National Poetry Month has reached its twentieth anniversary, a landmark celebrated with the release of a remarkable number of outstanding best-of collections, including Dana Gioia’s 99 Poems. Below we recognize retrospective gatherings by seminal poets of the past (Adrienne Rich, Delmore Schwartz, Stevie Smith) and other judicious combinations of the old and the new by shining poets of the present (Jay Parini, Lucia Perillo, Ron Rash). While these titles certainly enhance robust poetry shelves, they are of particular value to small and medium-sized poetry collections. The reviews below are exclusive to Booklist Online. You can find more reviews of forthcoming poetry collections in the pages of Booklist‘s March 15, 2016 issue.
All the Poems. By Stevie Smith. Ed. by Will May. 2016. 806p. New Directions, $39.95 (9780811223805).
British writer Stevie Smith (1902–71) filled eight volumes with poetry and her marvelously droll line drawings. A cherished satirist, she was admired on both sides of the Atlantic, yet most American readers today will only have a glancing sense of her oeuvre.
Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015. By Kevin Young. 2016. 608p. Knopf, $30 (9780385351508).
The preface informs us: “The title Blue Laws comes from the traditional, often unenforced laws that restrict behavior on the Sabbath,” which are duly presented on the following page, “but also speaks to the blues music that informs America’s and my own.”
Collected Poems, 1950–2012. By Adrienne Rich. Mar. 2016. 960p. Norton, $50 (9780393285116).
This mammoth and vital volume covering 62 years and more than 20 poetry collections affirms Adrienne Rich’s (1929–2012) standing as a major poet. In her first book, A Change of World (1951), which W. H. Auden chose for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, Rich is fluent in classical forms and carefully camouflaged by a refined, gracious, impersonal voice, though certain images and phrases—a storm, a ghost, death, and the phrase “estranged intensity“—presage inner turmoil and burgeoning protest.
New and Collected Poems, 1975–2015. By Jay Parini. Mar. 2016. 248p. Beacon, $27.95 (9780807030134); e-book (9780807030141).
Parini is truly a man of letters. He is a biographer of Gore Vidal, William Faulkner, and Robert Frost, among other writers; a poet; and a novelist whose subjects include Herman Melville in The Passages of H.M. (2010).
Once and For All: The Best of Delmore Schwartz. By Delmore Schwartz. Ed. by Craig Morgan Teicher. Apr. 2016. 336p. New Directions, paper, $17.95 (9780811224321).
Delmore Schwartz (1913–66) was highly regarded as a powerfully original and edgy member of the literary flowering of the 1930s and 1940s in sync with T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Saul Bellow.
Poems: New and Selected. By Ron Rash. Mar. 2016. 192p. HarperCollins, $24.99 (9780062435507); e-book (9780062435538).
Best known for his prizewinning, best-selling, lyrical novels, including Above the Waterfall (2015), Rash is also an acclaimed short story writer (Burning Bright, 2010) and a poet. His first four poetry collections are strongly represented here and accompanied by a handful of new poems.
Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones. By Lucia Perillo. 2016. 200p. Copper Canyon, $23 (9781556594731).
Perillo, a MacArthur fellow, is a boldly and imaginatively irreverent poet even as she marvels at the wonders all around us and hopes for “sacred knowledge.” How, she asks, can we meet the demands of life?