TQ Reviews

Editor’s Note

by Kristina Marie Darling

I’m thrilled to introduce three new additions to the Reviews Page at Tupelo Quarterly. Alice B. Fogel has contributed an incisive piece on John Sibley Williams’s The Drowning House.  Fogel offers a beautifully rendered discussion of an accomplished book, as well as a powerful meditation on the nuances of collective memory.  Additionally, Katie Berta has written a lyric appreciation of Chelsea Dingman’s Through a Small Ghost, using this gorgeous work as a point of entry to larger questions about language and loss. Lastly, Carole Symer engages Bad Astrocyte in prose that is lively and luminous. 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 new Senior Reviews Editors, Nandini Bhattacharya, Esteban Rodriguez, and Linda Michel-Cassidy, will also be assigning a selection of books, bringing an exciting perspective to Tupelo Quarterly’s already vibrant offerings in literary criticism. In the meantime, happy new year, and enjoy! ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  

May 2022

Sometimes America Breaks Our Hearts:  On John Sibley Williams’s The Drowning House

by Alice B. Fogel

In his new book, The Drowning House, the prolific John Sibley Williams’s poems reverberate with the expression of extremity. His poems betray an earnest, gentle heart mourning over the wrongs committed by America, and a fierce yearning for justice shaded by a dark vision. In his sensibility, the walls between realms of time and place, experience and bias, helplessness and the effort to hope, are as thin as dreamscapes. Writing in shifting forms that include lyric verses with spatial pauses and stumbles, prose poems with and without in-line slashes, structures with variable indentations, couplets, or justified line segments, he picks at the unhealed scabs of America’s crimes and denials. Everything he sees is an example: “...the rope / swinging in rural shade loses its tire & becomes // something else entirely” even as he acknowledges that the swing in his own privileged world is “not anything like a noose.”  Read more >>

__________________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________

On Chelsea Dingman’s Through a Small Ghost

by Katie Berta

Grief is a shifting thing, a process, a practice that the griever returns to like someone might return to a poem she’s writing, a piece of art she’s making. And just like that poem under the eye of the poet, that painting under the eye of the painter, the griever’s eye transforms their grief from one day to another. One day it looks like a hurricane that blows the shingles off your roof, the next it looks like the shift from one season to another. Such is the grief experienced by the speaker of Chelsea Dingman’s second collection, Through a Small Ghost, which traces her loss of a child through stillbirth and the reverberations that loss made through her life. Dingman’s speaker looks and looks again at the pain she feels at the loss of her baby. In fact, she doesn’t feel she can look away. What she sees there is variable. Sometimes it’s the way her marriage has been affected. Sometimes she sees her own feelings of guilt. Sometimes she’s reminded of her mortality and sometimes she dreams of alternate realities. “What can be done/about the body, about love, when either/is missing?” asks Dingman in “Anniversary with Yellow Iris,” one of the last poems in the book. The speaker doesn’t seem to be able to provide a useful answer as she shifts through these modes of grieving. Instead, she tries and tries again to apply these ways of thinking to her grief, probing for an answer.  Read more >>

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________

On Cameron Morse’s Bad Astrocyte

by Carole Symer

If there is ever a poetry collection we need close by us in the night, to stir us from our creeping dread, hands down it is in Cameron Morse’s Bad Astrocyte (Woodley Press, 2021). Though dedicated “for the diagnosed” (i.e., of glioblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor), we are all Morse’s beneficiaries. Master of the minimalist enjambment, Morse escorts us on a fast-track tour from kitchen to hospital room, hoofing it through Home Depot with a toddler in tow—no ordinary flicker of bulbs here, but a full-on floodlight to get us through. His is the poetry of our dying that exposes both the surprise and the inevitable. Starting with his opening poem, “Temporal” (as in timely or the brain lobe inside our temples that are responsible for memories) through to the “Magnetic Moments” of the last page, Morse inter-stitches ah-ha delights with a sinking feeling. Yet, rather than breaking our hearts, he blows us away with his uncanny ear for how our minds ricochet, lighting up for the mundane and messy amidst reality’s bite—so very “alive/in this confection/called cancer”—reminding us that we are both sacred and temporary.  Read more >>

_______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________

April 2022

What Is Worth Saving: A Review of Emily Franklin’s Tell Me How You Got Here

by Merryn Rutledge

A well-published prose writer, Emily Franklin now shows polish as a poet in her first collection Tell Me How You Got Here. The title poem recapitulates themes woven through this graceful book. How does one live through loss and brokenness? When we move from place to place, what and where is home? What possessions are worth keeping and why?  When I read a book of poetry these anxiety-fraught days, I look for insight into what matters, both in these cataclysmic times and, if you will, post-doom, as we face existential threats to humanity’s survival. Franklin’s answers to what matters affirm that through all our losses, love endures. We have a responsibility to honor the past by telling stories that imbue people, places, and objects with meaning.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________

Refused Transaction

by Daniel Fraser

Poetry’s role in public life has remained a question at least since Plato expelled the poets from his Republic. The possible historical-ethical weight of poetic utterance continually comes up against its inherent inventiveness, its status as artifice. Poetry, as the activity of the productive imagination, draws us from the world. In times of crisis this struggle, poetry’s legitimation of itself, is exacerbated: cataclysm pushes us toward silence, threatening to render language null and void. There is perhaps no poet of the last century who took up this struggle as intensively as Paul Celan (1920-1970). The 2020 centenary of Celan’s birth (and fiftieth anniversary of his death) occasioned the publication of two translations by Pierre Joris: Memory Rose into Threshold Speech and Microliths They Are, Little Stones. The former is a compendium of Celan’s first four books of poetry and the latter a collection of posthumous prose. Together they mark the completion of Joris’ decades-long project of rendering Celan’s major work into English, and constitute an important event in the translation of European poetry.  Read more >> ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________

Country of Origin:  A Review 

by Katy Dycus

The year is 1952. Halah Ibrahim is a young teenager when Cairo is set on fire, stoked by the Egyptian Revolution that strips away British control and emboldens Halah’s father as a member of the military elite. Yet Halah’s only role is to stay home from school until things grow calm, observing from a distance: “I watched from the roof as the city burned,” the book begins.  It is with the backdrop of profound political, economic, and societal change that Halah experiences a life-altering change of her own—a change of country, a dramatic change of pace. Escaping the inevitable fate of arranged marriage with a much older man, Halah impulsively runs away with Khalil Seif, a young officer she’s met only a handful of times, believing they’re destined to be together because their “lives collided on a rooftop.” They move to New York, where he begins his medical studies. The novel spans decades and borders. Azim gives us an immigration story, where living in either country—Egypt or the United States—feels incomplete; Halah no longer feels whole in either place. Even though Egypt is only a phone call away, the first time she calls her father after the move, she runs out of coins midway through the call. Halah must learn to raise a daughter, Amena, in a culture that she can’t fully grasp or even accept in some ways. Her daughter eventually sets down roots that seem to ground Halah but apparently not enough.   Read more >> ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ____________________________ ___________________________________________________________________

March 2022

Affirmations Amidst Adversity: Sudeep Sen’s Anthropocene

by Ankush Banerjee

The role of art has become ever urgent in a world ravaged by impending climate disasters, refugee crisis/mass migrations, rise of authoritarian regimes, a raging—and refusing to recede—pandemic, because unlike the terse Newspaper headline, art has the power to lend voice to our anxieties, tragedies, triumphs, and hopes. It also has the power to articulate our fears, map our consolations, and sketch our many tribulations. Sudeep Sen’s latest book, Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation stands as one such work of art, which gives voice to a time when the very foundations of our existence seem shaken up by various challenges and adversities, by perching itself simultaneously as a secular prayer-book of hope, a live Historical document, and a book of poetry.  Read more >> __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________

A Review of Tomaž: A Young Life of Tomaž Šalamun, Constructed by Joshua Beckman from Conversations and Interviews

by Sean Singer

Tomaž is kind of a portmanteau, a suitcase split into two parts. It’s a series of interviews Joshua Beckman did with Tomaž Šalamun which were cut short by is Šalamun’s death on December 27, 2014. As Beckman continued interviewing Šalamun, which was intended to be a longer project, Šalamun got sick and couldn’t continue.  Beckman has constructed, from these interviews, an extended narrative poem of Tomaž Šalamun’s early life beginning in 1949 when he was a child in Slovenia and continuing until he came to Iowa in 1970. The book is in Šalamun’s first person voice, but center aligned and shaped into lines by Joshua Beckman. Beckman explains that these fragments broken into lines showed Šalamun’s “conversational speech as well as the strange drifting parade that is his storytelling style.”  The effect of this amalgam shows the poetry of Šalamun’s thinking and reinscribes his life in poetry. Tomaž is further evidence that more of Šalamun’s work should be translated into English. It shows a sensitive and accessible portrait of the early development of this important poet.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________

On Jessica Cuello’s Liar

by Linda Michel-Cassidy

The poems Jessica Cuello’s Liar, chosen for the 2020 Barrow Street Book Prize, are written primarily in the voice of a child/young woman learning to place herself within an adult world that cannot provide her with adequate care. The poems are at the same time written from dual temporal distances, as if the speaker is simultaneously living, observing, assessing, and somehow, also telling from the experience of having reckoned. It’s a tricky move, to write both from the innocence of childhood and the understanding of maturity, but here Cuello does so, and beautifully.  Cuello gives voice to a shadow population, sorting the cruelties of being young, poor, female, wrought by neglect. “I Nod When the School’s Visiting Doctor Asks if I Eat Three Meals a Day” opens with: “In my family / you recreate invisible // and freeze like a rabbit.” The speaker did not, even for a moment, have cause to believe life would be anything other than brutal.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________

February 2022

Literal and Figurative Waiting Rooms: On the Poetry of Kirun Kapur

by Elizabeth Knapp

Women in the Waiting Room, Kirun Kapur’s unsettling second collection of poems, is bookended by the image of a dead girl in a body of water, an image that recurs half a dozen times throughout the collection. In one of the final poems, “Spring,” the image has become so deeply embedded in the speaker’s psyche that she begins to hallucinate it when she sees a cormorant surfacing after a dive for prey: “I could have sworn a girl with dark hair surfaced.” Indeed, the image of the dead or missing girl is a ubiquitous narrative trope, a plot point or abstract hinge on which the action hangs, and through which characters, usually male, resolve their own internal and external conflicts. This trope is as old as storytelling, with entire epics built around it, including the Ramayana, which Kapur references in the opening poem, “On Looking at Myself in the Mirror, Or, Re-Reading Valmiki’s Ramayana.” This self-portrait/persona poem assumes the voice of Sita, the heroine of the ancient Sanskrit epic whose abduction by the demon king Ravana launches the action. The first two lines of the poem, “Anyone can disappear / across the black water,” conflate the image of the dead/missing girl with the abduction of Sita, and therein lies the theme that will dominate the collection—specifically, gender-based violence and the desire to tell the survivor’s story, to identify and to name the body of the victim. Read more >> __________________________________________________________________________________ _______ _______ ________

“I Am Going Holy or Bust”: A Review of Alina Stefanescu’s Dor

by Nicole Yurcaba 

Alina Stefanescu’s poetry masterpiece takes its title from the Aromanian verb designating the action of hurting or aching. In Romanian, dor is a noun “defined as a state of longing or yearning.” Throughout the collection, both designations manifest in poems of loss, grief, and cultural and political uncertainty. Distinctly ringing through Stefanescu’s collection is a clear voice, willing to question not only the self, but also America, where fear outshines reason, and an oppressive system’s tentacles twist and distort, making the freedom America so loudly celebrates an illusion for those who find themselves outside America’s definition of “citizen.”  Read more >> _________________________________________________________ ______ ______ ______

A Review of Water I Won’t Touch 

by C.E. Janecek 

Kayleb Rae Candrilli’s third poetry collection, Water I Won’t Touch, introduces us to a trans ecopoetics in which the body is as porous and communal as the earth. Candrilli dissolves the boundaries between the human and non-human, between genders, when they meditate on what happened to their body after their double mastectomy—perhaps their breasts are “long dead, floating alongside jellyfish and plastic straws”—while bringing attention to environmental concerns and the ways in which people destroy nature by deciding what is and isn’t “natural.” Thematic tributaries address transition, family, violence, addiction, and masculinity as they converge into robust narrative arcs.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________ _____ ______ ______

January 2022

The Prismatic World of Amanda Moore: A Review of Requeening

by Meryl Natchez

In Dana Gioia’s memoir, Studying with Miss Bishop, he mentions that a late book by James Dickey is so bad he was sure it was going to win a prize, which it did. But Amanda Moore’s book, Requeening, a winner of the 2020 National Poetry Series Award, is so good it restores my faith in the award process. The intimacy of tone is what first drew me to this volume, the way Moore draws you into her experience, her perception, her world.  Moore’s poems document a rich, complex life, and stepping into her book is to immerse oneself in the perils and pleasures of domesticity. Beekeeping—its wonder and precarity—permeates these poems that detail love, family, birth, motherhood, illness, and survival. It’s clear from the variety of forms, the metric musicality of the work, that Moore is a poet who reads and studies, a practice that informs and elevates her poems.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

Hear them sing—flickering wings: 
a review of Heidi Seaborn’s An Insomniac’s Slumber Party with Marilyn Monroe

by Tiffany Troy

An Insomniac’s Slumber Party with Marilyn Monroe by Heidi Seaborn (Pank Books 2021) is an eclectic homage to Marilyn Monroe, who Seaborn draws from as “the most enduring, consistently iconic celebrity to inhabit” in her examination of celebrity culture. Through persona poems, the “real” Marilyn Monroe who neither wants to be possessed nor saved “from other/ men” emerges, and we see beauty in her resilience and grit.  At night, Marilyn becomes Norma Jeane behind the veneer of glamor. The poetry collection begins with “Insomnia Diary,” where the speaker’s dependence on Ambien immediately blends the skylight and the moon’s neon fog. This prologue poem, or proem, is immediately followed by “Marilyn” and “I see her everywhere—” which presents the casts of Marilyn, at once easy to define (as an object of desire), but at once also undefinable (as the performer behind the act). Seaborn presents Marilyn as seen from the male lens: as a carefully packaged gardenia, a pinup model on a potato sack in a cowboy bar in Wyoming, as potatoes to be cooked, sliced open, and devoured, and as the delicious raspberry on Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, 1967.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

A Review of Dear bear by Ae Hee Lee

by Alethea Tusher

What if the apocalypse brought you to an eco-paradise wonderland? What if in this world, the flowers bloomed for themselves? Nature’s self-care, a gift. What if your one true love lived in this land and this love was at its best when you become absence?  Enter the epistolic atopia of Ae Hee Lee’s Dear bear, where nature conquers human and human’s greatest construct—language—unfurls.   In the beginning, there was a flood… Before this beginning, we were content with swimming in pool waters… [Then] I shed my skin like a sea snake, dipped my face into the waters, pulsing. I looked hard and tender into the ebbing black and met you, my swan song, swimming up, slithering / into my ears, The speaker’s letters to her lover never end, but trail. With each ending comma, the letter pauses and continues into boundless habitation just as the speaker’s new nature blends into her surroundings: skinless, pulsing, but not clearly designated. Bear, however, is clear, distinct, natural.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________ ____________________ _____________________

December 2021

A Review of Rohan Chhetri’s Lost, Hurt, or in Transit Beautiful

by Abigail Ardelle Zammit

Rohan Chhetri’s Lost, Hurt, or in Transit Beautiful is a slim volume of poetry with the reach, flourish and density of a much longer collection.  Split into four sections which immediately declare its indebtedness to Greek forms – Katabasis, Locus Amoenus, Erato and Grief Deer – it takes the reader on a journey where the personal, the political and the mythological do not merely co-exist but are inextricably intertwined through the formal experimentation that sings them into being.  There is fear here, guilt and personal upheaval, but they carry with them the whole retinue of socio-historical tragedy transiting into myth, of life quivering with a terrible impulse for extinction, its vitality and violence erupting through a language that is at once vehicle and mirror.  The words are arranged so tightly over the page, so precisely over the overarching whiteness, that to move one out of place would be to shift the whole architecture that holds the poems together, which is why the collection is intense in its cumulative effect, but paradoxically tender in its postmodern allusions and unmakings.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

A Review of Tension : Rupture: Artifacts of Memory Recall

by Bryan Faller

The performative nature of the collection is evident from the first prose; Framework : a Vessel introduces the audience to the image of one engaging a creative act—act one, scene one—as it were, reflecting on how the creative process informs both the creator and the created referring to the fluidity of this feedback between the sculptor and the clay. Framework dually describes the relationship between the poet and draughtsman whose works unfold in a succession of waves that articulate both the thoughts and emotions exchanged between the collaborators in performance. The poems and visual works act as artifacts, a collection of breadcrumbs through the dialogue of the creators from idea to completion of the collected works.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

A Review of Arthur Rimbaud’s Festivals of Patience: The Verse Poems, translated by Brian Kim Stefans

by Ben Tripp

Festivals of Patience assembles categorically everything Arthur Rimbaud wrote in verse outside of A Season in Hell and Illuminations, while also including the essential “Letters of the Seer” which are (as Rimbaud himself described them) “...la prose sur l’avenir de la poésie...” prose about the future of poetry. The French originals appear left at all times alongside Brian Kim Stefans’ new English renderings which, for the first time in the history of printed English Rimbaud, actually retain the French meter structure and sometimes the rhyme schemes as well. Stefans writes, “The challenge was to reproduce the syllable counts—12-syllables for the alexandrines, various syllable counts for the ballad forms...I wanted the ghosts of these patterns present.” For decades the majority of English translations have been mainly purposed to just get Rimbaud into as many new hands as possible, perhaps, which might be fine for the beginning. Most of the English speaking-readership, like the musicians or other celebrities who assimilate Rimbaud into their practice...become in a way conditioned to forget or simply gloss over the fact that Rimbaud incorporated rhyme and meter in nearly all of his poetry...call it a kind of publishers-industrial complex effect on Rimbaud’s poetry, if you want...or even an attempt at alternative fact-ing a classic for efficiency’s sake vis-à-vis literary academia, and yes; this is the same kid who could be credited with inventing vers libre a.k.a. free verse.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

November 2021

“The Boundaries of Flash”: A Review of Kim Chinquee’s SNOWDOG

by Gail Louise Siegel

Literary pundits are wont to predict the death of the novel, the death of the short story and the death of reading altogether. But it’s hard to find corpses amidst the avalanche of written, electronic and audiobooks accompanying us through the pandemic.  Instead, with the release of Kim Chinquee‘s latest collection, SNOWDOG, we are reminded that it’s too soon to compose eulogies for any kind of storytelling, including flash fiction. Rather, much like television, very short fiction is enjoying a golden age. Whether called short-shorts, flash fiction or micro fiction, the advent of the Internet allowed online platforms to catapult compressed stories into the mainstream. Two decades on, the proliferation of website templates and online zines means that short-short fiction is no longer the province of luminaries such as Amy Hempel (“Housewife”) Jamaica Kincaid (“Girl“) and Lydia Davis (“Boring Friends,” “Murder in Bohemia.”) An entire generation of short-short writers have thrived and pushed the boundaries of flash.  Read more >>  ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

“Exploding expectations of the form:” Kristin Bock’s Glass Bikini

by Julia Gibson

In a strikingly insightful self-introduction to her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, science fiction master Ursula K. Le Guin posits, “Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.” Kristin Bock’s full-length poetry collection Glass Bikini rewards both predictive and descriptive interpretations, showing us as much about how our world is as how it might become. Comprised in the majority by prose poems, Glass Bikini evokes the world-building of science fiction, the fairy tale, the dream narration, the prophecy, the parable, and the personal anecdote. Each poem hangs as a translucent mobile that exists as a superposition of all these forms, uniquely catching and reflecting each by rich variations in imagery and voice.   Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

A Review of Shawn Rubenfeld’s The Eggplant Curse and the Warp Zone

by Juliana Converse

What is the pleasure of a game? We play games to distract, to kill time, to connect with others. But aren’t we also simulating suffering by playing certain games? Is the simulation of suffering meant to hone our survival instincts and strategies, or determine who among us is most likely to crumble under the pressure? In some Jewish private schools, for example, students are encouraged to imagine themselves within the system of Nazi regime, to imagine how they would be sorted in the death camps, according to ability and skill. The game is meant to be educational, while incidentally training students to hone their survival skills. Perhaps the thinking is that as a people, they have needed them before, and will likely need them again.  Shawn Rubenfeld explores the absurdity of suffering––and games––in The Eggplant Curse and the Warp Zone through a Jewish, millennial character from New York City.   Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

October 2021

A Review of Paul Nemser’s Poetry Collection: A Thousand Curves

by Leonard Temme 

Four months ago, I received a review copy of Paul Nemser’s 2021 collection of poems, A Thousand Curves. Since then, I’ve read the book in its entirety at least a dozen times and its 58 poems several times more with an increasing admiration for what Mr. Nemser accomplishes with his writing. I frequently liken the creation of a poem to a journey, discovering and exploring a new world or even a different universe, and the resultant poem as a travel journal or at least a souvenir. Many of Nemser’s poems seem to work this way. They are like a guidebook to the places that Nemser leads us. We discover something of his language, the individuality of his word usages, rhythms, diction, conjunctions of images and phrases. After all, poetry is nothing but language. Reading his poems, we discover something of his mind, his experiences, the ones that capture his attention, then ours by what he asks the poem to accomplish as a made thing. His poems are so original and diverse that each one is a separate journey to a new world, a new encounter with an extraordinary mind.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

