Modern Poetry: Poems

Graywolf. Mar. 2024. 112p. ISBN 9781644452752. $26. POETRY
In her follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize–winning frank: sonnets, Seuss assesses the nature and value of poetry by purveying beautifully hard-edged plainspokenness to capture aspects of her life. She recalls her upbringing in a “desolate town,” her working-class background (“My class. Its itches and psychological riches”), and her “unscholarliness” and sense of unbelonging in the larger world even as she scrapes along. Yet she tells herself not to live some former life or self: “There is no going back.” Yes, there is something to be claimed from the past—“how and where you are made”—but memory is “Only instruction. Not a dwelling.” And what remarkable instruction Seuss gives. Talking both to herself and to readers, as if they were potential writers, she uses the title poem to assay her discovery of poetry, then plumbs what poetry does best—not lecture or meaning-making (“in a gale, …the first thing to go”) but depth of feeling and concreteness of experience; ever exuberant, she’s “homesick for life” and “more interested / in the particular / nature and tenor of the energy / of our trouble” than any specific plaint. The result is unputdownable.
VERDICT A highly recommended volume that can be equally appreciated by dedicated poetry readers and those for whom it might be that rare reading of verse.
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