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Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 74 pgs.
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Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell is a slim collection with a powerful anthem and story arc that begins with “The meadow.” This prose poem sets the reader up for the themes to come — self-indulgence, dark desire and hate, outrage, and pain. That meadow is the nation that certain people have built, hiding it behind the ideals of liberty, while at the same time bleeding its people and waiting for the blood to spill.

The anthem of this collection, “Shut up and dribble,” is a chant that calls us to action. We [and I mean everyone, not just the oppressed] should not be silent like they tell us, we should rise up for the ideals and equality denied. This is personified in “Four-cent Father,” a poem in which the death of a Black man in his own garage is settled with four cents. How can a man’s life be worth so little, and how can a man who plays music in his garage be killed by bullets? He was minding his own business, he was spending time at his home — his home was not his castle, he was not safe.

There is a deep, simmering rage in this collection. A raging against injustice, a raging against the expectations of a society that’s created a false sense of justice, and a rage that builds against the circumstances created by these illusions. “Would my grandmother’s/German immigrant bones/have ached for the man/she would never have known/but for the slavers’ greed?’ (“After the Pedestal,” pg. 21) The “American Beast” rears its ugly head, slithering under the covers and slipping into rooms where “rumbling in the voices of grownups/speaking softly after dinner/about the problems of the world.//” (pg. 25) and becomes commonplace.

The poems in Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell will get under your skin, making you uncomfortable not just in the dark but in the light of day. These poems call on us to break the silence, acknowledge the horrors of the past, see the bleak present, and get off our butts and do something about it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Tara Campbell is a Kimbilio Fellow, a fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and an MFA candidate at American University. Publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Luna Station Quarterly.

She is the recipient of the following awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: the 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist, and Arts and Humanities Fellowships for 2018 and 2019. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Robert Gover Story Prize.

Her novel TreeVolution was published in 2016, followed in 2018 by her hybrid fiction/poetry collection Circe’s Bicycle. Her third book, a short story collection called Midnight at the Organporium, will be released by Aqueduct Press in 2019.

Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 156 pgs.
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Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic drama that explores not only the complex woman of Madam C.J. Walker, but also her relationship with her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, who continues the Walker legacy. Sarah Breedlove, who became Madam C.J. Walker, was the first free born child to former Louisiana slaves. Her life was far from easy, orphaned at age seven and married at age 14, but she never let that stop her. She was determined to give her family a better life even as the obstacles like Jim Crow mounted and hatred were everywhere and out in the open. After years of back-breaking labor, earning very little, Madam C.J. Walker invented a hair care formula for Black women and she built an empire, training a number of women as sale agents.

“Out of No Way (which takes its title from an old saying in the African American community to ‘make a way out of no way,’ or to thrive against impossible odds)” (pg. xi)

This title is ever present throughout the poetic drama. It explores the mother-daughter relationship through not only narratives and lyrics, but also sonnets and haiku, elegies, and so many other forms. How can a daughter live up to her mother’s legacy — a mother who struggled to provide the best for her family and did little mothering? From “Le Wa. Ro,” “I became beautiful but bored, and now I find that my things do nothing to my shadows, they are merely sharpened and darkened and cast in high relief…” (pg. 12) Could she live in the shadow of the empire or would she break out on her own?

Augustin chronicles not only the mother’s building of her family and the business, but also the struggles of a daughter who feels abandoned by her traveling mother. “The Lost Letters, 1905-1908” are a testament to these struggles — “Forgive me if I sound hopeless,/It’s just so lonely in St. Louis.” (pg. 27)

Augustin’s poems go beyond the relationship of these two women, touching on the empowerment these women found in their own careers, building their own inner strength. Like in “Why Our Hair is not Straight,” Black women’s hair is not straight because they “curve while dancing” or because “we swirl with high hopes” or because “we bend in prayer.” These women needed to be flexible, to meet the obstacles and find a way around them. Although not always the best or ideal option, some choices left scars.

