Promising younger poets invariably struggle between the abstract-but-deeply-felt concepts they want to convey and the specific, well-observed momentsPromising younger poets invariably struggle between the abstract-but-deeply-felt concepts they want to convey and the specific, well-observed moments that comprise the promise of their craft. Fortunately for this collection, more often than not the poetry wins out....more
John Rember is unafraid to stare down life's big questions, but does so always with a twinkle in the eye. Like the fool in King Lear's court, he willJohn Rember is unafraid to stare down life's big questions, but does so always with a twinkle in the eye. Like the fool in King Lear's court, he will rap you on the noggin with a truth so sweet it hurts. If you don't close his book somehow transformed, you may well be un-transformable.
Rember's "why to write" book is a memoir of the creative heart and mind in conflict with itself, which is to say a universal struggle that any artist will recognize. More than this, he emerges triumphant over big issues-family, violence, bearing witness, estrangement, grief. Gilgamesh, "Hansel and Gretel," Greek mythology and Paris Hilton all figure in to his survey of literature and culture, teaching through the age-old workshop mantra of showing, rather than telling us, what good, deep writing is all about.
John demonstrates time and again what it means to write as a fully engaged human being, teaching along the way that deep writing is deep living, and profound fun.
Emily Bobo writes about an ex-pianist's relationship to her instrument, citing two definitions of "fugue" on the cover page-first, the obvious musicalEmily Bobo writes about an ex-pianist's relationship to her instrument, citing two definitions of "fugue" on the cover page-first, the obvious musical definition involving multiple voices playing a contrapuntal theme; second, the psychiatric definition involving a psychological flight from circumstances, manifesting like amnesia.
The mother figures large throughout the collection, imposing discipline and transferred hopes. In one of the early poems, "The Recovering Musician and the Parable of the Mustard Seed" (after Matthew 13:31-35), the mother pronounces, "The kingdom of heaven is like a daughter, which a single mom bore and enrolled in piano lessons."
The collection unfolds a complex tangle of inner and outer relationships, through parables involving Father, Mother, and Satan reminiscent of Louise Glueck's Ararat; to a series of letters, including one "Letter to an Ex-Stalker" which speaks of obsession in musical terms, then declares, "Yours / is the lid I cannot / let close, the wound / I tend with salt / and carefully." Throughout this collection, Bobo "tends the wound" of not playing piano through parable, epistle, and child-like declamations, layering rich contrapuntal melodies sung on the theme of loss.
"It's in my poetic blood to make disjunctive arrangements," declares Joel Craig. In five long poems spanning sixteen pages, Craig employs a kind of idiomatic scrapbooking, combined with syntactic contortions, to achieve surprising psychological assemblages. Language, and where it leads us, is primary in these poems. Narrative takes a back seat. Craig is particularly fond of certain words and phrases. The word "okay," for example, that milquetoast signifier of nothing-much assiduously avoided by most poets, is gainfully resurrected by Craig in multiple poems. The color green, Death Valley, and Buddha also weave their way through this tapestry. The phrase "It's just so fun to speculate" repeats throughout "Thin Red Line", as indeed these poems do speculate-leaping wildly from line to line.
But this collection represents far more than an exhibition of linguistic gymnastics. Near the end of my favorite poem of this collection, "Street Dad," the speaker tells us, "I didn't know I was suffering from an illness / known as depression. For the first time / in my life, I thought I was seeing the world." Elsewhere in "High Park" the speaker says of one character, "He's a person who, when he's attracted to someone / intuitively senses what's lacking in / their emotional life. A compulsion / to become whatever they need most."
These are poems seeking newness through juxtaposition, aware of the insufficiency of their medium even as they endeavor to transcend it, much like the speaker at the end of "Street Dad" who tells us, perhaps anxiously, "I sat for a moment, staring at my knees as I tried / to put broad, wide images / into small, tidy words."
Amy Lingafelter flirts with deeper human concerns through surrealism, holding up, as she writes in "Holoblastic," "a mirror / in the bathroom of the party." The speaker goes on in this poem to admonish those on "the road to Recovery" through cleverly spring-loaded syntax that "you'll never always be wanting / just one thing."
"The Summer I Started Pickling Things" finds poetry by taking the Midwest tradition of pickling to new levels of absurdity-mirrors, siblings, even Shame itself are suffused with vinegar. "Monotremata" casts an at-once poignant and nutty glance at female fertility. Lovemaking, mirrors, tanning, and cell division recur in the ever-shifting worldview of these poems.
In "The Counterfeiter," the speaker, continually "backing up" a charming man comes to realize that, "I will be a happy woman / the day I realize / the secret to your charm / is my charm." The secret to Amy Lingafelter's charm lies in her uncanny ability to hold reality and unreality squarely in the binocular vision of these poems, admonishing us, as she does in "Days of Grace," that, "'Remember' is not the opposite of 'forget.'" These are poems you will both remember, and whose dizzying effect you are not soon to forget.
