Big Table Publishing, 2016, $14
Mall Flower's irreverent, retro-modern cocktail of poetry and microfiction is garnished with lipstick-red maraschino and packs a potent kick. Tina Barry conjures a 1960s suburban childhood of checkered suits, ruffled canopy beds, and divorce. Adolescence hits with a hormonal blast ("I've blown out my shag haircut") and men come and go, "leaving the stink of barnyard/ on the sheets." The hilarious "Wool and Spool" channels an indignant poet left behind by her workshop peers' shift from off-rhymed sonnets to "an invitation-only-BDSM-LGBT-furry-friendly-little people-giants-welcome-NAMBLA tolerant-weekend-sexathon." The nerve!
Dos Madres Press, 2015, $17
Science fuses with popular icons and culture in SUNY Adirondack professor Stuart Bartow's arresting Einstein's Lawn, a speculation on the physics of human consciousness. Machine intelligence ("The Singularity") calls to literary imagination ("Frankenstein Unfinished"). Honeycombed "hexagons" echo "elegant hexameters" scored by Alexander Pope. Reimaged across several poems, the book's title character drives a Corvette, "scarf flying, goggles shielding his hound-dog eyes" ("Einstein's Car"). If a tossed beer can incites a far-off earthquake ("Chaos Theory") then maybe "the God particle exists" ("Absolute Zero"). Proof might arrive like "lost to sight, hiding stars, the galaxy / you find while search for something else" ("Einstein's Desk").
Singing While Black
Kattywompus Press, 2015, $14
The gardenia in Billie's hair, the police photo of Otis Redding's crash site, Miles infamously telling Monk to "lay out" are among particular details of music history illuminated under the empathetic gaze of Greene County poet Cornelius Eady in his recent chapbook-CD, Singing While Black. Performed with his band, Rough Magic, his songs tap the mythic expanse in narratives of black lives, antebellum to present, that rise up against the racist power structure. In "Tearing Down The Master's House—made indelible with arabesque runs by saxophonist Max Abrams—place and time are pointedly unspecific, so to evoke a mood both radically personal and globally resonant, "Summertime and the living is cryptic. / Where do you think you are?"
Jay Erickson, illustrated by Kate Diago
Longhouse Press, 2015, $14.95
In 34 spare poems and an ecstatic epilogue, Pawling resident Erickson traverses a 15-month span containing a diagnosis of stage IIIc testicular cancer (the title's "dark bloom"), chemotherapy, IVF, four surgeries, marriage, remission, and childbirth. Cancer is sometimes his subject ("i shuffle to the Chemo Barn / to find my stall"), sometimes the background against which "backyard eggs and honey," the "grateful parenthetical" of a first snowfall, and "fields smeared with wildflowers" glow. Emotion-filled but never sentimental, this is poetry "deep in the marrow of life / awash in grief and praise." All proceeds from this book support rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Boy With a Halo at the Farmer's Market
(Codhill Press Poetry Prize)
Codhill Press, 2015, $16
The halo in Boy with a Halo at the Farmer's Market, the title poem of Sonia Greenfield's prize-winning collection, is a halo brace: "How truly graced he must have been/ to survive a broken neck." The poems herein are likewise bolted, keeping the head held firm and the ambit of our vision disrupted. Wisps of ghost-town surrealism float up through the angled slats of Greenfield's lines, and perils that haunt the present make for a restless lyrical stride. In "Between Rest Stops" the poet concludes that "the road / before us always shimmers and / the road behind us holds / the golden hour in a shard / of mirror."
Rough Grace (Poetry Chapbook Award)
Raphael Helena Kosek
Concrete Wolf, 2015, $10
Natural-world inspired artworks act as muse for Dutchess County poet Raphael Kosek, whose each deft canvas opens "a window to heavenly space" ("Pelvis with Moon, 1943"). Caribou freeze in Inuit stone cut like sacred language. O'Keeffe's flowers trumpet miracles; a still-life painter's poppies, tulips, and sunflowers provide lessons in rectitude and aging. Christina's World evokes an improbable Eden, while in a persona poem Henri Rousseau confesses how "person and panther connive" to make a paradise of savagery. "What Van Gogh Saw" in "pinwheel stars" and "knotty whorls" of cypress is likened to "benediction / from a sea-waved sky." Over and over, the collection delineates perspective with linguistic elegance.
