Phoenix is a criminal defense attorney, and he draws on his experiences for many of his poems. He openly shows his readers the oxymoron known as the cPhoenix is a criminal defense attorney, and he draws on his experiences for many of his poems. He openly shows his readers the oxymoron known as the criminal justice system. I am afraid of criminals. The presumption of innocence means nothing to me. (The Overzealous Prosecutor) The chunky blocks of words in the six stanzas of this poem take advantage of the white space; they look and read like what you might imagine a courtroom summary argument to look and sound like.
Many of the poems in Phoenix’s second collection are prose poems, and many have long lines, as though the narrator is imploring the reader to stick with him, pay attention.
In “What Public Lawyers Make,” Phoenix uses a list poem to riff on the line about “What do teachers make? They make a difference.” The poem opens with Public lawyers make mothers and father know that their children will have bulldogs fighting for them in court and ends with They make city streets sing with music sung by people who have been given another chance
Several poems address various types of relationships. This one tugged at my heart because I am quite close to my brother, and I can’t imagine the pain a rift would cause. The first time she hung up on me, I tried taking deep breaths and counting, but when she did it again and again, I knew she had broken the bridge between us and I wouldn’t be paying for the repairs (The Sister I No Longer Know)
And finally, my favorite from this book. I say this with a bit of hesitance because poems that bear witness, poems about social justice, truly resonate with me. There is so much going on in this brief poem, and I find myself returning to it and appreciating it all over again. I recall when we first kissed you seemed apprehensive fearful of being hurt but then you surrendered not the way Native Americans surrendered to Europeans but the way ocean waves surrender to sand (Merged, not Submerged)
Ken Craft is anything but indifferent to the world around him. He observes and absorbs, then shares with his readers. Serious lines and subjects are lKen Craft is anything but indifferent to the world around him. He observes and absorbs, then shares with his readers. Serious lines and subjects are lightened by a wry sense of humor. A theme of darkness, sadness, runs through many of these poems. In a nod to Winston Churchill, who referred to depression as his “black dog,” Craft refers to the gloomy period many people experience after the winter holidays. Maybe it’s the “is that all there is?” of the holidays where boxing ornaments, burning dried holly, and recycling wrapping paper feels like picking up after the dogs. The black dogs. Who heel all too well. (Black Dogs Redux)
There are poems about aging and death, which “waits/outside the house.” Several poems bemoan insomnia. In the dark, from over the water, a rooster celebrates my insomnia. (3:30)
Farming, nature, animals, constellations, and literary references are prominent. Two of my favorites are rich, detailed persona poems. A bus driver reads Irish literature for night school, “convinced/there is some stop she missed.” (Mrs. Galway Goes to Night School) Then we travel to Russia, where Tolstoy is stealing into night, steam from the engine of his lungs twisting gaunt and ghostly through the air, rising, dwindling, clinging to sky: the breaths of a lifetime. (Astapova Station)
Craft’s book is one to read slowly, a few poems at a time. With each reading I discover something else that impresses me, perhaps a line, or the perfect word, or an image that shimmers in my mind’s eye. Craft never goes for the easy turn, the easy end line, even in his poems where humor is injected. This is a book to read when all is quiet, when there is time to think and digest and re-read. The poems simmer slowly, like a warm winter stew. You hear them in the sleepy kiss of rainfall on pine needles, smell them as if they were snow to the west. (Hunting the Unwritten Poem) I am so glad Ken Craft’s poems are not unwritten! ...more
Scott is a poet of witness, and she does not turn her head from the hard and often ugly truth of the disenfranchised. Her narrative poetry comes fromScott is a poet of witness, and she does not turn her head from the hard and often ugly truth of the disenfranchised. Her narrative poetry comes from her background as an adoptive and foster mother, as well as her professional role as a caseworker with abused and neglected children. She states in her preface that she writes to “give voice to all the children and adults who struggle daily against the odds.” In addition to children, Scott gives voice to the poor, drug users, people living with HIV, homeless, and immigrants.
