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A long-prominent poet and feminist critic (Stealing the Language), Ostriker further plumbs subjects of previous work: sectarian violence, urban geography, family history, easel painting and Jewish identity. If Ostriker sacrifices verbal nuance for moral clarity, she nonetheless makes her persona and views appealingly present on every page. Clean, unambiguous lines (reminiscent of Robert Pinsky's) present her speaker as an explainer, a bringer of news: "Sometimes I feel like a mailman who faithfully visits each door in his district,/ Sometimes like a mermaid out of water." Ambivalent poems about New York, Jerusalem and Berlin praise "days when to walk a city/ is like feeling completely healed." A group of poems responds to major works of Eastern and Western painting and classical music, like Botticelli's, Mozart's and Bonnard's "mysteries of domestic/ Life in the modern void." Ostriker has achieved recent prominence with nonfiction devoted to Jewish experience, and she ends with an emphasis there; a final set of ambitious longer poems juxtaposes a history of suffering, recent events in Israel, the Iraq war and the travails of the poet's mother. "Where did she go, my hopeful young mother/ My mother who promised we would overcome/ The bosses and bigots?" Ostriker concludes: "I want her// To come back and try again." (Apr.)
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In her newest collection of clarion poems intimate and worldly, Ostriker writes about her life as a wife, mother, and grandmother with tenderness, but she is also edgy, erotic, funny, and ornery. She misses cigarettes, darn it, and reminds us that "too much goodness is bad." She revels in the density of cities even as she suggests that New York should offer tourists maps of crime scenes, including the street where John Lennon was killed (her title is taken from a Lennon lyric: "Imagine there's no heaven"). She writes of her mother's death, and of war, keenly aware that writing about loss has always been the lot of poets. But this valiant, wry, and nimble poet does not resist the lure of beauty as she translates into shimmering language the wild choreography of sex, and basketball players moving in sync like a flock of barn swallows. Ostriker's tonic poems remind us that although we are the animal that kills out of rage and greed, we are also creatures of grace and harmony. Donna Seaman
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