Four Way Books
$15.95, 84 pages
Review by Rachel Mennies
In Greek myth, the seven sisters we call Pleiades committed suicide after the death of their father, the titan Atlas (tasked with separating the heavens from the earth upon his back). While alive, each individual sister lived at the mercy of the impulses of various gods and men, sometimes even bearing their children; in their individual mythologies, their legacies are not kept separate from the ones men made with them or onto them, and they appear in our sky today as a unit of sisters—bound together as stars.
In Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books), the poet Eugenia Leigh’s first collection, we meet Sisters; we meet Father, too, and Mother. Leigh builds these figures out to the scale of myth throughout her book, both as forces bound together by trauma and as personae often compromised by their fraught, epic-scaled loves. Steeped in questioning worship and a profound hunger for bodily life, the speakers of Leigh’s gorgeously imagistic, lyric book search for ways out of and back into the family unit, casting an unflinching stare on abuse, desire, and the destruction wreaked by both forces. Continue reading
Texas Tech University Press
79 pages, $17.56
Review by Ryan Rydzewski
“What good is storytelling,” someone asks the speaker in Rachel Mennies’s first poetry collection, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, “if I can’t tell you stories the way I want to?”
The question implies an elusive truth in the stories we tell each other—stories altered, perhaps, by embellishment, by the unreliability of memory, or by lies of omission; stories modified to spare their receivers pain. But what happens when we stake our identities on such stories? What if those stories define not only ourselves, but also our culture and where we come from? Does the avoidance of pain really outweigh the importance of truth? What good are stories about our past, after all, if we can’t lean on them with confidence in our present?
The winner of Texas Tech University Press’ Walt McDonald First Book Prize, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards tackles these questions by peeling back thick layers of memory and family history. The speaker, a Jewish woman in modern America, attempts to reconcile her grandmother’s stories with the historical facts available to her, and ends up relearning her own identity in the process. Mennies’s poems—steeped in religion, Jewish history, and carefully chosen imagery—are both straightforward enough for clarity and sparse enough to leave room for implication. Continue reading
–Interview by Rachel Mennies
Rachel Mennies: We’ve talked a lot about you seeing yourself as both a visual artist and a writer—I was curious if you could talk a little bit about a “hybrid novel,” the term you use to describe A Film About Billy?
Daniel McCloskey: I call my book a hybrid novel because it’s a novel that has comics in it. The book has 250 pages and about 80 of those are comics pages, but that term could apply to a broad range of longish narratives that integrate non-traditional elements.
RM: Okay—so that’s one way to distinguish it from, say, a more traditional graphic novel?
DM: Yes. A Film About Billy is more of a true prose book that has chunks of comics in it. It’s a novel about a kid filming a documentary about his dead friend during an international suicide epidemic—so it was important for me to have this character show part of his documentary. [My original] screenplay format wasn’t working, so I decided the text needed comics to give that glimpse. Continue reading
Six Gallery Press (distributed by Birdcage Bottom Books; reprint distributed by Small Press Distribution)
248 pages, $12
Review by Rachel Mennies
Collin, the teenage protagonist in Daniel McCloskey’s comics-prose hybrid novel A Film About Billy, has a movie to make about his dead friend William, and a seven thousand dollar grant from the enigmatic Mint Foundation to complete it. Billy jumped in front of the train tracks near a military base in Canyon City, Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh; his body takes the blow so hard that his friends find pieces of him for miles up and down the tracks—a piece of his long black hair, a discernable shard of his skull. McCloskey’s first book follows Collin, the narrator of the book’s prose sections and the creator of the documentary film represented in the book’s comics frames, through what first appears to be the ordinary process of mourning a sudden loss, and later manifests as a wildly dystopian tale of an international suicide epidemic and a government plot far more bizarre than anything Collin—or the world—could have imagined.
