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Why Photographers Commit Suicide by Mary McCray

Why Photographers Commit Suicide by Mary McCray, illustrated by Emil Villavincencio and published by Termentina Books, is a collection of science fiction poetry — yes, you head that right!  These poems mesh not only the exploration of space with the modern world here on Earth, but they also harken to older themes of Manifest Destiny dating back to America’s youngest roots as a nation.  It’s a collection about the opportunities space exploration can represent, which is highly ironic given the government’s recent decision to shut down the manned shuttle program.

From "Helga Post-Orbit" (page 52)

No, it's not the sentimental, leftover space

that matters as much as the idea of Helga, open-eyed
and drifting, somewhere out of the room.
Or this mortal part of me -- lost in a raw,
everlasting free-fall of disconnected, disordered love,

knowing I'll uncover Martians, (Martians!),
the impossible mysteries of Mars,
before I'll ever know
where Helga has gone.

McCray’s poems are fantastical, opening up a solar system to the reader that delves into questions of existence and the hereafter, but also the never-ending search for more.  She explores space, Mars, and even artificial intelligence.  There are some beautiful moment of motion, like in “All of a Sudden,” where the narrator awakens:  “Last night, a woman in a hospital smock laid her fingers/on the shiny bells and, mouth over face,/blew tornadoes into the water-pale toes./Then, eyes shut and palms summoning,/my child asked me if I knew who I was./And I said, yes, I am the speed at which/particles collide.//”  For the most part, these poems draw comparisons between the society we create here on Earth and its focus on the material, and how any society on another planet would likely be more of the same.  As we seek to comfort ourselves in the unfamiliar by bringing along the unfamiliar — even to the detriment of animals brought along in the rocket.

McCray paints extraordinary pictures with her words, but the accompanying drawings from Emil Villavincencio do not add very much to the overall collection, though they are well crafted and seem to be mostly pencil renditions.  Beyond the poems about space and exploration, there are more personal poems about alienation from family members, the beauty of poetry as a reflection of space, and the amazing experience of “Sex in Zero Gravity”:  “astronaut, astronaut –/kiss me with your incomplete sentences/and your raw relativity,/run your fingers like lasers,/escape velocity through my motor heart,/the acceleration thrust/of your deep-space Cadillac cruising/my jelly-fish tremors,/touching the swirling hurricane/that is the red G-Spot of Jupiter/”  There has never been such a beautiful references to spaceships taking off and hurricanes on foreign planets in poetry to describe a sexual encounter.

Why Photographers Commit Suicide by Mary McCray is imaginative and one of the best written science fiction collections of poetry out there, and it will have readers questioning their place in the world and the need to explore more.  Like the poet points out in the title poem, we leave a bit of ourselves in the world around us, and we should be mindful of our impact.

About the Poet:

Mary McCray is the co-author of St. Lou Haiku, a collection of haiku poetry about St. Louis, Missouri, and Why Photographers Commit Suicide, poems about space exploration and new frontiers.  Visit her Website, visit her on Twitter, and on Facebook.  Also check out her bookshelf on GoodReads.

 

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This is my 24th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

This is my 15th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia by Patricia Neely Dorsey

Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia by Patricia Neely Dorsey is a very personal and reflective collection about growing up in the south and celebrating its culture.  Through rhyming poetry, Dorsey creates poems that have their own beats and rhythms that carry readers all the way through the poems.  While most of these rhymes are elementary and some seem forced, the collection is not about technique as much as it is about living and breathing the southern culture.

From "The Rules" (page 6)

Life can be much easier,
When you know what to do or not;
And you're sure to learn a lot of them,
If Southern parents you have got.
From "A Country View" (page 17)

What might you see as you go your way
On a walk through the country any spring day?
There's an old car tire without its rim,
Filled with flowers to the brim.
A bottle tree glistens in the sun,
And kids chunk rocks at it just for fun.

The poems do not hide their meaning behind complex metaphor and read more like short essays or memories. “Shelling Peas” and “Slopping Hogs” brought back images of farm life that are so vivid and filled with innocent joy and happiness. Readers will learn about the Agnews and much of the food and past times of the poet’s Southern life. Dorsey has succeeded in demonstrating a slice of life in the South.  There are some assertions about Southern life that ring very true, at least what most people typically think about Southerners, but there also are assertions in the poems that would ring true for others not raised in the South, but simply raised with a good moral compass.

