The Constant Critic

Timely poetry reviews

Incidental Eclipse

Joseph Donahue

"I was in Dallas when Kennedy was shot," Joseph Donahue wrote, in a poem called “Seven” in his memorable debut, Before Creation, thus giving a characteristically radiant and weird answer to the generation-defining conversation starter. (Warren Burger’s ghost need not rise: the poem’s title indicates…

Gone

Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe’s Gone reads like a soul’s travelogue in installments, a turning over of themes, positions, and bodies as the author seeks, as Simone Weil did, to maintain a conversion through effort. The single prose poem of the book, flatly titled ‘Doubt,’ confirms this alliance,…

Gone/Economics

Fanny Howe

Poetry, for all its revelry in connotations, ambiguity, slippage, and nonsense, is nevertheless a magnet for certainty-seekers. Or doubters. Same thing. I have a "Fanny Howe’s great but nobody has explained why" speech: it starts out noting the distinction between poetry and prose having become…

Nest

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Competent communal living entails inattention to things no doubt worthy of scrutiny: physically and psychically felt vacancies, emotionally textured spaces we wheel through daily. The registers and relations within those intricate shadings can daunt, as Henri Michaux says: "You cannot even conceive the horrible inside-outside…

Barter

Monica Youn

Clarity: that superlative quality, everywhere referenced, nowhere understood. There is a special pod of Hell reserved for those who evaluate poetry on the basis of its presumed clarity (or lack thereof): woe, woe, woe betide those who neglect Monica Youn’s excellent Barter in favor of…

The Sleep That Changed Everything

Lee Ann Brown

Reading American poetry after the death of Allen Ginsberg, it is possible to forget that writers have been known to transform the world from time to time. Not that younger poets have forgotten to put “reimagine life” on a to-do list—Lee Ann Brown even made…

The Next American Essay

John D'Agata, ed.

Anthologies insist on sandbagging poets with monikers and historic brands; their effort at fiat is often in cahoots with simplification and shtick. In the year 2000 we saw many attempts at defining the “new” in poetry, mostly dictated by a willy-nilly aesthetic and/or cultural Identity,…

Dread

Ai

Here’s a discouraging thought experiment as brought to you by the Homeland Office of Ontological Terror: Consider the possibility that the quality of any random poetry sample is determined exclusively by its location on the asymptotic curve of the reader’s familiarity with poetry altogether. This…

Famous Americans

Loren Goodman

Disclosure: Loren Goodman’s time at Columbia coincided with mine. While I generally follow Publishers Weekly‘s lead in preferring not to talk about first books of poems, and given that my eyebrows arch automatically when I see other critics praise their friends, I would feel remiss…

Corpus Socius

Lance Phillips

Emily Dickinson’s lines A bomb Upon the Ceiling Is an Improving thing It keeps the Nerves progressive Conjecture flourishing articulate my experience of reading Lance Phillips’ Corpus Socius. Phillips’ intense rhetoric of fragmentation and condensation elides narrative and image in the service of spiritual questing….

Krypton Nights

Bryan Dietrich

If it is true that no great and enduring volume can be written on the flea, it is equally true that the function the flea cannot be made to occupy will be well served by ever-more great and enduring volumes. Recourse to material (sometimes transubstantiated…