The Study of Human Life

Penguin Books. Sept. 2022. 144p. ISBN 9780143136828. pap. $20. POETRY
In “Dad Poem,” the last of the three poetic sequences composing Bennett’s third collection (after Owed), a poem is defined as the place “where the language of the material world collides/ with the divine.” An eyewitness to and interpreter of that collision, Bennett draws on lived experiences—new fatherhood, his own childhood, the stain of contemporary racism—“to dream of a world, some heaven,/ big enough for a black life/ to flourish.” The poet readily acknowledges “the pain we never knew we never knew” yet presents a powerful work of Black affirmation. “The Book of Mycah,” his remythologizing of the death of Malcolm X within the context of an all-too-contemporary neighborhood police killing (“Our overcoming is ongoing”) is a multifaceted prose-poem of striking depth and originality.
VERDICT Though Bennett’s poems seem effortless in their lyric grace (“the vanishing/ world of living things no louder than the sound/ of insects whimpering in their dust-sized sorrows”) and organic progressions, they are better described as effortful, given memorable presence by their intimacy, mindful craft, and visionary pursuit. Expect this work to appear on many “best poetry” lists for 2022.
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