Poetry seems like an awfully manly game this spring. Minnesota presses and poets have a nice stack of new titles, and if anyone out there is under the misguided impression that poetry is for tenderhearted, flower-picking girls, a gander at these books will knock that fallacy flat.
Macalester grad and former professor Alex Lemon has a new collection out, “Fancy Beasts” (Milkweed Editions), which tells a less polished, more brutal version of the story he gives us in “Happy,” his memoir. Lemon came to Macalester on a baseball scholarship and spent a few months locked in extreme party mode, so much so that when he suffered a brain aneurism, he couldn’t tell at first what was going on. A really bad hangover? No, something much worse. The former jock turned a poet after he fought his way back to health, although that fight remains ongoing and gives his writing a raw and vital edge:
My entire body is killing me
& I have witnessed my own death
& and lived — I whisper my own wagers
against disaster into the dark air
From “It Had Only Been Dead a Few Hours” (Fancy Beasts)
Next, Tony Hoagland blends the X-rated with the sublime in “Unincorporated Persons of the Late Honda Dynasty” (Graywolf Press). He finds deeper meaning in the mundane: televised DNA testing that exposes the dark secrets of history, hotel toiletries that become a delivery vehicle for an American caste system, cell phones and emails that make it all even harder to understand what the other person means. There are breakup poems here that veer between rude and reverent, homages to dead friends that express the sheer confusion of being left behind in an altered world.
Turns out the real reason for growing up
Was to learn what to do with suffering.
Not being surprised was the answer.
What else do you want to know?
From “Demolition” (“Unincorporated Persons of the Late Honda Dynasty“)
Carleton professor and Minnesota Book Award winner Greg Hewett offers five mini-collections of contemplative and highly accomplished poems in Darkacre (Coffee House Press). He takes the long view of life and history, calling in ancient civilizations to make sense of our own, or imagining hidden worlds, the flip side of our own. A set of poems hinges on the discovery of a dolphin skull (“it’s easier to imagine a human than a dolphin dead”), which seems to reverse the known world. His own past seems not to be the thing that matters so much in these mature poems, although glimpsing it through the window of an apartment brings a wash of carefully controlled emotion. Everything has changed except the view,
That has remained
Unchanged, as if I had not
Crossed its improbable span
Without destination then.
Stay tuned: We’ll hear from Girlville and one of the reigning queens of Minnesota’s poetry scene next.