The Constant Critic

Timely poetry reviews

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/customer/www/ on line 65

The Best American Poetry 2003

Guest Editor Yusef Komunyakaa, Series Editor David Lehman

Set aside any reservations about the superlative in the title; the copyright page advises, “This book is a work of fiction.” Resist the urge to skip from the table of contents to the poets you feel safe with; the editors honor only 75 poems, one…

My Mojave

Donald Revell

Injured hymns came issuing from the vicinity of Donald Revell’s previous volume, the elegiac Arcady; his new book, My Mojave, stands the respective ground of its title. It would be difficult to select two regions that pose a greater contrast than Arcady and the Mojave….

A Handmade Museum

Brenda Coultas

I had a hell of a good time with A Handmade Museum, in which Brenda Coultas commits the fairly uncommon trick of going to both country and town. And even though landscapes rural and urban enjoy equal attention here, the collection altogether has the feeling…

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…


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,…


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…


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…


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,…



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…