A Review Katie Farris’ A Net To Catch My Body In It’s Weaving

by Kitty Donnelly

There is a sense of immediacy in this excellent pamphlet by Katie Farris, as though we are reading every poem as it occurs in real time. The poems follow the narrator’s journey from the moment she is informed of her breast cancer diagnosis: “...Six days before / my thirty-seventh birthday, / a stranger called and said ,/  You have cancer. Unfortunately.” Even in this short, stark poem there is humour. Farris has titled it ‘Tell it Slant’, an ironic reference to the Emily Dickinson poem. There is very little in the narrator’s journey through the medical world that is ‘told slant’: the brutality of the treatment and its terminology are captured perfectly here and will be recognisable to anybody who has entered the system of illness (“called to these corridors”, as Larkin said).  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

Moments of Revelation: Sam Taylor’s Book of Fools

by Lisa Low

Part memoir, part ecological treatise, part ars poetica, Sam Taylor’s Book of Fools practices the visual poetics of textual erasure (the disappearance of text within a text) to tell the mother-load-like story of mother-death: the disastrous death of mother earth; and much more urgently, the death of Taylor’s actual mother, expired of stomach cancer twenty years prior to the book’s composition. Taylor frames his memoir in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, where Taylor is the poet Orpheus trying to recover the beloved through song, and the mother is Eurydice, sucked back into Hades at the very moment of revelation. Fools is challenging to read, like summiting Mount Olympus or climbing to the gates of Hell. Conscious of textual difficulty, Taylor apologizes to the reader, asking himself why—if he wants the reader to understand; to bear witness to “what [he] has done”—he makes the text so difficult? Taylor’s quest is to “expose[s] the underworld where a text is forged,” for it is only there that the poet can “cross worlds and charm the forces of chaos” and find the “golden fleece,” the “magical object that can overcome death.” The role of the reader, described variously as “voyeur [] lover, beloved, stranger, and friend” is to “bear witness.” even at the expense of exhaustion, for Taylor is the obsessive artist who cannot do otherwise. The poet’s and the reader’s reward is revelation.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

September 2021

How Refrains Work: M.I. Devine’s Warhol’s Mother’s Pantry

by Amy Penne

The cold open from Saturday Night Live, Saturday, November 12, 2016. Kate McKinnon’s impeccable Hilary Clinton singing Leonard Cohen’s everyman anthem, “Hallelujah.” McKinnon, center stage, alone at the grand piano, off-white pantsuit and her bobbed wig, incanting “I’ll stand right here before the lord of song/with nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah….Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.” McKinnon channeled our grief as a nation, in Cohen’s refrain, staging Clinton’s loss all while live from New York that Saturday night. Cohen died the day before Clinton lost the electoral college vote to be the first female president of the United States. We didn’t know yet which was more tragic: the electoral college’s skewed decision in favor of a corrupt New York real estate tycoon, or the loss of one of the most versatile singer-songwriters of our time. It was mourning in America.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

Living is Impossible Without Life: A Review of Rosamond S. King’s All the Rage

by Tom Griffen

All the Rage. Like something that’s trending. Or a collection of fury. Or, as in Rosamond S. King’s new poetry collection, both.  (NOTE: You already know this, but America is rooted in violence. Also, heads up—King’s book is meant to make you feel, but not feel good.)  OK now, the book: Its dark and smooth cover. The title’s old-timey cinematic font that makes it lighthearted and approachable. “All the Rage” in tidy yellow caps underscored by the author’s name and a row of red stenciled ferns that resemble vintage wallpaper. Take a second to consider wallpaper. What does it do? It hides blemishes. You adhere it to the wall knowing beneath the thin veil of patterned vinyl are unsightly stains.  (ANOTHER NOTE: Just because you hide a thing doesn’t mean it’s gone.)  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

A Review of Oliver’s Travels by Clifford Garstang

by Christina Chiu

Ollie Tucker is a recent college graduate who finds his way to teaching at a small community college in rural Virginia not far from where his divorced, alcoholic mother now lives. With a background in Western philosophy, he is obsessed with the truth, especially in his own life as a somewhat cisgendered-identifying male struggling with his attraction to other men. To his mind, there must be a reason for this because anything that threatens his heterosexual identity must be rooted in darkness or perversion. Ollie eventually sets off on a journey to find his Uncle in hopes of finding the truth. Before doing so, however, he tries his hand at writing. In the novel he writes, his alter-ego, Oliver, explores and has freedom he himself has never afforded himself.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________

August 2021

To Combine the Personal and the Critical: A Review of Nemerov’s Door by Robert Wrigley

by Robert Dunsdon

This collection of a dozen essays recording the author’s thoughts on poets, their poems, the mechanics and sensibilities behind them, is nothing less than a love letter to poetry itself. It’s his zeal, his vehement promotion of the art that strikes you, as he writes of anything from the dearth of black voices in a contemporary anthology, to searching for arrowheads, and spending time with the ghost of Sylvia Plath. It’s a teacher’s determination to enlighten, and a poet’s desire to share. Robert Wrigley, emeritus professor of poetry at the university of Idaho, and a seven-time Pushcart Prize winning poet, believes that nothing in daily life requires you to write poetry, but that “something in your life ... goes unlived” if you don’t. And what poet worthy of the name would disagree; could not, after witnessing a leaf falling through an eternity, say, or what Wrigley describes as “the stroking hand of God” over a field of swaying grass, resist the urge, the obligation almost, to write about it? To construct a form of words, a pattern of detail and allusion to convey the feeling such revelations present. Writing with an informal elegance, he tells us of the poets he has admired – Nemerov, Plath, Dickey and others – and is eager (and not afraid) to break down examples of their work; to point out metrical subtleties, rhythms and inflections which carry us through the piece, as well as talking knowledgeably about the poets’ personalities and their particular insights and preoccupations.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________

Spirituality and Otherness in Nineteenth-Century Northern Mexico: A Review of Kathleen Alcalá’s Spirits of the Ordinary: A Tale of Casas Grandes

by Shannon Nakai

A hybrid culture of Indigenous folklore and mysticism mingled with Latin American magic realism and imbued with the resonance of Jewish Scripture and ritual: this triumvirate creates a gathering place for the divine and the perfunctory in Kathleen Alcalá’s first novel, Spirits of the Ordinary: A Tale of Casas Grandes. Originally published in 1997, this new edition from Raven Chronicles Press features a strong cast of characters who negotiate an intricate web of identities–sacred and secular, racial and interracial, religious, and gender-based–and what, ultimately, it means to be Mexican. Set in the nineteenth century northern Mexico and the southern United States (like several of Alcalá’s succeeding novels, including Treasures in Heaven, which revisits some of Spirits’ central characters), the poignant themes recall twentieth-century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s own ideas on the I and the thou, the way we as humans make sense of and build connections with the people and creation of this world, differentiating between the physical experience of an object and the holy encounter of an other, a person, and ultimately the divine presence of God within us.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________

“memoir of the gate”: Candice Wuehle’s Aperture For Francesca Woodman

by Amy Penne

Books published in 2020 will live, like the films and TV shows we clung to, in a special corner of our collective memory. For bibliophiles, books felt lost in the shutdown shuffle because we couldn’t celebrate launches and readings; we missed browsing at bookshops and socializing at regional poetry festivals. Despite the challenges, books found their way to us at a time when literature expanded audiences across social media platforms. Poetry has possessed new readers and viewers and poets have given us new ways of accessing their work during the pandemic.  We may have sacrificed our shared experiences at bookshops and local libraries, but we read and relished even more books during lockdown. And some of us found a new addiction in the intimacy of poets-on-Zoom, including Candice Wuehle.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________

July 2021

Poems of Witness: An Examination of History and Cultural Complexity in Katherine Hollander’s My German Dictionary

by Nicole Yurcaba

Very infrequently is it that readers find a contemporary poetry collection that presents the past in such vivid imagery that readers feel they are entering the present. In poems spanning historical and philosophical relevance, Katherine Hollander’s My German Dictionary, instead of playing on the darkness and anger often stereotypically associated with German language and perhaps even German history, compactly yet gracefully weaves word play and photograph-like images to portray seemingly personal, yet universal, histories. By the collection’s end, the word plays and images culminate in a celebration of language, symbolic definition, and a defiant rally against literal and figurative death.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________

An Act of Recovery: A Review of New York Diary 

by Sean Singer

Tim Dlugos was turning 26 when he came to New York for the first time in 1976. His life was filled with gossip, art, sex, and danger. Dlugos’s books include Je Suis Ein Americano, Entre Nous, and Strong Place. In 2011 Nightboat Books published A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos, edited by David Trinidad. Now, Trinidad has edited Dlugos’s diaries. They give more context and insight into one of the most vital voices of the New York poetry scene in the 1970s and 80s, and show what it was like to be a young person in New York at that time. Dlugos was always a young person. He was never old. He died of AIDS at 40 in 1990.  Like his poems, Dlugos’s diary is overflowing with enthusiasm and disillusion. The dual nature of his life produced a humming tension in his best work that is unforgettable: a religious Catholic (and later Episcopalian) and a homosexual; a self-destructive alcoholic who nonetheless embraced sobriety; a pacifist and a militant; a minister of education to the poor and a Republican.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________

Pulling No Punches: A Review of Some Are Always Hungry, Jiyhun Yun

by Aline Soules

“For my mother & her mother & hers.” The dedication leads the reader to expect poems about women, feminism, and family, but this collection incorporates these themes into a larger canvas that addresses human struggle in the face of oppression, the need to emigrate, the challenge of adapting to a country with everything different—language, culture, perspective—and building some sense of belonging, however imperfect.  The book title, Some Are Always Hungry, suggests lack, but the opening poem, “All Female,” sets Yun’s women and feminist themes. It takes place in a night market lush with food—snails, eels, clams, cockles, crabs—described in rich language.  She describes the dismantling of a crab “still writhing”, the breast “pulsating.”  Turn the page and the poem turns.  “It’s always the girls...When was the last time you’ve heard / of rooster soup?”  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________

June 2021

Review of Poetic Encounters in the Americas: Remarkable Bridge 

by Lisa Low 

In Poetic Encounters in the Americas: Remarkable Bridge, poet and scholar Peter Ramos explores the tensions and affiliations between North, South, and Central American poets and their influence upon one another in the context of translation. The task requires an intellect of sufficient span and breadth to hold two continents together across geographical, cultural, and linguistic divides. Remarkable Bridge is a kind of monumental work of mind, for while there are many individual essays discussing affiliations between Hispanic and North American writers in translation, fewer tomes attempt making sense of the whole twentieth century picture and beyond in one fell swoop. Such is the intellectual bravery of Peter Ramos.   Read more >> ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________

“I am the son of almost nothing”: Review of Thrown in the Throat

by John Bonanni

According to some psychological studies (like the Adverse Childhood Experience study), Ben Garcia should probably be dead. And where one poet might compartmentalize their individual pieces of adversity into separate collections, Garcia, instead, tackles all of it head-on in an intersectional brush that breathes its full life into Thrown in the Throat, his debut collection chosen by Kazim Ali for the National Poetry Series. We first meet Garcia’s family in a poem consisting of three prose blocks, “On the Slight Cruelty of Mothers”:  “And when I watered her roses, she snuck up behind me, slipped a stem between her middle and ring finger, like a wineglass, stroking with her thumb the near open bud: wouldnt you like to have a dress as wonderful as a rose petal? Well, not you, digging her thumbnail into the flesh.”  These lines foreshadow an impending violence. The maternal figure in this poem becomes the signifier of this violence as it functions to create expectations for the speaker—among them, labor, good looks (You want to be a handsome boy)–all within the violent destruction of a child’s gift of watering his mother’s flowers. The mother, too, simultaneously engenders her son with a final expectation to “be a boy,” whatever that means to us queers. Rather than unconditionally supporting gender identity, or more to the norm, ignoring her child’s nonconformity, the maternal, here, exacerbates her child’s gender queering, which is its own violence.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________

Response to Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons From Marine Mammals

by Tom Griffen

Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ fascination with marine life started no different than anyone else’s. She visited an aquarium and bought the standard guidebooks—Audubon and Smithsonian—with the intention to learn more about water-bound animals categorized in the same scientific class as humans. The guidebooks, however, were wrought with all-too-familiar colonizing constructs of language, gender, ideology, and assumed patriarchy. Marine mammals had been misappropriated, misnamed, misunderstood, mistreated, and subjected to the capitalistic grab of white supremacy culture. Gumbs meditated on the unexpected affinity, then chose to look around and through the noxious murk of white power and ignorance. Then, using a scaffolding of self-compassion and care, she found an unexpected touchstone within the veneer—love. Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons From Marine Mammals, is Gumbs’ resulting quest for collective agency. Though the title may seem like a stretch (when before has Black feminism been aligned with marine life?) it quickly makes perfect sense. Undrowned’s wisdom transcends species.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________

May 2021

That Was Then: The New Time of Memoir in Meg Shevenock’s The Miraculous, Sometimes

by Robin Clarke

What does it mean to tell the story of one’s abuse as an uninterrupted act of creation? It means, in Meg Shevenock’s The Miraculous, Sometimes, to infuse memoir with a new kind of narrative time. We are familiar with the temporal structure of being haunted by the past. And we are familiar with the structure of testimony: telling a traumatic story in the past tense from a position of temporal distance. Shevenock’s book, which recounts the story of a male high school photography teacher’s sexual abuse of a female student, performs the telling of this trauma within a dynamic now: a present tense speaker who, when not narrating the events of the trauma, relentlessly finds what she calls miracles in the dust.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________

“How do you come to know Magic?”: Pam Grossman and the Witch Archetype

by Kari Adelaide Razdow

Anchored by myth and lore, the witch archetype is newly entering the limelight on her own prismatic terms, shaking off the dust of the past. Carl Jung reflects, “The ‘witch’ is a collective image.” Pam Grossman’s book, Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power, casts a torchlight on the shapeshifting archetype. Grossman herself embodies a wellspring of conjurer wisdom, presenting, in her own words, “an exploration of the archetype of the witch: meditations on her various aspects and associations, questions she’s conjured throughout my life, and lessons I’ve learned from walking the witch’s path.” Grossman’s enchanting constellation of the witch archetype includes prismatic, humorous, and charming personal epiphanies. By reflecting on her own experiences and by focusing on various resonant representations in music, art, films, and historical accounts, she considers how the witch is a nuanced symbol which escapes classification, undeniably ascending in popular culture, based on collective desire: “Our love affair with witches is nothing new...Hers is an identity that unconventional women, and female artists in particular, have voluntarily taken on in earnest, regardless of whether their witchcraft is literal or metaphorical.”  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________

I Have Built a Language: Stephanie Strickland’s How the Universe Is Made

by Philip C. Maurer

I have no history with Stephanie Strickland’s work. My reading of her new and collected poems from 1985-2019, How the Universe is Made, is the first time I have ever knowingly read anything she wrote. I have been given the heft of her decades in one fell swoop, and it feels solid and whole: a story well told, whose telling hasn’t ended.  Having not paid attention to the work’s unfolding, having in fact grown up simultaneously with this work, here are the threads I noticed, the through-lines: the persons of Simone Weil and Willard Gibbs, in conversation across decades and continents; the humanness, the softness of technological tools; a playfulness with words that does not condone carelessness; the landscape of New England; and throughout, a devoted looking and continuing to look.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________

April 2021

A Comfortable Haunting: (Dis)Connection in Tara Lynn Masih and James Claffey’s The Bitter Kind

by Emma Bolden

To read The Bitter Kind is to witness two writers who, in this slim 68-page volume, manage a marvel by beautifully performing two seemingly impossible tasks. First, Tara Lynn Masih and James Claffey write collaboratively, weaving together the stories of two characters: Stela, the daughter of an abusive ship’s captain, and Brandy, an orphaned boy searching for a community he can call his own. Both characters appeared in previously published works, Brandy in Masih’s Where the Dog Star Never Glows and Stela in Claffey’s Blood a Cold Blue, both published by Press 53. Collaborative writing, especially with existing characters, is tricky, to say the least; the resulting work can feel bifurcated, the collaborators’ styles separate and distinct. This is the first astonishing thing about The Bitter Kind: Masih and Claffey blend their styles so seamlessly that, aside from a very few turns of phrase, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between their voices.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

“To Take the Self Apart”: A Review of Natch by Sophia Dahlin

by Peter Myers

Natch, Sophia Dahlin’s debut poetry collection, opens with a coinage. The first poem in the collection, “Prismr of Love,” takes its title from an apparent portmanteau of “prisoner” and “prism.” A possible meaning of “prismr” spools out deductively: the word figures love as a force that simultaneously constrains and fractures, just as a prism splits a single beam apart to reveal the wavelengths of visible light. Within this light, to be held and to be opened becomes a single condition, appearing more like one or the other only via shifts in the angle of one’s view. Following this logic, we arrive at an inherent tension: what’s the difference between a smother and an embrace? Between release and disintegration? To be love’s prismr is thus to risk suffering along with joy, and in Dahlin’s collection, that risk is precisely what makes love so necessary. Natch ventures that to hurl oneself towards such risk is part of a commitment to a life built and shared with others, a politics originating at the most intimate scale. This terrain of love—particularly queer and non-exclusive love—is what Dahlin, in Natch, holds her eye and ear to. She revels in its joys and anguishes, its glints of a world arranged differently, in poems that veer with sudden tenderness and bustle with delight.  Read more >> ___________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

A Wish to Live Deliberately: Women of Strength and Self-Discovery in Jessie van Eerden’s Call It Horses

by Shannon Nakai

Fans of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, road trip narratives, evocative prose, or stories that feature strong female leads and deeply explore what it is to be human and to be happy will relish Jessie van Eerden’s latest novel, Call It Horses (Dzanc Books, 2021). Frankie is a thirty-something reluctant newlywed who, in letters to her dying aunt Mave’s deceased lover, recounts the story of her last days with Mave, as well as the story of herself. The novel brilliantly engages poetic reflections on loneliness, religion, sexuality, and womanhood, against the backdrop of American landscape spanning rural Arkansas to the dazzling southern desert. Throughout her novel, van Eerden juxtaposes the sacred with the profane: intimate, forbidden love stories shared in seedy diners that reek of stale beef and bleach; an aging atheist who flouts the God of her devout dead sister’s Bible, and the niece caught in the crossfires of love for both women and their ideologies; a poet-at-heart artist who can’t stop doodling genitals; letters to a beloved deceased mentor penned on a Dollar Store notepad. In the inescapable mundanity of everyday living, van Eerden’s women enter a brave new world of self-discovery, freedom, and happiness.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

March 2021

Here Where: A Review of Kei Miller’s In Nearby Bushes

by Jamie O’Halloran

In Nearby Bushes, Kei Miller’s fifth book of poems, is a stunning collection, symphonic in scope and structure. Miller asks the reader to consider place and name, how and what is named, and who does the naming. He directs the reader to consider these questions while showing us the devastation of homophobia, misogyny, colonialism, racism, and murder in prose and found poems and lush lyrics. Miller, who was born and raised in Jamaica, gives us two epigraphs that explain the book’s title. In the first, adopting a phrase from Jamaican blogger Paul Tomlinson, Miller sounds the tonic key of the collection:  Dem always escaping in nearby bushes. The epigraphs are followed by what may be taken as a dedication: “Here Where Once Lay the Bodies.” In the poem that precedes the collection’s first section, Miller lays out out a list of names, eight stanzas followed by a singlet.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

Sanctioned Poetries: A Review of Shira Dentz’s Sisyphusina

by Hayden Bergman

Shira Dentz, a 2011 Walt Whitman Award finalist, has published four full-length poetry collections prior to her latest collection, Sisyphusina, a book that moves in ways that most books don’t (or won’t) attempt. There’s an oft-repeated phrase, the poem enacts... — well, the poems in this book actually do. At its center, Sisyphusina is concerned with change—in particular, the changes undergone by a woman. This speaker endures shifting family dynamics, and the changes to her own body as she ages. She also faces criticism for not changing in ways expected of her, for not aligning herself with what Welter would call the “Cult of True Womanhood.”  Syntax and form factor into lack of conformity as the poems often resist the common poetic equation of more lines = more incident = more time passed. Instead, these poems often double-back in a way that recalls Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, though Dentz is more engaged in the politics, especially those of gender. Dentz even employs the ouroboros in the poem “Copy,” where the words “how does repetition affect meaning?” form a small circle on the page; the background is the electric light of photocopied hands, a personal image of crisscrossing lines, thin and wide, fine and seemingly cavernous. The image produced by the juvenile act — using a copy machine on body parts — effectively conveys a powerful emotion.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

