Four New Poetry Collections Confront Despair With Wonder

By Arthur Sze


The sight lines in Sze’s 10th collection are just that — imagistic lines strung together by jump-cuts, creating a filmic collage that itself seems to be a portrait of simultaneity. “Between two points, we traverse an infinite set / of paths,” he writes, fascinated by how the accumulation and juxtaposition of disparate, keenly observed things can get us from here to there, allowing us to hold multitudes, too.

One poem, “Traversal,” spins a tale in couplets about a peaceful morning spent rowing across a lake, a day with “the tensile strength of silk.” The facing page, otherwise blank, contains the line “—During the Cultural Revolution, a boy saw his mother shot by a firing squad—.”

This is a poetry of assemblage, where violence and beauty combine and hang on Sze’s particular gift for the leaping non sequitur. “Green tips of tulips are rising out of the earth— / you don’t flense a whale or fire at beer cans / in an arroyo but catch the budding / tips of pear branches and wonder,” Sze writes. Inside these poems of billowing consciousness, we too are alive to a spectrum of wonders.
69 pp. Copper Canyon. Paper, $16.

By Emily Skaja


What happens when rage and grief transform us, when our bodily fury makes us feel animal? What language do we use to howl such feral moments? These are the questions that animate Skaja’s taut, ferocious debut, “Brute.” These poems, centered on the long arc away from a troubling relationship threaded with violence, butt up against the question of how to represent that former, furious state. “Being the one who — being the one that— / I have the problem of needing to say my history teeth-first to a body / of water.” The teeth-first historian can’t always tell the whole tale, but she can come up with the poignant, dazzling line “How sharp it is / to be wrong-fledged.” There is rueful retracing here: “Just once I wanted / to hit & hold the person / who could hit & hold / me down.” Other places, the poems’ furious compression feels carnal, and the intensity of feeling becomes almost mystic, in such lines as “A bird is a vessel. It carries a field.” In the midst of so much complication, certain poems may seem to end too easily, but others are riddled, deftly complex: “There was a bottle. / There was a bottleneck exit.” This is a book about survival, and a welcome, confident debut.
74 pp. Graywolf. Paper, $16.

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