Index of Poetry Reviews

claire-olesonCleaver Poetry Reviews Editor Claire Oleson is a student and writer hailing from Grand Rapids Michigan. She’s currently studying English and Creative Writing at Kenyon College. She’s an avid fan of books, bread, and trying to win the hearts of all felines, regardless of how cantankerous they may be. Her work has been published by the University of Kentucky’s graduate literary journal Limestone, Siblíní Art and Literature journal, Newfound Journal, NEAT Magazine, Werkloos Magazine, and Bridge Eight Magazine, among others. Contact her by email. 

carlo-matosCleaver Poetry Reviews Editor Carlo Matos has published seven books, including It’s Best Not to Interrupt Her Experiments (Negative Capability Press). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in such journals as Iowa Review, Boston Review, and Rhino, among many others. Carlo has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Fundação Luso-Americana, and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. He is also a winner of the Heartland Poetry Prize from New American Press. He currently lives in Chicago, IL and is a professor at the City Colleges of Chicago. He blogs at carlomatos.blogspot.com. Contact him by email.

MOTHER-MAILBOX by Emilie Lindemann Misty Publications, 74 pages reviewed by Rachel Summerfield The cover of Emilie Lindemann’s slim, cool-toned collection mother-mailbox feels like overturning a smooth river stone: melancholic, calming, blue, yet lit by spots of bright firefly light. The sense of quiet mysticism punctuated by sharp yellow alacrity infuses the entire collection: one woman, or two or three or all of us, confronting and examining the differences and similarities between the mythos and the materiality of womanhood as mother/creator, seeking comforts and confronting realities and dangers that come with this struggle. Lindemann performs the making of motherhood in an unusual, unique way; it is less about the symbols of mystic mothers themselves and more about what it is to carry or miscarry a child in the modern world and how that can feel like a between place, like a “leaking or tearing or stretching or / entering/ the unknown.” The collection is broken into five parts, all which feature imagined epistolary or persona conversations with a rotating cast of real and unreal female characters as well as Lindemann’s more inward-looking poems. The first section, invocation, consists of just one poem that serves as a lens for how to ...
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IN LIEU OF FLOWERS, poems by Rachel Slotnick, reviewed by Carlo Matos
IN LIEU OF FLOWERS by Rachel Slotnick Tortoise Books, 48 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Rachel Slotnick’s debut collection, In Lieu of Flowers—an eclectic combination of lyric poems, flash prose, and mixed-media paintings by the author, who is also an accomplished painter and muralist—is part in memoriam and part Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The paintings are of particular interest because they play an essential role in how we understand the poems rather than being simply decorative or extraneous as can sometimes happen when paintings and poems are paired up together in such a context. Most are essentially portraits, though not purely mimetic ones. Her paintings have a surreal quality, the edges often blurred as one image becomes another: a beard becomes a fish, a shirt melts into the coral of the sea floor, and flowers, always flowers sprouting where they desire. “I tried to paint my grandfather,” says the speaker, “and the figure devolved into flowers.” Often the paintings also include multiple perspectives of the same central figure, reminding me conceptually more of cubism than surrealism, Picasso’s figures (of Françoise Gilot, for example) often turning into flowers as well. Althought Slotnick’s paintings and poems were conceived separately, it is clear that what motivated the ...
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THE LOVERS' PHRASEBOOK, poems by Jordi Alonso, reviewed by Claire Oleson
THE LOVERS' PHRASEBOOK by Jordi Alonso Red Flag Press, 68 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Translation arguably holds a fascinating and unique role in literature—acting as a conduit between ways of understanding and communicating—but whether or not translation is used for uniting or differentiating separate languages is something more complicated and baffling to answer. In one of the best responses to this question I’ve encountered, Jordi Alonso’s poetry collection The Lovers' Phrasebook unpacks words considered ‘untranslatable’ in English into full, articulate poems. Alonso’s approach is particularly interesting in how it avoids direct or literal translation; Alonso’s pieces do not exchange one ‘untranslatable’ word for one English word, but instead, dismantle and reconstruct the word out of its native language and into an expanded experience or story. The Lovers' Phrasebook is able to at once communicate the untranslatable while also acknowledging the gaps and deficiencies in the English language which prevent a word-to-word exchange from being an adequate way of presenting the relationship between languages. In the collection’s opening poem, the only piece not titled after an untranslatable word, one of book’s most integral themes is introduced. The poem, “The Dream of Uncommon Language,” begins: I do not dream of ...
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WHIPSTITCHES by Randi Ward MadHat Press, 116 of pages reviewed by Hannah Wendlandt Ezra Pound, in his 1918 theoretical essay “A Retrospect,” defines the modern imagist poem as following three formal tenants: “1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective; 2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation; 3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.” In view of these principles, it would at first seem that Randi Ward, in Whipstitches, has written a collection of imagist poems, a description of the pastoral in bite-size chunks. However, and in my mind this is some small miracle, Ward’s tiny poems—sometimes no more than 10 words in full—have a soul. They have a light. They work in tandem to tell the story of what seems to be a year: dog summer into autumn into dark, bleak rural winter into dim warmth of spring and back again. In Whipstitches, Randi Ward uses the framework of this year to patch together a whole and complete picture of a place—all of the life contained within this place, all of the energy, all of the stories. The first poem ...
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ONLY MORE SO by Millicent Borges Accardi Salmon Poetry (2016) reviewed by paulA neves Only More So is a read for troubled times. War, climate change, cancer—it’s all here in forty-six poems of mid-life contemplation that simultaneously remind us that forgetting the past condemns us to repeat it and that celebrating the remembering is a necessary act of resistance and transcendence. Appropriately, the former sentiment originates not from Churchill, the statesman who appropriated it in wartime, but George Santayana, the poet who believed “only the dead have seen the end of war.” Those predominately seeing the ravages of war in Borges Accardi’s unwavering, unsentimentally beautiful free verse lyrics are, of course, women. Because it is women for whom “it requires this cardinal leap of faith / for them to still / believe / they /are / female,” never mind human (“Faith”). Because it is a woman who, whether she apprehends “that nothing important ever belonged to her” (“Only More So”), or holds such knowledge “…at arm’s length, / away from sensation, into the deep” (“Arriving at the Place of Pain”), cannot escape the Body Politic as the Body. Because it is women whose bodies are the vessels of ethnic cleansing ...
