Beloved Communities, Lasting Divisions: Poets on Country, Culture, and Kinship

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One Hundred Visions of War
by Julien Vocance, translated by Alfred Nicol
(Wiseblood Books, 105pp., $12.00)

Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond
translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin, ed. Ostap Kin
(Ukrainian Research Institute/Harvard University, 160pp., $16.00)

Meet Me at the Lighthouse
by Dana Gioia
(Graywolf Press, 72pp., $16.00)

The Beloved Community
by Patricia Spears Jones
(Copper Canyon Press, 98pp., $17.00)

Zeno’s Eternity
by Mark Jarman
(Paul Dry Books, 71pp., $16.95)

Community is what joins us. It is the place where we belong, whether the bonds we share are based in history, origin, faith, art, political or cultural kinship, or some interest held in common. Its flipside is tribalism—fear of people or things unknown, suspicion of dissent, and, of course, the lure of power: the impulse to assert control, or worse, on those within or outside our circle. In Julien Vocance’s One Hundred Visions of War, we view tribalism at its extreme in the form of the Great War’s ravages. The author, both combatant and casualty (he lost an eye on the Western front), provides one hundred untitled flashes of anguish in haiku form that are all the more vivid for their individual concision. Together, they form both a powerful historical document and a riveting poetic sequence whose impact in English is due largely to the sensitivity and skill of translator Alfred Nicol.

Dana Gioia’s preface places Vocance’s unique contribution to the literature of World War I in illuminating context. Citing Charles Péguy, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Apollinaire as representative French writers whose response to the war’s carnage was, for each, highly singular, Gioia sees Vocance (or Joseph Seguin—Vocance was a pen name) as offering a “cogent response to the holocaust of the Western Front”—one that, in Gioia’s view, avoids false redemption, nihilism, or the risk of exalting violence. Having entered Western literary awareness soon after the century’s turn, haiku was available to provide the perfect form for Vocance’s poetry of witness. Its brevity and (apparent) simplicity, in the right hands, leave no room for pretense. These qualities are those of translator Nicol’s own poetry: the author of three full-length books of superbly crafted metrical verse (including the Richard Wilbur Award-winning Winter Light), as well as other collections, Nicol grants Vocance a voice that preserves the poet’s resignation, sorrowful wit, and keen attentiveness.

The term “trench warfare” is familiar, its horrors frozen in photos or recreated for the screen, but there is still something quietly sobering in brief words gently spoken: “Blackening three months / between the trenches, the dead / have lost all their hair.” The poet knows he might soon join the unburied dead; worse, he might be describing comrades it’s too dangerous to retrieve and bury. Yet Vocance sees metaphor, and allegory, on the battlefield, too: “Death, no doubt, dug / and watered these deep furrows / where men are planted.” Here, Death is a gardener, men’s bodies are compost, and “no doubt” signals the ironic detachment essential to survival. Elsewhere, colorless misery offers a challenge to good taste: “Iron gray, lead gray, / ash gray, resignation gray…/ Let’s spruce this place up!” Are these some deluded optimist’s words, perhaps some officer’s cheap attempt to raise morale? Or—more likely—are they the poet’s gallows humor in the face of hopelessness? Explosive ordnance rains everywhere: “shrieking” shells, shells that crash beyond trenches like “breakers / that don’t reach the shore,” even—and this is the whole poem—“A brown swirl / of shells rolling in the dirt / like schoolboys.” The simile traces the dreaded dissonance between what’s observed (shells rolling around in the dirt) and the inescapable knowledge that recent schoolboys are their target.