Dorsey is never cryptic and clearly shows pride in her heritage, and her “Getting Personal” section of the collection is the most empowering because it is about learning to love oneself despite what others may think and say about you.  In Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia by Patricia Neely Dorsey what you see is what you get, and that’s good enough.

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About the Poet:

PND Bio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my 14th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

 

This is my 23rd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

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Come Late to the Love of Birds by Sandra Kasturi

Come Late to the Love of Birds by Sandra Kasturi, published by Tightrope Books, is a well-crafted collection about love and freedom from the bonds of illusion.  Kasturi uses bird imagery to explore ancient fairy tales and stories from the ill-fated flight of Icarus to songs like Sing a Song of Sixpence and the blackbirds confinement in a pie.  She takes these long memorized stories and songs and turns them upside down, revealing the twists and turns that these stories could have taken in a modern world.

From "The Evolution of Birds" (page 17)

birds knew of our coming;
could sense our soft limbs millennia ahead,

could sense our drab colours and dull teeth,
our nothing lives.

They dropped their scales, made themselves small,
grew into winged things, soft and bright,

Beyond these twists and turns, Kasturi also plays with the notions in the bird kingdom and the simplicity of their lives — categorizing things into those with and without wings and nothing more. In “One Red Thought,” the red-tailed hawk and the narrator encounter one another, with the narrator questioning, “He must be/tethered to something/because why would a hawk/sit so still, why would/a hawk let me creep/close as a cat, me/” and then realizing “For him–/there are no/cameras or shoes,/there are no ornamental/gardens or lawn gnomes/or pants that need to be ironed.// There are only winged things/and non-winged things.// Only himself and the sky,/the curve of the earth/tilting how he wills it.//  There is the simplicity of the encounter, coupled with the encounter during which the narrator finally understands the reality of the hawk’s world.

From "Crucible" (page 49)

I am curled under piecrust like a blackbird, trapped.
salted and basted and oven-ready.
The kitchen clock's tick settles around me--
keeping time over what's burned or broken.

Salted, basted and oven-ready
I've become claustrophobic and butter-heavy.
Keeping time over what's burned or broken,
my fingers push and dimple the roof.

Each of these poems surprises the reader either once or repeatedly, and Kasturi’s sensitive handling of birds and human motivations alike are musical and magical. With poems rendering a clear relationship between humans and birds to those that draw hopes and dreams from birds in flight and in trees, the collection also has poems dedicated to Bradbury and Neil Armstrong. Come Late to the Love of Birds by Sandra Kasturi is wondrous and lively, full of wit and cunning, and utterly beautiful with each verse and turn of phrase.

About the Poet:

Sandra Kasturi is a writer, publisher, book reviewer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. She is the co-owner of the World Fantasy Award-nominated press, ChiZine Publications. She managed to snag an introduction from Neil Gaiman for her previous poetry collection, The Animal Bridegroom (Tightrope Books). She lives in Toronto with her husband, writer and publisher Brett Alexander Savory.

This is my 13th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

This is my 22nd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

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The Scabbard of Her Throat by Bernadette Geyer

The Scabbard of Her Throat by Bernadette Geyer, published by The Word Works in Washington, D.C., is a beautifully lyric collection of poems that explore the fine line between imagination/hope and reality, and on many occasions, Geyer’s poems end with an unexpected result.  In the first section, she explores the wonders of childbirth and miracles, but these poems also hover on the edge of death and the power that comes with bringing about the end.  In “Without Warning,” the onset of death is wrought with many to-do lists, but never on the list is what can be done with the last breath.  But in “After Having Been Distracted,” the narrator’s attention is called to the struggle for life of a cicada only to find that she must be the one to end it.  In many ways, these are poems about miracles, but miracles that don’t exactly have happy endings.

From "Afternoon on Portland Harbor" (page 18-9):

... Gravity tugs
us along the tilted deck -- our braced thighs hum

to the heartbeat of keel against water.
The crew feathers the sails to lessen the heel.

