Sentences and Rain

by Stephen Burt

“The sentences / previously / too dry // now bend / and reach / toward meaning,” Equi quips, but she sells herself short: Equi—who began publishing in the 1970s—has always been dry (though not too dry), and her spare wit has always bent toward meaning, even as it pokes and pries and resists the clichés and the customs that conversation, prose fiction, and more conventional poetry bring. Equi can come close, here as before, to Rae Armantrout: her social criticism ventures close to cynicism, before it leaps more happily away. But the New York City–based Equi is an altogether more sociable critic—she’s even “happy / to go to Burger King” after a snowstorm. Equi’s long, fun, thirteenth collection also returns to her roots in the second- and third-generation New York School, whose poets and painters (David Shapiro, Vincent Katz) appear by name. She tells poetry in-jokes, and she’s genuinely funny—like all genuine humorists, she has depth, she picks targets, she’s patient, she takes aim: on William Carlos Williams’s birthday she asks—apropos of “The Red Wheelbarrow”—“what to feed / the chickens.” And when she’s not writing what looks like her own life, Equi gives us several drawing boards’ worth of characters, or friendly caricatures, framed in a wry, almost lighthearted nostalgia, from Father Time to the ladies of an older era (“Thelmas, Irenes, Estelles”) to “The itsy bitsy spider I killed.”

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2015.