[REVIEW] Americana, by Rich Murphy

The Poetry Press
83 pages, $15

Review by Stanton Hancock

The literary canon is full of examples of writers who head out in search of America. In his third full-length poetry collection Americana, the aptly titled winner of Prize Americana, Rich Murphy embarks on his own journey across the American landscape. However, this is an America greatly changed from the land romanticized and idealized by writers like Kerouac. Rather, this is an America that has failed to live up to its potential. Murphy examines the shining city on the hill fallen to squalor and explores the superficiality of contemporary consumerism. This is not to suggest that Murphy’s collection is simply a cynical mockery of modern America but more so an exploration of American culture. In Americana, Murphy asks the tough questions, “Where did we go wrong?” and “What have we become?”

Whereas other explorations of what it means to be an American have often pulled back and viewed this country with a wide-angle lens, focusing on the open road and expansive metropolitan sprawl, Americana instead zooms in and examines American life from what is at times an uncomfortably close perspective. Consider the opening poem “Western State Penitentiary” which examines a life trapped in a prison. “Entering the prison yard / by way of the womb / and leaving only as the fertilizer / for another civilization . . . ” Continue reading

[REVIEW] Amulet by Jason Bayani


Write Bloody Publishing

90 pages, $15


Review by Stanton Hancock


In Amulet, Jason Bayani issues a loud and defiant declaration that he has come to claim his place amongst the ranks of the best modern poets.  While his credentials alone are impressive – he has an MFA in creative writing from St. Mary’s College, he’s a Kundiman Fellow, and he’s a co-founder of the Asian American spoken word collective Proletariat Bronze – it’s the startling power contained within the pages of Amulet that serve to stake his claim.

Bayani covers so much poetic ground in his first collection that it is startling to reach the last page and realize that it clocks in at less than 100 pages.  After my first read-through, I was sure I had read a much longer book based purely upon the multitude of stylistic choices Bayani makes throughout the book.  While the use of many disparate styles can sometimes cause a collection to lack cohesion, Amulet does not suffer from this problem.  In fact, the strength of Bayani’s voice envelops these pages and gives the reader a sense that the many various styles do not reflect a lack of direction but rather a poet sharing the many facets of his personality.   Continue reading

[REVIEW] Songs From Under the River: Early & New Work by Anis Mojgani


~by Stanton Hancock

Songs from Under the River


$15/88 pages

Write Bloody Publishing


If you’re not familiar with the poetry of Anis Mojgani, you’ve most likely been making a concerted effort to not pay attention.  As a two-time National Poetry Slam champion and the winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam, Mojgani has more than demonstrated his performing prowess.  Likewise, his previous poetry collections The Feather Room and Over the Anvil We Stretch have aptly demonstrated that his poetry sings just as beautifully on the page as it does on the stage.  With his newest collection, Songs From Under the River, Mojgani has pasted together a vivid collage comprised of new works, previously unpublished early poems, and classic staples of his live readings.

Rather than simply present this collection chronologically as would be typical in an anthology such as this, Mojgani has instead compiled a sort of poetry mix-tape.  The poems seem to have no discernable pattern to their organization yet the flow of the collection as a whole is too effective to be merely the result of happenstance.  Instead, the poems leap deftly back and forth through time and capture snapshots of one of modern poetry’s strongest voices at various points in his career.

The collection opens with the beaconing stanzas of “Closer.”  In this poem, Mojgani invites the reader to join him in a celebration of life and love.  Simultaneously welcoming and defiant, he urges the reader to join him as he extols:

So come closer, come into this. There are birds beating their wings beneath / your breastplate gentle sparrows aching to sing—come aching hearts! Come / soldiers of joy, doormen of truth! Come true-of-heart. Continue reading