Jun 6, 2009
Ten Songs From Bulgaria, by Linda Nemec Foster, features poems based on the photographer Jacko Vassilev. There is a quietness Nemec Foster evokes with her images, whether it be in a litany like “because her fingers conspire with the knife” (“To Protect Her Property”), or in looking at a reflection: “Call us the curse of clouded mirrors” (“Two Vladimirs at the Window”). Nemec Foster lingers over these photographs to recreate how Vassilev captures moments, and does so with a sense of self-awareness that her personas are the subjects of both poem and photograph: “Once upon a time, I did not exist / in this frozen pose. Only danced / in your dreams like a myth: / bear of elegant waltz” (“The Dancing Bear”). Ten Songs From Bulgaria is available from Červená Barva Press and can be ordered here: http://www.thelostbookshelf.com/index.html
Fourteen Ways to Die, by Kendall A. Bell, is a series of poems both in remembrance for the dead and in personas that are engaged with death. Bell creates a simultaneous level of intimacy and distance Bell creates in, for example, his title poem: “12. A ramming at full speed with her Chevy. / 13. A hard shove down the steps. / 14. Drowning, in a pool. // This is clearly a woman not to be crossed.” We trust this poet, these scenes are true to our real lives and therefore a comfort: who fought valiantly / and lost / despite the fundraising spaghetti dinners” (“That Word of Dread”). Fourteen Ways to Die is available from Maverick Duck Press and can be ordered here: http://www.maverickduckpress.com
The poems in The Hanging of the Wind, by Shurooq Amin, are full of images of food and hunger for connection. Often the speaker obsesses over another character: “You make it very hard / for me to masticate, / sloshing around / in my head like that.” (“A Case of Mistaken Pears”), and through this chewing the reader clearly sees that Amin’s various hungers are inextricably intertwined. Of course, with talk of love and hunger, the images regarding the body in Amin’s work are crafted as if all bodies are in flux. In her poem “What of it?” Amin addresses the body, “What of it, body rejecting body? / Miscarriage. Abortion. It’s just semantics.” With these lines, Amin reserves all meaning and significance for the body, the visceral experience, and she carries this motif throughout the chapbook. The obsession over food and love and the body feels right in the chapbook format; any more would be a gluttonous feast, and any less would be an unfulfilling snack. The Hanging of the Wind is available from Finishing Line Press and can be ordered here: http://www.finishinglinepress.com
Mar 22, 2009
The voice in Doren Robbins is one I wish I could employ in my own work. Too bad it’s distinctly Robbins’ own.
The poems in My Piece of the Puzzle challenge the reader to slow down, if in no other way than via long lines and heavily-punctuated sentences. These rooms are not always comfortable to stand in, but the doors to leave are heavy. Robbins’ content isn’t centered in one identity or another. He writes about his lives as a cook aboard ships and a traveler sending his brother postcards from Greece. There is plenty of concrete imagery, strong senses of place, and unique characters, but somehow, the reader may still feel ungrounded. Perhaps this is because Robbins makes demands of his readers because he seems to want desperately for them to understand the world he inhabits, even as he tries to understand it himself:
Then asked in a casual tone,
“You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”
That was during the time when all types
of people starting wearing baseball caps.
But I don’t think so many of them were
identifying with a team or
advertising some product or
even trying to keep the cancer sun
off their heads and faces – I think most
everybody in baseball caps was trying
to stay a little hidden or just trying
to keep the tops of their heads on, so to speak.(from “My Hat Up North”)
There is a genuineness, then, to these poems: readers aren’t being preached to by a know-it-all, but their tour guide isn’t untrained, either. Robbins refuses to shy away from his subjects, but doesn’t offer up his insights easily. Often these insights come several lines after the first mention of a problem or incident. This somewhat brooding style approaches subjects which suit Robbins’ political nature. By not shooting out of the gate and proclaiming political affiliations, the poems can simply present information:
Not a word: Iraqi civilian depleted uranium info bone smoked image dead.