The last poem in Vocance’s sequence sums up the tribal mind-set, its facades stripped away: “Two rows of trenches, / Two lines of barbed wire fences: / Civilization.” Still, we find flashes of humanity: the young nun “thrilled” by a soldier’s drawing of Jesus, the respite (on leave? In memory or dream?) of escaping “this bloodbath, / beneath the evening lamp, safe, / holding you near me…” Nature, too, persists despite the carnage. Unlike Apollinaire, whose “Un Oiseau Chante” connects a bluebird’s battlefield song to the speaker’s erotic longing, Vocance resists artifice: “Lark, that song of yours / is obscene! But no, it’s just / nature’s indifference.” The poems contain affection as well—for fellow soldiers maimed or dead, the ruined landscape, even the “[s]melly old field mice” who share the speaker’s earthen shelter (and, inevitably, his food). Where the initial shock of film or photos soon wears off or tempts the viewer toward an aesthetic response, the unsettling details of Vocance’s haiku linger in memory, strange images and lasting words that haunt beyond the page. For their perfect pitch and power in English, poet and translator Alfred Nicol deserves kudos of his own.


However vast the Great War’s devastation, the so-called “war to end all wars” is overshadowed by the coldly efficient genocides that defined the next global conflict. The bilingual anthology Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond collects the work of two dozen writers for whom the murder of more than 100,000 Jewish people in Nazi-occupied Kyiv, mostly by machine-gun, persists as memory or painful legacy—one that Soviet authorities, determined to erase Jewish culture, sought fiercely to suppress. Community again, and tribalism, too: a people targeted for extermination due to faith and heritage, who are later further betrayed by plans to cover up the truth.

The translators—Ostap Kin, editor of New York Elegies: Ukrainian Poems on the City, and poet John Hennessy, a former Amy Clampitt Resident Fellow and author of Coney Island Pilgrims and Bridge and Tunnel—have collaborated for some time, their efforts on several projects having earned awards from both Poetry magazine and the National Endowment for the Arts. In an Asymptote interview, Ukrainian-born Kin offers that, having “switched continents,” he wanted to hear Ukrainian poems in English and bring them to a wider audience. Hennessy’s role—and it’s an essential one—is to bring Kin’s versions to their final form, polishing language and syntax in dialogue with Kin to ensure that nuances aren’t lost in the transition to English. (Hennessy and Kin discuss their process at The Critical Flame.) This team effort has produced fascinating results: versions that lend each anthologized poet a distinct voice and tonal register as the horrors of Babyn Yar resonate through generations.

And no wonder. In September 1941, Kyiv’s Nazi occupiers set the massacre in motion by posting notices throughout the city; Jewish citizens were ordered to assemble at Babyn Yar, a ravine that once served as the site of both Christian and Jewish cemeteries. There, over two days, over 30,000 people were shot and buried in mass graves, with at least 70,000 following in the months after. The responses here range widely—from the sorrowful precision of Mykola Bazhan who was among the first writers to enter Kyiv after the Soviet army regained control (“Silver dust of burnt bones. / A cracked piece of human forehead”) to the explicit rage of journalist, children’s writer, and radio broadcaster Oleksa Iushchenko (“You hear, ravine, bloody ravine—/ The murderers did not escape death”). Younger writers have their say, too. Though born in 1973, Marianna Kiyanovska fully inhabits the personae who speak through her poems (culled from her much-admired 2017 book Babyn Yar. In Voices). The speaker of “[i’ve been getting together a collection for the last three weeks]” knows she’ll soon be killed:

i’m labeling all the photographs of the brothers in particular the diaries mine and arkasha’s notebook old scattered memories i don’t have any recent ones i put letters in the box and my sister’s handmade things dried flowers maria would have called grass today i will get some more sleep tomorrow is sunday and then tuesday of course if i live till then

For her, time is running out. Every keepsake is a precious artifact to be protected yet abandoned, “junk” to be found one day when her home is “demolished.” But she’s ambivalent: “treasures in the attic” are also “our footprints into the future,” a way of “inscribing memory of us into forever.” In the last line, we learn the rest of her family was “killed in the ravine,” and she’s already said, “it’s so bad everywhere / raids every day”—another reason she identifies with Pompeii’s dead: “at first lava and hot / human flesh and now they’re / museum pieces / and treasures.” The impact of these poems, as Kin notes in the volume’s introduction, lies in Kiyanovska’s evocation of everyday people whose fragmentary words—sometimes cryptic, sometimes powerfully direct—survive as “treasures” rediscovered. The absence of titles reinforces the effect; it is as if this poem and others in the sequence were unearthed, not written, though most interviews with Kiyanovska suggest a complex creative process born of immersion in the subject and the poet’s empathic gifts. (Kiyanovska grew up partly in Zhovkva, in western Ukraine, in a neighborhood marked by Jewish gravestones).

