I Dreamed I Was Emily Dickinson's Boyfriend

Somewhere in the history of literature, the world decided that poetry was "serious." But with I Dreamed I Was Emily Dickinson's Boyfriend as evidence, poet Ron Koertge (Sex World; Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz II) asks history to reconsider. This collection of 60 poems, divided into four sections, is often funny. But the poems also raise thoughtful questions or interrogate cultural icons (as in "Mickey" or "Yahweh Barbie"), each time catching readers with surprising insight or gravity.

In "Reception to Follow," present tense establishes a sense of immediacy: "First I collect eggs for Grandma. Then I hypnotize my favorite/ Rhode Island Red." In just a few lines, the ridiculous image of a chicken driving the speaker's father's Buick bursts to life before the final stanza turns, making sense of the poem's title: "That's what I remember this afternoon standing here/ in the black suit: the look of astonishment on my father's/ handsome face."

Many of Koertge's poems sit squarely in real life, often hard and humorous. Others dabble in the absurd, casting familiar figures in unexpected roles, as in "Jane Austen at the Mall," where the celebrated author overhears an argument between "a young woman/ in Lululemon" and "a man with a big league beard," or "Death's Hankies," which asks readers to imagine "how many of them he goes/ through in a day." Detailed and full of surprises, I Dreamed I Was Emily Dickinson's Boyfriend shows what poetry can do when it doesn't take itself too seriously. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

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