Selected and otherwise

By WILLIAM CORBETT  |  May 13, 2008

Every April National Poetry Month, the reviewer hopes the deluge of books brings a really good poet unknown to him. I had never heard of MARIANNE BORUCH, even though Grace, Fallen from (Wesleyan) follows by a few years her New & Selected Poems (Oberlin). From her new book’s first poem, “A Moment,” Boruch works an appealing double-back rhythm intensified by unexpected line breaks:

And a stranger,
another woman, she too waiting
but near the curb, looking
this way and that, attentive to traffic, hours
from dusk because we were north
near the sea.

She is also adept at poems that focus on objects, such as “Think of the Words,” with its pencil and eraser. Her poems are crisp and confident and have bite — bracing.

Not too long ago, I was complaining to a magazine editor that small-press books don’t get reviewed in magazines and newspapers. He proposed doing an omnibus review of small-press titles, which is exactly not what I had in mind. Small-press books are just like those published by the big presses — some are bad and some good. They deserve to be looked at on their own and not as part of some publishing category. LEWIS WARSH’s Inseparable: Poems 1995–2005 (Granary Books) is a book of mostly longish poems divided into numbered sections. Warsh is playing variations on the serial poem, but he is also a collagist (the cover image of jumbled cut-out alphabet letters is by him) who builds on statements that start one place and end another. These sound something like a bass line that he will suddenly break with a straight narrative — “My father shortened his name from Warshafsky. . . . ”; “Once I was a jealous husband walking down Avenue B” — that will pull you up short and concentrate your attention as the poem goes deeper than expected and, often, hits home. Warsh writes believable non sequiturs. He has a sense of humor, but he’s no ironist. It is the poems that are inseparable, one from another and section following section.

GEOFFREY YOUNG’s The Riot Act (Bootstrap Press) reads like a book that for all its disparate parts — sonnets, prose anecdotes, and occasional poems — was written in one burst. The poems are as clear as fresh March glare, a blast of vivifying air. You feel that Young will follow any impulse and make something freestanding of it. I can explain why his sonnet “Why I Don’t Write Novels” knocked me out, but Young is not the sort of poet you want to explain. He delivers the kind of pleasure that makes you pick up the book, open it to a poem, and urge your friend, “Look at this!”

Herbert Leibowitz has now edited PARNASSUS: POETRY IN REVIEW long enough to produce a Vol. 30 Nos. 1 & 2. When he began, in the 1970s, he published only reviews and essays. Along the way he added poems, drawings, and photographs. Vol. 30 is 676 pages. Leibowitz is indefatigable, and his contribution has been to edit a magazine that sits on your table till, one after another, you’ve damned well read most of its pages and then another volume arrives. Of local interest in the current issue is Tom Sleigh’s essay about Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Duncan, unlikely friends, “Moose Hunting with Robert Duncan.”

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