Light, by Souvankham Thammavongsa, Pedlar, 80 pages, $20
The poems in Souvankham Thammavongsa’s third book, Light, are by turns ethereal, beguiling and riveting in their dramatic exploration of the book’s thematic terrain, which, roughly speaking, is the various ways the book’s titular concept exists. Thammavongsa’s range is impressive, and much of the book’s power lies in its ability to shift gears entirely, moving between spacious meditations that find words sprinkled like ashes across the page (“A volcano / is / what happens / when you try / to take / the sun down / from where it is”) to moments of concrete and visceral experience, as in the unforgettable At the Farm: “I heard a gunshot by the barn and thought nothing of it / We were at a farm / I saw a cow come charging forward with its head half gone.” This new collection confirms Thammavongsa’s place as one of the most interesting younger poets at work in the country.
Glossolalia, by Marita Dachsel, Anvil, 96 pages, $18
Marita Dachsel’s second book, Glossolalia, starts from a fascinating premise: an actively feminist work composed of poetic monologues from the 34 wives of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. As one would expect with nearly three dozen speakers, the poems take radically different forms. Some are prayers, some are expressions of lust, some are articulations of confusion and some, like the powerful piece spoken by Olive Grey Frost, are spectacularly quotidian, conveying the dull minutiae of even the most uncommon 19th-century lives: “How to get rid of bed bugs: / 1. Put a drop of mercury in a tumbler. / 2. Add the white of two eggs. / 3. Mix together. / 4. Apply to bed with a feather.” Dachsel is extremely comfortable evoking the varied experiences of these women, and what results is a tapestry of sorts that denies any simplistic moral judgment.
Laws of Rest,by David B. Goldstein, BookThug, 112 pages, $20
David B. Goldstein’s poems look like prose, and sometimes read like it, too. His words are packed in dense paragraphs, four to each piece, and they are baffling, funny, surreal and, quite often, disorientingly moving. The poems often begin with a jolt, shifting you into their miniature worlds: “I saw Spencer and Baldock climb out of the bracken, on the way to no good,” one begins; another positions you immediately, “And yes it was a cold night on the bay.” What follows these beginnings is wildly varied, each piece a tiny suite of the unexpected. Goldstein is at his best in the book’s opening section, which concerns a character named Lucy. “I was then just one of her admirers,” the speaker admits. “My only claim to fame was having come up with a slogan for the owls in our local forest: Stronger than Ever! But from that, I was indeed very famous.” These are sly, strange poems one can live within.