Poetry Book Review: Suitor by Joshua Rivkin

In part one (titled “Suitors”) of Rivkin’s sharp debut, a long poem in sections cataloguing his mother’s appalling boyfriends, the speaker recalls one priceless specimen who, for Halloween, dressed as a pimp in blackface: “His shoe-polish skin, her fever dress,/ our family on the front lawn.” Another “suitor” sells Amway products from his Buick, imparting sales advice: “He said dream a lot. Dream big!” Still another sleeps on the roof, his benign strangeness invoking a boy’s desperation: “I wanted him to stay.” This direct, moving poem is followed by a long prose meditation on the intent of actions, in which the Nobel Prize–winning scientist Fritz Haber (who invented fertilizers and explosives) is compared to the writer’s father, who abandoned his family in the name of science.

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