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BLINDSIGHT by Greg Hewett Coffee House Press, 105 pages reviewed by Brent Matheny Blindsight, the latest poetry collection by poet Greg Hewett, author of darkacre, The Eros Conspiracy, and Red Suburb, opens with a piece inviting the reader to abandon metaphor: take metaphor as blindness deforming life to get at the idea behind life tires me. For too long I have been looking into nothing and seeing nothing more than words Taking cues from composer Olivier Messiaen, Hewett, in an attempt to abandon layered language as a way of talking about the world, uses the concept of prime numbers to explore themes of loneliness, disassociation, and queerness. Prime numbers are those which are divisible only by the number one and themselves. Already they stand stark, somewhat alone. In the natural numbers (those positive integers we know so well: 1, 2, 3, 4...) prime numbers are at first common (a quarter of the first 100 are prime) then they become increasingly sparser, with arbitrarily many non-prime numbers in between them. The poems in Blindsight are somewhat like primes themselves. In addition to being composed of prime numbers of stanza with a prime number of syllables of in each line ...
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YOU ASK ME TO TALK ABOUT THE INTERIOR by Carolina Ebeid Noemi Press, 75 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Poetry is often in danger of being understood as purely conceptual material in need of processing and interpretation in order to become meaningful or real. It can be easy, after wading through stanzas, to lose a grip on time and place and the sensation of occupying a body. However, despite the ethereality and distance from reality poetry often possesses, Caroline Ebeid has proven that it can also be used to ground and remind us of the physical rather than simply blur or distract from it. In her collection You Ask Me to Talk About The Interior, Ebeid employs a sort of “bodily language,” flexing smoothly between word and body until the two seem irredeemably tied. I would argue that Ebeid, and this collection in particular, works to close the distance between words and what they mean, bringing the signified and signifier together on the physical stage of the paper. In the opening poem “Something Brighter Than Pity,” a persona spends “hours folding & unfolding” the learned forms of “swans in origami”. Because this picture is the first detailed in the book, ...
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no-more-milk
NO MORE MILK by Karen Craigo Sundress Publications, 80 pages reviewed by Shaun Turner Walt Whitman’s “I Sing The Body Electric” tells the reader, "If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred." Whitman's belief in the holiness of the body was always coupled with a healthy questioning of its capabilities, using poetry to bridge that gap of skin and bone and unify his readers’ minds. Great poetry balances line and narrative, capturing that elusive moment of true human connection. Similarly, Karen Craigo's No More Milk asks the reader to inhabit the body of each poem. Craigo’s poems are not barriers, but rather structures from which she explores the female body in relation to itself and to other bodies, and to our collective body as a people. In the second poem of the collection, "Milk," Craigo takes the reader to the body of a mother awoken, bleary-eyed, by a crying baby in a strange hotel. An innate physical response to the child’s cry requires the speaker to pump a painful ounce of breast milk. Craigo acknowledges this as, "no one's fault. Each day / I have less to give.” The reader is introduced to the reaction of the speaker’s ...
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DISINHERITANCE by John Sibley Williams Apprentice House, 98 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Language is almost intuitively understood as a tool for possession—a form of communication which allow us to hold and deliver ideas between minds. However, John Sibley Williams’s latest poetry collection, Disinheritance, demonstrates how language itself is anything but concrete or possessable. By employing themes of abstraction, fictionalization, and absence, Disinheritance depicts a reality that is only accessible through distortion. Williams’ poems hone in on the moments where language breaks off, proves insufficient, or only serves to describe a situation rather than explain it. In this way, Disinheritance investigates how poetry can both be made out of language and escape it. Like a snake eating itself, Williams’ lines often turn back on themselves, admitting that their bodies are made out of English while also refusing to be limited by the borders of their syllables. One of the first poems in this collection, “November Country,” uses a sense of abandonment to raise questions about presence and absence that much of the collection concentrates on. In “November Country,” instead of helping his grandfather dig a grave, the speaker decides to gather the earth rather than empty it, declaring, I ball ...
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A SLEEPLESS MAN SITS UP IN BED by Anthony Seidman Eyewear Publishing, 63 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne When Oswald de Andrade, in his Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto), spoke of “Cannibalism. Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into a totem. The human adventure. Earthly finality,” he might have been speaking of Anthony Seidman’s delighfully profligate A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed. The sheer exuberance and sense of endless imagistic invention is exhaustive and vivifying. Each word is a firecracker thrown at your head, as you run through a maze—both mystic and vulgar, blissful and grotesque, enjoying a scary magic that leaves you rapt. To travel at the speed of light you must become sun chafed under the weight of a stone, air glistening in a rope of water unraveling from a clay jug, and noon’s sizzling flash on cars rattling over potholes. Frequent use of anaphora creates not so much meter as a strong and rudely rhythmic sense of chanting. The door of fire is a harpsichord of blood. The door of fire is palm leaves thrown supplicant at the hooves of a goat. The door of fire is hope in a maguey thorn. The door ...
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THE DEAD IN DAYLIGHT by Melody S. Gee Cooper Dillon, 55 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson                             Communicating soreness, strength, weariness, and victory by tapping a reader’s own muscles for empathy, Melody S. Gee’s latest poetry collection, The Dead in Daylight, uses language to both construct and dismantle bodies and lives. As if preparing an animal for the table, Gee’s poems divide “body” from “life” and “muscle” from “meat.” Divided into two halves, “Separate Blood” and “Bone,” this book reaches out to its reader with both life and decay, fingers extended from the pages to read the pulse of its audience. In what can be understood as taxonomies, eulogies, butchering instructions, and ways to heal a nerve, The Dead in Daylight confronts life and death directly and sharply and softly, a heartbeat edging out from behind every line. The first poem of the collection, “I Cannot Make a Torch of Green Branches”, begins: The living does not burn, even after cold protests of smoke. Green branches will not take a spark like the dead. Here, Gee provides imagery that immediately seems to contradict itself. What’s still living is portrayed as not volatile, not useful, not bright or active, while the ...
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SAINT PAUL LIVES HERE (IN MINNESOTA) by Zach Czaia Wipf and Stock Publishers, 66 pages reviewed by Hannah Kroonblawd Zach Czaia’s debut poetry collection Saint Paul Lives Here (In Minnesota) is a poet’s response to revelations of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. When the profane is unearthed beneath the divine, long-laid foundations begin to crumble. Perhaps no more clearly has this been observed than within the Catholic Church, where investigations of sexual abuse have spanned decades. But Saint Paul Lives Here (In Minnesota) moves beyond the accusations, the guilt, the repercussions. These poems explore the connection between spirit and body. They pace between the cathedral and the high school classroom, the Minnesota cold and the heat of Belize. Saint Paul walks beside Charon the ferryman. In this collection, it matters that the suffusing voice is a Catholic one, echoing in the midst of a broken church. It is as if the poet is reaching out to the reader with one hand and saying, yes, there is darkness; let us walk through it together. The collection begins with the body, with the power of skin against skin. “Flesh is funny—how saveable and markable it is,” says ...
