I usually try to get up at least a post or two about poetry during April, which is National Poetry Month. But somehow it completely slipped my mind this year. So, here we have, a month late (or four months late, considering they were both published in January), reviews of two wonderful new poetry collections from two very different poets.
Alex Lemon is a very young poet from Texas. His poetry brims with surreal imagery and mystery. The Wish Book is his fifth book of poems, and we think that it is perfect for teens with a penchant for the weird.
Meanwhile, Alicia Suskin Ostriker has been writing poetry since before Alex Lemon was born. She’s won a ridiculous number of awards, including being a finalist for the National Book Award twice. Far more formal and character-based, her poetry is more accessible to fans of traditional poetic forms.
LEMON, Alex. The Wish Book: Poems. 113p. Milkweed. Jan. 2014. pap. $16. ISBN 9781571314505. LC 2013026960
The surrealistic cover art of this weird and wonderful collection alerts readers that they are about to encounter a strange world. The tone is set by the first poem, “Boundless”: “Let’s go my little paradise,/My little heart attack—/The city is unwinding,/Roots are busting through/Concrete. . . . Please, hold my hand/ It is such a pleasure to be/ Not dead & walking through/This place with you.” Many teen poetry fans will want to take that step. Another poem, “Shakedown Machine” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and awarded the Charles Angoff prize from The Literary Review. It is an upsetting and vivid work: “Do you smell that? Here, where everything looks/Perfect? That sour tang of a pile of one hundred degree/Garbage behind the storefront you’re standing in/Front of. Sniff the air. Look around.” The poem continues in an even more somber, but realistic way. Lemon’s verses touch upon energetic life, illness, and death in fascinating and odd ways. Teens should appreciate the emotion of “Life & Life Only”: “I stare out the window, dead-/weighted with ghosts/Of all the pretty voices/I’ve known”—and the beautiful eeriness of the title poem: “The moon croons ghost/& curtains lift/Into the room magic & shine/The moon sings/Light of pinball machines/Over the skin/Of the world/ The moon whispers pretty pretty/Pleads for you.” This collection should appeal to teens who enjoy slightly incomprehensible and exuberant poems with a little bit of mystery.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City
OSTRIKER, Alicia Suskin. The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog. 80p. Univ. of Pittsburgh Pr. Jan. 2014. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780822962915.
Award-winning poet Ostriker has chosen an unusual plan for this collection of poetry. The title characters each narrate one of the three stanzas in every poem featured in this assortment. In “Deer Walk Upon Our Mountains” a different response is given by each speaker. “When they see me said the old woman/they stop where they are” and “You are speaking of my mortal enemy/said the dark red tulip” and “Oh cried the dog/the very thought of them/thrills me to the bone.” The poems are delightful and thought provoking. Some are poignant and others are amusing. In “Ridiculous” the tulip complains about “those stupid long-lived orchids/ that are practically plastic” which may make readers look at an orchid differently. From springtime lightness to darker autumn and winter, the tone in the verses changes. In “The Sorrow Triptych” the mood becomes more serious. “The gift of tears/said the old woman/like the gift of laughter/is a kind of cleansing/a rinsing out/.” The dog shares “there was no reason to make me leave the room/or to have pushed the door until it clicked/ honest to god I wish dogs could cry.” With her original spin on multiple perspectives, and these three characters commenting on a wide variety of topics in an intriguing fashion, Ostriker’s work could inspire budding poets and be used in conjunction with writing workshops or exercises.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City