TQ Reviews


Editor’s Note

by Kristina Marie Darling

 

I’m delighted to introduce three new additions to the Reviews Page at Tupelo Quarterly. First, Emari DiGiorgio has contributed a reading of Laura McCullough’s The Wild Night Dress that is as richly layered as the work itself. Additionally, Bradley Sides has written an incisive piece on Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, gracefully situating this recent novel in the larger artistic tradition of the bildungsroman. Lastly, Victoria Chang engages Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List of Further Possibilities, exploring the ways this recent collection uses repetition as a point of entry to compelling questions about trauma, migration, and identity.

In the coming months, look for more review-essays, as well as small press features and discussions of new poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid texts. Our Senior Reviews Editor, Emma Bolden, will also be assigning a selection of books, bringing an even greater diversity of perspectives to Tupelo Quarterly’s offerings in literary criticism. In the meantime, enjoy!

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May 2017

 

All the Kinds of Hunger in Laura McCullough’s The Wild Night Dress

by Emari DiGiorgio

As much as Laura McCullough’s seventh book of poetry The Wild Night Dress, which was selected by Billy Collins as a finalist for the 2017 Miller Williams Poetry Prize, charts the union of science and poetry, it also is a profound meditation on hunger and loss. Throughout the collection, the need to be fed, literally and figuratively, and the speaker’s obligation to feed and sustain those around her is a recurring theme. These are poems of witness and survival, as the daily and mundane continue asking of the speaker, even when she has been stripped of those who sustained her most. A glance at the table of contents reveals seven poems referencing food, hunger, feeding, and part one titled “Passage with Hardboiled Egg” opens with the poem “Feed.” In this poem, after the lifeguard has cleared the waters, the husband remains on the wrack line–an image that returns throughout the book as a physical place where speaker sinks and metaphorically as the line of the marriage, of love itself, something that washes out and renews. Meanwhile, the speaker ventured into deeper water, joining those “throwing themselves/into the swallowing mouths//of the coming waves.” Read more >>
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On Elif Batuman’s The Idiot

by Bradley Sides

Elif Batuman’s absorbing and intellectually riveting The Idiot transports us back to the not-so-long-ago world of 1995. Times are certainly different. Nair is popular, all the cool kids walk around with Discmans, and email is just becoming a thing. America feels less cynical and self-obsessed. I know, I know. It’s been a while, but The Idiot makes us remember (and long for) those days. For Selin, the eighteen-year-old Turkish-American, at the heart of Batuman’s novel, the world is full of possibilities. She’s a recent high school graduate, and it’s time for her to enroll in college. So, she chooses Harvard. She’s unsure exactly what she wants for her future, but she thinks that college will help guide her. When registering for her classes, she, unsurprisingly, finds herself interested in many of the options. Like I said, she’s a hopeful protagonist. Eventually, she signs up for an introductory course to Russian, an English course “about the nineteenth-century novel and the city in Russia, England, and France,” a studio art class called “Constructed Worlds,” and Linguistics 101. She even auditions for the college orchestra. It doesn’t take long for Selin to become consumed by the arts. Read more >>
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When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen

by Victoria Chang

Before I open a book of poems, I always feel a sense of hope. Oftentimes that hope quickly deflates in the first few lines. Sometimes that hope comes in and out like a breeze. Very rarely, that hope turns to something akin to joy. Chen Chen’s debut book of poems, When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities, published by BOA Editions, falls into that rare category—it’s a book that is miraculous in all its pain, trauma, and humor. At its core, Chen’s book tackles several themes such as migration, coming of age as a gay man, Asian American experience and identity, family love and disappointment, love and unrequited love, and more. But how originally and deftly Chen writes from these experiences is what ultimately makes his book so powerful. Specifically, Chen’s skillful use of repetition to mimic obsessive trauma, his surprising imagistic and sometimes surrealistic leaps, and his use of humor throughout, all work together to create a unique voice. Part of the power of Chen’s book is derived from the chanting repetition both within poems and threaded throughout the collection. Read more >>
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April 2017

 
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Post- by Wayne Miller

by Sean Singer

Post—, is his fourth collection of poetry, and it’s a fascinating and wonderful book. At once oblique and aphoristic, it nonetheless addresses on some level our current and contemporary moment with serious insight. The poems have the function of all elegies: to lament, to praise, to console. What is most admirable about them is how they use a minimalist’s eye, bending tone and making the most of economy of language. Take, for example, the curious title Post—. It does a lot of work in placing the poems, especially in their domestic and even political contexts: to square, to attach or affix, to make known or announce, to station or place, and maybe most accurately, to come after or succeed. Some of the poems are titled “Post-Elegy,” and invoke a plane crash, a burned house, or a box of someone’s ashes. Memorializing, yet somehow prescient, the poems are for specific people and moments, yet will likely ring true for many sensitive readers. Read more >>
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At the Forest’s Edge: on Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future

by Bronwyn Mills

About four years ago, a spate of reviews and articles began to come out focused on the work of one Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Since then, at odd and sometimes aha! moments, someone has sidled up to me and asked in hushed mispronounced tones, almost whispering, Have you read Krzhizhanovsky? Who? Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887 – 1950,) a Russian author of Polish descent lived and wrote in the 1920s in Moscow. Almost none of his work was published nor did he approach a publisher in his lifetime. In fact, it is a wonder that he has been discovered at all. He himself quipped he was a writer “known for being unknown.”) Several years ago, the Paris Review backgrounded Krzhizhanovsky’s work by noting that in 1939, Krzhizhanovsky, despite his restricted publication history, was nevertheless elected to the Writers’ Union—which meant that posthumously he was eligible for the process of “immortalization.” In 1953, Stalin died.... In 1957—the same year as Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago—a commission was set up to examine Krzhizhanovsky’s literary legacy. It lasted two years and was then disbanded, having drafted a publishing plan that was never implemented. Then, in 1976, Vadim Perelmuter, a poet, literary historian, and essayist, discovered Krzhizhanovsky’s archive. He had to wait until 1989 and the full thaw of perestroika before he could publish one of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories. Between 2001 and 2008, Perelmuter finally edited a handsome five-volume edition of Krzhizhanovsky’s works. Read more >>
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What Weaponry by Elizabeth J. Colen

by Marcene Gandolfo

Elizabeth Colen’s What Weaponry, a novel in prose poems, examines the decline of a relationship. We glean a story through a rapid succession of cinematic scenes, but also, in the spaces from which each scene ends and the next begins. Whether we read this book for its storyline, or for its poetry, the book is, most pointedly, a study of human nature. The story’s conflict lies in the tension between desires for comfort, companionship, and stability and yearnings for freedom, self-gratification, and power. The book opens in the months following the death of the speaker’s parents, after he and his lover move to a seaside town. The first poem in the collection, “Low Clouds,” introduces us to the couple as they play with their dog at the beach. On the surface, in this pleasant setting, the couple appears full of promise and hope. However, this poem also introduces a number of ominous images, which foreshadow obstacles that occur later in the book. Read more >>
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March 2017

 
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Rivers in the Subconscious: A Review of Buried Choirs by Katherine Rauk

by Sonja Johanson

In her first full collection, Katherine Rauk takes us on a classic heroine’s journey, but with this warning – you may not find resolution, and if you do, it will be in the journey itself, which is tense, internal, and expansive. These poems borrow from a selection of archetypes and characters, both literary and historical, to examine the female experience, and they dismiss the upbeat societal narrative. Instead, they delve into women’s actual lived experiences to illuminate a truer storyline.Readers can intimate Rauk’s intent right from the cover. Her title is taken from the poem “The Clearing,” and the dichotomy of its words – “Buried Choir” – tells us that we are being invited to a world of voices that are both suppressed and uplifted. Fred Michel’s carefully selected cover art, “Papaver somniferum,” illuminates Rauk’s surface message of seasonality in the human condition. The skeletal seed heads are a Greek chorus, singing of the subterranean river that weaves its way through the book. The photo also hints at a deeper, more subversive message: knowledge is power, and it may be too dangerous for some readers. Papaver somnifeum is the infamous opium poppy. The flower makes an appearance midway through the book, with “faenas unfolding/in the black/bullrings of their eyes.” Balm for suffering, dangerous medicine, it is also a common garden annual. Read more >>
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Honesty and Orientation: A Review of Proxies: Essays Near Knowing by Brian Blanchfield

