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.

PORTRAIT OF A BODY IN WRECKAGES, poems by Meghan McClure, reviewed by Claire Oleson
PORTRAIT OF A BODY IN WRECKAGES by Meghan McClure Newfound, 43 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Excellent writing is often lauded for its ability to transport and disembody the reader, to enrapture so completely that its audience floats along the sentence and forgets their place in the room. Meghan McClure’s Portrait of a Body in Wreckages does not do this, instead, much of its excellence is found in its proficiency to embody the reader, to address them in their own physicality, and move along the level of the cell as well as the sentence. Composed in blocks of poetic prose, this work explores the speaker’s relationship with their body, its limits and its multitudes, its wholeness and breakages, and its existence within both anatomy and language. Oscillating in focus and tone, much of Portrait of a Body in Wreckages educates, telling us “Your right lung is bigger than your left” and “Ounce for ounce, bone is stronger than steel” These quick and fascinating statements begin inside the medical and clinical, categorizing, and analyzing of anatomy which demands a distance from the body to know (it is very difficult to test for yourself, on an inhale, which lung feels larger). But ...
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DEEP CAMOUFLAGE, poems by Amy Saul-Zerby, reviewed by Mike Corrao
DEEP CAMOUFLAGE by Amy Saul-Zerby Civil Coping Mechanisms, 118 page Reviewed by Mike Corrao Amy Saul-Zerby’s new collection, Deep Camouflage is the manifestation of heartbreak. It is the fables that spawn from moments of empathy and melancholy. It is the conversation that a poet has with their reader. More than most poetry collections, Saul-Zerby’s is a sequence that asks to be read all at once. These poems flow so smoothly into one another that it eventually became difficult for me to distinguish them as separate poems. Each moment felt so interconnected with those around it that what I was reading became one larger work, occupying that transitory space where heartbreak lives. These poems flow so smoothly into one another that it eventually became difficult for me to distinguish them as separate poems. Each moment felt so interconnected with those around it that what I was reading became one larger work, occupying that transitory space where heartbreak lives. Reading Saul-Zerby’s poems, I kept thinking about the myth of Medusa. Not because it’s ever mentioned in the book, or because the book is meant to read as a retelling. I thought initially that this connection was the result of something that I’d ...
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CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH, poems by Marc Jampole, reviewed by Alessio Franko
CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH by Marc Jampole The Poet’s Haven, 36 pages reviewed by Alessio Franko The rhombus, that exotic, italicized quadrilateral, is really, by its geometrical properties, simply a square without any right angles. It’s an amusing case of the rarified and the mundane, the complex and the simple, being much closer together than they seem. Fitting, then, that Marc Jampole evokes the rhombus and its family of shapes with such frequency in his new chapbook Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month . The square book (or rhomboid one, if you prefer) itself changes depending on how you look at it. Jampole has combined two thematically self-contained series of poems in one volume, printed back-to-back in a “flip book” format. The square book (or rhomboid one, if you prefer) itself changes depending on how you look at it. Jampole has combined two thematically self-contained series of poems in one volume, printed back-to-back in a “flip book” format. Each side is in dialogue with a major figure in the history of modernism. Cubist States of Mind translates Picasso’s analytical cubism into a verbal medium, guiding the reader through the broad field of affect visible in ...
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THEY WERE BEARS, poems by Sarah Marcus, reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson
THEY WERE BEARS by Sarah Marcus Sundress Publications, 2018 reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson The poems in Sarah Marcus’ book, They Were Bears follow a young woman, the speaker of most of the poems, who pursues discovery and sensation in the remote corners of the American wilderness. The narrative shapes this wilderness into a wide-open expanse characterized by uncertainty, wonder, and menace. The backdrop also shifts from unpeopled natural settings to the speaker’s agricultural childhood home and to the industrial sprawl of Cleveland. The book’s three untitled segments each alternate between lyric poems and prose poems, and all use bears and other animals as central to their imagery and symbolism. Poems in the book discuss a variety of themes, including family, sexuality, and womanhood. The primary focus of the work as a whole, however, seem to be overcoming trauma and embracing nature. Together, the poems tell the story of a woman defined by her passion and resilience in the face of a harrowing past. The speaker of the poems (who also appears to be the main character in those written in third person) is in part a fictionalized version of Marcus. According to an interview the author did with Sundress ...
