Poetry Roundup 2015 | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Outstanding new books by Hudson Valley poets, reviewed by Lee Gould, Marx Dorrity, Nina Shengold, and Pauline Uchmanowicz.


Karina Borowicz

Codhill Press, 2014, $16

Lyrically precise and spare, Karina Borowicz's poems resonate across time and distance. Her riveting second collection, winner of the 2013 Codhill Poetry Award, opens with the "howls and yips" of unseen coyotes ("The Invisible"), vaults to "Planet Kepler 22B," and returns to Earth where an empathetic painter "drives the horsehair brush / filled with ink / over the blinding tundra of paper" ("Brush and Ink Herd of Horses"). Another brush-wielding persona confesses, "I can't help it my paintbrush / has claws and its fur keeps growing"; other poems contemplate "the dusk-colored breath" of lavender or "Iggy Pop on the Dinah Shore Show." This is a poetry of noticing, bristling with phrases "startling as a second moon." —NS


Lucia Cherciu

Main Street Rag, 2015, $14

Sifting through soils and seeds of histories both personal and collective, SUNY Dutchess professor Lucia Cherciu's new book of poems, Edible Flowers, has roots in Soviet-era Romania, where villagers palpate hybrid plums and barter saplings with an acuity that might have impressed Gregor Mendel. Pastoral rhythms are uniquely globalized in terrain darkened by the privations of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime: "Exuberance when everything else is counted, / rationed, geraniums in the mountains...." With a black-clad widow chopping wood or a wedding scarf embroidered for a son who did not marry, Cherciu locates a resonant zone between proverb and vignette. —MD


Nick Flynn

Graywolf Press, 2015, $16

The gravel in Nick Flynn's voice betrays a methodical way of knowing. His pieced-together, emotion-laced fragments have a tendency to light up phosphorescent and can seem as necessary as proteins in a living body. In his new book, My Feelings, Flynn's homeless, alcoholic father (introduced in his celebrated memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) shows up in "The Day Lou Reed Died": "...I / knew him better than I knew my own / father, which means / through these songs, which means / not at all. They died on the same day..." From the sometime Tivoli resident's "AK-47": "a phone rings in a labyrinth [this is a metaphor for the past]." —MD


Alice Fulton

W. W. Norton & Co, 2015, $25.95

Trademark verbal jujitsu and inventive variations on form bump against "inmates of this late-stage civilization" ("You Own It") in Troy native Alice Fulton's deftly crafted collection. A gyroscope likened to "some android ballerina" abbreviates the evolution of human consciousness ("The Next Big Thing"). Medical neologisms and wordplay indict universal anguish in "Claustophilia" and "After the Angelectomy," while a repeating line in a modified villanelle warns: "only night is watching the night nurse." Further challenging complacency, a festivalgoer imagines former detainees weeping at the sight of children bobbing for apples. Fulton admonishes, "while you're alive there's no time / for minor amazements" ("Wow Moment"). —PU


Leslie Gerber

Post Traumatic Press, 2014, $8

Goat Hill Poet and Woodstock Times music columnist Leslie Gerber published this debut collection at 70, and seems to have spent those decades learning to shuck inessentials. His poems are unfussy, reverberant, full of life as it's lived every day, "dog leash in one hand/ memory in the other." Gerber's ear is attuned to loss ("Don't I try? But things insist / on falling apart, things like / carelessly guided trucks. / Wives' damaged brains. My serenity") yet equally fluent in humor: his chapbook's title poem gleefully needles the pantheon, from "Robert Frost so gripped by rhyme / he had to use it all the time" to Walt Whitman, "as neat as a laundress." —NS


Anne Gorrick

BlazeVox Books, 2015, $28

Poetry and art: their "labored exactitudes" are so intimately and appealingly integrated in West Park poet-artist Anne Gorrick's extraordinary fourth collection that they become lovers, their relationship apt (and funny). "He wants to dismantle her fixity...she wanders in his filtering systems....their wedding / a / transfer drawing." Originally conceived as drawings (31 richly colored abstracts are included), these poems focus on process and found language, "words caught in nets." In "Chromatic Sweep: Love Letters to R&F Oilsticks and Encaustics," Gorrick works her text down the page, repeating, varying, branching off as though she is painting word onto page: "Yellow wins / Elbowthin green, soft in heat, green atrophies / It is soft, it is soft, yellowgreen." —LG


