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Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Source: gift
Paperback, 30 pgs.
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Kin Types by Luanne Castle, which is touring with Poetic Book Tours, is more than poetry. It is a breathing history of ancestors and how their lives impact the present long after they have left the earth. The poet opens the collection with “Advice from My Forebears,” in which readers are greeted with much the same advice they probably heard from grandparents and others about not spending what you do not have, etc. And much of this is advice about risks we may encounter in life and it sets the tone for the collection. It demonstrates how the past can inform the present and even guide it toward better decisions, but also too calls to the rebels within us who want to go against, even good advice.

Castle’s narrative poems leave the reader with a sense of the past, and through detailed accounts she places us where she wants us to bear witness to the hard lives of these ancestors. Many of these people are immigrants leaving their homes for a better life, or at least what they believe will be a better life. But not all that befalls these men and women is good, but not all of it is bad.

From "New Life, New Music" (pg. 15)

The boy in knee pants didn't notice
the many wrinkles
or if he did they created that comfortable
space between his own raw starch
and her eyes and smile that were only his.

Life us, there are dreams held close among these ancestors. They may have a sense of loss that these dreams were not achieved or even lost, but they never let that stop them from living their lives. In “What Lies Inside,” Castle asks how well we really know our closest family members and speaks to the secrets we hold unto ourselves, as a self that we protect from the outside hardships of our lives. It is one of my favorite poems in the collection, with this haunting line: “If I don’t have this one space, where can I go to protect this self/kept inside only by my thin twitching skin?”

Kin Types by Luanne Castle is haunting and deeply emotional, allowing readers to wander off and discover their own ancestral stories. Perhaps they too will re-create the past and see how it mirrors the present or has shaped who they are.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle‘s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Published by Finishing Line Press, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Visit her website.

As Close As I Can by Toni Stern

Source: publicist
Paperback, 85 pgs.
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As Close As I Can by Toni Stern looks deeply into what it means to live, presenting the reader with both the good and bad. She begins her collection with “Hwy 154-Between Two Fires” to demonstrate the in between, first calling to mind the adage that “a man alone is in bad company” and juxtaposing it with “hell is other people.” This initial set up allows Stern to call acute attention to appearance of the now versus the individual reality of now.  Like the “towhee” that tweets a song that is enjoyable to the listener, who may find it beautiful, but the listener is unaware that she is a widowed bird longing for someone who has left this life.

Stern has a wry wit, which appears in a number of her poems. I loved the wit on display in “Pine Sol.” Each poem showcases how our life experiences shape us as people, and how not all of these experiences necessarily are good. The title poem speaks of a mother making room for her child in her full life, carving out a space for this young person whose name is like music.  From our first moments, we are given a name, and even just this name and its sounds will shape us.

As Close As I Can by Toni Stern is a collection of life’s beauty, the tarnished and the shiny.  There is life in between those moments that is lived, and those in-between moments are just as precious as the others that are burned into our memories.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Toni Stern enjoyed a highly productive collaboration with singer-songwriter Carole King. Stern wrote the lyrics for several of King’s songs of the late ’60s and early ’70s, most notably “It’s Too Late,” for the album Tapestry. The album has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, and received numerous industry awards.  In 2012, Tapestry was honored with inclusion in the National Recording Registry to be preserved by the Library of Congress; in 2013, King played “It’s Too Late” at the White House. That song and Stern’s “Where You Lead” feature in the Broadway hit Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  “Where You Lead” is also the theme song for the acclaimed television series Gilmore Girls.  Stern’s music has been recorded by numerous artists throughout the years.

As Close as I Can is her second volume of poetry.  She lives with her family in Santa Ynez, California.  Her website is https://www.tonistern.com.

Killing Summer by Sarah Browning

Source: the poet
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Killing Summer by Sarah Browning begins in the heat of summer in which a woman walks her neighborhood and does not cross the street because there is a black man there and there is a man stabbing women on the loose.  But look closer at “Pentworth, Early Evening” and you see a narrator who thinks about doing just that, who has fear deep down that she’ll be a victim of violence by a black man.  Like her, we want “to tear history” from us, free ourselves from that ingrained habit that those unlike us are something to fear.

From “Flag of No Walls” (pg. 93)

I want the flag of talking,
of sitting on the disintegrating
wall and gabbing, gossiping,
negotiating, waving that flag
of no walls. That flag.

