Best known for a pair of provocative memoirs, The Liar's Club and Cherry, Mary Karr is also an acclaimed poet. A new collection called Sinners Welcome finds her coming to terms with her spiritual self, remembering lost friends and battling the empty-nest blues as her son leaves home for college. Karr is a master craftswoman, and her poems call attention to themselves through their very apparent artistry. She digs in deep to create tension a verbal reversal that's unexpected, a phrase that astonishes, an image that startles. In Revelations in the Key of K, Karr describes how the alphabet has literally shaped her life: I came awake in kindergarten,/under the letter K chalked neat. . . And in the surrounding alphabet, my whole life hid /names of my beloveds, sacred vows I'd break. A series of pieces re-envisioning famous religious tableaux (the Crucifixion, the Nativity, the Garden of Gethsemane) contains some of the collection's most precise and sculpted poetry. Indeed, Karr's own spiritual quest is the foundation of the book, which concludes with a wonderful essay called Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer.

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