Whitney Hanson is a TikTok phenom, the rear cover of Home boldly declares; if you get to be one, you might as well blast it out with cornets and trumpets.1 She clings to the lower case, that humble posture full of arch pretension—the copyright page is the only place inside where the restless eye can rest on capital letters. Hanson’s poems are fleeting as summer breezes, wailing about disappointed love with none of the dispatch or subterranean energy of haiku:
let me borrow the parts of you
that i need to make me whole
all my hope fell like petals to the floor
along with every i love you i ever said
i have a bad habit
of clinging to the people and places
that have been hurting me.
Such insights have all the weight of dandelion floss. I get it. It’s a terrifying, uncertain world, for which Gen Z is ill equipped. To members of the Greatest Generation, or the Boomers born to the specter of nuclear holocaust, or every new generation until the millennials took charge, wars, stock-market crashes, Category 5 hurricanes, climate change, and much else seemed merely the collective fate of life on Earth. For Gen Z, it’s the final exam for which they forgot to study.
Hanson’s lovelorn poems are haunted by the girl who got away, though quickie affairs later (with men and women) flare up and die like fireworks. It’s hard to know what makes the poet more irritating, the incessant moaning about being unlovable or the conviction that she has profound insight into the tenderest emotion. Hundreds of young poets write better than Whitney Hanson, yet none will ever become a TikTok phenom. For that you’d need the special gift of dumbing up to your audience.
The poet must be allergic to adjectives and concrete nouns, and when she attempts a metaphor it’s a fossilized cliché (“i am not your pawn”) or accidentally hilarious (“the file cabinet in my mind”). She writes a few lines that strut and fret; but just once, seemingly by accident, does she approach something that might be mistaken for poetry—“i’m going to get groceries today but to me the dairy aisle isn’t far from the insane asylum.” I’m not sure she knows how much that reveals. You do wonder, though, what’s being taught in high school when a poet thinks that “alright” is a word, or that a line like “you have to let the hostage go without reparations” means anything at all. (Did she intend “ransom” instead?) Just when you think Hanson has mastered “who”/“whom,” she stumbles twice in one poem.
Hanson loves to tag poems with New Age phrases that should have been forcibly retired when baristas started getting tips for tats: “toxic relationships,” “attachment issues,” “trust issues.” Whiny, childish, annoying as a squeaky bicycle wheel, the poems in their sad, fey repetitions and fourth-grade vocabulary remind me of those cardboard faeries that fooled the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or the rubbish the actor James Franco was writing when he was enrolled in, was it two, or four, or six mfa programs?
Concealed beneath Hanson’s wounded winsomeness is a heavy dose of Sacher-Masoch:
first, i shave off all my hair
if you want to run your fingers through it again
it’s on the floor where you left my heart
next, i peel off my skin
i cannot keep anything your hands have touched
then, i pull out my eyes.
Despite this brief visit to Plathland, Hanson’s poems are otherwise so sickly sweet the fda has issued warnings against reading more than two or three at a go.
Had enough? How about “you are not alone/ even the air you breathe/ was exhaled by your friends/ the trees” or “if you poke holes in my skin/ i’m quite certain/ that sunlight will spill out”? Even the rare half-decent line looks cheap and nasty in the company it keeps. This book of cozy, fortune-cookie sentiments; New Age emollients; and wisdom dispensed from a gumball machine drags Hanson into that pantheon of wretched poets who unaccountably became popular, one extending from Anne Morrow Lindbergh to Rod McKuen to Atticus to Rupi Kaur. (Hanson is the latest Rupi Kaur wannabe.) Readers so easily satisfied never want poetry more demanding and don’t really understand what poetry is for—that is, to chasten and subdue.
It would be shortsighted always to review the bon ton or Upper Ten of the poetry world, no matter whether the reputations are well or ill deserved. What’s really going on often starts in the lower depths. Hanson self-published this book two years ago, and the sales were so astonishing that Penguin has now reissued it with a smattering of new poems. Her new publishers are laughing all the way to the bank—yet they can’t afford a copy editor. A sequel is already scheduled.
The poems in So to Speak are chock-a-block with sound and fury, to the exclusion of much else.