Walking About Death: A Review of Donald Platt’s One Illuminated Letter of Being

by Kiran Bhat

On the surface level, One Illuminated Letter of Being is a collection of first-person poems from a narrator documenting the death of his mother, Martha. We see Martha on life support, she fades away, and then the narrator is left to mourn. The use of language is simple and colloquial. The lack of gab can superficially appear like a lack of aesthetic. This appears purposeful. Platt wants to confront a moment and be honest with himself, not necessarily impress with the pyrotechnics of his sentences. Whether the narrator is telling the reader of his uncle Frank dying “at the impossible age of one hundred and three,” or observing a “photograph of [his] mother leaning over [him] as [he lies] on [his belly],” the language is almost always ordinary, with no attempt at striking simile or winsome wordplay. Not everyone would like such a stripped-down style, but I found the quotidian-ness of the words immensely comforting. It’s akin to when someone speaks when they are not trying to impress but rather genuinely want to connect: sense-provoking, sometimes ego-evoking, but in reality, a straight line to one’s soul, with no questions, only answers. So a reader will often read these poems at first not because they’re impressed with Platt’s chops, but because they want to know Platt further.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

February 2021

The Futile and the Essential: A Review of Patrick Madden’s Disparates

by Rachel Rueckert

Patrick Madden’s latest essay collection, Disparates, embraces tradition and experimentation. The title comes from the Latin disparātus (separate, divide) and the Spanish disparate (nonsense, foolishness) and disparar (beyond reason, to throw violently). The message is playful, but clear: enjoy and don’t take any of this—or yourself—too seriously. This book celebrates the essay in the classic sense, then goes farther.  Disparates features plenty of recognizable aspects of an essay collection, such as recurring, reverential mentions of Montaigne, and a smattering of shout-outs to others: Aristotle, Lamb, Hazlitt, Dillard, Borges, and Nietzsche. And then Horace, impossibly credited with the quote, “Whoever smell’t it dealt it.” Here, as he does throughout the book, Madden uses humor to show his hyperconscious wielding of the essay form. He acknowledges but resists hierarchies. For every standard reference, Madden also has a Wikipedia entry, YouTube commentary, or Rush lyric ready.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

What Deserves To Grow Wild: Review of Twila Newey’s Novel Sylvia

by Amy Strauss Friedman

Twila Newey’s new novel Sylvia explores the constricting confines of religion, and the ways in which a deft and loving mother can help her children to find themselves both within and beyond this paradigm. The novel tells the story of the Taylor sisters (Mary, Roxcy, Eve, and Anna) who come together in the aftermath of their mother’s death from a car accident. The matriarch of a Mormon family in Utah, Sylvia (meaning “forest”) unites her four daughters in grief, just as she keeps them connected to each other in life. Sylvia weaves deep roots for her children to ensure that the world doesn’t have the power to destroy them, for “a grove is really just one tree.”  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

What Washes Away, What Remains: Reclamation and Revelation in Leila Chatti’s Deluge

by Rachel Mann Smith 

Leila Chatti’s Deluge is a dispersive prism of a book, refracting an illness the author experienced in her twenties—excess bleeding referred to as “flooding” by physicians—into examinations of faith, misogyny, desire, and shame. These themes have animated poems and prose across centuries, and in a lesser poet’s hands this collection might have suffered in its retread of such ground. But Chatti is no lesser poet. The lyric and narrative work of her first full-length collection coruscates against the dark of intersecting crises, one medical, one of faith, as she finds herself in a place where neither God nor doctors, whom we often confuse for gods, offer any reassurances. Read more >> _________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

January 2021

Traveling in the Undersong: Review of Marianne Boruch’s The Anti-Grief

by Arthur Solway

During these months of uncertainty, many of us have sought refuge in books that might signal hope or bring solace, perhaps to restore or fortify our already threadbare resolve. The Anti-Grief, Marianne Boruch’s new and eleventh collection of poems, just might be the book you’re looking for when uncertainty overwhelms and nerves are frayed. It is a book that not only reaffirms the singularity of Boruch’s oeuvre, but one that again generously invites us to look at and re-think the world as we know it—or think we know it—and then look again and listen as we puzzle out our unsteady present. “I give up the pencil, the walk in woods, the fog / at dawn, a keyhole I lost an eye to.”  Thus begins the opening poem, “Pieces on the Ground,” presented as a preface to this collection, separated from the carefully choreographed clusters of poems that follow. Here also she gives us a clear indication of her leitmotifs and what’s to come:  “By afternoon, the brain is box, is breath let go, a kind of / mood music agog, half emptied by the usual /   who am I, who are you, who’s anyone.”  Memories unspool as the mind’s tangled tapestry unravels, challenging what we think we know or understand. Those familiar with Boruch’s work will recognize her startling jump-cuts, which lead to further speculation, a move toward revelation—even those which might arise from misery or loss.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________

Mirrors, Wings, and Invented Things: Individualism and Otherness in Katie Farris’s boysgirls

by Nicole Yurcaba

What is the price of true individualism? One might, at first, answer “Individualism is priceless.” Then, one might reconsider the question and refocus on the word “price.” One then forms an equality: price is synonymous with cost, so now one might rephrase the question. What is the cost of true individualism? That question, for so many, has a different answer, or perhaps multiple ones. Katie Farris’ boysgirls presents the roots of such an equation by exploring the grotesque, the unimaginable in fairy tale-like snippets pieced together like the unmovable parts of a philosophical equation.  In Italo Calvino-like style, the collection begins with a letter to the reader, and, similar to Calvino’s If on a Winters Night a Traveler, specifically addresses the reader as “dear reader.” This simple address establishes the narrator as an authority, a guide, an expert. The narrator, however, does allow the reader free will with invitations of “Come giddy yourself atop these sheer drops. Come shake victorious with delirium tremens and carpe diem. Come frolic with bared teeth.” If readers aren’t questioning their choices by this point, most likely they will then turn the page and enter a realm where what the normal deems as grotesque is actually the new normal.  At its core, boysgirls is a challenge to conventional society and the constructs—gender, beliefs, traditions, mannerisms—that from birth are imposed on individuals. Stories like “mise en abyme,” which focuses on a girl whose mirror-face holds its own set of blessings and curses and finds her wishing for a mouth with which she can eat, open conversations not only about social limits and standards regarding physical appearance, but also about talents. While the girl’s ability to reflect others causes everyone to fall for her, the narrator poses “And why not? They think not of the irony.” In many ways, stories like this pose the classic chicken-and-the-egg question—but at a level that scrutinizes the traditions and social constructs passed down historically, even generationally, especially when those traditions and constructs begin destroying the individual and their free will. Read more >> ____________________________________________________________

Violent Inactions: Rage and Reclamation in Asiya Wadud’s Syncope

by Emily Wolahan 

Asiya Wadud’s Syncope is a pensive enunciation of incredible injustice. This visceral illustration of the refugee crisis reclaims space and attention and gives voice to those who are silenced. Syncope is a book-length dirge mourning those that died and survived the 2011 Left-to-Die Boat. Asiya Wadud inhabits the choral voice of the survivors and the dead as the poem moves through a hell-scape of fragmentation, abandonment, and fissure. Early in the collection, Wadud proposes the poem to be “a reckoning / a recitation / a dirge / an imprint.” The poem delivers all of these approaches. It lays blame, offers prayer, mourns, and becomes an object embedded in the mind of the reader. Wadud’s use of the dirge embraces its classical sense: its central goal is to lament those who have died, not console those who live. Using repetition and refrain Wadud takes us through a difficult story honoring those killed by lack of intervention. The Left-to-Die boat was an inflatable boat filled with seventy-four people from African countries, such as Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana, who boarded in Tripoli, bound for Europe, and experienced trouble at sea. Even though the duty to rescue those in distress at sea is an international law, and even though their boat was sighted by several vessels and authorities, they were left to die nonetheless. Nine people survived.  The Left-to-Die Boat was documented by Forensic Architecture, a multidisciplinary research group based at The University of London which uses design and architecture to investigate and deliver reports on human rights violations around the world to be used in legal proceedings and presented to the public. Testimony from a few of the nine survivors is integral to Wadud’s poem, and her generous “notes” section gives the reader opportunity to continue learning about this disaster. But Synocope is not reportage—Wadud channels the ancient to give epic resonance to the failure to protect life on the Mediterranean Sea. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________

December 2020

“This house will outlast:” Paranormal and Verbal Delights in Adam O. Davis’s Index of Haunted Houses

by Nicole Yurcaba 

In this mise en abyme of abandoned places, times, and people, readers first enter Americana via “The Bell System,” a poem that opens with calls to “Mary, Jane, and Pat,” simple names that recall a simpler time. The names invoked in this first poem, nonetheless, hold deeper allusions: “Mary” implies something wholesome and might refer to the Virgin Mary, while Jane means “God is Gracious”; when not separated by a comma, “Mary Jane” can refer to either the succulent peanut butter- and molasses-flavored taffy candy, or it can refer to the American slang term for marijuana. Similarly, “Pat” implies ambiguity, since the name “Pat” can serve as a diminutive of “Patricia” or “Patrick.” The poem then descends into disconnectedness, and the repetition of “When” in questions like “When will the stars rain down / like cheap plaster?” and “When will language / be little more than a dandruff shaken / from our heads?” creates a cyclical force, swirling readers into the miasma that literal disconnectedness perpetuates. The cyclical force eases, however, by the poem’s end, when “When,” like a hurricane’s eyewall, becomes replaced with “Who:” “Who is there? Who goes?” With these questions, the poem’s narrator sends the reader forth, into the paranormal, the suburban, the abandoned.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________

The Education of Angie Rubio: A Review of Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories

by Juliana Converse

Perhaps it is a benevolent mechanism of the mind, the amnesia we develop in adulthood that spares us detailed memories of our school days. Sure, we have a highlights reel, a few unsuspecting moments that form our overall impression of our childhood. But Donna Miscolta hasn’t forgotten. In fact, based on these thirteen stories, it seems she is still very much in touch with those first impressions children make of their world, and the convictions that follow. Living Color unfolds as a coming-of-age tale, told through a mostly close-third perspective of a Mexican-American girl growing up in the late 1950s and ‘60s. We follow Angie Rubio from her first day of kindergarten to prom night, each narrative movement a snapshot of small yet cumulative moments along her intellectual, emotional, and sexual development. Shaped by the energy of her times, Angie navigates the complex and messy structures of childhood friendships, alliances, and rivalries, with a laser perception of injustice in all forms. She learns to see the difference between herself and her peers, not just because of her brown skin, but also because she is an intelligent and keen observer of the world around her.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

Carrying Within You What You Choose to Leave Behind: A Review of If Mother Braids a Waterfall

by Aline Soules

From this, she moves out, as she did in the previous poem, into the natural world. “I’m Mormon...the way the deeply drowned tree / ghosting beneath the boat is still a tree” and “the way a sugar maple tapped of its sweetness / stretches its leaves to hold the sun.”   She refers to the opening litany again: “I’m Mormon...the way ham hock soup is still pork knuckle.” She refers to the title poem by reaching into space: “I’m still Mormon...the way an astronaut / watches from the cupola’s seven windows.”   Read more >> ___________________________________________________________

November 2020

An Avalanche on the Verge of the Tongue: A Review of Unsun: f/11

by Eric Stiefel

In Unsun: f/11, his intrepid, trailblazing fifth volume of poetry, American poet Andrew Zawacki lends his inimitable poetic voice to the task of welding together the various pressing possibilities and dangers of our contemporary “global pastoral.” Gone are the days of the uncharted, the carrier pigeon, the isolated, the quiet life. Here is the contemporary age: a panopticon of global surveillance, digital interference, and never-ending transnational communication that has become an inescapable part of our daily lives. How do we make sense of those lives? How does one raise a child? How does one process and portray the world around us faithfully—a world radically changed but still haunted by the eerie, lingering remnants of the old world? And how do we fight against, or even identify, the legions of unseen threats skulking at our doorsteps? These are the questions Zawacki sets out to answer in Unsun, a collection as daring as it is deft. Zawacki presents our global landscape changing into new, barely recognizable forms; the lyric, which we use to understand that unfolding, metastasizing foliage, must follow suit. Read more >> __________________________________________________________________________

A Listening Skull: Livingry

by A. Anupama 

I like this as a pet word: “maquillage.” This collection is so full of violet-eyeshadow words that I had to keep my dictionary on hand. Maybe that’s why Gracie Leavitt’s Livingry feels like the right collection for right now, a mode of rescue from the brackish flood of ultra-plain English instructions for living in and surviving through a time of botched pandemic response and political misadventure. In “A Viable Maquillage” the syntax twists and twists and effectively lashes together a life-raft tongue.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________________

Snakebites and Sky Hooks:  Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem

by Tom Griffen

First, a portion of “American Arithmetic” to set the tone: “At the National Museum of the American Indian, / 68 percent of the collection is from the United States. / I am doing my best to not become a museum / of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out. / I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible. / And also from the same piece: “I do not remember the days before America— / I do not remember the days when we were all here.” Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem is a plea to be visible. To be seen.  The book begins: “I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure snakebite, / can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this.” Stop here for a second. Take note of the way these lines breathe.  (No really, take note.)  And while you do this, imagine a river of air flowing into and out of you. Imagine this metaphor is not, in fact, a metaphor. Imagine, as Diaz says in “The First Water is the Body,” that river is “a verb. A happening.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________________

October 2020

“A flicker of wings and eyes”: Creation, Evolution, and Critique of Humanity in Yusef Komunyakaa’s Night Animals

by Nicole Yurcaba

When one acquires and reads a Yusef Komunyakaa collection, expectations range from the philosophical to the spiritual, from the musical to the political. In Komunyakaa’s beautifully collated Night Animals, readers receive not only the usual Komunyakaa fare, but also visual treats from artist Rachel Bliss, which add a Bosch-like bent to the collection. And while Night Animals, only 33 pages, might seem small, one must read the book once, twice, three times to access all this delightful chapbook has to offer—conversations about otherness, creation, destruction, evolution, as well as subtle critiques of humanity’s behavior.  Night Animals opens with “The Blue Hour,” a poem revisiting Creation as both an artistic and physical event. With its incorporation of Old World-themed images of horse-drawn buggies and Old Testament-informed images of  “red-eyed seventeen-year locust,” the poem weaves an impression of creation from chaos, communicated in the first stanza’s alternating indentations. In the second and third stanzas, however, the universe aligns itself, literally left, and the second stanza opens with “A flicker of wings & eyes” from mockingbirds arriving with “stolen songs / & cries, their unspeakable lies & omens” that are significantly more translatable than humanity’s slang-laden answers of “uh-huh & yeah” stammered in the third stanza. These minimal responses communicate that humans do not, and perhaps cannot, appreciate the intricacies of the natural processes unfolding around them.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________________________

Named for a Dead Sibling: Memoir and Literary Exploration in The First Kristin: The Story of a Naming

by Bernadette Murphy 

“What is the right time to announce you’re named after your dead sister?” asks Kristin Czarnecki, professor of English at Georgetown College, in her hybrid memoir/literary excavation into sibling loss, The First Kristin: The Story of a Naming. The author has known all her life that she is named for her sister, born eight and a half years before her but who died as a toddler. Though the fact that she’s named for her dead sibling doesn’t particularly bother her, friends and acquaintances seem creeped out by it. Their responses make her wonder about her sister, and question her feelings about this naming. “Have I been haunted?” she asks herself.  To answer this query, she launches two intertwined explorations: one into her sister’s story and how her death affected the family; and the other into literary figures like Virginia Woolf, Louise Erdrich, Anne Carson, Emily Brontë, Jean Rhys, Joy Harjo, and other writers who wrote about or were shaped by sibling loss. Read more >> _________________________________________________________________________________

The Struggle of Spirit: A Review of Refusal: Poems

by Aline Soules

Like the title of Jenny Molberg’s Refusal, the reader’s initial reaction is to refuse this agonizing, electric work because of the pain the “I” lays open.  But it’s impossible to stop reading because of the raw exposure and bravery that leap off the page.  The first poem, “Note,” begins the journey by laying out difficult themes: suicide, abuse, self-loathing. The poem juxtaposes lines like “marrying for safety (two kids, three dogs, dying cat),” “Papers signed and unsigned,” with “The woman who pasted her face / over mine in our photos / and mailed them as proof of their affair.” The “he” makes the “I” “smaller” by “cutting the air” around her, putting her in a box, origami-ing her, until she is as “small as a ring box,” where “...I nestle there. / I fold and fold.  I try to disappear.” The “I” participates in her own diminution, and oppression, in many forms, which is key to the work and collection title. The “I” doesn’t want to participate, but is compelled to do so. Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________

September 2020

Jewel of Anguish: Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Seeing the Body

by Katherine Hollander 

“The true subject of poetry is the loss of the beloved,” claimed the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. In Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s powerful fourth collection, Seeing the Body, that beloved is her mother, to whom the book is dedicated. This mother (and her life, illness, death, and memory) becomes the powerful vortex where many other vital subjects converge. Daughterhood and family, race and racism, sex and sexism, identity, mortality, the urgent question of America—all are caught in—and revealed by—the slipstream powered by the mother’s death and absence. These chthonic poems are mighty with a spine-cracking grief, a shrewd and wild gaze, and a tidal relentlessness that ebbs and flows but does not let up until the poems finally burst, at the very last moment, into a kind of peace. This is an ambitious project undertaken by a multi-talented author (the poems are accompanied by Griffiths’s own photographs), beautifully produced by a major publisher. As both an intellectual and a physical object, the book has heft. It rewards deep reading, demands critical scrutiny, and largely emerges triumphant.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________________________

“Even this brief thought is endless:” An Analytical Review of Dan Beachy-Quick’s Arrows

by Nicole Yurcaba 

Consider the materials from which an arrow can be made: wood, aluminum, carbon, fiberglass. Each material used to construct an arrow ultimately serves the arrow’s intended purpose. Now think of poems as arrows, gathered into a quiver for safe-harboring until their use. These poem-arrows rest, unused until the poet or reader takes one, places the poem-arrow’s nock against a figurative bow’s string, draws back, and takes aim. Dan Beachy-Quick’s collection Arrows is a quiver of differently constructed arrows, waiting for readers to choose which poem-arrow works best for them, their cause, their purpose, their existence. In this case, the choosing, and the firing is, fortunately, nonviolent, and instead of resulting in death, unnecessary maiming, or harmful penetration, the firing results in spiritual and intellectual rejuvenation, a quiet celebration of the self and a humble acknowledgement of existence’s perpetual confusion. In these quietly restless poems, readers find balanced oscillations between sparsity and fulfillment, the mythological and the real, the spiritual and the secular.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________

Breathing Record:  A Review of Edges & Fray

by Molly Bendall 

If you open Danielle Vogel’s book, Edges & Fray, a few pages in, you’ll see on the left-hand page three square photographs of birds’ nests, and on the right-hand side syntactical fragments including, “a book arrives in threads—.”  As the interrelation of nest-building and text-composing emerges, we become privy to these two undertakings. The photographs (taken by Vogel), functioning as windows, evoke the act of peering in to detect the nest builder’s methods. Some materials from the nest are in sharp focus while others appear blurry, suggesting the eye’s variable perception and movement. Vogel foregrounds the raw materials of her own writing with untethered lines and phrases hovering across and down the field of the page; punctuation marks behave like glyphs or illustrative jottings. She brings us close to her activity—an activity (like nest-building) that is often concealed and sequestered.  Read more >> ___________________________________________________________

August 2020

Conflicting Narratives and Shifting Identities in Laura van den Berg’s Latest Fiction

by Juliana Converse

Since briefly working with Laura van den Berg on a story of my own years ago, I have admired her flourishing career and devoured her work as it is released. She is one of those writers whose work makes me feel that I become a better writer myself through mere exposure. And I must admit, to my literary jealousy, I envy her prolific output and expertly crafted prose, which lifts off the page and haunts me for weeks. But I also take great pleasure in untangling the work through close reading and seeing her books reach new readers.  Van den Berg is known for detail-driven narratives in which the known world and magic happenings interweave. Her previous novel, The Third Hotel, set in a zombie film festival in Cuba, is rife with hauntings and omens. The exotic locale serves as a disorienting labyrinth for a woman who bumps into her supposedly dead husband. NPR declared that the novel would “get under your skin.” The Third Hotel earned van den Berg comparisons to Borges, Kafka, and Murakami by The Washington Post.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________

Just a Volcano Under the Ice: A Review of Kristina Andersson Bicher’s She-Giant in the Land of Here-We-Go-Again

by A. Anupama

With such a title as She-Giant in the Land of Here-We-Go-Again, maybe it would be best for you, the reader, to pull a blanket over your head and read in dim light, to try to see something with pure sight, undiluted by what you already know, undulating to the sound of another consciousness experiencing place, time, relationship, and memory. In this debut full-length collection by Kristina Andersson Bicher, poems travel through landscapes and personas and then back to the poet’s lyric, stitching together a she-giant’s quilt. Just like a quilt, this is a multi-fabric, patterned collection covering marriage/divorce, mental illness/wellness, myth/landscape, with a close attentiveness to feminine experience. Read more >> _______________________________________________________________

A Life in Shadow: A Review of Beautiful Raft by Tina Barry

by Amy Strauss Friedman 

Fiction overlays fact and past folds into present in Tina Barry’s prose poetry collection Beautiful Raft, an imagined narrative based on the real-life story of the relationship between artists Marc Chagall and Virginia Haggard in the mid-1940s. Upon moving to High Falls, New York, Barry and her husband discover that the lovers had lived five minutes away from their new home several decades earlier. This discovery inspired the author (also a visual artist) to contact Haggard’s daughter Jean McNeil, now a painter in her 70s and living in England, to discover more about their lives.  Barry imagines the story of Haggard and Chagall as a series of paintings, capturing on the page what she observes through visual art. In doing so, the author weaves together a series of vignettes of Haggard’s observations and heartaches. Through Barry, Haggard narrates the life she aims so urgently to erase. Each prose poem stands on its own, a credit to Barry’s deft writing skills, and yet, when taken together, creates for the reader a representation of a life lived in shadow. Beautiful Raft is painting through poetry.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