by Nina Alvarez

Hybridity done in a certain fashion—immersed in telling while methodically subverting format, structure, intention—is a careful job. It is a one-person string quartet playing parts that must carry a different resonance, and yet harmonize. Memoir and analysis have blended artfully in recent collections like Appetites by Caroline Knapp and The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. This has often felt exciting, rich, and appropriate: orientation and honesty, analysis and personal reflection married well. Joining the fold is Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies: Essays Near Knowing (Nightboat, 2016), winner of the 2016 Whiting Award in Nonfiction. Blanchfield’s North Carolinian laconic wit, pop-culture dissection, literary erudition, wry and transfixed storytelling, serve up an entertaining and edifying essay collection. How does Blanchfield, or any hybrid memoirist, pull out the quick and subtle threads that are most taut and most tender? It is no easy feat, but this author makes it look easy. With two books of poetry under his belt, Blanchfield crafts sentences significantly elevated by their narrative musicality and gymnastic precision. Read more >>
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Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap

by Brigitte Wallinger-Schorn

Maja Haderlap’s outstanding novel, Angel of Oblivion (2016), offers a tender exploration of identity in a community deeply influenced by the atrocities of World War II. Born in 1961 in Eisenkappel/Zelezna Kapla, Austria, Maja Haderlap is not yet well-known in the English-speaking world. Though Angel of Oblivion is her first work to be translated into English, Haderlap has published several volumes of poetry in both German and Slovenian. She often emphasizes that she does not feel located in either of these two worlds due to her bilingualism. Instead, she points out, she lives in one world made up of two languages. In Angel of Oblivion, Haderlap describes the childhood of a girl born to a poor Slovene family in the countryside of Carinthia, the Southernmost province of Austria. Little by little, she reveals conflicts within the family, which oftentimes result from the trauma of ethnic persecution by the National Socialist party. It is the unromanticized description of both the girl’s immense love for her family and origins and the disturbing past that absorbs and enchants the reader. Read more >>
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February 2017

 
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“Truth in Lies”: On The Return of Munchausen by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated and introduced by Joanne Turnbull

by Sara Rauch


I confess I don’t read nearly enough translation, despite long-standing knowledge of how insular Americans’ reading habits are, and a long-standing desire to be, well, unlike a typical American. Part of the problem (which is, of course, entirely mine) is that translations can be hard to come by, rarely finding their way onto the Fiction & Literature shelf, and they can be somewhat, shall we say, inaccessible. In regards to the latter, it is intriguing to discover how much more avant-garde, or experimental, international literature is, to dive into prose that disregards standard American-English rules about plot, character development, linearity, and storytelling. But the biggest obstacle, I find, when I do crack open a translated book, is confronting the lack of knowledge around other cultures’ histories and social mores. As Americans, it can be easy to take for granted our own ways of being, assuming everyone lives like us—reading translated fiction from any nation proves this is definitely not the case. I spent a lot of time ruminating on my American shortcomings as I read The Return of Munchausen, a Russian novel penned in the 1920s by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, recently published in a beautifully translated edition by New York Review of Books Classics. Despite his output, only a handful of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories were published during his lifetime. Brought back into the cultural conversation during perestroika, the political movement for reformation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that took hold in the 1980s, Krzhizhanovsky has recently been recognized as one of Russia’s great 20th-century writers. Read more >>
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The Visionary Alchemy of R. Nemo Hill

by Siham Karami


“American poets now usually do not seek to weave a comprehensive vision,” proclaims Mark Edmundson in his essay “Poetry Slam,” (Harper’s, July 2013). One may argue against this view, but how many have provided a Blakean-style vision in counterpoint? Coming from outside of the usual academic milieu, R. Nemo Hill, in his newest poetry collection, In No Man’s Ear, astonishes with irrepressibly visionary poetry, transforming apparent banalities into extraordinary worlds, giving the mundane details of contemporary life a greater context, charged with unexpected meaning. Visionary poetry must have both far-reaching scope and a touch of the cosmic; newness or originality alone is insufficient. Hill takes us there by revealing connections under the radar and marrying opposites: the mundane becomes sublime, the inaudible becomes transformative music, the lowliest act, such as sweeping, takes on cosmic significance. Hill’s first book was “an illustrated novel … organized according to the processes of medieval alchemy.” The word “alchemy” resonated as an apt metaphor for and key to these poems, which perform their own verbal transmutation of worldly observation, beautifully rendered, into transcendence—from lyric poetry to visionary epic. Read more >>
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The Poet’s Quest for God: 21st Century Poems of Faith, Doubt, and Wonder

By Okla Elliott


Poetic and religious impulses have been sibling undertakings since prehistory, and most of the major religious texts are either partially or completely composed in verse. One need merely to consider the Bhagavad-Gita, the Edda, the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Quran, Hesiod’s Works and Days, and much devotional poetry in these and other traditions to get an idea of how intimately related poetry and religion are. And as Ewan Fernie writes in his scholarly (yet accessible) introduction, such prominent figures from twentieth and twenty-first century philosophy as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, and Slavoj Žižek have variously taken up theological perspectives in their analyses of world events and theoretical concepts. Couple that with the rise of religious groups around the world and the fact that there are several hundred poems included in The Poet’s Quest for God, and there can be no doubt that the relationship between and importance of religious thought and poetic production are not merely a thing of ancient history. Read more >>
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January 2017

 
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“Writing My Own Name in the Encyclopedia of Work:” A review of Matthew Nienow’s House of Water

by Aaron Brame


House of Water, the debut collection by poet Matthew Nienow, is an important and moving accomplishment, a song of praise to familial love and a fervent, nearly religious tribute to the transformative power of work. Nienow is a builder of boats—he trained for a year at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding–and his poetry is at its best in the woodshop, with its chisels and clamps, its cedar strakes and ball-peen hammers, the “holy geometry of the try square and perfectly sharpened pencil.” The language in these poems is quiet and concrete, and its emotional focus is minutely, almost obsessively, centered on the process of constructing vessels from raw wood. As he fashions a bowsprit from a piece of lumber, he describes how “the boat / curls golden bracelets of cedar / around your wrists as you plane each / plank.” Nienow is not interested with the coy ambiguity or self-indulgence of many of his contemporaries, but rather returns to what Ezra Pound might consider the “luminous details” of the boat-builder and his tools. Read more >>
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The Significance of Color: On Shayla Lawson’s Pantone

by Elizabeth Hoover

Pantone is a New Jersey-based design company responsible for standardizing color reproduction. Their color chip system ensures that “Coke Red” and “Minion Yellow” are consistent across marketing and products. Each year, Pantone picks a “Color of the Year,” which, according to their website, is a “color snapshot of what we see taking place in our culture.” It is wishful thinking that a single color can represent our tumultuous time. Tellingly, Pantone picked two colors for 2016. However in naming the “Color of the Year,” Pantone recognizes that color packs a significant symbolic punch—emotional and cultural. Poet and artist Shayla Lawson explores the significance of color in Pantone, a chapbook consisting of 20 poems printed on unbound cards slipped into a colorful envelope. Each poem is titled with Pantone color code. (Pantone colors are labeled with a descriptive name and an alphanumeric code.) Shorter poems are printed on white cards with the color chip on the back and poems that need both sides of the card are framed by their color. Because the poems are printed on cards longer than they are wide, readers can spread the poems out like the iconic Pantone fan guide, a book of color strips pinned together at one corner. Read more >>
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The Magic of the Mariachi by Steven and Reefka Schneider

by Katherine Hoerth

Upon opening The Magic of the Mariachi La Magia del Mariachi, you’ll first notice a pastel portrait of a young woman playing a violin, her face at once serene and serious. Underneath, a dedication reads: “...to all mariachi musicians … whose music transcends all boundaries.” This collection of ekphrastic poetry, too, transcends boundaries of language, of culture, and of art itself. As a collaborative project by a husband and wife team, poet Steven Schneider and artist Reefka Schneider have created a vital and timely book that celebrates the romance of Mariachi music while exploring the history and socio-political significance of this form of expression. The book consists of twenty-four portraits of Mariachi musicians and accompanying poems, both in English and their Spanish translation by Edna Ochoa, in forms ranging from sestina to villanelle. Each page is filled with the magic and the allure of this musical form that originated in Mexico and today has become internationally beloved, particularly in the United States. Read more >>
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December 2016

