(This is the first batch of short impressions of some of the books I’ve finished this year.)
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015)
Before buying her book from the publisher’s booth at Wordplay last week, she was only a name to me.
There is a popular trend in the current era to strive for a very informal, conversational style. When done poorly, it’s insipid, self-indulgent, and therapeutic, like reading someone’s diary. I found her best poems to be all the more powerful precisely because of how deftly she employed a quotidian voice that at times almost verged on clumsy, only to tighten up into a musical clarity all the more surprising.
I did find the collection to be a bit uneven, but that’s not remarkable; I find most poetry collections uneven.
John Matthias, Collected Longer Poems (Shearsman, 2012)
Old-school high modernist. These poems are direct descendants of Paterson and the best of The Cantos (and The Best of The Cantos would, by the way, be a very short book, including not much more than the Pisan cantos.) John Matthias could be read comfortably alongside Geoffrey Hill or Peter Dale Scott as well as Lyn Hejinian or CD Wright.
Extremely smart, lots of footnotes, and with a startling music, as bewildering and mesmerizing as hearing bebop for the first time.
Linda Gregg, In the Middle Distance (Graywolf, 2006)
Mostly harmless. A few bright and surprising poems in an otherwise pedestrian collection. Minimalism is one thing, but not quite going far enough is another. Some poets benefit from seeing many of their poems together, others are better one isolated poem at a time. Linda Gregg, for me, seems to be among the latter.
Jim Harrison, Dead Man’s Float (Copper Canyon, 2016)
I put off reading this for a year because it is the last new poetry by Jim Harrison I’m ever likely to see, barring any unpublished manuscripts they find in the cabinet behind the bourbon.
Jim Harrison was this country’s Han-Shan. He acknowledged magic with a shrug, sometimes gravely toasting the gods with cheap red wine, sometimes exuberantly giving them the finger. Angels don’t fly; they crawl on their hands and knees, laughing and weeping at the same time.