Hush the harbor soothes as we slow
to a near-stall.  Buoy bells toll

Geyer’s poems are musical and the rhythm transports her readers to that place she’s describing, like the boat in the poem cited above.  In the third section of poems, illusions — many of them held since childhood — are broken down, like the superhero hands of a mother being scarred and gnarled.  There also are poems that touch on the healing, or maybe numbing, effects of time, particularly its ability to make the hurt of abandonment not as fresh as it could be, like in Geyer’s “The Door.”  But then there is the silence of widowhood, which calls to mind Plath’s version of this topic in her collection Crossing the Water.  While Plath talks of widowhood as a crushing state for women who are overshadowed by their husbands even after death, Geyer’s poem speaks to the silent pride of the state and the perseverance it takes to keep moving forward.  And while there is a sense of loss in many of these poems, this section also speaks of hope — the unexpected still to come with renewal, particularly in “New Porch.”

Geyer deftly combines fairy tales with nature imagery and more modern situations and sensibilities in a collection that strives to sing the praises of restraint and letting go.  The Scabbard of Her Throat by Bernadette Geyer explores the tipping point between expressing fear, anger, sadness, and other emotions at any moment and the decisions to remain silent and strong in the face of others and for others.  Like the scabbard that holds the sword from the fight or releases it, the throat becomes that scabbard to hold back or let loose the voice and emotion of these poems.  Another collection that has spoken and blow me away with its lyricism and poignancy.

This is my 12th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

 

This is my 21st book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

About the Poet:

Bernadette Geyer is a poet and copy editor in the Washington, DC, area.  Geyer’s first full-length manuscript, The Scabbard of Her Throat, was selected by Cornelius Eady for publication in the Hilary Tham Capital Collection series of The Word Works. Geyer is the author of a poetry chapbook, What Remains, and recipient of a 2010 Strauss Fellowship from the Arts Council of Fairfax County. Her poetry has appeared in Oxford American, North American Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Verse Daily, and elsewhere.  Geyer’s non-fiction has appeared in WRITERS’ Journal, The Montserrat Review, Freelance Writer’s Report, World Energy Review, and Marco Polo Magazine. Photo by Emily Korff, Veralana Photography

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Crossing the Water by Sylvia Plath

Have you had enough Sylvia Plath this week? I hope note, because I’ve got another review for you today.

Crossing the Water by Sylvia Plath is the collection between The Colossus and before the publication of Ariel (my review), and it continues to push the envelop between dark and light.  Plath has come to represent the dichotomy of dark and light in all of us, with our deep passions and desires that lie in tension with our duty to family and society.  In this collection, the water becomes a metaphor for the surface veneer that many of us carry, but Plath examines how easily this surface can be shaken and disturbed.

In “Finisterre,” “Now it is only gloomy, a dump of rocks–/Leftover soldiers from old, messy wars./The sea cannons into their ear, but they don’t budge./Other rocks hide their grudges under the water.//”  (page 15)  Plath examines the aging process and the grudges carried from the past into the present and how that sullies the outside like the weathering of a rock face.  The poem further flourishes into a series of worshiping people looking to that which is beyond themselves, particularly the larger “Lady of the Shipwrecked” who admires the sea as the man worships her and the peasant worships the sailor.

Crossing the Water (page 14)

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.

Many of these poems are about the art of reflection or reflecting the outside world, becoming or acting as a mirror without judgment. Speaking in “Widow,” the narrator runs through the typical emotions of loneliness without the spouse, but later in the poem, Plath explores the weight of the lost spouse’s memory and how it still lies heavily on her life even as the man has died.  It is this shadow from which she cannot escape even in widowhood.  However, there also is a certain distance to these poems, like Plath is holding readers at arm’s length — each poem depicts a sense of control.  But her observances of mindless working zombies on city streets or the attempt to recapture youth through cosmetic surgery are spot on and raise an awareness of the foolhardy nature of hubris.

There is a disquietude in these poems, but yet a blissful communion with nature. It is as if she is recognizing the connection we have with nature, but at the same time calling attention to what separates us from it, like in “I Am Vertical.”  Crossing the Water by Sylvia Plath may be the smallest of her collections, but is no less powerful.  It looks at life through the lens of a woman at odds with herself and society.

This is my 11th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

 

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Ariel by Sylvia Plath


Click the image above for one National Poetry Month tour stop, and visit Life’s A Stage for a second today.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath is a collection that she crafted near the end of her life, before her suicide, according to the forward by Robert Lowell (Check out “Ariel“).  These poems are what Plath has been best know for, other than The Bell Jar, and these poems are by turns blunt and dark as she refers to death at nearly every turn and the fleeting nature of life.  Her poems are not only confessional in nature about her emotions and life, but they also examine the bittersweet nature of life and being a woman.

