Jazz & Seraphim: On Grace Schulman’s The Marble Bed

The Marble Bed
Grace Schulman
(Turtle Point Press, 2020, 116 pp., $18.00).

Schulman’s work has a dignified, sculptural grace that counterpoints the inner noise and agitation many of us bear. To read her is to come off a busy city street into a cathedral nave, to be still, or to walk quietly along the edge of the evening sea. Of Washington Square Park in 2020, she writes,

This park reminds us it was once a field
for the unclaimed dead of galloping yellow fever….

Ponder Each Furrow: On Samuel Menashe’s Collected Poems

The Shrine Whose Shape I Am: The Collected Poetry of Samuel Menashe
Edited by Bhisham Bherwani and Nicholas Birns
(Audubon Terrace Press, 2019, 387 pp., $25).

“The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream,” says Stevens, and I have understood his poem to be an oracle of the epicurean abundance in the nature of things, a revelry that rubs its shoulders with death. I hear a less epicurean but likewise oracular voice when Samuel Menashe writes,

There is no Jerusalem but this
Breathed in flesh by shameless love
Built high upon the tides of blood
I believe the Prophets
And like David I bless myself
With all my might

Rosanna Warren’s So Forth: Fierie Vertue Rouz’d

So Forth: Poems
Rosanna Warren
(W.W. Norton & Co., 2020, 83 pp., $25.95).

I envy Rosanna Warren her capacity for retreat. So Forth, her newest book of poems, retreats in each of its five sections: to memory, to the self within the city, to history, to foreign cities, and finally to a mountain cabin where “waterfall / careers down among umbers and blanks of ice-filigreed rock.” At first, the leisure out of which these pieces spring seems almost mythic: whence comes this endless means to travel and withdraw, and the inner and outer peace that allows thinking to move from observation to art?

Bowels and Tapestries: Paisley Rekdal’s Nightingale

by Paisley Rekdal
(Copper Canyon Press, 2019, 96 pp., $16)

Paisley Rekdal’s Nightingale might be read as a kind of working out of personal poetics, using Ovid open-handedly as a template for exploring strange transformations. The nightingale represents, as it did for Keats and countless others, the poet’s need to make a song from a violent encounter, even if the need troubles the poet. The poems are long and allusive—a style not, admittedly, to everyone’s taste—but also personal and confrontational; I was reminded more than once of the genre-blending in Ann Carson’s “The Glass Essay.” As one might expect in a retooling of Ovid, sexuality and sexual experiences establish the major tensions: Rekdal’s pieces imagine scenarios not only in which sexuality changes, but also in which a speaker’s perception toward, or attitude about, or memory of an encounter—or assault—shifts.

Left Wine

We turn into an alley, nearing the end of our walk,
and I straggle, sapped, by a massing of lost vines.
Someone has left their garden, a sure, deliberate planting,
spilling into the gravel, bins, a parked car.
Incongruently, panged, I think of a white goal
unmet in an ancient track: mēta. I’ve stopped short;
rancor enriches my throat. That where parents are bowed down,
the elderly hard to their limits, cultivation could hang abandoned.
These grapes are for no one’s taste,
though I’m touching them with my hand,
whose flourishing doesn’t belong, already turning the spokes
of the stroller, my children chiding from their aimless bicycles ahead.

Riverwalk, 37 Weeks Pregnant

Like the whoop of a student
tumbling from his dorm into January sun,
swaggering and young,…… spreads—

like the wide
scrawl on the concrete bridge:
I love Karin—…… …… (I love Nick!

look at those kids…… in their eloquent coats
aqua blue…… green as a jewel
shoving a boulder of grainy snow
through the rails of the bridge
crushing it…… …… SINK IT!…… …… no
it floats…… …… unstifled
those are my kids)

…… …… …… …… …… …… my cloud

sailing from my round sides
irrepressible omphalos…… …… overtakes everything:


They cross the threshold
of our humming house & we fold our wings, falling

drowsy as geese, nuptial
in the window’s evening flare. Your parents now:

at the couch, settling
the floor, shrugging their ghosts to the steaming tiles.

I could rise, fruit
in boxes mellowing the air behind. I could

be gone, not
sit, speaking, with the ones

you love, at our hearth,
brooding to dreams silent as the balm

of an apple, longevity
alighted, close, a roost, breathing, lying, at hand.

Inadequacy Battles the Immense: On Rachel Hadas’s Poems for Camilla

Poems for Camilla
by Rachel Hadas
(Measure Press, 2018)

Poems for Camilla works from the initially startling assumption that an ancient war text can serve as a natural meeting point between a grandmother and granddaughter. Hadas, however, focuses on the timelessness of the text, rather than its martial aspects. The Aeneid becomes, in her lyric poems, not just the means by which she can share wisdom with a beloved young person, but also a living, literary world into which she can insert herself past her own life’s boundaries, there for her granddaughter to find.

Momentum and Breath: on Elise Partridge’s The If Borderlands & Stephen Kampa’s Articulate as Rain

The If Borderlands: Collected Poems
By Elise Partridge
(New York Review of Books, 272pp., $16.00)

Articulate as Rain
By Stephen Kampa
(Waywiser Press, 96pp., $14.25)

It’s been a long time since I’ve been as riveted by a poetry collection as I was by The If Borderlands. Elise Partridge’s work is mostly new to me, but it possesses such meticulous, formally attentive understatement, such a range of subject matter, and such philosophical curiosity and wisdom, that it is surely the equal, to my mind, of poetic thinkers like Clampitt, Bishop, and Schnackenberg.

‘Mortal as I’d Always Been’: C.K. Williams’ Falling Ill

Falling Ill: Last Poems
by C.K. Williams
(FSG, 2017, 64 pgs., $23)

Those looking for consolation in C.K. Williams’ final book (Falling Ill, FSG, 2017), written after an end-of-life diagnosis, won’t find much of it. But there is spare beauty, control, honesty, mitigated terror, and love. Especially love.