Augustin’s blackout poem, “Sculptures of Envy,” takes on advertisements for Walker’s hair care system to explore the envy felt by women everywhere when they see another with the appearance or the job they want and how appearance, and hair especially, is a must if women want the job. Black women are particularly held to a different standard. Each of the blackout poems in this section are very exploratory about appearance, envy, desire, and how Black women can take back their power through hair care.

Like the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin explores how oppression harms not only the oppressed by the oppressor. Her words in “Resilience: Making a Way Out of No Way” (a fictitious speech by Madam C.J. Walker), “For the oppressed, the damage is self-evident. For the oppressor, it gives rise to a violent and divided society where the unbridled pressures of injustice rise to a level of self-destruction. White supremacy is the moral ignorance that will destroy America if left unchecked.” (pg. 90)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce television projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace. Rojé continues to work as a television producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.

Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort

Source: Publisher

Hardcover, 112 pgs.

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Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort is a collection of poems that raises the dead in a new language of verse that recalls the past, including Antigone, and mingles it with more modern history in Belarus. This is a collection that hinges on history and the language of the past and present to create a new language and shared history. Mort’s verses recall the dead in the most beautifully grotesque ways. In “To Antigone, a Dispatch,” “My guts have been emptied/like bellows/for the best sound.//” In this poem, she imagines Antigone as her sister, a life in which death has become something that is an every day thing with bodies buried in hillsides and grave markers in abundance.

Mort’s poems call to the lost men whose “bodies” become “their graves” and the women whose dresses are torn from them and worn by Aryan women in “Singer” (pg. 41) The horrors are laid bare and the larger questions are left in the sound, waiting for answers that never come. “What could a tongue remember after loss and hunger?” (“Music Practice,” pg. 43-45)

Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort is lyricless song played on a breathless accordion, calling to the dead and those she wishes to resurrect/breathe life into again. She’s calling not only our attention to the sorrow and grief of her country, but to the loneliness we, ourselves, can cure through song and memory. Our memories may be imperfect and altered truth, but we can sing them and resurrect those we miss most. Mort cautions that in this process “borders spill.” (“Music for Girl’s Voice and Bison,” pg.81-92)

RATING: Quatrain

Poetry Reading Challenge 2021

In 2020, I read 21 books of poetry and listened to one collection on audio. Some were published last year, but some were languishing on my bookshelf for no good reason. All of these books were 4 and 5 stars.

I think last year’s challenge went well, so the options will remain the same:

  • One of the easiest, and possibly most difficult, will be getting people to sign up to read a poem-a-day through the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day service. The challenge is to read a poem-a-day for a week once per month and write about which poems were your favorite and why. You can write up a short blurb on your Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, or your blog. I’d love for you to share your experience in the comments each month.
  • Second, read at least 1 book of poetry (doesn’t have to be cover-to-cover) and write about your favorite poems and what you learned about yourself while reading those poems.
  • Third, if you want to go all out, feel free to read as many books of poetry as you can in one year and link to your reviews in the comments.

If you accept one of the options or the whole challenge, leave a comment with where you will be posting about your year in poetry.

If you want to leave your blog link, sign up in a post and leave your blog URL to your post below:

Don’t forget to grab the image!

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White

Source: the poet

Preordered book, 138 pgs.

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Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic memoir in which the poet explores the absence of her father in her life, how it has impacted who she has become, and how she can reconnect with her absent father in adulthood.

“When it came to the conjunction “and” I was illiterate. For it makes you larger, more. Expands into distances beyond my eyes.” (pg. 124)

White articulates deftly the nuanced feelings of a desire to belong and the sense that belonging requires the reconnection with an absent father. While she has others in her life who love and care for her, there are traumas that she faces while her father is absent. But reconnecting with a man ejected from the United States and back to Guyana and who fails to even write a letter or call her is a tall order.

“Am I a site of abandonment?” (pg. 97)

“Guyana is abandonment from my father. I feel the weight of the people in me and I in them, guilt I carry myself alone.” (pg. 108)

The poetic memoir begins at home in the United States, as Arisa grows up in a broken home, a home of harsh realities. These realities are not my own, but this collection creates a palpable reminiscence of sorrow, anger, confusion, absence, and more. Despite these trials and her struggles with connections, she is a strong woman — caring for herself, willing to reach out to someone who abandoned her, and seeking self-care and healing.

