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Poetry Roundup

Jorie Graham, Sea Change

(Ecco, 2008)

Time is currency and Jorie Graham spends her poems surfing the cresting curl of the present. A persistent monologue probes the pleats of passing seconds and the “trellis of minutes.” She listens to “Air moving inside air.” She strains the moments looking for a trail of the self. “Slowness happens.” “History.” We are called on to “make it make sense.”

Phrases rise and are subsumed by surges opening into “the path of least resistance.” Fluidity pours these poems down the page. The long sentences are broken visually by a second margin half way across the page. This adds a slight delaying effect that helps us savor each bit of the thoughts as they unspool “pools of light.”

True to Graham’s trademark subject, these poems are inscriptions of transience. “Day Off” follows the “positive feedback loops” of the mind as the light changes.  It is good to be patient, the poet iterates, to enhance the ability to apprehend evanescent evening as it comes out, “abundant, blinking, as if catching sight of us.” Even the grass pushes up emphatically. “Something is being repaired.”

Stillness is listened to and then filled with a quest for justice, reason, and meaning in “Undated Lullaby.” The voices of a busy life asking questions are threaded with wind, moon, and stars. The seams disappear even as they advance “telling the truth.”

Michael Cirelli, Lobster with Ol’ Dirty Bastard

(Hanging Loose, 2008)

The street talk express is now arriving—this is an honest and clinching portrayal of the hip (hop) and the grave. Michael Cirelli begins by penning the ups and downs of a boy whose father is a gangster. Mysterious night-runs around the “Ocean State” are troubling.  Missed visitations are bought off with new Jordans. Vernacular is flaked like flint into points.

Cirelli mines his upbringing with an ear for slang and an eye for details. Chadwick Projects, Linden Boulevard, and Manton Avenue are punctuated with Lincolns, Chevys, and Beemers. The novelesque framework is laced with scores of metaphors. Always fresh, at their best they are startling. In “Ride or Die,” the father yanks the kid “like a carrot outta bed.” They were driving so fast the “scenery outside looked stretched / as the sky drained the dark from all of its pores.”

Absence is the subject of “Giving Me the Ghostface.” Mom calls dad “deadbeat” and “dopehead” but the boy remembers fondly that he “Never shot me the stink eye, even on / report card day.”

The “da huh da huh” world of DJs, mics, and beats pounds throughout the book. The best rap is lionized and re-channeled. Cirelli shows us Zev Love X at his brother’s funeral, Phife Dawg awaiting a kidney, and Talib Kweli expelled from Brooklyn Tech. There’s some precious righteousness here. “Represent, represent.”

Molly Peacock, The Second Blush

(W.W. Norton, 2008)

Begin again. Be true. Hold on and hold dear. That’s what The Second Blush is about. Molly Peacock dedicates this one to her husband. The two teenage sweethearts were swept apart by circumstances only to rejoin in midlife.

Based on the domestic, the poems also glisten with mythic traces. Rain bejewels a leaf. Broken dishes, housecats and painted toes share the pages with a masturbating gargoyle and the “throne of fear.”

Peacock’s metaphysical deliberations commence with a precise thought. Objects like a good luck charm or events like an argument on Pearse Street in Dublin serve as triggers. Some poems are modern sonnets with rhyming or slant rhyming couplets at the end. The metaphors are crisply succinct. In “Old Friends” cursive writing is a “pleasure…/a measure of lines made by our lives...”

Peacock is not all over the place. Some poems begin where others leave off. She draws down on nature and our actions and examines things in a way that offers lyric insight—“Of wraith wisdom this: self love.”

By focusing on a “Little Scar,” Peacock enters the realm of timeless loss. She dares to follow her feelings as the words lead to a renewed “place we reenter as we change.” Triumph prevails as disappointment is followed by “another goal…/A second bud” that “unseen inches through the stem of each day.”


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2008

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