Most of Terrance Hayes’s poems are woolly as a lost sheep emerging from the woods three or four years later in need of a shearing even to take an eye exam. The poet is a throwback to Kerouac and Ginsberg, if even more full of himself; but he embodies black culture with the knowing ear of hip-hop and the responsive eye evident in the Depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Hayes works hard to catch the reader’s attention, not the worst goal when so much poetry is sticky with out-of-date manner and echoes of poets past their heyday. He became a literary darling in the past decade, winning the National Book Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, and a MacArthur award. The poems in So to Speak are chock-a-block with sound and fury, to the exclusion of much else; but he has trouble finding his way through a fog of rage.2 Though he makes an awful lot of noise, deeper meaning eludes him.
Hayes is so fond of long lines and seemingly endless sentences stuffed with false starts and stops that I’ve rarely read work so distracted, the words not a stream but the muddy runoff of consciousness:
The father begins to make the sound a tree frog makes
When he comes with his son & daughter to a pail
Of tree frogs for sale in a Deep South flea market
Just before the last blood of dusk.
A tree frog is called a tree frog because it chirps
Like a bird in a tree, he tells his daughter
While her little brother, barely four years old,
Busies himself like a small blues piper
With a brand-new birthday harmonica.
Just get to the bloody point! you want to say. The poet loves to bore his readers to death by burying them in prose—too many poems sound like a lecture by a lectern. Hayes can’t tell a story without folding half a dozen other stories into it, which is fine if you’re Joyce, and if not, not. The poet, who can take sixty-four lines to tell a dumb joke, is sometimes guilty of syntax so knotted you can hardly tell what he’s trying to say: “I was born to a 16-year-old black girl who// had three siblings with different fathers/ in the projects of South Carolina in/ 1971, after a neighbor raped her.”
Hayes’s sentences ramble on, in love with longwindedness, until you scarcely remember—or care—how or why they started. You wonder at times if he even knows what he’s been saying. (Try “your mouth is little more/ than a door being knocked/ out of the ring of fire around/ the afternoon came evening’s bell/ of the ball & chain around the neck/ of the unarmed brother.” The muddle in the middle is pure Hayes.) This may have dramatic presence on stage, but on the page it’s like watching dead flies trying to mate.
He’s a poet who needs limits to express himself.
Though the poems are almost all blatherskite, they also possess strange, silly, sometimes likable premises. (The poet has invented a diy machine for cranking out sestinas, one that doesn’t work half badly.) To read these poems is to experience a black anger entirely sympathetic. Hayes is trying to capture something of a North American culture now some five centuries old, one whose tangled roots are far older. All the attitude lavished here is worth little without a touch of that rarest art in poetry, management skills. His sestinas have more force than his free-floating verse because, though he bends a rule or two, they have more structure. He’s a poet who needs limits to express himself. Only the rare poem like “American Sonnet Starring Octavia Butler II” possesses the drive and focus to make a success of the material, despite, even there, the butcher’s enjambment and a throwaway ending. The poet wastes, however, nearly a hundred lines on a pointless satire in the voice of the television artist Bob Ross, he of the high-voltage hair. Too many pieces here are so labored they can never repay the labor of reading.
The scenes of black life Hayes records, when he bothers to record them, are so vivid, and when extended sometimes so revealing, that you long for him to make something of his gifts instead of serving up ladle after ladle of Mulligan stew. Think how much is contained in “Her & the pigtailed cashier from the corner store/ Stole the preacher’s two-pound Bible.” A poet who can write about a woman dreaming of “The ephemera of souls lost between African & American// Shores, a blue between the sky & shark parlor,/ Lovely as the loveliest of the sisters to leap/ Into the waters & live free as the bride of the sea” is capable of more than this deeply flawed, frenzied, yet lazy book. His previous book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018), was a far better but often similarly frazzled enterprise.
Just shy of two decades ago, Catherine Tufariello’s first book was met with the applause of a number of enthusiastic reviews. That stunning debut never enjoyed a sequel. I missed Keeping My Name at the time; but I’m going to review it, let us say, a little belatedly.3 Tufariello is a formal poet in all the best senses and few of the worst—that is, the poems rise out of meter freshly and without regard for the old war between verse free and verse formal. The poems have found the right medium—there’s no strain between the thought and the action, if the action is the poem itself. (When the form creates the thought, as is often the case, the thought seems always to have been there waiting.)
In the book’s opening poem, children are playing in a schoolyard; in the next, two students in Munich, members of the White Rose movement, are arrested and executed for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets. The range and juxtaposition are striking, the shadowed innocence of the first poem betrayed by the stark injustice in the second. The poems reveal a poet restless to discover and name, like a taxonomist lucky to stumble into Eden before Adam got his wits together.
