“The New Census: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry” – A Review by Michael Crowley

I think that Frequency writers and friends will like a new book recommended by spdbooks.com (Small Press Distribution) The New Census: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, published by Rescue Press. Better than a box of chocolates, the anthology contains samples of the writing of 40 very different poets. In their introduction the editors, Kevin A. Gonzalez and Lauren Shapiro say that one of the criteria for the selection of poets in the anthology is to have readers meet poets, “just as they’ve begun to go on their ways, they’ve almost all published at least two, no more than three or four collections.” This assemblage presents the wonderful variety of styles, themes, forms or no forms used by forty accomplished, vastly diverse but still new (to me at least) poets.

The New Census has four poems by Frequency co-founder Darcie Dennigan; although I didn’t know that when I ordered the book from SPD. The poets are arraigned in alphabetical order so there is no implied judgment or ranking. Beginning with Carrie Olivia Adams and ending with Jon Woodward, each poet is introduced by a brief bio and a silhouette of the poet.

The poems can be wonderful, insightful, frustrating, perfectly clear and entertaining or terribly obscure and impossible to understand which is part of the fun.  John Beer, for example, uses the title The Waste Land” which starts with a German epithet. What nerve! But the following lines appealed to my sense of humor

O O that T. S. Eliot

he’s such a shrinking violet

and if you think I sigh a lot

try living with T. S. Eliot 

So I went back to the poem and read it slowly and patiently. If I didn’t “get” some of it that was fine because I liked reading the lines on the page. In the first section of the poem, The Funeral March (Chicago and Orleans) there are echoes of Whitman, Sandberg, and Lorca:

center city, the city without shoulders, the city that forgot,

the trampoline city, Abacus city, the city of tears,

the real city (or the city of the desert),

the unreal city (or city of good will),

the city of rust, of showers, of late blooming aster,

The images and the sound of the lines when read aloud are beautiful. In the next stanza Beer asks, “What is this thing called love?” adding a layer of Cole Porter, Sara Vaughan and Ella to the Eliot allusion “April is the coolest month which brings/happy policeman the pleasant dreams of spring.”

John Beer is followed by Nicky Beer and I was caught by the first line of her poem “Avuncularity.” “Every child ought to have a dead uncle.” How true. The poem is a sort of dramatic monologue in which the speaker explains why other person forgets things all the time

See. see there his buttons are done

wrong. He must have forgotten things

all the time, just like you.

There are 38 other poets, all with different voices and styles, some more difficult to “get” than others, but with poems titled “His Future as Attila the Hun,” “Where Babies Come From,” and “Unfunky UFO, 1981” the collection gives a terrific introduction to the variety of contemporary poems and poets. Students and lovers of poetry will be encouraged by the range and variety in this book.

by Michael Crowley

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