Fresh new writers rub elbows with past masters in this scintillating collection of verse.
Under the label “New Neo-Realist,” Lark, editor of the Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities, assembles a collection of narrative poems that usually feature frank engagement with ordinary life; a modern, colloquial idiom; and emotion leavened by irony, astringency, and flashes of humor. That leaves room for a huge range of subjects, styles, and moods. Erika Meitner’s “Wal-Mart Supercenter” contrasts the stores’ sublime friendliness with the police-blotter hell surrounding them (“A couple tried to sell their six-month-old for twenty-five bucks / to buy meth in the Salinas Walmart parking lot”), and L.W. Milam’s surreal “Tootie Fruit ME and Ass-Grasp LA” invokes “crowds of crying turtles, & / Peasant armies of hymn-singing, drug-ridden geckos.” Christopher Kennedy’s mordantly funny “Riddle of Self-Worth” laments that “My pet vulture has the disconcerting habit of staring / at the clock and then at me”; Howard Nemerov’s lyrical “Goldfish” spotlights the creatures’ “Waving disheveled rags of elegant fin / Languidly in the light”; and Tom Crawford’s “Companion to a Loon” levels a matter-of-fact elegy: “Listen bird, I’m past making death sad. / The tide has no time for wakes / or tragedies. We’re either coming in / or going out.” The volume contains an especially strong set of poems by women, including Kate Gale’s agonized “What I Did Not Tell Anyone,” in which a new mother confides “That I felt my whole family / greedily feeding off me. / That my body felt stolen. / That I felt like Russia during all the wars / troops tramping over me on their way to Moscow,” and Christine Hamm’s bitterly whimsical “Signs You Are Ovulating”: “As you apply mascara / in the bathroom, your eyes slit, / a crow hops onto your shoulder, / and whispers, right here, now.” Lark juxtaposes works by well-known legends, such as Allen Ginsberg, Philip Larkin, e.e. Cummings, and Langston Hughes, as revealing counterpoints to the newer poems. Unlike the strings of cryptic non sequiturs in much Master of Fine Arts—bred poetry, these poems are decidedly reader-friendly without compromising their literary artistry. Along with their inventive language and dazzling metaphor, their accessibility and immediacy pack a wallop.
A fine anthology of some of the best contemporary poetry around.