In “Elm,” the narrator speaks of having no fear, a fear of the unknown or a fear of loss, particularly in relation to love.  There is that fast movement forward, a moving onward to the next experience and next moment in time.  Many of her poems reflect this urgency to move forward and to stay in the moment — to enjoy it.  Her poetry, like many have said of her own personality, burns brightly and intensely, making no excuses for rawness there — like the predawn light on the horizon not marred by expectation or perception.

She talks of motherhood in a way that is unvarnished, speaking, “These children are after something, with hooks and cries,//And my heart too small to bandage their terrible faults./” in “Berck-Plage.”  In spite of the parasitic nature she ascribes to children, the title of the poem tells the tale of how joyous motherhood can be, with plage being a beach or a sunspot and the echo of France’s Berck-sur-Mer.  She also displays a bit of whimsy in her portrayal of “Gulliver” as he is over-run by the citizens of Lilliput.  Plath is hindered by the confines of society and expectation, and in these poems there is by turns the holding back or the tying down of narrators or images that dream of release or are released.  The push and pull of these images run throughout the book and probably echo the feelings Plath felt herself after her divorce and the onset of her single-motherhood.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath is a collection full of tension, explosions of release, and a search for balance between constraint and freedom.  Death is not necessarily death in the demise of the physical self, but a release and return to the freedom that is desired.

About the Poet:

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Aurelia Schober, was a master’s student at Boston University when she met Plath’s father, Otto Plath, who was her professor. They were married in January of 1932. Otto taught both German and biology, with a focus on apiology, the study of bees.

In 1940, when Sylvia was eight years old, her father died as a result of complications from diabetes. He had been a strict father, and both his authoritarian attitudes and his death drastically defined her relationships and her poems — especially “Daddy.” Photo Credit Rollie McKenna.

This is my 10th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

The Hardship Post by Jehanne Dubrow

The Hardship Post by Jehanne Dubrow, published by Three Candles Press, is about the many posts that we take on in life that are in the midst of the fray — whether that is the overseas diplomat in a war-torn country or the descendent of a Holocaust victim.  Dubrow’s verse is infused with its own rhythm and even sometimes an internal rhyme, and this musicality penetrates the mind of the reader, bringing to life not only the harsh, and sometimes distant, memories of pain, but the reverberations of that pain decades into the future.

From Bargaining With the Wolf: (page 9-10)

The world's been tamed--your fangs are white
as though you seldom kill, twilight
now hums a stranger violence.
I hate these bloodless cadences.
Teach me to howl, to bay, to bark
new terrors prowling through the dark.

Section one of this collection seems to have a greater universality to them, and in many ways, these poems become more and more personal as they enter into section two. For instance, “Exile’s Fairytale” talks about the anxiety of being a refugee and how that life leaves a mark just as the life left behind — and each life subsequently left behind as the refugee continues to pack up and move on. “beneath her skin–these are the birthrights/of refugees. She trespasses/but never finds a place to rest,/each night the uninvited guest.” Does she mean that the refugee is the uninvited guest or is it more that the night is the uninvited guest because it leaves him/her with his or her thoughts and memories of the past.

The most resonant section of the collection is part two as a “Third Generation” much removed from the initial pain still carries the weight of that “Baggage”: “fix DNA, defect that made/us find the door in any space,/a gene that warned me when to slide/the suitcase from its hiding place.” (page 26). There are internal changes that are absent to the naked eye that Dubrow explores, particularly how events can change someone’s internal outlook or cause a new habit to form, but on the outside everyone still sees that person as “sweet” like in “Kosher Dills.”

The Hardship Post by Jehanne Dubrow has crafted a heartbreaking collection of how the past continues to haunt and mark us, but it also calls for pride, a sense of accomplishment that survival was even possible.  But it also calls on the rest of us who are not as personally touched by the tragedies of the holocaust to remember what happened, the deep scars that were left, and to step away from the belittling nature that can sometimes tarnish history with platitudes and patina.

About the Poet:

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of four poetry collections, including most recently Red Army Red and Stateside (Northwestern UP, 2012 and 2010). Her first book, The Hardship Post (2009), won the Three Candles Press Open Book Award, and her second collection From the Fever-World, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Competition (2009). Finishing Line Press published her chapbook, The Promised Bride, in 2007.

