Memory and Desire by Gregory Luce

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Memory and Desire by Gregory Luce is an undulating collection of poems filled with the roller coaster ride of desire and love, but also the tricky thing we call memory. The opening poem, “Desire,” speaks of an empty vessel that is filled and emptied, flowing in and out with the tidal waves of want. But like the vessel, an “indifferent” moon is pushing and pulling the waves – desire is everywhere. In the second poem, “Poem Beginning With a Found Line,” there’s the inkling of a chance meeting that doesn’t happen. But the lives of these two people run in parallel throughout. It’s one of those “what if” poems and it’s aching with longing.

Luce’s love poems in this collection will have readers sighing with longing and joy, especially with beautiful lines like “She could turn/and slide sideways/like a trick of the light./” in “Love Story.” (pg. 5) Or in “The Mechanism of Joy,” where “she floats in/all legs and tresses/clothes billowing as/light pours in/from every direction/and dust motes pulse/like electric particles/moving up the back/of my neck…/” (pg. 17-18)

But there’s also a sense of being adrift, too. In “Torn from a Notebook,” a narrator rushes through a subway station alone, “On the train you are/jostled, shaken, a dry/stick fallen away/from the bundle.//” (pg. 10) One of my favorite poems, “The wish to be an insect,” is so reminiscent of Kafka, I couldn’t help but imagine it — a man as an insect scurrying around. Something I’ve often wondered about traveling in the city full of people rushing here and there. There’s a loneliness in that scurrying, but also a sense of community and belonging – at least the desire for it.

Memory and Desire by Gregory Luce was a delightful read and full of surprising images and desires. Definitely includes some poems you’d want to read to someone you love, but it also includes some reflective pieces about belonging and community.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Poet:

Gregory Luce is the author of the chapbooks Signs of Small Grace (Pudding House Publications) and Drinking Weather (Finishing Line Press), and the collection Memory and Desire (Sweatshoppe Publications). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Foundling Review, MiPOesias, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, The Rusty Nail, Rising Tide Review, Cactus Heart, Faircloth Review, and in the anthologies Living in Storms (Eastern Washington University Press) and Bigger Than They Appear (Accents Publishing). He lives in Washington, D.C., where he works as Production Specialist for the National Geographic Society. When not working or writing poems, he enjoys reading, birdwatching, hiking, bicycling, and spending time with his sons, Alex and Theo.

The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams

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Paperback, 102 pgs.
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The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams digs deep into masculinity’s myths and confronts its history of violence and of atrocities committed against people of different backgrounds. It is a look at America’s past that is coming into the light and begs us to reckon with it, acknowledge it, and move forward with forgiveness and compassion. For those in the current time who have not committed heinous acts, we still must face what we’ve inherited by the privilege of whiteness and maleness and seek the best path forward for the future or there may be little of it left for anyone.

In the “My American Ghost” section’s opening poem, “Pantomime,” the music of the wind is reviving the sheets into bodies as “We wait/for the well out back to//illuminate its drowned coins,/all the gods overrun by prayers//” (pg. 5) In this section, there are poems that try to tackle the issue of racism in this country with poems about Emmett Till//Edward Hopper, Prometheus//Trayvon Martin, Rosa Parks//Banksy, internment, and more. This section is a hard read as I think about whether we need another “white” man telling us about tragedy or civil rights, but these poems want us to question that and turn that questioning gaze unto ourselves as the privileged class of Americans who benefit the most from the systems of oppression. Hopper’s oil paintings of lone characters in dim settings mirror the shadows of Till’s murder and how “Skin can be its own//broken republic.” (pg. 7)

The Dead Just Need to Be Seen. Not Forgiven. (pg. 8)

That old man in the photo our family never talks about,
known best for tracking runaway slaves; tonight

we drag him from the basement up these loose
wood stairs & set out a plate of salted cabbage & rabbit--

so long since I've asked why the empty chair at our table.
With all the warmth a body has to give, we give up on

measuring the darkness between men. Dust & dusk enter
& are wiped from the room. The names we call each other

linger luminous & savage. Still. That tree I used to hang
tires from holds tight its dead centuries. The light

swinging from its branches we call rope-like,
which implies there's no longer rope. Tonight, we'll wash

the burnt out stars from his hair, all the crumbs from his beard.
The misfired bullet of his voice we let burn as it must.

