Poetry has a capacity that other literary forms lack—the lightning-quick ability to provide a sense of connection on an intimate scale. These new collections will open your eyes to the ways a skilled poet can conjure fresh meaning from our familiar language.
POET AT PLAY
Named England’s poet laureate in 2009, Carol Ann Duffy writes linguistically extravagant poems that mix an appealing sense of play with a disciplined awareness of form. In her new collection, The Bees, she examines nature and history, relationships and politics through the lens of her visionary sensibility, deftly capturing the abundance of everyday experience.
The pieces in this accessible collection celebrate the poet’s transformative urge—the practice of remaking in words whatever meets the eye, a theme Duffy mines in “Poetry”: “I couldn’t see woods/for the names of trees—sycamore,/yew, birch, beech.” Elsewhere, elm trees are “green rhymes” and birds “verbs.” In “Invisible Ink,” Duffy turns the urge on the air itself, presenting it as a “fluent, glittery stream”—a communal medium we all inscribe with a “vast same poem.”
Duffy is a calculating and precise poet, a genius when it comes to line design. Positioned to produce the maximum amount of sound, words rub elbows in her work, and the results are often lavish, like these verses from “Virgil’s Bees”: “each bee’s body/at its brilliant flower, lover-stunned,/strumming on fragrance, smitten.” For Duffy, poetry’s purpose is to “pursue the human.” As The Bees proves, the chase can produce glorious associations.
NAVIGATING THE PAST
Complex and symphonic, with sections and movements that unfold slowly and inform each other, the poems in Rick Hilles’ lovely second collection, A Map of the Lost World, examine the nature of memory and the trials of coming to grips with the past. Many of the poems are narrative-based—story-like, plotted and wonderfully compelling. In “The Red Scarf & the Black Briefcase,” Hilles takes on the daring persona of real-life French Resistance activist Lisa Fittko, who reflects on her experiences during World War II: “Red, the color of my hat but also the way my walking/with it through the raging Brownshirts still causes/them to part around me like the Red Sea.”
Throughout the collection, the past invades the present—often quite literally, as in “Nights & Days of 2007: Autumn.” Written during a stay in the apartment of the late poet James Merrill, the piece chronicles the author’s attempt to contact a dead college buddy via Ouija board, a device “whose ghost-galleon absinthe-glow rides the dark.” Whether sifting through his own memories or channeling the voices of the past, Hilles composes poems that, ultimately, honor history and the personal stories that lie behind it.
BEST OF THE BEST
Think of it as American poetry’s hot 100: Spanning a quarter of a century, The Best of the Best American Poetry: 25th Anniversary Edition collects 100 classic pieces from the yearly anthology The Best American Poetry. This indispensable volume, with its rich mix of voices, forms and techniques, serves as a melting pot of contemporary American verse. Curated by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, this diverse anthology is filled with some of literature’s most respected names, including Adrienne Rich, James Merrill and Jane Kenyon, as well as newer writers like Kevin Young and Meghan O’Rourke.