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Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke

Source: Sourcebooks/Shelf Awareness
Hardcover, 40 pgs
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Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow is gorgeously illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, and the 28 poems are divided into seasons to reflect the title.  This collection is published posthumously, poems her daughter calls clean and clear about what changes and what stays the same.  The collection opens with “Changes” that talks about the differences between the seasons but that they always come around the same time each year, even though the narrator has changed through the years.  These verses are fantastic for little kids, projecting images that are complemented by the illustrations and allowing them to visual nature and the seasons.

These poems read as if told from the perspective of a child who stares in awe at the birds in the sky, the birds flying by, and all that surrounds them.  From the cool breezes of spring and the budding flowers to the salty wind of the sea in summer on vacation, children will see the fun and get absorbed in the costumes of Halloween, the beginning of school in the fall, and the winter wonders of snowmen and the first snow.  Beeke’s images are reminiscent of the whispy-ness of water color images and pastel smudges.  Zolotow clearly has a firm grasp of the wonder most children have when they are young; they are curious and inquisitive, but there also are some who are contemplative.  Read aloud these poems create a new world of rhyme and lyrical verse for children.

Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, is a great collection to start young readers with the wondrous world of poetry.  The illustrations are well matched with Zolotow’s lines.  My daughter and I have read this collection several times, and she often asks what season we are in when we read the poems.

About the Author:

Charlotte Zolotow—author, editor, publisher, and educator—had one of the most distinguished careers in the field of children’s literature. Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1915, Changes: A Child’s First Collection of Poetry is published on the occasion of Charlotte Zolotow’s 100th birthday.

Doughnuts & Deadly Schemes by Janel Gradowski

Source: Author Janel Gradowski
eBook, 210 pgs
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Doughnuts & Deadly Schemes (Culinary Competition Mysteries #3) by Janel Gradowski is just what you expect from a cozy mystery — an amateur detective helping out her police friend, baking up some savory dishes, and enjoying the ride. These are the kinds of books that are perfect for summer because they are full of adventure, laughs, and fun. Carla and Amy are best friends, and you can tell that they genuinely love one another and act like sisters. While one is a planner, the other is more spontaneous; when it comes to having the wedding of her friend’s dreams, though, Amy is doesn’t take no for an answer.

“‘You are a brave woman to put together a wedding that quickly.  Heroically brave to spring this on the Over-Planning Queen.'”

“‘Believe me.  We thought of that, but I’m pretty sure you would kill us if we snuck away like that.  So, as my compromise, instead of leaving you completely out of the wedding by eloping … I’m giving you over two weeks to pull one out of thin air.'”

Challenge accepted!  Amy has a tough task on her hands planning her best friend’s wedding in less than a month, but she’s never one to shy away from a challenge — including those culinary contests.  Not only is she baking up culinary confections for local contests in Kellerton, but she’s also slinking around trying to uncover who the extortionist hacker and murderer plaguing local businesses might be.  She’s not on the police force, but Carla’s fiance, Bruce Shepler, is quick to accept her outrageous theories for new perspective on a perplexing case that has business owners’ mouths taped shut.

Doughnuts & Deadly Schemes (Culinary Competition Mysteries #3) by Janel Gradowski is a fun ride, and I loved every minute spent with these ladies.  They are quirky and fun, and the confections in these pages will make readers drool.  Don’t forget, Janel always includes some recipes in the back of the book, which you’ll want to try — I’m already dreaming about that Peach Pie Iced Tea!  But I digress.  If you haven’t read these cozy mysteries, what are you waiting for?!

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications. Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 336 pgs
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The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna is a World War II novel set in the Wisconsin around the time of the cherry harvest, and for a novel focused on the home front of the war, the tension is still great.  As rationing affects the nation’s farmers, but not those like the lighthouse keeper, readers will get a sense of the tensions that wars bring for those at home and not just fighting the battles.  The narrative is split between Charlotte Christiansen and her daughter, Kate, and as two strong women, they struggle with what is right for their family, right for the town, and right for themselves.  Thomas Christiansen is a bookish man who gave up his university studies to take over the family farm, and he married a good woman from a local dairy farm who could make some award winning pies.  When the war begins to take the immigrant labor from the farm, his wife hatches a plan to save their upcoming harvest because without a plan of action, their son Ben may not have a home to come to when the war is over.

