“Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media,” by Heid E. Erdrich. (Michigan State University Press, 90 pages, $16.95.)
In her fifth collection, Ojibwe poet and artist Heid E. Erdrich confronts the contemporary moment of dwindling natural resources, ubiquitous technology and information overload.
As “curator of ephemera,” she reaches into the obsolescence created by technology to pluck out mix tapes, episodes of “Superman” and the white noise of old televisions. She includes curatorial statements to imaginary exhibits and ekphrastic poems about her and her sisters’ artwork.
QR codes give readers access to films based on poems via their phones, joining the digital and analog. This engaging, interactive text also includes links to downloadable broadsides and online galleries.
Even with communication technology, messages get garbled: “All that I read I misread All that I heard I misheard.” Erdrich sees poetic possibilities in transmission gaps. New meanings emerge in translations of her poems from English into Ojibwe and back into English. An image of a clothesline (“under-things, blouses in clouds”) becomes “dawn clouds to wear.”
Riffing off the fact that American Indians make up around 1 percent of the population, she writes: “So, we are, more or less, the original 1% as well as the original 100%.”
Erdrich crafts sinister images of an impeding environmental apocalypse: “Mothers veins open, bleed copper and black” and “pale soap bubble accreted around grit.”
Those who survive “walk on the bridge of bones our ancestors left, their bodies fed the great over-bloom of America.”
Despite the emphasis on technology, Erdrich’s poems are rooted in the physical world. “How tenderly we glance at Earth in her black velvet,” she writes. It is here that “We touch our tongues to juice/we’ve asked to grow for us.”
Erdrich will read at noon April 29 at Birchbark Books, 2115 W. 21st St., Mpls.; at 4:30 p.m. May 13 at Nemeth Art Center, Park Rapids; and at 7 p.m. May 16 at Open Book, 1011 Washington Av. S., Mpls.
“Tula,” by Chris Santiago. (Milkweed Editions, 96 pages, $16.)
Chris Santiago opens his captivating debut by translating the word “tula” as “God-nest,” “unreachable” and “Mother tongue: a poem.”
He returns to this mysterious word throughout this collection in intimate meditations on the nature of language. He writes from the perspective of a second-generation immigrant surrounded by a language he cannot understand. Words are “a spell for collapsing distances” and the “twitch & thrum of archive.”
In rich yet spare poems, Santiago elegizes language and lives during the American colonization of the Philippines. The violence “making more silence/in a dazed & speechless country.”
Yet, Santiago gently leads his reader to joy. He ends with his newborn daughter, a “little monsoon/little fist/& groundswell.”
Santiago will read at 6:30 p.m. April 24 at the Maple Grove Public Library and at 6:30 p.m. on May 1 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
“Tough Luck,” by Todd Boss. (W.W. Norton & Co., 112 pages, $26.95, in stores June 3.)
In his third collection, Todd Boss memorializes the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge that killed 13 people in Minneapolis: “Twenty minutes was the spell between my crossing and when it fell.”
With one word per line, the poems are precarious stacks, reminding readers that “any minute, the river of your life might drain through a pinhole.”
The series is bookended with poems about what persists and what crumbles. While a marriage dissolves, an ancient table’s “soul runs deep.”
With phrases like “the clop of the walnut/block beneath the gavel,” Boss’ poems have a distinct — and satisfying — rhythm.
Boss will launch the book at 7 p.m. June 16 at Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
“The Collector of Bodies: Concern for Syria and the Middle East,” by Diane Glancy. (Resource Publications, 86 pages, $12.)
The current conflict in Syria prompted Diane Glancy to revisit poems from her 1994 tour of the Middle East.
It was a trip of paradox. She found connections because of her Indian heritage: “your land taken/ the Palestinians relate to you.” Yet it was impossible to bridge other cultural differences because words mean “differently at different times.”
As she delves into contemporary violence, new contradictions emerge. She can write “and not be a part of what I knew,” but can’t tell if a sob “was from my own throat./Or was it them/crying?”
She compassionately renders the conflict at a deeply human level. In a photograph, a boy’s broken cup holds “the broken world.”
“Kinds of Snow,” by Su Smallen. (Green Writers Press, $14.95, 93 pages, $14.95.)
After a shattering heartbreak, Su Smallen turns to snow, which “focuses, floats like a fine vow.”
She catalogs “snow that comes in bulk and brings silence,” “Snow of the Fields” that is “a tweed” on the ground and “Snow That Reminds Me of My Mother.” She describes snow angels as “defined by absence.”
Smallen deftly uses the heartbreaking power of plain language to allow the hard fact of loss to intrude upon her lovely meditations: “Someone leaves us and so we are left.”
Over the course of the book, Smallen transforms snow from a metaphor for loss to “a mythology of joy,” skittering across the ground like a sparrow.
Smallen will read with Rachel Moritz at 2 p.m. April 23 at Century College, 3300 N. Century Av., White Bear Lake; and with Haley Lasche at 7 p.m. June 7 at Honey, 205 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls.
“Yes Thorn,” by Amy Munson. (Tupelo Press, 84 pages, $16.96.)
In Amy Munson’s lavish debut, the sensual, natural and spiritual collide: “In my mouth the name of God an overripe pear.”
Munson revels in such words as “petechial,” “oology,” “cyanotic” and manipulates language to make strange and alluring phrases. Grief leaves someone “wheel-seeing, Ezekieled.”
The sound of her lines has physicality, fitting because of her focus on the body. She writes, “Inside, alive/our bones aren’t dry/but hived” and “Throat/chapels open in hope.”
It is easy to get lost in the ornate words and sonic flourish. But “the lure of what’s kept under” will guide readers to discover the “wild belief” at this collection’s core.
Elizabeth Hoover is a writer and poet in Pennsylvania.