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TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson
TART HONEY by Deborah Burnham Resource Publications, 72 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Divided into four sections, Deborah Burnham’s poetry collection Tart Honey seems cut into citrus slices— edible, organic, and aware of some lost and bodily whole it re-composes in the formation of its parts. The poems feature modern relationships with too much absence, a dissolving picture of Apollo 13 soon taken over by a persona attempting to collect her body into experiencing her partner, and paintings with colors that spill into cells, among other simultaneously harmonizing and divisive images. Divided into four sections, Deborah Burnham’s poetry collection Tart Honey seems cut into citrus slices— edible, organic, and aware of some lost and bodily whole it re-composes in the formation of its parts. Experiences and sensations become as important, if not more so, than physical presence, even on occasion manifesting into doppelgängers of bodies. For instance, in “The night the screen fell out” Burnham’s persona has learned “to live bravely with no other body/ in the house” just in time to have a bat cut through her room at night. This bat is not alone either, but casts a reminder for the persona’s partner as she expresses: your absence ...
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Two Poetry Chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson
HEADLANDS QUADRATS by Brian Teare and IT’S NO GOOD EVERYTHING’S BAD by Stephanie Young two chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson The book announces itself first as texture, almost a feeling before an object. The covers have a soft, pulped paper quality that reminds me a little of egg cartons. They’re in the right color family, too: sandy brown, with a beautifully soft blue-black imprint. The image is one of a circle superimposed on a square, or vice versa; it could be the sounding board of a modernist guitar, with six strings running diagonally across the sound hole. Headlands Quadrats by Brian Teare is another gem of a chapbook out from Doublecross, a Brooklyn-based small press that makes handsewn, letterpressed chapbooks that always feel like considered collaborations between publisher and author. In this case, the intimate square format of Headlands Quadrats not only reflects the chapbook’s thematics (the quadrat, Teare tells us, “is a unit of measurement used in ecological studies… a square (made of a durable material) placed over a site to aid in the controlled collection of data”), but it also provides a delicate housing—a kind of nest—for the poem inside. The small format ...
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TIME OF GRATITUDE, essays and poems by Gennady Aygi, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader
TIME OF GRATITUDE by Gennady Aygi translated by Peter France New Directions, 135 pages reviewed by Ryan K. Strader When I was a twenty-one-year-old college student and had zero sense of self-preservation, I rode alone on the train in Russia several times between Petrozavodsk and St. Petersburg—unaccompanied, on an overnight train, sleeping in a bunk car with strangers. I was also very chatty because I was trying to learn Russian. Talking up Russians who wanted to sleep seemed like a way to endear myself to my bunkmates and perfect my language at the same time. At first, it was hard to start conversations. Finally, at one point, one drunk Russian man was lamenting my lack of useful knowledge—I didn’t know card games or anything about professional swimmers. “What do you study?” he asked me. When I mentioned that I knew Pasternak’s poetry, his face lit up. “Your schools aren’t complete shit after all!” he said joyously, as though his faith in American education had just been fully restored. Suddenly we had something to talk about. Poetry. Russians know their writers. That lesson stayed with me. From then on, I advanced conversationally on my bunk-mates by mentioning Pushkin, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva ...
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BLACK GENEALOGY, poems  by Kiki Petrosino, reviewed by Claire Oleson
BLACK GENEALOGY by Kiki Petrosino with Illustrations by Lauren Haldeman  Brain Mill Press, 45 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Situated between a national and a personal history, Kiki Petrosino’s poetry book Black Genealogy sifts through the past in search of lost identity, language, bodies, and self-possession amidst the legacy of the Civil War and slavery in America. The book details an exploration of both a familial and a larger American reality through the lens of a contemporary African American persona. Split into two sections, Black Genealogy consists of both unlineated prose poetry as well as highly-structured villanelles, a style of poem originally associated with ballads and oral storytelling. Both forms, especially in the context of Petrosino’s subject, seem to bring a sense of narrative story to the poetry, and because of this, a noticeable absence when the narrative contended with proves to have been lost, ignored, and or intentionally obscured by the country in which it occurred. Negotiating with a history that was blind towards the humanity of Black people in America, Black Genealogy is a work of sight determined to bring the readers’ eyes, thoughts, and awareness up close with both immense presence and an effort ...
