Wait is all about love and lust, regrets and longing, sex and joy, too. While there is not a clear narrative arc for the book, there is a consistent s...more Wait is all about love and lust, regrets and longing, sex and joy, too. While there is not a clear narrative arc for the book, there is a consistent speaker revealing the age-old journey from innocence to experience. Formally, I find the book interesting because Stine moves easily between the single stanza, left aligned block of text and the more airy, multi-stanza, multi-indented lines of text. Being more drawn to the latter in my own work, I read the former with extra attention to see how Stine made them work.
Luminescence, each of the poems in this book glows with intense images and powerful feeling that never crosses into sentimentality. It was almost as if each poem was pulsing with energy and I found myself tearing through the book on my first read. However, I'm having a hard time summarizing what made me feel that urge to turn the pages so quickly, given there was no mystery or plot pulling me toward the end.
Here is an excerpt from one of the first poems in the book, "Child Bride."
It's different every night. Your sister has two days before her wedding, but she has been sewing since she was five. Your cousin is nineteen, but her groom is sixty. You risk salvation by squeezing your eyes. Now your prophet is wheat in a rain field. Now your prophet is acid and orange. Love ends in the pocket, a rope belt untying.
This poem has one of the most haunting last lines ever, but I'll let you discover it on your own, Dear Readers.
"Salt" has the same intensity but with the added white space I mentioned earlier. Here is the beginning.
You were the lover for which I bled. Comfort me .....with salt: tears, their silken twin. Understand
..........I have made my arms doors for you. Listen:
I love that "listen" followed by the colon that keeps us breathless and urgent at the end of the line.
One of the most heart-breaking poems in the book has the speaker detailing a miscarriage. Again, what stands out here is not only the powerful language but the ability to avoid the overly dramatic sentimentality that the subject matter could easily cause. Here is an excerpt from "The Red Thread," and for clarity, the speaker is in the shower.
A red snake coils at the bottom of the drain: our child,
......phrased like a question. The plum tree in back ...........ruptured in blight. Still, I could say nothing.
My favorite poem of the whole collection may just be the very first poem, "Wife." In it, the speaker recounts a childhood filled with the urge to rush into adulthood, into sex really. She states, "I got in a car / for a strawberry cream" and later "I wanted / to be dancing." By the way, that line break on "wanted" is brilliant as it sums up that restless urge of the teen years. However, the speaker then admits her regret for rushing into it all as she addresses her husband and wishes she had waited. She states:
.............................I would have curled
...........in a rabbit whorl, a mouse nest,
in a leaf-spilled shade. I am a bird .......in the field and I want you to find me.
............I want you to find me. Tell me wait.(less)
This is a lengthy collection, clocking in at 129 pages. It is full of haibun with a few haiku, along with narrative poems and lyric musings. There are...moreThis is a lengthy collection, clocking in at 129 pages. It is full of haibun with a few haiku, along with narrative poems and lyric musings. There are five sections, and each section begins with an epigraph that helps an American audience bridge the gap with Japanese themes. Within each section, the blending of pop culture, fairy tales, and modern, global concerns is fantastic. There is nothing cheesy about it; every speaker is authentic, every line rings true.
Of all the Japanese fairy tales, the fox-wife is perhaps the most important to the book, although the white crane-woman is prominent as well. As the hyphen implies, the fox-wife is a half-creature, hiding her tale while in human form, always separate in a permanent way from the man she loves. There are several fox-wife poems in the book, usually in the form of haibun. One of my favorites is "The Fox-Wife Describes Their Courtship." In the prose section, we get these lines:
When we're alone, I forget my other life sometimes, forget my sharp teeth and tail. I become the thing beneath his hands, softer.
He always sought to put things back together. I tear things apart. The instruments of bone and blood are the same; the intents are different.
and the final haiku:
I know before he does how he will leave me, a little temple of spine and fur.
The separate-but-together (a la Tim O'Brien in "The Things They Carried) theme carries through the entire book, whether the speaker is a fairy tale being or a modern woman. Here Jeannine gets at the brokenness of our world and does so with deftness and beauty.
