The Math Campers

Knopf. Sept. 2020. 128p. ISBN 9780593317747. $27. POETRY
This new collection from New Yorker poetry critic Chiasson (Bicentennial Poems) takes a deep dive into the mind of the poet and the objects that inspire his poetry—at the very moment the poet is being inspired. The book captures (or tries to) the creator’s mind-set and winds up replicating for the reader the act of creation, allowing and inviting readers to participate in that act. In a sense, it is reminiscent of M.S. Escher’s famous lithograph “Drawing Hands.” In one poem, a narrator (Chiasson himself) stays in the apartment of deceased poet James Merrill, reading the poems in which Merrill described sunlight and its shifting colors as it moved across his walls. Meanwhile, the narrator is watching and describing sunlight moving across those same walls and illuminating them as Merrill described it. With the reader immersed in the alternating voices and times, the poem emerges and becomes the voices and times of the reader.
VERDICT This difficult though engaging book brims with paradox, double meanings, incremental repetition, and startling metaphors, as when Chiasson tells the reader to step away from the page, so that “together we will ponder who imagined whom….” Best for academic libraries.
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