Providing a moment of repose in our accelerated era, poetry is an enduring art. Just in time to celebrate National Poetry Month, we’re exploring three new collections that address the joys and challenges of contemporary existence with compassion, wit and linguistic ingenuity.
This month's best new mysteries include blackmail, drama at the Italian opera, a Cuban scandal and the latest from Norwegian powerhouse Jo Nesbø.
Each April, National Poetry Month promotes the enduring art form in the classroom and beyond, celebrating the integral role that poetry has played in our literary tradition. Yet, this once-a-year focus on poetry also reminds us of how few readers still make poetry a regular part of their reading diet. We encounter poetry every day, of course, in its most populist forms—song lyrics, advertising—but the meager sales of poetry collections would indicate that few of us are curling up by the fire with a volume of verse. If asked, many readers might cite their lack of interest as growing out of intimidation—they just don’t “get” poetry, its language is hard to crack, its subject matter arcane.
It’s rare that a memoir is so emotionally engaging that a reader may wish to reach back through time and envelop the author in a warm parental hug. But that’s the impulse poet Tracy K. Smith engenders in this account of growing up as a dutiful daughter in a small town in northern California during the 1970s and ’80s. “My mother was proud of my decorum,” Smith recalls. “She liked having a little girl who instinctively wanted to obey.” Smith was much more than a compliant child, though. She was also preternaturally attuned to everything happening around her and determined to find a place for it in her rich imagination.
Ten years ago, Jeanne Birdsall introduced readers to the funny, smart, sweet-but-never-saccharine Penderwick sisters, whose initial summer adventures were followed by two additional books. This fourth installment opens five years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. With Rosalind away at college and Skye and Jane busy with teenage pursuits, the focus is on 10-year-old Batty, along with her stepbrother Ben and the newest Penderwick sibling, 2-year-old Lydia.
When Bear visits a duck family one spring, they have so much fun together he decides to stay. But the ducks’ home is too small for Bear, and his ideal space is far too gloomy (and roomy) for the ducks. Can a compromise be struck? The smart money’s on finding Room for Bear.
Each new book by Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) is, on the surface at least, vastly different from those that have come before. The Buried Giant—his first novel in almost 10 years—is no exception. This fable-like narrative, set in England just after the mythic reign of Arthur, chronicles the adventures of an elderly couple as they journey across a wild and rugged landscape. Old and forgetful, but still endearingly in love, Axl and Beatrice have been cast to the margins of their settlement, not even allowed candles for fear that they may do themselves harm. So, they decide to set out for their son’s village, which they believe they can reach with a few days’ travel. But the landscape abounds with human hostility and ignorance, as well as the shadowy possibility of ogres and other mythical beasts.
When young Ursula Brown reaches the estate of the Vaughns (who are also recognizable as the Three Bears) to be a governess for their son, Teddy, her story becomes less a simple fairy-tale retelling and more of a mash-up of classic literary tropes.
In 20 novels published over a remarkable 50-year period, Anne Tyler has staked her claim as our premier chronicler of the ordinary, imperfect American family. Set in Baltimore, like most of her work, A Spool of Blue Thread concerns just such a family. Abby and Red Whitshank and their four children are, from the outside, just like anyone else. Red is a second-generation building contractor, Abby a social worker, and the clan has long occupied a rambling house that Red’s father once built for another man. Like all families, they have had their ups and downs, their squabbles, resentments and misunderstandings, but nothing has irreparably damaged the household fabric.
This radiant collection of short stories features a set of flawed yet sympathetic women in a whole mess of compromising positions.