Poems Seeking Readers

Caroline Knox
Wave Books, $20 (cloth)

Susan Wheeler
University of Iowa Press, $18 (paper)

Something is astir when very different new works by mature writers reveal such similar attitudes toward their traditions and trade. Call that something an impulse toward thrift—saving or fixing, salvaging or reassembling, conducting from unlikely parts something that is whole.

Caroline Knox and Susan Wheeler can imagine that any passing idiom or aesthetic ideal might, some day, be put to good poetic use. They therefore eschew iconoclasm—the paradox-of-creation ideal according to which something, or someone, must be destroyed for new art to be made. This approach may disappoint those seeking forward-looking poetry amidst ashes, written by poets so justifiably outraged by the disasters of our here and now—political, environmental, economic—that they can conceive of a more perfect poetry future only by way of a pyrrhic march through its past. We doubtless need such revolutionary measures if poets are to speak to generations who must survive the blighted world we are leaving them. But Wheeler and Knox speak now, and they are not revolutionary. Instead, they are radically inclusionary, conserving our idioms and conducting ensembles of diverse aesthetic ideals. Their new books, Knox’s Flemish and Wheeler’s Meme, enlarge the scope of contemporary poetry without dumbing it down.

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