Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink


Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, emphasizes what we already know about Santa Claus and his life as a gift giver, toy maker, husband, and reindeer trainer.  But he has one more talent, a secret talent — he’s a poet who write haiku.  Inside this book, there are 25 haiku poems that illustrate life at the North Pole, giving young readers and inside look at what it is like to be Santa Claus.

Although some of the haiku are not perfect, and one or two are a bit simplistic, overall the haiku are fun to read, and would make a great addition to the holiday reading list with little kids.  My favorite haiku is the one in which Mrs. Claus becomes a young girl again, making a snow angel.  My daughter loves the part when Comet and the white fox return from the woods with their own Christmas tree, helping Santa with his preparations.

Some of the haiku will have readers thinking about the stories they know well, and others will have readers looking at things a little differently.  Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, is a cute book with short poems that could be read one day at a time beginning on Dec. 1.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Bob Raczka loved to draw, especially dinosaurs, cars and airplanes, as a boy. He spent a lot of time making paper airplanes and model rockets. He studied art in college, which came in quite handy while writing a series of art appreciation books, Bob Raczka’s Art Adventures. He also studied advertising, a creative field in which he worked in for more than 25 years. Bob also discovered how much he loved poetry and began writing his own. His message for today’s kids is to make stuff!”

Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean

Source: Akashic Books, Peekash Press
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean, with a preface from Kwame Dawes, features poems from Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, Danielle Jennings, Ruel Johnson, Monica Minott, Debra Providence, Shivanee Ramlochan, Colin Robinson, and Sassy Ross.  There is a variety of poems in this collection that speak to the culture of the Caribbean, but also to the loss of culture among those who move away to the United States or other locations.  Some poems beautifully capture the dialect of the language and the beat of the culture without detracting from the readers’ enjoyment, but there are a few poems that can be difficult to understand and will require additional attention if readers are unfamiliar with the Caribbean dialects used.

Kwame Dawes says in the preface, “It is important and admirable that this gathering of poets allows us to explore the meaning of these ides of home.”  This is an apt description of this collection because in it are poems that range from finding a place in a college classroom, even among those with a similar culture, to a mother explaining to her child that she is not a home or a mother, though her “womb” knows her.  These narrators are looking for that feeling of belonging, being able to settle down and be content.  Their lives are in flux, and some are embroiled in violence or destructive behavior, but all of these voices are strong and determined.  They rely on their heritage from the cultural nuances they were taught by family to the ones they have learned on their own.

In “The Haunting of His Name” by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné’s narrator talks about how the love of a man can be haunting even if that man is abusive or not good to you.  There’s prescription here for how to get over him: “You must not love him,/so you bind yourself/with hunger and smoke,/sing hard against/your body’s silence.”  This is a man who will not leave you, so you must  wash “him from the temple of your heart.”  In her poem, “Learning to Breathe in Luminous Water,” the narrator explains that you only need to teach yourself to breathe underwater, learn to deal with the hardships and transform or overcome the obstacles ahead.  Almost by a matter of sheer will, the woman can find a way through.

Like Monica Minott’s “Penelope to Calypso,” women must learn to accept what has happened or how the world has come to pass, but they have the power to move forward or accept a new path that they carve on their own.  Penelope says to Calypso, “Odysseus is like driftwood;/long before he met you and me/he belonged to the sea./When driftwood wash up,/they make interesting furnishings/and conversation piece/”  It is clear that these women are strong enough to stand on their own.  On the other side of the coin, when the connections are right, women should know how that feels, even if it is a little like the snapper trapped by the “Fisherman’s Net.”

Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean is a collection of empowerment for women and men alike, for the immigrants searching for new opportunities.  Like all opportunities, there are challenges that must be met and overcome, but seeking strength from the outside is not always the best solution.  Inner strength can ensure the path is endurable and that opportunities are not lost.