What she finds in this journey is a man incapable of giving her a sense of belonging — a man who rambles just to hear himself speak, to make him relevant to those who hear him.

“Breaks my heart along the same fault lines that ache for him.” (pg. 83)

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White is a journey into the poet’s past as she reconciles the abandonment of her father and her struggles with connecting to others. The poetic memoir is beautiful and the landscapes within it (emotional and physical) are tumultuous and heartbreaking. White is a deft storyteller, and readers will be emotionally spent by this poetic memoir.

RATING: Cinquain

Follow the rest of the blog tour with #WhosYourDaddyMemoir #ArisaWhite

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

About the Poet:

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young

Source: NetGalley

Ebook, 1170 pgs.

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African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young is a compendium like no other, exploring the wide breadth of African American poetry from songs to poems and much more. There are eight sections in this collection and there are the familiar, often anthologized poems we’ve come to know, but there are also the unfamiliar poets who have been obscured by American culture for far too long. The struggle is real and it continues 250 years later, and it will likely continue into the next several decades (I’m being optimistic — I would like to see less struggle sooner).

“For African Americans, the very act of composing poetry proves a form of protest,” says Kevin Young in the introduction. From Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Terry, whose untitled poem “Bars Fight” was first composed orally and shared for generations before being in print, to the present day poets, Young says the collection covers those who experienced bondage first hand, modernist movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Renaissance, wartime and postwar poets, Beat poets, political poets, poems about ancestry, and so much more. Young says the collection contains “poems we memorize, pass around, carry in our memory, and literally inscribe in stone.” Folk songs, ballads, and poems that have never been published. You can imagine the treasure trove within these pages.

Normally, I would share excerpts from this collection but I prefer that you discover these for yourself. I want you to journey into the African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young on your own without preconceived notions of what you’ll find there. There is so much more than Langston Hughes. This is a collection that should be brought to classrooms as young as elementary schools. These are the poems and truths that need to be taught so that we can learn from the past and move forward as a nation to a brighter future.

RATING: Quatrain

Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen

Source: the poet

Paperback, 88 pgs.

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Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen is a collection of poems that explore the spiraling, out-of-control nature our lives can sometimes take on and how to cope with that chaos and uncertainty. It’s a collection for the current times in that it provides us with a look at life amidst uncertainty, albeit unrelated to COVID-19. Through the art of words and the certainty of science, Hazen strikes into new frontiers with her poems, exploring divorce, motherhood, the turbulent nature of emotions. In “Chaos Theory,” Hazen establishes the unstable ground of these poems by grounding it into a personal moment of “rage [that] comes out of nowhere — the glass explodes/when it hits the wall, as physics says it must,//” (pg. 3)

Ghosts haunt in “Ghost Story” but are they just voices in the narrator’s head spilling her secrets? But the secrets won’t stop just because there are three or four fingers of warm liquid in the glass. Hazen calls us to face our own ghosts head on, not to dull the sharpness of their criticisms or their secrets. To understand the chaos, we must all start from the beginning. “…and no matter what you tell/yourself tonight, no matter what you tell//yourself in twenty years, you are still there,/” (pg. 10, from “Girls at the Bus Depot”)

Hazen’s poems are like an archeological dig, an excavation of the self. In “Extraction,” the narrator says, “…A body holds more mysteries/than the mouth can bring itself to speak./” It’s true that when we’re young and sometimes as we age, we don’t really know our true selves, unless we’ve taken that time to delve deep into who we are, what our desires may be, and what we’re passionate about. It is a journey we must take on our own, but also one that must be done. Without it, we can be lost and make many harmful and wrong decisions.

There are many losses along the way in our journeys, as we search for the truth of ourselves, but those losses are memories that can be recalled with the slightest scent or picture. “or a room holds the vibration of a voice,/a person’s scent, long after he has gone.” (pg. 43, “The Spectroscope”) While loss can be sad and make us feel empty, there are those losses that can bring joy at the happiness some moments held, like uncovering trilobites in the soil.

Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen warns us not to get too caught up in the loss and the memories — “My memory is a haunted house that will/not let me leave.” (pg. 44, “When I Was a Girl”) We must learn to break free from the chaos — sometimes self-created — to find the right path, the calm, and the joy we all seek. At the heart, we’re all working against nature and the passage of time, like the house in “Erosion.”

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Elizabeth Hazen is a poet, essayist, and teacher. A Maryland native, she came of age in a suburb of Washington, D.C. in the pre-internet, grunge-tinted 1990s, when women were riding the third wave of feminism and fighting the accompanying backlash. She began writing poems when she was in middle school, after a kind-hearted librarian handed her Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. She has been reading and writing poems ever since.

Hazen’s work explores issues of addiction, mental health, and sexual trauma, as well as the restorative power of love and forgiveness. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, American Literary Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, The Normal School, and other journals. Alan Squire Publishing released her first book, Chaos Theories, in 2016. Girls Like Us is her second collection. She lives in Baltimore with her family.

Whale Day by Billy Collins

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 144 pgs.
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Whale Day and Other Poems by Billy Collins often takes the most mundane situation and spirals it out into something that is by turns humorous and poignant. Aging is a theme throughout the collection, but it is not aging with grace, but with a sense of humor. Imagine your aging dog and walking them down the street, how the gait of the dog changes and how the dog stops to be picked up by the owner rather than continue under its own power. This is exactly the situation in “Walking My Seventy-Five-Year-Old Dog.” Collins takes this situation and reminds us that it isn’t polite to ask a lady her age (a bit tongue in cheek), reminding us that to age is a normal course of life that we need to observe but not dwell on.

Other humorous poems that made me laugh (at a time when a pandemic has made us all stressed and sad) include “Down on the Farm” with its fainting goats, “Imperial Garden” in which a Chinese cookie fortune says less about the recipient than the giver, “Mice” where the observer views the burning down of a house as a new adventure for his small friends, “The Card Players” in which he compares his current game to a Cezanne painting and realizes his game may not be as artful, among so many others.

One of the most selfish statements, “Me First,” is turned on its ear in this collection and becomes a moment of love, while still being a little bit selfish but understandable given the attachment of the narrator to the object of his affections. Like “Anniversary,” there is a selfishness in wanting the “love” to remain alive for as long as possible, even if that life is lived by a baby born on the person’s day of death. The final section of the collection is a homage to devotion and love, even as things begin to fade away like the “tear-off calendars,/the days disappearing one page at a time.//” (from “My Father’s Office, John Street, New York City, 1953”, pg. 103-107)

Collins’ latest collection is one to keep on the shelf for always. His conversational style is dominant here, and his poems will leave readers with joy and hope, but also more things to think about. Whale Day and Other Poems by Billy Collins is another splendid collection of more than just ordinary moments in time and it explores the effects of aging and how we can handle them if we choose to be less serious.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Billy Collins, is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. In 2016, Collins retired from his position as a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York after teaching there almost 50 years.

Afterland by Mai Der Vang

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Afterland by Mai Der Vang, whom I was lucky enough to hear read at a virtual event for Pedestal Magazine, explores the after effects of the Secret War in Laos, during which the Hmong people became a surrogate army of the CIA. The war and its effort to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail caused the significant displacement of numerous villagers over a nine year period. Der Vang opens her collection with “Another Heaven,” which sets the stage for her song of the Hmong people: “When funeral recites/The supper gardens of my forefathers,/Cross-stitch from my mother kin,// Then I will come to you/” Der Vang is stepping into the shoes of the Hmong, trying to make sense of a secret war and its consequences.

This initial poem sets the tone for the entire collection, an ethereal, out-of-body reminiscence of a people displaced from their homeland and they must learn to rebuild and grow again. “It’s when the banyan must leave/Relearn to cathedral its roots//” (“Dear Exile, pg. 22) Der Vang’s vision of the world will have readers imaging a world through new eyes. How do you regrow your roots in a new land? Readers will step inside the imagined journey and emotional roller coaster of being displaced. What is this “afterland” — is it a return to the old ways in a new country, the return to an old country, or the adoption of a new country and new ways?

