by Sarah Manguso
paper, 74 pages, $14.95
This book is for those of us who want to read more poetry but are frequently stopped by its...what is it? Its chilly self-seriousness? Its unwillingness to hold our hand every so often, while cracking an easy joke? Either way, Sarah Manguso, like her spiritual siblings David Berman and Tony Hoagland, is a friendly kind of savior and guide. Her writing is gorgeous and cerebral (imagine Anne Carson) but she doesn’t skimp on the wit (imagine Anne Carson’s ne’er-do-well niece). Poetry-fearers, don’t back away from this beautiful book; these might be the pages that bring you back into the form.
The title's Latin translates as
"traveler, halt," a traditional opening for inscriptions on gravestones;
Manguso's enticing sophomore effort has both the gravity of epitaphs and enough
oddity to halt readers in their tracks. Clearer and grimmer than her debut,
The Captain Lands in Paradise, this book often uses aphoristic sentences in
place of lines: "A good horse runs even at the shadow of the whip"; "The
second-hardest thing I have to do is not be longing's slave." Dating and
flirtation, astronomical discoveries, the omnipresence of death, unanswerable
queries ("Which stories of farms are the ones that can save me?")—all move
within the speaker's mind in a manner that the poems are designed to arrest. "A
coin you dropped when you took your pants off is still on the floor," she
declares in "Address to an Absent Lover." "Please come back and pick it up."
That lover might be the reader or simply a romantic partner, or God: the essence
and power of Manguso's method lie in our not knowing which is which.
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