poetry

Eye Level by Jenny Xie

Jenny Xie’s Eye Level has a narrative string that weaves around each poem. Delivering a keen observation or grand truth, her language is florid and beautiful, plucked carefully and crafted with a gentle hand. There’s a delicate balance between ancient wisdom and modern commonplace that binds ceaselessly together. Intensely introspective and refined, Eye Level examines our world through both a critical and appreciative lens, nestling itself into consciousness even after the completion of the book. –Meghan Dairaghi

Cosmos A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan Ann Druyan Steven Soter and Me by Connie Mae Oliver

Connie Mae Oliver’s book of anti-war poems, Cosmos A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan Ann Druyan Steven Soter and Me (The Operating System, 2017), contains lyric silences that are, in Louise Glück’s phrase, “dense with argument,” though Oliver’s real touchstones are Susan Howe and Claudia Rankine. The poet’s first collection moves among sequences and vantage points, cycles of self-erasures, poems of repeated lines, and cosmic lists. Astronomy pioneer Johannes Kepler makes multiple appearances as a simultaneously ethereal and earthly man with “only two friends: his cigarettes and the sun.” Haunting just under the book’s slanted vantage and shifting locus is the uncertainty principle: how we can never measure particles, or particulars, in terms of both position and momentum at the same time. This collection embraces the necessary management of both the flawed position we are in, and the direction we are going. —Ryan Smith

A Hunger by Lucie Brock-Broido

A Hunger (Knopf, 1988), the first collection by Lucie Brock-Broido, who passed away March 6, begins with a promise of resurrection and ends with the image of “the one light left on the small far hill / where someone must be living still”—with the conviction that life will go on. We never know the difference between resurrection and continuity or how much we want either, which was always the secret premise of Brock-Broido, in all the elusive speediness of her lyricism. “In thrice ten thousand seasons, I will come back to this world / In a white cotton dress” was—is—the book’s first declaration and whether this means we will be redeemed or haunted is undecided. A Hunger’s last affirmation is that “After life there must be life.” In the outpouring of love and mourning for Brock-Broido, who was one of her generation’s best poets as well as a teacher to scores of the current generation, the affirmation goes on haunting.—Ryan Smith

Cinema of the Present by Lisa Robertson

A book-length lyric by the Canadian poet, Cinema of the Present (Coach House Books, 2014) follows a flaneur-ish “you” through the record of experience. The tone is alternately deadpan, searching, investigatory, and overwhelmed, as though Emily Dickinson were the detective in the adaptation of a Pynchon novel and paranoid about the lurking metaphors. Individual lines are both the characters in the eponymous film and the motifs in the score, and they enter and exit and return and leave again, occupying on- and off-screen space. You exercise the pleasure of refusal. I’m entirely for your fucked up way of living. You abandon it here. It’s a poem as a full-body tattoo—and like a tattoo, delightedly, defiantly immanent. —Ryan Smith

The Orchard by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

One of our greatest poets, Brigit Pegeen Kelly died last year, which as death often does, sent me back to the writer’s work. Though all her books are gems, The Orchard (American Poets Continuum, 2004), for me, stands supreme for the delicate dance it performs on the high wire between the conscious and the unconscious mind, its language and imagery opening, always opening for us that dark “river of blood” that leads deep into the beauty and terror of being alive. “I saw the dog in a dream,” she says in the title poem, and the dog becomes a horse, then a dog again, then a man, and ultimately the dreamer herself, reminding us, as she says in yet another poem, “words can even destroy in their saying the very things for which they stand.” —Peter Grandbois