Rating: Quatrain

Field Work by Seamus Heaney

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Field Work by Seamus Heaney is a collection of poems that follow his removal from Belfast, Ireland, to the country south of Dublin in the County Wicklow.  It’s clear that even as his family has been away from the troubles in Northern Ireland, they are still foremost in his mind and poems.  Some of these poems are elegies to the friends and family he has lost along the way, but these poems are less focused on the political and more focused on his internal, emotional struggle with the issues in Ireland.  In “Oysters,” the narrator talks of himself as an estuary in which the oysters atop, and as he tastes the saltiness he recognizes that the oysters are “alive and violated.”  As the poem evolves, it is clear that the oysters are Ireland, split in two — ripped apart violently.  As the narrator eats, he recognizes that he must be deliberate in his actions or he will be forced into action, actions that could be reckless.

In “Casualty,” the narrator wants to supply a full picture of the Irish struggle — a man sits at a bar and continues to drink from the high shelf and he’s a “dole-breadwinner.”  But soon we see him through the eyes of the narrator, a man with a quick, observant eye.  His death is swift and among the other 12 in a Derry blast, in which “Everybody held/his breath and trembled.”  A man that questioned and raised concerns, simply swept away by a random decision to enter an bar that was not his usual.  How many times can we say we have deviated from our routines and how soon before we find ourselves the next casualty of a decision we had no idea was bad.

The downtrodden, the working class, and others are here between these pages.  “The gunwale’s lifting ear –/trusting the gift,/risking gift’s undertow–/is unmanned now//” (“In Memoriam Sean O’Riada”)  In a nod to Yeats, Heaney examines what the artist and musician means to him, but cautions that he is not the same as the fisherman that Yeats held in esteem.  There are several references and allusions to Yeats in this collection.

However, one of the best rendered sections may be the “Glanmore Sonnets” where Heaney turns his keen eye to the country around him.  Here he demonstrates his love for the people in the country and their welcoming nature, though his thoughts do turn to other times, especially during a “first night … in that hotel … ”


I dreamt we slept in a moss in Donegal
On turf banks under blankets, with our faces
Exposed all night in a wetting drizzle,
Pallid as the dripping sapling birches.
Lorenzo and Jessica in a cold climate.
Diarmuid and Grainne waiting to be found.
Darkly asperged and censed, we were laid out
Like breathing effigies on a raised ground.
And in that dream I dreamt -- how like you this? --
Our first night years ago in that hotel
When you came with your deliberate kiss
To raise us towards the lovely and painful
Covenants of flesh; our separateness;
The respite in our dewy dreaming faces.

There is a dream-like quality to many of these poems, as Heaney meditates on the past and the present issues facing Ireland. The narrator says in “High Summer,” “On the last day, when I was clearing up,/on a warm ledge I found a bag of maggots/and opened it. A black/and throbbing swarm came riddling out/life newsreel of a police force run amok,/sunspotting flies in gauzy meaty flight,/the barristers and black berets of light.//” It’s clear that the struggles are ever-present, even in the country, and there is no escaping their dark shadows even in Field Work by Seamus Heaney.

About the Poet:

Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Derry, Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

Ghost Sick by Emily Pohl-Weary

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 150 pgs.
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Ghost Sick by Emily Pohl-Weary is a collection of poems that witness. They are testimony, commentary, and emotional responses to the crime, drugs, loss of innocence and more in a Toronto neighborhood and other places where lives are wasted and lost too easily. In “World of Sorrow,” the narrator says, “I had no way of comprehending/it only takes a second to tear/the spirit from a young body//” More often than not, young people believe they are invincible, and it is this naivete that leaves them especially vulnerable to waste, decay, and death. Pohl-Weary laments these losses, and she struggles to come to terms with those who have been lost and the potential they may have had under different circumstances.