One of my favorites in the collection is “Cipher Song”:

It's come to this. We hide the stories
on our sleeves, patchwork of cotton veins.

Scribe them on carriers for sleeping
babies, weave our ballads to the sash.

Forge paper from our aprons, and our
bodies will be books. Learn the language

of jackets: the way a pleat commands
a line, the way collars unfold as page,

sign our names in thread. The footprint
of an elephant. Snail's shell. Ram's horn.

When the words burn, all that's left is ash.

The poem reminds me of the family stories that are sometimes hidden because relatives aren’t asked or they are unwilling to share them, especially if they are painful. I recalled a time when my grandfather told us tales of the “old country” when he was willing to speak about WWII, but peppering him with questions would shut his mouth and the stories would stop. Der Vang is an archeologist bringing the Hmong back into the light, breathing life into their stories, like the “Phantom Talker” “with creosote mouth//hiding behind/your silent head/in the vermilion portrait.//”

Afterland by Mai Der Vang is full of haunted lines and ghosts, and her poems are beautiful like “a cello slinks/From every strand.//Vineyards ribbon/Inside the intimate air.” (To the Longhorn Hmong, pg. 59) Der Vang circles back to her own ancestral history in the penultimate, title poem. Readers get the sense they are coming full circle.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Mai Der Vang is an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. Her poetry has appeared in the New Republic, Poetry, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and her essays have been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. Her debut collection, Afterland, received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She lives in California.

My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping is a collection of immigrant stories and songs of hardship and perseverance in a country that welcomes immigrants so long as they can be used and serve a purpose. Ping’s tales in some cases are like odes to immigrants who lost their lives pursuing their dreams or who were forced to give them up and return to their home countries. Her poems express a range of emotions that immigrants feel from anger and disappointment to shame and sometimes hope. There also are ghosts haunting these pages.

“All we want is a life like others/…Now the tide is rising to our necks/” (from “Cockle Pickers: Xu Yuhua, Liu Qinying)

In “How to Cross the Line,” Ping’s depiction of a border crossing runs readers through a litany of emotions. The patting of pockets as the immigrant approaches customs, the absence of luggage, and the deliberate choice to forgo identification — signaling that their past and their name are no longer theirs. The cry for asylum — a cry of many facing gangs, violence, poverty — is an echo throughout the collection. It is a cry for not only shelter from outside forces and fear, but also a cry for a chance to help themselves achieve their own dreams.

From Calling Ghosts from the Golden Venture (pg. 38-43)

and here we are
hovering around this New Jersey cemetery
our bodies gone
but our souls still hanging
like curtains soaked in rain
our summer clothes so thin!
so thin our dream!

How beautiful and harrowing language can be. These ghosts from a cargo ship bringing labor to America from China, who hang around waiting for their dream to be realized — a dream that died with them. The thinness of the dream — slipped from their grasp. It’s devastating. Ping provides some background stories for these poems, but even without them, these immigrant stories live and breathe. In “The Names You Call Me,” Ping calls out the hypocrisy of the names that immigrants are called, especially by those who actually embody those names. Throughout this poem, she refutes these names and descriptions and she rages against them in the only way she knows — through poetry. “I’m your parents on the road … your children in cages … named or nameless …I’m Truth that defies your lies … I’m Conscience that jolts you awake in a cold sweat … I’m Poetry that sails hope across the sea and desert.” (pg. 68) And from “Immigrant can’t write poetry,” “poetry, born as beast/move best when free, undressed//” (pg. 73)

My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping haunts, sings, rages, and breathes. It is more than a collection of immigrant stories and struggles, it is a homage to their lives and it is a commentary on the nation that claims to be the land of the free and the place where dreams can come true for all who enter and live here.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and grew up in the East China Sea. Loves the body of water, its sound and smell, loves the touch of the muddy beach and golden sand.