July 2020

The Interiority of the Mined Earth and Its Inhabitants: A Review of The Sea Came Up & Drowned.

by Tracy Zeman

The Sea Came Up & Drowned, Rachel Jamison Webster’s fourth book, is a collection of poems extracted from John McPhee’s Pulitzer Prize winning nonfiction book Annals of the Former World. Webster’s “mined” poems are about actual mining, and how through excavation humans have gained knowledge about the earth’s interior and its geological deep history, but have in that process exploited or destroyed landscapes, ecosystems, peoples and nonhuman species that dwelled on those mined lands. The Sea is a book concerned with both the “surface” and the “interior,” geology’s slow machinations—faulting, subduction, compression, and humans’ fast extractions of oil, gold and natural gas. The collection meditates on our own “surface” and “interior” lives in love and loss, and our relationships to the natural world and one another. Read more >> ________________________________________________________________

How We Is: A Review of We Is by Sami Miranda.

by Dimitri Reyes

One cannot deny the sheer artistic prowess of Sami Miranda and his debut collection, We Is. As a multidisciplinary artist, educator, Program Manager/ Curator and Board Member of the non-profit institution, The American Poetry Museum, it is no question that this book would mirror how Miranda uniquely functions in the world. Given all his involvements in various communities, some may ask where the poet would find the time to write such a collection. But those questions are answered when readers perceive these poems as a careful culmination of many recalled memories and histories of those souls who have made an impression on Miranda.  A testament to a life still living, We Is speaks plainly while communicating with elements of the musical and visual arts. And he is onto something. Many who appreciate poetry and partake in poetry events may criticize the current state of poetry bookshelves at their local Barnes and Noble, because the store’s already sparse inventory is laden with a slew of authors who have received critical acclaim via their social media follow counts. Nonetheless, one cannot deny their work’s connection to the general public, and that has to do with the quick energy and easily digestible diction that often includes the accompaniment of sound and colorful or moving images. In many ways, We Is holds court between what is working for the social media poets and those in the more traditional literary sphere.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

Make Holy What You Can: A Review of Kelly Grace Thomas’s Boat Burned.

by Kimberly Ann Priest

In Boat Burned, Kelly Grace Thomas revisits many of the themes that are familiar to poetry written by women as well as about women’s lives, such as marital expectations, body image, self-loathing, romantic desire, and parent-daughter connection. In her own skilled language, Thomas likens her speaker to a vessel, or boat—a female body that “has always been a window [she] can’t throw [her]self from,” against which “[g]enetics is a mean hammer.” The speaker is “a board in a fence that waits for men to kick it in” until she becomes “the smallest vessel [she] can steer.” Each poetic phrase remembers how women are often altering their physical and emotional selves to conform to the shape of whatever force gales them away in its powerful opinions and needs—an often explored feminist theme.  So, what makes this book different? The fact that Thomas (a white woman), as understood through her book’s speaker, married someone from the Middle East—a Persian named Omid—and this makes her journey through these female themes decidedly unique, since their narratives converge in shared trauma. As a Persian in a predominately white culture, Omid is viewed by his surroundings as a possible threat. In this same white culture, Thomas’s speaker is quickly assessed for her flaws, failures to measure up to American ideas of womanhood and associated physical expectations. Together, they understand what it is like to be othered in white American mainstream.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________

June 2020

Emergence: A Review of Veronica Golos’ GIRL.

by Gary Worth Moody

Once, several years ago, on the mesa between Tetilla peak and the Santa Fe River gorge, I saw what I believe to this day was a wolf running. I believed at the time the creature was male. Now I am certain there was a girl inside. This new conclusion stems from having finished reading (and studying) Veronica Golos’ wonder, entitled GIRL from 3:A Taos Press.  Few poets allow their readers to inhabit persona as completely as does Golos. GIRL is a masterpiece of shifting linguistic space and time. The space of the narrative defies topology. Time becomes rhythm becomes jazz. The music morphs from species to species. The lyric becomes prayer, becomes rant, becomes an evolutionary triptych. Every gender on the planet should go buy this book and read it: to each other, to their lovers, to their daughters, to their sons, to their parents, to their husbands, to their wives, to their priests, even to their shamans. There are truths inside. Inside every wolf is a girl. Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

The First Rule of Rock Tumbling: A Review of Jessica Jacobs’s Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going

by Dana Roeser

In Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, poet Jessica Jacobs has engaged with a project that many poets would fear to undertake and some prospective readers might fear would be too straightforward and predictable. This book charts the narrator’s love for her wife-to-be—the long prelude and eventual marriage. In poem after accomplished poem, we are taken from the poet’s childhood, to the evolution of her sexuality, her restless early adulthood, and the introduction to her wife-to-be—whom she basically avoids becoming deeply involved with for six years—their compressed courtship period (in which they make up for lost time) and subsequent elopement, their early marriage—with ecstasy and conflict, and then a test in the form of a serious medical problem. None of this feels linear or predictable, in subject or in form. As an advocate of surprise (and probable sufferer of ADD), I can assure you that at no point does one want to start reading from the back or riffle through in search of something different in order to change things up. We are in the competent hands of a talented and versatile poet.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

Indestructible: Christina Chiu Gives Us A New Literary Heroine.

by Juliana Converse

What would a mashup of Carrie Bradshaw, Madame Bovary, and Twiggy look like? Christina Chiu, author of Troublemaker & Other Saints, appears to have imagined such a character in her new novel, Beauty, winner of the James Alan McPherson Award. From watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a child, Amy Wong’s responsibilities tangle with her desire to be a famous designer—of clothes and of her own life. Each chapter marks a formative era in Amy’s life, progressing chronologically. With each intimate snapshot in the present tense, the reader is dropped into a new setting alongside a new, but familiar Amy. Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

May 2020

War and Aftermath: Bruce Weigl’s Expanding Aesthetic

by John Amen

With his new collection On the Shores of Welcome Home, Bruce Weigl brings his expansive proclivities to a striking culmination, the poet balancing fervor and reserve, trepidation and aplomb, indignation and acceptance. In poem after poem, Weigl reexamines his Vietnam experiences, post-war realities, and the perennial effects of PTSD, offering commentaries on human nature, history, and the mystical life.  Read more >> ___________________________________________________

Poems of Place: A Review of Arthur Sze’s Sight Lines

by Veronica Golos

Arthur Sze’s tenth book of poetry, Sight Lines, has just won the 2019 National Book Award (NBA). An honored poet with notable accolades (he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his 2009 book, The Ginkgo Light), his newest collection has already garnered high praise in interviews and reviews. Sight Lines has, at its center, a series of poems which connect us to New Mexico (where he has lived since 1972 and currently teaches as Professor Emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe). In “Black Center,” he writes, “when the last speaker of a language dies/a hue vanishes from the spectrum of visible light,” a stinging line referencing New Mexico where there are 23 Indian tribes: nineteen Pueblos, three Apache tribes, and the Navajo Nation. Original language here is crucial, both for continued culture and survival. Read more >> _________________________________________________________

Life is an Incurable Virus: Motherhood in the Age of Collected and Collective Fear

by Amy Strauss Friedman

What a time to read Megan Merchant’s new poetry collection, Before the Fevered Snow. I’ve been hunkered down in my house for five weeks now, waiting for the vicious COVID-19 pandemic to pass. Sacrificing for others. Doing my part in the face of fear, pain, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Merchant’s book addresses all these feelings through the lens of motherhood. To be a mother is to harbor collective and collected fear. To be a person in today’s climate requires the same. Life is an incurable virus, or rather its only cure is death. As humans in today’s world, and those of us who are mothers always, we fight against this cure for as long as possible, to say nothing of all other predators aside from the virus. School shootings. Illness. Injury. Merchant’s work assures us these worries never abate, and that they never should. That vigilance and concern keep us rooted in love. That motherhood requires it of us.  Read more >> _______________________________________________________

April 2020

Muscling Meaning into Days: A Review of Adam Clay’s To Make Room for the Sea

by Jane Zwart 

In the poem “Understories,” Adam Clay writes, “Say observation / is the kindest of all actions,” and, in context, these lines are less a command than an experiment—which is good, because I think experience disproves the hypothesis: there are greater kindnesses than observation. At the same time, observation is a precondition for kindness. And in Adam Clay’s new volume of poetry, To Make Room for the Sea, readers will see just how fluently attentiveness can morph into kindness. Indeed, Clay converts his powers of observation to a force of love. Because these poems pay such inquisitive and gentle attention to the rooms through which the writer moves, to the faces and phrases he happens upon, they illuminate what the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson calls the “dear ordinary.” To find the ordinary dear—it is a more difficult task than one might guess. It is also, undoubtedly, a nudge toward kindness.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

Deluged: A Review of SWOLE, by Jerika Marchan

by Brett Belcastro 

Is SWOLE a single poem or a collection? A coherent book exploring a single theme, or an experimental attempt at dislocation and sensory overload? The answer is: yes. At times, SWOLE is inaccessible, even illegible. Reading between the lines is more rewarding, and reveals a kind of logic or sense behind Marchan’s disjointed composition-by-field: to get across its feeling, its meaning, its unique kind of literary prowess, SWOLE needs to jolt its readers out of a strictly literary headspace. If anything, Marchan’s work tries to meld the written word with oral tradition, an urgent task in the face of the disasters (environmental and personal) that SWOLE presents. Writing preserves a kind of memory, while the songs, bars, and snatches of dialogue that she captures demonstrate an organic communal response to disaster. As the early years of the Anthropocene give way to the continuous, river-like flow of disaster and communal collapse, Marchan charges readers with the urgent task of understanding and preserving the everyday lives of those who might have no other advocate. Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

Something is About to Happen: A Review of Space Struck by Paige Lewis

by Philip C. Maurer

Begin before the beginning.  As an epigraph to their recent collection Space Struck, Paige Lewis offers this passage from Book XIV of Ovid’s MetamorphosesSo while they journeyed up that sloping road,/ the Sibyl told her story to Aeneas; / they exited the underworld at Cumae,/ and there Aeneas offered customary / sacrifices, then landed on the shore / that, as yet, did not bear his nurse’s name.  And, not to spoil anything, but there it is: the arc of this collection, with its themes of naming, meaning-making, and arriving home.  Lewis takes on the persona of a modern-day Sibyl, a seer, an oracle, and in Space Struck this sibyl tells her story.  The reader gets the sense that the narrator’s encounters with God, with St. Francis, with foxes, stars, and spider plants, are not imaginings, but have actually happened.  They have something to teach us, some way forward on this sloping road, even if we can’t yet name the place we’re going to.  Of course, it frightens us to acknowledge the prophetic, let alone admit that we seek the prophet’s guidance.  So, give prophecy line breaks.  Call it poetry.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________

March 2020

Rediscovery of Life, Love, and Grace: A Review of Sonja Livingston’s The Virgin of Prince Street: Expeditions into Devotion

by Adrian Gibbons Koesters

In The Virgin of Prince Street: Expeditions into Devotion, a collection of essays part faith memoir, part investigative journalism (though much else as well), Sonja Livingston admits that her return to the Catholic Church was what she ultimately could not continue evading. As she says, “The question is not why I left...The question is why I returned.” But while Livingston does not shy away from aspects of the Catholic Church that are and have been damaging to many, she finds that there is nothing remotely ruined about the Catholic faith. To appreciate these essays, the reader must accept this premise. I came to these essays having once met the author, whose nonfiction I have greatly admired. I didn’t know until shortly before The Virgin of Prince Street was published that she is now a practicing Catholic. As someone who has struggled to stay within the Catholic Church because of my faith in the truth it declares, I approached The Virgin of Prince Street seeking comfort. Instead, I encountered grace. Read more >> ______________________________________________________________________

High Visibility in the Queer Polar Vortex: A Review of Sara Goodman’s Starfish

by Freesia McKee

Sara Goodman’s Starfish begins in a polar vortex. The speaker lives in Chicago where, “The Northern Lights cast orange on a/network of lakes in Northern Finland.//Dip the entire thing/into an ice cold lake.//That new new.” I am reading the book on a park bench in Miami. It’s late July, humid. Green parakeets squawk above. Here in South Florida, many of my friends have never even seen snow, but I grew up in the Midwest, so I can feel the heft of Goodman’s chilly scenes in my bones. “The shape of my life has changed again./The arctic caps have melted, only a matter/of time now.//All things move/but this is a lot,/considering the span.” A major theme of Starfish is loneliness, apartness. The polar vortex itself is a metaphor for isolation, contemplation. A polar vortex: so cold that work is cancelled, so cold that you shouldn’t even step outside. The poems in Starfish spill into one another fluidly. There are no individual titles, perhaps because the book is a single, extended poem. Sometimes it seems a scene is a memory or flashback. Goodman cues at least a few dream sequences. Some poems seem to take place in the present. A polar vortex is often preceded by a blizzard, but ironically, a polar vortex can render an atmosphere of full visibility.   Read more >> ______________________________________________________________

John McCarthy’s Flyover Country is All of Us: A Review of Scared Violent Like Horses

by Dion O’Reilly

When I shared a poem from Scared Violent Like Horses to a friend who has extensively traveled the United States, she immediately placed the setting. There are thirty-six townships named Springfield in the United States, but the imagery in Scared Violent Like Horses is distinctive enough to render the town of John McCarthy’s youth recognizable. This sophomore collection of poetry— winner of the Jake Adam York Prize and published by Milkweed in March 2019— combines a vivid and often-exquisite depiction of the midwestern landscape with the trauma of poverty, abandonment, and coming of age. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________

February 2020

Impermanence and Racial Otherness in Jim Warner’s Actual Miles

by Marilynn Eguchi

Actual Miles, Jim Warner’s newest collection of poetry, is a moving compilation of diverse pieces reflecting experiences of a hybrid identity, life in transition, addiction, romance, and mortality. The culmination of which reveals an overwhelming familiarity with the ebb and flow of impermanence. Impermanence pervades this collection, whether present in the form of a challenge, a question, or an echo that simply exists in the background as a reminder that nothing is forever. Warner uses verse, prose, and altered forms of complex prescribed structures to communicate that change, good or bad, is inevitable. The book is broken up into ten segments of varying forms and lengths, each separated by a vivid, fragmented, and untitled poem.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

The Most Important Word: A Review of Michele Bombardier’s What We Do

by Tom Griffen 

What we do: a statement and question. The sorts of ways we interact with life and death, delights and tragedies, privilege and lack of access. As in, we do what we do. How we require each other. How everything, everything, can be witnessed as sin, blessing, or nothing at all.  Michele Bombardier’s first book, What We Do, is a weighty meditation on the events of a life, possibly hers. Its fifty-six works in three sections cover an array of subjects including sickness and death, family and religion, white privilege, and a glimpse into the poet’s other career as a speech language pathologist. The glue holding everything together is empathy, a universal human reflex.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________

Personal Narrative in Lynne McEniry’s some other wet landscape and the work of Lucille Clifton and Dorianne Laux

by Pamela Hirschler 

Dylan Thomas defined poetry as “the rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an over-clothed blindness to a naked vision.” In her debut poetry collection, some other wet landscape, Lynne McEniry holds a command of narrative and syntax that moves through time and place from “blindness to vision.” Tension builds and releases in the plain-spoken rhythms of the human condition in this collection with minute details of loss, grief, survival, memory, family, love, regret, and childhood trauma: all themes seen through the lens of the female experience. McEniry’s book is written in the tradition of powerhouse women poets like Lucille Clifton and Dorianne Laux, all three poets whose work explore common themes and use threads of personal narrative that lead to insight and discovery. McEniry’s poems exist both as elegy for past life experience and as a celebration of survival.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________

January 2020

Fully There: Jessica Laser’s Literary Mediations of an Experience

by Amanda Auerbach

The first time I heard Jessica Laser read from Sergei Kuzmich From All Sides at the “No Fair Fair” at AWP in 2019, I could tell that each memorized word was carefully weighed. I and the rest of the audience could also tell that the poems were funny. Humor notwithstanding, I was struck by the sincerity and thoroughness of the speaker’s project, shared by multi-perspective nineteenth-century novels and cubist paintings, of reflecting on a single experience from as many sides as possible.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________

Turning Over of Self: A Review of Tamara Zbrizher’s Tell Me Something Good

By Jesse Burns

Tamara Zbrizher’s striking debut, Tell Me Something Good, opens with a refreshing confession of ignorance: “I don’t know what it’s called/one of those hanging house plants.” The conversational tone welcomes the reader in and invites humor. This poet is no wiser than the rest of us and the plant could be the one hanging in our own hallway. As Zbrizher’s many identities as immigrant, mother, teacher, wife, daughter, poet, lover, and survivor unfold and overlap throughout her work, the poems reveal themselves to be about the shared human experience of transformation. We are in constant flux, grappling with expectations, our contradictions, uncertainties, and instability.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________

Behold Thy Little Kings: On Joseph Harrington’s Of Some Sky

by Brett Belcastro

Joseph Harrington’s collection Of Some Sky is a highly organized mess, and he wants you to know it. In its first poem, “Earth Day Suite,” schoolchildren stage a play that describes the onset of the Anthropocene, serving as a wonderful introduction to Harrington’s vibrant and chaotic world in the poems that follow. “How doth the cold war never stop the corn genetic junkyard / where it never springs, / flower-hoovered tanks in Prague, Father Jesse cryin ‘cause / he shouldn’t cut off his nuts,/ or all the ponzis and the panzers we forgot? Aw, chill, / America: behold thy little kings.” Read more >> _____________________________________________________________

December 2019

Mutual Absence: A Review of John James’ The Milk Hours

by Jane Zwart

John James is a collage artist. He cuts and pastes, making neighbors of images across continents, across centuries. He “disrupts” (his word) extant images, in order to predicate echoes between them; he arranges slices of the past into tectonic plates, into double exposures, into quilts and arguments. This is true of his visual art, but his poetry is collage, too.  In fact, a reader need look no further than the second poem in James’s first book, The Milk Hours, to see collage overtly at work. In “History (n.),” Plato’s Phaedo, which tries to lasso the soul, keeps company with Anne Carson’s Nox, which tries to corral grief into an origami enclosure. Nietzsche, Hegel, and Haruki Murakami lend the poem phrases, too.  Read more >> ______________________________________________

Love Bites: On Sandra Cisneros’ Puro Amor

by Eric Rubeo

Companionship, loss, motherhood, and the many other forms love takes features in the thematic foreground of Sandra Cisneros’ Puro Amor. Republished and bound as a chapbook with the addition of Liliana Valenzuela’s Spanish translation and never before seen sketches by the author, Puro Amor itself portraits a kind of triptych: English on the left pages, Spanish on the right, both supporting, and enriched by, wispy drawings interspersed throughout the text of, presumably, canine companions belonging to the story’s central character: Frida Kahlo.  Only Puro Amor’s Frida Kahlo is not famous. Called only “the Missus” or referred to as “Mrs. de Rivera,” the Frida Kahlo of Puro Amor is ailing and quiet, relegated to an assistant’s role beneath her famous and powerful, yet emotionally frail husband. Even under the Mister’s thumb, the Missus carves her own identity, literally by her dabbling in self-portrait, but also figuratively by her tending to a zoo-like collection of animals when she feels she should be tending to him. With that identity she harnesses the power to both love and resist him. What is true love? the text begs to ask, and between human and animals perhaps it offers an answer. But between two humans the mud is thick.  Read more >>


“A Koan in my Mouth”: A Review of Jennifer Franklin’s No Small Gift

by Rebecca Doverspike

After reading each poem in Jennifer Franklin’s No Small Gift, I had to put the book down for several moments before picking it back up again—the power and urgency in each poem feels like paint still wet, like one is encountering a vibrant, concentrated intimacy in the making. Setting the book down for a moment felt like honoring, not turning away—these poems hold impact.  The collection opens with a stunning poem that provides a contextual frame for what follows, through negations: “(Not) a Love Story.” “The man who wanted us to take vows / in church did not give me a disease // that bloomed into malignancy. / My doctor, his colleague, did not help // him hide it. Another surgeon did not / take a long slice of my tongue.” This poem articulates the predicament from which the rest will unfold from Franklin’s experience with tongue cancer whilst parenting a daughter with autism. “…I did not wait five years to admit I still / have a body nor seven to be loved // for the first time. He will not always want / my scarred neck under his wrist.” By writing this poem through negation, we at once understand how such circumstances feel unbelievable and yet are undeniably real.  Read more >> _______________________________________________

