Tag Archives: Poetry

“Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries” by Ander Monson



Monson’s latest book collects notes that the poet and author wrote in response not only to texts—ranging from novels to his wife’s reading log to an in-flight safety card—but to other readers’ annotations of them as well. (These notes, which the author first inserted directly into their texts, aren’t meant to be read in any particular order but are arranged alphabetically here.) The concept is promising, but Monson merely restates obvious facts of reading while luxuriating in his own quirkiness: “The margin note is a spark of snark, the reader irritated enough to inscribe the space, glyphs of the age of type, the type of age we’re in when a student asks me what font was the Declaration of Independence written in.” Yes, we know, annotations can tenuously connect us with our fellow readers. Yes, we know, books can bring us into other worlds. Yes, we know, books are magical. Can you please move along and say something—which is, after all, the act that gives books their magic? Monson, apparently, cannot. Some crisp one-liners are strewn throughout (“I hope you live in silence by choice and not default.”), but do little to alleviate this book’s merciless banality.

–Available February 17th from Graywolf Press. 160 pages. $22.00


A Poetical Moderate Leads a Tour of His Contemporaries



Even among avid readers, poetry is often inaccessible. At times it’s a country club, hiding its luxuries behind stanzas we can read but not comprehend; at others, a coffee shop that’s unrelentingly quirky but serves bad coffee.

In Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays, Tony Hoagland—an established poet and author of a previous essay collection—acknowledges that there’s a bit of truth to those perceptions. But if we stick around, he’ll explain the mechanics of poetry, examine skillful and less skillful uses of poetic devices, and introduce us to some of his favorite poets (he defends one, Sharon Olds, from “puritan” critics). He’s neither a traditionalist nor a revolutionary, accepting modern trends in poetry while noting their limitations.

In an essay on the use of disassociation in poetry, he praises its more substantive uses, those which “[give] us a chance not just to be bewildered but to respond,” while criticizing those that don’t quite say anything:

[N]o discourse does accumulate, because in this universe, each moment, each insight, each breath, each memory is transient, anonymous, and oblique; each insight reiterates its instability. The reader waits in vain for something besides the speaker’s disconcertedness to manifest—more “plot” of some kind….Can we praise a book for its intriguing concept, and method, or even its brilliant individual lines, if the method creates monotony?

Throughout, Hoagland reminds us that concepts are not enough. Poems need shape and substance, and, if not certainty, conviction. Poets in the postmodern era aren’t required to be as certain as their predecessors—not when people are questioning everything, including the ability of language to represent whatever this is—but should still say something more than “look at this meaninglessness.”

Hoagland’s stately, affable prose occasionally leaps into joyous poetic flourishes: “pretentious ponderous ponderosa of professional professors will always be drawn to those poems that require a priest.”

Despite Hoagland’s best efforts, it’s hard to imagine poetry being “restored to its position in culture, one of relevance and utility.” But in his appreciation for content as well as concept, and his treatment of poetry as craft rather than magic, he makes poetry accessible to those of us who’d otherwise be, quite literally, prosaic.

–Available November 4th from Graywolf Press

“Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine



This farrago of prose, images, and free verse attempts to delve into the relationship between black Americans and the racism they face, as found in the memory of murdered young black men, the on-court tribulations of Serena Williams, and Rankine’s psyche, shaped by everyday encounters with racism. Unfortunately, any substance the author can contribute to this worthwhile task is obscured by the opacity of her style. Citizen is a caricature of both theory’s abstractness and free verse’s disdain for coherence: “Memory is a tough place. You were there. If this is not the truth, it is also not a lie. There are benefits to being without nostalgia. Certainly nostalgia and being without nostalgia relieve the past.” (Some of the material is adapted from performance art pieces; perhaps it was more compelling in its original form.)  Citizen fails not because it isn’t an easy read—difficult topics warrant difficult books—but because, for all its murky atmosphere, it offers nothing to be challenged by.

–Published October 7th by Graywolf Press