By Dore Kiesselbach. (University of Pittsburgh Press, 82 pages, $15.95.)
Dore Kiesselbach’s concise and unsettling collection “Albatross” limns a spectrum of traumas including car accidents, workplace shootings and terrorism.
In a series about his Sept. 11 experience, Kiesselbach allows details to accumulate: holding a silk tie against his face, a man in a hazmat suit, people calling out “donate blood” on the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s as if he can’t bear to survey the entire scene except to remark, “More light comes from that direction now.”
The tone of the poems emulates the disassociation of trauma, while surprising moments — a dragonfly landing on his arm, for example — snap us back to the present: “I keep as still as I can, to be now/what I haven’t been to any person,/a refuge.” These poems carve a refuge in carefully wrought sentences that ask the reader to slow down and notice how details can also provide solace.
By Michael Dennis Browne. (Nodin Press, 134 pages, $16.)
“Chimes” collects short poems from throughout Michael Dennis Browne’s nearly 60-year career. While the book demonstrates that the short form is well suited for humor, Browne also makes use of its intimacy to forge connections to the reader: “You are all my kin/in the small hours.” In addition, he is capable of compressing immense experiences such as the birth of his son into four lines.
In concise images, Browne fixes fleeing moments like specimens under glass. He writes of a fading autumn leaf, “I do not try/to touch you or take you.” Instead he preserves the leaf in words, forever midflight.
Enigmatically, the book ends with three long poems, which enable the writer — and the reader — to unfurl their wings and survey the book’s subject matter again, this time from a different perspective.
Michael Dennis Browne will read at Subtext Books, 6 W. 5th St., St. Paul, at 7 p.m. May 3.
By Hieu Minh Nguyen. (Coffee House Press, 73 pages, $16.95.)
In his second collection, “Not Here,” Hieu Minh Nguyen harnesses the political power of the lyric; he uses its intimacy to make public those private moments of harm that happen where race, sexuality and immigration status intersect.
His speaker is caught in those intersections: torn between disavowing his homophobic family and loving them, wanting to be a father and fearing he is too damaged to parent, and lying in his lover’s arms and feeling the sting of his racist joke.
Most poignant are the moments in which he glimpses the possibility of releasing shame. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, he tries “to be open/to the possibility/of not being/a monster, not a thing/ rummaged/from under a bed.”
He asks, “What do you do with tenderness/when all you expect is fury?” This book answers: pour it into language.
Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance
By Fady Joudah. (Milkweed Editions, 88 pages, $16.)
In “Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance,” Fady Joudah describes descending into a well: “I sent up the part of me that was light.” The light suffuses this collection of tender poems about our (often tenuous) connectedness.
A doctor, Joudah reads bodies like texts, illuminating their stories: “The body exits all pages to be/inscribed on another, itself.” Often these stories include suffering: disease, accidents, war. The Syrian conflict is a recurring theme. He remembers a lost friend: “Your laugh/rings in my ears among Aleppo’s pine.” He peppers his intricate poems with words such as “icteric” and “encephalopathy,” bringing a loving precision to his descriptions of the body.
Registers of Illuminated Villages
By Tarfia Faizullah. (Graywolf Press, 96 pages, $16.)
In her fiercely original second collection, Tarfia Faizullah traverses the globe — northern Iraq; Flint, Mich.; West Texas; Bangladesh — and employs a range of formal experiments to illuminate acts of resistance in the face of injustice and violence.
She writes, “I can’t help but speak/for fear the voice I’ll hear is my own.” This voice is driven by a capacious hunger, not only to speak out against brutality, but also to touch the “swan-soft aperture/between a sleeping baby’s/shoulder blades” and to find “the man whose questions/unearth the softness in you.”
These poems have an obstinacy she attributes to loss of her sister, a trauma that “was my own/hard darkening — toughest of all species,/I survive on my own.” It left her more attracted to “the defiance/of forest fires” than “the pre-planned blooms/of fireworks.”
Elizabeth Hoover is a Wisconsin-based poet and critic.