Verse of time and place
Dan Chiasson’s earthy and cerebral new collection of poems confronts the order of things. In “The Math Campers” (Knopf), out this week, Chiasson, poet, critic, professor at Wellesley College, writes of the settle and lurch of traffic, and throughout the book, there is a sense of acceleration and the subtle thump of stop-again, the halt-and-falter of forward movement through time, as experienced in particular as a father seeing himself in his sons. Structurally, lyrically, the collection shifts and moves, incantatory, in dialogue, in correspondence, in repetition. “Now the way becomes time,/ and we are still drifting/ fresh from a slaughter.” He writes of youth and pals, parties in Vermont cattle fields, of stars and meadows and fetish sites (“Stay prepubescent!”), snowdrops, scorpions, enormity, with a then-now mindframe that holds the whole great span at once. These are intimate poems, oneiric and inviting. He moves between the lofty and the cosmic — “the reason reason gave the river wonder left behind,” and tennis matches as a teen. In doing, Chiasson launches us back and forth across the net of time.
Cynthia Levinson and husband Sanford Levinson’s “Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today” (World Citizen Comics) came out originally in 2017 as prose nonfiction, and has now taken timely new form as a graphic novel with art by Ally Shwed. The book — succinct, powerful, playful, provocative — tracks the evolution of the Constitution and how the framers, “behind barred doors and latched windows . . . concocted an entirely new and daring kind of government, faults and all.” The authors, who split their time between Boston and Austin, Texas, deftly show the ways in which the early days of nation-making play out today, covering voting rights, the Patriot Act, the Electoral College, emergency powers, constitutional amendments, pardons, and presidential term limits. Not only is it a thorough and concise history, giving context to how things have unfolded over the last several decades, it also offers insight as to what possible alternatives could look like, fixes to the inevitable cracks that come with age, and is a useful primer or refresher as we hurdle toward November.
Evening of leaders
Mass Poetry’s annual fundraiser event, Evening of Inspired Leaders, was cancelled back in March because of the pandemic, and they’re holding a virtual version of it this year, where a number of notables from the community will share a poem that has sustained or inspired them during this strange stretch of time. Headlining the event this year is cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and he’ll be joined by singer and author Rosanne Cash; WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti; poets Regie Gibson and Anthony Febo; Anne Klibanski, CEO of Partners HealthCare; Boston city councilor Julia Mejia; Community Servings CEO David Waters; nurse practicioner Michelle Quirk; Vikiana Petit-Homme, organizer for March for Our Lives; student speaker Sharon Castang; and others. The event is free, and funds raised will go towards Mass Poetry’s work bringing poetry and poetry programming to people across the state. The event takes place this Thursday, September 24, from 7-8 pm. To register, visit masspoetry.org.
“Every Day We Get More Illegal: Poems” by Juan Felipe Herrera (City Lights)
“Climate Crisis and the Global Green Deal” by Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin (Verso)
“For Now” by Eileen Myles (Yale)
Pick of the week
Susan Schlesinger at Books on the Square in Providence recommends “The Vanished Birds” by Simon Jimenez (Del Rey): “This is a complex tale of loves lost, families found, and the choices, risks, and sacrifices we make for them. The story opens when a young boy falls from the sky and the tribal community feels that this is a bad omen. Beautiful imagery and complex characters emerge in this cacophony of distant planets, corporate greed, and technology run amok.”