Write Bloody Books
Beautiful lines, harsh realities, absolute truths, and precise images combine in the poems offered in After the Witch Hunt by Megan Falley to create a book that sings in an authentic voice. This is Falley’s first book, yet the originality of the poet shows experience and craft beyond her years. I found myself getting lost in the text, each time I tried to read the book with a critical eye, my mind was drawn in by the artistic beauty of poems such as “Pendulum.”
“Pendulum” is a stark and sad poem, that deals with the suicide of a friend’s sibling, after a night of partying. The poem is formulated almost as a list of the previous night’s activities, common everyday teenage associations (music, dancing, and drinking games). Could have been anywhere, anyone. The first half of the poem gives the reader the sense of normalcy; the tome of the poem turns with the most beautiful passage delivering the truth of the situation, an indescribable horror, with a child like splendor.
“In the morning he thought he could resurrect/ the simplicity of childhood by turning/ himself into a tire swing.”
So impactful is the beauty of the image portrayed that the rest of the poem is an echo of its emotion until the final line- a question posed by the poet that leaves the reader searching for the answer to why someone feels such loneliness.
“When he turned himself into a pendulum, / what became of time?”
I just wrote up a piece for a literary magazine’s Contributors’ Blog, and in it I described what I look for in poems: “I admire the poet who keeps a gleam in his rolled eye. I like a poet to look to her gut but not her navel; I like subject matter to be tough but not gratuitous or looking to shock. And I want lovely music in every poem I read, no matter how unlovely the subject.”
Soon after, I cracked Stevie Edwards’ new book. Well, I might as well have written “See Good Grief“ after the line above.
To achieve this requires expert handling of most of the tools in a poet’s toolbox, so let’s take a look. Here’s the last stanza of the first poem in the book, “For my Brother on his Sixteenth Birthday”:
He tells me he’s cold. I press my lighter
to his sleeves and tell him it’ll be
okay, hug him until we’re both charred
and warm. He tells me it’s gone.
Violence and tenderness do a waltz with tells, tell, tell as the beat, press and hug and warm the spaces between, and the smell of charring flesh permeates the air. Tough, but not gratuitous- a recognition of the feelings someone has simply as a function of living and loving here on this planet in this moment. I believe the speaker; I believe the violence, the tenderness, and both together. Continue reading
107 pages, $13
Â American poet and critic Ezra Pound once described a poetic image as something that should capture an emotional and intellectual complex in an instant of time. Nate Prittsâ€™ latest collection of poems, Sweet Nothing, is filled with images that do just that, while also capturing the beauty of the everyday, including the feel of the sun in oneâ€™s hair or its reflection on a loverâ€™s shoulders. His latest work is also a celebration of language itself and trying to find the right words to capture wonderful, but often fleeting moments.
Prittsâ€™ collection covers a sweeping range of emotions, including longing, love, and even frustration, but as a whole, the poems remind the reader to appreciate the everyday and the small moments that we sometimes take for granted. In the poem â€œWhat it Means to be in Transit,â€ he writes, â€œI see the street from bird level because I like to feel/the sun in my hair/because this is temporary this moment/this is my time & now/it is gone already.â€
Coffee House Press
Â Patricia Smithâ€™s newest collection, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, evokes a sense of history and self-awareness combined with precise storytelling and the most crafted verse. Each poem delves deeper into the mythology of her family, her childhood dreams, personal scars, small triumphs that create larger identity, and the emotions of growing up a southern transplant in a northern city. Mrs. Smithâ€™s fifth book of poetry is on par with her past work, such as Blooddazzler (National Book Award Finalist). In her current incarnation, we find one of the most authentic voices of Modern American Poetry.
Poems such as “An All-Purpose Product”, “Baby of the Mistaken Hue”, “13 Ways of Looking at 13”, and “Laugh Your Troubles Away” all confront the emotional turmoil of being a black girl in the largest city in the American Midwest. These poems are valuable teaching tools for young people of all races; each poem with its own twist speaks to American White Privilege, more precisely, the scorn that imposes itself on anyone who cannot be assimilated. These lessons are presented in ways easily obtained and grasped by the reader through insightful personal pains of her first blossoming love as in “Open Letter To Joseph Peters Naras, Take 2.”
â€œI will throw you out of my house if I hear about you seeing/ that black girl again. Joe, I loved you then and love you/ still.â€
I staggered out of the theater after Waiting for Godot.
Jeez, I griped to Peter, Thatâ€™s it? Weâ€™re all just wind and gristle?
Yep, he said after a minute, and I knew he was trying to remember
whether heâ€™d stuck the parking ticket in his wallet or pocket.
I love it when a poet tells you what a poetry collection is all about in the first poem. In these four lines from the opening poem, â€˜Monkey Spinning a Prayer Wheelâ€™, Lisa Bellamy lays out a framework of what sheâ€™s concerning herself with in this chapbook called Nectar. The senselessness and mundanity of everything makes the protagonist call for her mother like a little girl:
Â in my memory of chipping my tooth on the granite rock in our backyard,
and me wailing as my mother ran from her chaise lounge
where sheâ€™d been sunbathing and reading Leon Uris, her freckled arms
and the smell of her suntan oilâ€”where is she? Where is she?
