Often one of the best things about Poetry is the prose, which is the case this month in which letters, essays, and reviews comprise nearly half the issue. Prose contributions include an excerpt from Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, an essay on reviewing Hart Crane by William Logan, and reviews of new books by Jason Guriel. Logan’s essay is a thoughtful, if mildly self-serving, “response” to critics of a controversial review he wrote for the New York Times last year.
I admire Poetry for giving Logan a chance to defend himself (readers highlighted numerous errors he had made in the review), consider the process of reviewing (how is it that critics make errors, even when they are careful and know the work they are reviewing well?), and sustain the dialogue on Crane’s work and worth. Whether you agree with Logan or not (or even find him entirely sincere) is not half as important, I don’t think, as simply having a new style of literary essay to ponder and appreciate.
Guriel, a talented, frank, and intelligent reviewer, considers books by Jorie Graham, Davis McCombs, and the late Sarah Hannah. Poetry is known for honest, smart reviews, and these are exemplary. With cleverly chosen examples and respect for Graham’s earlier work, Guriel questions the sloppy imprecision of Sea Change: Poems. While he admires some of the work of McCombs, as well, he is no more enthusiastic about Dismal Rock. He is more moved and impressed by Inflorescence, where the individual poems are fully realized works that “transcend the collection’s overall arc.” In all three reviews he is cautious, respectful, and clever.
There is, of course, poetry in Poetry – most strikingly, eight poems by Sarah Lindsay, who makes her first appearance in the journal, and another first-timer, Eric Ekstrand, who contributes five “Appleblossom” poems, verse translations of the Japanese selections from the notebooks of Chiri, Basho’s traveling companion. Lindsay has a strong voice, matched by strong images and strong sentiments and the poetic muscle to bring these together in unique and memorable poems. She has a way of standing back a bit from her subjects that might seem coy in the hands of less talented craftswoman, but that seems to work for her: “Tell the bees. They require news of the house: / they must know, lest they sicken / from the gap between their ignorance and our grief.”
This issue also includes poems by Adrian Blevins, Craig Arnold, John Repp, Laura Kasischke, D.A. Powell, John Hennessey, Jill Osier, Maurice Manning, and Derek Sheffield.