It is clear that America’s past is part of who we are. In “Internment,” the narrator says, “This country goes/weak at the knees at the thought of you, how you nourish/the earth//” Further in this section, an abusive father appears in a story told to the narrator’s own children where the ending is changed to make it more palatable for kids’ ears. But we need to hear the full story, not just a rosy colored version, as the narrator reminds us in “My American Ghost,” “light strikes a coin/differently after a train/flattens its face:” … “our mouths, nestfuls of promises,/we shall open them almost/fully: swallow & speak for what/we’ve swallowed: a whole/new language of witness./” (pg. 30)

The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams is an America that fails to look its past in the eye, accept what has come before, and right that ship. “Is it true this ruin has been ours//the whole time?” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35) or can we be the narrator: “It turns out I was born with a matchbook/in my hands.” and “There’s a reason we refuse/to leave, even now.” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35). While exploring American darkness, Williams is reaching for the light with a hopeful hand for the next generation.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Poet:

John Sibley Williams is the author of seven poetry collections, including Scale Model of a Country at Dawn (Cider Press Review Poetry Award), THE DROWNING WORKS (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A twenty-six-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and founder of the Caesura Poetry Workshop series. Previous publishing credits include Best American Poetry, Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and TriQuarterly.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (audio)

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Audiobook, 10+ hrs
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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, begins in school with Georgina, who is voted most likely to succeed, struggling to stay just popular enough and not as popular as other kids in her class. When her teacher realizes she is not trying as hard as she should, she pairs her with Lucas McCarthy, who sits in the front of class and is incredibly quiet. They soon fall in love over literature and Wuthering Heights. While they are clearly smitten and spend every moment together, neither makes an effort to be public with their love or share their relationship with their parents.

Fast forward to when they are adults, they meet again at a newly renovated pub where Georgina is the barmaid and Lucas is the owner. For 12 years, she’s moved from job to job and man to man since school; is it because she lost her father to an unexpected death or is there something more? Top it all off, Lucas doesn’t seem to remember her at all, which signals to her that their relationship was not that memorable.

Everything begins to unravel when her new employer offers space for writing competition about moments of shame. Georgina has been harboring a big secret from everyone and trying to blame all that is wrong in her life on the wrong thing. Unless she strives to deal with her past, her life will plummet even further.

This is the first book I’ve read written by McFarlane, and I wasn’t disappointed by the character development, pacing, or story. Georgina’s boyfriend at the start of the novel, Robin, will make you so angry and fed up with her, but clues throughout the book will have you cheering her on as she strives to put him off and keep him away. Her friends are quirky and definitely British, but they are loyal. Her roommate is a bit gruff, but her advice redeems her. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, is not as fluffy a read as I expected, but it was certainly worth it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels. It’s Not Me, It’s You is her third book. She lives in Nottingham, with a man and a cat.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary (audio)

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Audible, 10+ hrs.
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The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Josh Dylan and Eleanor Tomlinson, has the makings of a light, fun romantic read, but there are dark edges of depression, alcoholism, and sexual assault that make this a more serious novel than expected. Dylan and Addie fall in love/lust over a summer in France where she works as a caretaker of her friend Cherry’s villa and Dylan, a poet, is a rich man’s son who is looking for himself abroad. Immediately, I was drawn to the character of Dylan because he’s a poet and lines of verse come to him out of no where and he struggles to remember them, all the while he’s falling for Addie. They have broken up because in the present, they haven’t spoken in a few years, but they are headed to Cherry’s wedding and end up carpooling.

