Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

updated 04/13/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/13/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>National Poetry Month

April was once the cruelest month (to T.S. Eliot, at least), but since 1996 it has been the coolest month—for those toasting the worldwide vitality of poetry today. Here's some verse worth celebrating this season:

DESIRE by Frank Bidart Cementing his reputation as a poet of astonishing originality, Bidart revisits classical encounters—the aftermath of a battle described by Tacitus, an incestuous romance in Ovid—and fashions them into a poetic idiom uniquely his own. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $20)

POEMS NEW AND COLLECTED, 1957-1997 by Wislawa Szymborska The 1996 Nobel Prize committee did us a noble service by singling out this Polish poet of irony, pathos and hard-fought joy. Szymborska tantalizes us with her promise of a "revised, improved edition" of the world, in whose pages "time's unbounded power" cannot "tear/lovers apart." Translators Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh do their usual fine job. (Harcourt Brace, $27)

THE ERRANCY by jorie Graham Possibly the most widely imitated poet in graduate-level writing programs nationwide, Graham renews our awe for her intellectual intensity and stylistic pyrotechnics. (Ecco, $22)

THIEVES OF PARADISE by Yusef Komunyakaa The highlight of this Pulitzer Prize winner's latest is a brilliant suite of 14 poems about jazz great Charlie Parker. Read it with Bird's "Scrapple from the Apple" playing in the background. (Wesleyan, 19.95)

WAKEFULNESS by John Ashbery In a marvelous cento (a work composed entirely of lines from other works), America's top bard casually makes the point that all poetry is—in Wordsworth's line—"Continuous as the stars that shine." (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $20)

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