History’s clues are evident to anyone who looks around. Consequently, Kin’s selection ranges from writers who were adults at the time of the genocide, to writers born in its shadow, and others younger still (the birth years of poets featured in the anthology range from 1891 to 1977). Together, they make their stand against historical amnesia. Arkadii Anin’s selection speaks eloquently of this need, invoking the long road to official recognition of Babyn Yar’s magnitude that eased only with the Soviet Union’s breakup and Ukraine’s (now threatened) independence. A World War II-era Soviet soldier and stomatologist in postwar Kyiv, Anin settled in Israel after publishing his first book. In “Monologue of a Monument Never Built,” he speaks in words gracefully shaped by Kin and Hennessy.

I’m a rock, a place of testimony, I’m a milestone. No need for fuss, rallies, speeches. Come and listen— ………………………..the earth breathes with people. ……………………………….Love breathes and begs every living person ………………………………………….to love everything that is above ……………………………………and beneath the earth… Don’t forget the past…


From the carnage of global wars whose past is always present, to the New World: here, too, are communities that offer sustenance and hope despite history’s troubling reach. When it appeared in 2017, poet and critic Dana Gioia’s 99 Poems: New & Selected served as capstone to what was already a distinguished body of work. With Meet Me at the Lighthouse, he shows he still has much to say, and we as readers are the richer for it. The son of a Sicilian immigrant father and a mother whose heritage was Mexican, Gioia grew up in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, in a blue-collar, Catholic home surrounded by the cultural artifacts—books, art books, records, and musical scores—inherited from an autodidact uncle. These roots—and this community—form the backdrop of the new book, a wistful yet probing immersion into the necessary bonds of neighborhood and family, as well as a restless interrogation of history, social class, art, and faith.

That interrogation requires more than one thoughtful look back at the past. Theodore Ortiz, the uncle whose legacy helped fuel Gioia’s intellectual and aesthetic interests, is remembered in “Seaward,” its alternately rhymed, two-beat lines directed both to the young U.S. Merchant Marine who died in a plane crash, and to the poet himself: “Stand on the dock / as the ocean swells. / Death is what happens / to somebody else.” (“Night Watch,” published in Gioia’s 1991 masterpiece, The Gods of Winter, tells more about Ortiz’s fate: “burned beyond recognition, / left as a headstone in the unfamiliar earth… //and not scattered on the shifting gray Pacific.”) Together, these poems underline the importance of his uncle’s gift to Gioia, which was not just books to read or records to play but the idea that books, music, literature, and art matter—and, for some, could be a calling. (Gioia’s mother, a telephone operator, influenced him, too, reciting poems by Poe, Tennyson, and more to her son’s delight.) His uncle’s death, therefore, is both a fateful crossroads and deeply formative: a loss without which Gioia’s life in the arts, as embodied in the very books he held, might have seemed less real, less possible.

That community of the arts is also the subject of the new book’s title poem. The Lighthouse, still in operation today with “Café” added to its name, began featuring jazz in 1949; there, some of the genre’s biggest names performed and recorded, including Hampton Hawes, Gerry Mulligan, and Chet Baker, who also appear, with others, at Gioia’s invitation: “Meet me at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, / That shabby nightclub on its foggy pier. / Let’s aim for the Summer of ’71 / When all our friends were young and innocent.” The meeting won’t be at the real club, however, but at a timeless afterlife version where “only ghosts [sit] at the bar” while “the best talent in Tartarus” “shine[s] from that jerry-built stage.” (Under other circumstances, it’s an invitation Gioia’s brother, revered jazz critic Ted Gioia, might appreciate, but since “Death the collector is keeping the tab,” maybe not.) There will be other Dantean turns throughout the book: after all, “Time and tide are counting the beats.” In the poem “Meet Me at the Lighthouse,” Gioia skillfully blends local L.A.-area history with an autumnal affection that both celebrates the arts and mourns the passing of communities.