“Worry? In addition to all they had to do before, lighthouse keepers are now charged with protecting our shores from the enemy.  The shores of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.” She leaned in.  “And you think a few prison guards can protect us from that madman Hitler, who’s bent on controlling the world?” (pg. 30 ARC)

Kate is struggling, too.  Her dreams of attending university seem to be thwarted at nearly every turn as her mother takes the one possession she has to sell to pay for college and uses it to feed them, and as she learns she needs additional help with math in order to pass the entrance exam.  But beyond these trials, she realizes that life is moving forward without her in many ways, with her friend Josie already planning a wedding to Ben, even while he continues to fight overseas and his likelihood of coming home is slim.  As she finds out what kind of woman she wishes to become, Kate uncovers her own compass and learns that she needs to rely on her own courage to achieve her goals.  This self-reliance is something she learns from her mother, even as Kate comes to the realization that her mother is not perfect.

Sanna has created a dynamic cast of characters for this home front novel, but where it lacks strength is in the twists of plot.  Some situations come from left field or are simply there to check a box in what a WWII novel should have — including two star-crossed love affairs and battles between Americans and Nazis, though not on the battlefield.  Additionally, Charlotte’s character is a bit all over the place — one minute she wants the Nazis to be used as labor and in the next minute she wants them no where near her family.  Her hypocrisy is part of her undoing, but readers also may find that some things are left to unresolved to be satisfactory.  There are certain situations that did not jibe well with the character development, which made the fallout of those situations difficult to believe.

Where The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna shined was in its depiction of troubled economic times because of the war, the tensions between those in the same town over those troubles, and the impact of war on soldiers and the uncertainty among family how to act or react to those soldiers coming home.  Had the novel a more refined focus, Sanna would have hit one out of the park with this one.  Due to the plot issues and other issues, this was a mixed read for me in the end.

About the Author:

Lucy Sanna has published poetry, short stories, and nonfiction books, which have been translated into a number of languages. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Sanna now divides her time between Madison, Wisconsin, and San Francisco. The Cherry Harvest is her first novel.

Find out more about Lucy at her website and connect with her on Facebook. (Photo Credit: Hope Maxwell Snyder)

 

 

 

 

Ohio Violence by Alison Stine

Source: Poet Alison Stine
ebook, 80 pgs
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Vassar Miller Prize winner Ohio Violence by Alison Stine, which I received long ago from the poet (forgive my tardy review — as this was long before I had an e-reader and the file was lost in my inbox), juxtaposes the quiet, pastoral landscape of the Midwest United States with hinted at depravity, overt violence, and speculation.  Her narrator in “Ohio Violence” will tell you a story that is not hers to tell, and while this story begins with dismembered deer parts, but its really about the power of murderous jealousy and violence: “We measure our places in blood,/ bones in weeds, the buried well./ Each brick brought a message in her/ fifteen-year-old fist.” (pg. 18)

Stine’s lines often build from small pieces — whether tiny pieces of an image or situation or emotion — into a crescendo that will hammer the reader when they are least expecting it.  These surprising lines and poems will never be far from the reader’s mind, especially as they continue with the poems that follow.  Each of these poems looks at violence and the secrecy of violence in a new way.  There are missing women, there are violated women, there are those slight indications of inappropriate intimacy, but at the root is the unexpected nature of the violence and the cover-ups that fail to hide the damage done.