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EDIBLE FLOWERS by Lucia Chericiu Main Street Rag, 62 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson It’s easy to forget, in the middle of reading a stanza or a paragraph or a recipe for sauerkraut, that language is something constantly occupied with its author’s intention and its reader’s reception — it is not still nor discreet nor impersonal, no matter how inhumane the result may taste. Lucia Chericiu’s poetry collection Edible Flowers, through its personal and intimate depictions of history, home, fruit, bodies, and language, communicates how language is constantly in translation, moving between nerve-endings and letters, and irrevocably infused with the humanity that authored it and the humanity that receives it. The poems of Edible Flowers are largely occupied with how both the material and the lingual in people’s lives come with human stories ingrained in their meanings and purposes. In these poems, and in the reality they came from, all objects and words betray a time and a place and a person. A tree grown in a drought means a neighbor has stolen water, an old women’s hands aren’t merely tools but things which “bespoke hours and years she toiled,” and the propaganda people are forced to memorize is made ...
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TONGUE SCREW Heather Derr-Smith Spark Wheel Press, 68 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne There is Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. There is Ted Hughes’ Animal Poems. And then there is Tongue Screw. May we justly call it confessional? Not without complications. What gave Plath and Hughes, that broken set of matching china, their staying power is not the impulse to tell all, but the containment of raw human experience within a careful structure of implacable imagery. Whether they influenced her, or whether she found her independent way through a haunted yet familiar landscape, Heather Derr-Smith uses the wound of image in each of her indelible poems. Speaking in an interview of personal experience, Derr-Smith acknowledges how she renders emotion in terms of objects. Her mother’s way of departing for a moment from suffering was to take her child into a room and show her “Swiss chocolate, a music box from England, antique books from the 17th century with hand-painted illustrations, an old bible with flowers pressed in the pages.” Over the chain link fence, three bald eagles fight for their kill on the train tracks. My brother writes a postcard from someplace near Bagram, fog veiling and unveiling the Hindu Kush. In ...
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EDIE (WHISPERING): POEMS FROM GREY GARDENS by Sarah Nichols Dancing Girl Press, 19 pages reviewed by Allison Noelle Conner The cover of Sarah Nichols’ latest chapbook is evocative. How do its images prepare us for what’s inside? We are presented with an oversized sun hat and mirror. At first I thought the mirror was a magnifying glass. A beginning note informs us that the text is sourced from Grey Gardens, the documentary directed by Albert and David Maysles. The 1976 cult film profiles Edith “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and Edith “Little Edie” Beale, two eccentric former socialites who are noted for being Jackie Onassis’ aunt and cousin, respectively. Together they live in relative isolation amongst raccoons, cats, and fleas at Grey Gardens, their dilapidated 28-room estate in East Hampton, NY. Over the years the women, particularly Little Edie, have become camp icons, remembered as precocious misfits shunned by (or shunning?) upper class morality and ethics. Despite their precarious living situations, the Edies make time for singing, for dancing, for costumes, for pontification, for recalling. Under their rule, Grey Gardens transforms into a space of performances and guises, a seemingly eternal stage. Why must Edie whisper? Which Edie speaks? The ...
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VOICELESS LOVE by Katherine Brueck Finishing Line Press, 34 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne When Lady Mary Wroth avowed, “For men can only by theyr slights abuse / The sight with nimble, and delightful skill,” she was speaking of love. But her couplet might as well have been speaking of the sonnet. By the time she wrote those sage words in the midst of the Renaissance, the sonnet was already the noblest form in the English-speaking poetic tradition. And not much has changed since then, centuries of experimentation notwithstanding. The sonnet’s tradition and power are too strong, its advantages too many. The sonnet is the place where our carnal self, whether dreadful or delightful, meets the meteoric speed of the mind. In her collection Voiceless Love, Katherine Brueck takes to heart her idol Wroth’s enjoinder, finding a personal path to “abusing the sight” with dexterous sleights. Her preface lays out nakedly the autobiographical aims of the book, as something of a manual of solace, rooted in her contemplation of a stark and at times painful family life, softened somewhat by marriage, an adopted child, and God. There is a pilgrim’s progress explicit in the structure of the book as it moves ...
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DEAD MAN’S FLOAT by Jim Harrison Copper Canyon Press, 106 pages reviewed by Clare Paniccia I have read Jim Harrison’s 18th volume of poetry twice: once at the end of winter and then again on the day following the poet’s death. Harrison’s themes of mortality, a lust for living, the pleasures of the body in nature, and a fascination with the violence of being remained constant between both of these readings, pulled along by a consistent flow of lush imagery and language that attaches itself to the dialect of the everyday. What changed, however, was Harrison’s almost elegiac, almost premonitory tone: these are poems that have erupted forth from their speaker to mark the very essence of passion and understanding—that life, in all of its intricacies, is finite and unchanging, and one must always heed to the beautiful fury that is the natural and forward-moving world. Harrison’s prolific writing and preference for a rugged, offbeat lifestyle have allowed both critics and fans to cast him alongside Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Throughout his novellas, novels, nonfiction, and poetry, Harrison has presented insight into the balance between man and the natural world, the cultural richness and ritualism of food, ...
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KALEIDOSCOPE by Tina Barr Iris Press, 90 pages reviewed by Jeff Klebauskas With the slightest rotation of its cylinder, a kaleidoscope provides altered views of the loose bits of glass that make up its interior. Tina Barr’s latest collection, the aptly titled Kaleidoscope, applies these slight rotations to the entire world, focusing on human experience—beauty marks, blemishes, and all. From the first line, “As I turn the chambered end,” the reader is sucked into a realm of time and tone-shifting fantasy that manages to stay grounded by direct, no-nonsense accounts of the author’s surroundings. Barr constantly changes directions, as the nominal theme suggests. She takes us to a jewelry shop on the corner of Al Muezz in Egypt, to the Golden Moon Casino in Mississippi, and to a nightclub where a jazz band, “hunts music that weaves itself through air.” This is just a small example of how far the reader mentally travels when reading Kaleidoscope.                      Barr has an uncanny ability to balance beauty and despair with consistent precision. Although natural beauty gets the lion’s share of attention in her poems, all it takes for her to bring the reader back down to the cold, hard ground is ...
