Poet’s House is showcasing their annual exhibit of the year’s new poetry books at the Jefferson Market Library on 6th avenue and 10th street, Manhattan, through April 11.

The big red brick building with the clocktower, built as a courthouse, was a women’s prison in the 70’s; the prisoners used to hang out the open windows, calling to their friends below while cops sat around making jokes. I was 13, cruising the Village late at night with my cousin, and found these women scary and exciting. They were like Mr. Rochester’s wife, except they had lungs. There was a demonstration there once, which my aunt and cousins went to; I wasn’t allowed. I don’t know what they were protesting exactly—maybe just the fact that there were women in prison. This was feminism when it was still Women’s Liberation.

Now that building houses what seems like a small town library: not very big or well stocked, but a benign anchor of the neighborhood.
The exhibit is on the first floor, in a small room beyond the children’s section. There are lots of new books by or about poets I know well, stars like Olds and Simic, and anthologies with appealing titles like Eating her Wedding Dress, a Collection of Clothing Poems.

Another poet who’s been around for a long time, Lyn Hejinian, has a book in the exhibit called Saga/Circus, consisting of two long poems. The book jacket describes her work as “either prose poem or experimental non-linear fiction.” Perhaps so, but it doesn’t quite capture the flavor. Here’s the first line of the second poem, Circus, about a girl named Lola. “Banned from ships as if I were fate”

I know that feeling, somehow. I won’t quote any more of the poem because I like that line just as it is.

I discovered a few poets new to me, whose names I will remember. Mia Leonin’s second book, Unraveling The Bed (Anhinga Press), is about, as one might guess, passion. The poems are fierce, sensuous and utterly focused on their subject. “Can you see my blouse unbuttoning itself/my hand traveling like a piranha.” From another poem, “She tastes desire in every living thing:
/a twig wants to be a flag, a stalk of cane groans/
and longs to be a machete.”

Paula Bohince’s debut book, “Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods” (Sarabande Press) is a murder mystery in poems. I was caught by these lines, from the poem titled Landscape with Sheep and Deer; “I remember the arrhythmia of their movement/across the drenched pasture/ stuttering by my father would say.”

Of all the books, the one I was most tempted to walk away with was Ann Lauterbach’s The Night Sky (Penguin), billed as a collection of essays about poetry and politics, written in the mid 90’s. But they’re not essays exactly, more essay poems, as glittering and allusive, if not as spare, as those of Anne Carson. The essay poem is a form I’m getting very fond of; the more discursive cousin of the prose poem, it lets conversational intellect play off the poetic line. Here’s the beginning of one:
1. There is no Topic Sentence
but perhaps one could be borrowed, like a pretty dress for a party which, once worn, changes the life of the one who borrows it. In New York City, it would have to be a black dress, but the closet is full of black garments and the whole reason for borrowing a dress would be a need for color. But why have a party anyway? According to the New York Times, many more planets are on the verge of being discovered. An astronomer in California, where party dresses are rarely black, says, “It’s almost like the second coming of Marco Polo or Columbus. We’re finding new worlds.” What color dress does one wear for the finding of new worlds?

Poetry month continues through April, and spills over into May, with reading and events around the country. Go to http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/41 for details.

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