Book Reviews

'The Exchange': The Book 'For You'

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Poet Tess Taylor reviews Sophie Cabot Black's book of poems, The Exchange.


Now, a review of a collection of poetry by Sophie Cabot Black. It's called "The Exchange." And while Black might not be a household name, critic Tess Taylor says she is a poet's poet, Admired and widely read among her peers. Here's her review of "The Exchange."

TESS TAYLOR: Take it with you on a bus, to a hospital, to wait in line at a bank. You could take "The Exchange" nearly anywhere and have it speak to you. It wouldn't talk about the place you are exactly, but it would talk about places where things become other things; where death becomes life, where waiting becomes impatience, where money becomes an abstraction, and where what we think we know becomes what we can no longer fathom.

A great deal of this book about exchanges is about Black losing a dear friend, the poet Jason Schinder, to cancer. But some of it is about prostitution, or about a banking facility in New Jersey that processes investments by algorithm, or the monumental exchange between Abraham and God. Abraham offers his son to God as a sacrifice but God, at the last minute, doesn't require it.

So what is traded and how does the transfer take place? In fact, part of the mystery in reading Black's poems is wondering where exactly exchange happens. These poems remind us of the ways we each pass through the stations of a life. In doing this, they capture the wonder of trying to inhabit life's shapes at all.

As Black writes in the poem "Afterlife": Ahead a color best called white in a room that appears unlike any other. Everything used to get there will fall away. And to look back is to watch the child lie down on the floor in the exact outline and angle I once was to see what I saw. To take on the precise edge of how it ends is also where it begins.

With precision, Black's poems skirt great mysteries.


CORNISH: Sophie Cabot Black's poetry collection is called the "The Exchange." Our reviewer, Tess Taylor, teaches writing at UC Berkeley. Her poetry collection, "The Forage House," will be published next month.

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