Her images are playful, but then turn sinister, like in “Falling Angel,” where the narrator says, “Our honey gigolo, haloed, wary/Smiling at women, the boy who would kill//Carried disaster in the tilt of his chin/tightness of his shoulders, heavy droop of eyelids//”  What causes this young man to become a murder, and what does it mean for those around him.  Growing up in this neighborhood, the young must be forever watchful of how they are perceived by others and ensure that their actions cannot be the cause of another’s death or harm.  As the narrator in “Never Say Goodbye” indicates, “life is a process of hardening//” and it can even happen when you’re young and having a good time.

Nearly a third of the way through the volume, the poet asks, “How many candlelight vigils/will it take to light the sky/with grief?” (“The Gentle Giant”)  But in the same section, the narrator says in “Those Who Died,” “Remember that you live where they did not./You are the survivor and the advocate./You must live for those who died.//”  It is the pressure many surviving family members and friends place on themselves — to advocate for those who can no longer speak for themselves.  In many ways, these are the people who are “ghost sick” because they are the most haunted by those they have lost, and they are unable to escape that pressure.

Craft Supplies (pg. 51)

a wise woman once told me
you can't expect miracles
from dollar store markers
though they're often realized
in the most unusual, tawdry places
like the bottom of a bin

Readers will find that not all is dreary in Pohl-Weary’s world, as hope remains an eternal spring even in the darkest places. It can be held by a child with potential, a community that listens and acts, or even in the depths of a dream resurfacing for someone who has been lost. We, the living, are the ones that are haunting the dead with our emptiness at their leaving. We need to fill those holes and move on, so that they may do the same, as the narrator in “Meaning” suggests.

Ghost Sick by Emily Pohl-Weary is a profound collection that will have readers looking at their own losses to determine if they have filled those empty holes.

Rating: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Award-winning author, editor, and creative writing instructor Emily Pohl-Weary has published seven books, a series of girl pirate comics, and her own literary magazine.

She was the 2015 writer-in-residence for Queen’s University, where she mentored students and facilitating a workshop for people affected by incarceration. She has also been the University of the Fraser Valley’s Kuldip Gill Writing Fellowship Writer in Residence in B.C., and the Toronto Public Library system’s eWriter-in-Residence for Young Voices. She was also fortunate to be Dawson City, Yukon’s writer-in-residence at the Pierre Berton House.

Her most recent book is a collection of poetry, Ghost Sick, which was released in February 2015. Her novel for teens, Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl, was published by Penguin Razorbill (Canada) and Skyscape (U.S.A.) in fall 2013. Her five previous books include Strange Times at Western High, Girls Who Bite Back, A Girl Like Sugar, Iron-on Constellations, and Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril.

Emily is also a current creative writing instructor at the University of Dalhousie. For more than a decade she has also facilitated creative writing workshops that focus on advanced writing skills, learning tools for conflict-resolution and processing trauma, and finding your unique voice.



Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow


Source: Mayapple Press
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow is broken down into five sections, mixing in elements of mathematics, science, and various poetic styles.  Dmitri Mendeleev is considered the father of the periodic table, and like Mendeleev, Goodfellow carefully crafts each poem with a larger picture in mind, and in these poems, she strives to capture all the necessary elements for her own mandala to create a microcosm of her own struggles.

In part one, she lays down the foundation, uncovering hidden truths in a variety of stories from Iphigenia and Isaac to theories of gravity and continental drift. Each are treated similarly in that they are picked apart for their weaknesses, but also used to demonstrate the categorization and delineation that continues to occur now, as humans seek to understand the unknown.  Like in “Imagine No Apples,” the apples fall from the tree but never too far from the Omega, which in many ways is the end.  Even as we begin, we are never far from our ending, and the circle continues in a loop.  What would happen if there were no apples — no alpha, no beginning?  Would there be an omega?