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LOUDER THAN EVERYTHING YOU LOVE by Nicole Rollender ELJ Publications, 120 pages reviewed by Camille E. Davis In her debut book of poetry, Louder Than Everything You Love, Nicole Rollender introduces herself as a voice that is polyphonic, startling, and necessary for the modern audience. When a contemporary woman is bombarded with messages that she cannot control her body, Rollender reaches through time to remind women of their own fierce strength. Rollender does this by considering prominent Biblical women, Rollender’s female ancestors, and her own daughter. She achieves this by deeply inquiring into her own faith, heritage, and even her mortality. The true elegance of Louder is in the way it slowly opens, as if Rollender’s neo-confessional speaker were quietly opening up her chest cavity, so that the reader could see her very bones moving. Rollender realizes this feeling through a masterful sense of pacing, an ambiguous temporality, and a lyricism that is gorgeous, haunting, and moldering. I say this because the poems in Louder frequently place the reader in very pastoral landscape, where things may bleed and die in a wooded bush, but where the reader cannot fully track if it is taking place in the past, present, ...
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BLOOD HYPHEN by Kenny Williams Oberlin College Press, 84 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure Frost said that, like an ice cube on a hot stove, a poem must ride on its own melting. It’s an apt description of the poems in Kenny Williams’ Blood Hyphen, winner of the 2015 FIELD Poetry Prize. Take the book’s opening poem, “About the Author,” which begins: The genius of Diogenes: all his books are lost. But really that’s the genius of the books and not the man. If I can speak for the man, his diet of worms and onions makes me feel like a pig when I go to the store and it’s midnight and the store is closing. Riding on its own melting, the poem proceeds by continuously undermining itself. The genius of Diogenes isn’t really the genius of Diogenes but rather the genius of his books—all of which are lost. So to be ingenious, a piece of writing should not exist—a darkly funny argument that undermines the very act of writing the poem in the first place. The speaker then proposes to “speak for the man” Diogenes—but does no such thing, instead talking about his own experience in the grocery ...
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ENIGMAS by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz translated by Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal Ugly Duckling Presse, 25 pages reviewed by Justin Goodman Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz remains Mexico’s greatest mystery. Born in 1651 out of wedlock and between social classes, intensely devoted to knowledge—having had discussions with Isaac Newton—and to Catholicism, she died forty-four years later despised by the male authorities of the church, but canonized as part of the literary godhead of the Spanish Golden Age. The haziness of these seeming contradictions evoked in the glorious 20th century Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, a sensation of the enigmatic which he captured in “Wind, Water, Stone”: “Each is another and no other.” It’s appropriate, then, to see Enigmas publication; it is a work whose title is a reflection on both de la Cruz’s existence and poetry, and also on the amorphous gulf between language and meaning that translators of poetry attempt to concretize. At least that’s what Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal seems to get at in her manifesto-ish “Translator’s Not-(Subtractive Letter).” Much as she describes her aesthetic decisions, “through Neo-Baroque deletion of first person yet a postmodern acceptance of my identity,” the note evokes the characteristically astringent intellect of poststructural ...
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POENA DAMNI TRILOGY Z213: EXIT, 95 pages WITH THE PEOPLE FROM THE BRIDGE, 61 pages THE FIRST DEATH, 35 pages by Dimitris Lyacos translated by Shorsha Sullivan Shoestring Press reviewed by Justin Goodman “What does the future, that half of time, matter to the man who is infatuated with eternity?” In France, in 1960, this question pressed itself upon the Romanian-born Emil Cioran. Histoire et Utopie was published, likely to the same acclaim (and rejection of acclaim) that marked all Cioran's career after 1950. Six years later and southeasterly, Dimitris Lyacos would be born in Athens. Despite the distance, Lyacos' recently translated Poena Damni trilogy revels inside Cioran's head. The composite units: Z213:EXIT, With the People From The Bridge, and The First Death, are ridden with the lack of euphony that belongs to the invisible canon of defeat to which Cioran belongs. Understanding is a place, for those of this school of thought, towards which knowledge only exacerbates the distance. The translator of the triology, Shorsha Sullivan, who is also a Classics professor at Leeds College, distinguishes Lyacos from the Greek poets that “slide easily into the mainstream of European Modernism” and those localized poets whom “lose [their] savour in translation.” ...
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Carey McHugh
AMERICAN GRAMOPHONE by Carey McHugh Augury Books, 72 pages reviewed by Clare Paniccia In approaching Carey McHugh’s American Gramophone, one might first consider this question: What is the song of America, or American culture? It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions—the United States has strongly defined itself through its velocity, whether in industry, technology, or commercial growth, and its music has become largely representative of these themes, with contemporary pop artists representing the almost-electric shine of the digital age, rock bands highlighting the working-class, and country groups crooning over the “loss” of an easy-going, slow-paced lifestyle. Beneath these surface associations, however, McHugh challenges our initial question with a more stripped-down idea—what if America’s song isn’t something you can quickly flip to on a radio? What if America’s song is something that deviates completely from the mainstream—something pared to its most visceral form: an instrumental, organic, and natural tone? Think of the vibrating note of a fiddle, the deep strum of a guitar, and bare, haunting vocals. The sounds of folk and Americana that seem to eek out of valleys, creeks, and forgotten forests—quietly shivering their way into the undercurrent of the American everyday. These are the notes that wind from ...
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Masks and Icons
MASKS AND ICONS by R. Daniel Evans Blurb, 82 pages reviewed by Shinelle Espaillat In his fourth poetry collection, Masks and Icons, R. Daniel Evans examines the complexity of love and desire, and exposes the ways in which these emotions both intersect with and deviate from each other. Evans brings a microscope to the multiple small evidences of love in the world, using the lens of art to view the beauty and pain of interpersonal connection, inviting readers to look through the mask of the self and perceive the extraordinary. Section I, “From The Land of Walt Whitman,” focuses on the intimacy and inner-life of a speaker’s relationships with individuals, beginning with a one-sided conversation with Whitman himself. The narrator sits on a beach, fairly melting with desire over a distant beauty to whom he never speaks, but whom he imagines as Whitman’s muse. He wonders how, with such an object of desire near him, Whitman “ever got any poems written,” noting, in this metaphysical moment, that desire is an obstacle to his own work. Sexual desire, then, is all-consuming, and the speaker suggests that poets instead mine the world at large for the rich possibilities of interaction, with the ...