School

All winter we sat blind, I next to the girl   
who loved her scabs, the blood shields   
her head gave up, her face a sun of blank   
amazement. She drew. This means love:   
a circle with a line through it. More work:   
a cross. More crosses. Ice sloughed   
through fields. Ice river, the pages   
of our notebooks. Outside: limbs and roads   
and wires. Outside cracked with force   
and turning. Our poems filled with salt.   
He took me to his bed.   
The writer never speaks. The writer speaks   
in details, the sateen lining of my coat,   
the star point of tongue kissing. The winter   
speaks in the whip. Runoff nixed   
with ash. I spilt water on my notebook.   
Words went back to ink; paper back   
to ruffle, pulp. You smell like dog, the girl   
said. You will be left like the winter.   
Little sputter in the car’s craw. Little   
crevice in the pavement. Ice reminder.   
He took me to his bed, saying: Ali,   
Ali, tell no one. I told the girl, a sore   
gathering, another skin to pick and worry.

Ohio Violence by Alison Stine carries with a heavy burden, but it is a burden that is borne well and with tenderness and homage to those who have been victims.  But do not be fooled that these poems are all tender in content because there is a brutal-ness to the images presented, searing heartbreak and horror into the minds of the reader.  They shall never forget the tales Stine is telling.

About the Poet:

Alison Stine is a 2008 winner of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship. She was born in Indiana and grew up in Ohio. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, she is the author of the chapbook Lot of My Sister, winner of the Wick Prize. Her poems have appeared in such journals as The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Kenyon Review. This is her first book. She lives in Athens, Ohio.  Her new novel, Supervision, was released April 2015.

 

 

 

 

Crossfades by William Todd Rose & Giveaway

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Source: Hydra and TLC Book Tours
ebook, 129 pgs
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Crossfades by William Todd Rose is a novel that hovers on the borders of science fiction and horror, as Chuck Grainger navigates the Crossfades to usher souls out of a purgatory to where they should be.  This limbo is the moment when one’s life is ending and a fantasy reality take over before the soul moves on, but in some cases, souls can be tricked into believing the fantasy is reality.  Chuck is a Whisk who must guide these trapped souls through a maze of changing landscapes without becoming detached from reality himself.  Through the help of Sleepers, those who are in a coma, Chuck can remain tethered to reality as long as his emotions remain in check.

“Drawing a deep breath through his nostrils was like snorting a line of decayed flesh.  The stench watered his eyes and infected his sinuses, seeping into his saliva and immersing his mouth in the rancid tang of decomposition.  His diaphragm hitched in protest, expelling tainted oxygen through retches that left his throat lining feeling as though he’d belched fire.”  (From the eARC)

Chuck is a lonely man, and this loneliness is something that threatens to pull him over into the abyss even as he knows the Crossfades around him are not real.  Whether trying to convince a little girl that her reality is long gone and that she must move on or finding an emotional connection with a frightened young woman, Chuck is tested.  Rose clearly defines this ephemeral world and makes it real and mutable at the same time, and his characters are seeping with powerful emotion.  Some readers, however, may find that this format — the novella — is too short to really connect with Chuck and his plight.  In many respects, readers are kept at a distance because he does have to remain detached, at least until the last chapters.

Crossfades by William Todd Rose explores the notion of purgatory and limbo really well, and examines what it would be liked to be trapped by one’s own fantasies — good or bad.  Rose has created a world that can be manipulated by the individual soul and by a mastermind who seeks to take over the alternate world.

About the Author:

William Todd Rose writes dark, speculative fiction from his home in West Virginia. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his work includes the novels Cry Havoc, The Dead & Dying, and The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People, and the novella Apocalyptic Organ Grinder. For more information on the author, including links to bonus content, please visit him online.

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Lost and by Jeff Griffin

Source: NetGalley
eBook, 170 pgs
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Lost and by Jeff Griffin, published by University of Iowa Press, feels more like a scrapbook than a poetry collection, and while there were poems included, most everything in the book are scraps he gleaned from his travels into the desert. Some of these pieces are lists, photos, and other scraps, including a letter from a woman to her alcoholic partner. While these items may reflect communities that have once thrived in the desert and are now abandoned, the collection is not what most readers would expect and there is little to link these pieces together.

