Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

UPDATED 05/05/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/05/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

>POETRY

"April is the cruelest month," T.S. Eliot wrote, presumably meaning the weather and not the income-tax deadline. The good news is that April is also National Poetry Month. Here, to guide us through the season when memory mixes with desire, is a list of books by some gifted poets:

WALKING THE BLACK CAT by Charles Simic

These mysterious, haunting poems evoke a remarkable world of ghosts, ventriloquists and gypsy fortunetellers, a world in which lovers feast on sumptuous meals before "Death, the butterfingered waiter" snatches away their plates'. (Harcourt Brace, $13, paper)

MOTHER LOVE by Rita Dove

In these insightful sonnets, a former poet laureate examines the bonds between mothers and daughters, from the ancient Greece of Demeter and Persephone to far-flung places—Paris, Mexico, Arizona—where mothers and daughters continue to lose and find each other. (Norton, $10, paper)

MEADOWLANDS by Louise Glück

At once mythic and contemporary, chatty and intense, this cycle of poems offers a wry, fresh take on the long-delayed reunion of Penelope and Odysseus—and a portrait of a modern marriage on the edge of dissolution. (Ecco, $22)

SUN UNDER WOOD by Robert Hass

Images from nature (a raccoon in a tree), from religion (a Buddhist temple) and from art (the work of Frida Kahlo) are interwoven with personal history to illuminate the meaning of language, of happiness—and of the ties that bind us to family, lovers, friends. (Ecco, $23)

THE DREAM OF THE UNIFIED FIELD by Jorie Graham

These dense, philosophical, rewarding poems push—with a transfixed intensity—against the limits of language and experience (two birds trapped in a house, a visit to Calcutta) to explore the uneasy transactions between the self and the world. (Ecco, $15, paper)

VIEW WITH A GRAIN OF SAND by Wislawa Szymborska

With the lightest touch, this wise and witty Polish poet—the 1995 Nobel laureate—tackles a broad range of subjects: the mystery of love at first sight and the joy of self-pity, the ravages of war and the small miracle of an onion. (Harcourt Brace, $12, paper)

THE CONTINUOUS LIFE by Mark Strand

Each of Strand's books is like a curtain opening to reveal the ever-widening range of his moving, elegantly made poems. His melancholy evocations of the landscape are joined here by hilarious mini-narratives, reflections on mortality and on "the small tremors of love" that resonate beyond death. (Knopf, $14, paper)

COMMON CARNAGE by Stephen Dobyns

Two owls ruminate about philosophy while disemboweling a mouse, a man gives his wife a bottle fished from a dumpster—these dark, humorous poems address the difficulty of living moral, conscious lives in a world that is both flawed and violent. (Penguin, $14.95)

THE FIGURED WHEEL NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1966-1996 by Robert Pinsky

Mixing memory and meditation, autobiography and history, the exuberantly thoughtful poems of our current poet laureate range from the particular—a tennis game, women in a grocery—to the general: a longing for the past, grieving for the dead, celebrating life with a passion. (Noonday, $15, paper)

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