At the center of this book live teenagers: artists and filmmakers and gamers, agents of action, prey to depression and drugs and ennui and suicide, and—most emphatically—the book’s emotional and intellectual centers of integrity. Many of the enduring adults in A Film About Billy—warped scientists, corrupt military personnel, and absent (or present, sometimes for the worse) parents—perpetrate most of the book’s evil. Collin and his friends first unite in the wake of Billy’s death, only to splinter apart as suicide and unrest overtakes Pittsburgh. McCloskey renders these protagonists most thoroughly and tenderly as the book opens and the story of Billy’s suicide unfolds—as we “watch” the first few frames of Collin’s documentary, where Billy lives, as teenager, forever. Continue reading
$12.00, 68 pages
Review by Rachel Mennies
Because it’s the worst place in the world to find the correct answer to anything, and because I never take my own advice, I type one of Looking for Small Animals’ lingering-after-I-finish-the-book subtexts, “Are humans animals?”, into Yahoo Answers. And chris160444, his avatar a growling, wild fox, gives me an answer that I believe McDonnell might echo: “The worst animals on the planet,” my new friend chris says, “are humans.”
The tameless, yet complicated animals inside us come alive early in Looking for Small Animals: “The animal started lashing at fifteen,” the speaker of McDonnell’s poem “The Moth” tells us. We read this collection, McDonnell’s first, to see where the animal leads us: to understand what an at-times-savage, at-times-peaceful human speaker can teach us about a world gone machine, about our distances from and connection to our nonhuman co-citizens. Continue reading
$15.00, 80 pages
About that metric America: I mean it.
Here we are, laid out in inches. Our literature and our grammar, our wars and our reasons. Our bodies and their intimacies. The spaces between our bodies measured too: sometimes dangerous, sometimes fraught. No Object, the poet Natalie Shapero’s first collection, breaks down this quantified world, one which the speaker must not merely inhabit, but also size, in order to make sense of it. Shapero, currently teaching as a Kenyon Review Fellow at Kenyon University, crafts a collection whose lyric poems leap image-driven from one yardstick to another, against which her speakers measure memory, sex, interpersonal conflict. These poems demand careful attention (I read many several times, slowly, and again, slowly), and unfold more with each read. They deserve the focused assessment they require: they grow, and we must grow with them, as we read.
The speakers of No Object confront death and grieving, and their consideration of this force and its reasons—death caused by nations or people, writ large or small—maintains one of the main tensions of the collection. “Our War” tells of a speaker’s upbringing in a Quaker town, “a peaceful town. / Show us a war, we’d say, and we’ll show you / dust on the beakers. Dust on the hazard suits.” Though peace-loving, this town knows from war, and in wondering about its consequences (“What if our two towns fought each other? Who / would win?”) human nature shows that even the peace-giving know the ends of this game: “In truth, we’d strew their fingers everywhere. / We would take their boys for infantry. / We would take their girls for making more.” Continue reading
Four Way Books
84 pages/ $15.95
Review by Rachel Mennies
I read All you Do Is Perceive in transit. I read in places where Joy Katz herself may have conducted studies for this polyphonous collection: on the subway. In the airport. I listened to the child in the seat behind me wail, our plane delayed, as Katz’s speaker describes the early weeks of life with her adopted son: “The parents, as if clubbed between the eyes / but with no memory of it, regard the infant / who has no self regard…”
Especially surrounded by this pulsing human noise, Katz’s third collection of poetry shows readers a loud, beautifully chaotic world rendered with astonishing precision. The speakers throughout position themselves as observers at all scales: a poem for the tiny pot of jam, described and imagined from each side; a poem for the lettuce in its plastic bag; a poem for the moment the speaker first touches her child. We try on Katz’s sharp, lyric visions, even literally in “Excuse Me, Where is Varick Street?”: “Can you see out of my eyeholes?” asks the speaker. “Are you comfortable?” Throughout the collection, these poems enact the process of making sense of a world suddenly and gloriously disrupted by the presence of new life. Continue reading
80 pages, $15
When I first read Louise Gluck’s Wild Iris, I was not suffering. I sat on my futon several years ago preparing for discussion of the text in my graduate workshop the following week, and I took in the book quietly and then I read it again and again, entirely consumed. I consumed Gluck’s sharp lines, her exacting verbs. (Her prosody will instruct young poets forever on the bold and crucial task of word choice, of the image so precise and correct that this reader dares to call them perfect.) I mourned, and found comfort in her bravery in the face of her own mourning- but when I read Wild Iris the first time, I was not suffering. Instead, I wore Gluck’s suffering like a coat in summer- puzzled by its trapping force, unsure I would ever need the thickness of its pain. Continue reading