 
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Prayer Book of the Anxious by Josephine Yu

by Marcene Gandolfo


In her stellar debut collection, Prayer Book of the Anxious, Josephine Yu includes poems that illustrate faith in human empathy and community. As the title suggests, Yu’s poems read like prayers. They derive rhythms, syntax, and language from the Roman Catholic missal, the incantations of Sunday mass. In a sense, they remain Catholic in their generous universality and attention to ritual. Yet the poems resist traditional religious readings. Yu’s poems celebrate the holiness in human imperfection and the need for connection. Read more >>
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It’s All in the Wind: A Review of Olio by Tyehimba Jess

by Tom Griffen


Tyehimba Jess’s second book, Olio, is a book without rules, blues on the page. It weaves new and reimagined facts with poetry, prose, and biographies of first-generation freed slaves who performed in minstrel shows. A spellbinding and lyrical melange of verse, Olio resembles its namesake—a minstrel show’s hodgepodge variety act that later evolved into Vaudeville, “the heart of American show business.” In Olio, Jess examines the transition from plantation slavery to a less overt servitude where, marked as entertainers, overburdened black women and men mock themselves and their people for the audience’s merriment. The word minstrel is derived from the Latin minus meaning “lesser.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines minstrel as “servant.” Read more >>
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Contradictions in the Design by Matthew Olzmann

by Paul A. Christiansen


In many ways, Matthew Olzmann’s Contradictions in the Design exists as an outlier amongst current American poetry books. It’s concerned with politics but not consumed by them, considers the self without becoming solipsistic, uses humor but avoids glibness, embraces linearity and directness instead of fragmentation and ambiguities of language, all while eschewing a narrative arc or project-based cohesiveness. The poems in Olzmann’s sophomore collection thrill the reader with straightforward insights regarding the natural and human world thanks to their humor, diversity of topics, startling metaphors and profound observations. As the partially blurred image of Michelangelo’s David on the cover suggests, the distortionary effects of time are amongst Olzmann’s many fascinations. Read more >>
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November 2016

 
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Castles and Islands by Joshua Edwards

by Christopher Kempf


Like Elizabeth Bishop, whose legacy he takes up, Joshua Edwards is a poet of travel; I am not the first to make the comparison nor, I imagine, will I be the last. Yet if that term—“poet of travel” or, worse, “travel poet”—seems tinged with the middlebrow, more reminiscent of Eat, Pray, Love than Italo Calvino, it is because invoking it as a kind of summative description means, in the case of both writers, mistaking subject matter for intellectual content, for ideas; to call either writer, that is, a “poet of travel” is to miss how, for both Bishop and Edwards, travel serves in large part as a heuristic, what Richard Hugo would call a “triggering subject” by which to pursue broader questions about the self and its relation to world. These are questions—“What is death?” Edwards actually asks, a line that would seem maudlin from a less-skilled writer—that have long been the domain of philosophy, of course, but which were once, too, in a more serious era, the province of poetry as well; in Castles and Islands, Edwards returns us to that era. Though he departs from Bishop in significant ways, as I will show, Edwards continues her effort to move outward from individual experience to rigorous intellectual inquiry, muscular thinking that a younger generation of American poets seems largely to have abandoned. Read more >>
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The Haunting Glow: On Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World

by Bradley Sides


It is the brave who conquer life’s many frontiers. The physical and emotional boundaries that enclose us keep the weary from reaching the majestic worlds that aren’t, in truth, that far away. Eowyn Ivey’s To The Bright Edge of the World, set largely along the Wolverine River Valley in the untamed and wondrous Alaskan wilderness, shows how courage can lead to a world of awe. For Colonel Allen Forrester, the frontier he wishes to tackle is tangible. It’s 1855, and he’s on an expedition with a small group of explorers across Alaska. As his great-nephew says of Colonel Forrester’s trek in a present-day exchange with a museum curator, it was “surely the Alaska equivalent of Lewis and Clark’s.” Ivey’s quick allusion does its job. We see that Colonel Forrester is, indeed, a forger—someone determined to set out and to conquer. We learn of Colonel Forrester’s journey by various journal entries, letters, news-clippings, drawings, and photographs. Read more >>
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Mr. West by Sarah Blake

by Lisa Cheby


In the midst of found poems made from Trump speeches, divisions in the literary community over Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature, and interviews with voters in swing states on the NPR morning news series “A Nation Divided,” I read Sarah Blake’s Mr. West, a poetic chronicle of her researching the life of Kanye West. This year has ruptured our culture, leaving societal gaps between various groups so large that many wonder if they can ever be bridged. In such a landscape, Blake’s study of West offers a map in how commonalities may be found across the oceans of differences that make others seem untouchable and unreachable, whether due to celebrity, race, gender, class, or geography. Incorporating news feeds, Tweets, and conversations with her husband about her research, Blake’s poetry excavates a deep (and perhaps unexpected) affinity with West and his mother and challenges her audience to let these poems – poems that blend juxtaposition, multi-voiced lyricism, and pop culture – dissolve the barriers between this pregnant Jewish woman, this hip hop music star, and the reader. Read more >>
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October 2016

 
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Body, Language in Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds

by Douglas Ray


Ocean Vuong’s stunning debut collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds meditates on belonging and exile, fathers and sons, the body of language and the language of the body, violence and desire. And while these topics may be familiar areas for the poet to explore, Vuong’s poems defamiliarize the familiar, inviting the reader to discover what it’s like to navigate relentless newness. His poems are events: beautifully sad, violently sexy, and politically poignant. Take the familiar topos of the body—something that we all “know,” but also the source of constant mystery and discovery. Vuong begins his book with a poem that invokes liminality, betweeness—“Threshold”—that itself begins with the body: “In the body, where everything has a price, / I was a beggar.” The body here welcomes commerce, desire, risk, reward—all concerns of later poems. In “Immigrant Haibun,” the speaker wonders, “Maybe the body is the only question an answer can’t extinguish,” and we realize that the known world gives us access to the persistent unknown. Then, in “Headfirst,” the body is violence: “the body is a blade that sharpens / by cutting.” Read more >>
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The Poetic Reincarnation of Max Ritvo

by Hannah Star Rogers

Max Ritvo’s poetry moves from strength to strength: that of knowing image; of a vivid metaphor returned to in new ways again and again; of sharp, wise humor; and of the aside, to speak honestly to the reader. Ritvo’s short career left us the world he deftly articulated in his work. This world included poems in The New Yorker and POETRY, and a sampler in Boston Review, as well as prose and interviews in Huffington Post, Divedapper, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. It’s difficult to experience these poems without knowing that Ritvo is no longer here to read them. He passed away at the age of twenty-five in August of this year; he had lived with cancer since age sixteen. Ritvo made his illness the subject of his work, but managed to explore life and the lives around him, rather than death. Indeed, Ritvo’s poetry breathes life into all kinds of people: his speaker’s mother, his therapist, his wife, and his ex-girlfriends, who (according to “When I Criticize You, I am Just Trying to Criticize the Universe”) apparently live in the bathroom. These lives intertwine with those of Ritvo’s speaker, calling attention to role of the poetic imagination in a relationship. Read more >>
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I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast by Melissa Studdard

by Lois P. Jones

Narnia author C.S. Lewis said “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Great writers are capable of creating that world. That Studdard was able to merge myth and ecstatic language with contemporary poetics in her first full poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, is evidence of her ability to birth universes at will. Studdard’s opening poem, “Creation Myth,” places us directly between Creation’s legs. “So there God lay, with her legs splayed, / birthing this screaming world // from her red velvet cleft, her thighs cut holy with love / for all things, both big and small, // that crept from her womb like an army / of ants on a sugar-coated thoroughfare.” These first lines embody not only a truth of our visceral beginnings; they break tradition with male-dominated monotheistic dogma. Greek myth offers a direct connection to the female concept of creationism. Eurynome was the Goddess of All Things, and desired to make order out of Chaos. By making love to the North Wind, she birthed Eros, god of Love, also known as Protagonus, the “firstborn.” Read more >>
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September 2016

