Yale University Press, $16 (paper)
Reading Jessica Fisher’s first collection of poetry is like wandering through a garden of forking paths that at times give suddenly, astonishingly, onto the sea. This is above all a book about seeking, though for just what is never wholly clear; like Hamlet’s, the mind that moves so sonorously through these poems must constantly sift through memory to recollect its task. At Frail-Craft’s imaginative center is the disappearance of François, a Wordsworthian “Lucy Gray” figure whom we seek through an enchanting series of prose poems called “Novella.” A kind of interior paramour, François is himself a seeker lost in seeking, “who would, I imagined, have made off for the woods, looking again for whatever he’d seen. Like trying to find a passage in a book, he’d said, when you remember only that it was in the middle somewhere.” We, too, are invited to lose ourselves as the eye pursues its hunger through the bright involutions of these poems, just as, in “Nonsight,” light “lures the fragile eye / toward blindness // glints along the line that links / body to the disembodied.” Disappearances multiply from page to page; lovers, birds, and brothers slip into the disembodied silence between stanzas. Yet what is so extraordinary about this book is that it is as various as it is cohesive, so that placename and dreamscape, autobiography and myth, prose and lyric are refracted through each other and converge. The stunning final poem is titled “Stereography,” and the stereograph’s fractious unity is an apt metaphor for what Fisher has accomplished. In the exquisite precision of a sight that notices, for example, how birds “flit from tree to tree / in the light rain / eating berries, the centers of flowers,” the familiar is made luminously strange, the lyric surface cleaved to unanticipated depths. These poems are reminders of how great a burden their frail craft can bear.