Kathleen Ossip's "The Do-Over"

This book of poems is dedicated to the poet's late stepmother-in-law. The best poems in it uses the dead woman's name as the basis for a triplet of acrostic poems. Appearing in the beginning, middle and end of the book respectively, "A. in May," "A. in January" and "A. in September" create a cycle of remembrance that goes with seasonal changes. As if to evade the fixity of the acrostic pattern, the poems are full of surprising shifts and effective repetitions, the latter showing the acknowledged influence of Gertrude Stein. The poems also offer haunting images. I will remember the dropped cherry pits in the first poem. The other acrostic poems, also dedicated to the dead--Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, Troy Davis, Lucian Freud and Donna Summer--just do not have the heft of shared lives. The more experimental poems in the collection do not strike me as entirely successful. There is a long story called "After," about a driven and manipulative colleague in a publishing company, that is interesting for its characterizations, but hardly intense enough to be a prose poem. The otherworldly sub-plot, which is supposed to convey the narrator's desire for transcendence, is actually less interesting than the office politicking. I do like very much the last poem of the book, "Oh, wow, mausoleums." The prose paragraphs are borne along by the syncopation of verse. How can anyone alive gainsay the wonderful line "There's no fooling the sweet dumb pulse."


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