November 2019

A Primer for Beauty and its Many Foils: Lia Purpura’s First Adventures in Beauty

by Caleb Curtiss

“Once, a friend reacting to a tickle on her arm, saw she had smacked a lacewing—green filigreed and sheer as a breath. ‘You’re so beautiful, I’m sorry,’ she said, before finishing it off. As if its beauty might have saved it.” So begins Lia Purpura’s First Adventures in Beauty, published in 2016 in a limited print run edition and made available this year as an eBook by the experimental indie outfit, See Double Press. An experiment with collage, erasure, essay, and poetry, the book expands on territory Purpura has explored in her previous eight collections of poetry and essays. The net effect of this creative inmixing reads as much as a meditative art object as it does a book. Purpura’s lyrical bursts of insight and anecdote appear over the pages of a children’s geology textbook treated with a heavy layer of whiteout, save for the instances in which she leaves short passages unobscured. This selective erasure offers a poignant tonal counterpoint to Purpura’s moving examination of beauty and disgust. Amid a treatise on common perceptions of slugs in which Purpura observes, “A slug also catches the eye, refracting sunlight like a prismy tear—which we meet with no desire at all—no urge to scoop up and place under a silvery leaf,” appears an unredacted portion of her source text that reads simply: “a specimen that does not fit the description.” Purpura draws attention to this moment by framing the unredacted text with cut-out images of a scorpion fly on one side and a hummingbird on the other.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________

Denied Pasts and Invented Tethers: Artis Ostups’ Gestures

by Jacob Schepers Perhaps for some readers and writers, modernist literary sensibilities haunt. It can haunt in the way it reemerges from the supposed crypt of history. It can haunt in the way it feels, so often, as if it never really left. A third kind of haunting, though difficult to imagine, occurs as a lacuna—of feeling that which never quite materialized, but sensing that it should have, and maybe even will.  In his third collection, Gestures [Žesti], Latvian poet Artis Ostups channels the modernist cityscape and populates its town square with such ghosts as Arthur Rimbaud, Franz Kafka, and Walter Benjamin. Ostups himself acts in the classic role of the flâneur, the impassioned wanderer strolling about the city. Throughout the book, comprised exclusively of prose poems, he signals to us that we are free to join him, if we wish, but only in the most passing of invitations.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________

“Get Ready for the Secret of Your Life”: Hawk Parable by Tyler Mills

by Philip C. Maurer

I think of Jesus, the circuitous way he wove images together to explain to his disciples things they hadn’t seen, but he had.  It’s like this, and then also: it’s like that.  I imagine the disciples nodding, their desire to understand so ingenuous, so severe, that they almost convince themselves they do understand.  And in the next moment, as they scatter their separate ways, each one carries his own set of images from their teacher’s exposition.  The answers have jumbled together.  They seem to have lost their meaning.  But all they have lost is their hard edge of certainty.  Now, the questions gleam brighter than before.  Hawk Parable is like this.  A pastiche of locations, of first- and second- and third-hand observations, it is daydream as much as elegy.  It veils its hunt for truth in the guise of a birdwalk.   Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________

October 2019

On, Of, In the Heartland: A Review of The Boneyard, The Birth Manual, A Burial: Investigations into the Heartland by Julia Madsen by Travis Sharp

In Julia Madsen’s debut collection, The Boneyard, The Birth Manual, A Burial: Investigations into the Heartland, she presents scenes of a heartland town in precarity: the local economy, dependent on a meat packaging plant, has lost that anchor: “When the factory shut down, / everybody knew. Without saying. It was only a matter / of time. Some of us would be handed / over. To time” (55). This being handed over to time, to its vicissitudes and assailing vagaries, this being subjected to the violence of the changing times, this sense of laborers being thrown out of the present from being deemed surplus population: these are the scenes Madsen gives us. Through poems reminiscent of Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead,” Madsen weaves together interview quotes from meat packaging plant workers, descriptions of the landscape rendered in prose poetry, a haunting narrative of revenge and desperation from factory workers with no factory to work in. The workers’ words, so familiar to those of us from working class families, repeat one another, reinforcing the expense of poverty, the inescapable violence of money: “I just wish there was no such thing as money to an extent. / ‘Cause it hurts my kids, it hurts our family. / Can’t always get what you want, and I know that, / but it’s just hard sometimes” (73).  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________________

What Do Atypicals Dream?: A Review of NOS (disorder, not otherwise specified)

by Joseph Harrington

Aby Kaupang and Matthew Cooperman, both accomplished poets in their own right, have joined their talents to create a remarkable book that gives the lie to the notion that non-conventional writing is devoid of affect. Indeed, it’s a punch to the gut – multiple punches – not least because of the way it tells its story. At the same time, these are extremely inventive writers, who understand the syntactical unit as a unit of sound and of thought, and the page as a field of action. NOS is a difficult book to characterize. In part, this is because of its mixed-genre nature: it includes prose, verse, dialogue, pictures, facsimiles. But it is also because it is a book raises so many interlocking issues so deftly in such a short space. On one level, NOS is about Kaupang’s and Cooperman’s daughter Maya and their struggles to find help for her and better understand her. We find out that she is, depending on which specialist you talk to, profoundly autistic, developmentally delayed, dysphasic, or a slew of other diagnoses that are “not otherwise specified” – that is, of little or no descriptive or prognostic value. The authors do not spare both the grueling physical and emotional details of caring for Maya at home. And the family’s journey through the medical institution charts a maze of different physicians and health care professionals, referrals, medications, trips, and filling out forms, forms, forms. The structure of the book reflects this journey, designating the various sections as “floors” of a hospital (e.g., “Floor One: Critical Care” and “Floor Two: Diagnostics”).  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________________________

Music Within Uncompromising Landscapes: A Review of Jennifer Militello’s Knock Wood

by Adrian Gibbons Koesters

It is tempting to believe that where lives have gone wrong, it is possible to find an early, inciting incident, which, if only the holder of memory can get to, articulate, and integrate, meaning and therefore optimism can be restored, and the good world can regain its center. Jennifer Militello’s lyric memoir, Knock Wood, puts paid to that difficult but comforting story. Readers of Militello’s breathtaking poetry will delight in the lavish employment of lyric and unstinting self-disclosure in this beautifully written work. Those looking for more balanced presentation of the culpable and the innocent may be less satisfied with that aspect of the narrative. Still, we are at the mercy of fate when we choose badly, as she asserts, and choosing our own end is often the worst of choices. For my reading of Knock Wood, this is, like all real redemption, the most costly but the only authentic meaning and experience of the word. The rest is, as they say, pure poetry.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________________________________

September 2019

Deafness and Silence as Weapons of Resistance or Scapegoats?: On Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic

by Shannon Nakai

Fifteen years after Tupelo Press released his first collection of poetry, Ilya Kaminsky delivers a stunning interplay of poetic structures and voices in Deaf Republic. His latest work is a collective narrative recounting the events that follow the murder by soldiers of a local deaf boy. Told through multiple lenses in fragments, elegies, sign language, and prose and narrative poems, the villagers of Vasenka meet brutality with resistance in the form of deafness. Led by puppeteers Alfonso and his pregnant wife, Sonya, “Our country woke up next morning and refused to hear soldiers.” After Alfonso and Sonya’s executions, the insurgency is further enacted by puppet theater owner Momma Galya, and deafness, which functioned initially as a weapon, is transmuted into a form of cowardice and passivity when turned upon the very people it was initially barricading. An indictment against inaction, the blind eye—or deaf ear, in this case—leads to the erasure not only of human lives, but of humanity itself. To echo the haunting refrain that abandons any figurative illustration: “The body of a boy lies ... like the body of a boy.” The motifs of deafness and silence are seamlessly paired via their cause-and-effect relationship, as well as the motif of watching—the speakers’ desperate appeal for a witness and judgment. As different speakers issue prayers to God, the ultimate witness and judge, so does Deaf Republic call forth a witness—to listen.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________________

A Lyric Confluence in Fluid States by Heidi Czerwiec

by Freesia McKee 

There’s a lot of talk these days about books as “projects,” so it’s refreshing for me to read a collection that takes more of a mosaic approach. As its title indicates, Heidi Czerwiec’s Fluid Statesexists in a bricolage mode where the components of these lyric essays rise into each other.  The collection begins with a chapbook-length set of meditations on perfume. Czerwiec is a perfume connoisseur (my purchase of this book at AWP was accompanied by a small vial of perfume, which I happily put into my pocket, but which promptly slipped away). Before I go any further, I should admit this up front: I have a terrible sense of smell. Decades of allergies and prescription nose sprays have robbed me of most olfactory pleasures. The essays about perfume, however, are in a way really about loss, about ephemerality. As a person who longs to smell something, it surprised me that even super smellers experience loss.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________

Reconciling and Re-imagining a Classic: On Amy McCauley’s Oedipa

by Margaryta Golovchenko 

Amy McCauley’s approach to Oedipus Rexoffers not just her own take on the classic but also a modernized update to the plot and the work’s form, creating a “poetic play” that reimagines Sophocles’ tragedy with an all-female cast. McCauley’s work tells the story of Oedipa, an adolescent girl who fights for independence from those who seek to control her, mapping a trajectory of manipulation that questions the boundaries between relationships, and whether freedom must come with a price tag. Brilliantly designed and brought to life by Emily Juniper’s illustrations, Oedipaprovides detailed stage directions through visuals and words, as well as an “index of objects” and a diagram for each of the four acts at the end of the play, to the point where someone could walk in tomorrow and begin preparing a production.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________________________

August 2019

Garden as Whiteboard: Emmalea Russo’s G

by Erika Howsare

The world lives in a garden. Within it is found human intention and vegetative indifference; order and chaos; a portion of space, bounded by mental definition, inside which time unfolds, gathering matter into the forms of leaves and fruits, then breaking them back down into particles. In Emmalea Russo’s G, the garden also becomes a place to observe the evolution of language, the overlay of mind on the work of the body, and the theater of relationship, where two people have disparate experiences, although they are side by side.  Russo almost entirely avoids the conventional poet-in-the-garden stance in this book, her first. I say “almost” because she does allow the reader to glimpse, in occasional brief slivers, the progression of a season from spring through fall.  But there are no sensuous swelling tomatoes in this book, no tender seedlings, no pat lessons about humility or patience drawn by a thoughtful poet-gardener embodied in a stable “I.” This is a project of a different kind—an abstract investigation of mind and language, where the garden is a kind of whiteboard, and the writer tries out different linguistic formulae on its surface.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

Death Worlds:  mónica teresa ortiz’autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist

by Rae Bryant

How does one continue to live within a “Death-World”? In her second poetry collection, winner of the 2019 Host Publications Chapbook Prize, mónica teresa ortiz explores this question in what she describes to be a study and admiration of “Mbembé’s necropolitics and . . . Flores Magón’s commitment to publishing the truth.” autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist includes twenty reportage poems, or crónicas—two sections that include seven paragraphed verses intermixed with thirteen prose poems—all titled with double virgules or what might be read as caesuras. Each caesura seems to ask the reader to take a “breath” before embarking on the next apocalyptic, technological and lovesick fascination-horrification with the buried. In a smart and lyrical introduction, Hana Masri describes the “displaced, forgotten, or erased-from-history dead speckled across the southern United States and far beyond its borders, left behind in the twinned wakes of racialized capitalism and imperialism.” ortiz’s “erased-from-history,” socio-political examinations invite readers into a legato-staccato verse that is fresh in form and woven through the real, the God-soaked and the mythical.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

Fresh Confessions: On Leah Claire Kaminski’s Peninsular Scar

by Michele Sharpe

The chapbook Peninsular Scar, a short, intense collection containing several long poems, documents the imprints of a Florida upbringing. Kaminski, with the perspective that relocation allows, reverses the usual location of the body within landscape. Instead, she locates Florida landscapes and cultures within the body and within a dense, personal past, while acknowledging the slippery nature of memory, the past, and the scar itself.  Read more >> ___________________________________________________________________________

July 2019

What Chaos Can Do: On Heidi Seaborn’s Give a Girl Chaos

by Anne Champion

In the titular poem of Heidi Seaborn’s first full-length collection of poetry, the speaker asserts that “sometimes/ Chaos is the way in.” When I turned to the last page to read Seaborn’s biography, I expected the usual poet biography: an MFA, a list of publications, a career as a teacher somewhere. However, Seaborn clearly resists the norm: her biography, as her poem asserts, values the chaos in her life that has guided her to the path of poetry. She’s a world-traveled CEO, she’s moved 27 times, she has three children, and she’s proudly weathered through divorce and grief. All of these themes appear in her collection.  Read more >>


Terrible Beauty: A Review of There Is Only Lampyridae

by Richard Cambridge

Befriending one’s pain is the core of Holley M. Hill’s stunning and ravaging memoir — a hybrid of poetry, artwork, journal, and personal artifact that reflects and refracts the painful truth of childhood abuse and abandonment and transforms it into a work of art.  What sets apart Hill’s memoir is the deep love and wisdom that grounds and surrounds the story of her traumatic childhood. Her poems give forth such vivid hues and emotional density I want to say they are what truth looks like polished with beauty, but that implies gems, and they are so much more than that.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

The Cost of Love and Survival: A Review of Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers

by Shannon Nakai

In recent years, audiences and readers have been offered glimpses into a theater of death, suffering, raw fear, and stigma attached to a disease that branded and condemned its victims. Stories about AIDS—in such works as the poetry of Marie Howe and Danez Smith, Andrew Sean Greer’s fiction, and the 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club, to name a few—are often framed within the scope of a singular protagonist or speaker’s experience, the victim’s or an intimate connection’s; they invite the reader to empathize with a sole psyche in a fixed timeframe. Few works attempt to cast the entire scope of the AIDS crisis, from its sinister and explosive outbreak in the 80s to its quiet aftermath echoing in our contemporary era. Rebecca Makkai’s latest novel, The Great Believers, achieves this feat powerfully. Courageous and tender, her story encompasses a range of characters whose narratives extend across three decades with life, love, and redemption.  Read more >> ______________________________________________________________________

June 2019

The Feeling of Security: A Review of Rachel Galvin’s Elevated Threat Level

by Travis Chi Wing Lau

In the wake of the events on September 11, 2001, the US shifted toward a national security paradigm characterized by preparedness and preemption. Since the Cold War, US government officials have widely employed simulations and models—ever-more algorithmic and datafied—to create protocols for responding to potential national security emergencies. As Lindsay Thomas has noted, this speculative approach in the name of preparedness “emphasizes institutional readiness and emergency management” suffused with a pervasive affect of “ready detachment.” Crisis thus becomes its own justification for the invasion of foreign nations and the invasion of domestic citizens’ privacy. Nothing personal, just the safety of our nation. The paradigm of preparedness paradoxically depends on the constant production of present insecurities, “alternative presents, or fictions, disguised as possible futures” that extend states of emergency in perpetuity.  Preparedness, in other words, depends on projections, fictions, be it about migrant caravans or bioweapons. Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________

“In my version, I’ll include how it feels to be eaten”: A Review of Sarah Sousa’s See the Wolf

by Kate Hanson Foster

Sarah Sousa’s See the Wolf (CavanKerry, 2018) is a collection of familiar cautionary tales around the metonymic “Big Bad Wolf.” The poems achingly read like a cold admission of female obedience—a more honest and accurate portrayal of a woman who smiles politely from scar to scar, pays attention to social niceties, and always cautiously takes the direct path home. The wolf lurks in the multiplicity of female experience. He is “a man / in the dark / space / between / cement wall / and stunted pines—.” A man opening the door of a dark car who “says the words / that mean you’re mine.” A man on a park bench with “generous gestures,” patting the young female knee and treating her as “his own well-fed child.” Sousa tells us that to “see the wolf” was common slang in 17th century France for female loss of virginity, but she also alludes to a “wolf” as the masculine archetype that preys on women throughout their lives, creating a repository of fear and forewarnings—the touchstone of how to navigate life when trapped within one’s own fairytale.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________

Lover Created, Because, Destroyed: A Review of Luis Panini’s Destruction of the Lover

by Ana Maria Caballero

A fleshy truth lurks behind the poems in Luis Panini’s Destruction of the Lover, as translated by Lawrence Schimel: the lover becomes a lover via sex. Or, better yet: a lover becomes the lover via sex. Lots and lots of sex, through both the fantasy and reality of it, through both the dreaming and living of it, and through both the writing and remembering of it. Sex, not romance.  For the speaker of these corpulent poems, the lover is formed, lives, dies in three places: in bed, in the anticipation of bed, in the memory of bed. “One body atop another body. That’s how our story began, that accident,” he confides, situating the reader at the start of a loose narrative timeline that develops throughout the sequentially numerated prose poems of the collection. Only the speaker’s desire for his lover, and the acrobatic culmination of this desire, matters. The speaker does not engage his lover’s psychology, nor plumb the layers that compile the other’s desire. The lover is a body, beloved body, on bed. Nonetheless, this material body should never be considered minor, as the literal body of the lover becomes a vast figurative source.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________

May 2019

Ekphrasis Hybrid: Portrait of the Mermaid in a Mirror

by L. Shapley Bassen

What do you know about Modernism? The Process Art Movement? How do you feel about Modern Art? You don’t have to answer to see that My Oceanography is a collection of excellent poems, but it helps to know something just as it does to wear those headphones in a museum or visit a gallery with cognoscenti. Harriet Levin has written the poems about and in the voice of major 20th century artist/sculptor Eva Hesse. If you know Hesse’s biography and work, you’ll be hard pressed to detect artist from poet. If both are new to you, the twin experience will be a journey to depths. Some of the poems share their titles with Hesse’s artworks. They mirror this mid-20th century artist’s passionate rebellions in her art and marriage. As a child, Hesse survived cataclysm [Nazi Germany] and catastrophe [parents’ divorce, mother’s suicide] but soon found recognition and success before her tragic death in 1970 [at 34, brain tumor]. She had gone from Cooper Union to Yale School of Art and Architecture where she became Josef Albers’s favorite student. In 1961, she had her first show and met a sculptor she quickly married. Bradley Cooper’s latest incarnation of A STAR IS BORN may cause you to mentally cast Lady Gaga as Eva Hesse; she married a successful artist whom she eclipsed. Also, as topical as #METOO outrage, many of Levin’s most incendiary poems describe Hesse’s 60’s marriage and breakup.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________________________

So Many Side-Eyes: Experiments of Resistance in Kenji C. Liu’s Monsters I Have Been

by Jordan Nakamura

Kenji C. Liu’s new collection, Monsters I Have Been, is the product of a manifesto: at once a call to disarm toxic masculinity and a theory of how to lyrically explore the state of our society through a practice of found poetry assemblage that Liu calls frankenpo.  More than a form, Liu is interested in a function, which he details comprehensively in the final piece in the book called “The Monstrosity: Notes Towards a Frankenpo”: an ideal primer for those who prefer reading artist statements prior to seeing the work. In these notes the reader is privy to seeing what exactly these poems are after well beyond, say, the surprise a craftsman is beholden to in glazing and firing raku pottery. Certainly, that kind of practiced intuition to allow for serendipity within rigor is present in his juxtaposing of found texts, but Liu also intentionally borrows from Japanese grammar to attempt de-gendered language and the resistance to the Western confessional “I”. He analyzes the aesthetic parallels between wreckage, rogue taxidermy, mutation and monsters with oppressive structures, and their theoretical opponents, “Because capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy is so monstrous, perhaps only a Godzilla can counter it.”  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________________

The Novel as Metaphor: A Review of Rachel Cusk’s Kudos

by Robert Detman

A novel teaches you how to read it. In the novels that make up Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy, the education could go like this: the confounding of motive of the first novel (Outline) gives way to the vertigo inducing ease of the second (Transit). By the last volume, Kudos, you the reader are fully acclimated to the narrator, Faye’s, encounters with a series of characters who reflect her concerns and highlight the trilogy’s themes.  Curiously, and this is the feature the reader learns from the consistency of method, Faye is the rare first-person narrator who remains in the background, mostly, mediating what is told to her, taking the reader into her confidence. This approach seems so novel, and surprising—and a clever way out of the I centric first-person point of view—that you might wonder why someone hadn’t thought of it sooner. There is an intimacy to this secondarily told story, as the circumstances of its being related feel as if it is told in private, like gossip. It has the effect of making information essential, vital.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________________________

April 2019

“The Exhilaration of Life Out of Place”: On Asiya Wadud’s Crosslight for Youngbird

by Dara Elerath 

In an interview from 2014, the American novelist Jumpa Lahiri is quoted as saying: “Language, identity, place, home: these are all of a piece—just different elements of belonging and not-belonging.” The feeling of belonging contained in these particular facets of experience is integral to our lives. It constitutes our basic sense of being connected to others and to ourselves; without this sense of belonging we have no peace. In Crosslight for Youngbird, Asiya Wadud’s deep and affecting debut collection of poems, the lack of peace that comes from “not-belonging” is pervasive, along with the atrocities that both create it and accompany it. The book comprises two sections, the first one “northern wheatear see water” addresses the European refugee crisis, the second “salt carrion constellation” speaks to similar themes—those of displacement, unmoored life and loss—but pulls us closer to the writer’s own life and immediate experiences. Wadud, a poet as well as an English teacher who works with immigrants, has a personal stake in and a unique awareness of the subjects she explores in this collection.  Read more >> ________________________________________________________

“But not a word survives” —A review of Mario Montalbetti’s Language Is a Revolver for Two, translated from the Spanish by Clare Sullivan

by Jorge Frisancho

In El más crudo invierno, his book-length meditation on seven lines by Peruvian poet Blanca Varela, Mario Montalbetti (Lima, Peru, 1953) cites and glosses Agamben’s definition of poetry as “the suspension and exhibition of language.” What is suspended in a poem, he explains, is primarily language’s referential function, its arrival at a point of meaning purportedly situated outside itself; in his view, a poem is not a use of language, but “language as such, stripped of use-value.” Not a port of arrival but language’s perpetually failing motion towards it, illuminated by its interruption.  Montalbetti’s own work, widely acknowledged as one of the most significant interventions in contemporary Latin American poetry, has sustained over the course of four decades a brilliant exploration of that gap, of that absence: it is rooted in an awareness of the inescapable dysfunction at the core of our linguistic acts, and in a concept of the poem as, ultimately, a moment of resistance to it.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

