University of Pittsburgh Press
65 pages, $15.95
Review by Colleen Abel
Quan Barry is having a good year. Her debut novel She Weeps Each Time You’re Born came out to strong reviews in February, and her third book of poetry, Loose Strife, came out in January. Anyone who has read Loose Strife may not be surprised to hear that Barry is now also a successful novelist: she has a fascination with unearthing stories, and over the course of her three books, Barry has proven that the darker the tale, the more important it is to tell.
In the end notes to Loose Strife, Barry writes that many of the poems were inspired by a collaborative exhibition between her and the visual artist Michael Velliquette, and the book reads like a multimedia lecture or an artist’s talk, delivered with the pictures missing, the poems serving as the only evidence that they were there. Musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson has said of her early career teaching art history in New York that she would forget the details of what she was teaching during slide lectures and just stand in the dark making up stories about the images. Were it not for the poems’ impeccable craft, we might get the same sense from Loose Strife; it’s an unsettling and memorable effect. Continue reading
Lamar University Press
116 Pages $15.00 USD
Review by Amanda Daria Stoltz
Every poem in Katherine Hoerth’s Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots is a fresh gust of wind. In this stunning collection, Hoerth deconstructs the complexity of femininity, and the steep binary that makes feminine beauty both dangerous and powerful, sinful and godly. These poems are effortlessly steeped in nature and mythology, and each is as satisfying as Eve’s first taste of forbidden fruit.
Hoerth teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Texas Pan American, and it’s no mystery why she’s got a chili pepper rating on Ratemyprofessors.com; her poems are spicy hot. Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots is Hoerth’s second collection of poetry, and it keeps its promise to be as sexy (and powerful) as a Goddess wearing cowboy boots. Never have I read poems so encompassing of womanhood. They range from naivety to caution, from shamefulness to exhibition. They are as if Faulkner’s Caddy wrote poetry. Continue reading
78 pages, $14.00
Review by Carley Moore
Marriage, it turns out, is a kind of fortress. Or maybe marriage just calls us to homes—some of us will wind up in cabins, others apartments, and still others McMansions. Regardless of whether or not we can afford the down payment, the mortgage, or the rent, the ideology around marriage and housing runs deep in America. How else to explain why so many of us went belly up in 2008 so that we could have a chance at owning our little piece of the American dream? And why do we continue to get married when the divorce rate is well over thirty percent?
Kristina Marie Darling’s newest collection of poetry, Fortress, is a spare examination on the ruins of a marriage and the pain of that loss. The book’s shape calls to mind a box, square rather than the traditional rectangle, and aside from the preface and the epilogue which are erasures of Elaine Scarry’s classic work The Body in Pain—the poems inhabit the bottom of each page in the form of either footnotes or spare lines of prose. The remainder of the page is blank white space, a field onto which we can project our responses. The layout of these pages reminded me of the story templates my daughter’s first grade teacher gives her students; lines at the bottom and a vast white space for drawing. Part of this book’s beauty lies in Darling’s commitment to the white space, to the meadow, garden, and flowerboxes in which the speaker and her husband grow poppies, lilies, and geraniums. This landscape is contested, the meadow is burned, the poppies die, and the husband tears out primroses so that he can begin “tending the garden himself, with all of the grace of a landscape painter.” The book makes references to Persephone, romantic poets like Keats, and opium traffics in a dreamy-drug induced haze, and I couldn’t help but think of those early mythological marriages (Leda and Europa) in which the proposal is nothing more than a rape. The speaker seems just as baffled by her marriage, and she wanders the fortress of her house and its grounds picking up the objects from her trousseau as if on a hunt for clues as to who she was before she became a wife. In my favorite poem of the book, the speaker asks, “What is there left to say? When we married, I became his wife. I can no longer remember what I looked like before that veil descended, or the vow exchanged between us.” This poem, like many others in Darling’s book, suggests that the pain of a ruined marriage is a surprise and in some ways, like Scarry’s premise, beyond language. Continue reading
Write Bloody Press
88 pages, $15
Review by Aozora Brockman
Franny Choi’s “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ at Me on the Street” in her debut book of poems, Floating, Brilliant, Gone, is refreshing. Finally an Asian American woman is flinging back sickening truths hidden within a cat-calling man’s words, delving deeply into his subconscious and into the consumerist desires that fuel sexism and racism. What the man is really saying, the speaker reveals, is that he wants to eat her like Chinese take-out, like she’s a “…butchered girl / chopped up & cradled in Styrofoam / for [him] – candid cannibal.” In few words Choi makes us both smell the taste of human meat wafting from the plastic and feel the violence of a perverse desire that stems from the swallowing of stereotypes of Asian American women. She is, in his imagination, exotic, “brimming / with foreign;” a prostitute from the “red-light district;” and dangerous like “worms in your stomach.” By revealing specific stereotypes hidden within the man’s cat-call, Choi makes clear the fallacies of the “she was just asking for it” argument, as it is obvious that it is his uncontrollable sexual hunger and media-saturated mind that is the causal factor. But the power that is gained from illuminating the nonsense behind normalized justification is measly compared to the physical revenge Choi dishes out in the final lines, in which she is “…squirming alive / in [his] mouth / strangling [him] quiet / from the inside out.” By the time the poem is over we don’t know if we should cheer or cry—after all, the speaker’s desire to gain back her power grows so immense that she takes the man’s life. We end, therefore, with a paradox of a woman and man murdering each other, and with a looming question: where is the fine line between fighting the good fight and replicating violence? Continue reading
104 pages, $17
Review by Meg Eden
Kirun Kapur has a love-hate relationship with history. Her debut poetry collection, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist, is an embodiment of history—not just her own, but the archetypes that build history itself. Kapur is situated within both eastern and western culture, and carries such a rich family history that it’s almost as if she’s compelled to be involved in conversation with history, whether she likes it or not. In her poem “Under the Bed” she says, “I didn’t need monsters, I had history. Didn’t want history, I wanted crime—“ But despite “not wanting history,” Kapur uses it fully as a successful medium for her poems.
