Shrapnel Maps (Philip Metres)

I first encountered Metres’ work – and Metres himself (he’s something of a neighbor) – because of his outstanding collection, Sand Opera. Because I am me, I reached out to him and he kindly came to speak with my class. We have since become friends, and we are working together on curriculum for this, his newest collection.

One of my favorite things to say about something I read is that I’ve never read anything like it before. And that happens every time with Metres. In my eyes, he’s kind of re-invented the idea of a book. From the art both on the cover and in the pages to the way his words appear on the page to his titles to his topics, I find I not only read his work, but I experience it – over and over again.

For this collection, Metres has made, to paraphrase an architect, “no small plans.” He wants to explore the conflicts that geography creates, whether it’s in how maps are drawn or how conflicts develop between neighbors, particularly between Israel and Palestine. Metres’ arresting and inextricably linked collection of poems will challenge you with the seeming mundanity of an ordinary encounter and the way we’ve turned the extraordinary event, like a suicide bombing, into something mundane (see the poem”[Breaking News]”).

If, like me, you annotate as you read, you will find yourself making a lot of arrows, cross-referencing poems (an index! my kingdom for an index!) and embracing the challenge of exploring the archaeology of Metres’ work.

Auden wrote that “poetry makes nothing happen.” Metres’ does; it has to.

Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake.

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