“Being both inside and outside”: A Review of Erik Anderson’s Estranger

by Meiko Ko

In an interview with LitHub, Kazuo Ishiguro has advised writers to let go of genre boundaries, to start with relationships, and Erik Anderson has done likewise. Published by Rescue Press in 2016, Estranger examines an author’s relationships to the many aspects of his life: Family, writing, his conversations with his psychiatrist, strangers, students, editors, colleagues, books; it is an exploration of identity, or self, as required for writers. The work is not to be categorized as a memoir, or in the author’s words, “the ethics of fact and factiousness have no or very little place in these pages, nor should it be a work of fiction” (p. 139). Anderson writes beyond these boundaries, and the recurring theme that runs through the work is estrangement. Estranger is a book that emphasizes intellectual and emotional depth, a rumination on various subjects, such as nature, travel and museums, the films of Werner Herzog, Michael Haneke and Hou Hsiao Hsien, Lao Tzu, Camus’s The Stranger, Thoreau’s journals, Liu Xie, the artists Kara Walker and Cy Twombly; and it is written with influences from W.G. Sebald, Knausgaard, Michael Ondaatje, Rebecca Solnit. Anderson is an author of three books, teaches at Marshall & Franklin College, and is the Writer in Residence & Director of the Emerging Writers Festival.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________

March 2019

“Being made again”—Hyper-talk & Grace in David Tomas Martinez’ Post Traumatic Hood Disorder

by Christopher Kempf

Only, perhaps, in a poem by David Tomas Martinez is one likely to encounter, in the span of a few lines, the lyrics of Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” juxtaposed with references to Sisyphus, Che Guevara, William Carlos Williams, the Bechdel test, Cesar Chavez, and Moses. “My mind is made up,” Martinez writes in that poem, “of so many different cuts / of meat,” and indeed the collection of which the poem is a part, Post Traumatic Hood Disorder, is delightfully wide-ranging in the sources from which it draws. Maximalist, inclusive, by turns academic and demotic, Martinez’s second collection navigates skillfully among references both “high” and “low,” so that another poem—this one beginning with Notorious B.I.G.—becomes a powerful meditation on the plasticity of adolescent identity, all rendered in Martinez’s iconic hyper-talk style. Read more >> _____________________________________________________

Making Faith Possible—On Rachel Jamison Webster’s Mary is a River

by Amy Strauss Friedman

Mary is a River is the third collection by Rachel Jamison Webster that I’ve read. What draws me to her work again and again is her uncanny ability to connect all people to each other, the universe to itself. In Jamison Webster’s work nothing is lost, nothing is futile. All energy, all efforts are intertwined through time and space. This interconnectivity challenges and comforts me, takes me out of my narrow view of the material world and into a unified, ordered space. I’m not a Christian, and so I was initially concerned that the messages contained in this collection would not resonate with me. No so. This book expands the universe beyond individual beliefs and lifts all boats, religious or not.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________

Flyover Country: As Mindset & Act of Colonization and Aggression

by John McCarthy

In Austin Smith’s sophomore collection, Flyover Country, there are bucolic echoes of what made Smith’s first collection, Almanac, so exceptional: abandoned barns, barbed wire fences, and haunted cornfields imbued and personified with the qualities of longing and the desire for redemption.  While some of the poems contain that memorable, roughshod, and downtrodden pathos, Smith makes sure not to repeat what he’s already accomplished. Unlike so many regional writers who choose to set a good portion of their poems in forsaken geography, Smith flips the traditional narrative of flyover country as it applies to the American Midwest or Plains region that much of Smith’s work grounds itself in, and he opens the term up to a more international interpretation.  Read more >> _________________________________________________

February 2019

Returning to the “shell”—on Analicia Sotelo’s Virgin

by Shannon Nakai

“It wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t the shell I was after.”  So ends Analicia Sotelo’s “I’m Trying to Write a Poem About a Virgin and It’s Awful,” selected by Tracy K. Smith for Best New Poets 2015. Sotelo’s first full-length collection, Virgin, pursues and rediscovers the “shell,” the heart of her, her “life’s solution.” Though each poem contrasts in structure, style, and tone—some lines treading gently into an imagined conversation, others carrying a foreboding, dormant energy like a loaded gun; all resonating sonically: “a moth wrecked in specks of sarcophagus black” (from “The Minotaur Invents the Circumstances of His Birth”)—they altogether form a narrative arc revealing a lone girl making sense of the people she constantly repositions like chess pieces in her life. An absent father; an encouraging mother; anonymous men who draw her in, proposing not only marriage, but also how she should feel about her situation. Sotelo’s speaker—sometimes cast as mythical weaver Ariadne, sometimes eavesdropper witnessing Salvador Dali and Nietzsche come to life—incorporates religious tradition and Greek mythology and channels their purpose of reinventing the past to interpret the present.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

Metaphor & Traumatic Memory in Emilia Phillips’ Empty Clip

by Leslie Adrienne Miller

Harvard Psychologist Arnold Modell in “Metaphor—The Bridge Between Feelings and Knowledge,” argues that, “When traumatic memories are activated, metaphor recognizes only similarities.” Working from a definition of metaphor as “a pattern detector that recognizes similarities and differences across a nearly infinite variety of domains,” Modell points out that something different happens “in conditions of safety”: “the mode of cognition shifts and affective memory evokes a metaphoric play of similarity and difference and meaning is expanded.” Though Modell is not discussing literary metaphor, his description of the behavior of metaphor in conditions of traumatic memory offers us one possible way to read Emilia Phillips’ uses of metaphor in her collection of poems, Empty Clip. Her title itself is a metaphor suggesting that a clip of ammunition has been emptied, that trauma has already occurred, and the poems address aftermath wherein the conditions of safety vary, and the metaphors themselves expand and contract accordingly to offer both speakers and readers various positions from which to experience the narratives and fragments of narrative Phillips provides.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

You Know You Want to Read This: A Review of Kristen Roupenian’s Debut Story Collection You Know You Want This

by Samantha Edmonds

Inarguably, Kristen Roupenian is best known for her short story “Cat Person,” which exploded the Internet last year when it went viral after being published in the December 2017 issue of The New Yorker. It trended on Twitter. People wrote think pieces. My undergrads, who have never heard of anyone after reading Hemingway in high school, had heard of it. Arguably, however, “Cat Person” is the least compelling story in Roupenian’s debut collection, You Know You Want This (out January 15th, 2019, with Gallery/Scout Press).  This isn’t an insult to “Cat Person,” mind you, but rather a testament to how strong the rest of the collection is, too. I only mean to say that You Know You Want This transcends its most famous story. The eleven other stories are even more twisty and weird and wrong and so, so right. In the opening story, “Bad Boy,” a couple, fixating on the idea of their friend listening to them having sex, spiral down a dark path as they realize they can no longer have sex with each other unless he is watching and, later, participating. Whereas one might argue that the ending of “Cat Person” is #relatable enough to be familiar and even predictable, “Bad Boy,” and the stories that follow it, are surprising and unexpected. This collection will leave you saying, “I knew it,” as the narrator does in “Scarred” after finding a magic spell book: “I knew the world was more interesting than it was pretending to be.”  Read more >> ________________________________________________________________

January 2019

A Midcentury Reckoning: The Most Foreign Country by Alejandra Pizarnik

by Diego Báez

It’s possible to read Alejandra Pizarnik’s debut collection of poetry as a kind of midlife crisis. Published in 1955, when the poet was only 19 years old, La tierra más ajena, translated masterfully by Yvette Siegert into The Most Foreign Country, with its tiny cataclysms and brooding flashes of brilliance, proved to be only the first twinkling of the artistic genius that tirelessly possessed and, ultimately, consumed the young poet. Over the unfortunately short second half of her life, Pizarnik began and abandoned coursework at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, relocated to Paris and studied at the Sorbonne, published criticism and translations, won a Guggenheim fellowship, received a Fulbright scholarship, and authored another seven books of poetry. Then, on a Monday in September 1972, under the equilibrating sign of Libra, Pizarnik overdosed on barbiturates and ended her life at the age of 36.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

Reclamation & Agency in Chase Berggrun’s R E D

by John Bonanni

David Shields, in his seminal text, Reality Hunger, argues that contemporary literature has not kept up with contemporary art in terms of depth. Despite art’s ability to transcend image and space, to work duality of images and meaning, we, the literati, are still policed by comfortable tendencies toward text production and authorship. At least that’s what I remember about it. After I finished reading the book, I took on wild projects like collaging the DSM-IV, with little success, and later, coming to the realization that it’s just really, really hard to construct projects involving meta-text—which is likely why it hasn’t been fully embraced by the literary community. In her debut full-length book of poetry, Chase Berggrun has proved me wrong—her recent book, R E D, is a book-long erasure poem of the Bram Stoker’s Dracula (bold that r in Bram, the e in Stoker, and the D in Dracula).  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

Liminal States in Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason

by Jessica Cuello 

Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason reminds us of the liminal nature of existence; the poems exist on a threshold between states of being and move quietly between worlds. George’s book takes its title from the Goya sketch “El sueno de la razon produce monstruos.” In Spanish “el sueno” means sleep, but also dream, and in Goya’s sketch, a man sits asleep at a table while we witness his dreams: fabulist animals that appear behind him. The Dream of Reason moves between life and death, sleep and wakefulness, night and day, winter and spring, but the poems do not merely capture states of transition; they also imply an overlapping, shared existence between all things. It is here, in the overlapping identities, that the poems have the most at stake.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

December 2018

In Glitter Or In Ash: A Review of Heather June Gibbons’ Her Mouth As Souvenir

by Amy Beeder

Heather June Gibbons’ debut collection is the literary equivalent of a carnival ride: it jolts, thrills, dizzies: you’ll step off windblown, with a little midway grit in your eye. The voice here feels relentlessly hectic, overwhelmed, a caffeinated oracle taking in and reporting on the signs and wonders of contemporary existence. Perception becomes compulsion: in “Smell the Moxie,” for instance, the speaker confesses that “left/to my own devices. I play until they break/I keep turning this roll of invisible tape/hoping to catch an edge.” Nothing seen or said is static, since these poems often revise or second-guess their own perceptions.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

“I’m not talking about my heart”–A Review of Melissa Stein’s Terrible Blooms

by Leslie Adrienne Miller

Melissa Stein’s title, Terrible Blooms, is good on its promise to weld the grotesque and the lovely so tightly and repeatedly that they transcend simple paradox and make of pain a single luminous skein. The poem “blessings,” for example, takes the form of a prayer comprised of repeated “may you . . .” clauses wherein each expectation of a “blessing” resolves in an image more suited to curse. The largely pastoral images are so sharp and visceral, they often hurt: “may barbed wire tear off/ the snouts of your pigs.” The clauses are packed into a column with justified right and left margins, a formality that contrasts sharply with the fluid lyric’s songlike surfaces: “may the milliner/ embroider your bonnet with/ nettles the blackberry fell your/ dog.” While the poem largely wishes revenge on an addressee, by the end, the addressee also seems to be the self: “may the wolf/ carry off the heart of your heart/ and the swans swim thrice by/ your grief.” Form and meaning contradict each other to pressure this pain into something magical, if not exactly hopeful.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

To Make, Unmake, and Make Again: A Review of Anna Lena Phillip Bell’s Ornament

by Michele Sharpe

Anna Lena Phillips Bell’s skilled employment of repetition, which is the foundation of all poetic forms, creates a sometimes subtle, sometimes gaudy beauty in her debut collection, Ornament, winner of the 2016 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry. Whether the poems’ occasions are a lace pattern, a garden, a melody, or a song’s refrain, repetition ornaments them with both sonic and thematic resonance, leading the reader into a series of iterations and reiterations of meaning.  The book’s title, which can be read as either noun or verb, strikes an immediately ironic tone, since “ornament” in our patriarchal culture often connotes femininity and the non-essential. Centering domesticity in poetry continues as a remarkable matter, and these poems, like those of Dickinson, offer close examination of the artifacts of the home while demonstrating, with vigor and clarity, just how essential – and feminine – the act of ornamenting is to human culture and to human spirituality.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

November 2018

The Housing of Memory in Doe Parker’s The Good House & The Bad House

by Jessica Cuello

In Doe Parker’s The Good House & The Bad House, the reader enters a dreamlike past via the memory of a childhood home. Parker depicts a cohesive world that, while dreamlike, presents the vivid reality of his childhood. These poems tap the elusive nature of memory in order to locate the self in the geography of the past.  As if the book is a single poem that acts as the recreated house, it has no page numbers, nor is it composed of a series of titled poems. The traditional markers of page numbers and poem titles are abandoned, and the effect is one of intentional dislocation. Additionally, interspersed throughout the book are floor plan sketches of the different rooms; it’s as if we are literally moving through the house itself. These floor plans only indicate objects: furniture, windows, tiles, wallpaper, but they include small hand-written details like the “purple & white tapestry mom wove of a hand holding a match.” The absence of people in the drawings creates the sensation of looking back in time, yet we are aware that the house is, and was, lived in. It is humanized by “dusty lipstick containers” and “a bookshelf full of yarn.” These maps underscore the narrator’s need to locate the self in the past. They also convey how hard it is to retrieve memory; it’s “like the animal in the corner of the claw crane game that [they] can’t get [their] hand around.”  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

Ringing the Changes Right: A Review of Geoffrey Gatza’s A Dog Lost in the Brick City of Outlawed Trees

by Joseph Harrington

Procedural poetry + music: this combination might put you in mind of John Cage. And Geoffrey Gatza’s fascinating new book is definitely in the tradition of Cage, Jackson MacLow, or Jean Lescure. But there’s a twist: these procedural poems are based on a form of traditional church-bell ringing – namely, “change ringing,” a practice which dates to the early 17th century in Britain.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

Shape-shifting and the Subversive Sonnet: A Review of Angela Veronica Wong’s Elsa: An Unauthorized Autobiography

by Dora Malech

The title page layout of Angela Veronica Wong’s Elsa: An Unauthorized Autobiography breaks its subtitle down the right-hand margin: “an un- / authorized auto- / biography,” an apt design move to introduce a project that fragments the self across time and space. The speaker’s I is and is not a manifestation of Elsa herself, aligned but separate; Elsa is, indeed, rendered an un- (a non-entity, a less-than) by the systemic powers-that-be; and the repetition of poetic form becomes the driving force that writes (author-izes) an embodied text into being.  Formally, Elsa is a book-length sequence of sonnets. Haunted by glimpses of pentameter and rhyme but ultimately unfettered by those constraints, those who look to traditional prosody as a litmus test of entry into a particular formal tradition might deem these shadow sonnets or quatorzains, not sonnets proper, but these questions of propriety and entry into an exclusive echelon of tradition read as intentional features of Wong’s system, not bugs. What is a sonnet, the collection asks? What is an Elsa, for that matter? Here, both seem to exist as things made, things done to, creatures of context and circumstance, experiments tried again and again.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

October 2018

Deconstructing Man as Animal in Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf

by Joey Lew

There is something gritty that catches in your teeth when you read Akbar’s work, sharp-edged words that when linked together suddenly slip off your tongue. His poems are ordered streams of chaos; they try to contain innumerable ideas but are reined in by uniform lines and in-line rhyme. “Exciting the Canvas,” for instance, touches on life’s greater questions (“Is that / why I’m here? Everyone / needs kudos, from newborns / to saviors”), the essence of suffering (“performed pain is still pain”), the end of the world (“outside—sweeping plains / of green flora and service stations. / Odd, for an apocalypse / to present itself with such bounty.”), and the necessity of naming (“Because I am here / each of these things has a name”), but does not answer any of them, instead pushing readers to contemplate their own struggles with larger truths. The magic is in how he ties these impossibly large ideas into a coherent, navigable whole.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

“Like a Mollusk Dissolved in a Cancer of Pearls”: A Review of Marosa di Giorgio’s I Remember Nightfall

by Dara Elerath

These days we often read the news to find out what is important and worth devoting our time and attention to. Serious moral, ethical and life-defining dilemmas arise and must be given due consideration; however, in spite of this, our daily lives with their private ecstasies and agonies continue, and while they may be of less historical significance in relation to larger, world issues, the moments that occur in these smaller hours are of equal importance to our emotional, spiritual and intellectual selves. In the four books of prose poetry by Uruguayan writer Marosa di Giorgio that are gathered in I Remember Nightfall (translated by Jennine Marie Pitas), we are able to glimpse the surreal, violent, magical, lush and abundant world of a woman’s inner life—the life she accrued and contemplated in these private hours. Though Uruguay’s military dictatorships formed the backdrop of her life and though she subtly engages with the political issues of her time, she is never overt. Her poems focus instead on expressing the refracted dream logic of her inner experience and imagination as she navigates through the memories, bonds of relationship, joys, pains and traumas that form her existence. di Giorgio grew up on a family farm outside Salto, Uruguay; this farm provides the imaginative locus of the poems, though it is not depicted as it was, but as di Giorgio saw it—riddled with miniature angels, flying hares, cigarette-smoking bats, lethal flowers, animate mushrooms, rubies, dwarfs, potatoes, and snails that resemble pearly yo-yos.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

No Other Way to Bear Loneliness: A Review of Stephen Dixon’s Beatrice

by Meiko Ko

Beatrice is a book about death, life, aging, loneliness. A learning to live again after a spouse died—is it to find a new love interest, a guide out of grief, or to deal with it in solitude. For this, reviewers have compared the protagonist of the novella, Beatrice Hagen, to the most famous in literature, Beatrice Portinari—the woman whom Dante has only met twice but has inspired The New Life and The Divine Comedy. She has guided him through purgatory and heaven, and likewise, Beatrice Hagen might lead Philip Seidel, a retiring professor and writer, out of his mourning for his wife—an afterlife, for the one still living. Stephen Dixon is a prolific writer of thirty-four books, twice nominee for the National Book Awards (Frog, ’91, Interstate, ’95), among other fellowships and prizes.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

September 2018

Racial Allegory and Complex Contradiction in Rajiv Mohabir’s The Taxidermist’s Cut

by Joey Lew

A metaphor that extends across a poem, defying clichés and breaches of clarity or cohesion, is already a feat to be admired. Rajiv Mohabir sees this challenge and raises it 98 pages, pushing a metaphor and its accompanying string of associative leaps to form the rock upon which The Taxidermist’s Cut, his debut collection, is built. Via instructions on how to prepare a carcass for taxidermy, presented as a series of erasure poems from a variety of taxidermy texts, the speaker crafts himself coyote and puts himself on the steel table, a scalpel in America’s hand. “Lets pretend you are going hunting,” the preface begins, “The copper of pine needles falls; / whether you catch me or not is not the point.” We come to hunt the speaker as the preface would suggest, catching him in his cadence, ready to accept pieces of him even in the rhythm of his breath. From a continuity in cadence and linearity of story, if not within a poem, then across poems, we come to see that the poems share a speaker, and that this is the story of his life.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

“How do eyes and ears keep pace?” A Review of Jenny Xie’s Eye Level

by Shannon Nakai

Jenny Xie’s second poetry collection, Eye Level, reveals the prowess of a new contemporary literary great. The title theme weaves a cohesive fabric of perception—the physical, metaphysical, and cultural act of seeing and being seen—among a rich array of topics ranging from solitude to heritage, migration to land and (dis)placement. Each poem explores the tension between active agency and vacancy, language and the lack thereof, and attempts to establish bridges and distance simultaneously. From Eve, the world’s first migrant, to the speaker herself, Xie’s characters make sense of a world of contradiction, locating its patterns, as even “suffering operates by its own logic” (“Zuihitsu”). The speaker is both enjoined in the common fabric of humanity and its shared experiences and distanced by her position as the observer, the eye that witnesses and records, but ultimately even her solitude is reconciled; while in isolation, her poems embrace the truth that loneliness is universal.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

“Singing, stones fill with music”: A Review of Meena Alexander’s Atmospheric Embroidery

by Anu Mahadev

What is home? Is it a place, a person, a feeling, a sense of belonging? Or all of these? Or none perhaps. Home–its absence, its overwhelming presence–is the central theme in Meena Alexander’s Atmospheric Embroidery, a collection that surrounds the reader with its constant sense of displacement, an evolving journey from one home to another. There is loss, there is joy, but there is also a gnawing feeling of discontent, in poem after poem, where the speaker is always observing, at times with fear, at times with resignation. One has the sense that there is a hovering cloud wherein the speaker feels she cannot change the events around her, she can only adjust to them and decide what her reaction to them will be.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