That elegiac impulse is even more pronounced in the book’s third section, a triptych tribute to the City of Angels. This trio of psalms blends echoes of Catholic prayer with flashes of nostalgia and uniquely L.A. references that merge easily with Gioia’s historical interests and concern for social justice. In “Psalm and Lament for Los Angeles,” the speaker wanders the suburb of his youth to “revisit the precincts of memory,” only to find “the silent ruins of my city. / What was there to sing in a strange and empty land?” There’s beauty, but beyond the “dances of the surfers and the dolphins,” there’s suffering, too: “But, O Los Angeles, you devour your natives and your immigrants. //…You sprawl in the carnage and count the spoils.” The next poem, “Psalm of the Heights,” perfectly balances regret and longing. After praising the city’s nighttime splendor (“boulevards unfold in brilliant lines” and “freeways flow like shining rivers”), unrhymed couplets look to the heavens, invoking celestially named mid-century cars (“speeding Comets or sleek Thunderbirds”) as if they were sky-chariots piloted by youthful gods locked in “lust or laughter.” Its caveats aside, “Psalm of the Heights” is a love poem to L.A. where “the soul sings like a car radio” and Hollywood dreams become stellar transfigurations: “Where else can you become a star?”

But it is “Psalm for Our Lady Queen of the Angels” that praises and prays most poignantly. Here, Gioia recalls the “forgotten forty-four” settlers who founded and named a riverside pueblo in honor of the Virgin Mary. Lines gather force in unrhymed quatrains, taking in “the marriages and matings that created us. / Desire, swifter than democracy, merging the races—/ Spanish, Aztec, African, and Anglo— / Forbidden matches made holy by children.” Many are those whom history often forgets: “the hungry, the stubborn, the scarred.” In a nod to Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Gioia praises himself (“the seed of exiles and violent men”), his ancestors (“the unkillable poor, / The few who escaped disease or despair—”), and, finally, Nuestra Señora, God’s Mother, “who watches them still / From murals and medals, statues, tattoos. / She has not abandoned her divided pueblo.” The poem ends with the poet’s prayers “for the city that lost its name,” for “the flesh that pays for profit,” for all those “mixed and misbegotten, / Beside our dry river and tents of the outcast poor.” In this quietly magnificent sequence, a modest community transforms into a major metropolis. Accordingly, the question of what connects us becomes more complex, history’s cycles calling on new generations to reinvent the boundaries of unity and division.

Gioia’s new collection includes an impressive range of work: rhymed quatrains on a lovely luna moth (“baneful vagrant from the stormy skies”), a witty, Baudelairean sonnet on boredom’s burdens (“flies intone their imbecilic whir”), literate lyrics (available in full musical setting on Helen Sung’s album Sung with Words), “The Ballad of Jesús Ortiz” (a story-song in the corridos tradition that tells of Gioia’s great-grandfather’s Old West exploits), fine translations of Rilke, Neruda, and Machado, and much more. In all these, Gioia’s command of craft, deep knowledge, and restless curiosity offer a broad scope of pleasures and effects.

In a darkly ironic final sequence whose tone recalls Weldon Kees, Gioia embarks on an unsettling railway journey that ends in “Disappointments”: “No triple-headed dog to guard the gate, / No gate at all as far as you can tell, / …No sun, no moon, no stars, no sky, no end” (“The Underworld”). Elsewhere, death is the reality we accept in poems alive with vanished loved ones—that community of memory that’s always with us. In “Tinsel, Frankincense, and Fir,” the hanging of “scratched and shabby Christmas ornaments” compels the speaker to remember the mother who once hung them herself in times long past: “How carefully she hung each thread of tinsel, /Or touched each dime-store bauble with delight.” It is a brief, beautiful poem. As Gioia concludes, “No holiday is holy without ghosts,” we feel how faith and memory preserve those we loved most deeply. Meet Me at the Lighthouse is a wonderful new entry in a vital body of work.


