Books Reviewed: The Lichtenberg Figures, by Ben Lerner; I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, by Karyna McGlynn; The Man Suit, by Zachary Schomburg.
I read so much poetry these days that I can't possibly blog about each book. So
every once in a while, I do these round-ups to let you know what I've been
reading lately. Here are three books I've read recently:
The Lichtenberg Figures: This book by Ben Lerner won a crazy amount of awards when it came out in 2004, and it's easy to see why. Lerner's has an amazing vocabulary and a good sense of humor; he writes about the nature of language and poetry in pretty and ironic ways. You could never call these poems boring. That being said, the book didn't have much of an impact on me by the time I put it down. I really liked a few of the poems here, particularly the very first poem in the collection, but overall, I found this to be a decent book that probably won't stick with me for very long. I almost feel bad about that, considering what a wunderkind Lerner is in the literary world.
I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl: Because my own MFA thesis concentrates so much on gender and violence, my advisor suggested I pick up this book and give it a try. And with a title like that, how could I resist? I Have to Go Back is an incredibly visceral book, and the way it evokes actions and reactions seems of particular importance to what McGlynn is doing here. I had a lot of trouble following the "plot" of the book (I'm still not 100% sure I understand who is perpetrating the violence at any given point), but I really appreciated the book's organization. Like Olivia Cronk's Skinhorse, this is a book that works almost like a seance, forcing the reader to get impressions rather than whole pictures, at its best in vague fragments. I like this kind of poetry, even if I can't even make sense of it. I hope one of my poetry friends will read this book soon so I can talk it out with someone!
The Man Suit: My friend Drew left me a big pile of books to read this summer, and so far Schomburg's book has been my favorite. The Man Suit is just a lot of fun to read, and at its best, it's surprisingly affecting. It's humorous and strangely profound in its depiction of the absurdities found in both history and present life. The central series in this book, "Abraham Lincoln's Death Scene" is weird but also gets at just how bizarre historical narrative constructs are. For some reason, Schomburg's poems here remind me a lot of my favorite Kelly Link stories, which is a huge compliment because I love Kelly Link. My two favorite poems in this collection - "Full of Knives" and "The Whale" will probably stick with me for awhile. The Man Suit is a nice reminder that poetry can be whatever it wants when the writer is talented and not constantly getting in the way of his own work.