 
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The Sorrow Proper by Lindsey Drager

by Susan Scarlata


From the first sentence of The Sorrow Proper (“The library may close…”), impending ends begin to accrue. Truly, “impending” is the simplest way to encapsulate this circuitous, ethereal and captivating novel. Lindsey Drager’s first, this is a thoroughly satisfying book that delves artfully into the underside of human lives. The characters in the book that Drager designates with proper names are a group of female librarians working toward their obsolescence as the library shifts away from carrying books. This group of women regularly meets for drinks after work, sessions that are an incomplete salve for the impending loss of the institution their lives revolve around. At one such session the women talk about what they have lost, and a terrible accident they were witness to comes-up. “I don’t know what it is I lost, [Avis] says, but something happened after the Bronson girl. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is...but I feel it fully gone. Grief without an axis, Harriet says. That’s the worst kind.” Here, and throughout this novel, Drager brings clarity to aspects of human existence beneath the everyday. Avis is recollecting about an accident that had little to do with her directly, but somehow created loss for her. She tries to ascertain what she lost but cannot figure it out beyond knowing that something is fully gone. Read more >>
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The Do-Over Poems: Kathleen Ossip Shows Us How To Remember

by Hannah Star Rogers


Kathleen Ossip’s first book The Search Engine (winner of the 2002 Honickman Prize) and her second, The Cold War (2011), shared her original mind and fresh language combinations with readers. Ossip’s third book, The Do -Over (Sarabande Books, 2015), brings her into conversation with one the oldest forms of poetry: the elegy. In this new collection, she poses a pair of questions that animate her poetic inquiry about death. “How do you stay in heaven?” Ossip asks, “Is it a kind of sophisticated rewind?” Ossip’s song of grief depicts dying in the abstract and in the specific. Ossip’s point of entry into the particular, indeed her organizing principle, is her grief for Andrea Ossip, her husband’s stepmother…Generally speaking, an elegy is a remembrance for the beloved, which often consists of a lament, orienting the reader to the speaker’s loss, while also denying the loss by rendering the beloved in words. That is, before finally coming to rest in the comfort of the aesthetic creation which itself becomes a substitution for the lost. To fill that role in this case, the poems must be funny, observant, and kind–and Ossip delivers. Read more >>
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Madeleine E. by Gabriel Blackwell

by Carlo Matos


Gabriel Blackwell describes Madeleine E, a project he began as a personal rumination on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as “a kind of critic’s notebook, an assemblage, a commonplace book, but also an homage and an acknowledgement”…Like Vertigo, each retelling or reframing of Madeleine E. leads always to deeper mystery rather than to clarity and resolution. It is a book that does not develop in any traditional sense but estranges. It is a work that seems to be in the midst of revision, as if it isn’t quite finished, as if it can never be finished. Sometimes revision is an act of cutting and compression; sometimes it is an act of expansion or rearranging, but then there are those works of art that grow only as you become increasingly estranged from them. The more Blackwell doubles and trebles his themes, his narratives, his allusions, the farther he gets from the narrative voice(s), the more we enjoy the experience. It’s as if he wanted to recreate the vertigo of Vertigo (in himself, in the reader) rather than simply explain it, describe it, or critique it. Read more >>
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August 2016

 

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This Is How We Will Mourn: On Ashaki M. Jackson’s Language Lesson

by Tom Griffen


The collection’s first poem is a call to attention. A tolling. “Belle,” and its homophonic first line, “The heart is a bell,” set the stage. The grandmother has fallen ill, tapped for death: “Push / the sternum and hear the church / doors crack.” This line is followed by a desperate cry to God—a complex yearning intertwined with regret, shame, and a sort of indescribable mourning. A belated begging for prayerful help. Habitual, though unpracticed, requests are made to God: “Parishioners sludge in / The pulled tongue sounds.” This sludge. Slow, thick, and overwhelming. Vulnerability is the poet’s pure response. Readers bear witness to Jackson’s personal ceremony—but nothing is definitive, nothing is explained. Instead, she uses gesture and imagery to do the work. In “Home-Going,” she writes, “Spectators tangled in your drawn net ++++++ surround / your hammock ++++++ salt and map your body: // repast.” The metaphor of a spider catching its prey conveys a natural brilliance, a web of interconnectedness, patience and perfect design. But such understanding of nature does nothing to relieve pain. Within this collision of desire (for life) and necessity (for death), there is desperate hunger for a body because it is leaving. Read more >>
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“The Etiolating Stars”: On Sorrow, Sentiment, & the Sublime in Donna Stonecipher’s Poetry

by Kristina Marie Darling


Elaine Scarry once noted that there are “many errors made about beauty.” We tend to forget that it is not an innately embodied quality, the kind of faultlessness that could be described as fact. Any statement about beauty is a willfully made thing, a gathering of the images, memories, and texts that circulate within a shared cultural imagination. Throughout her magnificent body of work, Donna Stonecipher invokes a familiar literary landscape littered with the darkened ruins of romanticism. Each poem appears as a luminous assemblage of received tropes, which have been made to reflect on the ethical problems inherent in their own making. Indeed, the “roses,” “mirrors,” and “blooming domes” that populate Stonecipher’s poetry subtly call attention to their own artifice, “wondering” at our “easy ability to abstract suffering into the picturesque.” Even more importantly, Stonecipher reminds us that our ideas about aesthetic pleasure are inseparable from the economies in which they circulate. One witnesses the transcendent moment made commodity. As the “swans,” “gems,” “white butterflies,” and “flowers” begin to accumulate, the speakers of these intricately crafted poems mourn the possibility of pure wonder in a global marketplace. Read more >>
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The Luminous Cracks in Seth Landman’s Confidence

by Emma Bolden


Seth Landman’s poetry is not perfect. It’s digressive and recursive, rambling and at times even ranting. It feels raw, unedited, and more like a draft than most contemporary poetry – which is exactly why it is important. There is little argument that over the past two decades, the writing, reading, and study of poetry has been systemized due to the increase in MFA programs and the academic reliance on the workshop model. Many also argue that just as the word “workshop” implies the manufacture of commodities for sale, the workshop model has commoditized poetry itself, resulting in the so-called “workshop poem.” …Seth Landman’s work is far from workshop-perfect, as it follows few formulaic instructions…Landman’s work shines light on a very important fact: by following the right formula, a poem may be friendly, clean, and concise – in other words, perfect – but perfection is far from human. To borrow from an oft-quoted Leonard Cohen song, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” In cracking apart the workshop’s formula, Landman creates poems that are unmistakably, beautifully human. Read more >>

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July 2016

 

Goodbye Mexico Book Cover

Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Remembrance, Edited by Sarah Cortez

by Katherine Hoerth


Goodbye Mexico: Poems of Remembrance is, at its heart, a series of poems of love for the nation and lament for the loss of fluidity of the U.S-Mexican border. This border, once porous and easy to cross both ways, is now a site of political turmoil, violence, and danger. Written by numerous, talented poets with various relationships to the nation of Mexico, this collection offers a vast array of perspectives on a country that’s at once beautiful and ugly, filled with wealth and poverty, peaceful and ravaged with violence. Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Remembrance is an expertly curated anthology that both celebrates and mourns this rapidly changing, vibrant nation. Many poems in the collection paint an image of an idolized Mexico – an exotic landscape that’s sensual, beautiful, and alluring. These poems are reminiscent of a first love. Read more >>
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Oblige the Light Book Cover

Oblige the Light by Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka

by Bruce Sager

Torque. The tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot. Just as a force is a push or a pull, a torque can be thought of as a twist to an object. Oh, she torques everything, this poet. Takes the slightest notion and applies the slant force of her refined perception until that concept’s twisted into the sudden, the astonishing. The new. And then there’s the voice, the syntax foregoing expected articles and growing forceful with clipped descriptors: “Cooing. Pigeons. Moscow hotel. The dream. / I am waking up in my green room to the cooing / of doves in the crabapple tree and the scent / of hot cocoa topped with froth of egg whites / Sunday breakfast treat of my Polish childhood. / It’s the day of the giant whale. The whale, / talk of the land-locked town. Blue circus tent, / people pushing alongside something huge, dark.” A barrage of concision, lists of things presented without affectation, things piled on things piled on things until an impression is born of itself, almost immaculately…” Read more >>
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June 2016

 

Cassandra Smith Book Cover

“We Never Left the Room We Made of It”: Meaning, Mathematics, and Magic in Cassandra Smith’s u&i

by Emma Bolden

To read u&i, Cassandra Smith’s frustratingly gorgeous and gorgeously frustrating full-length collection of poetry, is to be immersed in an experience that changes you. I began reading for answers; by the end of the collection, I gained not answers but a deeper appreciation of questions themselves. u&i is the perfect example of a work of art that takes full advantage of the traditions, freedoms, and limitations of the medium – a fact that is of little surprise, as Smith herself is a visual artist whose work in collage and bookmaking elegantly stretches the boundaries of what can be considered static and kinetic art. In u&i, Smith presents a cycle of prose poems that move recursively through meanings and meditations on identity. This is largely achieved through Smith’s master manipulation of one of the most intriguing facets not just of poetry but of language itself: the slippery nature of pronouns. In his essay “The Lyric: Problems of Definition,” Werner Wolf explores the complex and oft-confounding nature of pronouns – namely “I” and “you” – in lyric poetry. Wolf suggests that the lyric voice, long been perceived by readers, theorists, and critics as monologic, is more reflective of dialogue and multiplicity. In other words, the “I” and “you” in a lyric poem, to paraphrase Whitman, is contradictory, is large, and contains multitudes. Read more >>
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Spina Book Cover