From the West Coast to the East: for over forty years, Arkansas-born Patricia Spears Jones has distinguished herself as an edgy, inventive literary presence in New York City, her adopted home. The Beloved Community is her follow-up volume to the career milestone of A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems (2015). In accord with its title, the new book incisively celebrates the intersecting communities to which Jones belongs and is also a compelling personal document enriched by New York lore and a deep responsiveness to the arts.

“Lave,” inspired by a panel in painter Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series,” serves as the book’s proem. Completed in 1941 as a tribute to the post-World War I Great Migration of African Americans to industrialized northern states, Lawrence’s sixty-panel series is vibrantly alive and monumental in scope; its images include stylized figures caught in a race riot, children subject to forced labor, domestic or agricultural scenes fraught with history, and much more. Mentioning panel 57 explicitly, Jones writes of the “laundress,” “head bowed,” “charged with purgation, / removing the dust and dirt and stains of city living.” As the woman— an archetype in terms of gender, race, and grueling labor—stirs washtub clothes with a wooden pole,

These swirling oblong colors rest Beneath her gaze as if she has the power To make this job seem better than Picking cotton or hog butchering or taking In washing for the old Gentleman Who pinches her breasts for that extra Nickel.

As the sexual assault indicates, “Lave” looks to the rest of Lawrence’s series, both what it includes and what it elides: “Much about the South is unseen or not shown—… /And so, we see the cotton ball / But not the bleeding hands that pick. / We see the rope dangling. / We see the meagre rations of meat / And bread. And the table set—no plenty.” Jones centers on the woman at the washtub to ensure she remains visible, and to restore her when she’s not:

In many of the paintings’ planes, she is not seen Preparing the meals, cleaning, sewing, packing Clothes to last for as long as they can last in the Distant cities of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit…

Still, to “lave” is to wash or bathe, and the word “lavender”—sonically akin, both flower and scent—evokes new beginnings: “Where is the lavender, the purple scent / That says the world is fresh and ready to receive / The woman who walks into whatever room / She walks into.”

“Lave,” commissioned for a suite of poems based on Lawrence’s panels, debuted at MoMa on May 1, 2015, along with other commissioned poems by Jones’ peers, including Rita Dove, Kevin Young, and Natasha Trethewey. May Day, of course, acknowledges the quest for dignity of labor that was central to both the Great Migration and Jacob Lawrence’s vision. In “First and last nights in Virginia, January and May 2020,” Jones confronts the dehumanizing conditions of today’s low-wage workers without sacrificing the poem’s core empathy: “we stop at a CVS, late, the store is vast & sorry / The lone clerk slow wipes a counter.” That worker’s soon-to-come false cheer doesn’t hide what Jones sees clearly: it’s “as if fate has / made this place a symbol of American want—everything in this place / seems cheap except the products for sale.” The clerk’s isolation in a “plastic vastness” is the same loneliness in a dead-end job endlessly replicated in retail stores across the nation. By May 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold, and the interior is even more plastic, the clerk now forced to stand “behind a cheap plastic protector. More symbol than reality. / She wears her mask and behind it smiles—she has a job & that’s good, / But this is yet another display & she’s expendable. We all are.” Jones knows: the clerk is expendable because she’s unskilled, and because the pandemic’s growing death toll shows that anyone can be replaced—left behind, forgotten—a truth that’s foundational at capitalism’s retail level, and higher up as well. The poem’s most affecting moment may be when the clerk smiles behind her mask, grateful to have this job at grave personal risk because it would be even worse not to have a job at all.

“Walking on Avenue A on the Thompkins Square Park Side” is set in lower Manhattan: Jones strolls beside Sandra Payne when she sees “Steve Cannon driving a sedan. He rolls down his window, /, Want a ride?” Casually dropping names as Frank O’Hara did, Jones shows another side of community here: the family feeling that comes from friendship’s common knowledge and referential shorthand. In fact, the poem is both elegy and the sort of dream that feels like a visitation. Jones is referencing two African American artists and friends: Sandra Payne, sculptor, collagist, and installation artist whose day job was with the New York Public Library: and Steve Cannon, admired writer/editor and founder of A Gathering of the Tribes, the influential East Village magazine and arts collective. Payne died in 2021, Cannon in 2019; both, like Jones, moved to New York as adults to make their way as artists. Loss fuels the poem in other ways, too: in his youth, an auto accident that injured his passenger led Cannon to swear off driving forever; further, glaucoma left him blind in middle age. Only in a dream would he show up behind the wheel. The poem, therefore, is a reunion of sorts between the living and the dead, resolved with a mutual salute after Cannon finishes parking. (In a version of the poem posted at A Gathering of the Tribes, a now-excised line adds, “and then the dream ends.”) Far from excluding those outside her circle, Jones’ mention of friends in the arts invites us to enter her community (geographic, artistic, cultural) as if we’re already part of it.