Tufariello knows how to end a poem abruptly, leaving the implied unsaid. Her elegy for an old friend, who died after they lost touch, ends with an invocation of the Iliad, which they once studied together:
I never dreamed that you would not grow old,
That time had stopped for you as suddenly
As for the daughters of weeping Hekabe
In burning Troy—the unremembered ones
You summoned from the ashes in the fall
Of 1983, when you were asked
To translate the catalogue of Priam’s sons.
Hard to believe that you will not return
And tell your adventures in the other world,
No matter how tenderly I brush the dead
Leaves from your sleeping face, and call your name.
There’s a longing within the loss; but you need to read the whole poem to know why the final stanza here is complicated, not teary, relating to earlier lines about a Greek verb that means “to be about to do, but leave undone.” A whole life is unlived there.
I can think of few better elegies in the new millennium than her villanelle for her sister.
Unlike so many formal poems since the New Formalists branded themselves in the 1980s, Tufariello’s simply unfold, as if they were part of nature. She’s completely at home in the satisfactions of form, which never seem mere satiations of appetite. What makes her poems original are the giddy swerves by which they proceed and the unexpected endings they often discover. It’s that love of the precipitous, of going so far and no farther, that separates her from most run-of-the-mine (that mine with loads of quartz but hardly a fleck of gold) formal poets now. You never know how far her poems will go; but, when they get there, you’re glad they went. I can think of few better elegies in the new millennium than her villanelle for her sister. Once you recognize the form, you should be able to predict what’s coming; yet I didn’t and was stunned.
Tufariello likes to stand in a corner of a scene, taking notes, observing, not observed. This withdrawal or withholding perfects the many poems where the narrator’s thinking is the measure of trust and the observed a stray cat, a comical walrus at Coney Island, or even a scientific dad who declares with a thump that the dinner table is made mostly of empty space. What may most surprise readers is not how fluent the poet’s verse is, but how unassuming. She has no need for the Sturm und Drang with which Robert Lowell conquered a generation—she’s more like Elizabeth Bishop, who insinuated herself into so many imaginations that she now often outdistances even that great grizzly Lowell.
Tufariello has a firm but gentle grip on form. When she begins a sonnet, or a villanelle, or just a run of rhyme and meter, you know the result will not be too clever by half, just intelligent in ways you might not have foreseen. Even when she writes a seeming nursery rhyme, she knows how to complicate and undercut, as few young poets (or old ones) do. In “Moving Day,”
I watch her sweep
Each changed, familiar room,
And listen as the broom
Draws shadows out of sleep,
Its song the whisper of leaves
Whirling in papery swarms,
Of snow under sweeping arms.
Below, the furnace heaves
A sigh and so does she,
Still plying the rhythmic oar
That rows us over the floor,
Through the door, out to sea.
Tufariello has one of the rarest skills in poetry, the ability to end a poem in a way—here, a sightly horrifying way—you never expected but that seems entirely right. If not all her poems are as winning as her best (whose are, in a book?), she does the difficult things almost impeccably. Her series of sonnets for Ruth (the one amid the alien corn) shows the right disrespect for scripture. How can you not fall in love with a sequence that begins, “The story’s strange. For once, God wasn’t talking,” and ends, “Good rabbis, later on, quailed at the scandal:/ King David’s great-grandma was not a Jew./ So strange, the story almost must be true”? (“Almost must” satisfies the meter but also throws a lovely shudder into the syntax.) Tufariello has a command of form that doesn’t seem a cry for attention. She just gets on with things.
Some readers may dismiss as merely garden variety the tidily rhymed tour de force on Florida flowers or as not “significant” enough the poems on pregnancy and birth. That would be to ignore the bleak anxieties and imaginative richness beneath the surface. To this poet who walked away from her gifts, I can only remind her of that Greek verb she mentions in her elegy. Μέλλω, Catherine Tufariello. Μέλλω.
The Homeric epics are the Himalayas of poetry translation, to which Emily Wilson’s new version of the Iliad has arrived dragging banners of praise.4 Longer ancient poems exist, especially in Sanskrit, but no others that form such an imposing part of the Western canon. The Iliad exhausts itself after more than fifteen thousand lines, the Odyssey a few thousand short of that. Nearly three millennia later, war stories still take novels, travelers’ tales just anecdotes.
