Three new works of poetry draw their inspiration from topics ranging from the human-animal relationship to the impact of war to the tragic arc of Princess Diana’s life.
“Darling, I Love You” by Daniel Ladinsky (Penguin) is the perfect read for those seeking respite from the seemingly endless stream of unsettling events in the news these days. Ladinsky, well-known for his translations of the poets Hafiz, Rumi and others, presents comforting haiku and haiku-like poems told from the perspective of dogs, their owners and a variety of other animals. The opening piece, named after Cole Porter’s song “Begin the Beguine,” highlights the interconnectedness of all creatures and the importance of singing, “Darling, I love you!” — which the furry speaker eventually vows to do. The pages that follow present a variety of insights about everyday pleasures — a belly rub, a walk, a bowl of food — and demonstrate the value of living in the moment and treating our companions with respect and affection. The text is accompanied by charming line drawings by Patrick McDonnell, creator of the “Mutts” comic strip. Pet owners will chuckle knowingly about the way the speakers shift between simple observations — “sometimes all you need/ is a friend who won’t/ question you” — and deeper statements, such as “greet yourself/ in your thousand/ other forms” that reminds us why humans need animals as much as they need us.
“Coming in to Land: Selected Poems” (Ecco) offers a great introduction to the work of Andrew Motion, who served as poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009, following Ted Hughes. The poems, spanning more than 40 years, are set in various times and places, from the bucolic English countryside to Normandy and Hiroshima after World War II. The writing is conversational yet lyrical, astute and clear-eyed, whether the speaker describes the horse that injured his mother, figures in a Dutch painting, or a fox attacking a child’s football. Several pieces address the impact of war, as with the long poem “Peace Talks,” based on accounts of British soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter the topic, Motion plumbs the human heart, with all its conflicting emotions, and his writing also illustrates how poetry can provide eloquent social commentary, as with the poem “Mythology,” about the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales: “Your life was not your own to keep/ or lose. Beside the river, swerving underground,/ the future tracked you, snapping at your heels:/ Diana, breathless, hunted by your own quiet hounds.”
“Cinder: New and Selected Poems” by Susan Stewart (Graywolf) brings together the best writing from this singular poet, who masterfully explores the intersection of language, the external world and human consciousness. The work, which ranges from tightly polished to experimental, often begins with an evocative visual — a field in winter, an owl, a scarecrow — before broadening to more expansive ideas. In “Forms of Forts,” for example, a children’s fort constructed from hay bales leads the speaker to consider labyrinths, hands and “that there might be something where before there was nothing/ and the source of light confused with holiness.” As Stewart considers mysteries, appearances and meaning, she uses geometric forms in some pieces and incorporates symbols in others. Yet always she demonstrates the richness and fluidity of thought, as in these lines from the title poem: “Born in love, the consequence —/ born of love, the need./ Tell me, ravaged singer,/ how the cinder bears the seed.”