The Mind-Body Problem Reviewed in The Nation

POLLITT, POET: Only last year, longtime Nation favorite Katha Pollitt was stirring up the blogosphere with the personal essays she collected in Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (now in paperback). Her new collection, The Mind-Body Problem (Random House), is a book of poems, and the two books would make for a provocative and satisfying boxed set.

Readers who revel in Pollitt's crisp humor, soundly made sentences and memorable comparisons will find plenty to savor in these poems, often as playful as they are moving. The landscape here is friendly ground: the intersecting lives of New York City, the peculiar habits of memory and the lively presence of literary and historical characters in the life of the mind.

While The Mind-Body Problem is steeped in compassion for the human condition, it's also a righteously graceful dossier on the misuses of power and the resulting waste of human spirit. Whether she's writing about the deadly days of Jane Austen heroines ("Talk about rural idiocy!") or channeling Job after that little incident with the boils ("People even said he looked taller / in his fine new robes: You see? / When one door closes, two doors open"), she asks us to ask ourselves, Just who's in charge here, anyway? Can we as vulnerable people--lovers, mothers, children, writers, citizens--speak truth and humor to power and make a stand worth recording? Pollitt's book answers with a triumphant and confident yes. EMILY GORDON