From Publishers Weekly
Eight years after her well-received debut, White Elephants, Vazirani returns with a skillful, inviting sophomore effort, exploring South Asian, North American and Caribbean heritage, geography and language through a variety of masks and voices. Foremost among those voices is the articulate woman (apparently based on Vazirani's mother) who tells her own complex life story in "Inventing Maya," a careful sequence that forms the first half of this book: its detailed short poems follow Maya through her north Indian childhood ("In the Himalayas, I ran faster than any girl"), overseas to Washington, D.C., and then through an eventful adult life (spent mostly in the U.S.), where she remembers "those who had/ no books to brace/ them in the havoc." With its blend of tersely bittersweet lyricism and biographical data, "Inventing" might be a South Asian-American answer to Rita Dove's famous sequence Thomas and Beulah (which chronicled Dove's grandparents): Vazirani's sequence stands up very well beside that imposing model. The book's second half occupies quite other territory, pursuing in villanelle, sestina, semi-ghazal, Cavafy-esque narrative and other, more compressed forms the poet's own contemporary concerns. Though Vazirani's light verse can fall flat, the serious poems toward the close of the volume return to her strengths, among them clarity, geographical detail, and a way with short, unpunctuated lines: "Dedicated to You" (about posthumous fame) begins spry and ends with remarkable gravity, while "It's a Young Country" ties America's troubles convincingly to the poet's own. (Feb.) Forecast: A recent profile in Poets & Writers should raise awareness of Vazirani's work among her fellow writers, and this book's style and substance should get it nominated for one or another prize. With Copper Canyon riding high on its two NBA nominations (and Ruth Stone's winning of the award), interest in this title will be further bolstered.
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