[REVIEW] Natural History Rape Museum, by Danielle Pafunda

pafunda

 

Bloof Books

80 pages/$15.00

 

Review by Anne Champion

Poets get to take great liberties when it comes to language: they play with sound and meaning.  Good poets will relish the way their carefully chosen words will take on new connotations next to other words and images.  There are only a few words that don’t slip and shift in a poem, and one of those words is “rape.”

Danielle Pafunda’s fifth poetry collection, Natural History Rape Museum, boldly interrogates this word, graphically turning it over for inspection with dirty fingers and bloodshot eyes.  In using the word rape, the title casts a long shadow over the rest of the collection.  Even cradled between words like natural, history, and museum, the word always finds its meaning with the speed and violence of a gunshot wound.  Despite cultural confusion and political debates over the rape and policy, the word holds only one meaning for most women readers, and that meaning is bound up in fear, anger, disgust, and violence.  In Pafunda’s blurbs, many readers likened her to Sylvia Plath, and I would have to agree.  While Pafunda’s voice is undoubtedly new, fresh, and evocative, the feelings of rage and destruction that these explosive poems leave in their wake are as visceral as those from a Plath poem. Continue reading

[REVIEW] In the Event of Full Disclosure, by Cynthia Atkins

atkins-disclosure cover
CW Books
96 pages, $18.00

Review by Anne Champion

The most difficult thing about reviewing Cynthia Atkins’s second book of poetry is choosing what to write about: this collection covers a broad and scenic terrain of topics including childhood, motherhood, family dysfunction, and life in the millennial age of the internet. Atkins crafts her poems with equal parts wit, wisdom, clarity, and tenderness, showcasing her range as a writer, both in form and in tone. Most poems follow a narrative structure; however, the collection reveals some lovely lyric moments alongside some musical litanies. According to Seb Doubinsky’s blurb on the back cover, these poems “glow in the dark a long time after you have finished reading them, illuminating your heart and guts from the inside.” I have to agree—these poems resonate deeply with their punch-packing lines.
The collection is divided into five sections, and each section contains a poem from a sequence titled “Family Therapy.” These poems serve as an anchor for the book, grounding it in realistically haunting family dramas. All five sections bravely tackle subjects such as grief and abuse with razor sharp clarity through original and surprising images. Consider these two passages, taken from “Family Therapy (I)” and “Family Therapy (IV)”:

“I am my sister. I am my brother.
I am my brother’s sister,
I am my mother’s keeper.
I hold the secrets. I am the writer.
I am the sister of a schizo-
phrenic. My elder split—
My sister taught me how
To shave my legs, little slits of blood
left like a lunchbox in the mud.”

“Hush, we’ll never tell,
yet deep down we know, the mind’s pain

is the last inconsolable and extra gene.
Rabid dog in the school yard—

Mean and mad and frothing.”

Continue reading

[REVIEW] Romance With Small-Time Crooks by Alexis Ivy

~by Anne Champion

 Ivy-Cover-Really-Real-sm

 

BlazeVOX Books

90 pages/$16.00

The cover of Alexis Ivy’s debut collection depicts a scattered stack of cards and a hand overturning the Queen of Diamonds and the Eight of Clubs.  The Queen of Diamonds, of course, denotes power, royalty, and adornment, while the eight is a common symbol of infinity: all of this is embedded within the gamble, a game of chance, risk, and luck.  Similarly, these themes seem to trail the speaker of this collection in poems that take risks resulting in big payoffs.  These poems travel through the seedy underbelly of American life, exploring characters bound by their own self destruction embedded in a world of sex, drugs, liquor, and crime and a speaker that’s attracted to the scarred, the imperfect, and the dangerous.   While redemption and happy endings seem impossible in this collection, the poems refuse pity, instead transforming gutters into places of magic, insight, and growth.

Many poems in the collection recall still life paintings in their vivid imagery and details.  However, these still lifes illustrate ruin and utter desolation.  “So I Got Stoned,” depicts the actions and backgrounds of a speaker who has plummeted into silence.  The poem begins “I sorta wasn’t talking,/I sorta didn’t talk./I didn’t talk.”  These lines reveal the speaker’s reluctance to speak even now, as it takes several tries before anything can be said with any certainty.  Then, the still life gets painted through several sharp, compelling details, and the poem ends with the speaker’s reflection:

Wasted under
the willows at the Charles River,
chain smoking so I wouldn’t be
just sitting there.

It seems clear that the frozen muteness is all pervasive, as the speaker asserts that she had to smoke just to not merely exist; in this portrayal, readers understand the anxiety behind a life that grows too still. Continue reading

The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse, by Gabriel Welsch (A Review by Anne Champion)

 

 Steel Toe Books

102 pages/$12.00

 

“We are four horsepersons/of a disappointing apocalypse, our famine/is for kindness, for a hand on the arm,/for a word whispered for the sake/of that word’s weight and its balm/on shattered eyes or its healing weight/in a gut yearning for sustenance.”