Shadow of the Heron
Coda Crab Books, 2016, $16.99
"I'm pouring volatile stuff in my lab," declares Djelloul Marbrook. Since his 2008 debut Far from Algiers won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, the octogenarian sage has developed the extraordinary wingspan of the heron that frequents his Germantown pond. Succinct and vital, these uncapitalized, unpunctuated poems look mortality in the eye—sometimes, surreally, from beyond the grave ("when i died i rented a villa in tuscany / to clean off my invented selves"). Body parts are replaced, constructing a medical golem; identity itself becomes fluid as "the pot is lifted by its ears / to pour a poem upon the page."
The Word Works, 2016, $15
In Marilyn McCabe's Glass Factory, surprising syntax meets elemental symbols to signal metaphysical concerns. Trees and birds permeate; darkness competes with whiteness, pitting existence against salvation. Evocative, surreal epiphanies emerge, as when a field likened to horse teeth appears worn "from chewing the wind that blows now / the pale rain sideways" ("The East Field"). Meaning accrues overall through sonic and imagistic associations that spiral like "barbed wire," at once a "deft twist of ribbon, / a rose's thorns," threatening crucifixion yet offering sanctification ("Time Series: Jordan River"). Oracular in tone, McCabe's lyricism—like the autopsied cadaver of "Self-Sight"—illumines "the soul's / determination not to be alone."
The Owl Invites Your Silence
Slapering Hol Press, 2015, $12
As with a shrew freed from a trap at the poet's doorway, Richard Parisio nudges us, "Go where the forest / hides its secret lives and deaths / in soft nests in the leaf mold." Tree-shaded footpaths are aglow with wonderment in The Owl Invites Your Silence, a new chapbook by a Catskills naturalist whose watch provides "goldfinches bright as lemons," among other treats. No less satisfying are the fresh meditations on the dialectic of predator and prey and the role of human observation in the scheme. And though tuneful notes from biblical and classical mythology echo throughout, it is the face-to-face that supplies these poems their magic: "Foxes are common—but to see one, there!"
The Fourth River
Joan I. Siegel
Shabda Press, 2015, $14
With stark yet luminous brevity, award-winning Orange County author explores family realms that haunt and perplex. Selections about a departed father indict the backlash of loss. A counterpart parent, with appendages as soft as her granddaughter's "but colder" ("My Mother's Hands"), leaves "penciled in her hand, faint / markings" on sheet music ("My Mother's Piano"). Specter-like siblings also appear, as in "Ghost Sister." Occasional poems likewise telescope memory ("Thirtieth Anniversary," "This Birthday," "After Divorcing"). Questioning the limitations of temporality, Siegel envisions how to endure "alone, how / to shut the door after / all the music's played" ("The Last Quartets of Schubert").
Lisa St. John
Finishing Line Press, 2015, $14.49
Ponderings debuts a nonpareil poetic voice, lithe, quirky, and fanged. Like the "strangely fabulous" spider that colonizes her grill, making "Dinner" a dilemma, Lisa St. John spins shimmering word webs, stretched taut between prose and poetry. Sequential poems portray a Holocaust survivor mother "who learned to smoke in a POW camp to fend off the hunger," concluding, "I am proud of my scars because they came from my mother. / Ma, I never meant to love you." In "Prisons," the narrator self-identifies as "not brown enough. / "Tell him your father was..." / No." In St. John's haunted lines, "Poetry is a feline. You can rub it / until it loves you so much / it bites hard and draws blood."
Wave Books, 2016, $18
Allusive and illusive, Rebecca Wolff's poems often riff on canonical focal points. From her fourth collection, One Morning—., "Parkeresque" begins, "I'd like a / lidless / Vicodin. / Oblivion." Then juicing up our semantic synapses, a subsequent couplet goes, "Clinoman. / A phantom limb" ("clinoman" referring at once to Lucretius's swerving atoms and Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence). In "Warden" the poet asserts "No ideas but in / love—" turning the credo of imagism inside out, and finding unexpected ways to prioritize eros without jingling cliches. In "Ekphrastic," the Hudson-based poet and Fence founder confronts her addiction to art, "I want to see / I want to see I'm going to look at that and see / I want to go up and see/ that show. That show."