The subject matter of these poems is difficult, and I recommend reading only a few poems at a time so as to not be overwhelmed. In these well-crafted poems, Scott uses unique similes and metaphors. Her lines are conversational, yet fresh. She calls attention to the fact that the social service system is what fails, not the child. He slipped through the cracks, past allegation and ink smudged in a six-digit number. (Seven-Year-Old Boy Found Dead In Plastic Storage Bin, 2003)
The title of the book comes from a line in a poem about aging out of foster care. Andre was shuffled from foster home to foster home, always “the kid with the different last name.” One ordinary day, he heard words like the slash of a box cutter, Your dad’s in jail, your mom’s been sober, We’re taking you home. This skinny twelve-year-old bolted, ran barefoot down broken cement (Eighteenth Birthday)
My favorite poem is one that will ring true for anyone who has interacted with a troubled teen. When the phone call comes, the response is a juxtaposition of relief that the child is safe, then the resignation and cynicism that results from years of manipulation. The poem begins with the call “from a rehab center/third one this year.” Silence. I calculate. It’s October. This call will cost me sneakers, sweats, a winter jacket, boxed and mailed. (When Balfour Calls) ...more
Tennille’s poems are full of rich imagery and details, subtle use of humor, and the surprise turn. As implied by the title, passage of time is a unifyTennille’s poems are full of rich imagery and details, subtle use of humor, and the surprise turn. As implied by the title, passage of time is a unifying theme in this collection. The book is divided into five sections, with reference to time in the headings (Speeding Goodbye, Slowing Time). To me, the word counterclockwise conjures thoughts of going backwards in time, either through poems about the past, or loss of memory. Poems about childhood and family capture moments and crystallize them for the reader. “Whatshisname” is a poignant depiction of Alzheimer’s, where a mother “Began/calling everyone George.” Ordinary moments many of us are familiar with, until the unexpected turn at the end, where we discover “that name belonged to mama’s/ childhood sweetheart.”
Tennille masters the technique of ekphrastic poetry. Her poems are able to stand on their own merits as poems, even if the reader is not familiar with the art works. Tennille favors the Impressionist and Surrealist painters. Among the splashes of blue and purple I see gray faces, but can’t tell if they’re Monet’s ghosts or my own. ( Monet’s Water Lilies)
One of my favorite poems is “Bequest,” which starts with “Twenty-nine French Impressionist/ paintings have been promised/ to the local museum. The speaker then ponders “what it would be like/ to donate 29 of my poems, to open/ a new poetry wing at the museum.”
Another favorite poem imagines the nightlife of paperclips after “lights out in the office.” They “grab a cab uptown/ to a jazz club” and “Before the sober sun/ can nag, stagger/ back to work.” The marvelous alliteration moves the poem along as though it becomes part of the jazz club.
The poetic techniques are well-employed in that they don’t overpower the poem. Tennille’s voice is quiet and thoughtful, her lines and language controlled, and her poems are a wonderful read. ...more
Jackie Davis Martin was courageous in sharing her despair over the sudden death of her adult daughter. The book chronicles not only her grief, but theJackie Davis Martin was courageous in sharing her despair over the sudden death of her adult daughter. The book chronicles not only her grief, but the mother-daughter relationship. This is so much more than a grief journey, it is a life journey, a testament to the depth of a mother's love....more
After an accident which left Colby’s wrist severely fractured, she pondered the word “broke,” resulting in a marvelous chapbook of poems that exploreAfter an accident which left Colby’s wrist severely fractured, she pondered the word “broke,” resulting in a marvelous chapbook of poems that explore breaking and brokenness from a variety of perspectives. The chapbook consists of 33 poems, without titles. The contents page lists each poem by its first line. This juxtaposes the brokenness with a sense of continuity.
Colby is known for her wonderful images, metaphors and similes. Her word choices are precise and evocative. “Bones blossoming with the/ chrysanthemums of fracture” describes a broken hip. A beach scene begins with “The sun broke through the clouds/ and day was conceivable, /magenta hemmed in gold.” In talking about the Liberty Bell, Colby describes a physical break, and segues into a broad metaphorical one. First strike of the clapper cracked the rim. Omen of the split defined by Jefferson and Adams widening into a civil war.
