The New World: Infinitesimal Epics (2021)
The New World, Anthony Carelli's new collection of poems, is an American travelogue that unfolds in a series of darkly comic episodes, with allusions to Dante as a thread throughout. In these epics in miniature, we meet a pilgrim-poet as he awaits the arrival of his child, a would-be Columbus, on the shores of a land "disenstoried" by explorers present and past. It's a land and a people largely lost in mindscapes and mythscapes, haunted by sketchy aspirational visions, misbegotten misremembering, and emptiness. Nonetheless, the poet steps out to the shore to sing for the child—and reader—to do what Columbus never did: "land gently. / And listen and / listen and listen / and stay." Constantly unsettling the rhetoric of inherited forms, the poet shaping these poems is always bound to the pilgrim, who cannot pretend to dissolve our purgatories but can only invite us—as a latter-day Virgil would—deeper into the uncanny encounters that encircle us. From an Arizona nursing home and a grandmother's memory of a stolen golden Schwinn in the occupied Philippines, to a tale of road-tripping west through Pennsylvania as sunrise transpires in the wrong sky, The New World opens strange spaces for us to re-see, lament, and re-sing the stories we tell.
Nodding to influences as varied as George Herbert, Francis Ponge, Fernando Pessoa, and D. H. Lawrence, Carelli asserts that the poet’s materials—words, objects, phenomena—are sacred, wilting in the moment, yet perennially renewed. Often taking titles from a biblical vocabulary, Carnations reminds us that unremarkable places and events—a game of Frisbee in a winter park, workers stacking panes in a glass factory, or the daily opening of a café—can, in a blink, be new. A short walk home is briefly transformed into a cathedral, and the work-worn body becomes a dancer, a prophet, a muse.