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CALIGULAN by Ernest Hilbert Measure Press, 96 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure From his debut Sixty Sonnets to All of You On The Good Earth, Ernest Hilbert has made a name for himself as a dedicated formalist. His latest, Caligulan, is no exception: you’ll find no free verse here. Hilbert is at his best when the content of the poems plays against the formal constraints. Take “Barnegat Light,” for instance: The gull pulls bags from trash and drags them clear. He’s big as a cat, a blur of snow and soot. He pokes until debris spills down the pier. He’s clumsy, and somehow he’s lost a foot. Chewed off? A winter fishing line? Wedged in boards? The stump’s a small sharp spear that stings the bird If ground is touched. He soars to foggy scree, Alights but flaps to halfway hang in air, spurred By pain to perform endless pirouettes. The tightly elegant form contrasts perfectly with the unsettling pain and violence of the scene described; one senses the formal control is the only thing between us and the chaotic world the bird inhabits. It’s hard not to read this as an ars poetica: the bird has lost a foot (ha!) ...
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DIORAMA by Rocío Cerón Phoneme Press, 145 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne Cerón’s creation can best be described thus: she summons words. Like iron filings to a magnet, they come into an order that feels inevitable. Pulsar body, delicate hibiscus flowers or mangrove Palm: residual beauty of misery/ In this penchant for naming, her exquisite and casual catalogues could pass as still life. But her poetry, technical yet drenched in sensation, scientific yet opulent in the manner of natural history, is propulsive, as she pushes herself, and us, to the far limit of the mind’s ken. In “Sonata Mandala to the Penumbra Bird,” echo seems to precede sound: Hyperboreal smell: wild mist of civet musk. Body’s simple landscape, dermal aura, death. Scent of tea and points of star. Affect falls dense, and what might feel like lacunae or mere white space in the work of another poet, figures as sensation. Feeling crowds and suffuses each gap. It is not so much a matter of a reader making logical leaps (though they can be made) as it is of following the quick pulses that run through the lines. Politics figure as oblique, yet Cerón is quite capable of brief, cutting critiques ...
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SUPPLICATION: Selected Poems by John Wieners Wave Books, 216 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure I’ll admit upfront that, prior to receiving Supplication, Selected Poems of John Wieners, I knew very little about Wieners or his work. Biographically, I knew he was a Beat Poet and member of the San Francisco Renaissance. The only poem I knew was the titular poem of this selected, “Supplication”: O poetry, visit this house often, imbue my life with success, leave me not alone, give me a wife and home. Take this curse off of early death and drugs, make me a friend among peers, lend me love, and timeliness. Return me to the men who teach and above all, cure the hurts of wanting the impossible through this suspended vacuum. This is Wieners at his best. The first stanza shows his trademark gifts: a willingness to use an elevated rhetoric that risks—and resists—sentimentality, and a powerful longing for what cannot be. How is poetry to provide success, companionship, marriage, a home? Wieners knows as well as the rest of us that it doesn’t work that way. In the second stanza, we see Wieners wrestling with another of the primary concerns in his work – ...
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HOW TO BE ANOTHER by Susan Lewis Červená Barva Press, 81 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos In How to be Another, Susan Lewis explores the full range of the prose poem form. These poems read like short speculative essays in the tradition of Montaigne, which is to say they have a metaphysical or epistemological bent to them. “Most knowing goes unlicensed,” says the speaker archly in “Introduction to Appreciation.” We are not dealing in this book with the esoteric details of autobiography or memoir but with the broader experiences of humanity as a species. How to be Another isn’t concerned with the kind of surface empathy or watered-down existential day-seizing of self-help books (as the title might suggest) but is instead a work of anthropology—though, clearly, these perspectives must intersect to some extent. For example, the speaker of “Introduction to Narcissism (III)” says, the “point is, self-awareness confers little evolutionary advantage. We are not wired for objectivity.” However, later in the same poem, the speaker acknowledges that the “pain” caused by self-awareness “is relentless, staying with you longer than any friend or flattering memory.” The shift to the second-person pronoun is telling for although the “you” is largely rhetorical in ...
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TOUCHÉ by Rod Smith Wave Books, 112 pages reviewed by Brandon Lafving Poetry these days is unglamorous, but at least it’s fun. At most, it’s fun. Rod Smith’s Touché plays, but you would have to call it mischievous because it hits you with über grit, and not one punch is held back. “Everything I have written is trash. I have not / even the strength to love. Let it go.” The blunt emotion of these lines is the impulse of “Buoyancy”—the cathartic moment of a tormented artist who is filled with self-hatred and guilt over his inability to love a woman more than his work, and his work at all. The pathos is so real to me—the hapless raising-onto-pedestal of a woman—the inevitable transition to thoughts of writing: “I have to write past this obsession / with you, Nora, with an invalid / admiration in the learning. You’ve / got the idea. I’m a calf. & the victory / of the light. // Does it go on? The poem I mean.” I am pretty sure I felt this way last week. Touché, indeed. I know. I too was taught that the author died long ago in some publication by a French ...
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SUPERIOR PACKETS by Susie Timmons Wave Books, 181 pages reviewed by Clare Paniccia So often we find a characterization and romanticization of New York City within literature and film—the city forming a metaphor for struggle and loss and surrounding a scene with an obvious reminder that time (or taxis) waits for no one. If we close our eyes and imagine “New York,” we might see towering skyscrapers, new-age coffee shops serving only one type of organic bean, streets marred with the remnants of garbage and posters… This is the city that we know—the one that pulses continuously in our veins and invites a feeling of hunger or thirst, in that we cannot be satiated unless we are wholly involved in the movement, in “it.” I find it important to imagine my own relationship to the city before interpreting Susie Timmons’ three-volume collection of poetry, Superior Packets, which takes on its own characterization of a late twentieth-century New York. Any place, the city or otherwise, can mold to the individual experience—within spaces and locales we encounter our own subjective realities that form the basis for our relationship to that particular environment. Out of these subjective events, these memories, we create our ...
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TOMBO by W.S. Di Piero McSweeney’s, 63 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne Giacomo Leopardi speaks of two essential kinds of imagination: strong and promiscuous. The first is “weighty, impassioned, melancholic, with deep emotion and passion, all fraught with life hugely suffered.” The second is “playful, light, fleet, inconstant in love, high spirited.” The W.S. Di Piero of The Dog Star, the one I first encountered as a reader, is of the strong variety, as in his depiction of a somber Whitman attending injured soldiers and offering introspection on a Civil War battlefield in “Walt, the Wounded.” A small fire still burns in the nursery. Rice and molasses simmer on the stove. Children will have to learn to ask for less, less from the elephant dawn that chilled across the heights where Lee held his ground. Or there is the dark homage “To My Old City”: “diesel fume and bloodspoor streaked / on wet streets, and cars biting evening papers / from the black newsstand.” In it, memory figures as corrosive. Surely all poets offer changes in mood, even within a single book, but underlying shifts in temperament happen over time, if at all. And with the appearance of Tombo, I ...
