How do you feel about rhyme? Personally, I don’t much like it. It throws me off, makes me think more about the fact that I’m reading a poem and less about what I’m reading. A slant rhyme, some alliteration, fine. But a straight-on rhyme of two words at the end of a line? No. Kay Ryan makes me reconsider that rejection. Read A Hundred Bolts of Satin, with its incredibly short lines and the rhyming of “back,” “track,” “unpack.” The words call out to you – not least because some of them are all alone on their own lines – but also because that’s about all the rhyme there is in the poem. Three words out of sixty-six line up like that and you have to think again. I’m still not going to start rhyming in my own poems. But Ryan’s got something going here that’s well worth examining. And Say Uncle costs less than six bucks, meaning those economical lines are also economically priced.
Charles Simic is obviously a master: More than 18 books of poems, poet laureate, all that. But read all of That Little Something and you’ll notice that he does seem to clench his fists a lot. He is an unsettled person, and his poems unnerve me.
Joseph Legaspi’s book, Imago, has a strong flavor of the author’s childhood in the Phillippines, and the cruelties and oddities of childhood anywhere in the world. You get a feel for the suffocating heat of a small rural hometown, for the way sibling rivalry and affection shade into violence, for a child’s realization that parents are fallible. Several poems focus on the Phillipine ritual of circumcision at puberty, which in its strangeness to a western audience forces the recognition that all the rituals of adolescence are strange and painful. I had to stop and shake my head after a lot of these poems, and it took me more than a week of train-rides to read them all, but they’re very good.