That is a powerful, if disconcerting, start to a book of poetry. Continue reading
103 pages, $16
Renowned poet Patricia Smith writes in the introduction to Kevin Covalâ€™s newest collection of poems, Lâ€™Vis Lives, that his latest offering is a â€œrelentless book, brave and uncomfortable.â€ Indeed, Covalâ€™s collection is brave and forceful in the way it deals with race, exploring why suburban white kids would want to shed their identify and imitate black culture. Itâ€™s a topic on race that has rarely, if ever, been explored in contemporary poetry collections. Covalâ€™s book, also dubbed â€œracemusic poems,â€ confronts the issue through recent music history, specifically Elvis, Vanilla Ice, the Beastie Boys, and Eminem, all artists that owe their success to black music and what they took from it. Covalâ€™s poems, while unsettling at times, highlight a truth about how white rappers and even rock â€˜n roll pioneers made riches off of black music and culture.
Early on in the collection, Coval depicts a time when hip-hop was purer, during the beginning of the Ronald Reagan presidency, when the music had yet to burst into the mainstream. In the prosaic poem â€œthe crossover,â€ he writes of a tapedeck and a walkman, music that â€œtruthedâ€ and was a â€œmiddle finger fuck youâ€ to President Reagan who â€œsent uncle dave crazy back into the streets.â€ In the poem, and throughout the collection, Covalâ€™s form imitates the rawness of early hip-hop. Like the poetâ€™s other collections, he forgoes capitalization, even of names, places, and some titles of poems, thus making the poems a little more unrefined.
In the beginning of the collection, Coval also places his white speaker in front of a mirror, wishing he was cooler. In the poem â€œposing,â€ the young speaker confesses that his nose is still too big for his face and that his chin hairs â€œstruggle for articulation.â€ A few clipped lines later, the speaker also admits that he wishes every muscle in his body were bigger. Anyone who suffered through an awkward adolescence, wishing for a newfound hipness and cool, can relate to the poem. Continue reading
In an age when apocalyptic threats have become a plague unto themselvesâ€”whether one kneels at the alter of spirituality, science, or general confusionâ€”a collection of letters from a protagonist beyond salvation may seem like overkill.Â Karin Gottshallâ€™s second collection of poetry, however, reminds us of the true weight of rapture: Flood Letters demurely and achingly catalogues the final transmissions of a hurricane survivor, stretching the narratorâ€™s consciousness into animal and divine worlds as she fights to remain human under the forces of nature. Flood Letters is quite possibly the most openly desperate manuscript Iâ€™ve read in a long time. The wordsâ€™ power lies not in the clamor of despondency, however, but in its quiet. Thereâ€™s little bite; this is a gentle mauling. It seems a shame to break up the collection, and Iâ€™m compelled to at least quote the piece â€œDear Lucidity, no one elseâ€ in its entirety:
Dark Sky Books
Inappropriate relationships and illicit affairs have long been the stuff of literature. Morocco, a new collection of poetry from Dark Sky Books, contributes to this tradition but strips away the romance, showing things for what they are: sometimes tender, but often manipulative, cruel, and downright ugly.
Written jointly by Kendra Grant Malone and Matthew Savoca, the narrative begins with two would-be lovers who each already have a significant other, one a boyfriend, the other a wife. At some point during the collection, the speakers cross the boundary they had previously established for themselves, but by the end they seem no less tortured by each other and no happier than they were at the beginning. While some moments are tender and even humorous, the book shows how obsessive and unhealthy relationships can be as the two speakers look to each other for escape but then discover that escaping into each otherâ€™s bodies does not fix anything.
While written together, this isnâ€™t a book of collaborations, rather a collection of poems written in conversation with one another. The writers share a similar style, which employs plain-spoken/direct, stripped-down language, uses all lower case letters and short lines, and lacks all end-punctuation marks. At the outset of the book, it isnâ€™t always entirely clear (without referring to the index at the end) who the author of an individual piece is, especially since there is not a clear back-and-forth pattern between the poems. But as the book progresses, each poetâ€™s voice emerges, and it becomes unnecessary to refer to the index.
Fort Myers, August 2002
Â I should have fended off the emotard
when he gnawed your hands, then spat
your own fingerprints back.
The pelt hangs in my chest. I try
not to wear it. I try to forget
how frayed your skin tasted.
What the hell is happening here? First, the protagonist is the (failing) protector of (I assume) his female partner. Then, he has suddenly switched places with the â€˜emotardâ€™ who has bitten her. First, the protagonist is not doing something he should be doing and then he is doing things he shouldnâ€™t be doing, although he is trying not to do them.
One poem, six little lines, and already there is enough inversion and reversal and physical imagery going on to make you dizzy.
I have now read this poem dozens of times and I have decided that, for me, it is ultimately about lust and self-control. Or the lack of the latter. In that light, one could assume the â€˜emotardâ€™ is not another person. The protagonist may be failing to fend off his own â€˜inner emotardâ€™.
In the preface to The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You, Caits Meissner and Tishon impart to us that they have only been friends for five years, but their poems speak to one another in an older and more establishedÂ existence. Â This is a dual manuscript, a collection of poems by both poets written in distinct and complimentary voices. Â And it’s those voices that really round out this collection. Â Like two birds in flight, their patterns are varied, their wingspans diverse, yet the tempo between these two poets is an opera, formed from contrasting sounds, blended together to make whole the orchestra of shared experiences.
At times these poems are fraught with sadness, Meissner relates the insecurity so often associated with up adolescence in First Loves:
My face in the mirror has a yellow sheen and I pull fat away from my body with my fingers – just two of the reasons I am sure no breathing man could love me.Â “I will not leave you,” you seem to say, just by standing next to me.Â In this way perhaps we are married.Â perhaps I wasn’t so wrong after all.
Tishon, meanwhile, expresses the same sentiment in Stupid, yet the voice is somewhat harder:
my mother was so upset
and for the first time
she called me stupid
and from that moment
on I hated replacing the
water in the tank
and one by one all the
goldfish died and
I didn’t care.