From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Like Mary Jo Bang's recent NBCC-winning Elegy
, Keelan's new collection examines the nature of grief through poetry, gathering together a sequence of elegies and poems on loss. The opening group of what Keelan (The Devotion Field
) calls â€œLittle Elegiesâ€ mourns various losses, including a girl who died at 14 (â€œImagine, she's finally a sexy teenagerâ€) and famous poets Keelan had known, including Robert Creeley and Kenneth Koch (â€œI heard the echo of your line resound// Through the hearts of thousandsâ€), as well as the Virgin Mary and the victims of 9/11. Keelan's jerky, fragmentary poems also examine the violence of other contemporary phenomena, such as the video game Grand Theft Auto (â€œHe wins the game!/ Choosing each time to crash/ & not to killâ€). Elsewhere, she looks at how language itself points to absence: â€œI believed the linguist// On the radio who said words are most interesting// When they indicate something not there,// Something not inherently in or of themselves.â€ The striking long poem â€œEverybody's Autobiographyâ€ recalls Keelan's own and others' pasts. Keelan, one of our best, if too little known, experimental poets, does what she can in this sixth collection to steady â€œthe human boatâ€ which â€œCame capsizing...// Came lost.â€ (Oct.)
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Keelan's work, always politically engaged, here takes a tender and personal turn. Much of what is mourned in these interwoven elegies is private, close in, but even the larger, more public themes the Vietnam War, Jesus, the oil industry, September 11 are brought to an intimate scale. The central long poem 'Everybody's Autobiography' achieves a masterful fusion of political history, personal responsibility, and communal grief. A deep-feeling collection not afraid to look loss in the face. --Cole Swensen