“of what use is this thirst for things
resembling other things, this endless trying
to wring milk from a two-headed cow.” (pg. 26, “Burning Aunt Hisako”)

Humanity has a hard time reconciling reason with the unknown; and in many ways, we presume that because we reason that everything is knowable. This is not the case.  Section two of the collection is a rumination on time — time as it passes and our place in it.  It is the strongest part of the collection in terms of cohesion.  We want to be the candle flame, but we are more like the melting wax, the narrator notes in “In Praise of the Candle Clock.”  And as the narration continues regarding the development of the clock to its modern form, so too does its function and our perception of time.  Goodfellow has beautifully rendered this transformation from the shape-poem “Ode to the Hourglass” to “The Invention of the Clock Face.”  But most heart-wrenching is “Three Views of Mars” where perception is broken down by one who can see, one whose field of vision has narrowed considerably, and to one who is innocent and just beginning to see the world.

Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow is a look beyond the world of facts and science into the world of emotion, spirituality, faith, and more.  These poems remind us that even as we reason, we can view things completely wrong.  The mandala is larger than any one of us, but we all have roles to play, and we should do so to the best of our abilities, even if it all does seem rather random.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Jessica Goodfellow grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but has spent the last twenty years in California, Florida, and Japan. She received an MS degree from the California Institute of Technology and an MA in linguistics from the University of New England. Her first book of poetry, The Insomniac’s Weather Report (three candles press), won the Three Candles Press First Book Prize, and was reissued by Isobar Press in 2014. Her new book Mendeleev’s Mandala is available from Mayapple Press (2015). She is also the author of a poetry chapbook, A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (Concerete Wolf, 2006), winner of the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in the anthology Best New Poets 2006, on the website Verse Daily, and has been featured by Garrison Keillor on NPR”s “The Writer’s Almanac.” She was a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, and her work has been honored with the Linda Julian Essay Award as well as the Sue Lile Inman Fiction Prize, both from the Emrys Foundation. Her work has appeared in Motionpoems Season 6. Jessica currently lives in Japan with her husband and sons.







Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes


Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes, is a collection of poems that rely on imagery and play off the illustrations on the page to help the readers guess what animal or element of the meadow is being talked about.  These colors are gorgeous, and the shadowing in the pictures add depth to the pictures.  While these concepts are a little harder for younger kids, the book does offer some additional information about meadow animals and the life cycle, which can be used to teach younger kids about nature.

Sidman includes a number of poetic styles, and this could help teachers combine earth science and literature teachings, reinforcing concepts and making learning more fun with the riddles.  The poems are at times a little more cryptic than necessary, especially for concepts like xylem and phloem, but there are other poems that accompany just the right picture to help kids visualize what the words are trying to convey.

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes, is well illustrated and very visual, which is great for younger readers.  The poetry is in riddle form, so that kids can catch on to word clues along with the visual queues to figure out what animal or element of the meadow is being discussed.  The book is aimed at older readers already past kindergarten, but my daughter did have fun trying to guess what animals were being talked about.

Rating: Tercet

About the Author:

Joyce Sidman lives in Wayzata, Minnesota, with her husband and dog, Watson. They have two sons, but they’ve grown up, so she set her mind to creating books.

Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Nancy Doniger

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Nancy Doniger, is an odd little book that makes poems out of single words, but the adoption of an e.e. Cummings style might be a little much for younger readers and even some parents.  Visual poetry forms are often tough to decipher for those unfamiliar with them.

At least in this book, the visual poems have a counterpart on the other side of the page that is more traditional, allowing the parent to review each poem to get the lines before reading the visual poem aloud to the child.  The visual poems can be talked about in terms of what shapes they represent, but in some cases, it is hard to tell what the author intended the shapes to be.

Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Nancy Doniger, might be better for an older audience than my daughter, probably those children that know more words and can form sentences on their own.  It could be used to create a writing exercise in which the kids take one word and use its letters to create their own poems.

Rating: Tercet

About the Author:

Bob Raczka loved to draw, especially dinosaurs, cars and airplanes, as a boy. He spent a lot of time making paper airplanes and model rockets. He studied art in college, which came in quite handy while writing a series of art appreciation books, Bob Raczka’s Art Adventures. He also studied advertising, a creative field in which he worked in for more than 25 years. Bob also discovered how much he loved poetry and began writing his own. His message for today’s kids is to make stuff!”