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BETWEEN GRAMMARS by Danielle Vogel Noemi Press, 78 pages reviewed by Amanda Hickok It’s so often that a book of poetry can be thought of as a static object, a collection of disembodied words that are supposed to transcend the body and voice of their author on the page. And it’s so often that poets are bodiless, as poetry—no matter how much it is about bodies—must be divorced from its corporeal source and recipient; that a poet writes for an anonymous reader who in turn reads nobody behind their words. However, and perhaps ironically, poetry’s meaning comes at least in part from its resonance within these bodies, in its ability to stir in them a visceral reaction. Danielle Vogel knows this and addresses this with a forceful intimacy between poet, reader, and page that is both beautiful and challenging in a breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of way, in the vulnerability it necessitates that we are so often sheltered from. Between Grammars, a book-length poem, begins with an equation of text and body—epigraphs that include “we melt into each other with phrases… We make an unsubstantial territory,” from Woolf, and “Language is a skin,” from Barthes, and then a prologue in five ...
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THE REFUSAL OF SUITORS by Ryo Yamaguchi Noemi Press, 97 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne This chaste book could be titled The Story of O. Ryo Yamaguchi rhapsodizes, if more quietly, in the mood of Keats when he exclaims “O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!”: O machine, O accord, I no longer ask the things I need not ask . . . the slow atmosphere of story has refused too long to seat my rhythms, and I have refused to elaborate myself through its lines. His drama of sensate consciousness is based on the refusal (ergo the title) to follow the suit of narrative poetry, in favor of the mind’s free play. Yet one may legitimately ask, as we sometimes do of historical novels, whether the writer courts anachronism or rather renews the proposition. In the case of Yamaguchi, the answer is complex. Many times I found myself wondering whether this one-vowel incantatory tendency was a tic or sprang organically from what I am tempted to call “new lyric.” “O youth, o conflagration, O end of summer parking lots”; “O office of elaborate letters, O remark”; “O here is the work”; “O John the Baptist”; ...
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MENDELEEV’S MANDALA by Jessica Goodfellow Mayapple Press, 102 pages reviewed by Camille E. Davis Jessica Goodfellow was trained as a poet and a mathematician. In an interview with The Japan Times, she admits that as a child she would “recite poems, usually rewritten nursery rhymes, where [she] would change the words to what [she] wanted…but with the rhythm of the rhyme behind it.” However, her family, though never precisely dampening her poetic spirit, pushed her to explore her natural ability in mathematics instead. She came to reconsider her career choice when she found herself deeply unhappy while pursuing a Ph.D. in microeconomics and econometrics at CalTech. So it is not surprising that Goodfellow is completely at ease when flirting with poetic mathematics. Her first book of poetry, Mendeleev’s Mandala, sprinkles logic equations to the meat of its poems. Goodfellow is interested in the crossroads where mathematical logic and history meet both free verse and more classical poetic forms. Split into five sections, Mandala also feels like a compilation of Goodfellow’s work. The fifth section incorporates Goodfellow’s first chapbook, The Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland, and thus Mandala feels like a reverse chronology. A poem in the first section ...
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RUNAWAY GOAT CART by Thomas Devaney Hanging Loose Press, 80 pages reviewed by Anna Strong Early in Runaway Goat Cart, the latest from Thomas Devaney, readers get a found poem of language that has come from a diary found in a darkroom at Moore Women’s College of Art, dated 1972. The writer of the diary is unidentified, though she records the speech of a few of her friends. One of these, Susan, from the haze of cigarette smoke and darkroom chemicals, offers two startlingly clear statements about photography and art that also serve as a guide to reading Devaney’s text. The first, dated November 9: Susan says it’s forbidden for our pictures to echo the objects they depict; nothing looks like that, she said, but it’s allowed, it’s allowed for the world to look the way it does. Fine words those. The second, dated less than a month later, reads: Prints are not reproductions. Susan said this is a mistaken idea. What you’re looking at is a photograph: how something looks there. Taken together, Susan’s sage advice about how to look at a photograph (or take a photograph) tells readers much about how to read Devaney’s poems. So many ...
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I FOLLOW IN THE DUST SHE RAISES by Linda Martin University of Alaska Press, 63 pages PLASH AND LEVITATION by Adam Tavel University of Alaska Press, 85 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne On finishing these two books of poetry recently published by the University of Alaska Press, I felt like a smug bigamist who can’t decide between two pretenders for his love, so chooses them both. I don’t regret this lack of choice, for each has its charms, and they can’t be reconciled. Linda Martin’s I Follow in the Dust She Raises is the kind of poetry that invites the word luminous, so impoverished by overuse it can no longer light the inside of a bulb, much less invoke noonday. Too many blurbs have been attached to a series of lesser books that make the mistake of working nature by subtraction—assuming that an endless wheat field with a tractor in it under an immense Nebraska sky—offer a limned absence that by itself could bring us to metaphysical tears. Borges came closer to the truth when he said, speaking of the pampas, that each object in them was separate and eternal. To simple but potent effect, Martin starts from ...
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BANNED FOR LIFE by Arlene Ang Misty Publications, 81 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Arlene Ang’s Banned for Life is obsessed with bodies, especially dead bodies. In fact, there is a reference to a corpse in nearly every poem in the first section and in many cases the corpses are literally present. And in the poems that do not have corpses, death is often not far or on hold. In “Mountains,” for example, the subject of the poem is referred to simply as “the body:” With both hands, the body touched itself where the physician lingered with the stethoscope . . . on that part where everything went wrong. The “body” of “Mountains” might be the mother figure of the next poem, “To Sweat,” who has cancer. In these poems Ang demonstrates how the ravaging power of a disease like cancer can trap us inside our own bodies or reduce our humanity to its component, material parts. In the third section of the book, when Ang returns once again to her bodies, she develops the notion of dismemberment overtly. In “Rediscovering Paris Through Female Body Parts,” a woman is carved-up like a city map. This part is the Seine, another ...
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THE 8TH HOUSE by Feng Sun Chen Black Ocean Press, 93 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne Aphorism is the thought slot of our time. Philosophy has turned cuneiform. The ambitious poem-cycles that might once have been written through urgent, incessant movement, seeking enjambment as a fugitive does a street corner, with muscular metaphors in hot pursuit, now favor the end-stop. Feng Sun Chen, in The 8th House, practices this art of the succinct. No organism is ashamed under the knife. A woman’s body is an angel factory. When I pick up a book and open it, it is dead. Even in Chen’s first person stanzas, we get a colder intellect, rendering emotional candor into sedate masochism. I like it when you look at me with disdain. I say things that make you want to hurt me. This is the real thing, severe as winter part icicle that cannot be smashed part that parts leaves nothing to fill, only futility fills. But although nothing free-floats, it’s hard to point to a firm scheme. The principle of recursive imagery, twining time and again around the broken spine, holds this book together more than any set of explicit ideas. Most of all, there is ...
