The World Behind the World: Poems

Norton. Mar. 2023. 80p. ISBN 9781324036203. $26.95. POETRY
In her sixth collection, multi-prize-winning poet Bernard (Brawl and Jag) writes feisty, energetic poems that bridge the expanse between classics and the contemporary, exuding a rich exuberance enhanced by a heartfelt knowledge of the world. She summarizes her view of our government in the shortest poem, “The world has split,” by saying “Treachery// gnaws the planks/ of the state,” while another poem is encapsulated by its title: “Allen v Farrow.” The single prose poem celebrates with awe swimming with a seal, as “air became one medium as we inhabited that other world,” and references throughout to birds, dogs, deer, and other creatures evoke our shared space in this world. A poem on pain and our attempts to remedy it includes this beautiful passage, “I would be the dove, tucked/ in the heavy arbor, listening to rain/ tap the leaf lobes.” Altogether 10 of the 33 poems are titled with phrases from other poets, including Thomas Wyatt and George Gascoigne.
VERDICT Bernard has a sharp, critical eye and an ability to paint a scene quickly while also coloring it with social resonance. Similar word choices occasionally get repeated from poem to poem, but this collection is a marvel, gifting the reader with new subjects, unique perspectives, and an exuberant musicality that nearly leaps across the page. Highly recommended.
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