Dylan and Marcus have been friends for ages, but it is clear that something happened in their relationship as well because Marcus is “trying” to be better. As the novel unravels, it is clear that the relationship between Addie and Dylan was colored by the presence of Marcus. I really enjoyed the dynamics at play between Addie and Dylan (working-class, family girl and upper crust boy trying to distance himself from his father even though he still relies on family wealth) and the interplay with Marcus who seemed so much like a puppet-master of Dylan at times.

While in the present, crammed in a Mini with Marcus, Addie’s sister Deb, and random acquaintance of Cherry’s Rodney, Addie and Dylan are forced to confront their past, why they broke up, and whether the love they both have for each other still is enough to move forward with. There’s some hilarity when traffic stalls their travels or their car breaks down, but overall, there are some deep issues afoot.

What bothered me was how glossed over Marcus’ role in their relationship was until the end. At no point did Dylan try to see things from Addie’s point of view, while she bent over backward to be understanding of his connection to Marcus, even though she wasn’t really privy to why they were so tight in the first place. The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary is a good novel, I just wish there had been a little more background earlier on about Marcus and Dylan’s relationship and a little more awareness on Dylan’s part that Marcus didn’t always have his best interests at heart.

RATING: Quatrain (really 3.5)

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines

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Paperback, 98 pgs.
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Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines, which toured in Winter 2021-22 with Poetic Book Tours, explores the evolution of a self-made woman from birth through her later years, enhanced by the water imagery of the undulating waves that affect our lives. This is clear from the first poem, “First Born,” in which a child is born and “breathes blue/water for air,/dark whorl/of muscle, hair,/sea whistle/sways in wave/after wave/of shore/” (pg. 17) In the next poem, “A Cry So Close to Song,” the child’s cry becomes the cry of a gull. Hines takes a look at the simplicity of childhood, but she also notes those moments when you’re given a nickname that might not be so flattering. Alternating between her own childhood and that of her own children, she’s creating a family story that comes in waves across the pages.

“Scarborough Sail” sees a father become a tall ship, with sturdy rigging to hold his child upright in a turbulent sea. It is clear the poem is speaking to some rocky moments in the narrator’s life, but how her father ensured she had a stable home and structure around her. With every tumble, she rises up again, stronger. By the end of the poem, she’s swimming on her own through the ocean “beeline into surf swell,/under mayhem, into sparkle.” (pg. 29)

Ritual (pg. 30)

Sunday afternoon and my turn
to kneel on the creaky yellow
kitchen step stool and bow
over the sink, unspool my locks
into the clean pool, the white
enamel basin. Two rust eyes blink
from the bottom. I bend my neck
for Mother's blessing. I might be clay.
I might be dough. Her pulsing
soap-slicked fingers sink and knead.

Later the poems become more nostalgic for the childhood of the past, with memories of summer camp and lifeguarding. The 4th of July parties and the man all the girls giggle and blushed for. It was fun to read “Swim Meet” since my daughter is a swimmer and has a number of these competitions in all-year round. There’s that moment of realization in this poem that the narrator will not be the best on the team, but the beauty of the swim and the burn of the exercise is something that is seared into her memory: “streaks through blue, the kick-/stroke-surge through the wake/of the winter’s churn.//”

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines is introspective in its look at a life that is evolving and moving forward, even as we hope to hold all of our memories close. The final poems may make you weep with sadness as the family faces the passing of loved ones and the closing of the summer house. Another chapter has closed, but the ghosts slip out into the swells of the sea on their next journey, just as the narrator will do.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo Credit: David Mullen

About the Poet:

Mary Beth Hines grew up in Massachusetts where she spent Saturday afternoons ditching ballet to pursue stories and poems deep in the stacks of the Waltham Public Library. She earned bachelor of arts in English from The College of the Holy Cross, and studied for a year at Durham University in England. She began a regular creative writing practice following a career in public service (Volpe Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts), leading award-winning national outreach, communications, and workforce programs. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction appear in dozens of literary journals and anthologies both nationally and abroad. Winter at a Summer House is her first poetry collection. When not reading or writing, she swims, walks in the woods, plays with friends, travels with her husband, and enjoys life with their family, including their two beloved grandchildren. Visit her online.

Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines

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Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a compact powerhouse of poems where the poet tackles his demons, the rejection of his father, becoming at father himself, turning 50, and so much more. Hines is brave in these poems where he lays bare his fears, heartbreaks, and deep regrets, but these poems also offer glimmers of light, love, and hope.

***Be aware that some of the poems can be triggering if you’ve suffered abuse, trauma, and hate because of your sexual orientation.***

“Phone Call” opens the collection with a harrowing experience of a father pinning his son to floor after dragging him from his bed and squeezing his hands in the hardware store, as if force could mold him into what his father wishes him to be. However, Hines’ torment doesn’t stop there as he finds himself with a marriage counselor and a spouse who diminishes him in the same way. This poem explores trauma and how that trauma lasts years and years unless it is addressed.

In “How We Learn,” we find Hines has some anxieties: “Having nearly drowned as a child,/having been terrified to leave/the confines of dry land, I already knew/a thing or two about avoiding/the obvious dangers./” (pg. 5) But here we see a father “tossing” him “into the deep end of pools”. This dynamic between father and son is the anchor of the collection and a trauma that infects all of the other relationships he speaks about until he has come to terms with his deep-seated pain.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about these poems because you should read these poems for yourself. Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines is devastating all the more so because these personal experiences will make your heart break.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

AE Hines (he/him) grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. His poetry has been widely published in anthologies and literary journals including I-70 Review, Sycamore Review, Tar River Poetry, Potomac Review, Atlanta Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal and Crab Creek Review. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and has been a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

What Flies Want by Emily Perez

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Paperback, 96 pgs.
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What Flies Want by Emily Perez, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is a surreal painting of the rotting fruit flesh we hide behind closed doors and with tranquil, civilized facades. Perez takes a close look at mental illness, gender and racial identity, and so much more in these pages. What do the flies want? They want that exposed flesh – to feed off of it, to get fat on our misery.

From "My Son Is" (pg. 1-2)

....He needs 

the shock
of a thing done.
Something stronger
      than his anger, something
      forcing fortune out of him.

            He crowds the dark he darks
            into his boyhood wears
                his hood unhinged.

Every word, every line is nuanced. Even as boys play childhood games with Nerf guns, the violence is there, under the surface, lurking. In “Battle Song” and in “My Children Use the American Flag,” Perez’s lines are commenting subtly on the roles of boys, the expectation of violence, the training it takes even when it is just pretend. She juxtaposes this with her poem “Before I Learned to Be a Girl,” in which the narrator is a “wind unwound,” and she is a fire all her own. She needs no one; she is a force that can take down the darkness, the pirates, the gunman.

Nightwatch (pg. 6)

We killed the mockingbird
and killed so many more. Foolish
to believe that we were ever growing
out of our armored selves, sealed off
like walnuts, small brained and fearful.
We did not want to be vulnerable. We did
not want to stand alone, skin exposed
to the night, trembling against
whatever wind was rising.

There is the constant push and pull between civilization and the feral wilds of ourselves. But even with civility, there needs to be limits because “The thing about privacy//is it narrowed who knew/what forces//tipped the walls./” (“Outbound Flight,” pg. 7) Even in “Accoutrements,” the bounds of marriage need to be reexamined, with everything seeming well from the outside as long as you don’t look too closely.