Through Browning’s open endings, her poems seek change and there is a glimmer of hope that changes are coming and that transformation could be for the better (at least for those who come after us).  Her poems are ripped from the headlines, but they also are reflective of the past — a societal angst that was gone and has returned.  From an adolescent student seeking the courage to be seen by the boys in the courtyard to the pull between the ingrained fear and the inability to reconcile an ancestry of slave owners, there is a tension throughout the collection that simmers, wearing us down.

From “The Blueberry Seasons” (pg. 77)

I can’t stop admiring you, how you run
like that, bring your bucket now to show me.

Summer is often referenced as a time of being carefree, and there is some of that here in poems such as “The Blueberry Seasons,” but Browning is quick to remind us that life is not carefree for everyone — not the amputee, not those touched by foreclosure, and not those falsely imprisoned.  Her poems ask us to view ourselves and our actions through the eyes of others, to see how we are perceived and to begin again and become better, more compassionate, and connected.

Killing Summer by Sarah Browning reminds us that even in the most turbulent political times, we should not be blind to our roles and we should not passively watch or read. We must act if we hope to make change.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Sarah Browning is co-founder and Executive Director of Split This Rock. She is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and a featured writer for Other Words. Author of Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, forthcoming 2017) and Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007), and coeditor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2004), she is the recipient of artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, a Creative Communities Initiative grant, and the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. Browning has been guest editor or co-edited special issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Delaware Poetry Review, and POETRY magazine. Since 2006, she has co-hosted the Sunday Kind of Love poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. She previously worked supporting socially engaged women artists with WomenArts and developing creative writing workshops with low-income women and youth with Amherst Writers & Artists. She has been a community organizer in Boston public housing and a grassroots political organizer on a host of social and political issues.

Story Problems by Charles Jensen

Source: the poet
Paperback, 39 pgs.
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Story Problems: Poems by Charles Jensen, the winner of 2017 Palooka Press Chapbook Contest, is a chapbook written in a composition exam book style, complete with prose and sample questions for the reader. It’s interactive like all forms of poetry, seeking the readers’ input and self-analysis or even quirky responses to strange questions.

I remember these composition exam books fondly (I’m probably the only one) because I could write out my answers as completely as I wanted and there was no anxiety of speaking in front of the class in a presentation format. There also wasn’t the dreaded multiple choice, on which I always second guessed my answers and changed them, inevitably, to the wrong one.

Jensen’s perspective on grief and loss is as infinite as the universe. Imaging an “Origin Myth” of yourself and then the loss of a parent, how could someone so small in comparison to the rest of the universe contain an entire universe? But isn’t it true that our family is often a universe to us and when it disappears through death or other means, we are drifting and empty?

From “2. The Water Cycle” (pg. 7)

“Breath and words a latticework of ruin.”

From “6. Journey to the Center of the Earth” (pg. 11)

“I told people later grief is the absence of hope, but even then I knew it wasn’t true. Grief is when you have hope, and then hope leaves you.”

From “14. Temporary Death” (pg. 19)

“To watch a loved one breathe out without breathing in makes you stop breathing. There’s a long moment that follows in which no one watching is really alive.”

The prose poems are only as complex as the reader who reads them. With its simple language and in some cases platitudes we’ve all heard before, Jensen is able to pull forth the more existential questions self-actualizing humans find harder to deal with and answer. In this composition exam, the reader is asked to dig deeper into what they know of themselves, their religion, their whiteness, their losses and more to see not only the futility of some of our actions but also how identity is a construct that very few of us understand. He leaps from the broader universality of the human condition to the immediate “you” that we are trapped inside with his probing questions and fanciful instructions.

Story Problems: Poems by Charles Jensen is a chapbook with unending possibilities for the reader.  Self-examination and world examination at its best.  Jensen is becoming one of my favorite poets.  His work is unique and universal, but it also challenges the reader to become more than the passive observer.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo: Philip Pirolo

About the Author:

Charles Jensen is the author of six chapbooks of poems, including the recent Story Problems and Breakup/Breakdown, and The First Risk, which was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award. His previous chapbooks include Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press, 2007). A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Field, The Journal, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis. He lives in Los Angeles.

Where Is North by Alison Jarvis

Source: Mary Bisbee-Beek
Paperback, 83
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Where Is North by Alison Jarvis, winner of the 2015 Gerald Cable Book Award, asks readers to think about where their own “north” is — where is their home or where do they feel most at home.  Many of us will conjure up memories of our mothers and fathers, siblings, or just the best friends we ever had.  There are some of us who have lived most of our lives alone, until we meet that special someone who becomes that home we’ve longed for.  Jarvis reaches out through her poems to remind us of these connections and their importance to our own well being and happiness, even as connections end or become distant.

