In honor of National Poetry Month, our poetry reviewer Ginny Kaczmarek offers this great round up of recent poetry collections. Ginny writes:
I’m a fan of Beth Ann Fennelly–I reviewed Tender Hooks a while back for Literary Mama–and I love her new book, Unmentionables. Tender Hooks dealt primarily with the birth of a child and the pain of a previous miscarriage; in Unmentionables, the speaker discusses the challenges and joys of having two children, watching them grow, trying to keep up. This book has more about the passage of time and mortality, watching oneself transform from hip party girl to responsible mother and artist. I particularly love Fennelly’s sharp sense of humor, how she can turn a funny poem about cow tipping into a meditation on the reasons behind the 9/11 attacks, or another about watching half-naked young men run and how it makes her feel as a sexual woman almost old enough to be their mother.
Another book I’m enjoying is Marie Howe’s The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. Like Fennelly, Howe has the ability to zero in on the minutiae of one’s life and expand it into contemplations of the soul. A central idea in Howe’s book is the distance between today’s secular, quotidian lives, often bogged down in minutiae (running errands, getting to school, rushing to work) compared with the sacred stories of daily miracles and the presence of the divine one reads about in the Bible or ancient poetry. The middle section is called “Poems from the Life of Mary,” which consists of five short poems written from the perspective of the Mary as a young girl asked to become the mother of God, and how it might feel to be touched by divinity.
Both books contemplate what it means to be a spiritual being in a secular world, dealing with the daily needs of our children, our aging bodies, the accumulation of details necessary to get through the day, week, month contrasted with the great mysteries of death, birth, the life of the soul, the places we touch when we create art or make love or experience connection to the divine. This is poetry at its best, puzzling over the conundrums of what it means to be human.