For Jones, human connection reaches from New York neighborhoods and boroughs to African American communities of heritage and history, to arts initiatives, past and present, each a source of sustaining fellowship. Throughout the book, Jones joins a committed sense of justice to a clear-headed compassion, whether warning against domestic violence (“In the graves are too many women who once had roses / For bruises,” she writes in “Siren Song”), or watching a stranger learn that a regular at the neighborhood laundromat has died: “La Señora shakes her head, her purple-streaked / Hair tamed by her sadness…/ Then walks out onto the sidewalk / Undone by new grief.” For these acquaintances, it’s a moment of fleeting intimacy in the face of unexpected loss. In this, the title poem of The Beloved Community, Jones shows yet again that, however often the world pulls us away from each other, it’s essential to remember we’re not alone.


Mark Jarman, too, has passed the milestone of a career-spanning volume (Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems, 2011), first with 2017’s The Heronry and now with Zeno’s Eternity, a volume marked by intellectual rigor and lyric radiance. As a body of work, Jarman’s poetry has been long immersed in questions of faith and ethics, yet refreshingly free of truisms or hollow reassurances; at the same time, their dark corners, dark wit, and willingness to look squarely at what scares us shape a vision that is all the more convincing and provocative. “Expected,” from The Heronry, is one of these. Reflecting on our “sense of readiness prepared / by so many unexpected things,” Jarman finds correlation in disparate moments—a “shadowy buck” grazing at night, Highland dancers, a stranger fleeing the gendarmes in Paris, his ailing mother’s stories of childhood ghosts and a bedside angel—in each case, that heightened readiness “gathers in the strange and makes it yours.” Jarman’s perception of the world as both familiar and estranged, necessary to love yet potentially full of danger, lends a subtle disquiet to even his affirming poems. It is one reason his work is so distinctive.

Jarman’s elegies for his parents are among the best poems in his book: in words that are sometimes wounded, sometimes angry, yet suffused with love, they blend fully realized character studies with self-awareness and sensitivity. Born in Kentucky but raised mostly in California, with a formative period spent in Scotland, Jarman is the son of a pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who dedicated his life and ministry to causes that included civil rights, women’s rights, and the welfare of seniors. In their humane outlook, father and son are not so different, despite periods when the gulf between them was vast. Over three sections, “The Children’s Zoo” recalls an incident when the young speaker, charged with watching his sisters, loses track of them in the crowd. A search ensues—“my father, lumbering toward me, / bellowed the children’s names, and, ‘Help!’ / came the peacocks in counterpoint…” The son, for his part, wants “to shriek outrage in his face / but—but pursed my lips and flew into a silent panic.” The poem’s next section reveals why: the father and mother have divorced. Explaining his son’s (likely tearful) rage, the father confides to a guide:

I left her a year ago. That’s why he’s angry… Oh, she was shocked, and I was, too, when I said no more and left the counselor’s office. In the car I’d asked myself what I’d done, and yet I felt alive, bared and effervescent, and thin-skinned—all heaviness was gone… I’ve curled my hair, bought a red car, and have no right to fun, he thinks, because I broke her heart…

Immediately following, “In the First Minute Without Him” confronts the father’s death. The son, present at the bedside, sees his father die: “‘Water’ had been his last word. And his first? / No one is alive who might remember it.” Echoing the Lord’s Prayer, he considers the transition, resisting sentimentality:

Our father, after whom we took the world as full of hope and promise, then, like him, as baffling when it ignored us when we called and needed to be found where we had hid.