What Flies Want by Emily Perez, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is stunning in its examination of the pressures we put on ourselves and the pressures society levies bluntly. We have to do more than protect ourselves from outside forces, we need to protect ourselves from our own expectations while holding onto out whole selves, not just portions of us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Emily Pérez is the author of What Flies Want, winner of the Iowa Prize, forthcoming in May 2022. With Nancy Reddy she edited The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood, forthcoming in March 2022. Her other books and chapbooks include House of Sugar, House of Stone, Backyard Migration Route, and Made and Unmade. She graduated with honors from Stanford University and earned an MFA at the University of Houston, where she served as a poetry editor for Gulf Coast and taught with Writers in the Schools. A CantoMundo fellow and Ledbury Emerging Critic, she has received grants and scholarships from Hedgebrook, the Community of Writers, the Washington State Artist Trust, Jack Straw Writers, Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, Summer Literary Seminars, and Inprint, Houston. Her poems have appeared in journals including Copper Nickel, Fairy Tale Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, Diode, and DIAGRAM. She teaches English and Gender Studies in Denver where she lives with her family.

Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon

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Paperback, 108 pgs.
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Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon is a collection of poems that reflect on how home is not always the haven many of us feel that it is or should be. “The vast dark but sunlight-speckled ocean/While knowing they have everywhere/And nowhere in the world to flee.//” (from “Involuntary Endurance,” pg. 13)

The opening poems of this collection explore the dark shadows of home, and the narrator often tells us that they wish for a “happy ending,” but these are not those kinds of poems. Canyon unflinchingly explores the scars of abuse, neglect, and the fear that propels the narrator to consider suicide. “I held the knife in my hand/I propped open the blade/I sharpened it against petrified wood/But I could not slice my flesh//” (from “I Wish I Could Tell You This Has a Happy Ending,” pg. 15) The poems also explore what it means to be a woman and a Black woman in a white world.

These poems make you weep. In “Thoracic Biology,” the narrator says, “For the most part I want to learn to let go,/to hurt a little less./My heart is what hurts the most.//Where did I learn to/breathe through the pain, to/cut off the sword piercing through//” I find that I do this; try to breathe through the pain of whatever moment I’m in. Where did we learn to do that? Why is it OK that we need to do this? My experiences are not the same as Canyon’s or any other Black person, but I empathize with those feelings of deep loss, fear, and emptiness. These poems make you want to take action; reach inside these lines and pull these young children out and protect them from harm.

At 13, I found a Bra

Along my Sierras grows an
    orchard of knowledge of good
    and evil. I take my beatings. I 
    bind myself in woman's hood.

I hook the clasps
along my curved spine.
Only the band knows
the stress of my heart.

I am told every woman 
pays her debt with pain.

    When the daffodil opens,
    the last breath of childhood releases.

Canyon asks the reader how can we survive home when it is at the root of so much trauma? Shall we keep on praying as the narrator suggests in “A Plea to the Inane”? Or do we “hold my brother’s hand./I clench my breath./His scream lowers to a bleat.//” (pg. 47, “All Day Long”)? How can so much pain not force us to go crazy, to lose our minds? Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon is a harsh look at abuse, racism, gender discrimination, and so much more; it is a testament to survival and what it means to hold hands and push through the pain and into the light.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Katerina Canyon is a 2020 and 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her stories have been published in New York Times and Huffington Post. From 2000 to 2003, she served as the Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. During that time, she started a poetry festival and ran several poetry readings.

She was featured in the Los Angeles Times and was awarded the Montesi Award from Saint Louis University in 2011, 2012, and 2013. She has published multiple chapbooks and an album.

Useful Junk by Erika Meitner

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Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Useful Junk by Erika Meitner is a poetic exploration of memory and desire, but also a collection of perspectives on the body and how it is seen and what it sees. The collection opens with the poem, “I would like to be the you in someone’s poem.” Here, Meitner’s narrator expresses a desire to be seen in all her glory and quirkiness, even if it is just a fiction.

When you enter this collection, you’re in a surreal world where the poet explores what the junk mail knows about us and our finances, but also what junk mail fails to know about our feral nature and our desires to be wanted and seen with all of our flaws. Meitner’s poems offer vignettes of “multitudinous and wild pasts” and our many futures. “don’t you worry about how/scattered memory gets (pick-up-sticks, a box//of buttons, shards of plastic beached across/an entire coastline) and how we’re just trying//to find the origin,” (from “All the Past and Futures” pg. 18-9)

She tells us in “Medium Adam 25”: “I am not an abstracted/self in the wet night. I am not a static/enterprise either, and as I move through//time and space, many things are vanishing/in exchange for a wanting with no end…” Isn’t it the truth of each of us. We are not this abstract perception that others have of us; we are fluid and changing even if it isn’t as obvious by our physical selves — though those change too.