Another way into this theme is through the use of "code." In the poems this might be computer code for gaming or technological advances, it might be the scientific code responsible for the atomic bomb, or it might be the genetic code damaged now by all we've unleashed on the world in our quest for progress. In "Aberrant Code II," the speaker states, "...but I was already / blessed with DNA so sampled, broken / that no one would could relay its message." At the end of "Aberrant Code V," the speaker tells us, "One story's about nuclear waste and the other a trick of genetics. / Either way the ground here is sown with monsters, / some of them weeping, some of them eating the furniture."
That idea of the broken DNA translates in several poems into infertility issues, which culminate in a poem toward the end of the book, "Why We Cannot Have Children," which is heartbreaking and real. It is a list poem. Here is just a sample:
Because I am a witch, a demon. Because one might be born with a fox's tail, or a white bird's feathers. Because our children would all become monsters. Because I would rather not pass on the problems coded within me.
Finally, I have to remark on one of the last poems in the book, "Autobiography I." Here, the poem begins:
No, last time you read me wrong. I'm not the main character, I'm the photographer, the one with her feet in the river. I'm the frame of reference, not the delicate willow branch, not fragile and crumpled as a peony.(less)
Rookery is divided into three sections and I'm thankful for that. I began reading the first section, "1. (n) A colony of rooks," one afternoon recentl...moreRookery is divided into three sections and I'm thankful for that. I began reading the first section, "1. (n) A colony of rooks," one afternoon recently. (Each section is title for a definition of "rookery" and each section title includes a prose poem rumination on that definition. Beautiful!) So, the first section deals with a difficult marriage in which one partner appears to be having an affair. There are hints at a lost child as well. The speaker of the poems is loyal to the marriage, yet, with great complications she cannot bring herself to leave her unfaithful lover. There is such heartbreak and sadness in these poems, and such beauty that I had to take a break after finishing section one. I was full to bursting with emotion.
Here is the opening of "Aubade with a Fox and a Birthmark"
You crawl into bed, apologies and insect wings in your hair. I forgive the way you touched her knees, your amber memory of her body. I make you tell me
how her pleasure sounded--a fox with its paw in a trap's jaw, blood on her thigh.
Wow. There is definitely an echo of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being throughout this first section, another book that left me full to bursting.
I am stunned by the force of the honesty in these poems and the deftness of the images, largely drawn from nature, but in new and unexpected ways.
Here is the ending of "Noli Me Tangere"
But we are minor kingdoms of salt and heat. We trace each other's scars--proof of our small
green hearts and violent beginnings, engines of cell and nerve, yielding to a silent, lonely union.
Section two, "2. (n) A breeding place," takes us back to the speaker's childhood and sexual awakening; here religion also begins to take a prominent position and that position is one of questioning. There are encounters with men heightened with sexual tension, there are mission trips and talk of the rapture, and there are always stunning and haunting metaphors.
In "Chastity Belt Lesson" the speaker is touring a museum with a display about the Middle Ages. It bears mentioning that the speaker is making this tour with her father, not her mother, who enters the poem in the final lines with a subtle zing. Here we learn that during the Crusades, chastity belts were "not for the Crusader's wives." Instead, the were
..................................for girls when the streets bristled
with arrows. When the air reeked of burning roofs, ............and men's voices swarmed like hornets. ....Mothers and daughters pushed tips of keys into their throats
And then, the stunner, the locks described as "Two serrated kisses between their legs." And finally, the "girls surrendered // their prayers to the mouths of soldiers." Wow. These poem do exactly what great poems should do; they leave me speechless.
Finally, section three, "3. (n) A crowded tenement house," takes us on a more general journey of violence in this fragile world. Here we see the speaker's religious crisis deepening. There are poems for the women of the Triangle Waist Shirt Factory fire and the women in The Odyssey who kept the suitors company in Odysseus' house and thus paid with their lives. There is a poem for Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who killed her newborn child when the slave hunters closed in. And there are poems that question our humanity.
Here is the opening of "Battle Hymn"
Lord, I have seen a mother pull her son's arm ............from its socket and know that in years to come
when he sees her cry, his shoulder will ache ............and he will love her harder. I have seen myself
ravenous with God-fearing hold a hammer ............over something I cherished.