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THE SUGAR BOOK by Johannes Goransson Tarpaulin Sky Press, 184 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne Antonin Artaud gave us the Theater of Cruelty. He “for whom delirium was/the only solution/to the strangulation/that life had prepared for him.” Now Johannes Goransson, in the ironically named The Sugar Book, gives us a poetry of cruelty. It is the necessary car wreck that brings the Jaws of Life. The book is a whisky genre-bender in a haunted Los Angeles, where the “I” walks out on his son, fucks the homeless, reflects on scrotums, obsesses about tits, his hard-on, hot bitches, taxes, capitalism, the value of poetry (it’s worthless), noctuid larvae, and “the sepulchral chambers of the law.” Like many outrageous, seemingly misanthropic writers, he is at heart a moralist. The first section in fact contains a poem about immigration (as always, among many other topics). “The Law Against Foreigners Involves Mostly the Body” offers this withering insight: It’s also interested in my body when dogs bark at my genitals but it pretends that’s just evidence of a social conscience. It wants to find the human in me, even if it takes ripping this lamb mask into a thousand shreds and hanging it up ...
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THINK TANK by Julie Carr Solid Objects, 82 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne The first order of a book of poetry, irrespective of its particular style, is to give pleasure. It’s that simple. Whatever releases the dopamine from the nucleus accumbens qualifies. This was my experience with Julie Carr’s Think Tank. I suspended immediate comprehension, simply following the text’s pulses and impulses. Pick a through line: trail the images from start to finish, or the sounds, until understanding accumulates like dewdrops on a Maine slicker. This is a volume of extraordinary discipline, cerebral yet appealing, loose and playful: Yeast minutes leap to swamp the city’s borders or, Honk geese: soprano, duck duck hobbles, belly first a girl-falcon spins or, a headlock is to a hat as a tourniquet is to a condom a headlock is to a hat as a paring knife is to tongue I could go on giving examples. A narrative emerges, aided by the sentient tease disjunction provides. The mother surfaces numerous times as a conflicted presence, lending an emotional heft that keeps the poetry yeasty (see above), not stiff or academic. Never have I revered enough of my mother or reserved the rare knot of arid ...
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AND THE GIRLS WORRIED TERRIBLY by Dot Devota Noemi Press, 80 pages reviewed by Julia Paganelli Newly single for the first time in three years, I found myself claiming both the titles of housewife and provider: dish-washer and bill-payer, cook and changer of lightbulbs. My mother, on telephone calls, “hints” that she needs grandbabies—and soon. She says things like, “You know you want kids.” I backpedal. I won’t have time with all the poetry gigs I’ll have. I want to live in a dangerous place; I’m not sure where yet. I converted, and I want to become a nun—when? You know…yesterday. She says things like, “I hope you have a child as stubborn as you are.” Dot Devota, in her book, And the Girls Worried Terribly, puts aside marriage to man, woman, or God and marries self to self. Through bizarre and delightful celebration imagery, Devota leads us to conception through physical and mental violence. Devota’s title has been carefully selected from a caption in Oliver Statler’s The Black Ship Scroll. In this historical work, Statler writes of an instance when Japanese singing girls were to have their photographs taken by foreigners, “and the girls worried terribly,” that “the soul ...
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RED JUICE: POEMS 1998–2008 by Hoa Nguyen Wave Books, 245 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke Hoa Nguyen is a poetic tease: her retrospective Red Juice is a decade’s-worth of poetry that tantalizes with glimpses of self-awareness and familiarity just as soon as the lines lose you in non sequitur and obscurity. The poet flutters between intense clarity and seeming nonsense (albeit eloquent nonsense), forcing the reader to dwell over her deceptively short poems, grappling with gut-reactions to the way the work appears on the page. Reading the book becomes an accomplishment, a brain teaser; steeping the simple language in one’s thoughts to draw out the meaning seems as much a part of Nguyen’s poetry as the words themselves. For all of its length, Red Juice is rewarding—its complexities reveal themselves in intricate patterns of meta-referentiality, historical weight, even humor. One has to wonder if Nguyen presaged the collection, time-stamped in its very title, as she wrote these poems seven-to-seventeen years ago: they drip with a sense of history, whether the recent past or the Neolithic. With titles like “Dream 5.22.97,” the reader can’t help but picture the Nguyen of the ’90s knowing that cataloging her poetic chronology would be ...
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A QUESTION OF TRADITION: WOMEN POETS IN YIDDISH, 1586-1987 by Kathryn Hellerstein Stanford University Press, 496 pages reviewed by Alyssa Quint Poetry by female Yiddish writers has become the tree that falls in the empty forest of Jewish literature. As a discrete body of work it resonated only faintly with the same Yiddish critics and scholars who gushed over male Yiddish authors. English translations have become an important repository of the dying vernacular of East European Jews but, again, not so much for its female poets. Women's Yiddish poetry finally gets its scholarly due from Kathryn Hellerstein, long-time champion of the female Yiddish poetic voice, in her comprehensive and accessible account, A Question of Tradition: Women Poets in Yiddish, 1586-1987. Hellerstein organizes her book around the concept of a literary tradition as invoked by the likes of T.S. Eliot in his monumental essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent." To Eliot's eloquent if male-dominated and Eurocentic discussion of what "compels a man to write," (my italics), Hellerstein counters with a chain of women who work off the energy of the East European Jewish female experience with its idiosyncrasies of language, religion, gender, and culture. The Yiddish poetry of the sixteenth to ...
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THE GHOST IN US WAS MULTIPLYING by Brent Armendinger Noemi Press, 94 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne It has been thirty years since Bernstein, Hejinian, McCaffery, et alii stormed the gates of poesy—twenty since some of them hitch-hiked up to Buffalo. Depending on where you sat, they were either a palliative or a wound—in either case, necessary. They ran over the daisy with a lawnmower, the better to see the fibers of its petals. In a preface some time back to a re-issue of The Sophist, Ron Silliman mourns that “seventeen years later . . .[it] doesn’t look as radical to the eye as perhaps it once did.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They accomplished what they set out to do and thus of course Bernstein’s work looks more familiar. There is a time to shoot down the rapids with funky alphabet soup spraying in your face, and another to issue out into a broader and slower expanse of river, where you can put your head up and see the sandstone cliffs. The essential debate of whether a word is a word or a picture will go on forever, without closure, as it should. Beyond anyone’s manifesto, how much ...
