Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Poetry

Averno, by Louise Gluck (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $22). Few poets can shoulder the weight of myth the way Gluck does. Here, in eighteen linked poems, she rewrites the legend of Persephone, offering the girl respite from centuries of being "pawed over by scholars." For Gluck, the myth is, ultimately, "an argument between the mother and the lover-- / the daughter is just meat." Gluck's language, grave and precise, gives Persephone an elegant home in which to grow up. "The girl who disappears from the pool / will never return. A woman will return." Never overwrought, the poems brilliantly display a poet's insight, a mother's warmth, and a mortal's empathy. There is wry humor, too (Hades debates naming Persephone's Hell "The New Hell"), and, amid much that is dark, there are fragments of hope. In "October" we meet a young girl, scared on the subway: "you are not alone, / the poem said, / in the dark tunnel."

Hoops, by Major Jackson (Norton; $23.95). The slangy title of Jackson's second collection is a layered metaphor, implying, among other things, basketball, jewelry, and life's hurdles. Jackson seems to define himself by his eclecticism; he reveres basketball players as much as poets. Recalling his early life in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood, he draws nourishment from a sense of his acuity: "My breathing / was older than me." His poems are witty, musical, and intelligent; he is equally happy discussing the war on terror--"An empire croons, toughed-up in a trance"--or describing early crushes: "The swagger / behind their blue-tinted sunglasses and low-rider / jeans hurt boys like me." Other subjects include Columbine, Tupac Shakur, iPods, and, above all, the condition and future of the black poet. In a final flourish of contrast, Jackson writes an epistolary poem to Gwendolyn Brooks, in a recognizable, albeit flexible, rhyme royal. …

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