August 2018

Dynamism and Defamiliarization in Kristin Robertson’s Surgical Wing

by Joey Lew

If you read Kristin Robertson’s debut book once, you really ought to read it again. In the very last poem, one finds oneself circling back to the beginning with a newfound understanding of Robertson’s self-awareness. By trafficking in sarcasm and irony, she reveals that throughout the sincerity and imagination of earlier pieces she has always known that the theme inescapably interacts with a trope: man as angel. As much as she defamiliarizes her subject, she cannot escape the association, until she finally acknowledges it; “Will Humans Ever Have Wings,” the last poem’s title asks, to which Yahoo Answers responds “that will probably NEVER happen. / Evolution produces only what is NECESSARY, / not what is cool.” Robertson’s willingness to engage in a found poem that treats her book’s premise as a ridiculous afterthought lightens the tone but also encourages a fresh understanding of her work. She is tempting us to question her, a fun and rewarding challenge on second read.  This is not to say that there isn’t plenty to reckon with the first time through. Read more >> ___________________________________________________________________

“I’m not human, I’m grammarian”: Life, Being, and Grammar in Aditi Machado’s Some Beheadings

by Michael Pittard Towards the end of her debut book, Some Beheadings, Aditi Machado’s speaker in “Prospect” ponders their ontological nature: “…I think/I’m not human, I’m grammarian.” It is not a surprising thought by that point in the collection. Machado consistently interrogates how grammar, diction, and syntax all constitute personhood or being. She does this by relentlessly destabilizing traditional grammar throughout Some Beheadings. Poems contain constant references to the “textual” nature of everyday objects and experiences, an awareness that recognizes both the expansiveness and the restrictions of language and words. As the poetry editor of Asymptote, a journal of translation, and as a translator in her own right, one gets the feeling that Machado is more sensitive to these notions than most.  Read more >> __________________________________________________________________

A Meditation on Form and Voice in Maryann Corbett’s Street View

by Reagan Upshaw

Christopher Isherwood once paid tribute to the technical facility of his friend W.H. Auden, a facility evident even when Auden was at university: “You could say to him: ‘Please write me a double ballade on the virtues of a certain brand of toothpaste, which also contains at least ten anagrams on the names of well-known politicians, and of which the refrain is to be as follows . . .’ Within twenty-four hours, your ballade would be ready – and it would be good.”  I don’t know that Maryann Corbett has ever been issued a similar challenge, but I have no doubt she could pull it off. Street View, Corbett’s fourth book of poetry, contains well-turned examples of enough forms – sonnets, triolets, heroic couplets, bout-rimés, and Old English alliterative verse, among others – that it could easily stand as a textbook of style for budding poets.  Read more >> _________________________________________________________________

July 2018

“Make Love Out of the Kick and the Punch”: A Review of Heather Derr-Smith’s Thrust

by Erin Adair-Hodges

It’s inevitable that social media’s ubiquitous presence in most of our lives has changed not just the way we interact with and see each other but the way we read as well; we read to seek out a fuller understanding of ourselves and others, and social media fulfills this need, but in bursts and often without context—the windows without the house.  Much of social media focuses on references to action rather than becoming action—we see this in the rise of Instapoetry, which relies heavily on abstractions, as if the less said, the more of our own meaning we can pour in. None of this is to indict either social media or how some are using it to create and promote a new strain of writing, but it does help us see Heather Derr-Smith’s newest collection, Thrust, as a kind of antidote to the abstract. Through its poems concerning the intersection of violence, sex, and place, Thrust is a collection that verbsRead more >> ____________________________________________________________________

“With Every Register of Her Seven Tongues”: A Review of Tarfia Faizullah’s Registers of Illuminated Villages

by Wesley Sexton

Tarfia Faizullah’s new collection of poems, Registers of Illuminated Villages, engages with issues of grief, trauma, ancestry, and joy in a voice that is always attentive and intensely lyric. Faizullah untangles matters of societal and ancestral influence; she catalogs the ways we hurt and affirm each other; and she answers each question with the utmost lyricism, as if song itself is the suitable answer to hard-to-answer questions. Registers of Illuminated Villages continues work begun in Faizullah’s first collection, Seam, in that both books dig into an existential tension presented by large-scale global injustice. Is it possible to fully acknowledge the pains of this world – to listen to grieving voices – and not be irrevocably torn by them? What does it mean to desire a life in this world, knowing the dangerous and terrible ways human life has enacted change in this world?  Read more >> ___________________________________________________________________

Falling in Love with the World: A Review of Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Oceanic

By Shannon Nakai

In Oceanic, her fourth collection of poetry, Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes a series of love letters to the world and its inhabitants. From intimate psalms of love to her husband—whose love wields electricity as they ascend the Swiss Alps—to poems addressed to starfish, turtles, and the Northern Lights, the “you” in each poem is as fluid and varied as the structures she uses to encapsulate all subjects. The tender, introspective “Self-Portrait as Scallop” and “The Two Times I Loved You on a Farm” carry the eye in a wavelike rhythm with lines spaced elegantly across the landscape of the page, while poems like “Upon Hearing the News You Buried Our Dog” showcase her adroitly crafted couplets. Marine biology, feathers, flight, passion—these thread her poems in a cohesive arc firmly planting the speaker in a world that demands unflinching attention. With her signature language whose register is both lyric and conversational, sonic lines rich with seamless pairings of sound and dynamic imagery, in bold and yet vulnerable sincerity she observes and ponders the marriage of science and love—the double star Albireo whose blue and gold entities melding into one she refashions into the oneness of romance, or the “underwater volcanoes” and “pillow lava” that give a night of passion a geography, a second physicality. Touching upon familiar themes of identity and placement that recall her earlier works, Nezhukumatathil invites the world to see “the dark sky as oceanic, boundless, limitless— ... / Let’s listen / how this planet hums with so much wing, fur, and fin.”  Read more >> ___________________________________________________________________

June 2018

Engaging the Mystical & Worldly: A Review of Li-Young Lee’s The Undressing

by Sam Leon

Li-Young Lee’s fifth collection, The Undressing, contains exploration of the human condition through the doors of interactions with lovers, family, and personal history. The humility with which Lee contemplates life on large and small scales is ever refreshing, a feat that Lee has mastered in his work over the years. In the forward to his debut collection, Rose, Gerald Stern, whom Lee studied with at the University of Pittsburgh, likened him to Theodore Roethke, John Keats, and Rainer Marie Rilke. When I began reading The Undressing, I was also reading some poems from Rainer Marie Rilke and had been hanging on a line from the Duino Elegies. The question Rilke posed was “Aren’t lovers always arriving at each other’s boundaries?” As I immersed myself in Lee’s poems, I found his work to be a natural continuation and answer to Rilke. Lee’s delightfully meditative poems are interested in boundaries we have in all of the different roles we inhabit, boundaries we encounter with friends, lovers, family, and self. Most importantly, these poems encourage thoughtful risk that guides toward knowing oneself and making the choice to expand beyond these boundaries, to become more intimate with life.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

Beating Back the Images Burned on Our Brainpans: A Review of Jane Satterfield’s Apocalypse Mix

by Emari DiGiorgio

Jane Satterfield’s Apocalypse Mix is a time capsule of the pre-Trump global political landscape that documents the ways in which the military-industrial complex has been normalized and stitched into the fabric of our lives. These poems trace the commodification of both war and its opposition, from the “renewable fashion for military chic” (8) to the inversion/perversion of punk anthems to department store Muzak, but they also examine how we sustain ourselves in the face of loss and conflict.  The collection bristles with echoes of war-torn and protest verse, as numerous epigraphs from poets and songwriters frame each section with lyrics and lines against violence/war or in memory of those/all lost. Most striking is the first epigraph of the first section from The Clash’s “Hate and War”: “You have to deal with it.” Satterfield’s Apocalypse Mix witnesses the ways those on the front lines and those at home sustain themselves–sometimes through direct engagement, often through avoidance.  Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

Abuse, Unchained in Kami Westhoff’s Sleepwalker

by Anu Madahev

Words, waiting to be said, but never really crossing that confident chasm from thought to expression is what Sleepwalker essentially gravitates towards. Kami Westhoff’s debut collection is pregnant with the horror that contributes to the growth of something bestial, without it actually exploding all over the page. Which is not to say that it is hiding from reality – far from it, in fact. Akin to a page-turner, there is constant curiosity that accompanies the reader – what happens next and why –, rather than a comfortable settling in and tucking into the book.  From the very first poem, “Early Warning,” there is a foreboding of the darkness that is to follow. The poet does not hesitate in introductions: everyone is already there, present in their involvement, without any major flourish announcing their arrivals – they are who they are, simple and twisted, their innate character on display right on the first page itself. We expect that the woman, the primary character, through whom we read these poems, slowly discovers what lies behind the screens, but we are mistaken.Read more >> ____________________________________________________________________

May 2018

On Darwin’s Mother by Sarah Rose Nordgren

by Mark Hausmann

Sarah Rose Nordgren’s second book Darwin’s Mother, from the University of Pittsburg Press, borrows stories and voices from a wide range of scientific communities. Her book exemplifies contemporary poetry’s longstanding traditions of defamiliarizing human activities and imagining life beyond a human-centered world. In doing so, Nordgren delivers massively complex ideas in everyday language. She plays with persona to challenge the belief that humans are the supreme species. She questions science in a way that is weirdly warm and coldly humorous, often pointing to the beauty of raw data and a life beyond being too human. Altogether, Nordgren gives concise analogies that experiment with topics and issues of posthumanism.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Lois Roma-Deeley’s A Short List of Certainties

by Renee G. Rivers

If poetry makes inwardness palpable, Lois Roma-Deeley’s poetry collection, The Short List of Certainties makes belief and resilience in the face of the void attainable. In this collection housed in a trinity of three parts, poet Roma-Deeley looks into the great mystery and embraces the flux of the universe as her poems pendulum between pain and hope and uncertainty and certainty.  Poems in Part I, fronted by St. Augustine and Pascal epigraphs on hope, courage and wagering, traverse themes of disaster, change, nothingness and ghosts, pointing to the human need for spiritual awareness that often begins in the mirror of nature. In Part II, poems suggest themes of transitions, turning points, and re-creation akin to St. Paul’s reawakening on the way to Damascus. Part III continues the trajectory in recognizing a divine presence from within, through poems infused with praise, elegy, dreams, and transcendence, culminating in the poem, “The Short List of Certainties.”  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On The Quitters by Carlo Matos

by Marilynn Eguchi

Carlo Matos’ most recent book, The Quitters, is a collection of flash non-fiction pieces that goes beyond mere personal stories, though it contains evocative and accessible narratives that drive you into the realm of lived experiences. The book is filled with powerful moments, most no longer than a page, that come together to form nine chapters. “Dead Man’s Chest,” for example, dramatizes the author’s time as a cage fighter; “The Quitters” delves into the world of roller derby; “The Bull’s Eye” explores the appeal of bow and arrow, and “In the Hippo’s Mouth” draws charming and innocent comparisons between his father and the late, great Andre the Giant. In “Portuguese Paradise,” Matos attempts to come to terms with his Portuguese-American identity while “The Others” deals with the ironies and isolation of 90s pre-internet youth; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” revels in the ruckus and mob mentality of after-hours collegiate life; “Yankee Swap” mines the experience of the ever-present teacher crush, and, finally, “The Quitter is Illuminated” describes the daily struggles of a community college professor. Dealing always with the dueling themes of quitting and identity, Matos draws perimeters “on the lips of violence” that must “never cross the boundary” but allows us to discover the consequences of crossing that thin line or failing to.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

April 2018

On Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire:  The Final Scene

by Carson Welch

If nothing else will continue to burn in the minds of her readers, the final page of Kamila Shamsie’s eighth book, Home Fire, certainly will. The leaping novel, Shamsie’s contemporary take on Sophocles’ Antigone, replaces the titular heroine with Aneeka, a young and beautiful Muslim woman living in London. Shamsie’s rendition maintains Antigone’s conflict with her family and the state, which, by a sort of metonymy, implies larger contemporary connotations of conflicts between Muslim populations and the Western nations that target those populations. The buried body of Polynices in Antigone is exchanged for that of Aneeka’s twin brother, Parvaiz, who left for Raqqa to join the media wing of ISIS, influenced by the memory of their father, a jihadi who died under suspicious circumstances en route to Guantánamo. The twins’ older sister, Isma, who had raised them and had gone to America to resume her life in academia, remains a pragmatic figure, as the story’s Ismene—compliant, non-radical, and conscientious—who watches the drama unfold from America through Skype, news stories, and social media.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Set Music to a Wildfire by Ruth Awad

by Mike Good

In Ruth Awad’s debut, Set to Music a Wildfire, the winner of the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize, Awad undertakes the daunting task of imagining the world through her father’s eyes, often writing from his perspective and voicing his experience growing up during the Lebanese Civil War. The Lebanese Civil War lasted fifteen years, extending from 1975 to 1990 with Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims among other groups fighting for power. While the book is filled with emotional and physical trauma, I found comfort believing Set to Music a Wildfire can be read as an affirmation of bonds shared between a father and daughter, sisters, and family, as they endure. The first section, “Born into War,” focuses primarily on her father’s experiences during the war while the second and third section, “House Made of Breath” and “What the Living Know,” depict aftermath, memory, and life after immigration to the United States though poems affected by the war continue throughout the volume.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Michael S. Judge’s The Scenarists of Europe

by R.M. Haines

Michaels S. Judge’s The Scenarists of Europe is unlike any other book I’ve encountered. At novel-length (297 pp.), Scenarists—Judge’s third book—occupies a middle ground between the gnomic ...And Egypt Is the River (2013, Skylight Press; 114 pp.) and the behemoth that is Lyrics of the Crossing (Fugue State Press, 2014; 734 pp.). Each of these works of extravagant, lyrical fiction interrogates history, power, myth, and language, but Scenarists is unique in taking the legacy of Modernism as its focal point. The three main characters—Djuna, Tom, and Ezra—are radically mutated versions of Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, and allusions to the authors’ books and biographies are scattered throughout. However, in no way is this “historical fiction;” this is writing as both oracle and autopsy—a text at once violently disorienting and deeply revelatory.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

March 2018

Taking Notes: Vulnerability and Chaos in Fady Joudah’s FOOTNOTES IN THE ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE 

by Hala Alyan

To be a footnoter means paying attention, an exercise in authenticating and deciding what deserves further explanation. The speaker in Fady Joudah’s beautiful collection “Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance” (Milkweed Books, 2018) remarks, “I always hold back from writing in the margins of the clearest sentences,” implying that even the most transparent words can be cleaved from their intention. It is the (lonely) task of the artist to illuminate, and nowhere is illumination needed more than borderlands—of identity, of land, of emotion.  “Footnotes” is ripe with such borderlands, just as it is ripe with delight and honesty and want. The poems, divided into three sections but all linked thematically by displacement, love and, yes, disappearance, are crackling, lyrical things, written with meticulous attention to imagery. In this way, Joudah is a loyal footnoter, keen to fashion a coherent narrative from kaleidoscopic histories and geographies, an unenviable task. “Sweet clot of wakefulness,” the speaker asks, “what is mercy?/To go mad among the mad/or go it alone.”  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Emari DiGiorgio’s Things a Body Might Become

by Danielle DeTiberus

The most unifying and (for many men at least) surprising aspect about the #MeToo movement was just how precisely the narratives mirrored one another. Women of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds were telling stories that could have been my own, could have been yours or your mother’s. There’s a sense of comfort in knowing that one’s experiences are shared— validation and empowerment in the sheer numbers of voices raised and bodies marching in the streets. Because the very bodies which make us vulnerable also bring us great strength.  This juxtaposition seems to be at the heart of Emari DiGiorgio’s debut collection The Things a Body Might Become. The collection takes its title from the poem “Of All the Things a Body Might Become—“ which is indicative of the poet’s scope and style. It exists at once in the surreal and the banal, a space we all seem to be occupying as of late. The body becomes not “an anvil, a bottle of bleach [or] a basketball” but “a container, the/ kind you might receive at the holidays, filled with shortbread or caramel/ corn.”  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On A Story of America Goes Walking by Saara Myrene Raapana & Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton

By Tom Griffen

The first image within A Story of America Goes Walking depicts a large black “X” speeding across two pages, it’s intersection folded in the center seam. A crimson field of woodcut flowers is marked out, negated, and the junction poses a visual contradiction that stops the read before it even starts. On the next page, in the early lines of the first (and title) poem, antagonistic imagery is highlighted by the poet’s use of enjambment: “a story of America hoisted itself out of a Massachusetts pond / and was surprised         by endless meadowlands / of blacktop.” What follows is an allegorical response to Henry David Thoreau’s essay, Walking where America’s narrative is thus described: it is given independence, fed grandiosity, made into a celebrity, then dies after it, “poured          its heart out         to the earless asphalt.” Poet Saara Myrene Raappana dances words with Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton’s striking images. Together their work represents an imbalance between Thoreau’s nature and the so-called modern advances made since his era. The collaboration shapes a response to contemporary America—and the result is as much beautiful as it is melancholic, if not maddening.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

February 2018

On Christian Anton Gerard’s Holdfast

by Molly Spencer

Two boys are practice-dancing shirtless / on the lawn. A bicycle is chained to a rack for bikes. // People fill the quad like they know what they’re doing. /  One guy’s in the middle of it all with a video camera. // He’s turning in circles like a narrator. / I raise my hand and he raises his almost // like a flinch at first. He thinks he knows me. He doesn’t.”  These are the first seven lines of Christian Anton Gerard’s latest collection, Holdfast (C&R Press, 2017). In dense, circuitous, always heartfelt, and often humorous poems that celebrate a wide-ranging poetic heritage, Gerard undertakes an unrelenting interrogation of self. In doing so, he creates both an experience of, and a defense of, making. He stakes a claim for the poem and the life forever under construction, and possibly for the poem as the life forever under construction: “I keep reading / all these poems about poems and poets / trying to become what I read….”  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Kimberly Grey’s The Opposite of Light 

by Hillery Stone

“If you marry, you will regret it,” Kierkegaard wrote in Either/Or in 1843. “If you do not marry, you will also regret it.” Yes, the quiet truth at the heart of our oldest institution: it isn’t easy. The speaker in Kimberly Grey’s first collection, The Opposite of Light, which won the 2015 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry, takes us so close to her marriage that we can see its intricate, intimate structure, the architecture of its language and feeling. And it isn’t all light. “Love is not an actual helmet,” she writes. It can not shield us from the world, and the world is mostly difficult. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Sina Queyras’s My Ariel

by Liz Harmer

Maybe more so than other texts, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel is impossible to read outside of the biography of its author. Who can read Ariel away from her suicide, her poet-philanderer-husband, her children, her marital breakdown, that desk piled with papers, that kitchen, her body to find? The 2004 edition opens with a preface by her daughter Freida Hughes, who decries the use of Plath’s poems by “strangers” who “possessed and reshaped” them, making Ariel, “symbolic . . . of this possession of [her] mother and of the wider vilification of [her] father.”  In her new and astounding collection, My Ariel, poet and critic Sina Queyras possesses and reshapes the poems of Ariel, but not in a way that tries to possess Plath or vilify Hughes. Instead Queyras revivifies them, combining elements of the lyric and confessional we associate with Plath with poems that demonstrate the biographer’s research, a kind of found poetry made from letters and criticism and fact. The total effect is to so defamiliarize the poems of Ariel as to give them new urgency, an urgency moves them from 1960s America to the preoccupations of our own time.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

January 2018

A Beautiful and Complex Oeuvre: Sudeep Sen’s Fractals: New & Selected Poems

 by Astrid Alben

Sudeep Sen’s Fractals: New & Selected Poems |Translations 1980-2015 covers no less than thirty-five years of his work. With over three hundred poems and a selection of his translations, there’s mileage to cover. Helpfully, Fractals is divided into three sections: Newer Poems, Selected Earlier Poems and Translations. The newer and selected poems are divided into subsections arranged according to earlier publication.  The scope of work on offer is impressive and a celebration of a complex and beautiful oeuvre. Fractals includes lyric, free verse, haiku, ekphrastic poems, elegies, sonnets, micro-fiction and prose/(poems) that read part travel-log, part diary-like entries. The poems explore illness, death, sex, love, religion, loneliness, and loss, and he has a particular fascination for terrain in its broadest sense: the topography of landscape, of cityscape, of skin, and of consciousness.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Jenny Johnson’s In Full Velvet

by Amy Seifreid

Jenny Johnson’s debut book In Full Velvet is a stunning collection of formally composed poems. By adopting and pushing against poetic form, Johnson sustains a tension that expresses a wide emotional range, including joy, rage, desire, love and need for acceptance. The poems throughout this book explore how we think of the body, gender identity and the relationship between nature and love.  In Full Velvet opens with “Dappled Things,” which references the first line of “Pied Beauty” written in 1877 by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Additionally, Johnson adopts a poetic form attributed to Hopkins. “Dappled Things” comprises eight curtal sonnets—a sestet followed by a quatrain and a final half-line. This modified sonnet form is used by both poets to celebrate the unconventional. Hopkins’s poem is often viewed as an apology, a literary defense of natural objects not typically considered to be beautiful. Johnson’s poem, too, serves as a type of literary defense of “all that’s still somehow / counter, original, spare, and strange,” including “the alien markings on my girlfriend’s cheek and how / they form a perfect triangle.” This is where Johnson moves in her own direction, using a nineteenth century form to celebrate, explore and defend the LGBTIQ community.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Alchemy for Cells and Other Beasts by Maya Jewell Zeller & Carrie DeBacker

by Daniel Casey

The best collaborations are seamless, done in tandem so that the work we experience is a genuine union, a synthesis of two aesthetic sensibilities. They also offer a space for dialogue, where the work of each artist enters into a conversation with the other, producing something that is wholly of the moment, yet lasting.  In their partnered book, Alchemy for Cells and Other Beasts, the poetry of Maya Jewell Zeller blends with the watercolors of Carrie DeBacker in such a way as to sit snuggly on high quality end of the spectrum of collaboration. DeBacker’s responses to Jewell Zeller’s text are widely varied – at times dancing around the poetry, possessed with just a hint of its imagery, then becoming at turns less evocative and more provocative of the poem, while at other moments text and image form inviolate parts that together illuminate. Jewell Zeller and DeBacker have created a text centered on the body in the world (“Matter is a state of being, of existing/ in the cave of a consciousness...”), focusing specifically the female body.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