Useful Junk by Erika Meitner is intimate and existential all at once, and readers will swim in the morass and indulge in memory and perception imparted with quick wit and contemplative angst. Meitner provides us with a bridge between our memories and their changing patterns and our desires to be seen coupled with the anxiety of how we are perceived by others and ourselves.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Erika Meitner was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, New York. She attended Dartmouth College (for a BA in Creative Writing and Literature), Hebrew University on a Reynolds Scholarship, and the University of Virginia, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing as a Henry Hoyns Fellow, and her MA in Religious Studies as a Morgenstern Fellow in Jewish Studies.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a collection that pushes readers to their limits with her beautiful, tragic poems. Their dark beauty with their sometimes violent images reach inside us, pull out our hearts, and ring them until there is little left but open love and empathy.

In the opening poem, “Extreme Girlhood,” the birth of a girl is a sign that suffering is to come, whether it is from parental expectation, abuse from within the home, and other malodorous events. But “Mama, I made it/out of your home/alive, raised by/the voices/in my head.//” the narrator reminds readers that there is another side to that dark tunnel. In this poem, Shire has set up the reader for a wild, emotional ride, but if we can just hold onto that hope, we’ll be OK.

Part poetry collection about abuses and darkness, part collection about accepting the people we are, Shire is unafraid to call out our platitudes and attitudes:

From "Assimilation"

The refugee's heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother's unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office, 
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus -- yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I can't get the refugee out of my body,

There is always that push and pull between the homeland of the past (a home nostalgia tells us is placid) and the new home refugees are seeking (a home that is not as welcoming as expected, if at all). Shire tells us in “Home” to remember that “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.” and “No one would leave home unless home chased you.” When times are troubling, refugees sometimes would love to return home, but “home is the mouth of a shark. Home is the barrel of a gun.”

Unbearable Weight of Staying

I don't know when love became elusive.
My mother's laughter in a dark room.

What I know is that no one I knew had it.
My father's arms around my mother's neck.

A door halfway open.
Fruit too ripe to eat.

Shire infuses her poems with her Somali culture, paying homage to rituals and loved ones, while at the same time exploring the struggles of her homeland with famine, the murder of women, kidnappings, and more.

 Filial Cannibalism

From time to time
mothers in the wild
devour their young,
an appetite born of
pure, bright need.
mothers from ordinary
homes, much like our
own, feed on the viscid
shame their daughters
are forced to secrete
from glands formed
in the favor of men.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a stunning collection in which “the trapdoor to heaven/opens its mouth” and “girlhood an incubation for madness.” There are so many themes in these poems from racism to gender bias, but is Shire’s search for grace that holds these poems together.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her début book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Forces by Lisa Stice

Source: GBF
Paperback, 122 pgs.
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Forces by Lisa Stice explores the push-and-pull of different forces, desires, and outside drivers can have on our individual lives. From the operational forces of our daily obligations to the gravitational forces of imagination and the magnetic pull of the muse. In the opening poem, “Ritual Hunts,” Stice explores the empty vessel and out need to fill it with something, anything. Do we fill it with junk mail? Does that satisfy us? Or should we fill it with potpourri or fake apples or keys? The poems asks us to examine what we fill our lives with and to be vigilant about what we do fill out lives with. We need to remember that how we fill our lives will go a long way in satisfying our desires and needs and ultimately lead to unrest or contentment.

Ritual Hunts (pg. 3)

Here we have a vessel,
hollowed out and empty
and we squirm in the need
to fill it with wooden apples,
potpourri or junk mail
we will throw away months
from now. Ritual shines
above our design as we crowd
our heads with words, turn
pages in a right to left manner,
read in a left to right manner,
enrich our lives away
and still wait for an established
secret somewhere between lines.
How we always
place the car keys here,
hang the dog's leash near
the door, turn the lights out
at bedtime.