 

These lines embody the delicate balance of humor and seriousness found in Gabriel Welsch’s third full length collection of poetry, The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse.  First, the reader is tickled by the politically correct word choice of “horsepersons,” only to have that cleverness peeled away to reveal stunning and moving insights about the chaos of a world wrought with television, pop culture, and market capitalism.  A simple glance through the table of contents leads one to believe that the collection situates itself solely in humor with slick titles such as ‘The Annoying Questions Faced at Parties by People Who Sell Office Supplies,” “The Television Makes Its Promise Between Channels,” and “Mr. Disagreeable Decides Not to Rant About How He Used to Be Somebody.”  However, this collection strays far from shallow provocation, equally balancing coy, tongue in cheek wit alongside startling epiphanies.

Readers who bask in hilarity within poetry will not walk away disappointed from this collection.  Welsch’s speakers convey an undeniable jesting tone, and I often found myself smirking with each page turn, as the titles promised a speaker with a keen sense of irony.  Consider the first lines of “The Harridan’s Song”:

“It’s like even your shrubbery
wants to flip me off, like the shaggy maple
by the drive wears a Metal Up Your Ass
t-shirt and biker boots, wallet with a chain.
Your yard wants to kick my ass.” Continue reading

Reluctant Mistress, by Anne Champion (A Review by Hannah Rodabaugh)

Gold Wake Press 

86 pages/ $15.95 

           

Anne Champion’s first book, Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), is a lovely accomplishment of enveloping beauty. This poetry collection, which centers on love and relationships (and infidelity, in peculiar), displays a timelessness in image and tone. While reading this sophisticated, yet earthy collection, there were moments where I wondered if I were reading an anthology of ancient love poems by Catullus or Sappho because of her poems’ pure, undiluted images. This is not a criticism; purity and fineness and an authenticity of spirit are all too rare in a cynical, postmodern landscape. This is certainly not to say that this book is not justifiably modern. Rather, it is because Champion lets each poem so fully be itself, that they work so thoroughly across history.

The first half of Reluctant Mistress parallels the more sugarficial, glycerined aspects of romance. And while it occasionally makes gestures towards apparent sentimentality, (the repetitiveness of “Villanelle for Past Lovers” or the weddingscape of “Blessing” are almost problematic), their stunted happiness is intentional—part of the crux of this book is how artificial these feelings are and can be: in the “The Great Show,” she writes, “These awkward, fumbling puppet limbs enjoyed the lead role in that old, artificial tale of love.” It is almost impossible not to write of love this way—especially when writing about your past as a present which does not now exist in the world outside the perfect reality of the poem you have created for it. In “Dabbling in the Occult,” she writes:

” When Amanda’s crush finally pressed her
up against the window inside the school bus, 

jostling his tongue with hers the whole ride home,
we thought it must be our potions that did it, 

not realizing yet that boys take their power;
they don’t need charms to manifest it.”  Continue reading

System of Hideouts by Heather McNaugher (A Review by Anne Champion)

 

 System of Hideouts

 Main Street Rag Publishing

55 pages/$14.00

 

In Heather McNaugher’s debut collection of poems, System of Hideouts, readers are treated to intellectual gusto, personal gutsiness, and aching tenderness.  The collection covers a broad range of experience—childhood, familial, and sexual—in interrogating the construction of self identity, producing a collection of moving poems emboldened by emotional verve.

McNaugher’s most stunning poetic trait materializes through her unabashed honesty.  These poems pilfer the experiences that many people keep silent about: from first lovers to first menstrual cycles to familial homophobia, McNaugher weaves her way through the secrets hidden deep within us, plucking them from our bodies for close self exploration.  In “Max,” the speaker reflects on her first friend, who she unashamedly reveals had “the first family I’d hate.”  She recalls suffocating goldfish and placing bets about cartoons, which Max always won.  The speaker makes meaning out of this young memory:

“From this I developed my first self-defeating theory
of luck—boys have it; I don’t.  It occurs to me only now
that a glossy T.V. Guide arrived each week at your door.
At my door was a woman on drugs.”
Continue reading

Domestic Uncertainties by Leah Umansky (A Review by Anne Champion)

 

BlazeVOX Books

74 pages/$16.00

 

On the back cover of Leah Umansky’s first book, Domestic Uncertainties, Cornelius Eady refers to her as the literary daughter of Emily Dickinson. In fact, the title of this collection is taken from The Letters of Virginia Woolf.  Even while many women writers have paved the way for Umansky’s collection about a broken marriage, Umansky manages to blaze her own trail, with a voice that harkens back to feminist literary icons of the past while simultaneously creating something new. The voice crying out from this wrecked romantic union seethes with bitterness, wit, defiance, and courage; the female speaker also remains dominant throughout the text, uncovering truths and barking orders at her lost lover:

It was all appositives.

You never loved.

Say it for me.

Say it.

The book’s most lucid moments seem like a deep, philosophical quest.

