Claire Oleson

claire-olesonCleaver Poetry Reviews Editor Claire Oleson is a writer hailing from Grand Rapids Michigan. She’s currently studying English and Creative Writing at Kenyon College. 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. 

PORTRAIT OF A BODY IN WRECKAGES, poems by Meghan McClure, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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BLACK GENEALOGY, poems by Kiki Petrosino, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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FLOWER WARS, poems by Nico Amador, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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HEMMING FLAMES, poems by Patricia Colleen Murphy, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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THE LOVERS’ PHRASEBOOK, poems by Jordi Alonso, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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YOU ASK ME TO TALK ABOUT THE INTERIOR, poems by Carolina Ebeid, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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DISINHERITANCE, poems by John Sibley Williams, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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THE DEAD IN DAYLIGHT, poems by Melody S. Gee, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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EDIBLE FLOWERS, poems by Lucia Chericiu, reviewed by Claire Oleson

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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