I named Paula Bohince's debut collection as the best poetry book published in 2008. Set in the backwards of Pennsylvania, the collection presents a st...moreI named Paula Bohince's debut collection as the best poetry book published in 2008. Set in the backwards of Pennsylvania, the collection presents a story that explores both nature and local history as the main persona seeks to find the truth behind her father's death. Beautiful! (less)
A few years ago, I took a workshop under poet Margaret Gibson who talked about the importance of poetry giving voice to those who cannot speak. The wh...moreA few years ago, I took a workshop under poet Margaret Gibson who talked about the importance of poetry giving voice to those who cannot speak. The whole time I was reading Shaindel Beers' A Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing, 2009), I thought of Gibson's words. Beers' first collection of poetry is a work that explores the lives of those (usually women) who are usually not heard. In "HA!" we learn the story of a woman "dying of ovarian cancer" who has to work at the local Dollar General. In "Why It Almost Never Ends with Stripping" we see the contemplations of a young woman exploring a new career. And in "Weekend Rain Ghazal" we see a woman thinking of her past in the vast rural landscapes of farming, proclaiming "My English teacher told me not marry a farmer; my whole life would depend on rain." (This last poem, by the way, is my personal favorite). Beers' collection is another book you should add to your reading list. (less)
Tense and Terrifying (no, this is not a blurb for the latest Tom Clancy book!), Beth Bachmann's debut collection is an exploration of murder and its a...moreTense and Terrifying (no, this is not a blurb for the latest Tom Clancy book!), Beth Bachmann's debut collection is an exploration of murder and its aftermath. Yes, there is sadness, belief and anger in these tight, deceptively simple poems, but what is most haunting is not the abstract emotions, but the images of a young woman left for dead. The poem "Erato" is especially haunting: "Because of the struggle/her arms and legs resting/you might take one look at the shape in the snow and say/swan or angel". Bachmann's book is easily one of the best books I have this year! (less)
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell captures the lives of working class/small town people who live in rural Michigan. In many ways, I think of her...moreAmerican Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell captures the lives of working class/small town people who live in rural Michigan. In many ways, I think of her stories as a masterful combination of Sharon Dilworth and Raymond Carver. Capturing both the violence and poverty of her characters' everyday lives, the author shows how these people live in what most of us would consider bleak and hopeless conditions. Yet, the characters never come across as mere stereotypes -- just painfully real. (less)
Annette Spaulding-Convy's first full length collection, In Broken Latin, is a spiritual journey. Influenced by the poet's personal life, the collectio...moreAnnette Spaulding-Convy's first full length collection, In Broken Latin, is a spiritual journey. Influenced by the poet's personal life, the collection intertwines the contemporary world of a Catholic nun with lyrical musings about spirituality and faith.
From the start of this book, we see the narrator struggling with her role in the spiritual life she has chosen. In "In the Convent We Become Clouds" the narrator explains, "I lived with women who didn't move/their hips//but slid like mist/through hallways and chapels." She herself wonders why she "hasn't learn to float". While the physical discomfort is very real, the uneasiness the narrator feels with her body symbolizes other apprehension as well. For instance, there's the discomfort with sexuality. In "There Were No Rules About Underwear" the narrator explains that her order was progressive when it came to underwear: "red satin,cut/to show the hip, a midnight blue Wonderbra//hidden under my habit." The poem turns to narrative, announcing that during, a fireman breaks into her room while she sleeps in the nude: "I pulled the sheet around my body/as he looked at the black lace on the floor//I need to feel your walls to see if they're hot."
Still, while the body plays a prominent part in this collection, it's the narrator's spiritual quest that takes center stage in many of the works. Indeed, several poems find the narrator pondering her place in this world by also paying tribute to important women in the Catholic faith. Saint Agatha, often considered the Patron Saint of Breast Cancer and Victims of Sexual Assault, pays a visit to the narrator in the poem, "Midnight Snack with Saint Agatha." In "Virgin Martyrs' Chiffon Dessert" the narrator references Sister Dorothy Stang, a Dominican nun and environmentalist murdered in Brazil. And in "You Died Before I Sent a Card" the poet dedicates the poem to a Sister Samuel, saying "You always warned me/about procrastination" and imagining her former teacher in another place: "You flirt with the man making cotton candy/feel the pocket of your denim capris for a dime/while he swirls sugar in a perfect circle/You wonder, Is he God?"
Spaulding-Convy herself was a nun, and thus, readers can assume that much of this book is at semi-autobiographical. According to her website, she spent five years as a nun in the San Francisco area. Furthermore, in her acknowledgments page, she thanks many of the sisters who appear in her book, saying "I'm not sure you would have approved of my poetry, but know that I am forever grateful for the love of ideas, literature and art you shared in your classrooms." It's apparent, that through her collection, Spaulding-Convy is passing this love along.
I've read In Broken Latin, twice, already, and I can't help but think of a book I read a few years ago titled The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong. In many ways, Spaulding-Convy's collection is a perfect poetic companion piece to Armstrong's work. (less)