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Scattershot Poetry Reviews -- Three Books

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I wish I had time to review the list of new books before me -- here are just three. I hope to keep up with more "roundup" reviews in the future.

Deborah Landau's second book, The Last Usable Hour (Copper Canyon) is as hypnotic as the change in intensity and texture of light as night comes. The music here is tamped down, but startling as it leaps up suddenly like a match struck in blackness:

"Since only the physical exists/we stood in the cemetery/and worked from above/the trees shot straight up/in translation.." or "Worry the river over its banks/the train into flames/worry the black rain into the city/the troops into times square.."

The speaker of these stunning poems appears heartbroken and haunted yet filled with abrupt passion and resistance to loss -- uncompromising, uncheerful but "acquainted with the night" -- an insomniac's rhapsody.

Deborah Landau has put urgency into the often low-key advent of a second book -- these beautiful harrowing poems are new-minted and young, but also age-old, broken and wise. She has found the perfect tone for her "city of interiors".

Syd Lea's Young of the Year (Four Way Books) might seem predictable at first in its narrative of advancing age and family life, its memories of youth and jazz. Small town New England is familiar poetry-territory but Lea is so skillful at injecting emotion into his terse yet lyrical syllables -- the world is uncommon again:

"Under the garish fast-food billboard/which insults a field on Route 10/always in tilth before the farm/like so many others went down/and its owners dispersed -- under that come-on/for the famous Happy Meal/two men of indeterminate age/are plucking dandelions."

It is that tart economical diction and tight syntax that yet reveal a broader empathy -- a soaring sensibility. People are homeless and hungry, the landscape often ungenerous, but in many of these poems, kindness is the miracle. Miracles abound in this book.

David Hernandez' Hoodwinked (Sarabande Books) is a bold book with a sound all its own:

"A buffalo could outrun a lion, could outlast/a horse. Take a bullet in its shaggy head/a buffalo could, and still roam."

Under all the surfaces, is where these zany, ever-present poems roam. You have to pay close attention, reading, to catch up to the riddle and its revelation here. Hernandez is not fooling around, but this book brilliantly fools with our expectations and inability to focus on what's in front of us.