Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Seeing Stars by Simon Armitage

In Poetry on February 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

You know waking up from dreams–not necessarily good or bad–and having that, “Wow, I didn’t know my imagination was capable of that,” feeling? Like, the kind of dreams that are reassuring just in their magnitude–their absolute creativity. These prose poems are like that. Over and over. A collection of all of the information you’ve gathered and not known where to store. But, important stuff: true stuff. They play out like tiny films. Actually, some of them, like, “The Cuckoo” and “Upon Unloading the Dishwasher” could probably be feature-length films. Someone get to work on that. Some of them are jarring, like, “Michael,” which sets forth a theory that the first thing you steal (as a child) predicts what you’ll be later in life. I stole a pack of gum when I was like 5, and then ended up taking it back. Huh. These are the things that Armitage will have you thinking about. Plus he’s British, so he can get away with using “poppycock” in poems. Every poet is jealous of that. But be sure of this: Armitage, for all of his silliness, can knock the wind out of you–can swell your eyes with tears–just like that.

-Micah Ling

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Covet by Lynnell Edwards

In Poetry on January 10, 2012 at 1:43 am

Covet is a verb. It’s active. Here, in these poems, it’s also a constant choice. And then, you realize that most emotions–most reactions–are choices. Choose to be angry, or don’t. Choose to be content, or don’t. All of these decisions–all of this action–surrounds us, circling, like wild animals. But sometimes, like love or hunger, it seems like the decision is out of our hands. We covet even when we don’t want to. Like hearing old time music and wanting to be right in the middle of it. We don’t want some things to end, even when they have to, like children at certain ages, and seasons. Letting go of things that must change is horrible and grand at once. It’s so fitting that there’s a catalogue here, from an antique show. A preservation of stuff–the life of stuff that goes on. Stuff that has another life. Several more lives. That’s how we hang onto what we don’t want to lose. Memories. Dishes and tools and prisms: all that outlive us. Lost slipper of light / now dulled. Flat / in the dark box, to hang / in celebration, it refracts / dazzle of dance: choose / me   choose me

-Micah Ling

Of Jibaros and Hillbillies by Ricardo Nazario y Colon

In Poetry on January 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm

People and place are as tied together as any two things can be. If you doubt that, drive across the country. Observe region and language and food. Better yet, go to an entirely different nation. Places make people. Places make different shades, different sounds and tastes and manners. And then, of course, places mingle. People move. New versions of words are made: new recipes become familiar. These poems are bold in how well they mingle. They’re hilarious and angry. What is poetry without anger? Not much. Read these out loud: amp them up–try the voices on. Somehow these poems trace it all back: a whole history of heat and laughter. Back so far that it’s all connected. At the end, it seems vitally important that we do know why we eat the things we eat; why we sound the way we do. Why we blame and take issue with certain things. This is deeply human–it allows for emotion and the mantras that keep us alive: that keep us tied to where we’re from. These poems are stories of people who have endured a decent amount of uneasiness. Meet them: be with them. See that we are not being judged, / for this carnal dance. 

-Micah Ling

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

In Poetry on November 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm

The south is different. It’s more than the grits and sweet tea. It’s more than the language and weather. Southerners share a collective memory that separates them from us; one as impenetrable as the torrid Mississippi summer. The South is like a living thing: romantic, proud, defiant, tragic and resilient. Something these poems help you understand. They are part southern blues, part gospel, part opera. They are a gift.

Born in Mississippi, Trethewey is definitely a southerner, yet as the child of a black mother and white father she lives there in exile. These are poems of the Civil War, of hurricanes, isolation, loss and injustice. Many of the poems are elegiac; all of them are accessible, evocative and affecting. In exploring the history of the south she uncovers a truth about all of us–that we are all under reconstruction–that we each need to come to terms with our past in order to claim our identity. In the end it’s about forgiving the places and people we love most…. I return / to Mississippi, state that made a crime / of me–mulatto, half-breed–native / in my native land, this place they’ll bury me.

-Max Newell

The Most of It by Mary Ruefle

In Poetry on October 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Peel down the walls of your skull in preparation—you’re going to need a blank slate to tackle this box of Pandora. Mary Ruefle is a literary brain surgeon, and The Most of It is her procedure. This poet’s-turned-prose collection of flash fiction is a fiercely dynamic new treatment for your condition, so read it carefully. Drink in the words on the pages, perhaps through your nose, as though you are a part of some undomesticated ritual—as though you are searching among the birds for some lost thought on the day of the first snow. You should feel a tingling sensation at the tips of your fingers and in the arches of your feet: this is to be expected. But should you find yourself pouring through each of these stories as quickly as you can, the anesthesia is wearing off. Most of it, at least. Stay asleep. And after your “procedure”, the world you once perceived will appear to have changed—most of it. But be keen: do not believe your eyes, your senses are too invested in lifelong lies Ruefle refutes. You will find yourself regretting that you are not an electron. And you are not the lightest of all particles, though it may feel that way.