Until the Renaissance, ancient Greek was a language far deader than Latin, whose practical use was supported by the glacial traditions of the Catholic Church. The European revival of Homeric and Aristotelian Greek came largely after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when Byzantine scholars who escaped bore ancient Greek manuscripts known in Europe only through translation. Three centuries later, Washington and Jefferson, among other founders, could learn the language of the Iliad and Odyssey in the school curriculum, though in the past two generations the language has vanished from many universities and all but sixty or seventy private schools. Fewer than a dozen public schools still offer such a course. Those who venture to study Homer’s tongue are odd ducks. I picked up my Greek, such as it is, forty years ago in Harvard night school.
Readers like John Keats, eager to know these epics so important to the world both ancient and modern, now have a shelf of English translations to choose from, where he had to scavenge for a rare copy of George Chapman’s version of circa 1616. Alexander Pope’s is still the most brilliant, though the brilliance was bought at the expense of fidelity:
For Chryses sought with costly Gifts to gain
His Captive Daughter from the Victor’s Chain.
Suppliant the Venerable Father stands,
Apollo’s awful Ensigns grace his Hands:
By these he begs; and lowly bending down,
Extends the Sceptre and the Laurel Crown.
Pope’s facility often plays fast and loose with the Homeric original, but his sprezzatura is matched only by the compaction and charged language that still resonate centuries down the line, as well as by the nimble rhyming that must have been like trying to ride a unicyle on the backs of two polar bears. Pope’s lines blister with energy, even within Augustan rigidity; but he had the advantage of being able to expand at will—his Iliad is three thousand lines longer than Homer’s.
Sweaty and maniacal, it shows what pure will can do when you reject the hoary idea of translation as fidelity over all.
Of more recent attempts that keep the translator’s main purpose in mind—that is, some notion of accuracy—Richmond Lattimore’s loyal line-by-line version (1951) should be mentioned, along with Robert Fitzgerald’s indulgent but clear-headed blank verse (1974). Robert Fagles’s once admired translation in raggedy five-to-seven beat lines (1990), which could often be taken for clumsy prose, now sounds galumphing and tone-deaf. Lattimore is still used as a trot in Homeric Greek courses. If you want a rogue version, however, Christopher Logue’s War Music (1981) is more shocking than grabbing an electric eel. Sweaty and maniacal, it shows what pure will can do when you reject the hoary idea of translation as fidelity over all. (His piecemeal version of the Iliad extended from Patrocleia of Homer  to Cold Calls , and got sillier over time.) Logue’s Homer is what Achilles would have written in his psychotic rage.
Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate the Odyssey into English (2018), has now contributed a very readable Iliad that rattles along like a battle chariot, intent but more mechanical than moving. There’s no pressure or tension in the language that Fitzgerald, following Pope, left more electrified. They knew that Samuel Johnson demanded of a translation that “we must try its effect as an English poem.” Wilson’s flat and slightly stale English is for the engaged reader rather unprofitable. Homer is present without strength or bearing.
Here’s her treatment of the passage just before what Pope translated above, the stressed syllables in bold:
Furious at the son of Atreus,
the god spread deadly plague throughout the camp,
so that the common troops began to die,
because their leader, Agamemnon, treated
Chryses, Apollo’s priest, with disrespect.
The priest had come towards the swift Greek ships,
and faced the warriors bedecked in bronze
to free his daughter with a countless ransom.
When Ezra Pound read the messy drafts of The Waste Land (1922), he marked parts of the opening of “A Game of Chess” as “Too tum-pum at a stretch” and “too penty.” He’d have had a field day with Wilson. We expect Pope’s meter to be highly regular, as was Augustan practice (he disapproved of Shakespeare’s “thundering Versification”). She has translated these fifteen thousand lines while neglecting what blank verse requires not to sound machined into being. Poets learned (quite quickly, in fact) to make pentameter sound more like Proteus than like single-minded Achilles. She ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tums all the way through, striding in lead boots. (Sidebar: though “countless ransom” has become the standard rendering of that phrase above, in modern English it sounds as clumsy as a three-legged dog.)
Every copy of her Iliad should have been boxed with a metronome.
