Furs Not Mine by Andrea Cohen (Four Way Books, 2015).
The Wilderness by Sandra Lim (Norton, 2014).
If there is a world in a grain of sand, Andrea Cohen lifts it up to
us in the predominantly short poems of her new collection, Furs
Not Mine. The brevity of these poems allows the reader to devour
them quickly, only to pause and then go back, and then go back
again, because their speed and clarity is deceptive. In their way,
each is a complex system, and Cohen, with her perfect pitch,
pairs music with image. One word can act as prime mover, as in
the poem “Pall” (here in full):
It contains all,
but you knew that,
and how it falls
those so bereft
they can barely
stand to stand
tall, to bear
Cohen spins meaning and rhyme to see what shakes out. What is
both gut-wrenching and paradoxically delightful about her work
is the element of surprise; the poems feel effortless to the reader,
as if there were no labor in their creation at all (as in “the
Committee Weighs In,” also here in full):
I tell my mother
I’ve won the Nobel Prize.
Again? she says. Which
discipline this time?
It’s a little game
we play: I pretend
I’m somebody, she
pretends she isn’t dead.
One is reminded of Frost’s admonition, “no tears in the writer,
no tears in the reader,” and one thinks, further, “no surprise for
the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Whether that surprise
existed for the poet herself is no matter—even if the threads of
her work are carefully plotted out, they remain Cohen’s great gift
to her reader.
anything but minimalist. It is as if each stanza is buoyed by helium—
Cohen seems to favor short stanzas, which, thanks to the
way the words are hammered tight from word to word, line to
line, adds to the feeling of lift (the stanzas are often couplets or
triplets, although her longer poems without stanza breaks also
move rapidly through their line breaks, Cohen having chiseled us
a way down and through).