Colby’s wow factor increases with the final line of the final poem, which echoes a symbol on the incredible cover artwork. The poem, on the surface, describes treatment for a broken kneecap. The X ray shows a figure eight within a square- the symbol for extinction.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Costello’s memoir. He is an engaging writer. Although Costello is quite fluid with time, I had little difficulty followinI thoroughly enjoyed reading Costello’s memoir. He is an engaging writer. Although Costello is quite fluid with time, I had little difficulty following him in and out of various decades, and it was done so skillfully that I didn’t find it annoying. Over 600 pages are crammed with minutiae of Costello’s thought process for lyrics and writing collaborations. There is exploration of his relationship, both good and bad, with his musician father. The most poignant section describes the end of his father’s life, and the impossibly difficult decisions faced. This is not a book detailing relationships and substance use; indeed, those areas of Costello’s life seem almost glossed over. If you are truly interested, listen to his music, as songwriting is where Costello has always poured out his heart, confessed his shortcomings, and apologized. As a music aficionado interested in details of the creative process rather than the salacious lifestyle, I find this one of the best music memoirs I’ve read....more
Jenna Le has cleverly revealed the thematic arc of her newest collection with her amazing title. According to Encarta, a diaspora is “a dispersion ofJenna Le has cleverly revealed the thematic arc of her newest collection with her amazing title. According to Encarta, a diaspora is “a dispersion of a people, language, or culture that was formerly concentrated in one place.” Whales also fit in to this through their evolution from land mammals and their ability to travel great distances. Le comes from an immigrant family, and she manages to effectively make connections between the experiences of human immigrants and those of cetaceans (what a wonderful word!). Her skill in making this immense metaphor is unrivaled. From the title poem: This slope-nosed primeval camel
some million years ago made up his mind to settle in new digs beneath the sea, exchanging hooves for flippers, sky for brine. -The whale’s a child of immigrants, like me.
Many of Le’s poems are written in form. She offers sonnets so well-crafted that the use of form is not what dominates the reader’s mind, which is my bar for a stellar sonnet. The words should be what linger, not the form. Her images are lush and evocative, and every word carries its weight. Notice how Le uses the word “ferret” instead of saying recall or remember. When I went to my high school prom with a boy whose name I cannot ferret from memory’s wells, tall-coiffed like a soufflé and long-chinned like a carrot. (Prom Night)
This collection is peopled by family members, historical figures (Yeats’s last mistress, Blaga Dimitrova), mythical fairytale characters (Baba Yaga), as well as Noah and Jonah. Ducks, whales, and owls also make appearances. Le pays homage to her Vietnamese ancestry through poems about traditional food such as wedding cake and corn pudding. The diversity of subject matter and form contribute to a diaspora-in-reverse. ...more
Disclaimer: I received this ARC as part of the Goodreads First Reads program
Juan Thompson’s memoir of being Hunter’s, as he calls his father throughouDisclaimer: I received this ARC as part of the Goodreads First Reads program
Juan Thompson’s memoir of being Hunter’s, as he calls his father throughout, son, is aptly titled. It does indeed read like an ongoing story where the author searches for and repeatedly tries to convince himself of his father’s love. Thompson does not romanticize or gloss over his father’s legendary substance abuse, nor does he make excuses for his father’s abominable parenting. He reassures the reader that the way he was raised is not the way he chooses to raise his own son.
Thompson’s detailed memoir is gut wrenchingly honest. A son’s filial love is unconditional; even though Thompson, as an adult, tried to put limits on his father’s bad behavior, he kept returning, he never cut off contact, he put a great deal of effort into trying to understand Hunter. He seems to have spent much of life attempting to tell his father he loves him, and desperately hoping for his father to say “I love you.” Thompson acknowledges that memory is faulty. Did a particular incident truly happen, or is it a family myth, the result of hearing a story over the years? Readers hoping for a book showing another side to Hunter, a soft, loving paternal persona, will not get their wish. Thompson’s childhood contained the horror that one might imagine a child of Hunter’s would endure. He rather stumbled through adolescence and early adulthood, stating facts rather than casting blame.
The writing is smooth, the story told in chronological order. Thompson is adept at scenic description, and he makes Owl Farm come to life. To the extent that the madness of Hunter Thompson can be captured in words, his son is able to do so. He hints at anger when he describes his father’s death by suicide while his family was visiting, and the fact that his young son has now been deprived of a grandfather. It is as a grandfather that we finally see a glimpse of warmth and devotion. ...more
Martha Serpas grew up in Louisiana, and is active in efforts to restore the wetlands there. This area is prominent in her writing. She works as a hospMartha Serpas grew up in Louisiana, and is active in efforts to restore the wetlands there. This area is prominent in her writing. She works as a hospital trauma chaplain, so many of her poems also have a medical and spiritual component. The Diener is Serpas’ third book of poetry, and her writing intertwines her trauma work with the changing geography of Louisiana.
