Three of Fiction’s Brightest Stars Have New Books — of Poetry

Kingsolver’s second collection of poems feels padded with trifles, like a diary that occasionally comes to moments of the following revelation (at best) and nugatory platitudes (at worst). Even the book’s title feels damp, like it’s on the same menu as “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. Sometimes the imagery feels incongruous, like in “The tourists’ bikinis end up like pointless butterflies / trying to suck nectar from the blazing sand” and “At the end of the long bowling alley / a transatlantic flight we crash and pens in the back of a Roman one Taxis tip over. “

The poet often botches the portrayal of non-white people, usually because her approach is overdone in trying to mean well. Take, for example, “How to Love Your Neighbor,” where the speaker insists that one must love all of your neighbors, including “Wrap a woman / her hijab” and “Not just the morning shoppers” (read Who Should Do This ?) be white) and “the man who goes for a walk with his giggling dog” (white) and “the couples / with strawberry children” (white and, yes, white).

In “My First Derby Party” Kingsolver recalls his childhood in Kentucky, where a thoroughbred was “important enough for a swimming pool” but the “children’s schoolyard was gravel”. Because of this inequality, she grew up hating horses. Now, as an adult, she has a realization: “Freeborn, field-stained, I am amazed at my old envy of the well-shod villa slave.” She may denounce this old envy and acknowledge her privilege, but it’s not entirely clear how the “well-shod villa slave” fits into the narrative. Is it a metaphor for the horse? If so, it’s an incredibly dehumanizing phrase. If those moments had been removed and the book further distilled, readers could have had a powerful glimpse into a daily life full of the poet’s curiosity.

AMERICAN MELANCHOLY
Poems
By Joyce Carol Oates
112 pp. Here. $ 26.99.

A third of the way into Oates’ latest collection of poems, readers are faced with a poem whose title moves to the first line:

This is not a poem

in which the poet discovered
tender white dried bones
a little creature
on a large lake shore

From there, Oates catalogs all the things that this poem is not: no “weeds that hiss like consonants / in a foreign language”, no “metonymic moon / time travel for wisdom”, Lampoon’s bad poetry. Instead, Oates writes, her poems are “a lot of words in search of a container”. Repetition seems to be one of Oate’s favorite containers, as seen in Doctor Help Me:

Because they’d hate me forever.
Because they would never forgive me for shaming them.
Because they would kill me.

They are all reasons for an abortion, and they last five pages. As always, Oates has compelling insights into toxic masculinity and human brutality. When she speaks through her characters, she often reveals the harrowing consequences of violence. In Little Albert, 1920, in John Watson’s psychological experiments, the baby says, “Ask me if I got used to life after the infamous experiment. Ask me / have I overcome my fear of animals? “Despite all of Oates’ moralization about people’s inability to speak for themselves, her poem” Bloodline, Elegy: Su Qijian Family, Beijing “shamefully constructs a unique voice for an entire Chinese family and portrays an entire nation as a homogeneous mass, as “creatures of the beehive” who “do not question the beehive”. Hopefully, after this poem is published, Oates will wonder what she is asking in another poem:

Why was that important?
so much
have the last
Word?
or any
Word?

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