Dark Tour: A Review of Alessandro Spina’s The Confines of Shadow

by Erik Noonan


A native of Aleppo who grew up in Benghazi and relocated to Milan, the Maronite and opera-lover Basili Shafik Khouzam carried a copy of Time Regained everywhere he went and wrote a university thesis on Alberto Moravia (the author of The Conformist). Under the pen name Alessandro Spina, he published The Confines of the Shadow, a chronicle of Italy’s colonization of Libya, three volumes comprising seven novels and four short story collections that took him twenty-six years to complete, from 1971 to 1997. In these books, Spina created a fictional space where Italians and Libyans met in the imagination, within “the confines of the shadow” of colonialism, whose “dark days, afflicted by a collective anguish,” cast a pall over every aspect of life. Subtitled “The Colonial Conquest,” this installment is the first to appear, with the next two, “The Colonial Era” and “Independence,” slated for release in 2016 and 2017. After the Fascist disaster had played itself out in Italy, Italian artists began making images of imperialism’s most insidious agent, the neoliberal, who appears in Confines’ first section, set in 1912. Read more >>
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Welch Cover

Latest Volcano by Tana Jean Welch

by Anne Champion


“The scorpion/ is her sigil. Her love song on the battlefield,/ her war-cry in the senseless fields. Survive/ on nothing, on one insect a year. Dagger/ your tail.” These lines from the first poem in Latest Volcano, winner of the Marsh Hawk Press 2015 Poetry Prize, set the foundation for the philosophy of the entire book. The image of the scorpion, surrounded by devastation, surviving on little substance, lashing out until the only thing it has to strike is itself, becomes a metaphor for grief in this world—a world fraught with war and violence, whose destruction can’t be healed when even human connection, love, and sex are acts that end in personal loss and brutality as well. The collection bears witness to the topics that have mattered most throughout history—love, sex, and war—with relentless pursuance and razor-sharp intensity. Read more>>
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May 2016

 

Fred MotenThe Little Edges by Fred Moten

by Sean Singer

The Little Edges is a large-format book that contains what Moten calls “shaped prose,” which according to the jacket flap, are “a way of arranging prose in rhythmic blocks, or sometimes shards, in the interest of audio-visual patterning. Shaped prose is a form that works the ‘little edges’ of lyric and discourse, and radiates out into the space between them.”  I prefer to read them more simply as poems, and as the poems spin across the blank space of the pages, they wrangle that space into fresh meaning, taking by force the reader’s focus; the poems push through their attention to their subjects—for example, Ralph Lemon’s political and geographic dances, Jaki Byard’s bebop stride, or the idea of authority and ignoring authority, as represented by a subway shutdown in 1969.  In the way so much of hearing jazz is visual, the poems in The Little Edges use the book’s big format to their advantage; the lines shove across the white space in a nearly physical way and demand you reconcile the audio information with the visual information.  Read more >>

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conoley1The Loveliest Arrow:  Notes on the Dark Sublime

by Kristina Marie Darling

More often than not, we envision a moment of transcendence as pure wonder, what John Dewey described as a moving “beyond” mundane experience, an “intentional arrow” indicating something grand just beyond our reach. Yet this fixation on what is majestic fails to acknowledge a rich tradition of Romantic poetry in which beauty and suffering are inextricably linked. Throughout the work of Keats, Shelley, and many of their contemporaries, these rare glimpses of the sublime are frightening, even devastating, in the desire they instill for the ineffable, the unattainable, and the ethereal. We wish for the world to inspire in us a sense of awe, only to cleave straight through with a strange longing, the ice along the trellis already ravaged by light.  Two recent collections of poetry engage the tension, conflict, and ambivalence inherent in our experience of beauty, reminding us that aesthetic appreciation is more complex than simple joy or astonishment. Gillian Conoley’s The Plot Genie and Brian Teare’s The Empty Form Goes All The Way To Heaven each present us with a different vision of the dark sublime, offering divergent possibilities for conceptualizing the kind of experience that exists at the interstices of the wondrous and the unspeakable.  Read more >>

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April 2016

 

mullen_cover_final_1024x1024Complicated Grief by Laura Mullen

by Sean Singer

Laura Mullen’s Complicated Grief is one of the rare books that shows what it’s like to know another person by her thinking, and to get to a kind of clarity we, readers, rarely see. It has moments of beauty, even as it alienates the impatient part of the audience, and it astounds with its rigor and generosity of paying attention.  Mullen uses the versatile and liminal form of the block-like collage prose-poem; neither essay nor memoir nor poem, but a bit of each, these non-fiction, non-poems push the fragment to become fully-formed statements. They also allow disparate voices to interrupt or coalesce and show the motions of the mind.  Beautiful and troubling, Complicated Grief shows us what we may have experienced, but don’t yet know: that all losses trigger all previous losses.  Read more >>

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Magi_Cover_bookREVISING THE ARCHIVE:  On Jill Magi’s LABOR  

by Christopher Kondrich

LABOR, Jill Magi’s book-length poetic excavation of our oppressive economic landscape, begins with an index. It begins with what is usually last, with what only a specialized few would be interested in. With LABOR, Magi, it seems, is interested in illuminating what only those who flip to the index, who are paying close attention, see—the persistent and unyielding subjugation of the working class (women and people of color, in particular) not only by wealthy, powerful people, but also by a system that subjugates this working class by proxy.  And, as with any index, a specific, predetermined structure presides, a structure of alphabetization and sub-alphabetization according to topics and their associations. “Work, / as cultural expression,” LABOR begins, “days as unit of, / distinction between, and hobby.” As this opening poem continues, we recognize the logically categorized and alphabetized arrangement of phrases, but we also come to understand it as a depiction of our oppressive economic landscape as well as how classification, how discourse itself is structurally problematic.  Read more >>

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Incorrect Merciful ImpulsesIncorrect Merciful Impulses by Camille Rankine

by Lynarra Featherly

In Incorrect Merciful Impulses, Camille Rankine reaches for her reader with her generous range of poetic forms and her capacity to activate and modulate a series of internal-scapes both varied and honest. In this, Rankine leaves her reader in the midst/mist of a sharable and deeply moving poetic experience that feels personal even as it conjures incarceration and rising sea levels…By dwelling on Rankine’s generosity of form, I hope to articulate what I take to be her interest in leaving behind (or aside) poetry that strives to be the great-obscurator between poet and reader, poem as opaque and indecipherable sphinx; instead, Rankine seeks to offer poetry that is open, honest and multiplicitous in its communications and affectations. If a certain kind of calling-out has political legs, the calling-in of Rankine’s poetry conjures much more, an entire stage filled with and shared among various actors and the possibilities in otherwise-figured leading roles.  Read more >>

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March 2016

 

Argonauts Cover“Cruelty of the Argo?”:  Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts

by Emma Bolden

In her 2011 book The Art of Cruelty, Maggie Nelson raises Kafka’s famous question: “‘If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?’” In The Argonauts, Nelson delivers that blow on the skull. I turned to The Art of Cruelty as a lens through which I read The Argonauts – or, more specifically, a lens through which I read my reading of The Argonauts. I found myself circling in particular around Nelson’s comment about Pope.L’s work: “I like it, though, because it bothers me, and I’m not sure why.” I will confess that The Argonauts bothered me. I will also confess that I was very much bothered by the fact that The Argonauts bothered me. However, this discomfort is, I think, so crucial to the reading of the text that it is built into the text itself.  The Argonauts insists upon the obliteration of the boundaries, be they social, psychological, political, biological, or familial, in and between our bodies and our lives.  Read more >>

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Red Epic CoverThe Postmodern Lyric as Collective Disenchantment:  Three Books by Joshua Clover

by Kristina Marie Darling

All too often, writers approach the lyric “I” as a singular entity, a shimmering manifestation of the individual and his or her beliefs about the world. Such an attitude, perhaps unwittingly, reinforces a dangerous set of assumptions about the boundaries between self and other. Consciousness no longer appears as the product of dialogue, made and unmade by one’s interactions within a community, but rather, we observe at a distance. This visible separation between subject and object in so much of lyric poetry, and within our own thinking, limits what is attainable when considering literature as a vehicle for social justice. By setting the individual apart from the collective, we foreclose any possibility of holding ourselves accountable for a ubiquitous and at times destructive cultural imagination.With that said, Joshua Clover’s work is a rare exception to this disconcerting trend in contemporary lyric poetry. He offers a vision of the self as essentially relational, implicating the individual as they participate in the machinery of language, dissemination, and censorship. Through his provocative appropriation of a decidedly academic lexicon, and the vocabulary of continental theory, he asks us to consider the ways that freedom and disenfranchisement often exist simultaneously.  Read more >>

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February 2016

 