The poems fluctuate back and forth in form, from prose poems to fragmented associative poems, to poems that have experimental layouts on the page.  But in all forms Umansky seems concerned with discovery, and many of them feel like epiphanies. Consider these lines from “The Marital Space:

 Remember, memory is flexible.

How we make ourselves isn’t coincidental; it’s consequential.

 

And also these from “How We Make Ourselves:”

History always repeats itself, but the heart,

The heart uplifts and uproots. The heart

replants.

 

In these lines, the speaker triumphs in discovering what it means to rebuild the self after a shattered relationship, and the end result seems to be a sense of deep self reflection and endurance. These moments delight, because they take risks and carry such heavy truths. Continue reading

Brink by Shanna Compton (A Review by Anne Champion)

 

Bloof Books

86 pages/$15.00

 

Shanna Compton’s Brink is part one of a two part poetry collection: Brink and The Seam. Both embody the realm of speculative poetry with their focus on fantastic, science fiction themes. In an interview, Compton describes Brink as “before”and The Seam as “after.”  Presumably, with the themes alluded to in Brink, we can infer that this means pre-apocalypse and post apocalypse poetry. In Brink, Compton flirts with disaster on every page, constantly teetering on the edge of complete chaos and devastation.

Compton, who has authored several full length poetry collections and chapbooks including For Girls & Others and Down Spooky, mixes the mundane alongside the fantastic in this collection. Mars and other planets are referenced in medias res of a couple’s arguments, shoplifting, and the common aches for adoration and perfection within the human condition. In this way, the poems suggest a futuristic landscape while also seeming so familiar that they hint towards the anxiety of a doomed future being much nearer than we would like to conceive. In ‘Panoramic View,’ Compton writes:

 Last week Mars suddenly got a lot closer.

It used to be the place we’d throw out

as impossible, utterly unreachable, so red

and foreign and sere. Not anymore….

It’s bluer than I thought, attained. Like most things

I wish we could take back.

 

Here is a prime example of how Compton can mingle the otherworldly alongside the common stings of this world. The inhuman and the human reflect upon each other through warped telescopes, revealing all sorts of surprises and similarities. Continue reading

Sympathy from the Devil by Kyle McCord (A Review by Anne Champion)

 

Gold Wake Press

80 pages/$12.95

Kyle McCord’s Sympathy from the Devil crosses a myriad of celestial and earthly terrains. In this collection, readers encounter God, Gabriel, and, of course, the Devil; they also ride trains named for endangered birds, get tossed off a rusty mechanical bull, all while colliding with pop culture references such as the TV show Lost, werewolves, and Batman. While weaving through themes of love, spirituality, and philosophical meanderings, these poems take the reader to surprising places and topics: necromancy, rude birds, the ship of fools, astronomy, the zodiac and even law school. Each page is a treasure trove, a roller coaster ride of dips and spins- the reader never knows what to expect, but each turn is both terror and thrill.

Poems about God are a long standing subject matter for poets to interrogate, and some even say that poetry itself is a form of prayer. In the essay “Facing Altars: Poetry as Prayer,” poet and memoirist Mary Karr writes: “People usually (always?) come to church as they do to prayer and poetry- through suffering and terror. Need and fear. In some Edenic past, our ancestors began to evolve hard-wiring that actually requires us (so I believe) to make a noise beautiful enough to lay on the altar of the Creator/Rain God/Fertility Queen. With both prayer and poetry, we use elegance to exalt, but we also beg and grieve and tremble. We suffer with prayer and poetry alike. Boy, do we suffer.”  McCord’s collection reminds me of Mary Karr’s Sinners Welcome, both in its use of God and its unabashed employment of humor and the bizarre to broach the Holy Ghost. In my favorite poem of the collection, “Sympathy from the Devil,”McCord writes:

 “When you laugh at Satan, the Lord laughs also.  But Satan does not laugh

when you laugh at your own apish posture in the mirror.  He has an antelope

look in his eyes.”

Later in the poem, he writes:

“…When you deny

Satan, it’s not like confetti falls or heralding trumpets sound. You go on

relishing your Cobb salad on the promenade.” Continue reading

The Moon and Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell By Kristina Marie Darling (A Review by Anne Champion)

 

BlazeVOX

66 pages/ $12

If you are familiar with the work of Kristina Marie Darling, it should come as no surprise that she chooses Joseph Cornell as her muse for her newest collection recently released from BlazeVOX books. Cornell, an artist and sculptor, was revered for his work in assemblage, creating simple boxes fronted with glass planes that were filled with found objects. It has been noted that Cornell could create poetry from the commonplace, and he was inspired by precious objects of nostalgia and beauty. In this sense, Cornell is Darling’s other, as her fragmented poems of footnotes and definitions have been capturing nostalgic Victorian surreal dreamscapes for years. Opening a collection of Darling’s work is like opening a jewelry box of lustrous knick knacks and valuable antiques. Continue reading