From GoodReads:

Ever since he was a child sitting in the back of his parents’ car, Jeff Griffin has been taking explorative journeys into the desert. In 2007, as an art student, he started wandering the back roads of the Mojave Desert with the purpose of looking for a place to reflect in the harshly beautiful surroundings. What he found were widely scattered postmodern ruins—abandoned trailers and campers and improvised structures—whose vanished occupants had left behind, in their trash, an archaeological record.

While Griffin’s efforts to create an artistic rendering of these emptied communities, trailers, and lives, the pieces could have been better tied to one another with some text, explanation, or other commentary from Griffin. In many ways, the collection could have benefited from a demonstration of how Griffin was influenced or inspired by these pieces to create his own art — though the book itself is his modern art from those journeys into the Mojave Desert. Lost and by Jeff Griffin, published by University of Iowa Press, just didn’t work for me, but perhaps I’m not the target audience for this one.

About the Poet:

Jeff Griffin is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an associate at Griffin Moss Industries, Inc., and he operates the publishing house Slim Princess Holdings. He lives around Nevada.

Double Jinx by Nancy Reddy

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Double Jinx by Nancy Reddy is a curious exploration of figurative and literal transformations from adolescence into adulthood, and it examines the malleability of our identities.  Many poetry readers have witnessed the retelling of fairy tales, like that of Cinderella, but not many poems — if any — deal with Nancy Drew and her identity, particularly in “The Case of the Double Jinx” (pg. 6) and the doppelgänger.  Nancy is hot on the case and observing this imposter has her doubting herself and her value.  Even though she knows that this imposter is not like her, she still fears she could lose Ned and her edge.

Reddy explores standing on the outside and the envy that can engender in “Understudy” (pg 10).  “You’re the other//woman, stranded just offstage,/mouthing the words you’ve learned/by heart.  At dress rehearsal you were costumed/as your better self.  Now she’s the critics’ darling and you’re//a cast-off prop,” the narrator says.  This persona takes on more and more of the starlight’s mannerisms, make-up rituals, and more until she mirrors that star in the hope that by becoming other than herself, she will be seen.

As the collection progresses, the poems seem to take on a less literary and artsy subject matter to look at the average person’s identity and how that changes over time.  “Big Valley’s Last Surviving Beauty Queen” (pg. 18) explores the effects of aging on a former beauty queen and how that effects her own perception of herself.  The accolades she sees and experiences are false to her when she returns home.

Genealogy (pg. 39)

My father's father was a woodstove.  He snapped and
  roared.

He crackled in the basement.  They fed him
so they wouldn't freeze.

While these perceptions of identity are explored again and again in a number of contexts, Reddy also explores the perceptions of men. But these perceptions of men also can affect how women identify themselves.  There are a number of these poems, which explore violence and addiction.  Double Jinx by Nancy Reddy is fascinating and multi-layered in its examination of identity and perception, particularly among young women and adult women.

About the Poet:

Nancy Reddy’s poetry has been published in 32 PoemsTupelo Quarterly, and Best New Poets of 2011(selected by D.A. Powell), with poems forthcoming in Post Road and New Poetry from the Midwest. She lives in Madison, where she is a doctoral candidate in composition and rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review and Giveaway: Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Greer Hennessy is a struggling movie location scout. Her last location shoot ended in disaster when a film crew destroyed property on an avocado grove. And Greer ended up with the blame.

Now Greer has been given one more chance—a shot at finding the perfect undiscovered beach town for a big budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town. There’s one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino—which will be perfect for the film’s climax—when the bad guys blow it up in an all-out assault on the townspeople.

Greer slips into town and is ecstatic to find the last unspoilt patch of the Florida gulf coast. She takes a room at the only motel in town, and starts working her charm. However, she finds a formidable obstacle in the town mayor, Eben Thinadeaux. Eben is a born-again environmentalist who’s seen huge damage done to the town by a huge paper company. The bay has only recently been re-born, a fishing industry has sprung up, and Eben has no intention of letting anybody screw with his town again. The only problem is that he finds Greer way too attractive for his own good, and knows that her motivation is in direct conflict with his.