No photojournalism clothes shredded burned into the skin, making one
skin, one melted mixed form image, one pile of mouths burned shut
I locked up looking at in my mind
after hearing a student now a vet tell it
through clenched teeth and weeping spit… (from “Predators’ Hour 2, Open All Night”)
Robbins is living up to William Carlos Williams’ prophecy that people would someday look to poems for the news. We as readers and lovers of narrative poetry should look to Doren Robbins’ work for the latest headlines. Robbins’ delivery is deliberately slow, coercing the reader into thinking about the world through a lens he makes us comfortable using. There is a push towards a more harmonious world, and while Robbins himself may not have found it, he is encouraging its discovery.
You can buy My Piece of the Puzzle here: http://www.ewu.edu/ewupress/poetry/Mypieceofpuzzle.htm
Jan 18, 2009
Glenn Sheldon's debut collection of poetry, Bird Scarer, is joyous in its imagery, like love letters to lives lived on vacation. These poems showcase the poet's sense of humor–uneasy yet comfortable in that unease at the same time. Sheldon creates and recreates his own reality in these poems, and whether it’s a failed anarchists’ picnic, a troubled past he’s praising, or a home he’s forfeiting, he stakes his claim:
I can't go home (I'm a bird scarer). Better to
hit a dance club, that loud denial of reality.
Carol's Speakeasy or the club down
the street that changes its name weekly?
Yes, that one. This week it is Pegasus
and not The Bat Cave. The bouncer nods
as if a Pope-in-training, and I enter a world
without clocks or bill collectors (but for
the bartender). I'm here, wherever that is,
where everyone dresses in black like vampires. (from "Bird Scarer")
Sheldon's images are witty and unusual; they add a rhythm to the poems that makes Bird Scarer a fast but stimulating read. Every poem is anchored firmly in geography, be it a specific geography of cities or nations or a personal geography of relationships:
Streets are full of humans wearing
Carnival's glitter; their beer cologne
make paths toward sleep almost sticky.
The past can pass for the future, but for
the final wink. Forward to the next city.
You show up as a hint in a used bookstore. (from "Whose City is This?")
I am excited to see the next set of maps Sheldon draws for us: what geography will they hold? Where will the borders be? What will the countries of future lovers be named? In Bird Scarer, every image is sacred and every poem a sign post for a life you might want to live for a day. One can think in Michael Ondaatje's terms, that "Poetry is what is left unsaid," but from postcards and borrowed horoscopes to love letters and class wars, Sheldon's poetry has lots to say and will not be ignored.
Bird Scarer was published in 2008 by Červená Barva Press. You can buy Bird Scarer here: http://www.cervenabarvapress.com/
Jan 11, 2009
Deborah Poe’s Our Parenthetical Ontology is like an rock-opera bound into a book. The poems in Poe’s book are pleasing tonally and visually. She uses the page as her stage and white space as an (in)visible prop to pull the reader through her lyrics. While confronting the slippery idea of what language can be, Poe keeps playing with the reader’s ear, keeps filling a reader’s mouth with sounds that tumble off their tongue:
She slipped and understood nothing; /
she did not discover genius, created no masterpiece /
leaving wine for language. /
She slipped. (from “There Was Language Inside Her, and She Slipped”)
Using the white space and playing with margins, the poems dance in conversation with the poet, the reader, and the poems themselves. Sometimes the poems have multiple voices, sometimes the poems are stage directions, and sometimes the poems are difficult answers for their own questions. An example of this comes in Poe’s long series “(W(e)a(St) Solo,”
how many sparrows scattering above?
do not expect
for the such and such
The white space is an important element in Poe’s poems; it is within that space where the reader is able to breathe and digest the poem. Poe’s work creates a rhythm that entrances the reader into a cycle of devouring and digesting. By the end of Our Parenthetical Ontology, this trance is pulling the reader through the pages, letting the reader get lost and (re)discovered in Poe’s language, which is sometimes gleeful, sometimes regretful, though always controlled. I await with baited breath this poet’s next collection.
Our Parenthetical Ontology was published in 2008 by CustomWords, an imprint of WordTech Communitcations L.L.C. Purchase it here: http://www.custom-words.com/poe.html or here: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Parenthetical-Ontology-Deborah-Poe/dp/1934999342/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1231703025&sr=8-1