Wright’s lovely poems won the Blue Lynx Prize—in this case both a blessing and a curse. They offer little in the way of formal or stylistic innovation: Wright, whose credits include booklength translations from Spanish and Bengali, wears her medium-short free-verse line like a uniform, marching through unremarkably lineated stanzas whose sentiments also file past without making a strong impression. Even those that stray from the mold, like a sestina about the concentration camp at Dachau, come across as bland. The central theme, the political upheavals of Brazil and Chile in the 1970s, plays out in a slow cliché, thanks largely to the poet’s decision to use the events that the poems witness as a kind of backdrop for the narrator’s considerably less interesting, and muddily described, affairs and encounters with the men and women in the thick of the fight. Some of the images are cruel and lasting—as in “The Room,” where a woman finds herself standing at gunpoint in the room where Salvador Allende was killed in Chile’s 1973 coup. At moments, the subtexts coalesce in stinging and surprising images: “I didn’t know the future tense / of any language in which you can be held / at gunpoint for questioning.” At others, imagery does the opposite, bogging down the poet’s search for clarity: “My resolve froze, a majolica swan / stalled on a lake of sheet crystal / in a mad king’s dream.” The collection wobbles between the asperity of historical events and rich descriptions that tend to cover up the very emotions those descriptions seek to mine.
Plenty of mangoes but little brainfire.