Will true love find a foothold in this small beach town before it’s too late and disaster strikes?

Review from my mom:

Plot: The plot was exciting, though about halfway through it started to be predictable.  However, that did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel. Some mystery, but mostly fast moving because of the movies that were being made on location.

Characters:  Greer Hennessy was ambitious when she set her mind to accomplishing tasks. Eben Thinadeaux, the mayor of the town who also owned a store, was a busy busy man, which makes romance a challenge.

Setting: The Florida setting was well illustrated with Andrews’ prose. 

Recommended: Definitely recommended for is fast-moving plot; very quick read.

To enter the U.S. only giveaway, you must be a resident with a valid mailing address and over age 18.

Leave a comment below to be entered by May 20, 2015, 11:59 PM EST.

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Source: New American Library
Hardcover, 432 pgs
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The Sound of Glass by Karen White, published today, embarks on a journey that will leave readers slowly unraveling the interconnected lives of Mrs. Heyward in the late 1950s and the Mrs. Heyward in the new millennia.  Edith Heyward is a woman who lives a closed life in her attic where she makes wind chimes out of sea glass, but she also lives a large life inside those tiny, humid walls.  She tiptoes around not only her husband, but also her son and one of her grandsons, but even after they have left her home, she still closes herself off from the outside world.  Meanwhile, Merritt Heyward, who married Edith’s grandson Cal, has taken the chance and given up her life in Maine to come to Beaufort, S.C., where a home she’s inherited as Cal’s widow lays out its secrets in a methodical way.

“She’d barely slid from her stool when the sky exploded with fire, illuminating the river and the marshes beneath it, obliterating the stars, and shooting blurry light through the milky glass of the wind chime.  The stones swayed with shocked air, singing sweetly despite the destruction in the sky behind them.  Then a rain of fire descended like fireworks, myriad balls of light extinguished as soon as they collided with water into hiccups of steam.”  (pg. 2 ARC)

While much of Edith’s pain is in secret, except to her immediate family, her sense of justice and right will push her to investigate the mysterious plane crash above her home in South Carolina.  As she works on this case in secret, she’s simultaneously balancing the need for family calm and the desire for change within the family dynamic.  What ultimately drives her family to separate will also bring it back together and resolve a nearly 50 year old mystery.

“‘She always said that only fools thought all glass was fragile.'” (pg. 31 ARC)

Fast-forward to the present day, and Merritt find herself trying to curl up into a ball on her own, only to realize that Southern manners will not allow it.  On top of her new well-meaning neighbors, she also must confront a brother-in-law she never knew about and adjust to life with her step-mother and younger brother Owen.  As Merritt learns the traditions of Southern living, she also begins to realize that like drinking Coke with peanuts, you have to take the bitter with the sweet in life.  While she may have found love with Cal, she also knew there were wounds that would never heal, and some that hovered below the skin’s surface that she was unaware of.

The Sound of Glass by Karen White is a multi-layered story about family, their secrets, and the innocuous connections that can lead to lasting relationships and memories to be cherished.  What breaks us can only make us stronger, and in some cases, some of us are unaware that we are broken and in need of fixing.  Denial can be a powerful drug, as can self-protection, but family bonds and love are the only true healing power in this story and in our own lives.  White is a successful writer of Southern, women’s fiction for a reason, and once readers buy one book, they’ll be addicted and buy the rest!

***Another contender for the 2015 Best List***

About the Author:

Known for award-winning novels such as Learning to Breathe, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance 2009 Book of the Year Award finalist The House on Tradd Street, the highly praised The Memory of Water, the four-week SIBA bestseller The Lost Hours, Pieces of the Heart, and her IndieBound national bestseller The Color of Light, Karen has shared her appreciation of the coastal Low country with readers in four of her last six novels.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a storyteller by birth, Karen has made her home in many different places.  Visit the author at her website, and become a fan on Facebook.