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IN THE EVENT OF FULL DISCLOSURE by Cynthia Atkins CW Books, 95 pages reviewed by Arya F. Jenkins Questions about the past, memory and legacy interlink with everyday images that haunt the reader in Cynthia Atkins’s second volume of poetry, In the Event of Full Disclosure. Atkins’s poems arch into a tree extending way beyond herself, into family, society, and community, while inviting the reader to share in her concerns. If there is wholeness and power to be achieved, the poet seems to be saying, it is recognizing one’s humanness and interconnectedness. Separated into five parts, titled Family Therapy (I), (II), and so forth, In the Event of Full Disclosure is dedicated to Atkins’ sisters. Both humble and ambitious, the poems explore a complex legacy of familial relations with sharp images behind whose façade the reader senses stress and disequilibrium, as in “Picture This” in Part I: Three sisters just from swimming, bathing caps, fresh cut bangs— sitting at the pool’s edge. This safe notch in time hailed like a taxicab in the rain, and memory makes it sedate as a lawn chair, quelled ...........and awash in Technicolor. Think picket fences. Think polka-dot sundresses. Smiles and lemonade implied for ...
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HOW WE CAME UPON THE COLONY by Ross White Unicorn Press, 24 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure Ross White’s first chapbook, How We Came Upon the Colony, transports us to a strange world where the contemporary and the ancient commingle, and where nothing is ever quite what we first expect. Take “Downturn,” which opens: What’s gone remains gone. When the Library at Alexandria burned, scroll lit scroll. Whole languages died there. The Colossus at Rhodes, felled by earthquake, was eventually disassembled under the orders of the caliph, carted off by camel, and smelted like scrap.... ...It’ll take decades for the foliage to find its way back, and what grows here on battered ground, ground which was fused to glass in places, will wrestle its green from gray. Meanwhile, a thousand miles away, a distance Alexander might have marched in seventeen days or a comet might pass in about two-and-a-half minutes, fifty kids are sitting in a classroom, a few on the floor. The teachers’ union says it’ll take decades to unlearn what damage has harvested, likening the cuts to a crater. They sound the alarm of the burning library, full of precious things. Although at first the poem insists, “what’s gone ...
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THING MUSIC by Anthony McCann Wave Books, 113 pages reviewed by Matthew Girolami Anthony McCann’s newest collection, Thing Music, is not unlike a player piano, only instead of standards it plays John Cage or even Merzbow. That is to say, that while the reader recognizes McCann’s Thing Music to be poetry as one recognizes Cage’s compositions to be music, the common associations with either art—melody and harmony, form and line—are rearranged, actively dissonant, and yet nonetheless beautiful. Unlike familiar emotional confirmations found in melodrama or more confessional lyric poetry, Thing Music’s reward is one of discovery: of new pleasures found in innovative poetic forms, and of newfound emotional connections made with the imagery and diction belonging to those forms. That is not to say Thing Music overtly plays with common poetic restraints; rather, the collection challenges the idea of form through its overall free-form stylistic execution, only leaving recurring motifs of formal structures, words, and images throughout the collection as trail blazes to unify the poems and enhance the reader’s comprehension of the collection as a whole text. But what is a “text”? It seems McCann explores the text’s limits as an object, that is, as a set of ...
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The Search for Heinrich Schlögel
THE SEARCH FOR HEINRICH SCHLÖGEL by Martha Baillie Tin House Books, 352 pages reviewed by Jamie Fisher "ERRATICA" Think fast! ____’s fourth novel navigates the tension between fact and fiction, readership and voyeurism, the impersonality of the archive, and the personal voice of the archivist. If you guessed W.G. Sebald, you’re not far off. He was known for writing in luminous ellipses around historical catastrophe, particularly the Holocaust, with an intellectual restlessness mirrored by his travels. But the author in question is Martha Baillie, and the book not Rings of Saturn but The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. Baillie likes to lay her influences plain; she has named Sebald as one of the patron gods of “elegance and lucidity” guiding her previous novels. In The Shape I Gave You, a novel studded thickly with “archival” photographs, she obsessed over authenticity and travel. Her Incident Report was narrated entirely through (admittedly unorthodox) workplace documentation. Sebald’s Rings and Baillie’s Search even begin with similar whodathunkit reference-book citations, Sebald’s describing the eponymous rings of Saturn and Baillie’s digging up an obscure usage for erratic: a rock “transported from its place of origin, esp. by glacial action.” Here our erratic is Heinrich Schlögel—a ...
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TWO FAINT LINES IN THE VIOLET by Lissa Kiernan Negative Capability Press, 112 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Lissa Kiernan’s debut collection radiates, burns, and fluoresces like uranium glass, like a “bed of plutonium nightlights.” Many of the poems, especially in the first half of the book, focus on her father (“My father, my leather fetish, my motorcycle papa”) and deal largely with the grief she experiences as he dies from cancer. But these more intimate revelations are not allowed to remain solely in the realm of the personal, set off as they are by poems of a more political, or rather politically charged nature. These poems—some of which are found poems based on official documents and newspaper reports—indict the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station for contaminating the town where her father lived in Massachusetts. The intrusion of the faceless other on the integrity of the human body—and the power plant is not the only example of this—gives these poems their unique and disturbing power. For example, in “The River, My Father,” the very first poem in the book, Kiernan appears to have written a prose poem, but although it is a solid block of text, it is made up almost ...
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NOTHING IN BETWEEN by Marybeth Rua-Larsen Barefoot Muse Press, 58 Pages reviewed by Shinelle Espaillat Fairy tales often have at least two versions: the Disney translations, in which everyone signs and good guys have perfect teeth, and the Grimm incarnations, which feature visceral heart extractions and frequent attempted murder of young girls. We often study fairy tales to examine what messages they convey about gender and voice; in her collection, Nothing In-Between, Marybeth Rua-Larsen offers alternative interpretations, both of the tales themselves and our reasons for telling them. The theme of rescuing runs throughout most fairy tales, making it an apt opening for the collection. The poem “The Rescue” offers a change in perspective on the theme as seen in “Rapunzel.” In this poem, we don’t see the princess as just waiting around to be rescued; rather, she is making a conscious, informed choice. She could cut her hair and end her torment. She could die and end the witch’s power. She chooses instead to live, and to love her hair as a lifeline, a tether to a potentially better future. In this light, Rapunzel becomes a feminist, examining the situation and deciding for herself which path is the right ...
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