-Eric Ellis

What Narcissism Means To Me by Tony Hoagland

In Poetry on September 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Every once in a while, we’re faced with the importance of poetry, of art. If Philip Levine and Common aren’t a testament of its importance (and they are), Tony Hoagland is. He makes poetry the explanation for life. It’s not, does poetry matter, it’s, let me show you life that you can’t see. These individual poems might not save your life, but collectively, they prove that we’re all art: we’re all overly important. There is no person who isn’t obsessed with their self–their body and soul and being. It’s unavoidable. Hoagland is embracing the outrageousness that lives in us all. Thank goodness. …while I smiled and listened to her talk, / thinking it was good to let myself be stabbed by her little spears, / because I wanted to see what I was made of / besides fear and the desire to be liked / by every person on the goddamn face of the earth. Admitting is getting us somewhere. If we can whittle ourselves down to absolute destruction–to the basis of wanting to be loved, well, then maybe there is a greater chance of it after all. We’re pretty simple, really: we want to be thought of and touched—we want to be poetry.

-Micah Ling

There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair by Tomaz Salamun

In Poetry on August 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Remember when you were a child, and had imaginary friends and an imaginary world–gave names to things and they were so, gave reasons for things and they were worthy? Yeah, Salamun remembers that, too–and captures it in a way that makes all people seem similar, in the most comforting way. And even, all living things–all masses–oddly connected. It seems like sometimes people forget that they’re animals: we are. This is so full of creatures: doves and ants, sardines and newts and crocodiles. And imaginary things, of course. I opened the fig and in it / squatted an angel, bound with his own hair. There are lots of eyelashes–which is to say, why don’t we notice tiny fallen symbols more often? Why do we live such orderly lives? Greatness is usually going on all around us: we’re wrong a lot, thank god. Sometimes I think I have wooden marrow. / Mistake! I only have red shoes. Sometimes, most of the time, what we’re daydreaming about is so much more important than what we’re sticking to in life. We should be less numb; we should be more like panthers.

-Micah Ling

My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge by Paul Guest

In Poetry on August 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Life is slightly horrifying, that’s true. The proof is in living. Listen in on any conversation, anywhere in the world. Things are constantly going wrong or surprising us. Maybe we don’t need to know that when Paul Guest was twelve years old, he was in a bicycle accident that left him paralyzed, but there it is, right on the dust jacket, before we even get in. The list of things that throw us off is unending. Why don’t we ever get used to this stuff? Why do we expect normal and mundane so often? Metaphysical constructs like Texas / and mayonnaise and cole slaw and vegan water parks / and The Bob Dylan Naked Network / and the strain of pernicious insanity / suffered by the curious. Yeah, we’re weird, and weird things happen. It makes you slow down and think about the ones you excuse as “crazy,” or, the ones we all ignore because they’re too grotesque; we’re all pretty grotesque. But there’s hope here, too. Otherwise, life really couldn’t go on. Strangers who stopped me in the street / or paid for my lunch / or wept over their dead son / or asked how many miles / in my wheelchair could I go. 

-Micah Ling

Fog Gorgeous Stag by Sean Lovelace

In Poetry on July 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm

If ever there were a reason to learn all of the rules, it’s certainly to break them. These are hybrids: versions of things you think you know, but you don’t. The whole thing is graffiti. Lovelace forces the question, “Wait; can you do that here?” Some are numbered, some are titled, some are numbered and titled. Prayers and letters and documents. Lists and questions and blank spaces. Fragments and brackets. It’s somehow timeless, despite plenty of pop references. Almost like he was of the New York School poets and they kicked him out. Some of it is confusing, of course, on purpose. And because of that, it makes perfect sense, [listen: we are basically produce, a bag of produce—open us to / sweet air, and we will soon melt / or murk]. Lovelace is messing with us, for sure, but it’s good for us. It’s a reminder of how oddly serious we all are; how, we need to stop being that way. But also, it’s a confirmation of how powerful words can be: they are hot—sometimes they shouldn’t be touched.

-Micah Ling

My American Kundiman by Patrick Rosal

In Poetry on June 17, 2011 at 3:26 am

You’ve got to believe in love, and lust, to read these poems. Rosal tells us that the Kundiman is a traditional Filipino song of unrequited love. That’s a whole lot of yearning–a whole lot of attempt. And love wins, sometimes. But these poems remind us–intensely–what it’s like to be with a girl or a boy for the first time. They remind us what it’s like to fall so deeply into that hole, how wonderful the fall can be, and what it’s like to land. That pain. Damn, that pain. And this isn’t entirely about men and women, about bodies and touching. Or, it’s all about these things, but also about cars and countries and culture. It’s about the things we can’t help, the abuse we endure, the sorrow that comes with happiness. We have certain emotions on different levels. What’s the difference, really, between wanting so badly to defend your own honor and wanting so badly to please a lover? We think we are not in love / And no one can hear us // We are moaning for each other’s air. Rosal makes longing necessary and normal: where would any of us be without it?  

-Micah Ling