Her poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in journals such as Southern Review, The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, The New England Review, West Branch, Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Copper Nickel, Prairie Schooner, as well as on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.

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This is my 9th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

Season of Flowers and Dust by Gregg Mosson

Season of Flowers and Dust by Gregg Mosson, published by Goose River Press, is a journey in nature, particularly the nature of the Pacific Northwest during the Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Yes, no summer poems here.  In each poem, nature is winding down toward hibernation, and when winter settles in, readers will feel the cold in their bones as “the white-out of sudden tundra,/driveways are culled, families forge snowmen” in “First Snowfall.” (page 25), and when “winter’s chrysalis” in “Winter Rainfall” takes over.  Mosson has clearly spent time sitting, watching, and being with nature during these seasons, as his verse captures the movement of water, wind, and more so easily.

Readers will picture themselves in the Pacific-Northwest, even if they’ve never been there, which is particularly true of his poem “Cannon Beach in Autumn” where the water and the jutting rocks are clearly visible as the lovers untangle themselves and fall into Autumn with the nature around them.  This poem is particularly well crafted as the lovers lose their arms and can no longer hug as the trees lose their branches and leaves, and they drift into one another and create enough friction for a fire to burn.  Does Autumn signify an ending or does it signify a change into something new?

From So Long Flowers, So Long: (page 7)

A sparrow jerks off a twig; vibrations
caterpillar up
From Western Orange Sunset: (page 47)

Sunset opens like the eyes of hurricanes,
spotting the world with swirls of heat,
softening the landscape with tornadoes of light and warmth,
From Burial of Snow Storms: (page 26)

Snowstorms machine-gun humans into homes,
entomb them with just awareness of the world.
They rise to their tasks, but the bombardment
continues.

Mosson’s images have their own rhythm and startling beauty, particularly the vibrations inching along the branch in “So Long Flowers, So Long” and in “Western Orange Sunset,” the sunset becomes as frightening and beautiful as the eye of a hurricane. While much of the collection is in free verse, there also are sonnets, particularly in the “Winter” section, which signifies the compactness and hibernation of the season more so than the free flowing poems in “Spring.” Each poem has a deep reverence for the beauty inherent in nature, but also its ability to change with the seasons.

Season of Flowers and Dust is a journey to the Pacific Northwest that will have readers slowing down and taking in nature with each deep breath. And while these poems evoke beauty and the cycle of seasons, there also is a darkness just beneath the surface that plays at the edges of some poems and is more prominent in others, like “Night on Burnside” and “Burial of Snow Storms.”

About the Poet:

Gregg Mosson is the author of a book of nature poetry, Season of Flowers and Dust (Goose River Press, 2007), and one of social engagement and witness, Questions of Fire (Plain View Press, 2009). His work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Cincinnati Review, and The Potomac Review, among other journals. He has an MA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, where he was a teaching fellow and lecturer, and lives in Maryland.

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This is my 8th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

This is my 19th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

When All My Disappointments Came at Once by Todd Swift

When All My Disappointments Came at Once by Todd Swift, published by Tightrope Books, are poems about a series of mid-life crisis in literature and throughout history, with some less grandiose crises in the mix.  There are new takes on the midlife crisis, with the narrator in “The Shelf” trying to take on the life of another through their writing, only to find the words fit falsely and do not ring true.  But in others, like “Michael Kohlhaas,” reference the vengeful exploits that go off of the deep end to the point that the narrator cannot be brought back from the brink.  With a wide breadth of topics, Swift covers a lot of historic and emotional ground in his poems, though clearly some of these poems will require additional research into some of the historic and literary elements referenced, especially if they are not familiar.

From "In Memory of F.T. Prince" (page 15)

Desire ages, ages hardly at all,
Edges, like those of a book,
Curled at the beach, where waves,
Sent by the summer, brush

The salt away, finely-combed,
And it is homosexual love
That holds us in its palm,
That cuts and dries the hair

Beautifully rendered, Swift harkens to the original poem written by Prince about soldiers bathing in a river during World War II, but he also takes a new twist on the scene, pinpointing the desire that can rise up when all that surrounds you is death. Where is the beauty, where is the love — you find it where you can, at least to a certain extent. While some of these poems are dark and harrowing, others are sad, suspenseful, and heart-pounding as Swift takes readers on a journey through several devastating events in history and literature.