In order not to fall into dulling regularity, iambic pentameter employs what are called the permissible variations. These few include (1) the reversed first foot (trochee [' x] for iamb); (2) a reversed foot after a pause or caesura (the pause can sometimes be just syntactical, unmarked by punctuation); (3) an extra unstressed syllable at the end of the line, called a feminine ending (like the last syllable of “ransom” above); (4) an anapest (x x ') or spondee (two strong stresses, ' ') substituted for the expected iamb (in the excerpt, “Greek ships” is a spondee); (5) and the occasional exchange of two iambs for an ionic double foot (x x ' ' or, more rarely, ' ' x x). That’s about it. Various kinds of elision used in previous centuries to make the meter true were almost never heard by the dawn of the twentieth. Apart from two reversed initial feet, a lone spondee, and a pair of feminine endings, in this passage Wilson has taken little account of the lively dance of syllables iambic pentameter can become, at least for the right choreographer. (I came across a stretch of fourteen lines a little later that had no variations at all.) Every copy of her Iliad should have been boxed with a metronome.
Erasure poems have been around for little more than half a century, but they’re now so popular I’m surprised their limitations have rarely been pointed out. The idea is to take one text and turn it into another simply by blacking out or erasing letters or words. This may seem art by anarchy; but the usual intent is to show that a text contains secrets, even its own contradiction. In The Ferguson Report: An Erasure, Nicole Sealey wants to do something more disturbing—to reveal that the Department of Justice report on the police shooting of Michael Brown a decade ago in Ferguson, Missouri, is hiding poetry.5
Squeezing the words of the report into minuscule type has given her a better chance.
Devotees of erasure are much more like crossword-puzzle addicts, Scrabble fiends, or junior cryptanalysts for the cia than like poets; but poetry can come from strange places in strange ways. The goal of erasure, moral as well as practical, is to let the secret message rise to the surface of the cipher text, like advice from a Magic Eight Ball. Sealey prints the long summary of the Ferguson Report in faint gray, all of it canceled except the words and letters that form her surreptitious poems, which appear in sharply printed black. (She doesn’t include the last eight pages of the summary, and her version differs slightly from that on the Department of Justice website.) The longer the gap between useful letters, however, the more the whole exercise looks contrived. The poet seems to have a rule that the words she finds must use only the letters in a single line of the parent text, even if this takes, as it does in one case, seventeen words to eke out “whoever.” Squeezing the words of the report into minuscule type has given her a better chance. Desperation is the middle name of erasure poetry.
The trouble with erasure is that the secret is so buried in the cipher, or worried into it, the poor reader must still winkle it out visually. Sealey salvages an average of seven words from every seven hundred in the original report. The method tests the reader’s patience, because given a base text of sufficient length, the poet could find any message she likes. (I imagine the whole New Testament lies within the text of the Encyclopedia Britannica.) In the first five pages of the report she finds
Horses, hundreds, neighing—
part reflex, part reason,
part particular urge.
At gunpoint, among them,
you are. Less likely to live,
into the wild go the captive-
The poem ends, “Whoever said death/ comes in threes is an optimist.” The sharp images and self-possession soon give way, alas, to an earnestness that diminishes what might have been a saving grace, finding poetry where it doesn’t belong. Seeing the poet draw out these lines letter by letter and word by word is more painful than watching a surgeon remove buckshot from flesh.
It’s hard to ignore the Warren Commission quality in this Nancy Drew search for something that can bear the poet’s stamp. We soon know we’re not really going to discover a terrible secret hidden beneath our blind gaze, only the poet’s weary scramble for meaning amid officialese. Sealey makes erasure an act of vandalism and cleansing, winning a small measure of abandon from prose otherwise in chains. The eight starved little poems she wrings from this dull, lengthy text are a disappointment. They exist not in contradiction to the killing, but as a hopeless act of rescue and protest, like that of the protester putting flowers into gun barrels at the 1967 March on the Pentagon. At the end of the book, the poems have been printed out whole. The first few have a certain sharpness and an uncertain promise, but then the lectures start:
As for men lying
facedown in the street,
knees on their necks,
their hands behind
their backs, laboring
like babies on their bellies
trying to crawl, then stiff
as a dime down after
a toss in the air.
If I wanted to be hectored, I’d take classes at the Jorie Graham School of Didactic Confession.
