Poetry in this issue


Karen Swenson's poetry collections:

A Daughter's Latitude: New and Selected Poems

The Landlady in Bangkok (National Poetry Series)

Daughter's Latitude: bookcover A Daughter's Latitude:
New and Selected Poems


by Karen Swenson

From the Publisher:

Enriched by a lifetime of travel across the United States and Asia, Karen Swenson exposes local genius and folly in all its moral ambiguity with sardonic humor, pathos, and hope. In A Daughter's Latitude, Swenson combines new poems with work from four previous volumes, including the 1993 National Poetry Series winner, The Landlady in Bangkok. Tough-minded yet accessible and good-spirited, this thirty-year retrospective highlights one of the most original and engaging poets writing today.


If Swenson mentions napalm or drugs, it's because she is a poet who is deeply engaged with the world and her times. But she never ascends the soapbox, never attempts to convert you to her point of view. Which would have been tempting, for sure, in the poems from her third book of the poetry, from which she reprints here 38 of the original 48 poems. These poems are all set in Southeast Asia, and deal with such subjects as American guilt, avarice, child prostitution and war atrocities. Yet rather than take sides, Swenson finds in such situations a common bond of humanity...If a good poet, in the oft-quoted remark by Randall Jarrell, is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times, Karen Swenson seems to have been struck with at least as much frequency, and her big collection (256 pages) reveals her to be a poet to whom attention must be paid.
Hudson Review Winter, 2000.

...[Swenson] reports not only on visits to countries like Malaysia and Thailand but also on her return trips to the provinces of childhood memory.
Joy Katz, writing for The New York Times Book Review .

"Old women ought to be explorers," writes Karen Swenson, paraphrasing T.S. Eliot in "A Daughter's Latitude." Swenson is no old woman, but exploration as both physical experience and interior journey lies at the heart of the 30 years' worth of poetry assembled here. As with Elizabeth Bishop, whose self-exile in Brazil deepened and matured her work, here travel forms a necessary companion to verse. And Swenson's travels are extensive; the book ought to come with a foldout map. Set in Southeast Asia, Native American reservations, and Brooklyn, it guides the reader through the darker side of American ambition. Her speakers have known personal tragedy and are attuned to the sorrows of others, as in the ominous and witty "Missionaries":

Jungle like green heads of broccoli--
the husbands helicopter over it
to the waiting front line of faith where
headmen squat on naked haunches
wearing necklaces of safety pins
while wives drink tea,
embroider, knit, or nurse a twelve-year-old
through quinine visions in late afternoon.

Swenson anticipates bad behavior from Westerners, whether in a remote Malaysian village or on the front porches of Fargo, North Dakota. Unfortunately, she's rarely disappointed. Swenson also writes for The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and her work combines a journalist's attention to detail with a keen narrative intelligence and an unmistakable, lyrical voice. Well worth exploring.
Edward Skoog writing for Amazon.com