) But this is a Midwesterner's book of real life and though it doesn't stray far from the familiar Dude Outlook -- beer and rock trivia bromides -- it's still true that the title opens a door in the mind. We are all Accidental Adults, no? This is a persuasive concept and calls the unquestioned conventions of "Intentional Adults" into question. I had the idea once that each of us should have access to a Responsible Adult, hired to appear in our stead(s) -- someone to "show up" and be reasonable, punctual, judicious and civic-minded on our behalf -- while "we" stayed in bed and ate Oreos, read Salinger and proffered the opinions of an unemployed social critic. And here is a book devoted to a similar Ferris Bueller-ish credo and cause, replete with the de rigeur "interior monologues" that reveal the ambivalence just under the surface of our mature-seeming organized lives. So I read the book ironically: Sokolowski cops to the limitations of who he is and shares as openly as he can with the other kids in life's classroom.
And now to Poetry, where childhood is the home address. Poets never grow up, of course -- but that's another column. In the following discussion of six new books of poems, I must come clean about a few -- I have written blurbs for more than one and two of the authors were my students. So: here are brief extended endorsements rather than full-length reviews.
These books are all provocative and beautifully crafted and, in my opinion, worth reading again and again. The themes of loneliness and memory are paramount in all -- in Howard Altmann's startling In This House from Turtle Point Press, the two are inextricably wed. "When all that consoled consoles no longer/loneliness finds a room inside the one it knows." Loneliness is a shelter but also an escape from the familiar -- and, in the famous Dickinson example, the result of the soul selecting its own society, then "shutting the door." These poems seem hermetic, mysterious, but also open, intriguing, welcoming.
The God of Loneliness is the title of a new collection of selected poems by Philip Schultz, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. His poems create a persona which is Whitmanesque, great in spirit, alive with chutzpah, talky, darkly funny. Here's a typical amazement: "Sometimes, late at night/we, my happiness and I, reminisce/lifelong antagonists/enjoying each other's company." There are five of this poet's books represented here -- and they provide a history of an utterly engaging original American voice.
Amy Newlove Schroeder's The Sleep Hotel (winner of the Field Prize, Oberlin) is a first book by a poet who has already mastered a style which is gorgeous and intrepid. A few lines: "I don't love you back,/but I flower under your hand, green as limes." "It's easy to think like Augustine:/ "I understood and then I believed"/I want the opposite." To read these astonishing poems is to understand how poetry is made anew in the fierce crucible of the imagination.
Becca Klaver's L.A. Liminal (Kore Press) is another first book that illuminates -- "a star show: hip, lit, and hallowed." Read these poems for new insight into Los Angeles, our spectacularly illusory city -- by a young poet with incorrigible energy and brilliance.
Finally, Deborah Bogen's Let Me Open You A Swan -- her second book --"nourishes the reader" yet creates a sense of boldness and audacity -- something "sacred" is sacrificed here, under the constellation Cygnus, or Swan, once called the Northern Cross. Here is a distinctive poetic line, an insistent Anglo-Saxon elegance -- another "study" in loneliness and insistent memory.