For those who saw beneath the veneer of our country’s prosperity, “Howl” was the response of those supposedly mad or insane, observing the interior disintegration of a society enamored of materialism, steeped in religious doctrine but becoming increasing devoid of spiritual direction, still segregated and racist and generally intolerant of sexual honesty. “Howl” helped define a generation that saw beyond America’s inflated sense of progress and supremacy.
Like the best poetry collections, Still Pilgrim coheres absolutely. It has one theme, expressed in the book’s title and the title of every poem. And it sticks firmly to one form, the sonnet. O’Donnell’s take on the form, though, is like Pope Francis’s approach to pastoral care: merciful and generous and forgiving. Meters range from trimeter to pentameter, some of them tight and sprightly, others elastic, heterometric, even sprung, Hopkins-like. Rhyme schemes are many. Rhyming is tolerant of slants and assonances.
Light and hope seems to play like a continual refrain through Maggie Walsh’s Sunset. Though these are poems that reflect the hardship and suffering that Walsh has experienced, they are never dark; never dour. Always there is an appreciation of the natural beauty, and a kind of joyousness that comes from sensation and perception in the face of racism, the grief that goes with being separated from home and family, and of feeling different.
Out from Calaboose is an ambitious work, rich with mythology, politics, ecology, and psychology. The book moves through darkness and light, trauma, loss, desire, pain, but also, and always, leaning towards freedom from these things. Once gets the sense that this freedom lies almost entirely in the power of words – the poems themselves are the keys.
It is rare when we can call a poetry book a “page turner” in the sense of a drama or mystery, but in his remarkable new work, Miriam’s Book: A Poem, Harold Schweizer accomplishes just that. The connective tissue of each chapter, organized as in a novel, propels us forward with anticipation and curiosity.
The poems in Elvis Alves’ new chapbook Ota Benga have a rhythm that is almost performative. Most of the poems have a subtle rhyme scheme that, when enriched by a modern undercurrent of political anger, comes across with a slam aesthetic. They work particularly well when spoken aloud, with the rhythms of a New York vernacular. Throughout the collection there is a common theme of enslavement versus freedom.
The editor of Metaphor Issue 5 has succeeded in assembling a group of fine poets. Poets representing a volume of diverse voices. Poems in this volume are varied. Some are philosophical, addressing social justice and others speak to our daily lives and myriad experiences. The writing is esthetically rich in content and well crafted.
Ben Berman’s Figuring in the Figure offers a window into his personal life. In reading the poems, we learn that Berman is a young father and that he is a wizard at word play, among other things. The poems are written in the terza rima form, a rhyme scheme of Italian origins and used by Dante Alighieri. This form allows Berman to showcase is proficiency as a poet.
Roberta Gould knows the minutiae of discrepancies and how we interrupt our own joy with preconceived notions, imagined grudges, misplaced assertions. In “Best Friend,” the title tells us how she feels about her dog, yet she hesitates to share a piece of her food. Finally relinquishing it and, realizing the irony of the conflict, she states, “I do it grudgingly/confusing myself with the truly hungry.” In this simple gesture she questions the meaning of generosity and our perceptions of need and greed.
You might not want to read Karina Bush’s Maiden unless you like lewd literature. She presents poetry in a frank way. This moves away from the subtleness that some have come to expect and appreciate in the art of poetry. This is not a case for the censoring of Karina’s work or works like hers. In some ways, her writing reminds us that the world is not monolithic when it comes to the subject of sex.