A diener assists with autopsies, helping to prepare the body. They frequently work in medical school labs, where they clean and prepare bodies students use for dissection. Serpas bears witness, through her poetry, to the topography of the wetlands, and to the human soul. A diener bears witness to the fragility of the body, and in a metaphorical way, balances between the reality of this world and faith that there is a next world.
A few poems address the reader, a technique which usually annoys me and comes off as flip, yet in these poems I see it more as an earnest exhortation to pay attention. In the middle of a poem about Hurricane Betsy: God, how I want to tell you this story! (Betsy)
“Breakfast at Starbucks with Egret” opens Don’t think less of me, Reader. In years to come, I am confident, a footnote will be necessary.
Most of the poems in this collection are long, running at least two pages. One of my favorites, “Free Descent,” runs a little over four pages. The poem is a lush description of a free descent dive, with longish couplets and tercets leaving plenty of white space, suggestive of the slow, languid process of “rolling into spangled/ blue” with “a spotted moray lurches purple and black” and “a green sea turtle, no longer clumsy.” The poem is suggestive of sinking into the unknown, trusting in a safe return. “Sliding deeper, not to see the stars/ again, but to fall and release the fall.”
The subtle hint of leaving, and coming back, are woven throughout this collection. “Sunset Limited” ends with the speaker saying I’m trying hard to see where I’ve gone. With no fog lines on the shoulder,
it’d be easier to walk the old tracks than drive this feeling of not coming back.
And in “Sunshine Bridge” the speaker tells us I’m getting to
Crossroads without signs and cane trucks without lights. I can’t tell you
How to get here from wherever you are.
The stories in these poems are those of change and transition. Serpas raises many questions in this collection, and leaves the reader with the sense that perhaps not knowing specific, factual answers is ok. In a Fogged Clarity interview with Ben Evans, Serpas says “I do think that trying to reconcile differences, even as one knows they can’t be reconciled, is what poetry does.” http://foggedclarity.com/article/mart...
A meticulously researched and beautifully written account of a man’s life. Hobbs puts Peace’s life into a social and cultural context. The writing floA meticulously researched and beautifully written account of a man’s life. Hobbs puts Peace’s life into a social and cultural context. The writing flows, keeps the reader engaged, and stands apart from many other nonfiction biographical accounts in that it is well-organized. ...more
Disclaimer: I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. Hoagland is one of my favorite authors, and I am thrilled to have receiDisclaimer: I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. Hoagland is one of my favorite authors, and I am thrilled to have received this book.
“While my poems have plenty of personal elements, of course, over time I’ve gotten quite obsessed with how personal life and our cultural life—21st century first world consumer culture—connect.” The Rumpus interview with Tony Hoagland by Eric Farwell, August 7th, 2015
Hoagland’s obsession is thoroughly explored in his new collection, Application for Release from the Dream. His cynicism and wry humor comes through in the long lines. Hoagland isn’t afraid to take on difficult topics; many of the poems openly address or touch on issues of race in America. He asks questions, and leaves it to the reader to find answers. I read biographies because I want to know how people suffered in the past; how they endured, and is it different, now, for us? (The Edge of the Frame)
He masters the ironic turn. The title poem starts with a lovely, peaceful image and quickly moves into something altogether different. This is my favorite kind of weather, this cloudy autumn-ness- when long wool coats make shoplifting easy, (Application for Release from the Dream)
Hoagland’s tongue-in-cheek humor is evident throughout these poems. His comparisons read like a Saturday Night Live routine. They took the old heart out of your chest, all blue and spoiled like a sick grapefruit,
the way you removed your first wife from your life, and put a strong young blond one in her place. (Dreamheart)
The poems in this collection are fairly long, running 1-2 pages. They are conversational and personal, leaving the reader with the sensation of having spent an afternoon in a friendly debate. Many of them slip in an unexpected twist. One of my favorites, a poem I keep returning to, is But the Men
Want back in: All the Dougs and the Michaels, the Darnells, the Erics and Joses, They’re standing by the off-ramp of the interstate Holding up cardboard signs that say WILL WORK FOR RELATIONSHIP. ...more