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Poetry you need to read: Elaine Equi, Ron Padgett, Alice Notley, Matthew Rohrer

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April is National Poetry Month. Here are new collections by four exceptional poets.

• Click and Clone

Elaine Equi

(Coffee House Press)

Whether celebrating clones or revising Led Zeppelin (“That stairway only leads half-way to heaven”), Equi melds verse with aphorism, wisdom with wicked playfulness. The clone concept has really gotten to Equi; she works out the implications of scientific breakthrough in a number of poems, as well as ones that cite literary forebears to the idea of doubling a human or oneself (in Edgar Allan Poe; in Dostoyevsky). My favorite of these may be “Some Things Never Change”:

Once I had a body

always tired

of pretending

to be me.

Now long gone.

Replaced by files, codes,

a social network

held together with pins.

The reach of its reach

(you wouldn’t say arms)

much further

but still, tired.

In “A Guide to the Cinema Tarot,” she advises, “Keep your ear to the ground/I mean all the way down.” That’s an apt apercu: Equi really knows how to get down.

• Destroyer and Presever

Matthew Rohrer

(Wave Books)

Rohrer’s frequently beautiful, brief poems are rooted in specific images that initially seem unrelated—but which ultimately form a unity as meditations on how the ordinary distractions of everyday life can be seen as the source for almost everything important in life. “Dull Affairs” begins:

How am I to concentrate

on the heavy and dull

affairs of state

with the sound of a baby having a dream

in the other room… “

Rohrer makes music from the most conversational turns of phrase, as at the conclusion of “Poem for Asthma”:

I am clubbed in the head by a wintry cloud

Am pulled bodily from my dream

”Oh, absolutely man,” is my answer to everything.”

• How Long

Ron Padgett

The 68 year-old poet is frequently as playful in this new collection as he was as a young-buck member of the New York School of poetry in the ’60s and ’70s. Here, he’s almost chipper in contemplating what death will be like:

I’m almost oddly cheered

by the thought

that I might find out

in the not too distant future.

Now for lunch.

Padgett’s sense of romantic joy is undiminished, as is his thoughtfulness about language and the ways in which time changes meaning, and sense can morph into eloquent absurdity. As he writes in the beginning of “What Are You On?”:

If you asked an Elizabethan

What are you on?

he or she would have answered

The earth, this terrestrial globe

whereas today it means

What medication

are you taking?

(Are you taking has less energy

than What medication it is an anticlimax

without a climax)…

• Culture of One

Alice Notley

(Penguin)

In Culture of One, which is billed as “a novel in poems,” Notley assumes the identity of Marie, a bag lady living by her wits in the Southwest. Garrulous, angry, dreamy, and passionate, Marie’s monologues, harangues, and meditations can be both exhausting and exhilarating; they accumulate to take on a frequently tremendous force.

Notley writes in “A New Way to Live a Life”:

This is what Marie has been working on. Not communitarily but singly.

Everyone doesn’t have to be like her, no one’s like anyone; and she doesn’t want to show them how to do it — how to be her — she doesn’t know how.

There’s got to be another way to live a life…

Twitter: @kentucker