I'll leave you then with these lines from "Prayer to Delay the Apocalypse," Dear Reader, and urge you to read this book if what you've seen here appeals.
"Tell me heaven will be like Venice--dirty, beautiful / and sinking." "Take the ghosts first, / they've gone mad grieving for the world." "Let us continue wandering in these perishable machines // made of dirt and music." "...like an angel / carry me to the end of the world and lay me down."(less)
Last night, I lived up to one of my poetry resolutions: turn off the TV and read a book! As my fingers skimmed the spines of all those luscious books...moreLast night, I lived up to one of my poetry resolutions: turn off the TV and read a book! As my fingers skimmed the spines of all those luscious books waiting for me, the orange of Brandi Homan's Bobcat Country called to me. I've had this book for a few months and have had it on my list for a year. I can't remember where I heard of it first, but I think it might have been Karen's blog, The Scrapper Poet. Wherever I first heard of it, I learned that Homan is from...wait for it...Iowa. And now I've learned that she's not only from Iowa but from Marshalltown, Iowa, a town only 60 miles southwest of my own Waterloo. I can still tell you exactly how to get there, where to by-pass Hwy 63 in favor of the less traveled 96; I can still tell you exactly what the fields of corn look like bending in the wind and whipping past at 70 mph. I can tell you how it smells on that drive in spring when the farmers are out spreading manure; smells like money, as my mom always says. In another mirroring, it also appears that we both came of age in the 80s and I'm sure we must have sat in the same gym or football stadium at some point in our high school lives at one championship game or another.
I promise I'll get to the book review, I do. However, first I have to honor my joy and amazement to know that there was another girl out there at the same time as I was, absorbing the world that I absorbed and learning to craft it into something called poetry. This might not seem remarkable to someone born and raised in NYC or SF or Seattle/Portland or even Chicago or Minneapolis, but to me it is a bit of a paradigm shift, as I often felt that I was alone in my little northeast Iowa world of words (along with my cousin, Marta Ferguson, but she was in southeast Iowa and that seemed a great distance then).
Okay, on to Bobcat Country. Those would be the Marshalltown Bobcats in the title, and the book provides a raw, funny, poignant, and sometimes difficult look at a working-class coming of age in a small Iowa town in the 80s. These are amazing poems in a voice as different from mine as I can imagine, no soft lyricism here. I am in awe of Homan's ability to paint that working-class life in such bright and unflinching tones.
Here's the opening of "Welcome to Bobcat Country," and if you're from a small town, I bet there's a sign like this at your town border on the major roadway.
We drove to the border just to say we pissed in the Mississippi River, six in a car to see whether a Lifesaver makes a spark. We danced in headlights.
We had sex with boyfriends at the funeral home, slept with the gym teacher. Snuck into the hot tub at the Holiday Inn. Watched porn at Niemeyer's and went swimming and swimming and swimming, held each other underwater too long.
Our mothers chain-smoked, our fathers came straight home. Everyone spoke the same language. Everyone felt the layoffs.
I confess, Dear Reader, that while I didn't do most of these things, I knew people who did, and those last two sentences of this excerpt hit especially close to home. I actually lose my breath a little there.
As you can see from this one excerpt, Homan is a master in the details. Perhaps I rushed through this book, and I did rush, because I found my people and my places there. Boys driving T-top Camaros, summer trips to Lake Okoboji, detasseling season, Hy-Vee stores, class rings, trailer parks, Cedar Rapids & Marshalltown & Hwy 30.
But just writing about my homeland wouldn't be enough to hold me. Homan backs it up with wonderful craft and a wry, witty voice. In fact, at times she expands outward and writes about that taboo subject, the subject of poetry and being a poet. Here, her humor is at the best. In the poem "For Poets (& Others)," she tells us that we would-be poets should never use the following words "blackberries, poppies, detritus / bifurcation, sluiced, slaked" and follows the list up with this one-liner:
"James Wright has already seen horses in a field."
