If poetry is a car, this debut collection hums and purrs like an expertly tuned machine.
Good poetry is about pressure—how much force one can pack into, and wring from, the fewest words—and it’s clear from the get-go that Handy is fully aware of the nature of that struggle. One can hear it in “Something Like a Sonnet for Lucie Brock-Broido,” when she writes, “she lifts her pen to torque / A primer for divining spells.” Much can be divined from the poet’s choice of the verb “torque.” Another author might have opted for the more conventional word “write.” Torque, by contrast, is rotational force: the power that carries an object around a fixed point, and with this simple word, Handy gives readers a whole picture—of pen pressed down to page on the fulcrum of a poet’s knuckle. Poetry, she seems to say, is pressure and, thus, work. Her verse is chock full of such little joys, of words and phrases that, when pressed, give way to images, stories, and worlds. A high point is the title poem, in which the speaker marvels at her grandson’s rehabilitation of an old sports car: “he replaced / the brakes, ignition, clutch hydraulics, / pumps, belts, hoses, and the choke. / Its bracken chassis overhauled, / the vintage MGB positively preened.” Later, the young mechanic takes her on a ride, and they sweep “along Illinois highways, / eyes riveted through a shared windshield.” To her credit, Handy doesn’t romanticize the relationship between grandmother and grandchild, but she does show what they hold in common: the clear windshield, the road, or perhaps the work. This is a book about rehabilitating language, and readers are sure to enjoy the ride.
A book that takes old words, spruces them up, and puts them out on the highway again.