Letters in Language is a powerful collection: vibrant, sexy, sad, and very smart. The poems are dense, but also full of play, open space for reader interpretation, and steeped in cultural and literary references. As with all memoir, it is the exploration of a life, but is also an exploration of poetry, the way in which language itself creates reality and history, and very nature of the literary form.
In many of these poems, what begins as a hyper-local calamity–in an alley, a travel lodge, a club–transmogrifies in Mr. Merrill’s hands into sentences where what comes next is determined to flush the subject straight out of its just-tamped-down bed in the tall grass. The reader is shocked into vigilance, which gradually becomes a kind of acute reciprocity, an attention that is not easily achieved in our daily lives.
Denise Duhamel can be serious and playful in the very same sentence, solemn and satiric in a single stanza. At the heart of this marvelous new collection is the thirty-five page mock epic, “Terza Irma,” a poem written in terza rima – an arrangement of succeeding tercets that rhyme aba bcb cdc ded, etc. Notably, it’s the rhyme scheme Dante uses in The Divine Comedy, which is appropriate because Duhamel describes a sort of Inferno of her own, her experience of the 2017 hurricane that devasted Florida. She is by turns serious and comic.
Foxline is an exquisite, bold work of poetry, with each poem taking on multiple meanings and holding back just the right amount at the point of denouement to allow space for the reader to pause, think, and engage. Mansell’s writing is masterly in its restraint, and beautifully written throughout. Though Flying Island’s Pocket Poetry series uses a tagline of “minor works,” Foxline is anything but.
Perhaps what is most heartrending is the poem is cast in the present simple conditional mood until the last sentence throws it into the past, which cannot be changed. The speaker’s helplessness before the pain of the PTSD of her ex-husband is compounded and yet inevitably accepted by that painful turn. In the collection, the various symbols from here on begin reversing and resolving.
From the first poem, in this compelling book, the reader will experience a variety of emotions as well as thoughts questioning the ethics of the experiment. In narrative poetry form, with creative talent and imagination, the author recount events in in the life of Lucy. His words flow with musicality and stories are fascinating.
Mourning vies with exultation at every crisp turn of phrase and every crunchy, unexpected line break. Some of that mourning is for the earth, for its creatures, for human folly and ignorance, for the apprehended apocalyptic end of days. Mourning is sometimes captured in references to popular music hits — Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash always blaring out of cars of boys, and fathers who don’t know what to do with, without or about the boys — and sometimes in the symphony of stars, skies, space and otherworldliness.
In HellWard we find powerful, often disturbing language, simultaneously raw and refined, beautiful and at times jolting in its honesty. What struck me particularly throughout the book is the way Sale uses mono-syllabic words to powerful effect: death, hell, pain, depth, weak, guts, ache, dark, gunk, blight, flesh, tears, stench, dread, blood, hiss, oozed,“clots of gore” (a wonderful image), cries, groans, filth, swill, “smelt the blood” (another wonderful image), skull, skin, bone, ice, heat, hot, bare, raw, mess, froth, “dark webs,” “hard knots”, guilt, “black holes,” blotch, stank, bleak, slop, “greed and pride and lust,” and “sick slime.”
As both a poet and a trained classical singer, Rodriguez is more consciously aware of the musicality of poetry than most, and it is not surprising that other poems in this collection such as ‘The Piano,’ and ‘Oh, When I Hear,’ also take music as a subject. Most are of course not directly about music, per se, though all display the melodious qualities of regular meter and perfect rhyme.
Svoboda’s verse is playful, a true delight. As Alan Michael Parker writes in his Introduction in the style of an Introduction, “…give us voices, and their own inner voices, the ways we have made gender our playmates, and how we make our bodies the play. Then stand close, and watch the players play.