My other reviews:

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote

Source: NetGalley & Grayson Books
eBook, 82 pgs
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Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems from a retired U.S. Navy physician, who also is the director of the Warrior Poetry Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Beneath the carnage depicted in many of these poems, there is a compassionate undercurrent.  Some of these poems are about the battle scars — physical and emotional — that shape today’s warriors, but they also are about sacrifice, discipline, and human comfort spawned from work on the hospital ship Comfort and the care of sick and wounded Americans.

From “Mountain Burial”

knowing we can’t retrieve
this well that’s now gone dry.
She lives in a field of green
whose thousand blades wave free,
scattered from us by war,
the ender of destinies.

From “Uncle Jim”

They say everything’s been written; it hasn’t.
Darkness and light are vast, and poets have barely begun.
Even when it hides, the hand knows when it’s writing a final death.

Foote’s narrator is a compassionate medic, but he is well aware of the carnage of war, facing it daily in surgeries and helping soldiers come to terms with the losses they have suffered. There is compassion for the soldiers as well as for the enemies, particularly those also marred by war. These poems are less trying to make sense of war, but geared toward demonstrating compassion and understanding. They pay homage to the dead, a way to honor their collective and individual sacrifices. Foote also includes some great notes about the different terms used, including Fedayeen, which refers to a generic fighter, and Mujahadeen, which refers to someone fighting for a religious cause. There also are great tidbits about events that occurred during the war that many may not know, including villagers who tossed unwanted children — particularly those with cognitive disabilities — onto Medevacs to get rid of them (“The War Child”).

Wife on the ICU

I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird
the monitor shows a thin green line
I walk at night and watch at dawn
not knowing the end of the road I’m on
down which, possessed by a voice unheard
I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird.

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems that is less focused on battles and who the enemy is and more on the compassion necessary to treat those men, women, and children who are scared by war — whether they are soldiers, bystanders, or the enemy. Some poems are better paced than others, but there are some gems that will have readers looking at war with a new perspective.

About the Author:

Frederick Foote is a poet and physician who lives in Bethesda, MD, USA. His work has appeared in Commonweal, JAMA, The Progressive, and many other journals. Click the tabs for a sample of these poems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs
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Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is a stunning collection that explores the vessels we are given to travel through the world in in a literal and figurative sense.  We are born and given a name, but what do those names come to mean to us and how is that different from the meaning of the name to our parents?  Jones explores the meaning of her own name in “Definition,” after the poetic narrator introduces the girl she believes herself to be at the beginning.  She effectively juxtaposes this carefree and fun-loving girl with the expectations of the name she is given.

From “Girl” (pg 3-4)

daydreaming, pretend out loud
Girl.

Singing off-key, flowing T-shirt hair,
microphone brush and missing front teeth.

From “Definition” (pg.7)

Parnassus …
2. (Literature/Poetry)
a. the world of poetry
b. a center of poetic or other creative activity

Parneshia …
I. 1980–daughter of high school sweethearts (prom queen and football captain).
2. (Woman/Poet)
a. rooted in her Midwest, in her poetry
b. growing up in Mama’s kitchen and stacks of dusty books
3. (Woman/Poet) twenty years later, the Poet searches the
definition of her name … who knew

While she is young, the narrator is content to just be, but as she grows older, she seeks a part of herself that she was unaware of, only to be surprised by how connected she already was.  And as the collection continues through its stages, so too does the evolution of the narrator from a child seeking a fair trade with her friend to switch names because her friend’s name is shorter, until she realizes that names often reflect who we are on the inside.  In this tale of growing up, the narrator becomes a young woman who fondly remembers those who helped her grow, like her grandmother who “lifts the quilt/sewn fifty years ago by her mother, signaling me to join her.”  And that girl slid “into the pocket of the quilt,/letting my grandmother’s hands/cradle me back to child,” ultimately “creating a human quilt.” (page 14-5)  These are the memories she can hold onto when the reality of life hits her hard, and she begins to realize that love and other things are not as they are in the movies.