Oh my goodness, I couldn't stop laughing when I read that, mostly because I knew I myself had been guilty of repeating and imitating to death the Wright brothers (James & Charles, no relation to each other, or course) and so many others..
The poem that hooked me and had me starting over from the front and reading straight through to the back in a rush is actually toward the end. As I flipped through the pages trying to decide if I should read or just go to bed, I fell on this poem, which I have to quote in its entirety and I hope that Homan and her publisher will forgive me.
Attending the Writer's Workshop does not make you an Iowa poet. You never drove Highway 30 to Vet's Auditorium for the Tourney--a line of Camaros full of Busch Light and Cloves, turquoise Geo Trackers with shoe-polished windows. You never detasseled corn or worked as a checker at Hy-Vee until college, returning summers to get schnockered playing Three Man in someone's basement. Never showed sheep at the state fair, saw the butter sculptures like Tibetan monks. No four-wheelers or grill-your-own-steak restaurants. So, go ahead. Write your poems about fields and farmers and quiet, how you can see the stars every night. You'll never love them like I do.
I laughed and cried at this one. It touches on so many of my own themes and is so protective of Iowa. In fact, my sister was a checker at Hy-Vee and her daughter now shows pigs at the state fair, and seriously, the butter sculptures are something else!
That last line reminds me of a children's picture book that I have. It's called If You're Not from the Prairie and it's written by a man from the Canadian side of the prairie, I think. In any case, the whole book revolves around that refrain. "If you're not from the prairie, you can't know the wind" is one set of pages, "If you're not from the prairies, you can't know the sun" is another. When I'm nostalgic for home, I take this book out (and now I'll be adding Homan's to it as well).
The poem also makes me think more about regionalism and my own grad school experience in Arkansas. Several of my instructors were old-school Southern poets, strongly narrative, strongly male. They didn't know what to make of my quiet farms and fields, my lyricism. And yet, I knew I couldn't adopt a Southern voice. I couldn't become an Arkansas poet. That wasn't my story to tell.
Homan now lives in Chicago, and we have both risen from our working-class roots to something like the middle class. And while our styles might be quite different, it is a delight to find a sister voice. I praise it.(less)
A Witness in Exile is a book about the celebration of place and the struggle of one son with his family. Much will be made of Brian's biography, havin...moreA Witness in Exile is a book about the celebration of place and the struggle of one son with his family. Much will be made of Brian's biography, having been raised a Jehovah's Witness, who was excommunicated from the church and thus from his biological family as well. While the book isn't divided into sections, I definitely found the arc. We begin steeped in the South, mostly in southern Louisiana & NOLA where Brian was raised, and then on to Florida, where Brian currently lives. Towards the end of the place poems we get a handful from the West, which matches another part of Brian's biography, having been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford after finishing at Arkansas. These place poems compose the first half of the book. The second half deal with family, with Brian's relationship to his daughter, from whom he was separated by divorce, and with Brian's relationship to his father and the church.
The first poem in the book is a prose poem titled "Pastoral" and begins in the heat and humidity of southern Louisiana with the speaker as a boy fishing in Gar Creek. The poem ends with a sentence that sets the theme for the entire book: "The walk home is never long enough." Here we are introduced to the fact that the speaker is uneasy with his home, his origins. In another poem toward the beginning of the book, "One Day the Ruins of the Galleria Mall Will Shelter Armadillos," Brian expands on that theme. He writes, "and this is what it means to be / American and lonely" and later "[We] have / no river gods to transform us into / laurel trees so we can escape the lusts / of ... never mind." The speaker expresses, here, that we have come too far from our original myths for them to offer any hope or solace.
Of all the place poems, "What Change Must Come" encapsulates this 21st century relationship to the land, America, and home.
Here is a bit from the poem:
The places I love most all teeter on knife-edge: New Orleans wants to drown and sink into swamp. San Francisco to slide and buckle into itself. Fort Lauderdale dares the air to whirl it down, and now, to submerge it whole.
