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Poetry from Jack Gilbert, Jorie Graham and others

New Poetry collections from Jorie Graham, Jack Gilbert,

New Poetry collections from Jorie Graham, Jack Gilbert, D.A. Powell and others. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

German author W.G. Sebald, who died in 2001, is best known for books such as "The Emigrants" and "Austerlitz," but a posthumous new release, "Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems, 1964-2001" (Random House, $25) proves he was a gifted poet as well. These poems explore themes of solitude, memory, exile and longing, as in "The Sky at Night": "What relation / does a heavy heart bear / to the art of comedy"; and "Poetry for an Album": "If you knew every cranny / of my heart / you would yet be ignorant / of the pain my happy / memories bring." Also worth reading is the introductory note by Iain Galbraith, who describes the challenges posed by translating Sebald's allusive work into English.


Edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali, "Villanelles" (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, $13.50) celebrates the sublime poetic form known as the villanelle, which Finch describes as "one of the most fascinating and paradoxical of poetic forms . . . prone to moods of obsession and delight; structured through the marriage of repetition and surprise." This compilation includes both traditional villanelles and permutations of the form, and features favorites such as Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," W.H. Auden's "If I Could Tell You," and Elizabeth Bishop's marvelous "One Art": "The art of losing isn't hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster."


Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham -- with her classical references, startling line breaks and digressive syntax -- is not easy to read. The experience can be dizzying, and her latest collection, "Place" (Ecco, $15.99 paper) is no exception. Yet the rewards of reading (and rereading) Graham's work are abundant. These poems are framed by her staggering intellect, yet they also dwell in sensual, emotional and even political terrain. Many poems in this new volume contemplate our precarious relationship with the natural world: "On the Virtue of the Dead Tree" reveals Graham's grief and tenderness as she observes "the dead-through trunk, the leafless limbs, the loosening of the / deep-drying roots in the / living soil. And I slow myself to extend love to them."


In D.A. Powell's fifth poetry collection, "Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys" (Graywolf Press, $22), the San Francisco poet displays his infectious delight for language: "Who could sustain such pale plenitude / and not want to shake the knopped white blossoms / from the swarthy branches," he writes in the opening poem, "Almonds in Bloom." Such poems demand to be read aloud. Powell explores, among other things, his aging body ("A face uneven as a river jag / and asperous as the mullein's flannel leaves,") and he experiments with form, as in the sestina "A Little Less Kettledrum, Please." Some of the strongest poems are featured in the book's latter half (under "A Guide for Boys") -- including the title poem of that section, apparently inspired by old scouting manuals.


Spanning 16 countries and more than 80 poets, "The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25), edited by Ilan Stavans, is an essential read. Now issued in paperback, this anthology (with poems in their original languages, alongside the English translations) showcases poets whose names are widely recognizable: Cesar Vallejo, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz. Yet ample space is given to obscure writers, too. As Stavans points out, "most fine poets don't drink from a single well," and this volume shows off an astonishing range of styles and concerns.


For readers who love the work of Jack Gilbert, and for those not yet acquainted, "Collected Poems" (Alfred A. Knopf, $35) will surely be savored. Although he ranks among the best American poets and has earned his share of prizes, the 87-year-old is not nearly as well known as he should be. (This compilation should help change that.) Unlike many of his peers, Gilbert shuns linguistic acrobatics in favor of clear, simple language: "Maybe / growing up in that brutal city left him / with a taste for grit and whatever it was / he saw in the titanic rusting steel mills," he writes in a late poem. The beauty of Gilbert's work lies partly in its candor, as when the poet recalls the death of a longtime friend: "There was resentment and even dislike in his / love for me. But we managed, knowing that."

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