A Spring Bouquet of Poetry As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we recognize five new volumes that celebrate the form, including verse probing the darkness at the edge of everyday life from U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic and hard questions posed in comic fashion from Jane Shore.
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A Spring Bouquet of Poetry

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A Spring Bouquet of Poetry

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A Spring Bouquet of Poetry

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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.

In his poem, "The Waste Land," T.S. Eliot wrote April is the cruelest month. It's also national poetry month. And reviewer Alan Cheuse has found some new verses that are worth talking about.

ALAN CHEUSE: This April isn't at all cruel when it comes to poetry, it's blossoming. Here's a brief entry for April from Campbell McGrath's new volume, "Seven Notebooks," which chronicles a year in the poet's life.

Another week should see the bloom-out of purest, whisper-green shoots, darkening all summer to fall.

There's blooming out and darkening in Jane Shore's collection, "A Yes-or-No Answer." This is a domestic book, filled with elegies about the writer's late parents and hymns to the ambivalence of life. Take the simple cadence and seriocomic feel of the title poem:

Do you double-dip your Oreo, Shore asks? Please answer the question yes or no. The surgery - was it touch and go? Does a corpse's hair continue to grow? Remember when we were simpatico? Answer my question: yes or no.

Six more rhyming stanzas later, we get an answer to Shore's question, less than reassuring, more than yes or no.

Now, in case you'd forgotten, Charles Simic is our current U.S. Poet Laureate. He's a Belgrade native, and he offers some assurance about the darkness lying around the edges of everything in a new collection called "That Little Something." The beginning of Simic's title poem goes like this:

The likelihood of ever finding it is small. It's like being accosted by a woman, and asked to help her look for a pearls she lost right here in the street. She could be making it all up. Even her tears, you say to yourself, as you search under your feet, thinking, not in a million years.

Next, Richard Kenney, one of my favorite poets from the Pacific Northwest. In a piece titled "Poetry," from a volume published earlier this year, he worries about the whole state of this kind of writing. Nobody at any rate reads it much. Your lay citizenry have other forms of fun. Still, who would wish to live in a culture of which future anthropologists would say, oddly, they had none.

All very troubling, yes, but Thomas Lux who teaches writing down at Georgia Tech, finally has some fun. Many of the poems in his new book, "God Particles," approached life's darkness from a satirical perspective. By now, you've been reminded that poets sometimes choose the most ridiculous names for their work. And with Lux, we arrive at the very apex of ambiguity with his poem titled "Eyes Scooped Out and Replaced by Hot Coals."

I, he proclaims, the final arbiter and ultimate enforcer of such things appointed by the king, make official and binding this: that the eyes shall be gouged out and replaced by hot coals in the head, the blockhead of each citizen who upon reaching his/her majority has yet to read "Moby-Dick" by Mr. Herman Melville, 1819-1891, American novelist and poet. Melville, a poet? Yes, indeed, but primarily not until late in life. And even then -well, before I go on, some of you citizens had better start with "Moby-Dick," because poets like Thomas Lux may be coming after you.

SIEGEL: The books are "God Particles" by Thomas Lux, "The One-Strand River" by Richard Kenney, "That Little Something" by Charles Simic, "A Yes-or-No Answer" by Jane Shore, and "Seven Notebooks" by Campbell McGrath.

Allan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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