Titles include: “The Last Two Seconds,” “The Tijuana Book of the Dead,” “We Mammals in Hospitable Times” and “SOS: Poems 1961-2013”
In “The Last Two Seconds” (Graywolf, $16 paper), her seventh collection, poet Mary Jo Bang spotlights the anxiety and obliviousness of people living in a post-postmodern world. The speaker sees danger everywhere — mortality, climate change, cruise missiles — while most people fixate on their own inner struggles as doom approaches. Bang, who won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for “Elegy,” shows over and over how Americans try to think their way through life, relying on comforting ideals and theories that lead ultimately to self-deception or guilt and sorrow. In “Here’s What the Mapmaker Knows,” the speaker says, “What idiocy the world is made of: / fierce justifications, landmines and such, / a rifle upright. An empire / of uncommon horror: the human speaking, / ‘Every moment all that matters is me.’ Tick-tick in the drifting dark.” As life continues to speed along, the world seems to be an elaborate myth. These are challenging poems because Bang doesn’t provide much comfort, and she never takes her foot off the accelerator. Gorgeous phrasing and imaginative leaps make the ride worthwhile.