Jones includes poems that explore what happens when we come of age, but also what we remember about our pasts and how important it is to keep the patchwork of our own family histories intact, just like those in a quilt.  While the larger world remembers the bigger stories of poets pushing the envelope and Blacks who became president, we have to be the ones to record our own histories and remember that we, as vessels, carry all of those stories inside of us and that they are part of who we were, are, and will be.  Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is beautiful, nostalgic, questioning, and lyrical.  Like in “Legend of the Buffalo Poets,” “There is a rumble in his roaming./ Part bison, part thunder,/ he is a stampede of words,/ raising mountains from rooted earth.//” and we should “Love our delirious souls/running wild in this concrete jungle.”  (Litany: Chicago Summers, pg. 60-1)

One of the best poetry collections I’ve read in 2015.

About the Poet:

After studying creative writing at Chicago State University, earning an MFA from Spalding University, and studying publishing at Yale University, Parneshia Jones has been honored with the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. Her work has also been anthologized in She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, edited by Nikky Finney. A member of the Affrilachian Poets, she serves on the board of Cave Canem and Global Writes. She currently holds positions as Sales and Subsidiary Rights Manager and Poetry Editor at Northwestern University Press. Parneshia Jones lives in Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 80 pgs
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Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny is a collection of prose poems in which cave drawings, pictographs, and petroglyphs the poet found in Montana come to life.  Readers are looking over her shoulder as she looks closely at these images while she wonders about the people who created them.  We begin near a cave in “Outside the Live Cave Spot” where we observe the opening as “lopsided, irregular dripping down like a lock of hair over someone’s eye.”  Things here are obscured from view, like the picture is not full.  It is just like the narrator of the poem, we get a glimpse of the life that was here, but something has been lost as humanity has moved away from pictorial communication to words on a page and online.  Many of these prose poems examine this sense of loss, a part of our culture that has disappeared into the ether, but it is still with us, as we can imagine and remind ourselves of what those lives must have been like.

From “Pictograph: Bird Site, Maze District” (pg 16)

“We recognize a figure, a brother, a twin, who is punished
for our disabilities, our own strangeness.  We are removed from
our families or we remove ourselves.”

From “Sign With Convergent Nested Elements” (pg 28)

“Sometimes things shine forth with their own
magnitude. Brushstroke of the mountain above the bank. As one ages,
it seems to me, one begins to separate from the body. One sees its frailties, it needs at a remove. Dimly lit, not important to return to.”

The narrator continues on this journey of discovery, which leads her to self-discovery. She examines not only the past, but also the faith it must have taken for those people to have lived and continue onward — a faith that she finds wobbles in herself.  The narrator is discovering more than she bargained for, making connections not only with the past but with the nature present before, like the mountain chickadee who wobbles before her in “The Wounded Bird.”  Here she is identifying with this bird’s struggle for life and noting her own inability to come to terms with god.

Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny contains some really stunning images and examinations of human evolution and struggle, but readers may connect with just a few poems in the collection at first.  “Kayak,” for instance, is the most removed from the idea of studying these ancient drawings in that the narrator is in the water surrounded by nature, but the effect is similar in that we have the power to blend in or to disturb or even to merely stand out by being ourselves, which can cause others to take flight.

About the Poet:

Melissa Kwasny is the author of the acclaimed poetry collections The Nine Senses (Milkweed Editions, 2011) Reading Novalis in Montana (Milkweed Editions, 2009), The Archival Birds (Bear Star Press, 2000), and Thistle (Lost Horse Press, 2006), which won the Idaho Prize in 2006. She is also the author of Pictograph, forthcoming in 2015. She is the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800–1950 (Wesleyan University Press, 2004). Widely published in journals, including Willow Springs, Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, and River Styx, she was recently the Richard Hugo Visiting Poet at the University of Montana and a Visiting Writer at the University of Wyoming. Kwasny received the Poetry Society of America’s 2009 Cecil Hemley Award for a series of poems that appears in The Nine Senses. She lives in Jefferson City, Montana.