A Roundup Of Spring Poetry Collections

NPR news poet and University of California, Berkeley, professor Tess Taylor has a spring roundup of poetry books that are all debut collections.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Now, some new poetry. Tess Taylor has this review of three debut collections, beginning with Averill Curdy's "Song and Error."

TESS TAYLOR: Whether observing a bird trapped in an airport or Thomas Jefferson hunting a fox, Curdy spins a poetic yarn that winds towards the unseen. Some of her richest poems are - literally - about explorers, including George Sandys, a colonial secretary who was translating Ovid's "Metamorphoses" while seeing the New World for the first time.

But Curdy makes the current world seem as strange as the Black Sea seemed to Ovid; and Virginia must have, to Sandys. In her poem "Northwest Passage," she makes each of us the theoretical geographer who dreams of trading his knives for nutmegs, mirrors for cinnamon, pearls and beyond; finding by brute necessity and skill, some route between suffering and song.

The knife-edge balance between suffering and song, and the figure of exile, drive Zubair Ahmed's dazzling book, "City of Rivers." Born in 1988, Ahmed was raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He finished high school in Duncanville, Texas, before attending Stanford. As it happens, Ahmed's visceral poems are themselves magnificently rigged machines that sharpen around one or two images, many of them from the homeland he left, some of them from life in Texas. His lines turn breathtaking corners. Listen to the poem "Concession," in its entirety.

(Reading) I could sit here all night and chances are, I will. The moon lights the ocean on fire. I watch the waves repeat themselves until they become a house with soft lights and no furniture. I begin to sleep. My body is music. I will never have a home.

And last, for a book that unfurled like a wild, restless road trip, I took great delight in Jennifer Foerster's "Leaving Tulsa." Sensuous, generous, full of beginnings and endings, this map of America flapping in the dark meditates on Foerster's Tuskegee ancestry, the American prairie, the loss of her grandmother's land, and her shard-like rediscovery in California. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Foerster's ancestry is Muscogee, not Tuskegee.]

Get ready to travel. Each of these books has miles to go before it sleeps. Each is the beginning of a new season of poetic journeying, led by such lines as "Foerster's prairie dress hemmed with a gasoline rainbow," or "I begin to teach myself to swim inside a continent." These books prove that American poetry is thriving. They not only feed my wanderlust. They also give me hope.

SIEGEL: That was poet Tess Taylor. The collections that she was recommending are "Song and Error," by Averill Curdy; "City of Rivers," by Zubair Ahmed; and "Leaving Tulsa," by Jennifer Foerster.

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Correction June 21, 2013

This story incorrectly describes poet Jennifer Foerster as having Tuskegee ancestry. Foerster is Muscogee.

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