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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

A new poetry volume, a Harvard graduate doing great things, and a novel set in rural Vermont

Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the Presidential Inauguration.
Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the Presidential Inauguration.KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The body tells the story

In her perceptive and powerful new collection of poetry, “Women in the Waiting Room,” Kirun Kapur aims her attention on the female body, its transgressions, how it is transgressed, and how it transcends those transgressions. Kapur, poetry editor of “The Drum,” who has taught at Brandeis and BU, and now teaches at Amherst College, does not shy away from violence. She writes of a face battered with a broomstick, and other brutalities: “For years this face / I trained my mind to un-see— / cheek eaten away by fish, / girl-body, washed up / in the canal, wrapped— / the brand identified as Glad.” There’s menace and violation here, and lines of unflinching wisdom: “For a girl to be innocent she has to be dead.” A repeated series of poems titled “Hotline” are fragmented dialogues. “Don’t confuse / speaker and listener / counselor / and caller.” The long title poem is about a loved one undergoing hospital treatments, an elegant, honest, loving examination of illness and strength. “Inside you is a mass of will, still growing. / What are its limits? Of what is it made? / Soon the surgeons will arrive with news.” Kapur’s lines are honed, intimate expressions of the universality of violence and the possibility of moving beyond it.

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Inaugural poetry book to come

Harvard graduate Amanda Gorman, age 22, read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20. Gorman, a native of Los Angeles, where she was selected as the youth poet laureate in 2014, went on to become the first person to hold the position of National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017. Her debut collection, titled after her inaugural poem, will be released in September of this year by Viking Books for Young Readers, alongside a debut picture book, “Change Sings.” In her poem “In This Place (An American Lyric)” written for the inaugural reading of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, she writes: “There’s a poem in this place— / a poem in America / a poet in every American / who rewrites this nation, who tells / a story worthy of being told on this minnow of an earth / to breathe hope into a palimpsest of time— / a poet in every American / who sees that our poem penned / doesn’t mean our poem’s end.” She told Time Magazine that she completed her poem for the inauguration after the deadly attack on the Capitol on January 6, saying “that day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem.”

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A Vermont tale

Melanie Finn’s tense and surging latest novel “The Hare” (Two Dollar Radio) follows Rosie as she leaves her life in Lowell with her stern grandmother for art school in New York; meets handsome, worldly older-man Bennett while wondering a museum; and is promptly absorbed into his world of New England money, shifting truths, and illegal dealings. They move from New York to Connecticut to a crumbling house in rural Vermont where Rosie has to fend for herself and their daughter, keeping the woodstove fire burning and killing animals to eat. Finn, who lives in Vermont, makes a sharp portrait of a woman doing what she needs to do, who knows “the way memory could feel spongy underfoot—a marshy uncertainty,” as she untraps herself from a pattern of not allowing herself to know the truth of her situation all the way. “She knew the answer but then she didn’t, didn’t know anything, the drop was precipitous, a ride at the fair without any safety harness.” Finn deftly shows how abuse echoes on in a person’s life, changing tone, growing louder and softer, reverberating into the future. The book knives into questions of power, of resolve, of seduction, of survival.

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Coming Out

The Rib Kingby Ladee Hubbard (Amistad)

The Swallowed Manby Edward Carey (Riverhead)

The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependencyby Tove Ditlevesen, translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally (FSG)

Pick of the Week

Kaleigh O’Keefe at the Harvard Book Store recommends “Priestess of Tankinis” by Sara Mae (Game Over): “Each time I read this collection, I find more magic in its pages. Priestess of Tankinis is an intimate account of coming of age as a young woman, and the lessons we learn about friendship, family, and love. Sara Mae’s imagery is unlike anything I have ever read, surreal and effortless.”