River House by Sally Keith

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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River House: Poems by Sally Keith is a collection where absence becomes palpable, and it is clear that this is a very personal collection as the narrator’s focal point is the loss of a mother.  Keith lost her mother and this collection will speak to those who are dealing with the depths of grief, or in fact, not dealing with it well.  Grief is one of the most devastating emotions, and it can take months and years to deal with, particularly if the loss is one so central to one’s identity and world.  The river house is a place the family vacationed with their mother, and it’s a place that even being shared with others would not have the same meaning because it was a place filled with the mother who is no longer living.

From 5.

That spring I was in France my mother spent alone
At the house on the river caring for her father who was dying.

At high tide the road in is swallowed, making the house an island.
Hard to describe, but the walls are thin, it isn’t easy getting through storms.

Grief is indeed a storm, with waves of anguish and loss hitting a person at varying intervals, leaving them awash in a sea that is unpredictable and hard to navigate, keeping one’s head up. Within the grief, the narrator is attending workshops and going through the day-to-day of a life without her mother. In “6.,” the poem speaks of life as a journey of “being in another,” and the narrator speaks to Inma about loss, and Inma’s response is that “life is not sad,” leaving the narrator to “feel the effort in her turning.” That effort is twofold, the effort of providing advice Inma knows not to be entirely true and the effort of hiding the grief that can still overwhelm her, even long after the loss has occurred.

Keith’s poems have a powerful quiet, a storm that lies beneath the surface, much like the storm many of us can sense beneath a person’s facade at funerals and wakes — like there is one word that could trigger the worst of it to burst forth in an uncontrollable torrent. In “17.,” the narrator views a collage sent from Inma, pondering how different it is to look at the storm of images, a near disarray made beautiful with life. In many ways, it is the nearest imitation of life that there can be, unlike a single photo or poem that depicts a paused moment of motion.

From 31.

“Between the way things used to be and the way
they were now was a void that couldn’t be crossed.”

River House: Poems by Sally Keith pays homage to the past and recognizes that life continues on past the traumatic moments of our lives. It doesn’t mean that those lives did not matter, it just means that how they mattered is not as visually present as it used to be.

Rating: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Sally Keith is the author of two previous collections of poetry: Design, winner of the 2000 Colorado Prize for Poetry, and Dwelling Song, winner of the University of Georgia’s Contemporary Poetry Series competition. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, A Public Space, Gulf Coast, New England Review, and elsewhere. Keith teaches at George Mason University and lives in Washington, DC.



Buddha in a Birdcage and Other Poems by Betty Oliver

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 64 pgs.
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Buddha in a Birdcage and Other Poems by Betty Oliver is a collection of poems and photos of her mixed media art, which was published posthumously by the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts where she once taught.  The executor of her estate Billy Bernstein indicated that she performed her poems, sometimes “fighting her way out of a giant paper bag.”  In the Foreword, Stuart Kestenbaum says, “Reading these poems you may not be able to see Betty fighting her way out to begin to speak, but you will feel the power — and the need to speak — that she brought to this work.” (pg. 1) In many cases, this is true. You can imagine her up on a stage struggling through a paper bag, trying to get those words out. Some of these poems have lines that repeat, and it is almost like there is so much passion behind them that the voice of the poem stutters.

Untitled (pg. 11)

The bear’s purple gutted chest
gave off steam suggesting life
he looked stunned not dead
the men still high from his blood
pranced and preened by the pick up truck
I went closer to look
the heat from his cooling heart
met my gaze.