December 2017

Capaciousness in Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s Rocket Fantastic

by Victoria Chang

I find the most challenging book reviews to write are the ones on books that are complex and ambitious. Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s third book of poems, Rocket Fantastic, is one of those books. So much is happening on so many levels in these poems that one could write about anything really. But capaciousness is a word that kept coming to mind when thinking about Calvocoressi’s book—in form, in subject matter, in voice, in spirit, and it’s one possible way to shape a stunning and intentionally shapeless book.  At the beginning of Rocket Fantastic, a note to the reader tells us that the musical segno symbol (that looks like a fancy S with a slash through its middle and two dots on either side) “is used as a pronoun...when referring to the figure of the Bandleader.” The note goes on to explain that the segno “represents a confluence of genders in varying degrees, not either/or nor necessarily both in equal measure. It is simultaneously encompassing and fluctuation, pronounced by me with the intake of breath when a body is unlimited in its possibilities.” The Bandleader (through the segno) appears and disappears throughout the book and acts as kind of fluid thread that is at once linking and at once breaking things apart.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Roberto Echavarren’s The Espresso Between Sleep and Wakefulness

by B.C.A. Belcastro

“Rooted in surrealism,” reads the note on Echavarren at the end of Donald Wellman’s translation, just as I had imagined it would. You don’t need it to tell you, Echavarren’s poems are more than happy to speak for themselves about everything out of the ordinary. The bilingual edition provides each poem twice, first in English and then in the native Spanish, as two separate versions within the same volume. In that sense, it is not literally bilingual—page by page, it’s either all English or all Spanish….Rather than decry what Wellman necessarily loses, this is worthy of celebration, the ability to find new forms through the play of language and its rules. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Claudia Cortese’s Wasp Queen

by Adam Crittenden

You won’t often find a book jacket adorned with praise from Ocean Vuong, CA Conrad, and Rusty Morrison. With Claudia Cortese’s Wasp Queen, the praise is well-deserved. Released in 2016 by Black Lawrence Press, Wasp Queen gives readers a portrait of youth, pain, and strength all while presenting surreal and beautiful imagery. Vuong writes, “Wasp Queen possesses something permanent and searing at its core: the will to live, even thrive, despite the shackles of childhood, despite even oneself.” The “shackles of childhood” prove to be harsh and abusive in Cortese’s poetic universe, as well as divisive in terms of how female gender expectations bombard children and teenagers. Morrison writes, “Cortese graphically exposes and explores what it would mean if a young girl, brutalized by all that is considered allowable by the social norms of our debased culture, could actually speak her mind.” What Morrison is engaging with here is that Cortese’s universe is driven by a young girl named Lucy, and Lucy is vibrant and honest and strong. We see Lucy in every aspect of her childhood, and we are reminded of the pain so many face from parental abuse to childhood bullying. The patriarchy is unrelenting in its bombardment against Lucy, and with all of the pressures society forces onto her from weight to beauty to Polly Pocket to sexuality, Lucy shows the reader that this poetic universe stings without remorse.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

November 2017

On Madelyn Garner’s The Hum of Our Blood

by Scott Wiggerman

Days before Mother’s Day, I began reading Hum of Our Blood, Madelyn Garner’s searing collection of poems centered around her son Bradley (“Brad”) Joseph Braverman, “a son cut off / at mid-blossom” by AIDS shortly before his thirty-fifth birthday. Like any gay man of a certain age, I know that Brad’s fate could just as well have been my own. I often thought about the special bond between mother and son during my mother’s recent holiday visit, and I know that my mother would have been there for me, just as Garner was there for Brad, had I not been one of the lucky ones. This bond between mother and son, “love’s umbilical cord,” as Garner puts it, pulses throughout this powerful and introspective book.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Nance Van Winckel’s Our Foreigner

by Molly Bendall

Several years ago an 800-year-old pot was found on a Native American reservation in Wisconsin. Inside the pot were seeds from a now-extinct squash plant. However, when the seeds were planted they yielded a large and vibrant squash. The poems in Nance Van Winckel’s Our Foreigner remind us, not only of bygone eras, but also of people and things that might lie dormant for a while only to be re-awakened into a newer and perhaps more “foreign” world.  Van Winckel invokes the return home of Rip Van Winkle (reminiscent of her own name) in the poem “A Man Comes Down” and remarks, “And how odd you’ve come down still / dressed in the ratty furs you wore up.” She is interested in things like these “ratty furs” and other stuff of lives that may seem obsolete yet retain a sense of selfhood and relevance. The idea of Rip Van Winkle’s nostos (or homecoming) leads Van Winckel toward other sorts of reckonings with the past.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Raymond Gibson’s Meridian

by B.C.A. Belcastro

Plenty of poems have arguments, but few claim to present any sort of conclusion. Raymond Gibson’s Meridian carefully arranges its poems to present a kind of investigation, opening with an unfamiliar world that gradually resolves into a series of short, image-driven leads and finally closes with the stark assertions of his “Conclusion.” “Presence,” on the first page, opens with “you are not here / and neither am I  / here is between us” as though it were a crime or an unnatural occurrence. The tension here drives readers onward as we trail Gibson in his attempts to make sense out of memories, emotions, happenings. We wind up here, in “Conclusion: “you won’t meet the end elsewhere it will be / something brought with you…”  The chapbook is riven with opposition: “Presence” is the main attraction, a long poem broken into parts and woven between shorter pages that draw stark attention to length and continuity. As a word, “Meridian” is difficult to pin down, with numerous definitions and a long etymological history originating in French, but everywhere the term makes reference to a dividing line: where does Gibson draw his own meridian, and what does it divide? The book doesn’t give us a clear answer—mirroring Gibon’s investigation into the self, the reader is following a trail of clues as they seek the boundaries of a secret geography.  Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

October 2017

Bodies in time and space: A review of Keegan Lester’s this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it

by Amy Penne

No reader of Darwin’s masterworks The Origin of Species and The Voyage of the Beagle can fail to notice the poetic quality of his observant pen. During his travels from South America to Australia, Tahiti, New Zealand, and, of course, the Galapagos Islands, he meticulously recorded in his journal microscopic shifts in species, his eye looking beneath the surface for clues to the intricate connections between species and their habitat. In his this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it, Keegan Lester, like Darwin, records the beauty of change and adaptation, poetically challenging readers to examine the exotic while focusing on the everyday tragic moments of human existence. The book is the poet’s first full-length collection, winner of Slope Editions’ 15th Annual Book prize, and has been described by Timothy Donnelly as “unapologetically cosmic in its scope.” Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

“Here I Conjure”: A Review of The Most Beautiful Cemetery in Chile by Christian Formoso

by S.D. Lichen

Seated next to me on a plane once, I met a man from New Zealand. As we chatted he mentioned that “When you get off the islands, you tend to stay away a long time.” Reading The Most Beautiful Cemetery in Chile, I thought of him. Living in our Northern Hemisphere-centric world where so many of the centers of cultural, economic, and political power reside, we can tend to overlook the sense of isolation that our more geographically far-flung and isolated brothers and sisters might feel. The poet Christian Formoso, whose epic poem, The Most Beautiful Cemetery in Chile, has now been translated into English by Terry Hermsen and Sydney Tammarine in a lovely bilingual edition from Green Fish Press, has grown up in one of those far-flung places, Punta Arenas, Chile, located near the tip of South America, on the Straits of Magellan, a city in distance that is much closer to Antarctica than it is to Santiago, the Chilean capital. Formoso’s is a book that revels in such isolation, in such vast distances from more populated outposts. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai

by Emily Alex

Helen DeWitt’s widely-acclaimed first novel, The Last Samurai, has recently joined the many important works which have received renewed attention thanks to a re-issue by New Directions. Originally published in 2000, this essential novel from the Berlin-based writer, literary critic and thinker presents a coming-of-age story that relies on a familiar narrative framework: that of a hero’s quest. However, the formal ingenuity with which DeWitt describes the moral, intellectual and psychological formation of its young protagonist is such that the work defies any reductive or generic classification. In fact, The Last Samurai is perhaps best described as nonconformist: DeWitt embraces intertextuality and non-standard formatting to an awesome degree, and the result is both singular and singularly articulate. As the author suggests in her Afterword to the 2016 edition, this is a text that is interested in exposing “the unknown capabilities of the reader.” Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

September 2017

Chorus and Cacophony: On the Things We Inherit by Ginger Ko

by Sara Rauch

Ginger Ko’s new collection, Inherit, is, as the name professes, a gathering and rendering of inheritances. The poems comprise an intergenerational compilation of voices speaking to a multitude of experiences, thoughts, curses and blessings handed down over years and through bloodlines. This multiplicity of voices urges the speakers of the book toward an understanding of self, of history, though try as they may, full assimilation never quite arrives. In its place, by the final pages, looms an inevitable acceptance of discomfort and perhaps even a reluctant appreciation for the gifts the past bestows. The inheritances Ko speaks of are explicitly female, explicitly relational… Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

The Many Terrors of Scott Spanbauer’s The Grill

by Mark Pleiss

Scott Spanbauer’s The Grill is a translation of Adolfo Pardo’s La parrilla (1981), an unnerving depiction of state-sponsored terror in Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). Named after “the grill,” a torture device that uses electricity to force confessions from its victims, the story serves as a counter-narrative to the official discourses of the Pinochet regime by presenting an eye-witness account of the government’s tactics of intimidation, humiliation, and violence. The story is told from the point of view of an adolescent girl who is kidnapped, along with her brother, for her resistance to the Pinochet government and spends several days in a political prison. The two are subsequently beaten and tortured by the National Intelligence Center, a gestapo-like political police force responsible for an estimated 40,000 abductions, thousands of which resulted in torture, murder, and permanent disappearances. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Donika Kelly’s Bestiary

by Lucien Darjuen Meadows

Growing up, my favorite part of going to the doctor was the Animalia panels circling each room. Sometimes, I would hide behind a marble pillar watching “Diabolical Dragons Devouring Dainty Delicacies,” smelling sulfur and sugar so deeply that when the doctor came in, I could not be more surprised. Those panels, thresholds between belief and imagination, tickled my sense of self. Donika Kelly’s debut collection Bestiary, chosen by Nikki Finney as the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, is just as effective as those panels. Bestiary will transport you—and return you to your world made quite new—making you question categories you give to language, creatures, even yourself. “Refuse the old means of measurement,” Kelly commands in Bestiary’s opening line. As her book spirals out over 43 poems, all one page long save for the visceral 16-page sequence “How to be alone,” we are comforted and challenged by Bestiary’s multi-layered structure. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

August 2017

Lost and Found in Translation: The Lovers’ Phrasebook, poems by Jordi Alonso & illustrations by Phoebe Carter

by Amy Penne

A busy antique store is nestled less than two blocks from my house, attracting dozens of elderly visitors every day, especially on Sundays. People seeking antique tools, silver, teapots, remembered artifacts. But I walk over for the postcards. In front of the cash register, four boxes of densely packed postcards, arranged alphabetically, leave traces of memory and stories. They’re often priced in small grab-bag clumps: love-notes, break-ups, Easter greetings, sorrow and grief, lovers’ stories left behind as ephemera for the curious collector to discover. Postcards are a nineteenth-century invention. The first known cards, designed specifically as objects to be mailed, came from Europe, via England, Austria, and Hungary. Their popularity as souvenir items skyrocketed after the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. As objets d’art, postcards have enchanted readers and collectors for more than a century. Jordi Alonso’s postcard collection of poems, The Lovers’ Phrasebook, illustrated with stunning pastel art by Phoebe Carter, tangles language, romance, and translation in a spiral-bound objet d’art that invites intimacy while simultaneously deconstructing what may seem at first glance to be simplistic images of everyday encounter: hummingbirds, orchids, morning hair, tea for two, sunlight in winter woods. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

Grim Peace That’s Made a Home: A Review of Natalie Giarratano’s Big Thicket Blues

by Aaron Brame

In June of 1998, three white supremacists attacked 49-year-old James Byrd, Jr., chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck, and dragged him down a country road to his death. The men then abandoned the remains of Byrd’s body in front of an African-American church and went to a barbecue. This horrifying murder took place in the Big Thicket National Preserve, in a rural part of east Texas with a long history of Ku Klux Klan activity. Big Thicket is also the childhood home of poet Natalie Giarratano, the “landscape of my youth,” as she calls it, and it is the geographical heart of her powerful second collection of poetry, Big Thicket Blues (Sundress Publications, 2017). Giarratano begins her new collection with an eight-part poem about Byrd’s murder that undertakes a brutal self-examination of racist violence in her hometown. While Giarratano mourns the death of Byrd, noting how “three cocksures chained you to the back / of their pickup as though you were some old / leather shoe,” she also implicates herself and her family and her own history as part of the evil that led to Byrd’s death. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Landscape with Headless Mama by Jennifer Givhan

by Meg Eden

Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape with Headless Mama, winner of the Pleiades Press Editor’s Prize for poetry, is a haunting fairy tale of watching, desiring and obtaining motherhood. Givhan’s poems combine both the visceral with the otherworldly, the every day with the legendary. Her poems are as real as they are magical, as grounded as they are inventive. In Landscape, Givhan portrays motherhood as a surreal journey where definitions of life and body are subverted. Givhan begins Landscape with a quote from Audrey Niffeneggar: “In fairy tales it’s always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers have to stay at home & wait...” However, Givhan transforms this trope and makes the mother the central figure to her fairy tales—who is not only an active participant in the story, but a vital guide for primary speaker in the poems, the daughter. The mama, the main mother figure in the poems, serves as both model and affirmer, passing down the inheritance of motherhood to the daughter. The fairy tale of motherhood starts with the foreshadowing of the mother’s death. In “Karaoke Night at the Asylum,” the mama is “already coffin-legged.” The speaker is already “a gravedigger.” We enter this fairy tale knowing and expecting death to come. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

July 2017

Becoming What I’ve Always Been: A Review of Joy Ladin’s Fireworks in the Graveyard

by Tom Griffen

Joy Ladin’s eighth poetry collection, Fireworks in the Graveyard, is a testimonial of personal transformation. A stunning book tormented by fear and bodily discomfort, yet one also celebrating stalwart perseverance. Ladin’s personal experience with gender transition might be the book’s inspiration, but the work is poised for universal interpretation. The opening poem, “While You Were Away,” hurls readers into a moment which, as implied by the title, underwent some sort of change. It quickly becomes evident that this change was prolonged—an exacerbated feat of endurance—and marked with harrowing details: “The world / grew wider, warmer, more dangerous...Another ocean / deepened between us.” The poetic use of “us” is elusive, though there is a suggestion that it serves as an all-encompassing persona. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

Desert Music: A Review of Jeffrey Alfier’s Fugue for a Desert Mountain

by David Armand

Jeffrey Alfier’s latest collection of poetry, Fugue for a Desert Mountain, takes the reader on a meditative, almost monastic, journey through the American Southwest—down Route 66 and its tributaries of highways and byways that snake through places like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and then just near the border into Mexico, where “Above the windbreak of a steep-walled / ravine, the castaway jacket of a border / crosser is arbored on mesquite thorns.” However, Alfier’s trained photographic eye goes beyond the obvious “buttes,” “switchbacks,” “cutbanks,” and “chaparral” that most readers might associate with this region. Instead, Alfier takes his reader to the darker places, ones that likely never appeared in an Ansel Adams photograph. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

On Amelia Martens’ The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat

by Hannah Dow

Amelia Martens’s debut collection of prose poems, The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat (Sarabande, 2016) is a successful, surprising, and darkly humorous rumination on contemporary public, domestic, and divine life. The unassuming nature of the prose poem’s form, coupled with a childlike philosophy regarding life and death, effortlessly invite readers into the worlds this book creates. As it does so, Martens establishes herself not only as a serious prose poet, but as a prose poet with something new to offer the genre. The collection opens with an apology, or at least, a poem called “The Apology,” as if to assure her readers that this is indeed a poetry collection: And the apology I made for you came from a willow tree. From a lemon. From some mud I found in the living room. Our daughter thinks you are a giant. She asks you to lift the house, so she can put her dolls in timeout. There is a crack in the back of my mind and I am filling it up with forget-me-nots and sailor’s knots and do nots... Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

June 2017

“Teaspoon-sized delicacies”: On Three Recent Chapbooks from Platypus Press

by Jenna Le

Platypus Press is a U.K.-based literary press. At one end of the length spectrum, they publish a select catalog of full-size books; at the other end, they publish individual poems and prose works in their online literary magazine Wildness. In between these two extremes, they also traffic in an art form with which I was wholly unfamiliar before visiting their website: the “digital mini-chapbook.” Digital mini-chapbooks, so far as I can gather from Platypus’s website, are book-like entities that are only eight pages long (this page count includes their cover, front matter, and back matter). Platypus makes its digital mini-chapbooks available for free download from their website, in two forms: a standard .pdf that can be read off a computer screen and a differently formatted .pdf that is intended to be printed double-sided and then folded into a little booklet you can hold in your hands. The first of Platypus’s teaspoon-sized delicacies that I sampled was Ode to the Far Shore, a collection of five poems by Khaty Xiong, a Hmong American poet (Xiong’s full-length poetry collection Poor Anima, released by Apogee Press in 2016, was the first-ever full-length poetry book to be published by a Hmong American woman poet). Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

“Pain is the heaviest thing”: The Many Meanings of Tender

by Sara Rauch

Sofia Samatar’s new collection of stories, Tender, is comprised of two sections: “Tender Bodies” and “Tender Landscapes.” In a way, bodies are landscapes, the physical terrain upon which we map our emotional lives. But, bodies also exist separate from the landscape—forces at work upon each other, for better or worse. As one might intuit from this division/ connection, there is a lot of mirroring throughout Tender. The stories gathered here reflect the other side of something, or an alternate lens through which to view the world—something both of and other. Infused with dreamscapes, myth, and fairy tales, Tender is fabulous in all meanings of the word. The collection’s nineteen stories and standout novella span time and space, ranging from ancient history and myth to automatons and kings to post-apocalyptic and futuristic imaginings, and yet, Samatar’s themes of youth, desire, loss, and return connect the pieces with unexpected clarity. The stories resound off one another—a dream here, a longing there—and all the while, a steady creep of pain snakes between the lines. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

Seeking Self in the Mirror: A Review of Simulacra, by Airea Matthews

by Sonja Johanson

Airea Matthews’ debut collection, Simulacra, is an experiment in time travel, a self-examination that takes place by means of a non-linear journey through civilization. Matthews employs a council of writers, philosophers, musicians, and mathematicians – along with a pantheon of deities spanning multiple cultures – to pull back the veil of the mundane and reveal personal truths. She dons a series of masks through which we can view this story, and ultimately takes them all off. The titular “simulacra” refers to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s concept that likeness uncovers the truth – the examined thing is, in fact, the thing itself. Matthews uses a changeable character to personify her simulacra. Sometimes it is “Rebel”, from the Camus epigraph that opens the book. Rebel warns us up front what we are in for; in the opening poem she reflects “...I knew it was a winged thing,/ a puncture, a black and wicked door.” Other times her simulacra is “Want”, who, when we first meet her, tells us “I see through you...Nothing to see. Not much to your kind.” The simulacra is perhaps best personified by Narcissus. Fascinated with his own reflection in both the literal and figurative senses, Narcissus frequently appears in a water motif. He invites us to “Imagine that you are sitting by that pond only to find that you are the water and you were very, very thirsty.” If Narcissus thirsts, for self-knowledge, for love, Matthews’ simulacra possesses an even more compelling urge – intense hunger. Read more >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

April 2017


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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ Memories of the Future

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ Colenc_web-250x386

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

March 2017

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ Blanchfield_Proxies

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ angel-of-oblivion-cover-draft

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

February 2017


“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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ in-no-mans-ear-cover

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ cover_quest_front_1024x1024

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

January 2017


“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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ screen_shot_2016-04-12_at_18-01-54

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ mariachi-350

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

December 2016


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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ olio_cover_for_website_1ddaeace-04d2-4377-9236-5f41bf973a60_1024x1024

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ contradictions-book-cover

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

November 2016


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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ bright-edge-cover

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ mr-west-cover

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

October 2016


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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ fourreincarnations-cover-pgw-300rgbweb-2

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ cosmos-book-cover

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

September 2016

Sorrow Proper Cover

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ Ossip3

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ Madeleine Cover

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

August 2016


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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ Stonecipher 1

“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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ LandmanCover_web

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ 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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ 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 >> _____________________________________________________________________ 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>> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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>> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

June 2015


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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >>  _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________

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 >> _________________________________________________________________________

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 >> _____________________________________________________________________________

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 >> ____________________________________________________________________________  

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 >> __________________________________________________________________________