Ishion Hutchinson’s fiercely ambitious third book is a memorial for the West Indian soldiers who fought for Britain in World War I. School of Instructions consists of sixty-five short sections with prologue and epilogue, tracing the journey of a West Indian battalion from training in Jamaica through the Middle Eastern Theater.6 Their marches come increasingly to resemble those in the Anabasis, Xenophon’s record of the travails of the ten thousand Greek mercenaries who, abandoned by Cyrus, had to cross hostile desert and mountain pass to reach the Black Sea. Superimposed upon the weary progress of the West Indians are the experiences, some seventy years later, of a Jamaican boy, an aggressive and devoted reader named Godspeed, who clings to his volume of the Britannica like a life raft, though much of the time he seems attached across the decades to the battalion itself. The reader would be forgiven for seeing him as the author in propria persona.
Hutchinson is the most verbally gifted of the younger poets now reaching maturity, if by maturity we mean about forty. School of Instructions is dense as a sandstorm; but the writing is charged with a passion rare since the salad days of Geoffrey Hill, leaving in its compression and difficulty a Hill-ish aftertaste. Here are the soldiers during training:
Later they will climb the sea-charged cannons
and look up the school’s purple and grey wall,
huddle in the breeze, quiet, awaiting
the bugle. Brass rasps the air iodine.
Then the scurrilous voices cross strict waves,
bound by an ardour to move while crouching
hidden in the open, an infantry
stalled in the holy metal of the sun.
Our knowledge of these almost anonymous West Indians is cursory, but soldiers of empire often served faithfully and returned to great honor and greater anonymity. Consider the Gurkhas, drawn from villages high in the Himalayan hills. During the Falklands War, their savage reputation, as they marched across the battlefield, each allegedly listening to his own Walkman, froze the Argentine troops in their trenches. Though paid less and receiving a lower pension than regular British troops, the Gurkhas brought wealth to their home villages. A few years later, a British reporter interviewed an old, retired soldier who had fought in a different war. In the middle of their conversation, the soldier reached under his bed and brought out a treasured jar of Marmite.
Hutchinson, unlike most poets of his generation, does not make this sequence a knee-jerk op-ed piece on the sins of empire. Far more important than a register of the myopia of the British Empire is the attempt to understand why the soldiers fought so bravely, and there the poet shows a fidelity to poetic means that earns the reader’s trust: “A boy struggled with a flag, crack-lashing/ from his hands like a fer-de-lance,” “Sails, the air stagnate, white flashes of sharks/ haunting fevers strangers shared in the hulls,” “the sea the broad church of night and day,” or this:
Brittle bible sheets of his Britannica ached countries
under his thumbs. . . .
He lifted his fingers there were new
borders and some countries had changed their names.
Hutchinson can hardly write a line without charging it with gunpowder. He goes beyond guilt and innocence.
I have a few reservations about the sequence. The boy Godspeed is thinly drawn, more an idea than a character. The time shifts are occasionally confusing—it’s hard to keep track of where or when we are, and I don’t accept that this imitative madness might be method. The troop movements in the last half of the sequence are more a Cook’s Tour of the Middle East than an explanation of strategy—in war the names of Aleppo and Canaan and Baghdad might have had little meaning for line soldiers. How much stronger the poem would have been had Hutchinson plainly made the boy himself. One could have read the poem as the poet’s means of coming to terms, as Derek Walcott did, with a childhood mixed in heritage, united by division.
Half a dozen years ago, Hutchinson was commissioned by London’s Imperial War Museum to take a poet’s eye to the West Indian contribution to the Great War. His main research-material, according to the publicity sheet, was a white British soldier’s diary. I hear, in addition to charged notes of Hill and the picturesque Caribbean seascapes of Walcott, the brutal command of David Jones’s Anathemata (1952), a poem unhappily still little read. Many poets taking on the crimes of empire have offered neither subtlety nor sense, using a hundredweight of captiousness for every ounce of cunning. (James Fenton’s extraordinary “Dead Soldiers” is one of the few exceptions.) I’d give up whole books by many poets for Hutchinson’s lines, “The/ battalion stood thousands upon thousands of restless/ shadows casting no shadows on the sand.” It’s high noon, of course; but it’s a lot more than that.
- Home, by Whitney Hanson; Penguin Life, 338 pages, $18.
- So to Speak, by Terrance Hayes; Penguin Books, 91 pages, $20.
- Keeping My Name, by Catherine Tufariello; Texas Tech University Press, 80 pages, $14.95.
- The Iliad, by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson; W. W. Norton, 761 pages, $39.95.
- The Ferguson Report: An Erasure, by Nicole Sealey; Alfred A. Knopf, 123 pages, $29.
- School of Instructions, by Ishion Hutchinson; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 91 pages, $26.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 42 Number 4, on page 63
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