Her artwork often involves the use of paper in unusual ways, and like her art, these poems are unusual. Her verse is at times playful, but also stern in its criticism of how the world operates or is expected to operate. She’s interested in providing readers with a new perspective on the ordinary, and she holds nature as sacred and tangible. Living on a dairy farm, she had a very close knowledge of milking cows, and what jobs men were expected to do every day. In “Fenceposts,” she talks about how men use posthole diggers and women do not, and how in her family, she has held onto her father’s posthole digger as her mother held onto her father’s twenty-two pistol.

From her time on a dairy farm to her moments in New York City, Oliver’s poems are moments in time that recall things from her past and remind her about the ephemeral nature life, especially when she falls ill. Buddha in a Birdcage and Other Poems by Betty Oliver offers readers just a little of Oliver’s work, and what’s here can seem unfinished at times, but overall, her work is about our moments in time and the thought we do or don’t give them as we live them.

Rating: Tercet

About the Poet:

Betty was truly a multi-media artist. Her visual art was focused on sculpture incorporating paper, paper pulp, and found objects. Though born, raised and perhaps haunted by her childhood in Eastern Virginia, she eventually elected to make New York her home, establishing a home and studio in upper Manhattan and channeling the vibrant texture and rhythms of the city and her neighborhood into her life and work. In a sense, the city became her pallet. She incorporated all manner of discarded and found objects into her art. Old phone books, calendars, Chinatown boxes, newspapers and jigsaw puzzles all were processed into her creative output of sculpture, paintings and photos.

Around 1990 she began to write and perform poetry, and created a powerful body of written work. As a poet, Betty was an engaging and compelling performer, often beginning readings by fighting her way out of a giant paper bag. As in her visual work, her writing echoes the many voices of her experience. A scream from the sidewalk on 110th Street, an impassioned plea to a lover, a strident declaration from the pulpit all resonate with truth, soul, and authenticity.

Betty was a very effective and sought after teacher and led many classes and workshops primarily at Penland School of Craft in the mountains of North Carolina, and Haystack Mountain School of Craft on the Maine coast. The book will be marketed by these schools and any profits will be given to the scholarship funds of these two schools.







Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson, 2013 Winner of National Poetry Series, is visceral and raw, filled with a great deal of tactile and violent imagery as well as traumatic moments that meld into regenerative water-based forces.  These poems reflect the most basic human needs for shelter, nourishment, and survival, and in these dark images, Johnson reveals a stunning beauty in that underbelly, which many often ignore or avoid.

The collection opens with “Fable,” allowing Johnson to establish the readers expectations that her verse will not be straightforward, but subtle and more instinctual.  “In the forest, the owl releases a boneless cry,” the narrator begins, hearing “your bones/singing into mine.”  A father is observed with his son in the square of a city before a war begins, and he is blissfully unaware of “what his hands will be made to do/to other men.”  However, the boy is the final comment from the narrator, a symbol of innocence and hope that can change the future.

The collection’s title demonstrates how detailed the poems will be, creating a bone map (a visual representation of an excavation site) to understand what has come before.  Like in “Deer Rub” when “the rain scratches at the deer’s coat//as if trying to get inside,” Johnson’s lines bore into the reader’s mind to create vivid and unsettling images.  Readers are forced to watch, to wash “their antlers of blood,” forcing themselves to recognize their transformation into a less “innocent” man or woman and accept those base natures that have children carrying knives.  More than once, Johnson calls the readers attention to a foreignness entering something untouched, like the “tender-rooted flowers/inside the belly of the horse” in “As the Sickle Moon Guts a Cloud.”

In the darkness and uncertainty of the forest, Johnson reveals the devastation of man, but also the unmovable force of nature to encroach where it isn’t wanted.  Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson, 2013 Winner of National Poetry Series, is a journey that readers will want to repeat to fully perceive all of Johnson’s subtleties.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Sara Eliza Johnson‘s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Ninth Letter, New England Review, Best New Poets 2009, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, Meridian, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Winter Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, a work-study scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and an Academy of American Poets Prize from the University of Utah, where she is PhD student in the Literature & Creative Writing program. Her first book, Bone Map (Milkweed Editions, 2014), was selected for the 2013 National Poetry Series.