The Migrant States by Indran Amirthanayagam

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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The Migrant States by Indran Amirthanayagam is part homage to Walt Whitman and homage to the globetrotter seeking a home in any state or country they land in. Whitman was often fond of wandering by foot, and like many other globetrotters or travelers of today who use planes and other means of travel, the happenstance of meeting others on the road was a call to which they heed. Born in Ceylon, a country Amirthanayagam says no longer exists (it is now Sri Lanka), it is clear that Whitman’s journeys spoke to him and helped him hear the muse for these Migrant states. The reader travels with the poet to Texas, Florida, Lima, and many more states, like Whitman in “Starting from Paumanok.”

In the opening poem, “Mind Breathing,” Amirthanayagam says, “I bear witness to these losses//here as my own attempts to speak, in breaths,/shall infuse a poem able still to coagulate, distill,/strain a few thousand disparate disappearances into verse.//” The reader knows that the poet plans to take us on a journey not only to different geographies but to different states of mind/emotion to ensure that these disappearing migrant states live on and breath. Whitman is always with us on the journey, as he’s recalled by the poet and spoken to about the way things have deteriorated environmentally (plastics in the rivers) in “Ode to and from Whitman.”

Through Amirthanayagam’s journey from punk rocker where he built nothing with a band that only wanted to cover other people’s songs to a “holy” man creating a world of poetry in “When I Left Punk and Took Holy Orders,” readers see that like us, he bucked the system, fought against an establishment. Poetry has a rebellious quality to it even as it is quiet and observing. Many of these poems are quietly rebellious in nature, with just one look at “Written in Advance” (my favorite poem in the collection) recalling the vans that take innocents away for expressing themselves and leaving a poem with editors across the land to tell the true tale.

The Migrant States by Indran Amirthanayagam is a journey into a community that is not housed in one place — it spans the whole of the human race. The poet understands that to commune with others, one must be part of the world, observe, and express the truths that are hardest to hear. To change the world, we must be in it. Engage with it. Mingle with others. Learn together and grow before time is up.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Poet, essayist, and translator Indran Amirthanayagam was born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He was raised in Sri Lanka, London, and Honolulu. Amirthanayagam has authored numerous poetry collections, including The Elephants of Reckoning (1993), Ceylon, R.I.P. (2001), The Splintered Face (2008), Uncivil War (2013), and Coconuts On Mars (2019). He writes, translates, and publishes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.

Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, which was on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a map in the darkness like the map the mother reads in “Death Valley” because it outlines the roads women often travel and the bumps along the way that often scar us when the men and others in our lives think they are mere blips on the road of life. Repeated “Devices” often weigh heavily on our psyche — she’s a fox, he’s a dog, she’s a bitch. Hazen says in the opening poem, “We’ve been called so many things we are no,/we startle at the sound of our own names.//” (pg. 3) While our personal experiences may not be the same as those in every poem, the universal nature of being treated as “other” and “not good enough” and “a thing” will resonate with many women and men, minorities, and the disabled. Society has a strange fetish for calling out “other” when they fail to empathize or understand someone who is not neatly defined as “normal” or “one of us.”

There are so many ups and downs to life, most of us are blind to them when we’re young. In “After the Argument,” the narrator asks, “When did this space/around me deepen//into trenches?”(pg. 6) When we finally recognize the extent to which our circumstances have changed, it often leaves us baffled — what choices led us there? when did it become the point of no return? where do we go from that dark moment? how do we pick up again? Hazen’s existential questions are found in each image created and are universal. For this reason, Hazen’s poems will speak volumes to those who listen.

She tackles the big questions of where do we go from the bottom? How do we reconcile all the selves within us when society expects certain things of a gender? How do we move forward and why? Her poems do not hold all of the answers readers may need, but they will offer one look at how to struggle to the surface and move past the self-hate and the society expectations of us without destroying all that we are. “By the time I reach the h, the E/has disappeared//” says the narrator in “Death Valley.” We cannot linger too long in the past. It is carried with us, but it should not define who we become. Let that first letter written in the fog on the window vanish as you move forward, Girls Like Us have nothing to lose by doing so and everything to gain.

RATING: Cinquain