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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."