Pill Sized Poetry Reviews by David Starkey

David Starkey

TJ Jarrett, Zion: TJ Jarrett confronts racism with the inventiveness and historical sweep of Toni Morrison. In “My Grandmother Describes the Radiance,” Jarrett writes, “Dark Girl, // this body / has always been // more waiting room / than cage.” Surely one of the best collections of poetry published in the past year.

Ted Kooser, Splitting an Order: Reading a new book of poems by Ted Kooser is like going to see your favorite band touring with its new album. Yes, you’ll mostly be getting variations on familiar material, and chances are your favorite new songs probably sound a lot like your favorite old songs — but what songs!

Ellen Bryant Voigt, Headwaters: The lack of punctuation in Ellen Bryant Voigt’s latest collection initially seems to work against her carefully crafted poems. Ultimately, though, the poet’s voice begins to sound unencumbered, capable of remarkable insights, as in “Bear”: “the plural pronoun is a dangerous fiction the source / of so much unexpected loneliness.”

Mark Strand, Collected Poems: Most poets are best encountered in small doses, but this big book shows Strand to be that rare bird, a poet whose work reads better in its totality. Individual poems occasionally feel precious and forced, but Collected Poems is almost worthy of the praise showered upon Strand throughout his lifetime.

Jane Hirshfield, The Beauty: To call Jane Hirshfield “Billy Collins for West Coast Buddhists” is simply to acknowledge that her writing is clear and clever, and that the speaker of her poems frequently seeks enlightenment. Unlikely images, similes, and metaphors abound, and Hirshfield has that rare gift among contemporary poets: knowing when to stop.

Arthur Sze, Compass Rose: At times the poems in Compass Rose run the risk of tipping into sensory overload, they are so finely detailed. Fortunately, Arthur Sze handles his rich material with quiet elegance: “In the courtyard, we spot the rising shell of a moon, / and, at the equinox, bathe in its gleam.”

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