Josh Luckenbach




In Bob Hicok’s Hold, his tenth collection of poetry, the poet’s humor, punning, wit, wisdom, and humility lead to small revelations, introspections, and musings on the human condition—all in the face of danger and atrocity. As its title might suggest, this book yearns for and struggles to hold strong to self and to community, to hold to the body, to hold to the world, to hold—yes—to optimism, to hope.

In “Faith,” Hicok writes about the Holocaust denier who works at the local grocery store: “[he’s] a Nazi out of loneliness, / unlike his friend, who’s a Nazi / out of tradition.” As the poet watches a rabbi speaking to this grocery clerk “about baseball and Auschwitz and girls,” he thinks she will win him over eventually because “hands are fans of hold / more than shatter.” The poet asks, “[t]his is not the life we wanted, is it?” and throughout the book, he struggles to understand our differences in light of our sameness. In one poem, the speaker is disturbed to have the same “number of legs / and heads / and chromosomes” as the slavery apologist talking about the War of Northern Aggression. In another poem, the poet wakes in the morning to read news of “another black man / cop-shot.” “Every time a cop kills a black man...the killing / is white. I’m killing these men and want me / to stop,” Hicok writes, unsure of how to navigate whiteness and all the harm it implies: “please—don’t keep looking like me / and saying this is justice. This is hunting.”

If Hold asks many questions throughout, they are not rhetorical, nor are they theoretical—instead, they’re practical questions about our living in this world. When the speaker sees a homeless man sleeping on the street, he wonders how to walk by him “not in some future but this life— / not in theory but in fact.” In a unique blend of punchline and sincerity (that few other poets can pull off so well), Hicok confesses, “I’m scared, but not shitless.” And we are meant to take some small hope in that—hope that “splayed / and broken is the beginning / of harmonic and blessed.” Yes, hope that something might hold even in our dark times: “Hands are good at that. Holding. / Hands are good at almost everything / we ask them to do.”

Copper Canyon Press.

— Review by Josh Luckenbach




“The future is throttling towards us and it’s loud and reckless,” warns Erika Meitner in Holy Moly Carry Me, her fifth collection of poetry. She cautions: “We are under the care / of each other and sometimes we / fail mightily to contain the damage.” Though deeply in conversation with the past and present, Holy Moly Carry Me also grapples with the uncertainty of what’s to come in spaces rampant with mass shootings, racism, and war: “I have two sons, and / I can’t protect either / of them from anything / at all.”

Meitner writes boldly and unapologetically about the public sphere, but each poem is as intimate as it is grand. For instance, one poem about helping a stranger choose gift wrap at a dollar store turns into a meditation on several of the book’s major themes—memory, truth, love for one’s neighbor, religious faith, gun ownership/violence, motherhood, infertility, and adoption to name a few.

Her sense of humor is on display throughout as well: in “Post-Game-Day Blessing,” the speaker chaperones her son’s first-grade class through a college campus littered with discarded G-strings, beer cans, and condom wrappers and she blesses each item in turn. And if we are ever unsure how sarcastically we should read these crude blessings, by the poem’s end, we believe Meitner as she praises the winning team for “being able to hold on despite / the onslaught.”

As much as anything, Holy Moly Carry Me is about navigating the world’s disorder (“the space between the hole and the holy”) and finding a way through the brokenness—finding “in our actual steps,” as one poem’s speaker puts it, the “song / that’s not quite song.”

BOA Editions.

—Review by Josh Luckenbach




Fady Joudah is a remarkable poet of great intellect and vision—qualities that are on prominent display in Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance, his fourth collection of poetry. These poems blur boundaries between speech and silence, science and myth. They cross borders, both in terms of geography (the poems take place in France, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Texas among other locations) and in terms of language (the poem “Body of Meaning,” for example, combines the language of medicine, physics, Star Wars, and Greek mythology).

Though they often seem quite public in their concerns, these poems also feel intensely personal and vulnerable, and their undercurrent is one of love and togetherness. A poem titled “An Algebra Come Home”—about an immigrant selling fruit in a Paris market—plays on the original Arabic meaning of the word algebra: a reunion of broken parts. When a customer finally buys four peaches, “one for each chamber” of the heart, the salesmen declares, “Gorgeous, you’re the one who’s mended my heart.”

Joudah’s thought-provoking and imaginative juxtapositions shine throughout, as when he professes, “I’m a terra rist a maqam of earth”—a line where the ambiguities of syntax suggest terra as in earth, rist as in to engrave, maqam as in both the Arabic musical mode and the tombs of Muslim saints.

These poems never balk at addressing war, peace, identity, gender, or love, but they always resist simplification and sentimentality. “If only / reality didn’t lay siege to my head / I’d celebrate existence,” Joudah writes in the book’s middle section (a collaboration with Syrian Kurdish poet Golan Haji). Later in the same poem the poet laments that “cruel people…curse beggars / who don’t speak their language and the beggars / go on singing for them.” These poems are pertinent and immediately alive. This collection is not only a deeply rewarding and enjoyable read; it’s also an important one.

Milkweed Editions.

—Review by Josh Luckenbach




At the heart of Raymond McDaniel’s fourth book of poetry, The Cataracts, is sight and its opposites—blindness, reflections, distortions of light and dark. McDaniel is a poet of great intellect and wit who thrives on opposites; no sooner are we invited to answer questions of philosophy, metaphysics, politics, or spirituality, than we are reminded that this world is one of multiplicity and paradox—that staring directly into the sun will blind us, and therefore we must gaze at “never the thing itself and always its reflection.”

The scope of the subject matter here is as wide as the multitudes that these poems suggest. Poems about X-Men, Star Trek, and Micronauts are placed alongside poems about unjust landlords (spelled “Land-Lords, to make strange the relation between the former and the latter”), fighting on the beach, and “the sighted Audrey Hepburn” as “the blind protagonist” in the film Wait Until Dark.

“Humans are different, and not,” the poet writes in “This is Going to Hurt,” suggesting the impossibilities this book grapples with: whether we are predators or prey, whether we are different than we were in the past, whether we might ever answer these or any other questions with certainty. “One way to be in error is to assume that what there is to know / requires that one merely look around,” McDaniel writes elsewhere in this collection. Yet this gripping book never gives up hope that we might find answers to the existential questions that it simultaneously believes unanswerable. And with McDaniel’s keen insight, we just might.

Coffee House Press.

—Review by Josh Luckenbach