While each of my students has a somewhat different reading list (I teach in a low-res MFA program), I find that I consistently assign . Powell’s Cocktails to most, because it exemplifies so many surprising ways to write a successful poem — to deploy the line, shift register and create attitude. Also, the poems are personal lyrics — a mode most of my students relate to (and write themselves) — but they resonate with wider social significance (the AIDS crisis) and keep their narrative heads about them. Cocktails can also be read as a series of elegies — without sanctimony, often irreverent, and extremely moving — and it proves that a poem can do many things at once, including playing with language and humor while also exploring deep emotions.
In a new collection "for travelers," Milligan sometimes races and sometimes tools along; no matter the speed, it's a pleasing ride.... Much of Shakespeare's brilliance is his control of the demotic, his acknowledgment that the real power of poetry may not lie in the words only he can say but in the words we all can say. Veteran poet Milligan ( Lost and Certain of It , 2006, etc.) understands this concept, as well, and his latest book is a rushing river that spins and eddies around a few well-placed stones of utterly common speech. "Strings," a sort of elegy for lost parents, opens with the exhausted "good grief, Daddy," and slips away with the simple refrain of a woman whose mind has abandoned her: "now, who are you?"Around such vernacular anchors, Milligan builds a poetic structure characterized by balance (the "arabesque" of the title is a ballet pose demanding poise). The poet divides his book into three parts; the first and third feature relatively short stanzas and clipped lines while the second is full of longer prose poems "written at speed." Most poets work well in one mode, either economy or abandon. Milligan can do both with grace.... Sure-handed verse work in multiple registers.