Poetry Roundup

The covers of "Stay, Illusion," "Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire," and "Under the Sign." (Knopf; Wesleyan University Press; Penguin Books)

El Dorado

Peter Campion
University of Chicago Press: 80 pp., $18 paper

Peter Campion, in his new book, re-creates the overheard sounds, ring tones, robo-blab and self-announcings of an airport concourse, spliced into imitation of Anglo-Saxon "riddles" as spoken by the wind:

Fused with the rush

(this sheer American everything jammed at once)

the storm could be a signal

gathering up all others cramming air

with their binary streams:

its voice some ancient soothsayer's

riddling glottals and plosives…

Campion's gifts for controlling yet spinning the illusion of lost control in a poem are prodigious. The book's title poem begins on the shoulder of a highway, where members of a family, survivors of a car crash, sit in shock ("I was this person with my name and also no one"). This disconnection ripples into the image inspired by the ancient legend of El Dorado — the poem's altered voice recounts the dazzling reentry into life of a royal personage locked in a cave, brought suddenly into daylight and covered with gold dust, as gold is showered into deep water — and "everything gathering/ light to its contours/ before it disappears."

This powerful evocation of "lockdown" in the moment, then release from expectation, occurs in poem after poem — from the shock of seeing a childhood friend, now a streetwalker and object of "pity" — to radio broadcasts circling the globe as memory, plane flights and "digital signal cheeping." Time holds onto love here, then lets it go into the permanent reclamation of loss.

Under the Sign

Ann Lauterbach
Penguin: 160 pp., $22 paper

"Under the Sign" is an impressive collection of pensée poems amid islands of prose — one moment quoting from Emerson's teenage diary ("I need excitement"), then William James on pragmatism, then random moments of sudden illumination. The author honors the poem's own living volition, thriving on its own "need for excitement," as in these lines:

Her vision is empirical

even as love of mystery refutes data.

Geese on the baseball field,