Skaters (pg. 33)

We belonged to snow and ice,
to Dodd's Pond at Christmas, released
from classes, shining our way
through the morning dark, 
like miners.  We'd skate out
together, alone, to astonish ourselves;
past lunch, past supper
past any possibility
our numbed fingers could ever
untie our laces.

In “At the Diebenkorn Show Without You,” the poem speaks of the rural person eager to get out, to move beyond the prairie and its empty roads to a place that is bustling like California, but as it turns, the reader notes a redirection, attention called to the now, to the foreground, to the moment at hand.  Like the poem, the narrator has to self-correct, to refocus and be in the moment, rather than always looking out and at the distance.  Much of the collection moves like this — back and forth — between the now and the future or the now and the past.  In “Daylight Savings,” the changing of the clocks is a reminder that soon a spouse will not be there reminding the narrator not to be late, and in “Ask Me,” love is the actions we take for one another — the small and large — and when you can no longer be asked, how do you make those connections again? In this case, the narrator tells stories.

Time moves on and things change like the farm purchased in “Dakota” for the “young/To begin their purposeful suburban lives.”  It is easy to “map our love with loss” says the narrator of “75 Marshall Avenue,” but it is better to act with love and engage in that dance of life.  Where Is North by Alison Jarvis is the bumpy ride we all take and the love that we leave behind and are given along the way.  Not all of the journey will be good, but we need to remember that home is where the love is.

RATING: Quatrain

Read some of her poems:

About the Poet:

Alison Jarvis was born in Canada and grew up in Minnesota. She is a recipient of the Lyric Poetry Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Mudfish Poetry Prize, the Guy Owen Prize from Southern Poetry Review, and a Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. Her work has appeared in Cream City Review, Gulf Coast, New Ohio Review, Notre Dame Review, Seattle Review, upstreet, and other journals and anthologies, including Best Indie Lit New England. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has been a practicing psychotherapist for 30 years.

2017 New Authors Reading Challenge

The Nightlife by Elise Paschen

Source: Mary Bisbee-Beek
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen is a collection of poems that blurs reality, dreams, and fantasies in a way that requires the reader to parse out the truth from between the lines.  It’s a collection into which the reader will likely stumble into the darkness of an abused woman’s life and fail to leave or fall into the bed of an adulterer, only to take the misplaced shame of faulty perception with them.  “Picnic Triptych” illustrates these blurred lines very well in which the reader is introduced to the “Small Brown Notebook” in which a tall man is found — a stalker of sorts.  Is the narrator dreaming of an encounter with this man, who resembles an artist in a painting by Manet, or is this something more?

Like Manet, Paschen is building an impressionist painting with words: verse by verse, page by page.  Night can make the world a bit more mysterious, and it can encourage the mind to conjure dangers from nothingness, a mind playing tricks on the narrator or the reader, sometimes both.  Like in “Of Mice,” where the narrator and the reader must “fear the carving knife” of “the farmer’s wife”, placing ourselves in the position of the mice — an older nursery rhyme — only to have our world upended and the mice are really escaped prisoners tunneling through the earth toward their own freedom.  Or are we all of these things, trapped inside our own prisons and eager for escape, with only fear keeping us huddled inside?

From “Of Mice” (pg. 32)

the penitentiary.
We lock all doors,
and, when the wind

hurtles umbrellas
against the deck,
we hide.

Paschen’s poems are riddles inside of riddles, dreams and nightmares wrapped inside wonderfully painted landscapes and portraits.  The Nightlife by Elise Paschen should not be missed; it is full of word artistry and surprises.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Poet and editor Elise Paschen was born and raised in Chicago. She earned a BA at Harvard University, where she won the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal and the Joan Grey Untermeyer Poetry Prize, and went on to receive a PhD in 20th century British and American Literature at Oxford University with a dissertation on the manuscripts of poet William Butler Yeats. During her time at Oxford she also co-founded Oxford Poetry.

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 48 pgs.
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Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto, which won the 2015 Oro Fino Chapbook Competition, has deep silences that activate the reader’s mind, which turns each moment over and over to make sense of the devastation. From the deadly tsunami in Fukushima to more subtle moments of broken lives, Fujimoto takes on a first-person narrative in these literary poems to draw readers into that sadness, that loss, that emptiness, the silence to render grief alive.

In “Japanese Apricot Wine,” we see a child left behind by a mother after a long illness, which is likely cancer, and we see the shadows of those last days through the eyes of the narrator. “I open her last bottle. The sweet/smell spreads in the room like a cloudy//green nebula” … “The half eaten apricot is//brown.//She leaves it behind.//” There is a glimmer of happiness in the beginning with a memory of making apricot wine in April, and her mother’s continued love for it even in hospice, but it is clear the narrator’s train of thought will be dragged into sadness until the reader becomes painstakingly aware that her mother is gone.