However, there are moments in the collection where Swift shows his humor, like using two rhyming lines in “Hunting Party” to make the celebratory scene after the hunt more comical, poking fun at the midlife crisis aspect depicted in the poem. In others, there is a ray of hope even as the narrator loses faith in God. These poems have a wide range of perspectives to offer, and Swift is masterful in some poems and cryptic in others. When All My Disappointments Came at Once by Todd Swift is an interesting examination of midlife crises, the emotions tied to that, and the rays of hope and comedy that can emerge from those incidents.

About the Poet:

Dr. Todd Swift is Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing, at Kingston University, London. He is Director and Editor of new small press Eyewear Publishing. Published by the age of 18 in The Fiddlehead, Swift is the prolific author of eight collections of poetry and many more pamphlets. He is editor or co-editor of a dozen anthologies, most recently Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam, with a preamble from David Lehman. His poems have appeared in numerous international publications, such as Poetry (Chicago), Poetry Review (London), and The Globe and Mail (Toronto). He has been Oxfam’s poet-in-residence, based in Marylebone, since 2004. His widely-read blog, Eyewear, has been archived by The British Library.

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This is my 7th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

This is my 18th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published by Modern History Press, is a collection of poems about the subjugation of women and all of its forms, across not only the Middle East and Africa, but also throughout the various parts of Asia and South Asia.  These poetic portraits are often prefaced by some facts about a particular woman’s story encapsulated in the poem or about statistics of crimes against women in various countries.  Not all of the poems are prefaced, but even those that are could stand on their own and speak for the women they represent.  Beyond the violence and inequality women deal with on a daily basis, these poems also shed light on the women-on-women violence and the silent acceptance among older women of continuing these traditions with the younger generations.

From War (page 12; which is related to Sri Lankan battles)

The sun was shining on shells
of burnt-out houses in their neighborhood.
Her mother, sister, and she were drinking

coffee, thanking bees for leaving them alone
when three men in uniforms entered

their house under the pretense of search.

All cavities of the women's trust were emptied out
when each man selected a victim:

Vikram’s poetry not only provides a story that is easily accessible on the surface, but she also provides themes and hardships that call for closer inspection.  In this way, her collection would make an excellent book club pick, which could be even further enhanced by additional materials on the subjugation of women across the globe even today. Her poetry speaks of social injustice in a way that shocks the reader, but also pays homage to those who have suffered with the deft strokes of her imagery.  Some poems are stronger than others in terms of theme and imagery, while others are more in-your-face and full of surface meaning.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a vast ocean of pain, discomfort, and horror that should make women in the modern world, including those inside and outside the United States, stand up for themselves and others. Beyond that, it should make men stand up and take notice that their actions and those of other males in societies across the world should not be tolerated — and ended.

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an award-winning poet, writer, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, and educator. She is the author of four chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a novel, a nonfiction book, and a book-length collection of poems (upcoming). Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, literary journals, and online publications across six countries in three continents. Sweta has won two Pushcart Prize nominations, an International Poetry Award, Best of the Net Nomination, Nomination for Asian American Members’ Choice Awards 2011, and writing fellowships. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in New York City.

This is my 6th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

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Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow

Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow is a collection that is broken down into three, clear sections — Cold War, Velvet Revolution, and Laissez-Faire — with a preface section — Red Army Red — and one poem, “Chernobyl Year.”  Dubrow’s narrator recalls the lives of American Diplomats in Communist-controlled Poland during the Cold War and pays homage to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the rebellion of youth before concluding in the commercialized freedom and excess of capitalism.  Her poems are all at once playful, somber, and achingly real.

From "Aubade": (page 9)

Often I lay awake to listen for
my parents returning from the embassy,
a key toothing the lock, the front door

opening to let them in, its rusty
hinges a metal warning.  Every
evening the same.  I drank the words cold war

from the water glass on my nightstand.