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LIGHT INTO BODIES, poems by Nancy Chen Long, reviewed by Trish Hopkinson
LIGHT INTO BODIES by Nancy Chen Long The University of Tampa Press, 99 pages reviewed by Trish Hopkinson The poetry of Light into Bodies begins and ends with a theme of identity while its pages flutter with the imagery of egrets, pigeons, swans, and starlings. Nancy Chen Long presents the complexity of exploring identity from multiple perspectives—from the viewpoint of a mathematician, from a child whose mother repeatedly becomes the property of other men by the “generosity” of her own father, to a daughter’s experiences growing up in a multi-cultural home and discovering the nuances of relationships in adulthood. The poems stitch together an intricate lace of childhood memories, family stories, myth, and Asian-American experience with a thread of women’s issues intertwined throughout, each conflict woven within the next to create the speaker’s complicated identity. Light into Bodies was published by University of Tampa Press as the winner of their 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. The press was founded in 1952 and launched its literary journal UT Poetry Review in 1964, which evolved into Tampa Review in 1988. The book’s perfect-bound, matte cover features a beautiful photograph also taken by Chen Long, who collaborated with the press for the ...
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THE SCIENCE OF UNVANISHING OBJECTS, poems by Chloe N. Clark, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck
THE SCIENCE OF UNVANISHING OBJECTS by Chloe N. Clark Finishing Line Press (forthcoming 2018) reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck Completely mundane happenings take on significant meaning in Chloe N. Clark’s The Science of Unvanishing Objects. Everyday things like butterflies, telephones, and mirrors assume a role beyond their normal functions. Likewise, ordinary events such as conversations between strangers and seeing a lover naked for the first time become catalysts for a deeper understanding of the universe. Through her explorations, Clark repeatedly returns to loss, a major motif in this collection, which is amplified by recurring narratives centered on missing women. The Science of Unvanishing Objects opens with a poem about a girl who has disappeared. Each line completes the title “Missing Girl Found—” as a newspaper article might break the news to its engrossed readership. In the first outcome, the girl in question is found simply “dead.” In another, she is found “to be the last goddamn straw to a woman who moves away because the town is turning, changing, becoming some place unrecognizable.” And in one more, the missing girl is found “to be missed.” These outcomes are visually presented on the page in a shape that resembles a deep well, ...
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BONE CONFETTI, poems by Muriel Leung, reviewed by Marilynn Eguchi
BONE CONFETTI by Muriel Leung Noemi Press reviewed by Marilynn Eguchi Muriel Leung’s Bone Confetti is an open door into a house of mourning; an exceptional look into the aftermath of loss, and in turn, an examination of what it is to love someone. A challenging collection of lyric and prose poems, the poet manipulates the space where words are carefully placed and the space where there is nothing. The theme of the book is grief, and it is palpable. It is disorienting and enveloping, but manages to avoid being overly sentimental, allowing it to be both intimate and universal. The poet stated in an interview that “applying the role of politics to the personal grief of loss was very important work to do . . . It became a way of understanding this loss as tied to a history that’s larger than me.” The book is broken into four segments: In Absentia Land: A Romance, In Absentia Land: A Funeral, In Absentia Land: A Wedding, and In Absentia Land: An Epilogue, each exploring loss with individual focus on aspects of what is left in its wake. Collectively and thematically, the poems evoke the myth of Eurydice and ...
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FLOWER WARS, poems by Nico Amador, reviewed by Claire Oleson
FLOWER WARS by Nico Amador Newfound, 35 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Like a scene is set to music, a vision of the body is set to language in Nico Amador’s poetry collection Flower Wars. In this book, biology is boiled into word, punctuation, metaphor, and syllable, leaving the reader’s understanding of physicality and the human inhabitance of flesh up to a new breed of interpretation— that of one on the page. Moving between prose poems and lineated pieces, Amador addresses hair, gender, Pablo Neruda, shifting personal identities, hummingbirds, and so much more as a central narrative through-line begins to surface between stanzas. The opening poem of Flower Wars, “Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair,” borrows its title from a Frida Kahlo painting and begins with the statement “There is the dream of exposure and then there is the act of it—” immediately drawing a boundary between rumination and action and perhaps also putting the poem itself, as a form that works an invitation to thought, into question. The reader, if familiar with Kahlo’s painting, can call to mind the image of Frida in a suit and bearing a short, traditionally masculine-coded haircut. The image and the painting are stationary, ...
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PLAINSPEAK, WY, poems by Joanna Doxey, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck
PLAINSPEAK, WY by Joanna Doxey Platypus Press, 80 pages reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck Glaciers, a recurring and defining symbol in Joanna Doxey’s Plainspeak, WY, are unique natural marvels. Unlike other phenomena commonly found in nature, such as mountains or canyons, glaciers travel. Propelled in large part by their own titanic mass, these mobile accumulations of ice and snow slide—albeit very gradually—across great distances. Over long periods of time, they strip the land beneath them of loose soil and rock fragments, then carry these bits of terrain with them, as added weight, to faraway lands. When glaciers finally cross into the warmer climes of lower latitudes, they steadily erode and melt, thrusting polar water and geologic debris upon a new home. The glaciers that once graced the American northwest, for example, have vanished and are now a cold memory, but as Doxey says, the “land is a memory of wind without wind,” for although they are gone, those arctic leviathans undoubtedly have left their baggage behind. In order to incarnate the scars she shares with Wyoming, Doxey lends her voice to the topography of the title state—formed by the long-absent glaciers that sculpted the land—so as to parallel mindset ...