Stice’s poems reflect on the ordinary and create an atmosphere where the calming nature of that life is the centering we need when forces are threatening to derail us. Think of the deliberateness of using the rotary phone – the need to rotate each number one at a time and wait before moving to the next. It becomes a meditation on how to center yourself, remain calm in a storm, and be deliberate in your actions.

In “Lying to Our Daughter,” the narrator has to pack up her home for evacuation from a storm. “Our daughter asks where we are going,/We say we’re going to visit Uncle/Paddy because we want to make this/evacuation feel like a vacation. It’s like/how we never want her to be afraid/even though we know a hurricane/is really just a little storm among many.//” (pg. 48)

These moments of isolated concentration become the mantra for the narrator as she struggles with the chaos of motherhood, military life, and more. Forces by Lisa Stice is an amazing collection that will provide you with a different perspective on the chaos of our lives, particularly when the unexpected keeps you on your toes.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Lisa Stice is a poet/mother/military spouse, the author of three full-length poetry collections, Forces (Middle West Press, 2021), (Permanent Change of Station (Middle West Press, 2018) and Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016), and a chapbook, Desert (Prolific Press, 2018). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee who volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project , as Poetry Editor for The Military Spouse Book Review, as Poetry Editor for Inklette Magazine, and as a writer for the Military Spouse Fine Artists Network (Milspo-FAN). She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) and an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog.

Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams explores imagination and reinvention, as Williams takes on iconic characters from fairy tales and literature and enlivens her poems with child-like imagination. The collection opens in that child’s perspective in “‘The Horse Fair,'” in which an observer is in a gallery viewing a painting. “I’m standing in a gallery, sterile, quiet. The horses cannot/stamp off the wall, out of the pigment and into the world.//” (pg. 3) The narrator of this poem is recalling a time when imagination was endless and there was a sense of freedom in that. But by the end of the poem, we know that the sense of wonder and exploration has been hindered by life experience and the narrator wants to return to a time when imagination was a gateway to possibility.

Williams’ poems are imaginative, break with traditional forms and combine a narrative prose within the poem that break up the norm of verse. Many of her poems stretch the meaning of perception and understanding, like in “Drowning,” where the narrator is saved from drowning in the ocean and is fully aware that the saver is “Wary. Watchful. Afraid.” and unable to look at the narrator in the same way. But the pull of the ocean was too much and a need for rest a strong pulling tide. The outside viewer would see the saver as a hero, while the saved here doesn’t view them in that way, especially when they are strapped to the bed.

In these early poems, the ocean, sea, and water are a major component of Williams’ poems. Whether it is the pull of the ocean as a place of rest through drowning or the taste of salt in a narrator’s tears, Williams is exploring that magnetic energy of the ocean — its vastness, its mystery, its a place where darkness resides deep and can be hidden away.


The sun burns
if you let
it shine on

you too long.
How long is
too long? Learn

by being burned.
The sun gives
life by shining.

You remember the
burn from the
scars, from the

transformation of being
set aflame and
after somehow surviving.

Williams’ poems are stunning whether she’s speaking about fairy tales like “Red Riding Hood” or “Cinderella” or more personal experiences. A lot of these poems show a different perspective from traditional points of view, and it enables readers to see the effect of their platitudes and kind intentions on those deeply hurting. We often rely on platitudes because we don’t know how to make things better or how to help. Perhaps it is better to just say that we don’t, admit we don’t know everything. Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams is a must have poetry collection.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Laura Williams cannot remember a time she did not love to read; her passion for writing came later, but poetry has been her life-long love. The younger middle child of four, she has been blessed with a large, close-knit family. She is in the process of earning her doctorate in education, focusing on adult literacy, at Louisiana State University and lives with two mischievous cats.