Hippo Manchester
December 29, 2005


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Books: Poetry of note from 2005

The Niagara River by Kay Ryan (Grove Press, 72 pages)

California poet Kay Ryan operates with scalpel-like precision and ferocity. The Niagara River, her sixth collection, is a series of 60-odd short yet dense poems that use the natural world to study the pain and responsibility of self-exploration. Ryan’s poems are tiny explosions of ferocious edges and angular rhymes that can surprise the reader. In this line from “Sharks’ Teeth,” note the clever and nearly hidden rhyme: “Noise gets / its zest from the / small shark’s-tooth- / shaped fragments / of rest angled / in it.” Sharp and quick-witted, The Niagara River is a fast but deeply complex collection.

The Fork Without Hunger by Laurie Lamon (CavanKerry Press, 49 pages)

In this short but impressive debut, Laurie Lamon explores the duality of life: hope and regret, death and birth, pain and pleasure, etc. There is a deep maturity behind the quirky lightness of the tone and the flippant use of spacing to focus the reader. One of the best poems of the year, “Killing the dog,” illustrates the wisdom behind the simple but potentially life-altering act of putting down a family dog: “The dog settles into my arms / and we lean back, watching / the leaves of the flame- / willow burn, the perishable / spring sap rising.” The Fork Without Hunger is expressive and deeply felt.

Black Maria by Kevin Young (Knopf, 233 pages)

This deeply ambitious, book-length sequence of short poems tells the story of a poetic detective and his fanatical pursuit of the mysterious Delilah Redbones. Kevin Jones tells the story through the poems by paying homage to the film noir detective story, and breaking the book into five annotated parts for ease of understanding. From smoky bars to underground characters to leggy beauties, this is poetry worth savoring and rereading. Black Maria is a seamless meshing of two distinct art forms.

Jack and Other New Poems by Maxine Kumin (Norton, 108 pages)

No best-of list would be complete without a new collection by New Hampshire’s own Maxine Kumin. One of the country’s most celebrated poets, Kumin released her 14th collection in 2005, and the themes are familiar: the landscape, weather and natural world surrounding rural New England. Along with the familiar local themes come wisdom and understanding that are world-wise. Broken into three general themes, life in and around her farm, aging and political history, Jack is an earnest collection of meditations on death and social consciousness from a poet who continues to be relevant 

Tabloid News by John Leax (Wordfarm, 52 pages)

Here’s an interesting little collection from a small publishing house out of La Porte, Indiana. John Leax assembles a series of poems out of, you guessed it, tabloid news headlines. With titles like, “Baby Born With Antlers,” “Duck Hunters Shoot Angel” and “Merman Caught in South Pacific,” Leax considers a world where these headlines might be true. And if they were, what would your reaction be? To Leax, the major themes of this exploration are desire and fear. Funny, imaginative and sometimes poignant, Leax manages to make the ridiculous not just possible, but desirable as well.

—Dan Szczesny