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DNA Hymn, poems by Annah Anti-Palindrome, reviewed by Johnny Payne
DNA Hymn by Annah Anti-Palindrome Sibling Rivalry Press, 68 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne The disturbing cover art of DNA Hymn features a woman whose bloody mouth discharges what appear to be balloons, intestines, or giant molecules. The image seems apt for a collection of poems that freely disgorges both intelligence and emotional wisdom. This book by the semi-pseudonymous Annah Anti-Palindrome waxes conceptual to be sure, but not to the point where each individual poem is negated by an overarching Big Idea. In the introduction, the author explains that “resisting palindromes” derives from her mother’s morphine overdose and her desire as a daughter, both linguistic and existential, to break out of a legacy of violence. The first poem, “extraction,” fittingly takes an epidural as its footnote and birth as its subject: “tooth tile milk moon marrow . clock jaw limb socket hollow ./ split hair curl coil crescent . wet nest yolk part swallow .” From the first line, we are caught in hypnotic, intuitive sound play, as the poet concisely charts her emergence into a scene of what I can only describe as “traumatic ecstasy.” Many memoirs of personal pain in poetic form exist. What distinguishes this one ...
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HEMMING FLAMES, poems by Patricia Colleen Murphy, reviewed by Claire Oleson
HEMMING FLAMES by Patricia Colleen Murphy Utah Sate University Press, 78 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson On the peripheries of almost constant domestic emergency and conflict, Patricia Colleen Murphy’s poetry collection Hemming Flames lights up disaster and familial antipathy with humor and endurance. Many of the pieces in this collection share threads of the same story, featuring reoccurring family figures and familiar, though often growing, conflicts. There is an undeniable amount of devastation and trauma inside these family stories, but Murphy’s true skill lies not in showing what’s often the obvious and expected pain of it all, but in bringing a humor and an odd sense of the mundane to seemingly shocking moments. In the collection’s opening poem “Losing Our Milk Teeth,” the speaker details how their father “will be all/ smiles. He’ll say pass the mother/ fucking peas.” These lines are at once foreboding and strangely funny; in a scene where the mother is not wholly present, a request for her return is tucked into an expressed desire for peas, all barbed with an impatience and anger which suggests familiarity coexisting with aggression. As in the opening poem of Hemming Flames, many of the poems to follow also ...
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MOTHER-MAILBOX, poems by Emilie Lindemann, reviewed by Rachel Summerfield
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, poems by Randi Ward reviewed by Hannah Wendlandt
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, poems by Millicent Borges Accardi, reviewed by paulA neves
ONLY MORE SO by Millicent Borges Accardi Salmon Poetry 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 and ...
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BLINDSIGHT, poems by Greg Hewett, reviewed by Brent Matheny
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, poems by Carolina Ebeid, reviewed by Claire Oleson
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, poems by John Sibley Williams, reviewed by Claire Oleson
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, poems by Anthony Seidman reviewed by Johnny Payne
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, poems by Melody S. Gee, reviewed by Claire Oleson
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), poems by Zach Czaia, reviewed by Hannah Kroonblawd
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, poems by Lucia Chericiu, reviewed by Claire Oleson
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, poems Heather Derr-Smith, reviewed by Johnny Payne
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 reviewed by Allison Noelle Conner
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, poems by Katherine Brueck reviewed by Johnny Payne
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, poems by Jim Harrison, reviewed by Clare Paniccia
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, poems by Tina Barr, reviewed by Jeff Klebauskas
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, poems by Nicole Rollender
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, poems by Kenny Williams, reviewed by J.G. McClure
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, poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, reviewed by Justin Goodman
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 by Dimitris Lyacos reviewed by Justin Goodman
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 reviewed by J.G. McClure
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 reviewed by Johnny Payne
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 reviewed by J.G. McClure
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 reviewed by Carlo Matos
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 reviewed by Brandon Lafving
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 reviewed by Clare Paniccia
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 reviewed by Johnny Payne
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 reviewed by Amanda Hickok
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 reviewed by Johnny Payne
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 reviewed by Camille E. Davis
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 reviewed by Anna Strong
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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