Reviewed by GEORGE WALLACE
The Ragged Cedar by Linda Opyr (Writers Ink, 2012)
The title of this collection by 2012 Nassau County NY poet laureate Linda Opyr comes from an anthem-like poem, direct and declarative, the kind you might hear her read from the porch of Sagamore Hill to an audience gathered on Teddy Roosevelt’s sprawling lawn. “You must tell them this,” she intones equating herself to a ragged cedar, “I was not afraid…when cold fell from a distant moon…(when) birches snapped in the fist of frost/tell them/I never meant to stay…and because I never meant to stay/I lived as if I would never leave.’ Simple, declarative, dead on. In images such as these Opyr scores most profoundly—not for their assertive muscularity so much as for their philosophical nuance. “The ant, who weighs nothing/carries everything,” she writes, in A Question Worth Repeating. Opyr’s poems carry our heart.
If One of Us Should Fall by Nicole Terez Dutton (University of Pittsburg Press, 2012)
Boston slammers call her a local favorite, testifying to the quality of her musical, subdued, delivery of what is rather complex work in an environment that favors flash and style. Patricia Smith, who chose this volume as winner of the 2011 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, praises the tremor in her work, an unbridled shudder that directly effects the spine. In this collection Dutton demonstrates she can talk trash when she wants to—"tripping the Fung Wha back to gasoline shingled grown folk talk and late night Stella." More often, she is earnest and reflective, rooted in experience and memory peeled back to reveal dismantled flowers, cobbled tongues, "threadbare afternoons torn open as if by mice in the bones of a cold house… (and) old circumstances that fit you like bad shoes." "This not fate, this is firewood," she declares. Her best work possesses a barely restrainable muscularity—ready, if not handled just so, to explode all over you.