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Joanna Klink, Raptus, Penguin Poets, $18.00 (paper)
Transcendence has taken a hard hit over the last half-century or so, leaving few poets willing to brave the topic. Joanna Klink’s third collection, however, masterfully navigates the treacherous zone between the lyric and the all-too poetical. Raptus is packed with big abstractions—radiance, blessings, ardor, wonder, even “wish-clouds”—and should slip away on its own loftiness, but what anchors the book is implied by the double character of its title: “raptus” can mean both “rapture” and “rape.” Klink’s poems dance between these two poles: here “birds [are] motionless and quiet, / rubies in the trees,” elsewhere a window opens to a “mute, green world, / weedy and driftless, / a wind drilling rain, dirt.” The collection is most successful in its long poems, which tackle acutely difficult subjects: “Sorting” attempts (impossibly) to “sort each sorrow from each joy.” Ultimately, what proves challenging about Raptus is also what recommends it: Klink’s noble effort to embody rapture engenders moments of vagueness, including the uneasy sense that a poem can’t quite identify its subject matter. But these are more than compensated for by Klink’s otherwise precise rendering of her universe: “Sheep wool caught on barbed wire,” and “hairclips and sweaters, shoelaces and charms.” To articulate the ineffable is a bold project, especially given the bittersweet unlikelihood of its success. Happily Klink has the talent, determination, and wisdom to take it on and weather it: “Pleasure and failure,” she writes, “feed each other daily.”
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