Winter Stranger: Poems

Milkweed. Jun. 2023. 96p. ISBN 9781639550418. $22. POETRY
Winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, given by Milkweed Editions to honor the legacy and memory of a poet who died tragically at a young age, Stegner Fellow Holbert’s debut collection is an extraordinary volume of poems. Set in a Washington countryside effectively captured in spare language, these poems plunge deeply into issues of addiction and the death of loved ones—a brother, perhaps, an uncle, friends. There may be recovery here, and maybe redemption. Yet death seems to permeate everything; at one point, the poet muses, “But how was I/ supposed to know/ that death doesn’t/ have to leave a mark/ to come and go.” These poems use little punctuation, giving them a breathlessness, an inexorable quality that will carry readers along: “We must arrive/ at the long hours/ of our suffering.” Yet these are also poems of departure, of getting away—from memory, the environment of “using,” and perhaps creating new memory. As one poem states baldly, “I left that town/ forever.”
VERDICT A remarkable new voice plumbing our grief; highly recommended.
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