Tyler Mills Book Cover“suncompelled,/ obey the summons of recall”:  Tyler Mills’ Tongue Lyre

by Virginia Konchan

Tyler Mills’ resonant and resinous—the very quality of the reed instrument and lyre—debut collection Tongue Lyre contains sympathies beyond metaphor, past logic, into prima facie proof of poetry as both neo-epic narrative and song.  In an era when the written archive is dangerously close to being usurped by the digital cloud, the evacuation of the subject isn’t merely a political or even aesthetic problem.  Mills shows us that myth, the text, and the subject’s interiors, are “larger than life”: reflecting a world of mirrors and surfaces, themselves ghostly traces of the real.  Read more >>

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Tom Clark Cover ImageA Calmer Unease:  Tom Clark’s Truth Game

by Erik Noonan

Truth Game is the most understated of Clark’s late work, but that’s not to say that a peaceful easy feeling is embracing him. Actually, any serenity you find in his writing after about 1980 would be your own. A reversal takes place between the calm of his books published by BlazeVox (five from 2010 to date, alongside his blog, Beyond the Pale) and the contrarianism of a middle-period run of nine books published by Black Sparrow Press from 1984 to 2000. The late work starts with Light and Shade: New and Selected Poems (2006), published shortly before the New College of California closed its doors, where Clark taught for twenty years as a core faculty member in the Graduate Poetics program. Light and Shade shows him using the Selected Poems as a form, cutting, revising and retitling his work in a way that recalls W.H. Auden, since Clark’s New and Selected is an interpretation that changes the meanings of the poems and the contours of the oeuvre. At the time of publication, for those of us who’d been following his work, Light and Shade opened the way to a new period—one that reaches a milestone now with Truth Game. Here the poet lets his urbanity and suavity take the lead as he hasn’t done since the early days—except in Truth Game, there aren’t any jokes. Clark is a lot more serious now. The humor of old is nowhere to be seen in the blog where these poems first appeared, yet his moral conviction is in evidence online and in the printed poems. Large ethical concerns multiply and proliferate. And for this writer, the ethics of a poem aren’t confined within the poem’s content (its rhetoric)—instead they emerge from the poem’s relationships to the English language. Ethos is prosody.  Read more >>

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Joanna Howard Book CoverForeign Correspondent by Joanna Howard

by Kristina Marie Darling 

Joanna Howard’s innovative hybrid collection, Foreign Correspondent, has often been described as an engagement with Alfred Hitchcock’s film by the same name. Readers will discover, however, that the book is much more, offering incisive discussions of collaborative practice, the postmodern self, and the nature of conscious experience. Presented as a correspondence via post between girl reporter Johnnie and Scooter, a professional cage fighter, the book often reads as a dialogue between parts of the self or parts of consciousness. Indeed, the hybrid pieces in Foreign Correspondent suggest that it is through the process of engaging with voices and texts other than one’s own that the self is made strange, that we are allowed to experience oneself as another. With that in mind, Howard offers readers a perfect matching of style and content, in which the epistolary form compliments, and complicates, the narrative itself.  Read more >>

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January 2016

 

Gorgeous_Nothings - Book CoverGorgeous Nothings:  Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems Hold New Pleasures

by Hannah Star Rogers

Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings offers an incredible inquiry into the material practice of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and an argument for why we should take not just the visual culture of poetry into account, as so many new editions of Dickinson’s poetry do, but also the materiality—as both constraint and possibility.  The Gorgeous Nothings, from Christine Burgin/New Directions, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin with a preface by Susan Howe, is the first publication of Emily Dickinson’s complete envelope writings in facsimile from her visually-oriented manuscripts, rendered here in full color and arranged as if they were pressed into a scrapbook. The book is no doubt the dream of poetry and visual culture scholars (very literally as it took Werner, a Dickinson scholar, and Bervin, a visual artist, to bring the book together), but beyond important academic contributions, this book is a lot of fun to open and toss through as though it was a box of Grandmother’s letters—if your grandmother was the Belle of Amherst.  Read more >>

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Richie Hofmann Book CoverSecond Empire by Richie Hofmann

by Derrick Austin

Second Empire is an astounding symphonic arrangement. Richie Hofmann’s Beatrice Hawley Award-winning debut is arranged in four movements, each section led by a “Sea Interlude.” The interludes (drawn from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes) establish the tempo and tone from the delicacy of Dawn, to Passacaglia’s wit and quickness, Storm’s emotional reckonings, and concluding with Moonlight’s glittering, tender denouement. Despite the orchestral trappings, I fondly think of Second Empire as gorgeous chamber music, poems whose bracing intimacy belies a vivacity and subtle, structural integrity. These are impressive formal poems. Hofmann honors those stateliest of forms, the rhyming couplet and sonnet, with a freer music that remind me of Henri Cole’s experiments with free verse sonnets in collections like Middle Earth and Touch.  Read more >>

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December 2015

 

Four CitiesFour Cities by Hala Alyan

by Anne Champion

“I am the fable with a mouth” — This line from “Ballad for Kissing Beneath the Tawdry Fireworks” encapsulates the magic of Hala Alyan’s second poetry collection, Four Cities. Haunting yet hopeful, musical yet desolate, nostalgic yet grieving—this collection gracefully interrogates themes like love and war. In these poems, the personal and the political weave together to form deeply felt poems that simultaneously put readers in a trancelike reverie while also waking them up to the horrors of the world. These poems touch the wounds of places like Gaza, Ramallah, and Baghdad, while also exploring love and desire in places like Paris and New York City. Alyan’s ability to do both of these things at once is part of what makes the collection so awe inspiring. Despite the collection looking fearlessly at topics like war and occupation, the poems radiate a sense of hope through lines that are almost like prayer.  Read more >>

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final cover.inddA Thread Across the Universe: Three Recent Titles from the Cleveland State University Poetry Center

by Kristina Marie Darling

All too often, the small presses that populate the contemporary cultural landscape remind us just how insular many literary communities are. This proliferation of editors who support writers with very specialized interests and a somewhat obscure aesthetic seems intricately linked to the rise of social media networks and D.I.Y. publishing technology. Those who serve as cultural gatekeepers may now curate their newsfeed, conversations, and their overall experience of the world around them. Indeed, it is easier than ever to avoid challenges to one’s own views, predilections, and assumptions about literature. Yet there are more books than ever, aimed at progressively smaller audiences. The various networks of cultural producers grow increasingly fragmented, with less and less dialogue between artistic communities. Cleveland State University Press, and the books published by its remarkable Poetry Center, are a rare exception to this disconcerting trend in contemporary literature. Three recent titles in particular place diverse and often very different artistic traditions in dialogue with one another, envisioning poetry as a rhetorical space where disparate cultures, mediums, and historical milieu can exist side by side. Lee Upton’s Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles, Broc Rossell’s Festival, and Arseny Tarkovksy’s I Burned at the Feast, newly translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev, each initiate provocative dialogues between literary and artistic communities in a way that is altogether refreshing.  Read more >>

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November 2015

 

Wong MayPicasso’s Tears by Wong May

by Kayla Rae Whitaker

In 2014, Octopus Books published an anthology of work by poet Wong May, whose 1969 collection, A Bad Girl’s Book of Animals was the subject of the Portland press’s Recovery Project series article. A late 1960s graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, May published two more books, Reports (1972) and Superstitions (1978), before taking a 36-year hiatus from publishing further work. The result of this three-decade interim period is the substantial and engrossing Picasso’s Tears: Poems 1978 – 2013. At turns tender and wrenching, May’s collection is most striking in its compulsive readability. This is a rare trait in poetry so intensely involved. So close is her eye to her subjects, so intricate the lines, the details, that the reader is tugged in on a line-by-line level. One cannot help but to succumb to close reading. Yet the reader will find in May’s collection a sweet momentum that drives from page to page, so crucial in that it allows the reader to see the world from the poem’s eye.  While May’s gutsy experiments with style and form could risk isolating the nervous reader, the tactics found in these poems instead challenge us, inviting us to dig further, to consider shape and sound as much as language.  Read More >>

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CitizenA Noncommittal Engagement:  Claudia Rankine’s Citizen

by Erik Noonan

With the sophistication of its dialectical movement, the gravitas of its ethical appeal, and the mercy of its psychological rigor, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen combines traditional poetic strains in a new way and passes them on to the reader with replenished vitality. The subject matter is explicit, yet the writing possesses a self-containment, whether in verse or in prose. Neither consistent with genre conventions nor independent of them, this book stands out among recent offerings in poetry, art and scholarship. Rankine’s assessment of the writing of Juliana Spahr might revealingly be applied to her own as well. In an interview with Poets.org, Rankine writes of Spahr that she admires “her vision – sort of the politics of her work, the connectedness that she advocates in her critical work and that is demonstrated in her creative work[.]”  Whatever may be said about an individual poet’s vision, vision itself is a unity of endeavor. When we ask what qualities Rankine has advocated in her own critical work, and how Citizen might be said to demonstrate them – when we ask what her vision is, in other words – the following statement from the same interview seems a fitting reply:  “I don’t feel any commitment to any external idea of the truth. I feel like the making of the thing is the truth, will make its own truth.”  For Claudia Rankine, truth is an aesthetic that implies or contains ethics – in short, it is beauty. The poet’s truth consists in the execution of a work of art.  Read more >>