It is life as it is lived within these pages, and the first-person narratives bring that home in a way that is even more devastating. How do you reconcile the happiest moments, the homes you have with their ultimate loss. When a mother departs from this world, it can leave you unmoored. Do the happy memories serve to remind us of home or their loss? Like many things that would depend on perspective; how far are you from the moment of loss?

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto is a stunning chapbook of poems that will touch readers deeply. The poems in these pages will leave an indelible mark upon you, one that you should wear as a badge of honor.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Naoko Fujimoto was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. She was an exchange student and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University South Bend. “Home, No Home” is her first chapbook.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood explores how trauma can affect those in the same family in the generations that follow the event.  From the death of grandparents in a violent murder-suicide to the abusive relationship between an alcoholic father and his daughter, the poems explore the patterns of behavior that occur through time and repeat from one generation to the next.

“a cry stuck between/Growling and the most bereft sense of loss” (“Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors” pg. 15-16) is the initial sense readers will have with these poems, but what lies beneath is a deep exploration of how emotional response is innate, as Heywood draws parallels between humans and animals.  Heywood’s poems will rip out your heart as you follow the generational grief down the line and the hope that even a cheery paint color could possibly be a shield against the darkness of their patterns.

In “Fire Breathing” near the middle of the collection, we see a narrator who is determined to keep going, getting back up no matter how many times they fall or are pushed down by their alcoholic father or the kids at school.  Is that the light?  Is that the hope? Is that the perseverance that will break the cycle? It seems like a way out, until it doesn’t as the narrator laments, “Because I am not weak,/Because I need to stand up/Run faster than the voices/No one else hears because if I don’t/I’ll fade away behind them,/My body disappearing in the heat.” (pg. 56-7)

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood cautions that “grief is a second body” (“Parasite”, pg. 72-3) that can take control if you let it, and when dealing with a person consumed by it, treat it like a wild animal.  Stand clear, protect yourself.  But by the final poems in this collection, it is clear that to deal with grief, break the cycle of abuse, and move forward, the affected must learn to pause, breathe in that moment of beauty and hold it close.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Leslie Heywood is Professor of English and Creative Writing at SUNY-Binghamton, where she was a 2009 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activities. Interdisciplinary in focus, her areas are creative writing, gender studies, sport studies, science studies, and environmental studies.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a collection of poems in which a journey toward enlightenment is not what the narrator expects.  The Far Mosque is a place where enlightenment can be reached.  Many of these poems are not about a journey to a place but a journey within the self.  Ali plays with language in these poems, with many relying on homophones to carry a dual meaning.

From "Night Boat" (pg. 19-20)

Unfurl your hands to say: You will no longer here
The trees are rapt with silence

The burning bird settling in the rocks
Stand ever among the broken vowels:

You will no longer hour

The silent groundswell, the swell of silence.

Silence is a pervading theme throughout as the narrator tries to quiet his own beating heart to enjoy the silent moments of nature in “One Evening,” or when Yogis open their mouths to drink rain, rather than speak in “Rain.” The journey has taken this narrator many places, but many of these trips have done little to achieve peace or calm. The narrator is looking for a way to separate from the known self, to find that inner place (“The River’s Address”) where he can return again when the world or his state of mind requires re-balance.

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a meditation of its own, with poems evoking ties to nature and its quiet beauty, but also its tumultuous moments and chaotic presence. Some of these poems will require greater meditation from the reader.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Kazim Ali is an American poet, novelist, essayist and professor. His most recent books are The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009) and Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). His honors include an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. His poetry and essays have been featured in many literary journals and magazines including The American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Barrow Street, Jubilat, The Iowa Review, West Branch and Massachusetts Review, and in anthologies including The Best American Poetry 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock

Source: Library of Clean Reads
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock is a compilation of haiku from readers that were solicited by The New York Times in 2014 during National Poetry Month.  Haiku were guided by the terms “island,” “strangers,” “solitude,” “commuting,” “6 a.m.,” and “kindness.”  Respondents wrote poems on the subjects of living, commuting, working, and enjoying New York City.  This is just 150 of the more than 2,800 submissions and, no, not all of the haiku are from only residents of New York City.  Some come from as far away as Ireland.

(I will caution that I, too, submitted haiku to the Times, but none of mine appear in this collection)

As we leave for work
Youngsters head home from parties.
Eras intersect. — Amparo Pikarsky, Edison, N.J.

