''Deep Skin: Elizabeth Bishop and Visual Art,'' ''All the Whiskey in Heaven,'' and more recommended collections

By Ken Tucker
Updated April 09, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Deep Skin: Elizabeth Bishop and Visual Art
Peggy Samuels
A groundbreaking work about the relationship between poetry and art, Deep Skin illustrates how Bishop, one of our most ”visual” poets in her imagery, took inspiration from artists ranging from painter Paul Klee to sculptor Alexander Calder to the great Kurt Schwitters. Samuels never has to stretch to compare a Bishop poem to an art-work; she shows how we can all be inspired by art and incorporate it into our lives. In Bishop’s case, it led to great poetry. A

Find the Girl
Lightsey Darst
Darst makes her debut with what could have been an awful concept — poems about death, murder, and CSI techniques for solving crimes — and turns it into a terrific collection, sometimes writing from the points of view of killers, victims, and investigators (”unlike an amateur, i can tell wolves from girls/The thigh bone is a giveaway; the pelvis is better/A little hair and we’re all set”). Full of horror, bleak humor, and suspense, these poems read like mini-thrillers, daring you to put the book down. B+

All the Whiskey in Heaven
Charles Bernstein
A solid selection of 30 years of Bernstein’s lyrical, thickly layered poetry. Bernstein has, on occasion, been criticized as ”difficult.” But Whiskey does the great service of showing how consistently he has explored the true, richly emotional meanings of what we’re trying to express when we speak or write in halting phrases or with nervous repetition and hesitation. Or as Bernstein puts it: ”Poetry is like a swoon, with this difference/it brings you to your senses.” A-

Five Kingdoms
Kelle Groom
Groom likes to set vivid scenes — a fireman speeding to an emergency, a hitchhiker risking a dangerous ride — and then lift them into poetic bliss. She’s also capable of flights of fancy that end up unexpectedly moving. Example: ”Oprah and the Underworld,” in which the poet describes an interview Winfrey conducted with Sharon Stone. The actress talks about a ”head injury,” and Groom is ultimately entranced by ”Sharon saying how near it all was/the nearness of death… Death, another guest.” B+