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WaldrepDark Archive:  On G.C. Waldrep’s Testament & its Sources

by Kristina Marie Darling

What happens when the space between words is no longer enough to maintain a semblance of order?  In G.C. Waldrep’s Testament, the various hierarchies that we have imposed upon language are jostled, interrogated, and fundamentally challenged. As the text unfolds, lessons in etymology appear alongside “a little math,” “presidential elections,” and “the idea of god.” We are presented with luminous fragments, gathered from works of contemporary poetry, the margins of Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster, and the pages of Scottish newspapers. By allowing these vastly different lexicons to coexist within the same rhetorical space, Waldrep calls our attention to the arbitrary nature of the categories we use to organize language, suggesting instead that phrases culled from seemingly unrelated discourses can strike sparks against one another.  Structured as a long poem in the tradition of Eliot, Pound, and H.D., the form makes possible a unified presentation of the many textures of language that the project encompasses. Waldrep’s choice of form orients the reader as an archive is unlocked, pillaged, and reconstituted. In doing so, he shows us that each poem (that is, every skillful poem) is a miniature act of deconstruction, a response to not only other cultural texts, but the rules of language itself.  Read more >>

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October 2015

 

Book CoverDeclarative, Urgent, and Rare:  Jon Thompson’s Landscape with Light

by Julie Marie Wade

Let’s start with the subjunctive: If I were in charge of party favors at the Oscars and the Golden Globes, I’d make sure every actor and director—every lover of movies and every maker of them—went home with a copy of Jon Thompson’s Landscape with Light. I’d tuck this book beneath every seat, beside every dinner plate. I’d ask the ushers to pass out copies at the door.  Landscape with Light marries the literary sophistication of a consummate poet with the emotional investment of a devoted cinemaphile. The result is a collection of poems that both exceeds the basic meaning of ekphrasis (from the Greek for “description,” as in a work of art that describes another in some detail) and expands the definition to include “probe,” “rumination,” and “riff” as well as “epistle” and “homage.” Thompson ensures that no familiar viewer of these 54 classic and contemporary films, ranging from Birth of a Nation and The Wizard of Oz to Training Day, Fargo, and Grey Gardens, will ever encounter them the same way again.  Read more >>

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Guess-Olszewska-CoverThe Lyric “I” as a Conversation:  On Collaborative Poetry and the Fiction of the Single Speaker

by Kristina Marie Darling

Recent years have seen an ever-increasing preoccupation with the ownership of literary texts, a desire to claim everything from lived experience to pieces of language and literary forms. One might argue that this proprietary approach to writing may be linked to an artistic tradition that has for so long privileged a definition of the lyric that allows for only a single speaker, who is charged with portraying shared experience without another voice to strike sparks against. As a result, the “I” is almost always made to claim what is communal as his or her own. This very individualistic approach to the lyric, and its prevalence within contemporary literary circles, has fostered a culture that values the articulation of one’s own ideas over simply listening, a single voice over dialogue and conversation, and ownership over rewarding artistic exchange.  With that said, three recent books of collaborative poetry remind us that, as Marianne Moore rightly argued, poetry is not just speech, but rather, an attempt to listen and respond. Carol Guess and Daniela Olszewska’s How to Feel Confident with Your Special Talents, Traci Brimhall and Brynn Saito’s Bright Power, Dark Peace, and Noah Eli Gordon, Noah Saterstrom, and Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Figures for a Darkroom Voice each offer a lyric “I” that is at once plural and singular, that proactively blurs the boundaries between self and other, subject and object, viewer and viewed. They offer a vision of the self that is essentially relational, a self that is inextricable from the other.  Read More>>

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September 2015

 

.Life by Elizabeth Arnold

by Susan Scarlata

Elizabeth Arnold’s Life is a collection of light, bold, contemporary paeans to natural cycles and incidents involved with living. Arnold’s scope for and definition of “natural” in no way limits that word to being only “of the earth.” Instead, it expands out so that all observations, all happenings, from natural disasters to the use of DDT and from the effects of ice storms to that of a fourteen-wheeler’s on the highway fit within the natural world.  In the poem “Like Water Flowing,” Arnold works through geologic time across space and continents and makes the text both universally expansive and personal.  Read more >>

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Ewa contrabandcontraband of hoopoe by Ewa Chrusciel

by Lynarra Featherly

Ewa Chrusciel’s new book of poetry, contraband of hoopoe, asks its readers to do the work of not just reason or the sensuous but to engage their sensuous reason. Chrusciel is asking us to not only conceptualize or make real her vivid imagery in our mind’s eye, but to feel the bones and feathers of the hoopoe move against our skin—cross barriers—as reading becomes experience. In the movements between approbation and interrogation, we are left unsteady—opened up between thinking and feeling. Through new openings, or crevices, loosened moments, Chrusciel’s work makes its way past our major affective and cognitive registers: beyond approval or disapproval, beyond desire or disgust, we find it impossible to be either “for or against” what contraband elicits. We are rather suddenly “with” contraband, possessed, our boundaries having been crossed unnoticed. Performing its themes, the work of the smuggler is operative here, and our life as an either/or “border agent” is disarmed.  Read more >>

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August 2015

 

LoiteringLoitering by Charles D’Ambrosio 

by Paul A. Christiansen

Gazing into the outside world often affords one a closer view of the self. In his essay collection, Loitering, accomplished fiction author Charles D’Ambrosio reveals aspects of his painful personal and family history by placing himself in diverse surroundings and experiences. True to its title, Loitering collects the contemplations of a man lingering in foreign rooms, on street corners and between the pages of books, but rather than inviting examinations of what’s in front of him, the environments act as catalysts for investigations of his own relationship with suicide, mental illness, and the type of isolation a life of observation brings.  Read more >>

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July 2015


CohenCoverFINALNov102014I WAS NOT BORN by Julia Cohen

by Farrah Field

When art and pain collide, a perfectly complicated and beautiful book sometimes emerges. Such is Julia Cohen’s I WAS NOT BORN, her third and latest work. It is a lifetime achievement and commingles poetry, transcripts of therapy sessions, letters, meditations, and text messages (all of which are poetry really) with a tremendous psychological and emotional impact.  Cohen writes, “Children who sneak into the jewelry drawer. Are the children who pretend to be parents. Now imagine language.” This single line outlines entirely what is encountered in the oeuvre of her work: childhood, memory, and poetry writing. She writes into the growing distance from childhood, nurturing the wilderness of its memories, and honors the time when the self was being created unawares. Her poetic approach is sacred, all-encompassing. She depicts language as a sort of omnipresent being, a kind of god, and although I WAS NOT BORN very much addresses the heartbreaking challenges of a period in her life, it is very much a book about poetry and reading and writing. Cohen’s poems and meditative paragraphs are rhythmically savvy and organically lyrical and she maneuvers between these and therapy sessions. Poetry as ligaments.  Read more >>

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Digest Cover

Digest by Gregory Pardlo

by Hannah Star Rogers

Gregory Pardlo’s second book of poetry, Digest, asks us what it is to have a father, to be a father, what kind of parenthood a country has and where ideas are born. His methods include satirical syllabi (particularly poignant is “ Ghost in the Machine: Synergy and the Dialogic System”), retellings of the same utterances with new meanings, and interlocking narratives (as in “Four Improvisations on Ursa Corregidora” and “Alienation Effects”), and groupings of poems (including “Marginalia,” “The Conatus Improvisations,” and “The Clinamen Improvisations”), which produce resonance for subjects like violence, family stories, and the complications of memory. From his “dad-pants” to passing references to his “newly pregnant wife,” Pardlo will not let us forget that he is a father and that no one knows exactly what this means.  Read more >>

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June 2015

 

