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2013 Poetry Roundup 

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Letters & Found Poems of Edisa & Chloe

David Appelbaum

Codhill Press, 2013, $16

These poems are catenaries of bridge-like architecture. An elegant mind thinks like lovers' body language: "But I won't believe / her sugar is a trance / to do with a mouth / sweet so any manner / as can keep from lying." Superb grammar dares this austerity. SUNY New Paltz professor Appelbaum's intellectual synapses fire improbably. In "Ethanol" he begins: "Listen the glass turns silently / on special hinges / a difficult birth..." Only the French poet Valerie Rouzeau makes such long shots logical. In depth of inquiry, austerity in intellectual reach, purity of language, this inquiry into two lives is poetry after my own heart. —DM

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The Book of Hooks

Cornelius Eady

Kattywompus Press, 2013, $16

The confluence of poetry and music is a fertile delta, embracing art songs, bebop, rap, and more. Pulitzer Prize finalist and Greene County part-timer Eady has written poems about music and music-theatre pieces, but this double chapbook/CD dives deep into songwriting. Abetted by able musicians and literati with chops (Kim Addonizio, Joy Harjo, Robin Messing), the poet spins "words for singing," pinpointing such details as "Holes in your socks, and a / Secret war of wills" ("The Old Married Couple"). Like many double albums, the material is uneven, but the best tracks burrow under your skin. Don't be surprised to find "Rita Hayworth's Last Film" circling your memory. —NS




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Fugue for Other Hands

Joseph Fasano

Cider Press Review, 2013, $17.95

Rarely does a volume of poetry start with such a startle as "The Joy That Tends Toward Unbecoming": "Someone has pushed his wrists through his belt / so it seems he has been out gathering blue flowers." From this corpse bearing proceeds a poetics of the rural experience morphed to metaphysics. "In Dutchess County everybody who is dead / goes down to the river / to plead his case. / I know this," Fasano writes, and we believe him. The true glory of this book is its synergy between ordinary and extraordinary, between humble detail and momentous issue. The poems don't cloy or contrive; rather, they plumb the poet's awareness. —DM

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Under the Sign

Ann Lauterbach

Penguin Poets, 2013, $20

National Book Award nominee and Bard professor Ann Lauterbach's dicey sensibility posits poetics in far outposts. Restless prosody, impeccably attuned to intent, reflects awareness, intelligence, honed observation. The title is key; the poet quotes social theorist Brian Massumi: "The sign is the vehicle for making presently felt the potential force of the objectively absent." She rises to the challenge. Note the title poem's interplay of mundane and speculative: "Having dreamed of my dead sister / raging with urgent / need, she / conducting us through intolerable / passages, now forgotten, I / have burned my right hand...." This songful, astute mind limns the state of poetry. —DM



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Looking for Small Animals

Caitlin Grace McDonnell

Nauset Press, 2012, $12

McDonnell creates a compelling, sometimes frantic voice focused on defining the self, then "owning up." Nature clarifies nothing: "The moon has tired / of earring metaphors" and loss is ever-present: "Your insistence on living / tempers me like punctuation." Her poems often begin by displacing us ("Let's live in this illusion.... Pull over / and let your tender one lead....") and then, in short jolting lines, engage us ("Memory ... hovers at the top of the stairs / we fall down."). Imagining a shared smoke with Emily Dickinson, the poet revels in dark humor: "She'd like that—the slip of suicide / punctuating the moment." A terrific collection by a former SUNY New Paltz professor and Chronogram contributor. —LG

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A Study of Extremes in Six Suites

Irene Mitchell

Cherry Grove Collections, 2012, $18

A Study of Extremes in Six Suites invites us to rethink who we are and the nature of our world. The cover art, by Mitchell herself, offers a key to her vision: Two lovely porcelain cupids play in a leafy bower as a pale tiger, dreamy but dangerous, approaches. The image, though beautiful, is mysterious and unsettling, as are Mitchell's delicate poems. In Venice, "bathers revel / as if all our homes were not a sinking paradise." The Columbia County resident's poetic palette includes travel, art, film, love. Nature is her muse ("Beneath the sea-grape / my plot evolves") and music ("to subdue / the scorpion's beating heart") her solace. —LG



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Cadillac Men

Rebecca Schumejda

NYQ Books, 2012, $16.95

When Schumejda and her husband bought a fading Kingston pool hall in 2008, the poet learned that "more people come in to sell their stories than to buy table time." In these unsentimentally eloquent poems, players known as Mikey Meatballs, Spanish Fly, and Bobby Balls-in-Hand spin lies, bet the boots off their feet, ignore wives who "iron the wind's collared shirts, scrub the crevices / of longing with retired toothbrushes," and always, always play the game. Detailing their hardscrabble lives—and the business's eventual failure—Schumejda etches a vivid group portrait of working-class America laid low by recession. "This side of town / wears down people's words; / passersby only grunt / if their eyes meet." —NS

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3 Sections

Vijay Seshadri

Graywolf Press, 2013, $22

Vijay Seshadri is a poet of sweep and vision; his poems, peopled by reckless, flamboyant characters, clearly recognizable as ourselves, chase their "unsolved equations blowing down the cobblestones." Life, a mishmash of difficulty and brief pleasure, is spent trying to "reach the shiny object fallen through the grate." Yet insights, "graphic, tense with energy, simple yet elegant," offer "faint evanescing beauty." The poems, deftly made and often funny, allow fantasy and reality to mingle like old pals. Sarah Lawrence professor Seshadri moves easily among rhymed and unrhymed lyrics, a prose memoir sited in Alaska's salmon fisheries, and philosophical meditation in this extraordinary collection. —LG

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The Sea at Truro

Nancy Willard

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012, $26

Where in the literature is a finer homage to the poem than Nancy Willard's "Learning by Heart"? "Let the clocks keep its time. / Let the chairs speak as one, / a collective noun, poetry." Vassar professor Willard endows things to speak, or they endow her to hear; she sees as a child sees. She is a celebrant of the taken for granted, the disregarded. "When they said I would die, even my chair fainted." Reading her, we believe ancient Egyptian priests animated statues, we believe in conversing with elementals. If alter egos sang like this, life would be a song. "Oh, why did I let that boy go? / God himself loved the sight of us"—these lines from Willard's poem "Bridget's Confession" soar where many novels fail. This book is a glade of light, a glen of acumen. —DM

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A Slant of Light: Contemporary Women Authors of the Hudson Valley

Editors Laurence Carr & Jan Zlotnik Schmidt

Codhill Press, 2013, $20

Carr and Schmidt's generous anthology offers an astonishing diversity of female voices, including poets Anne Gorrick, Janet Hamill, Kate Hymes, and Gretchen Primack; novelists Carol Goodman and Laura Shaine Cunningham; and Chronogram writers Lee Gould, Lorna Tychostup, and Pauline Uchmanowicz. In these pages, women lose their virginity, obsess over burnt toast, cast spells, survive. Judith Kerman's heroine buys her own diamonds at an auction; Mala Hoffman's conflates the scent of tobacco and sex. These writings explore individual and collective identity, from Celia Bland's "savoring 'I' like / a phosphorescence" to Leslie LaChance's "here we are, all at once." Events 9/21 at 4pm, Golden Notebook, Woodstock; 10/4 at 7pm, Inquiring Minds, New Paltz; 10/6 at 3pm, Butterfield Library, Cold Spring. —NS

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  • Reviewed by Lee Gould, Djelloul Marbrook, and Nina Shengold

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