Today's book of poetry:Season of the Second Thought. Lynn Powell. University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, Wisconsin. 2017.
Winner of the FELIX POLLAK PRIZE in POETRY
Lynn Powell is exactly the tonic that Today's book of poetry needed to get back on track and into gear. Reading poetry that is this smart and confident reminds us of how the real pros do it.
Season of the Second Thought is audacious. This is Powell's third book but the first Today's book of poetry has seen. Reading Season of the Second Thought is like eating that perfect box of chocolates, each one more delicious, every taste a new and exciting experience. And you can never have enough. Powell calls out the muse, her muse, several times and openly challenges her for higher ground. Not sure how Powell manages her erudite and sophisticated palette and still comes out speaking in a language we all understand, but it is a true pleasure to read. And to read again.
Slow Elegy from Afar
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
...Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
What glitch in the genes created shame?
God, the oldest scapegoat, usually gets the rap.
But why would the maker of that granite island--
glacier-polished nub of a Precambrian peak,
with an osprey perched, bellyful of fish, in a wind-bent pine,
the gibbous moon floating up, and the evening star,
on cue, surfacing in a lavender sky--why
would the God of that cold beauty
contrive a hall of mirrors in a human mind?
On our last long walk five springs ago, we sparred, gingerly.
You were a brilliant believer; I had come to believe
that cruelty was the only sin--with the caveat
that cruelty could also be the secret name of subtler sins.
Everything else, I argued, is the blundering of a desire
to be known, loved, or safe. We make mistakes
and know ourselves.
I could see your young, tired face tighten.
So I tried a different tack--
Don't take the perfect so personally.
Don't take shame so much to heart.
Why did you suffer? And why did you leave
your suffering to those you loved?
I can't gird my loins again against my childhood God,
that God with a clipboard and swift red pen.
So I reread Job, and watch the waves wash,
and aim to wash away, the granite shore.
They paraphrase the whirlwind.
As do the oriole that slings her hammock nest
along the path we walked, the doe in the close woods
wary for her fawn, the thunderhead and the downpour,
the firefly galaxies in the blackest field of night,
the forsythia festive once again beside your grave.
Lynn Powell's Season of the Second Thought grabbed me by the poetry lapels and shook me senseless. Powell musing in a blue mood is as good as Miles Davis doing the same. But somehow I keep hearing W.H. Auden's perfect pitch in these poems.
The thing you learn, early on in Season of the Second Thought, is that you can be confident throwing yourself into each and every poem from the beginning to the end. Lynn Powell is steady as a metronome with these incandescent poems aglow with "iridescent language." Powell can burn. Here's a poet who talks about the weather as though she controlled the sky, like she knows when it is going to rain.
Love Poem from the Wrong Side
of the Rain
What would April do? Tease hidden
meanings from the bulbs, raise the stakes
and double my entendres, and bet
all my roses on the bottom line.
But it's the season of embarrassed trees,
the modest charms of leaf rot and briar
and hawk scat thawing on the muddy path:
skinny March at an earnest latitude.
So tell me, Muse: where around here might a woman
find a little flint and tinder,
some figure of feisty speech, a correlative for kisses
that would make a grown man weep if she put it
all on the table and headed out
for good into the long-stemmed rain?
Today's book of poetry is very happy to be back in the saddle, and Lynn Powell is one hell of reminder of why we are in the poetry game. Today's book of poetry doesn't just love reading great poetry, we aspire to write some of it. Poets like Powell set the bar to beautiful new heights.
Powell's poems held up splendidly. The grand old man would have seen the bold beauty of Powell's hard truths, her certainties all tinged a little blue.
Mapless and skidding again on a backroad
prickly with teasels and sumac and skeletons
of lace, I glimpse a pink non sequitur:
a winged woman on the stoop
of a whitewashed church, glancing up
from an opened book and lifting
her opened hand--
but I will not brake today for grace,
I round the reckless curve, past pumpkins
with no faces forced yet on them, past
bins and barrels of crimson wholesale fruit,
past tombstones disheveled in the drizzle
staggering after their long-lost
ballast of grief--
the blurred signs vanishing
like everything else in the hindsight horizon,
and the black tires taking my incendiary heart
farther, faster, out past the charred trunks of the maples,
those miles of martyrs with feet
held fast to the banked flames
of their own making.
Today's book of poetry is here to tell you that Lynn Powell's Season of the Second Thought is worth every second of time you can spend on it.
Today's book of poetry is built on the idea of sharing the best poetry what we can find. Lynn Powell's Season of the Second Thought is as stone cold solid as any book Today's book of poetry has sent your way. Lynn Powell is instantly a poet we will have all the time in the world for.
For Lynn Powell we are ready when she asks "Why don't you put your mouth / where your moody heart is?" Today's book of poetry is speaking up here and now; Lynn Powell IS the next poet you should read.
ABOUT THE AUTHORLynn Powell teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Oberlin College, where she directs Oberlin's Writers-in-the-Schools Program. She has published two previous collections of poetry: Old & New Testaments, winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry, and The Zones of Paradise. Her nonfiction book Framing Innocence won the Studs & Ida Terkel Award.
“Let Powell's images and figures wash over you. They can be deft and unobtrusive, but they will stick with you; they will illuminate what otherwise might be dark. A poet so sure-handed is irresistible. Dazzling.”
“Not just written, but wrought. Powell's new poems deftly combine keen observation with perfect pitch, and their rich chiaroscuro renders them vibrant and painterly as the Dutch masters they often reference. The current running through her lines leaves me shivering with excitement and gratitude.”
—R. T. Smith, author of In the Night Orchard
Kind of Blue
Video: Gabriel Jasso
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