Best Barbarian: Poems

Norton. Mar. 2022. 120p. ISBN 9780393609332. $26.95. POETRY
“Sometimes you can be made more than your body/ While still in your body. Now, that’s power.” Reeves’s haunting second collection (after King Me) crafts a sweeping and powerful poetic topography. The poems encounter and reencounter suffering, grief, and violence across personal and political history, particularly U.S. history with its myths of innocence and its foundations in atrocity. The coexistence of tenderness, love, and wonder threads the work with tension and complexity (“And someone calling/ It beautiful—summer, moon—/ And someone dying beneath that beauty,/ Which is America’s ”), as does the impulse to converse. Poems engage with presences ranging from Sappho to James Baldwin to a deceased father. “Where is the end of speaking to the dead/ Of the brutal obligations of memory?” Perhaps there is no end, the poems imply, as the present reveals itself permeated by past and future, elegy and hope. “Children/ You were never meant to be human/ You must be the grass/ You must grow wildly over the graves.”
VERDICT Rich and cohesive, with remarkable depth and lyrical command, this work offers manifold discoveries. A book that reveals more with each reading.
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