While many of us write about our family histories and narratives, Kapur reminds us what makes a successful retelling of history. Kapur begins the collection with a quote by Willa Cather from O Pioneers, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before…” This quote perfectly sets the landscape and ideology behind these poems, which do not rely solely on their own uniqueness but affiliate themselves with a history of human stories. What’s so great about what Kapur does is that she doesn’t isolate her family poems, but marries them alongside biblical and Hindu narratives, using these archetypes to place her family narratives in a larger context and history. Continue reading
80 pages, $16
Review by Nicole Capó
There is magic to be found in the mundane.
“All moments will shine/if you cut them open,/glisten like entrails in the sun,” says Sara Eliza Johnson in her poem “As the Sickle Moon Guts a Cloud.” And cut she does, stripping away at the layers of those moments to find what lives underneath in her first collection of poetry, Bone Map. Though her work consistently touches on themes of death and disease, war and pain, it’s also full of color and light — It’s easy to imagine Johnson sitting in a sun-drenched room ruminating on the brilliance of blood.
Despite the ripeness of her poetry, Johnson’s vivid imagery stands in stark contrast to her careful use of language. Her phrases are slow and thoughtful, evoking images that are as striking as they are subtle. In “Frühlingstraum,” for instance, the narrator is reflecting on her hands while gardening, when suddenly:
I scrape my palm on a rock
and it bleeds into the soil
(which will bring tomatoes, strawberries). It is good
to be alive.
80 pages, $14.95
Review by Hannah Rodabaugh
Within this debut poetry collection, Paper, Cotton, Leather, Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s poems illustrate love and its byproducts within a ringing framework of grief. Grim or sentimental at times, this collection looks at how some people haunt our lives even after they are gone: a presence of absence that is ghostlike, yet strangely real. Following her disintegrating marriage and divorce, the poems in this collection run the gamut of images and/or conventions associated with a failing domestic partnership: wedding paraphernalia, ring fingers, in-laws, adultery, rebound relationships.
One of the things that interests me in this collection is the way that Sadre-Orafai fixates on ideas or moments or objects she finds herself thinking about over and over after her marriage ended. An example of this is how the name of the collection stems from the first three traditional wedding anniversary gifts. In “Record,” Sadre-Orafai writes:
It’s polite to record what we get each year.
Paper, cotton, leather.
The years measure, interpret
these gifts that do nothing but soak space.
The cake agreed to keep until we’re ready
to brave again. The gardenias that didn’t
faint, smashed into a book, the pages curled
tight, a grab at the stalks at last.
I look after its spine, expect it to tantrum,
heave to the floor, the year we’re waiting for.
90 pages, $12.32
Review by Sarah Gonnet
The path through Lisa Marie Basile’s poetry is lit with pulsating pagan fairy lights. Her poems are sparsely populated with voices searching for the true identity of their lovers and fathers. Apocryphal is a beautiful mess of confused sexuality, hidden in perfectly crafted verse. In this collection Basile gives us a series of images, flashes of another world, and then allows the reader to fill in the gaps and see the whole universe themselves. This gives her poetry an extreme personal relevance.
Apocryphal is Basile’s second collection; she is kept busy outside of poetry as an editor for various publications and is also the founder of the feminist magazine Luna Luna.
Essentially Basile is a storyteller. In her warped but eerily realistic tales, themes of abuse and an Alien-style fear of pregnancy (“I become obsessively pregnant with you…& abort you”) are displayed alongside a more traditional sense of tortured sexuality. Yet at the same time her poems work together to form a collective voice. This collective voice gives the poems a similar atmosphere to Jeffery Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. Except in Basile’s work the voices are almost all women. Women who live double lives: screaming in their vulnerability whilst also being powerful. This twists their collective vision into an intricate steampunk machine. Lines of thought and themes tick away in the background, while other themes are having their time in the foreground. Continue reading
66 pages, $14
Review by Lauren Gordon
In her debut full-length prose and poetry collection, What Is a Domicile, Joanna Penn Cooper asks, “Are we all sad walking mistake-filled balloons?” The prose is part documentary and part New York school, where the ephemera of an urban landscape is in juxtaposition against the slow passage of time. The prose poems move from fall to spring like molasses; there is nothing frantic about the prescience of Cooper’s experiences moving, living in New York, being in a relationship, and becoming a mother. “I wonder at everything,” she writes, and it’s true.
Cooper’s voice is static, even when her reflections are not so much passive as they are internal. It lends to that remarkable documentary-feel as if the writing occurs in real-time with the reader audience. In the poem “On the Delicate and Non-Delicate Movements of Weather and Time” she writes: “At 2 a.m. the humidifier sounds like crickets and then I know I should move to the country,” but later in the same poem: “What do you expect? One lifetime is very short, but it’s hard to realize when it’s happening.” The autobiographical framing is where anxiety becomes formalized, where the “we” gets applied to the universal experience of being. It’s a neat trick. You don’t have to be a mother or live in Brooklyn to be able to relate. Continue reading