Collected Poems

reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht

A masterpiece sixty years in the making, Ponsot’s lifework of poetry starts with a ferocious power coming into fear, familial escape, and a bruising wit striking everywhere. The poems come to speak in deceptively conversational memories and musings in untrodden corners of existential curiosity, as well as an authority at ease. The body parts of desire are as common here as say, the universe, as objects of our creative attention. She drops names of fun famous twentieth-century friends (now historical), and nods back and forth with pillar poets—Yeats to great effect. Spatially, Ponsot writes down the page like most poets, but she also gives us stanzas of such rounded beauty and usefulness that they seem to stand on their own, like: “No grief goes unrelieved; / some days, half meaning to, / I turn my undefended back / on the grey & snarling scene / of my dissociating pack / and hope.” Every line means itself and its opposite, to the point that on that last line we do not know if she invokes hope or if she half hopes to have made a fatal error. Late in the book there is much to admire in her telling, on a train, of how it feels to be older: “We, extravagant, chat easily, / take our vagrant ease.” In the penultimate section, Ponsot also offers this micro jewel, “Bliss and Grief,” which speaks both to her subtlety and power: “No one / is here / right now.” This is a necessary and important body of work.

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This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.