January 1996

The following books represent a small portion of the large number of recently published poetry books. Inclusion here is not meant necessarily to place a book hierarchically above unmentioned books. The texts about these books are provided by Christine Deavel and John Marshall, owner/operators of OPEN BOOKS: A POEM EMPORIUM (2414 N.45th Seattle, WA 98103 (206) 633-0811).

Breathturn, Paul Celan; translated from the German by Pierre Joris (Sun & Moon; paperback, $12.95). This is a new translation of Celan's Atemwende, a collection of spare yet complex poems first published in 1967, three years before his death. Joris's translations, presented in a bilingual edition, are readable but not easy, filled with Celan's created words ("serpentcoach," "eternityteeth," "netnerved skyleaf") and intricate syntax. As he explains in his informative introduction, Joris's goal was not to "iron out" Celan's complexity but to accurately convey it in English. This is difficult but rewarding poetry.

Like Underground Water: The Poetry Of Mid-Twentieth Century Japan, translated by Edward Lueders and Naoshi Koriyama (Copper Canyon Press; paperback, $15.00). The first of its kind, this impressive anthology of postwar Japanese poetry includes a generous sampling of 80 poets, all of whom with at least childhood memories of World War II. Those readers whose sole knowledge of the poetry of Japan is of haiku and tanka will be startled by the varieties of form and subject. The biographies of the poets provide a brief but revealing literary history of modern Japan.

In The Palm Of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop, Steve Kowit (Tilbury House; paperback, $14.95). Poet, editor, and teacher Kowit has at last gathered into a book the lessons offered in his well-respected workshops. He clearly loves poetry, and wants to do right by it, filling his guide not only with helpful exercises but with a fine selection of model poems from a broad selection of poets as well. Kowit's humor, generosity, and intelligence shine through his prose, as does his belief that "poetry is a spiritual endeavor."

The Dream Of The Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974 - 1994, Jorie Graham (Ecco; hardcover, $23.00). An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967 - 1987, Eavan Boland (Norton; hardcover, $25.00). Readers seeking extensive single-volume collections of these two authors will be pleased with these recent releases. Graham has selected from her five books of poetry to create this 200-page book. Boland's includes early work previously unavailable in the United States.

Neither World, Ralph Angel (Miami University Press; paperback, $9.95). This collection, winner of the 1995 James Laughlin Award (formerly the Lamont Poetry Prize), showcases an edgy, urban voice. Mr. Angel successfully blends hipness, sadness, and self-consciousness into poems that are honest, exotic, and moving.

Archipelago, Arthur Sze (Copper Canyon Press; paperback, $12). Mr. Sze writes lovely, intricate poems. In the several longer poems found here he layers images like a painter layers colors, creating in this manner poems of remarkable depth and effect.

The Gospels In Our Image: An Anthology Of Twentieth-Century Poetry Based On Biblical Texts, edited by David Curzon (Harcourt Brace: hardcover, $30). The subtitle pretty well spells it out. This is a collection of one hundred and fifty-four poems, by ninety-one poets, each of which was written in response to a portion of a New Testament gospel. From the well-know (T.S.Eliot's "Journey of the Magi") to the relatively unknown (Judith Wright's amazing "Eli, Eli"), Mr. Curzon presents an interesting selection of poets and poems, many here translated into English. He precedes the poems with that portion of the gospels to which they refer, and he includes notes on the biblical imagery used in some of the contemporary poems. If the reader is at all interested in religious thought and/or biblical stories this is a difficult collection to put down, once begun.

The Vixen, W.S.Merwin (Knopf; hardcover, $21). Mr. Merwin's elegant new collection is a gem. The poems work separately, but share images and locales, gaining strength from each other so that the whole comes off as a book-length poem. Mr. Merwin has written long lines, without punctuation, so that the form here conspires with his meditative impulse to create an exceptionally strong, sweet book.

Destination Zero, Sam Hamill (White Pine Press; paperback $15). This is a solid collection, most notable for the unquestionable sincerity of Mr. Hamill's voice and the variety of poetic styles he employs, from concise, Asian-influenced poems to the long, lush, incantatory "Jubilate Sutra". That Mr. Hamill leads an uncompromising life involved with poetry, as a poet, translator, publisher, and essayist, is no slight achievement in American poetry. The strength of his character and his intelligence are evident in this collection.