Memorable and moving, these pared-down poems have a compelling tensile strength.

THE HIGH SHELF

With precise grace, this poetry collection examines cycles of destruction and growth.

In her debut collection, Colburn offers poems (many previously published in literary journals) that tend to inhabit either pole of the natural/artificial divide. The process of becoming is one manifestation of the first pole, as in “Plenitude/Pregnancy,” a nine-part poem—like the nine months of gestation—in which the speaker is expecting in both senses of the word. Her hopes for the future are thrown by recognition of life’s vulnerability. Similar poems bring the poet’s attention to living things and the threats they face. People starve; species go extinct; “Yes, certainly we will destroy ourselves,” she concludes in “The Natural World.” The opposite pole is often represented by the notion of boxes, essentially unnatural spaces that offer safety but captivity. Yet they also offer “the idea of escape itself,” as in Mark Rothko’s painted rectangles, which take the viewer “Inside and inside.” Similarly, natural or creative sterility contains the space for returning vigor: “And when the words came: O Land of the very-seen: / alive and green.” In other poems, Colburn searches for ways to bring her opposites together. In “Explanation of the World,” whose second line gives the collection its title, a high shelf holds “boxes, spaced: just   so,” yet above, below, and beyond is the uncontainable—“firmaments” and “the sound of the sea.” The concluding poems continue to explore the resolution of division by joyfully confirming the power of what is. In “Time Box,” for example, the opening line—“Certainly, the immortal soul”—suggests a counter to the speaker’s earlier certainty of self-destruction. Spare, elegant, and perceptive, these poems are charged with the numinous, a haikulike attention to essence. Some pieces recall Hopkins’ notion of inscape: “The world in-latched. Of-itself made.” Colburn’s lines often hesitate, stopping themselves with a dash, colon, or spaces (“So many, so many, each one: // one:   numberless:”), a powerful silence similar to rests in music or white space in a painting.

Memorable and moving, these pared-down poems have a compelling tensile strength. (Poetry, 12+)

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944585-36-5

Page Count: 90

Publisher: The Word Works

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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