“Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems,” By Connie Wanek. (University of Nebraska Press, 181 pages, $19.95.)
“Rival Gardens” brings together poems from Connie Wanek’s first three books and some 50 new pieces, giving readers a chance to marvel at this poet’s steadfast dedication to the lyric form.
Since her 1997 book, “Bonfire,” Wanek has rooted her compact lyrics in the visual landscape of rural Minnesota and the continuity of her life there. “A good life, near the children,/ near the graves.”
Wanek delights not with linguistic acrobatics, but with aptness of description. “Day opens and closes like a camera shutter”; “The catbird fanned his tail in May / the way a man strums his half-tuned guitar.”
Her new poems use the metaphor of the garden to meditate on mortality and reconsider the myth of Eden. For Wanek, Eden is her backyard and her poems always return home: “We are happiest in context, our feet / bare again in the summer garden.”
Wanek will be with Charles Baxter at Literary Witnesses, 7 p.m. April 18, Plymouth Congregational Church, Mpls.
“Beautiful Wall,” By Ray Gonzalez. (BOA Edition, 120 pages, $16.)
In his 16th poetry collection, Ray Gonzalez asks: “Are you obsessed with the mud of yesterday?”
Gonzalez’s dense, surrealism-inflected poetry does seem obsessed with mud. But each time the image appears, it transforms. Mud becomes angels, walls and clay — metaphors for the survival of Mexican culture under colonialism. This culture transgresses “the violent border” between the United States and Mexico.
In Gonzalez’s poetry, the spiritual and the earthly coexist and history unfolds in present tense: “A poet said the past never happens because / it is always present.”
He writes about male artists who influenced him as if they were still alive. Jack Kerouac tours Mexico with his mother and Max Ernst atones for stealing Kachina dolls.
With long sentences and repeated phrases, his poems have an incantatory rhythm that take the reader on visionary journeys through a landscape saturated with history and myth.
“May Day,” By Gretchen Marquette. (Graywolf Press, 78 pages, $16.)
In her startlingly original debut, Gretchen Marquette describes dissecting deer hearts at school. Cut open, they reveal “pearls / of blood like blueberries.” Marquette’s beautiful and macabre images have the feel of a classic fairy tale.
She writes urgent poems, driven by a rapacious desire for love, despite a fear that “is alive and breathes in me and turns / three times attempting to lie down.”
The twin of love is heartbreak, which Marquette dubs “the second best thing that can happen to you.” Loss is a major theme of this collection, in raw poems about her brother, who she feared might be killed in the Iraq war.
Despite loss, the beauty of the natural world keeps calling these poems back to awe. When she sees a hawk clutching yellow leaves, she concludes: “I knew then, / somehow, that I would never take my own life.”
Marquette will be at the Uptown Church, 1219 W. 31st. St., Mpls., 7 p.m. May 7.
“The Falling Down Dance,” By Chris Martin. (Coffee House Press, 76 pages, $16.95.)
The table of contents of Martin’s third full-length collection announces it will take on hefty themes like language, art and, most notably, time. (Half the poems in the collection are titled “Time.”)
Martin’s poems traverse expansive concepts while confined to the space of an apartment, where new parents in “the shipwreck / of fatherhood, of motherhood” are cloistered during a brutal winter.
With short lines and stark enjambment, Martin’s poems map slivers of the liminal: the time “halfway / between dream and day,” the sounds his son makes that are half-speech and half-song, and the “falling / down dance” of the boy learning to crawl.
These fragmented poems make leaps associated with experimental poetry, but are bound together by the tenderness of a new father who declares: “I fear not life and love / the living.”
Martin will read on June 18 at DuNord Craft Spirits, 2610 E. 32nd St., Mpls.
“The Genome Rhapsodies,” By Anna George Meek. (The Ashland Poetry Press, 88 pages, $15.95.)
Meek’s second full-length collection uses the science of genetics to explore the theme of inheritance. She writes, “I have been given / the shape of women I’ve never known.”
There is a beauty in genetics, with chromosomes “like / dancers lashed at the middle.” But there is also the possibility of an “accident that writes the heart / valve as flapping open.” Meek’s collection is wide-ranging enough to take on both ends of that spectrum: “Just as my daughter is finding words, / my father is losing them.”
At times, Meek uses Bricolage, a poetic technique analogous to DNA replication. It involves knitting together language from pulled-apart documents and results in surprising images: “I dance with plastic laundry detergent bottles / in an imaginary palace that conserves me.”
Her complex syntax and clusters of sentence fragments invite readers to move at the pace of careful observation and wonder at the “mysterious / body.”
Meek will read at 7 p.m. April 20 at Sisyphus Brewing, 712 Ontario Av. W., Mpls.
“Borrowed Wave,” By Rachel Moritz. (Kore Press, 70 pages, $17.95.)
The elliptical and luminous poems in Moritz’s debut collection “radiate rather than tell.” Instead of coalescing into narrative, these poems drop moments around the blank spaces of memory. “You were drinking milk from her blue Delft tea-/cup”; “Our floor in wooden squares led backwards”; “Swans, riding a tourniquet of wind.”
“I’d believe the past is fragment,” she writes, and employs generous spacing to call attention to the gaps between the fragments. The layout makes her lines seem like half-finished gestures flung into the blank of the page.
The poems are connected by images of water, which evoke the transience and fluidity of human experience. She writes of “the sea elastic with light” and the past becomes “decanted / into death.”
Then, a series of love poems surprise the reader into the present: “I made a mark in my soul where she and I might live.”
Elizabeth Hoover is a writer, poet and teacher in Pennsylvania.