Five Women Poets: Strong New Works for Language Lovers Everywhere

Duhamel, Denise. Scald. Univ. of Pittsburgh. (Pitt Poetry). Feb. 2017. 112p. ISBN 9780822964506. pap. $15.95. POETRY
In a spill of language and emotion often contained in the traditional form of the villanelle and pantoum, National Book Critics Circle finalist Duhamel (Blowout) explores women’s place in the world as part of nature, history, and culture and forever at sword’s edge with men. The first poem in the book’s opening section, dedicated to Shulamith Firestone, takes a steely-eyed look at feminism as legacy and inevitability (“ ‘having it both ways,’/ a phrase I hate/ as men always have it both ways”). Later, in a poem on evolution, the line “A woman’s real ancestors, not divine but animal” sums up the spirit throughout as we see the animal in the “stellar explosion” of desire, the frank discussion of fornicating (or not), and one fabulous, juicy poem titled “Porn Poem (With Andrea ­Dworkin).” VERDICT Duhamel’s deceptively informational, almost deadpan voice might at first puzzle but soon becomes incantatory, even obsessive. Engaging for a wide range of readers.

Lynch, Alessandra. Daylily Called It a Dangerous Moment. Alice James. Jun. 2016. 100p. ISBN 9781938584657. pap. $15.95. POETRY

daylily.jpg21417In hushed language that’s forthright, luminous, and never sensational, Lynch (Sails the Wind Left Behind) makes us feel the shock and enduring aftermath of her rape, that awful, violent moment with “mr. anonymous/ who coaxes & spends you & swings you by another name.” She revisits that moment again and again, ever freshly, revealing herself as a “moonlit horse,” harnessed or with “a knife pressed into her flank,” as a wall and shelves as that knife sharply screws. Afterward, she’s the “absent-me,” with “Memory: like air/ I walk through and/ disappear,” finding the most mundane things taking on dark new meaning (panties are “frillishly dizzy” but also a “bandage or wing”), though the world can be a beautiful place, it’s rimmed with danger (“bleeding berries on the nettle-hill”). In the end, Lynch learns that she cannot control and cannot forget but attains a half-peace, some redemption. VERDICT Highly recommended.

Matthews, Airea D. Simulacra. Yale Univ. ( Younger Poets). Mar. 2017. 104p. ISBN 9780300223972. $45; pap. ISBN 9780300223965. $20. POETRY

“Desire is spacious/ Want’s in the DNA.” And want, which dominates Rona Jaffe winner Matthews’s first collection, chosen by Carl Phillips for the “Yale Series of Younger Poets,” is a bred-in-the-bone burden that both torments and enlightens. “You are the water and you are very, very thirsty,” says one poem tellingly; another proclaims, “Welcome, Dark-Light” as owls screech. But all is not gloomy, for there’s manic, witty energy throughout and delight in the play of form and language. The poems range widely, from numerous examples of Anne Sexton texting (“Turn, my hungers,” says the first one) to fables about a dentist’s wife who offers up her teeth, a mine owner’s wife nightly ritualized dinner with her husband, and Want itself coming on as a bad-mannered accoster. The opening poem is titled “Rebel Prelude,” and upset-the-apple-cart intentions reverberate throughout. VERDICT Matthews takes risks here and sometimes gets out of line, but this imaginative work will attract anyone who reads poetry seriously.

Parker, Morgan. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. Tin House. Feb. 2017. 80p. ISBN 9781941040539. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941040546. POETRY

Cheeky and luscious yet ever aching, this collection from therebeyonce.jpg21417Pushcart Prize winner Parker (Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night) uses a tough vernacular to unfold the story of a black woman. She’s sybaritic with a reason (“When I drink anything/ out of a martini glass/ I feel untouched by/ professional and sexual/ rejection”), battles anguish her way (“I could die any minute of depression/ I just want to have sex most of the time”), and sees the world measuring her harshly even as she measures herself (“I’m not woman enough for these days”). In her quest, Beyoncé serves as touchstone, both dream icon and arguing point (see the title), and it’s refreshing to see her entertain possibilities (“Today your open eyes are two fresh buds/ anything could be waiting”) as she tiptoes through the “garden of soiled panties.” VERDICT Passionate and engaged, honest yet not earnest, this work has the occasional stretched phrase but is highly recommended.

White, Allison Benis. Please Bury Me in This. Four Way. Mar. 2017. 72p. ISBN 9781935536833. pap. $15.95. POETRY

Like White’s Small Porcelain Head, an ethereal but tough-minded exploration of a friend’s suicide that was an LJ Best Poetry Book, this new work confronts mortality in the lucid, meditative strings of sentences that are the hallmark of this excellent writer. In fact, the work is dedicated to her late father and to the four women she knew who took their lives. “I am writing you this letter,” she explains, and throughout there’s a sense of her trying to understand (“I can only imagine…death as not thinking”), acknowledging her inadequacy to the task (“these words, their spectacular lack”), yet needing to persist in the face of death’s opacity and her own solitude (“we must make meaning to survive”). There is meaning here, even as the poet concedes, “I talk to emptiness”; throughout, one senses the transformative power of writing. VERDICT Poetry has always wrestled with death as both dark lure and terrifying unknown, and White’s contribution is heartfelt and true, both deeply personal and embracing.

Barbara Hoffert is Editor, Prepub Alert, LJ

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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