Asylum: A personal, historical, natural inquiry in 103 lyric sections

Knopf. Aug. 2020. 144p. ISBN 9780525657095. $27. POETRY
 In her fifth collection, Bialosky (The Players) presents a symphonic poem, a word quilt arranged in five parts and over 100 sections. Ricocheting themes, which return to provide different perspectives, include a sibling’s suicide, the rewards and risks of family life, nature (both kind and cruel), and the Holocaust and other mass murders. The best poems utilize repetition to produce an incantatory quality: “snow that dusts/ bridges, highways, roofs,/ …insufferable snow that falls/ on the pots that hold/ the pods of the dead.” Two poems set in Russia reveal the sense of dislocation caused by travel, “furloughed from my country, no longer mother to my son,/ wife to my husband, in my dreams always the same age.” The book succeeds on many levels. Strongest are the poems on suicide and its permanent but dramatic effects on the family, while prose sections on yoga work less well, pulling readers out of the poem, and several sections consist of only a single line that doesn’t always move the poem forward. In the end, though, this collection becomes much more than the sum of its parts. ­
VERDICT Precise language, deft metaphors, and emotional undertones keep audiences invested and sometimes enthralled. Recommended for most collections.
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