While I am most drawn to Brian's poems of place (and this is no surprise as that's my own focus), he handles the most closely autobiographical poems with the same deft craft and brutal honesty. In "Lament," the speaker states, "It is not poetic, your leaving / of church and family; / it is pathetic the way you slip away." Some of the most haunting lines in the book arrive in these poems when the speaker must reconcile his being cast out by not only the church but also his father. It is hard to do this justice with an excerpt, but I'll leave you with this one and encourage you to read the book for the full impact.
from "Tell it slant"
Tell how you deserted faith and church and with it family, how now you revel in uncertainty, recoil from absolute. Tell it slant, but tell it. Tell it.
(PS: I love the ghosts of Dickinson and Bishop in this poem.)(less)
Two words sum up this book for me: domestic and divine. To elaborate, these are poems about the domestic life of a busy mom-wife-woman-friend and incl...moreTwo words sum up this book for me: domestic and divine. To elaborate, these are poems about the domestic life of a busy mom-wife-woman-friend and include the daily details of meals, cars, jobs, and brand-named products, all the trappings of our 21st century lives. However, these domestic details are constantly brought to bear on the divine or vice versa, and what I mean by the divine is much larger than just religion. I mean the cosmos, spirituality, religion, and aliens; we mustn't forget the aliens.
The first section of the five into which the book is divided is titled "What I Will Tell the Aliens," and each section is titled based on a poem within. This first section features a speaker attempting to name "My Place in the Universe" (the first poem in the book). The section sets up the idea of this one speaker as one of the 6 billion plus people inhabiting this earth and the knowledge that there is so much more going on beyond our singular lives. The whole book reminds us that our little blue planet is just one dot in the larger universe.
Here's a bit from "What I Will Tell the Aliens"
Give me an alien, and I will give it a story of unfathomable odds,
or erections and looting. Show me an alien and I will show it the sorrows
of the centuries, all wrapped up in a kerchief, all wrapped up
in a grandmother's black wool coat.
This brief excerpt showcases Martha's strengths as a poet. Her speakers are real, honest-to-goodness, struggling human beings, and they talk to the reader as if sharing a drink with a good friend. The poems are filled with humor, sarcasm, wit, and they always push the reader to answer the question: Who are we? What are we doing with our lives?
Here's just a sliver from "After Reading There Might be an Infinite Number of Dimensions"
... . I'm wondering how we don't fall to our knees, knowing a hardened pea
lodged in the throat, can kill, knowing liquids are banned on all commercial flights.
Leaves fall. The baby sucks her middle fingers. Meanwhile, the refrigerator acquires
an unexplainable leak.
Just looking back at all the poems I have marked in the book, I could go on and on with this brief bits, but I'd be short changing both you, Dear Reader, and Martha. This is a book with poems that are begging to be read and reread.
I also vote this book BEST COVER of all the books spread out on my desk waiting to be read right now. Seriously, the cover alone is worth the price of the book, but the poems will prove your time well spent.
My all-time favorite lines from the whole book come from "No Refunds, No Exchanges." Here: "And yet I'm no girdle / on this galaxy's expanding waistline." I'm still smiling from this poem, this poem of optimism in the face of a life that might crush us at any moment.(less)
The poems in this collection are brave and brazen, addressing love and loss, questioning God and mortals alike, mixing Dickinson, Neruda, Einstein, an...moreThe poems in this collection are brave and brazen, addressing love and loss, questioning God and mortals alike, mixing Dickinson, Neruda, Einstein, and Alice from Wonderland with the deftness of a practiced mixologist. Here we have a speaker adrift in a world that often feels directionless, a speaker who desires nothing more than connection and yet finds that connection difficult because of the very fact that she is a poet: "the broken ones become artists," says the father in "Letter to a Past Life."
The father is a key figure woven throughout the book, a figure who influences the speaker when young and challenges the speaker's belief when he dies. In "Letter to a Companion Star" we see the speaker in the hospital and overhear the doctor. There is an epigraph from National Geographic about the Hourglass Nebula. The poem begins, "When the doctor said, / We're only delaying death, // I forgot words and let nebulae / answer."
Throughout the book, the speaker (who is unmistakably the same speaker throughout) makes declarative statements in an attempt to define herself.
In the opening poem, "Another Empty Window Dipped in Milk," she states: "Trust me, it's not bitterness I carry .....in my blood, but the pulse and flow
of ordinary, the white picket fence .....I like to call my ribcage."
