Ungar’s (English/Coll. of Saint Rose; The Origin of the Milky Way, 2007, etc.) new collection may not make her immortal, but it surely establishes her as a contemporary poet of the first rank.
This poetry collection is like a bowl of fruit and cream: it’s so delicious, and it all goes down so easily, that you forget how much nutrition is there. She’s also the rare talent who can take nearly anything and make it into poetry. Everything is ore for her refinery, and she pulls inspiration from numerous and sundry sources, from the natural world to mystical Judaism to an exercise class for the elderly to a student’s essay. (The author is a writing professor.) This last source fuels “On a Student Paper Comparing Emily Dickinson to Lady Gaga,” a poem that no one should ever have tried to write—and that Ungar turns to gold. This clever piece demonstrates the author’s slow turn from skeptical distance to full acceptance of her young author’s thesis; it concludes, “Should I google Lady Gaga? / Or just give the girl an A.” This collection is full of such unlikely experiments—all of which the author pulls off with easy grace. Two poems with “Medusa” in their titles show her admirable dexterity with symbols. The first, “Call Me Medusa,” takes the snake-haired sorceress as a metaphor for the author herself: “I was a brain, eyes and hair. / If not a beauty, are you then a monster? / Some say I was beautiful, raped, punished / for it, then beheaded in a rear-view mirror. / Even cut off, my head could still turn men / to stone.” The second, a poem that gives the collection its title, compares tiny jellyfish to the same mythic figure: “Tentacles resorb, / umbrella reverts, / medusa reattaches / to the ocean floor / and grows a new / colony of polyps / that bud into / identical medusae, / bypassing death.” Thus, Medusa is human and other, dead and deathless, beautiful and terrible and strange.
An entrancing book of poetry.