Akbar’s sophomore collection beats with the same heart that animated his debut--Calling a Wolf a Wolf--while revealing the poet as a powerhouse of form and faith. Here Akbar pledges his commitment to look at the whole; no matter how flawed, here is the body, recovering, and here is the Divine’s landscape resurrected in the everyday. Pilgrim Bell peals; throughout the book, its ring and response mark the first and penultimate poem of each section. No matter how deep the speaker leads us into his religious upbringing or the body's wounds, there’s a moment of pause on the return in the end-stopped lines of each eponymous poem.
With her previous translations/versions of ancient Greek plays and poetry, Carson has proved that she is the preeminent classicist of our time. She follows her previous efforts with her own version (read: loosely based) on Euripides’ Helen. In Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, she combines Helen of Troy and Marilyn Monroe into one persona and places both women in each other's milieu. In doing so, Carson creates a powerful, book-length monologue that tells two similar tales of sorrow, separated by millennia, and explores the way the world destroys women through myth-making powered by the male gaze.
Since the astonishingly direct poems of her 1980 debut, Satan Says, Sharon Olds has redefined the American poetic landscape as few other poets have. Making the body central to her work, she has found the poetry of traditionally “unpoetic” subjects, writing with unflinching honesty and compassion about violence and injustice—both in intimate, personal spaces and in the larger public arena. But as she shows the harm a family can inflict on its members, she also articulates why family is important; exposing the wounds caused by “cruelty/and abuse of power,” she never doubts that the better side of humanity can triumph. Her rich new collection, Arias (Knopf, $29.95 hardcover, $18.95 paper), at nearly 200 pages is a kind of double-album that takes Olds’s abiding concerns to new levels of power and artistry—without sacrificing anything of the conversational clarity that makes her work so compelling. In the opening poem, she moves in just twenty lines from “pouring the hot milk/into the coffee,” to “looking up/the purple martin” to elegizing Trayvon Martin—a deft illustration of the unity of the personal and the political as well as a glimpse of how a poem is made.