Gilbert (No Man’s Land, 1994, etc.) has published five books of poetry since 1979, but is best known as a feminist critic and editor. Given her achievements, it is not surprising that her poetry reflects the concerns of the feminist movement in the 1970s and ’80s: memory, loss, anger, and identity. But although Gilbert’s prose can sometimes be reductive, her poetry never is. Each page writes a journey into the strangeness of the everyday, and at its best Gilbert’s verse opens itself to surprise and wonder. The poems are arranged in reverse chronological order, with the most recent taking up almost the first half of the collection. These new works lack the humor and energy of her early poems (such gems as “The Red Cabbages,” which “stare like monster heads, / featureless beings, / each set regally in a tough / ruff as if to show / Shakespeare where to go”). They lack also the infectious sadness of Ghost Volcano, the volume of elegies for Gilbert’s deceased husband that, she states in the preface, “disrupted all the writing I was doing at the time of his unexpected death. . . .” It seems fitting, then, that these recent poems give the sense of finding their way in a new world. The discoveries here are contingent and timid. The hulking cabbages of an earlier time resurface in “The Mall,” but now are “decorative,” in “concrete planters,” and they “are closing, closing into their own still cores.”
A book bound up in life’s crushing and generous embrace.