The opening poem to "The Heights" by Tim Krcmarik tells us, "I like my Shakespeare mixed up with my Dante / the same way I like hot sauce dumped overThe opening poem to "The Heights" by Tim Krcmarik tells us, "I like my Shakespeare mixed up with my Dante / the same way I like hot sauce dumped over my fried / ham steaks and scrambled eggs." God and fire recur throughout this collection, sometimes colliding as in the poem "Beloved," a street-tough retelling of Adam and Eve with the surrealism of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. These are poems that play with sincerity even as they play with language, mistrusting the apparent even as they long for something transcendent amid the mundane. In this Krcmarik has given us something truly fresh and original, a collection of big band recklessness with a cappella hymnals poking through; a series of poems undeniably his own.
In "The Woman Who Cries Speaks," Patricia Staton's long, irregular lines snake down the page. These are poems composed, like a scrapbook, of memory fragments. But they are also punctuated by a direct and declamatory voice, as in the end of "We Have Our Rats", where the speaker exclaims, after a by turns disgusting and whimsical meditation on rats, "Hey! Listen up! Nobody here’s mourning rats. / I’m shivering, frowzy, awake, but no." At once image-rich and idiomatic, gossamer and gutsy, Staton’s poems jostle and sway through a panoply of sense and no-sense, making up their own kind of rhyme and reason as they go.
Many of the poems in "Death Song for Africa" by Victor Camillo are haunted by the past. Others are haunted by the present. In the final poem, "Today is Easter," the language of religion and news interweaves. Referring to "the bible of the newspaper" and "the mosque that is the radio," the speaker tells us, "I know about a death that cannot be held in a communion wafer," contrasting the tragedy that "Indians in Guatemala are being ripped inside out" with the banal annoyance that "the weather here has become unkind." The poems in this collection are poems of conscience, set in the comfort of the modern first world, looking guiltily but unflinchingly at the terrors of the third world, and of the past. Through striking imagery, and carefully-controlled religious and political references, Camillo embraces love, marriage, and fatherhood against the backdrop of an at-once beautiful and terrible world.
The opening poem of "Acts of Contrition" by Gwendolyn Cash begins, "Today I'm going to lie about everything." The poem, like the whole collection, isThe opening poem of "Acts of Contrition" by Gwendolyn Cash begins, "Today I'm going to lie about everything." The poem, like the whole collection, is actually stark and startling for its honesty, taking up Emily Dickinson's advice to "tell all the truth but tell it slant." It is always the story beneath the story, the glittering terrible pieces of a seemingly ordinary life, that Cash studies and renders. In perhaps my favorite poem of the series, "Bully," the speaker guides us deftly in second person from recalling the physical pain of bullying through moments of recognizing the bully on the post office wall, in the news at an arrest, arriving finally to teach a writing class in a prison to find him there. In a symbolic act--is it empathy? fascination? revenge? or some mix?--"you'll hand him a sheet of paper / and a sharpened pencil, your throat / so dry it hurts, saying, / Tell me your story, / Tell it like it is." In twenty-two pages of tight-gripping poetry, Gwendolyn Cash does just that--she tells it like it is.
Boyd Benson begins the poem "It Was Too Late" from "The Owl's Ears" with the simultaneously nutty and philosophical line, "I never saw myself coming." From here, this poem takes on some of the beautiful sorrow of a poet like Larry Levis, as "local dogs / lay down with the sound of my name." Benson guides us through a dreamlike world in this collection. He introduces us to strange characters like "The Silent Comedians" and "The Opener of Doors." In his realm, Magritte-like surrealism, full of portals and hats, can be married to more deeply philosophical concerns (one poem is entitled "Socrates"). Dense with imagery, though fleet of foot, these poems render a delicious turn of mind, at once whimsical and longing--pathos laced with a dash of prank. For those willing to take the journey, Boyd W. Benson's poetry may well be the best thing since lucid dreaming.
Lisa Galloway believes that "poetry should be a shock to the senses, it should evoke something and it should leave you with something." In "Liminal: A Life of Cleavage," poems about love, sex, drugs, and family dynamics look you straight in the eye. The collection involves frank depictions of lesbian culture and sexuality. It is also laced with double entendres, including the title itself. In one of my favorite poems, "How Am I?," the speaker reacts to her mother's cancer, telling us, "like the socket incessantly tongued / from the tooth extracted, / this was one of those things / that you couldn't stop tasting or staring at." Many of the poems in this collection affected me in just this way--drawing me in to another's fully-formed world, surprised, provoked, and unable to put the book down.
Wiman's essays up until "Fugitive" pieces are simply brilliant. From there, they become more fragmentary, like journal notes and reviews more fit forWiman's essays up until "Fugitive" pieces are simply brilliant. From there, they become more fragmentary, like journal notes and reviews more fit for other purposes, more full of opinion than revelation--until the final piece, "Love Bade Me Welcome," which is again stunning. I wish I could give four-and-three-quarter stars to this near-perfect collection, which I still highly recommend to anyone seeking solace in the reading and writing of poetry....more