Her words echo even after the end of each line, and sometimes even in the middle of a line, leaving a haunting impression on the reader. In “Vinegar Aphrodisiac,” the narrator asks, “What’s sweet//without the wanting, the queue around the block/when even you are out of stock?” The lines for food in a communist society even when there is no more left, and the hope that there will be something there for them when they get to the front of the line. The wanting or the hope is palpable and heartbreaking. The poems in the first section eerily reflect the realities of the time, and there is a juxtaposition of the diplomat life with that of the Poles — “Each morning my mother’s velvet purse/wilted on a chair, empty of its midnight contents:/ruby lipstick, tiny lake of a pocket mirror./My father’s tie lay crumpled on the bed./The romance of objects–both their costumes/on hangers again, still clasping the scent/” (from “Fancy,” page 12)

There is unrest in the second section — the upheaval of adolescence marked by the rising up of workers and society against a communist society that fails to live up to expectation, a theme prominent in “Five-Year Plan.” A deep, unbidden want bursts forth in Dubrow’s lines as the communist Poles want release from their worker chains, so does the diplomat’s daughter want escape from the “crystal” world in which she lives just outside reality, yet feeling that reality keenly. Not entirely part of the communist world, but not completely outside of its empty promises. Always beneath the austere exterior in these poems, there is a burning passion waiting to explode onto the page, and while it may not happen in the same poem, explosions of light, sex, and want emerge of their own volition and when least expected.

Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow is a phenomenal collection that is bound to generate much discussion from book clubs, but it also speaks to the truths of ideals and realities and how they never meet expectations.  In many ways, the collection comments overall on the “grass is always greener” idiom, but it also highlights the separation felt by a young woman growing up in a foreign land and having the freedom her country provides, but at the same time feeling the constraints of her host nation.  Amazing use of imagery, politics, real events, and more.

About the Poet:

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of four poetry collections, including most recently Red Army Red and Stateside (Northwestern UP, 2012 and 2010). Her first book, The Hardship Post (2009), won the Three Candles Press Open Book Award, and her second collection From the Fever-World, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Competition (2009). Finishing Line Press published her chapbook, The Promised Bride, in 2007.

Her poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in journals such as Southern Review, The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, The New England Review, West Branch, Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Copper Nickel, Prairie Schooner, as well as on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.

If you’re going to be in Boston for the AWP conference in March, you might catch Dubrow at a couple of panels.

This is my 5th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver is meditative observance, but also a collection of poems full of praise not only of the natural order but of humanity’s place in that order.  In “And Bob Dylan Too,” she talks of how the shepherds sing as the sheep praise the grass by eating it and how the bees’ hum signals the opening of spring blossoms.  And in many ways, nature comes to life, becomes anthropomorphized in conversation with a narrator, allowing for the unspoken rules to be broken and/or expanded.  Oliver has a deep sense of connection to the natural world that shines through in each line of each poem, and yet, there is a bit of rebellion in her poems that points to a time when breaking free of the natural order is not only OK, but unexpected and inspiring.

From "Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness" (page 27):

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don't say
it's easy, but
what else will do

What readers will love about Oliver’s poetry is the homage she pays to the natural world in all its beauty, but also the connect we have to it. In “The Moth, the Mountains, the Rivers,” the narrator of the poems asks that we each take the time to live in awe of the wonders around us, to truly sit without worry about the busy schedule and to just be and observe. It is almost a plea of sorts.  In other poems, the narrator simply marvels at nature and even decides to take her home to a mountaintop for silence and reflection and invites the reader along.  But one of the most descriptive and captivating poems in the collection was “Tides,” about the movement of the ocean and the only purpose it has: to be.  Unlike those who talk of its erosion of beaches and its awesome power, Oliver focuses in on its rhythmic movement, its constancy, and its beauty and in this way draws a parallel to how the narrator casually, calmly walks the beach.

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver is reflective of the past, of youth, and of wilder days, but it also is about recapturing that youth, if only in the mind, remembrance, and observance of nature.  But there are moments of distinct action and conviction that the past can be recaptured even if it is at the end of life.  For those looking for Oliver’s traditional poetry, this collection is ripe with observation of the natural world, but it also offers a deeper look at aging and longing for things that have passed.

About the Poet:

Mary Oliver was in Maple Heights, Ohio.  As a teenager, she lived briefly in the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where she helped Millay’s family sort through the papers the poet left behind.  In the mid-1950s, Oliver attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she did not receive a degree.

Her first collection of poems, No Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963. Since then, she has published numerous books, including Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006); Why I Wake Early (2004); Owls and Other Fantasies : Poems and Essays (2003); Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999); West Wind (1997); White Pine (1994); New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book award; House of Light (1990), which won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award; and American Primitive (1983), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

This is my 4th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.