Cover-Ohio-Railroads

Mourning and the Construction of Place:  A Review of C.S. Giscombe’s Ohio Railroads

by Virginia Konchan

The intergenre poetic text Ohio Railroads, by C.S. Giscombe, is a long poem in essay form split into two parts; first, a topographical “map” of the post-slavery North and second, a lyric poem.  Both dreamscapes are interpersed by elements of memoir, rooted in the author’s memory of a dream in which one of his parents died and the other, in response, sent forward a warning in the persona of the departed one.   The exact nature of this work brings to mind the genres in which memoir, specifically grief memoirs, backlight another, more historical or textual project.  Blink and you’ll miss it; whistle while you work, categorize and “map,” while you mourn,  and the dagger-cut and heart-rending loss, as specific as, say, place, the socio-emotional geography of the heart, will lessen, or fade away?  The details that make a beloved beloved, in life, and memorty—the grain, as Barthes says, of their voice—set in bas relief to the abstraction of geography, and history, as recounted in narrative, rather than place.  Read more >>

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creature-front-235x299Anxiety, Projection, & the Female Psyche: Four Recent Titles from Dorothy: A Publishing Project

by Kristina Marie Darling

All too often, contemporary works of fiction explore autobiographical subject matter with precision and wit, yet fail to extend meaning beyond the individual who’s telling the story.  The unsuspecting reader is forced to inhabit someone else’s psyche, then they are ushered out into the cold.  With that said, four recent titles from Dorothy: A Publishing Project are a rare exception.  Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper, Renee Gladman’s Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge, Amina Cain’s Creature, and Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women address intensely personal issues—including social anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia—while at the same time constructing larger arguments about the artificial boundaries we have imagined between self and world.  Read more >> 

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May 2015

 

The Name MuseumThe Name Museum by Nick McRae

by Corinna McClanahan Schroeder

The Name Museum, Nick McRae’s first full-length collection of poems and winner of C&R Press’s De Novo Poetry Prize, begins with an epigraph from Psalm 49, in which the psalmist points to the folly of those men whose “inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations,” who “call their lands after their own names.”  So begins The Name Museum’s investigation of home, religion, and mortality, of naming and heredity.  In this collection, the poet seeks both to place his own voice within the context of tradition and history and to honor the voices around him as he moves through such seemingly disparate landscapes as the Georgia foothills and Eastern Europe.  Written in sonnets and villanelles, in blank verse and free verse (and with a chant royal thrown in for good measure), these are carefully crafted poems made of equal parts devotion, remembrance, and imagination.  They are also poems suffused with both earnestness and honesty: here is a poet with a song, and it is our privilege to listen. Read more >>

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Andre AlexisFifteen Dogs by André Alexis

by Carlo Matos

André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs is an apologue that brings to mind Animal Farm but where the central concern is metaphysical rather than political—though there is some overlap. In it, a random group of dogs are given human intelligence as a result of a wager between the gods, Apollo and Hermes. Apollo bets Hermes that human intelligence will make the dogs even more miserable than it makes humans. As playful as this conceit is, I found myself wondering what the book would have been like without the divine frame. It occurred to me that the novel would work just as well if the dogs had simply become aware one day in a manner as mysterious and banal as, say, a Jose Saramago novel, where suddenly no one can die or everyone is stricken blind. Since the domestic canine has lived in close proximity to humans for anywhere between 16,000 and 32,000 years, it might have been interesting to suggest that maybe this coexistence was somehow responsible for the leap towards a more human way of perceiving the world. The framing device, however, doesn’t take away from the fun, nor does it hamper the philosophical underpinnings of the novel.  Read more >>

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April 2015

 

What Have You Carried Over

What Have You Carried Over?:  Poems of 42 Days and Other Works

by Clifford Endres

Gülten Akın has long been honored as one of Turkey’s leading poets, but English translations of her work are scarce. All the more reason then to welcome What Have You Carried Over?, which offers translations of work selected from twelve of her books published between 1956 and 2007—a sixty-year stretch that witnessed some of the most serious traumas of modern Turkish history, including three military coups. Akın and her family were not spared.  “For eight years I waited at the gates of a prison,” she remarked at a 2006 session of the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature. It was her son she was waiting for. Arrested in 1978 when he was a university student, he was held for eight years without a conviction. Poems of 42 Days emerges from the poet’s experience of that large fact—“We were mothers, witnesses to the sufferings of our sons and daughters. The hand raised against them came down on us too”—as it zeroes in on a particular event: a hunger strike by the young political prisoners.  Read more >>

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saintfriend_cover_store_FINALSaint Friend by Carl Adamshick

by Jonathan Russell Clark

If someone had the gumption to go around and ask everyday Americans to name a poem, nearly all of them would certainly supply an answer. One might hear, as a reply, Poe’s “The Raven” or Hughes’s “A Dream Deferred” or Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (though this last may be mistakenly referred to as “The Road Less Travelled”). But if this same pollster were to ask these citizens to name a single volume of poetry, a collection, how many would be able to come up with a title? It’s easy to imagine that, with the exception of books named after a single poem (e.g., Eliot’s The Waste Land or Ginsberg’s Howl), many would remain silent here.  Yet, as we know, poets spend a great amount of time organizing their collections, meticulously arranging poems in a particular order to communicate a particular arc or narrative with their book. But we’ve been taught to celebrate individual poems, not collections, which means that there is a whole category of creative expression being largely ignored. This is a shame because one of the great potential joys of a poetry collection is the way in which poems speak to each other and even rely on each other, the way these connections can transcend the power of single poem. Read more >>

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March 2015

 

The DotteryThe Dottery by Kirsten Kaschock

by Sandra Marchetti

“The Dottery,” perhaps best read as, ‘daughter-y,’ is a kind of finishing or boarding school for female children about to be born. This finishing school focuses on interactions between “mutters” and “dotters,” and the central question of what it means to become a gendered female. ‘Where does gender come from?’ ‘How is it constructed?’ and ‘Who decides?’ are central questions in Kirsten Kaschock’s The Dottery, winner of the 2013 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. The book emphasizes how our contemporary society marginalizes female power, femininity, and feminism. The word “woman” isn’t even uttered until Page 33; only homophones and nicknames that ‘skirt’ the label are employed beforehand. Kaschock proffers the idea that the female is somehow always for sale in contemporary culture. The personal—sexuality and lifestyle choices—become commercial in this volume, a “concentric cap and trade.” Women are also bought and sold through marriage, and the suppression of women’s needs and desires is a consistent motif in Kaschock’s scathing social commentary.  Read more >>

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Sidebrow BooksReinventing Hybridity:  Five Recent Titles from Sidebrow Books

by Kristina Marie Darling

What’s perhaps most exciting about Sidebrow Books, a small press publisher based in Portland, Oregon, is the editors’ commitment to expanding our sense of what is possible within a hybrid text.   Much of their innovative and thought-provoking catalogue exists at the interstices of poetry and prose, text and image, book and art object.  Five recent titles in particular present the book as an interdisciplinary space, calling our attention to the myriad ways that texts can be as visually engaging as they are attentive to the intricacies of language. Read more >>

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January 2015

 

Post SubjectPost Subject: A Fable by Oliver de la Paz

by Carlo Matos

Oliver de la Paz’s fourth book of poetry consists of a series of epistolary poems addressed to a fallen and therefore absent empire, which (interestingly) makes these poems a species of apostrophe as well. “Dear Empire,” the ambiguous speaker writes, “These are your ashes. We’ve carried them for years in baskets, urns, boxes, and lockets.” The first line of each poem catalogues one characteristic or trait of the empire. De la Paz considers it a work of taxonomy, but I think a more apt analogy would be that of the post mortem. The empire is upon the table and its parts are being recorded in alphabetical order in a sort of coroner’s report: “divided into rows . . . arranged alphabetically, so as not to lose track of them.” Read more >>

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dan-front-235x299Dan by Joanna Ruocco

by Kristina Marie Darling

Joanna Ruocco’s brilliant new novel, Dan, begins by presenting the reader with an impossibility: “If only there weren’t leap years, thought Melba. Every 365 days, the calendar would lose several hours and, by now, there wouldn’t be any days left at all.” This somewhat unsettling observation captures the spirit of the book with wit and precision. As the narrative unfolds, Ruocco presents us with a world which, much like the celestial orbits described in the opening scene, appears familiar. Yet the small hamlet of Dan, and the stars that govern its days and nights, prove to be rife with contradictions and paradoxes. Readers will encounter a world that is inherently unstable, despite its close resemblance to our own.  Read More >>

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Seam
Seam by Tarfia Faizullah

by Anne Champion

Seam by Tarfia Faizullah, winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, may be my favorite book of 2014. I picked it up after returning from a peace delegation to Palestine, and I was experiencing a range of emotions that witnessing brutality and listening to stories of survivors evoked within me, but I found myself utterly mute in terms of articulating it. Then I read Seam: a collection that weaves beauty and devastation tightly together, carefully and respectfully chronicling traumatic memory in a way that reaffirms hope, humanity, and community. Read More >>

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