James Lasdun

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015, $26

Linguistic incisiveness "snug as a whetted dagger in its sheath" ("Vanishing Point") meets moral philosophy in James Lasdun's retrospective, its bluestone-studded landscapes constantly surprising with detail and directness. In "American Mountain," a former Londoner, conceding the massacre of Esopus Algonquins, settles among Woodstock's replacement locals—"choristers, fiddlers, jugglers." Though the town's quaint and opposed to sprawl, a child dining alongside Buddhists while the Rainbow Family drums in Magic Meadow still questions whether America is good or bad. Chainsaws enshrined, the "Museum of the American Present" looms where "a blossoming red maple / stood waving on its own shadow" ("Returning the Gift"). —PU


new poems

Djelloul Marbrook

Leaky Boot Press, 2015, $14.99

With bittersweet lyricism and angled self-observations, Germantown resident Djelloul Marbrook's third poetry collection Brash Ice sends reports from somewhere beyond the turbulent waters of ambition and fortune. From "burning paper ships": "these paper ships i light / hold eventualities. / i have no use for them." Whether the gesture be explanatory, absurd or erotic, age and experience may proffer golden apples: "so much that i know how to do / & am no longer persuaded not to do / & so much pretending / i no longer have to do." —MD


Jo Pitkin

Salmon Poetry, 2014, $22

Quartered like the heart, each chamber announced by a prose poem, Jo Pitkin's newest release meditates on family lifeblood, pumping with nostalgia for upstate locales, weathering along the Hudson River line ("Almost Home"). Skilled at persona, Pitkin contrasts a mother's love that spreads like food and tableware beyond "a distant outcrop of houses" ("Sunday Dinner") with a failed dairy farmer's suicide, kin unburdened "with the precision of a milking machine" ("Yellow Cow"). Carried "over the celery swamp trail" in "Written by a Shut Cabin," the narrator surely glimpses Slabsides, John Burroughs's retreat, replete with "kettle," "tin plate," and "drained cup." —PU


Maxine Silverman

Dos Madres, 2014, $17

Nyack poet Maxine Silverman is also a collage artist, befitting this richly textured collection. "Back at the Buena Vista" obsessively reshuffles images of lush gardens, a shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, painful realignments of leg and spine, and swimming. Form mirrors content: unpunctuated parallel lines mimic lap-swimming lanes, the gap in "what holds us if not our scars" is itself a scar. "Body Braille" centers on Helen, the black woman who "ironed, sang and ironed" for Silverman's family, while "Palimpsest" exhumes layers of loss. In "Palimpsest: Fez," the sole signs of a once-thriving Jewish community are "doorposts / faint traces where mezuzoth had been nailed, / their absence all that remains." —NS


Barbara Louise Ungar

The Word Works, 2015, $17

Twisting along a moebius path with a serpent's ease, fusing chthonic with celestial, Barbara Louise Ungar's new book, Immortal Medusa, calls to mind the rare teacher who can let loose a subversive joke with no loss of gravitas: In "Kabbalah Barbie," a plastic doll is bent on rabbinic inquiry: "I was created / in your image, as you are HaShem's." The rotting flesh of a an elegiacized porcupine is "like 10,000 Kotex / left damp in a campground bathroom." Upon its burial, the quilled neighbor is a "a Taoist, not releasing a single needle / unless attacked." —MD


Daniel Wolff

Four Way Books, 2015, $15.95

This intimate four-season field guide by birdwatcher and Rockland County Literary Artist of 2013 Daniel Wolff fact-checks avian phenomena against human emotion, unifying observation and experience. A wailing bird prompts the inquiry: "How would I know if / it were telling the truth? I'm not" ("Herring Gull"). Birdsong resonates in poetic effects: "What matters to the black chatter / of chimney swifts / as they cut patterns across last light" ("Chimney Swift"). Seldom exceeding a page, airy offerings suggest fleeting glimpses through binoculars, mirroring the description of a snow egret, "as white and brief as a dream." "Migration patterns," "definitions," "correlations," and frequent interrogatives project an ornithologist's examining eye, witnessing beauty festering amid mortality. —PU

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