THE DO-OVER

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“How do you stay in heaven?” Ossip asks, “Is it a kind of sophisticated rewind?” Her third collection of poems is haunted by the idea of “rewind,” and especially by the teasing possibility that we, too-like the moon, like a plant-may be granted cycles of life, death, and rebirth. The book's overarching narrative is the death of the poet’s stepmother-in-law, a cherished, loving, eccentric woman who returns to its pages again and again. But in spite of its focused grief and ontological urgency, The Do-Over is a varied collection-short acrostics mourn recently dead cultural icons (Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, Donna Summer); there's an ode to an anonymous Chinese factory worker, three “true stories” that read like anecdotes told over drinks, and more. The Do-Over is an unsentimental elegy to a mother figure, a fragmented portrait of its much loved subject. It's also a snapshot of our death-obsessed, death-denying cultural moment, which in Ossip's gifted hands turns out to be tremulous, skeptical, unsure of ultimate values and, increasingly, driven to find them. “I am still studying, aren’t you?” she begins. Readers will eagerly embrace the surprise, humor, and seriousness of her quest. 


 It may be the case that Ossip understands the elasticity and capaciousness of contemporary poetry better than anybody. Her poems bubble out of what Seamus Heaney called "the word hoard," which has grown, lately, beyond the primordial mulch of language to include the impossibly overlapping registers of the Internet and mass media, along with all the basic grunting and cooing of the human condition. By which I mean her poems are fun and deadly serious at once; this book is obsessed with death, which Ossip accepts with a half-sarcastic shrug — "Cancer is my default horror," she writes, as if everyone realized they have such a thing, which they do. But she takes mortality seriously: Mourning a lost loved one, she says "we accept/ These processes or are repulsed by them." In an elegy for Steve Jobs, she finds that "Just like the bug in a string of code, the body defies the mind/ Or looks in the mirror of the mind and shudders." We are our own worst friends, our own best enemies. This is our book.

- Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR.org