Levitation for Agnostics by Arne Weingart

Source: Book Savvy Public Relations
Paperback, 122 pgs.
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Levitation for Agnostics by Arne Weingart, 2014 winner of the New American Poetry Prize, questions our faith, which oftentimes is passed down through families as a foregone conclusion.  In “Chopping Roots,” Weingart’s narrator is digging to move water away from the base of his home and protect the retaining wall from eventual decomposition through erosion.  If we have unmoor ourselves from the faith we’ve been brought up with, will be float without direction and is that such a terrible thing?  These are just a few questions asked in these poems.

“…you will simply give up and lean down
into the hillside tearing all your roots out of the ground with
a great explosive twanging leaving a huge and unaccountable
hole we must stare into while
we listen to the river.” (“Chopping Roots”, pg. 86)

In many of these poems the narrator is unmoored and drifting, and structures are erected only to be considered false supports. Weingart also transforms solid objects into theories and mutable things that can be perceived differently and claimed by many. There is a dissatisfaction with what has come before in terms of religious fervor and faith, but at the same time, the narrator is in awe of these beliefs and long-standing institutions. In many ways, the narrator is seeking to become more, to be the creator of “big ideas” rather than just a believer of them.

“Every scaffold is highly
instrumental but exterior to
some central purpose some
permanent intention meant to
resist time and desire and the
inevitable slide of tectonic
earth. To live in scaffolding
is not to be free exactly but” (“A Theory of Scaffolds”, pg. 27-8)

From the sacrifices of ancient people in Machu Picchu to the Jewish religion, the narrator seeks to hold up the faith of these people to scrutiny, while at the same time being respectful. Exploring how religion and faith can bring people together, the narrator also examines how it drive wedges between neighbors and even family. In “Hebrew School,” kids are taught a language that is understood by few, in the way that children do not understand how they could be the chosen people. Despite the disenchantment with religion and faith, Weingart displays a sense of humor about ancestors and their quirks and about overcoming things that can make us different, like stuttering, only to want to be different again and take steps to recapture those differences.

Levitation for Agnostics by Arne Weingart, 2014 winner of the New American Poetry Prize, is a straightforward look at faith and ancestry, the ideas and mores that bind families, and the questions that should be asked about their tangibility and their applicability to our own lives, as we live them. Like in “Recursion,” as the rocks are skipped across the lake no matter how many times they reach the shore, the poet needs to question and continue to question because there is much more to learn and be taught.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and educated at Dartmouth College and Columbia University, Arne Weingart lives in Chicago with his wife Karen, where he is the principal of a graphic design firm specializing in identity and wayfinding. Recent poems have been published in Arts & Letters, Beecher’s Magazine, Coal Hill Review, Enizagam, Nimrod, Oberon, Plume, RHINO, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Georgetown Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Spoon River Poetry Review. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his book, “Levitation For Agnostics,” winner of the 2014 New American Press Poetry Prize, will be released in February, 2015.








2016 Poetry Challenge

In 2015, you were challenge to read 1 book or poetry or 20 individual poems.

This year, I wanted to provide a couple options.

  • Haiku Level: read 1 book of poetry or 20 poems
  • Cinquain Level: Read 2 books of poetry, including Wet Silence by Sweta Vikram or a collection of poems by Emily Dickinson
  • Sonnet Level: Read 3 books of poetry, including Sweta Vikram, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, or Ted Kooser
  • Rondeau Level: Read 4 books of poetry, including Sweta Vikram, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Ted Kooser, or haiku poems
  • Villanelle Level: Read 5-10 books of poetry, including 2 of the following: Sweta Vikram, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Ted Kooser, haiku poems, Yusef Komunyakaa, Walt Whitman, John Amen, Arlene Ang, or another poet you’ve always wanted to read.


Grab an image below for your blog:





















Link to your signup post in the comments!



Link your reviews here:


Have a great time this year!