My love for Maggie Nelson's writing grows with every book, essay, and poem I read by her. Something Bright, Then Holes is a reissue of her 2007 poetry collection, and it is a keen and vivid book. It will probably not make you feel better during a dark time in your life or the world, but it might give a shape to some of the pain.
Seuss’s magnificent fourth collection is a many-roomed gallery of portraits, self-portraits, and landscapes of paradises lost, found, and redefined. While many poems include the iconic apple or snake (if disguised as “the black sky wriggling free of the stars”), Seuss’s true primal symbol is the red Mylar balloon which reflects things in an unforgettably strange and brash way. In the guise of other reds—fruits and, especially, blood—it floats through the book. You can trace many images and themes throughout these masterful poems (which range from orderly couplets to solid blocks of prose to questionnaires): gold and rust battle for primacy, perhaps coming to an understanding in “the blue of a bruise and its gold aura”; frames are as porous as they are isolating; art is as much a trompe l’oeil as it is concrete and real; and a rabbit hops in and out of several scenes. Seuss’s paradise is both a museum and a Walmart parking lot, her heroes are the Great Masters as well as the impetuous, brilliant, and forever-young Sylvia Plath, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, and Freddie Mercury. But Seuss doesn’t make a fetish of tragic artistry. Her elegies are celebrations of spirit and defiance and she confronts loss with excess, identifying not one but eight different shades of brown in Dürer’s hare, seeing a turkey as not merely angelic but “archangelic,” and looking so intently at Rothko’s colors that she hears “the clanging orange.” Seuss writes with an irrepressible “virtuosic madness” and her still lifes are anything but, showing us new worlds in the successive “glints as a band of light moves across the window.”
Pico’s book-length poem is composed in flexible, impeccably crafted couplets—but look closer and the orderliness dissolves. Sentences start and start and don’t come to a full stop. There are opening capitals but no periods (with one exception: “Refresh.//Refresh. Refresh.”). The lines roll into and out of each other with the regularity and wildness of waves. This brilliant structure allows the poet to interweave myriad themes and literary strategies. At one level, the poem is a deft stand-up rant. Telling himself to “turn everything into a punchline—the grief is loud but/the laffs are louder,” Pico lets loose with powerful zingers that qualify the laughs and hone the grief. As an earthy glimpse of “Love in the time of/ climate change,” the poem hits any number of gay nightspots, karaoke bars, and bedrooms and the lovers’ banter is a tour de force of voices and tones. These strands of the poem are largely the work of “Teebs the bratty Diva, my alter ego.” Pico uses Teebs’s “piss & vinegar & libido & punchlines” to defer the more difficult confrontation with what angers and frightens him about America: that ”slavery,/theft, and genocide are its founding institutions.” That America is “all action no memory.” Growing up on “the rez America’s first POW camps,” Pico realized his “Junk situation It’s how I’m seen, felt,/ and fought.” Something not quite discarded, not quite kept (like the clichéd image of the Native warrior, “weary, slumped/over the broken horse, spear sliding into the dry grass”), junk “isn’t//garbage It’s not outlived its purpose Junk awaits its next life.” How to reach that next life? “Resisting death for// generations, I want to make the opposite of death,” Pico says. He’s passionate and spirited and brave. But he does not seem optimistic.