These haiku are by turns serious and humorous about life in the city from a sketch artist on the subway willing sleeping commuters to remain sleeping to people jammed together and yet alone on the train.

Hidden among the
sleepwalking, caffeine zombies.
A morning person. — Aimee Estrada, Hyde Park, N.Y.

These writers clearly know the city and all of its nuances, as well as the rote behavior of commuters. It’s wonderful to visit the city in haiku form and see it from a variety of perspectives, including those who have a sense of humor about it all.

Dollar pizza joint
An oasis in New York’s
Harsh desert of cost. — Dennis Francis, Manhattan, N.Y.

New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock provides a wide view of the city and commuting. Some seem to express personal experience, while others are more social in commentary. Each haiku displays a sense of humor and love for the Big Apple. Such a fun collection of poems, which would be easy to dip in and out of on a commute into the city or sitting in a good chair.

RATING: Quatrain

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert

Source: the author
Paperback, 118 pgs.
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The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert calls to mind how things are connected or organized in our lives. Some of these things are not experienced directly by the narrator of the poems, but tangentially. The pasts of our fathers and mothers can affect our lives even without us realizing it, but our own connections also can call back those moments missed or even moments we’ve forgotten. These poems are a maze of memory, experience, and so much more. Weisert’s verse unwinds this maze and finds the hidden connections.

From "The Scheme of Things" (pg. 11)

So: One morning, from nowhere, an unselected self: A gait
that unrhythms you, a gasp that fills your fist
with nameless stuff. Your skull a holy dome -- A new weight!
But on this plain, the claw-and-hunch will coexist
with you for ages.  All aching appetite, her jaws will snap
flesh, and your fine teeth close. ...

Readers will love how she plays with musicality in her poems, weaving the songs of Gershwin around the encounters with the narrator’s lover or the rhythm of words she and her mother used to create a language only they could understand. Weisert’s fluid vision permeates each poem, packing it full of gems like “Voice is our other body, how we move in the dark.” from “The Dark” (pg. 24). Readers will move with her narrator through the past and the present, looking at the two cities left to her by her absent father or the ravages of war that should not be forgotten and never shall.

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert is not heavy in its musicality, almost creating a dreamlike trance for the reader to easily flow in and out of these connections and, yet, continue to feel the deep emotion, the scars, and awe without plummeting down.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Hilde Weisert‘s collection The Scheme of Things was published in 2015 by David Robert Books. Her poem, “The Pity of It,” was winner of the 2016 Tiferet Poetry Award, and she’s had poems in such magazines as Ms, Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, Calyx, and several anthologies. She lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Sandisfield, Mass.

The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 98 pgs.
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The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky, the winner of the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, is a performance piece written in verse that uses disturbing imagery and rhetoric to examine the boundaries of humanity within the kaleidoscope of immigration, capitalism, and increasing globalization.  Readers will hear and envision a young man on stage speaking truths and satire, picking apart capitalism and so much more in modern society. The collection begins with the poem, “Let Light Shine Out of Darkness,” in which the narrator says, “I live in a body that does not have enough light in it.”  It’s clear that the narrator has been told that he is, or at least he has felt, inadequate.

Borzutzky is exploring humanity from its most vulnerable — a refugee, an outsider — but also how that human must perform in order to find acceptance and not be the subject of violence.  The performance of this book is brutal in its honesty and the reader is forced into frantic reading, almost as one rubbernecks on the road opposite a car wreck.  But in this way, his poems are more powerful because they are “a bedtime story for the end of the world.” (“The Performance of Becoming Human,” pg.15).

So much of the modern world is artifice and natural beauty is shunned or destroyed.  The poet is drawing from current news, from the communities around him, and from the current state of the state. Should the people who live under a regime or a plantation own be asked what they need in order to work or should they merely be expected to work and receive what they are given with gratefulness? Should they expect more for the hard work and the fruits of their labor or should they merely beat down the man next to him on the same social level to receive more?  How does one survive in oppressive circumstances and how do they reconcile the choices they make or don’t make in order to succeed and live?

“The best dictators don’t kill their subjects rather they make their subjects kill each other.”

The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky is all artifice and all reality. There is a duality being an immigrant and a citizen and there is a balance that must be struck in survival. But this collection lifts the veil to show you a dark underbelly. There are no solutions, just a light shone on the whole.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Daniel Borzutzky is a Chicago-based poet and translator. His collection The Performance of Becoming Human won the 2016 National Book Award.