In "Selected Love Letters I'm Still Trying to Write," she claims: "I am the handwriting of a car crash, bent metal and adrenalin-filled."
In "Quiet Collapse in the Dharma Shop," we are told: "I celebrate small things .......--apples, beetles, faith---"
I love that 'faith' is a 'small thing' here. Throughout the book, Kelli manages to take the ordinary moments of a woman's life and transform them into the extraordinary, the special, the saved. She is unafraid to tell the truth about what it means to be a poet as well as a mother, daughter, wife, and lover, and how sometimes those worlds don't always mesh.
Aside from the deft handling of this subject matter, the book is a delight of language. There are puns and anagrams and metaphors galore. There is music in the lines and specificity in each description. This is definitely a book to be read aloud and savored. (less)
A complex elegy on a mother's death, this is a book that must be read slowly, and given recent conversations about reading straight through or dipping...moreA complex elegy on a mother's death, this is a book that must be read slowly, and given recent conversations about reading straight through or dipping in and out (here and here), I would advocate for reading this one front to back, as the progression of the speaker seems paramount to experiencing the book as a whole.
The speaker throughout the book is the son of two ministers, and in the acknowledgments, Luke thanks his parents for "their love, their bookcases, and their level-headed pulpits," identifying them both as reverends. So, the reader assumes the close confessional nature of the poems. The book is divided into three untitled sections, with each section being introduced by a triolet. I'm in awe of this tactic, as the triolet is not often connected with funereal themes in my mind. However, these three triolets do a fine job of setting the tone for each section.
The first, "Nor'easter," has as it's second and final line, "the highway buried, sky a grave." And we begin, then, with an image of death. The poems in the first section, take the reader through the illness of the mother, memories of youth, memories of a split in the parent's marriage that was healed, and the death; however, not in chronological order. This circular time line is crucial to the entire book, as it mimics the fluidity of time during a long illness, a death, and the aftermath. We begin with "Moving Day," a poem filled with ordinary domestic images as the speaker clears away "boxes of sermons / collected in her study" ... "prayers ready / to be gathered and stored away." He notes "the weight of her words" and that weight filters through every poem in the rest of the book.
The second section is formally interesting as well as being filled with more poems attempting to reconcile the grief of the son. There is the triolet and then a series of sonnets. There are nine sonnets, but between the fifth and the sixth is one that is purposely unfinished, "Box Kite" at only eight lines. That gaping space where the sextet is supposed to be becomes the formal metaphor for the grave and the unsayable fact of grief. The speaker of these poems has much to reconcile: his mother's death, his own residual anger with her over a fracture in the parent's marriage, his position as the child of two ministers, how to help his father cope, and how to move through the world now as a motherless son. In "Vulture Tree," the sonnet opens "We were never so holy, and apples / in the ministers' orchard rot the same." Of all professions, perhaps we believe ministers, and by extension their families, most capable of dealing with the great tragedies of life, and yet, these poems reveal that human nature is human nature no matter a person's profession or calling.
Finally, in the third section, the poems become wider, deeper, more exploratory as the speaker moves out into the world after the death. The poem "Manse" begins "It might be easier to blame the dead / for disrepair... ." This honest admission floors me as it also hints at the ease with which we often blame our parents for our own faults left unrepaired. The speaker, though, resists this, still searching for a way to make sense of human nature. The section and the book conclude with the title poem "After the Ark," which weaves together the religious questions and the familial ones that have embedded themselves throughout the book. In this poem, the speaker contemplates the Ark story, and how "scores of sinners" ... "would've drowned in what my mother showed me // of God's love, the ever-lasting compassion / too definite / to be human... ." He struggles with this: "how // my mother left my father and I still don't know / how to forgive her, if I need to -- Genesis // missed these unpaid fares... ." The poem ends with a devastatingly true couplet:
It's up to us to grow gills, to learn to breathe here where the flood has become the body.
I applaud Luke's generous work for managing to be both religious and domestic, without being high-handed or overly sentimental. Above all this book is an honest account of difficult love. (less)