The boy, angry at the abrupt divorce, is subsumed by the man who accepts this wound and others as part of the love he bears.

This particular father-son relationship is also fascinating for the light it sheds on the challenges of community. The father leads a congregation, but he’s imperfect, as the son is keenly aware; yet the son must accept him in both roles, a cognitive dissonance not easy to navigate. How can we participate in a wider faith community while setting aside personal frictions or knowledge that may undermine connection? Originally published in 2004’s To The Green Man and reprinted in Bone Fires, “In Church with Hart Crane” captures the awkwardness of that double awareness: the father speaks from the pulpit, wanting his son to be “good,” while the son leafs through a Hart Crane paperback, his nascent devotion to poetry stronger than this obligation: “How many awful times / I’ve sat in church since then, believing / That I was neither good nor good enough / To write the poems I thought I understood.” The father, too, carries out his duty to the community he serves, aware of “what I was doing, reading poetry, / And didn’t say a word.” Ultimately, “In Church with Hart Crane” is as much about awakening to the world of the arts as it is a poem about faith or father-son tensions or the public scrutiny that membership in a community may bring.

Zeno’s Eternity is about much else besides, though a parental strand runs through it. (Here I must quickly mention the elegy “Yahrzeit,” which refers to the Jewish custom of reciting the Kaddish on the anniversary of a death, especially a parent’s. In seeking, and offering, solace after the loss, four concise sections employ jump-cuts across a mother’s lifetime, litany repetitions, and lines that undo or rewrite previous lines as if wrestling with grief: quite a range in only two short pages.) Other subjects, handled in a variety of modes and moods, include politics, faith, and nature, viewed both as itself and as metaphor. “Sick Fox” describes chancing upon a mange-afflicted vixen chewing at her own fur, an action Jarman connects to recent news of dying kits and the fox’s likely grief: a mother’s loss of her young. “No One Understood the Final Meal” revisits the idea that the Apostles didn’t really comprehend the Last Supper’s import but does so in unadorned language that both humanizes the event and ties the sacrament of Communion to memory’s longings: “enjoined to remember someone not yet lost, / they tried to bring him back— / the taste and texture, somehow, the meal, him.”

Dated “December 2016,” “With Marcus Aurelius in Los Angeles” trains its lens on another type of community— the constitutional polity that is U.S. civil government—with a degree of unsettling restraint largely missing from recent political commentary. Invoking the Stoic philosopher and last “Good Emperor” of the Pax Romana, the poem unfolds against a Mediterranean backdrop that L.A.-raised Dana Gioia might recognize. In “a garden of open sky,” amid “lemon and lime trees / from one of many forgotten orchards,” the speaker reflects on democracy’s prospects: “I am sitting nearly paralyzed / in an aftermath of despair, having returned / to the place I think of as home and expecting / the end of the world, my life, our country’s life.” (The President-elect’s campaign goes unmentioned.) Ostensibly addressing Aurelius, the speaker deftly contrasts the serene setting with realities often overlooked:

A mile or so away a famous boardwalk skirts the gray Pacific, and ragged souls there find a way to eat by selling painted sea shells and pebbles… The homeless make their homes on the hard sand and the languages of the empire ripple past. And even nearer the same babble of humanity runs along an expensive shoppers’ street where there is not a single necessary thing for sale.

The realities of economic and political polarization encourage pessimism, but the speaker’s imaginary dialogue with the lauded Stoic ends with the sort of rigorous examination of conscience that is a hallmark of Jarman’s work. In paraphrasing the historian who reports that Aurelius “still urged / [himself]…/ to stop philosophizing about what a good person is / and be one,” the poet who once questioned his own goodness in his father’s church continues to do so, and implicitly asks that we do the same. In a time of turmoil and tribalism at home and abroad, it’s a calling shared by all the poets featured in this review. Each gives voice to what’s unsaid; preserves what must be remembered; calls attention to injustice; helps heal our common wounds; brings integrity to language; and recognizes, through art, the intersecting communities to which they, and we, belong.