Recently I heard an established male poet read from a book of elegies. The poems were beautiful, tense, melancholy, and minimalist, with the smallest margin of sentimentality. It was only days later that I realized that in none of them did the speaker bring anyone medication, a glass of water, or a meal. The poet’s concentration was on the elegiac tasks of praise and elevation—that is, on what the poet thinks he’s good for. Three recent books of poetry by women devote themselves to a different set of tasks.
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