Five poets who find music in the personal, the political or in the music itself
By Paul Muldoon
179 p. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $ 27.
“Howdie-skelp”: the slap a midwife gives to a newborn baby. The poem sequences dominate Muldoon’s storm of slaps against piety, prudery, cruelty and greed. ‘American Standard’, named after a toilet brand, picks up pages on lines from TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ while grazing on contemporary concerns such as gerrymandering, immigration, and grotesque politicians and their platforms media. Like Eliot, Muldoon seeks great apocalyptic vision; unlike Eliot, Muldoon is willing – no, obliged – to clown.
In a long sequence Muldoon dives into the human OK that underlies large paintings. His debauchery is political. Muldoon’s version of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” depicts the tablecloth like Mary Magdalene’s bed sheet, the fold in “A gutter filled with candle grease. / The sperm stain where Judas has spilled his salt. Like many important poets before him, from John Milton to Tim Rice, Muldoon knows that sinners and wicked are more interesting, perhaps more human, than the self-proclaimed good. Poems, for Muldoon, are an opportunity to probe language in search of an abysmal truth: as appalling and as profound.It is clear that beneath the play, Muldoon is furious, maybe even terrified, about the state of affairs.
PLAYLIST OF THE APOCALYPSE
By Rita Colombe
114 pages. Norton. $ 26.95.
Many poems here address disability, history and everyday human behavior, but racism and economic oppression are the main concerns of the former poet laureate in this book, her first in 12 years. In âAubade West,â which takes place in Ferguson, Missouri, the speaker could be Michael Brown or anyone prone to poverty and racism in a small town. “A day like any other, / me in the streets / crunchy like an insect crossing a frying pan.” In less loaded poems, Dove’s affable voice occupies a medium tonal distance. âI love the hour before take off, / that time without time, no home,â she writes in âVacation,â observing a âbachelor trying / to ignore a baby’s moansâ and a athlete waiting to board “like a seal trained for the dive.” The poem does not take off and does not want – after all, the passengers are always at the door. But âBellringer,â the book’s first poem, certainly does. Here, Dove takes on the voice of Henry Martin, born into slavery in Monticello on the day Thomas Jefferson died, who worked as a bell ringer at the University of Virginia. Voiced by Dove, Martin imagines that upon hearing his bells ringing, “in this shiny, bloated / republic, / someone will stop to whisper // Henri! –and for a moment / my name flies freely. An appropriate way to start a book by trying to understand the saving graces and the things from which they save us.
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By Jim Moore
102 pages. Grey Wolf. Paper, $ 16.
“I am always very thirsty”, concludes a poem in “Prognosis”. Moore is concerned about old age, loneliness, mortality, and also the failure of the American body politic itself. They are striking lyrical reportage poems; whimsical, tragic, a bit fantastic. Looking out of a window in “The Pandemic Halo”, the poet notices a glow appearing around “the nurse who wears a pink cape and pulls up / in the parking lot in front of me, almost always empty now”.