Letters to a Stranger

In 1974, at age 27, the poet Thomas James shot himself in the head, leaving behind this scalding book of poems. Letters to a Stranger received a single review, dismissing James as "pale Plath." It quickly went out of print, lost but to a few ardent fans, none more passionate and persistent than poet Lucie Brock-Broido, whose shimmering introduction to Graywolf's reissue -- part of its new Re/View Series -- merits the price of admission to the uneasy, brilliant, death-adoring, death-defying verses within. Robert Frost wrote: "Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting." Thomas James, young as he was, knew how to land a poem. "Wine" begins, "I have bottles to kill" and ends with branches, "Perforated with their simple blossoms." "The Moonstone" concludes with "A day-moon tries its pulse and vanishes." James was violently gifted, fearless in boiling leaps of metaphor: "And looking into your eyes I see a pollen-dusted pond / Shaken with silver rings before the storm begins." That genius shines most poignantly in the cornerstone poem and gem of this first and only collection, "Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh XXI Dynasty."

?They slit my toes; a razor gushed my fingertips.
Stitched shut at last, my limbs were chaste and valuable,
Stuffed with paste of cloves and wild honey.
My eyes were empty, so they filled them up,
Inserting little nuggets of obsidian.
A basalt scarab wedged between my breasts
Replaced the tinny music of my heart?


Death stalks this darkly beautiful book -- the poet's own suicide seems inevitable, and his handsome, mournful face rises like a cloud on the front cover, obscured, half-hidden as he must remain: so much "obsidian" promise undelivered.

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.