Mary Jo Salter, The Surveyors


I want to strongly recommend MJS's new (2017) collection of poems. Salter is someone whose books I have been reading and buying for a long time (this is her 8th, without counting the one for children), but though I haven't done anything like systematically rereading older books, this one feels to me even more accomplished and multifaceted than the earlier books. It is witty, crafty, poignant, humourous and a lovely read, in addition to being instructive about technique, if you are interested in poetics.

I bought it when it first came out, but went back to it recently--why?--because I was reading Anthony Hecht's letters and they exchanged a few, including one, that caught my eye, about rhyme, and delaying perfect rhyme till the end of a poem--I think Herbert and Hardy were the examples. And I thought, I've got her last book, I should look at it again, and I have and I am.

Salter is often stuck in the camp of the Formalists, as opposed to, say, the casualness of the NY School or Confessionals (though she's much younger); but there's no lack of feeling, in addition to the rationality, the saneness, in her work, only the feeling is muted, understated, not splashed all over the surface of the poem. She's come out of a divorce, she's in a new relationship, a daughter gets married, she buys herself a house ('a single buyer lately/possessed by self-/possession'). If this book may have a few too many ekphrastic (poems that rise out of art works) it also has plenty of personality, and not only at second hand. There's a lovely poem about her daughter and Paris pastry shops ('Pastry Level') that ends with a thought about marriages--hers broke up a few years ago--and a beautiful, spare, 'Japanese' poem about the moon and a yellow school bus and...I could go on, but won't because blogs should be brief (is my belief).