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The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Source: the poet
Paperback, 82 pgs
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The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey, which will be on tour with Poetic Book Tours this month, is a collection that blends invention with a cautionary tale.  Imaginary friends and close connections we make as children often help fill in the holes we have because of our own family dynamics, and the robot scientist and his daughter are no different.  While the scientist experiments for the pure joy of discovery, the consequences of his actions often take a backseat even if those consequences are widely devastating.  In the author’s note, Gailey says, “One reason I wrote this book was to raise awareness that nuclear research is never harmless; that the half-life of the pollution from nuclear sites is longer than most human lifespans; that there is, from reading my father’s research as well as my college classes, no truly safe way to store nuclear waste.” (pg. 6)

These poems will definitely make you think deeper about nuclear research and the effects of not only disposing of waste, but also the impact of atomic bombs and nuclear meltdowns.  Some of Gailey’s signature references to comic book characters and myths are present in these poems if you know where to look, like Dr. Manhattan who found himself transformed by an accident in a lab — an accident that resembles one caused by physicist Louis Slotin — and his modified outlook on humanity, which resembles the attacks of conscience felt by Oppenheimer.  While there are references to the Manhattan nuclear project, the bulk of the collection focuses on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

America Dreams of Roswell

The forbidding sugar of hot desert sand
and hallucinations of mushroom clouds

linger in a city where you can still get pie
with a fried egg on top, where you might catch

a glimpse of UFO dazzle, even the lampposts bloom
into alien heads, where barbed wire might keep out enemies

of the American dream, where the tiny famous lizard’s legs
cling to sad, solid rock.  On the Trinity site, that sand

turned to green glass.  The scientists were unsure
about igniting the whole earth’s atmosphere, nevertheless

the violet light demanded goggles; the shadows
of ranch houses burned into the ground.

Like most young girls, our narrator tries to fit in, which is hard in a secretive community where the government has sought waivers from its workers and those living and working in the community cannot speak to anyone about the research being done. Even children get a sense of being cloistered, being penned in.  While some poems are about the past and the nuclear research at the Tennessee labs, some poems take a more recent approach in examining the fallout from the Fukushima disaster, the direct result of a earthquake-generated tsunami.  From butterflies born without eyes to the beautiful disaster that is the art of an explosion, the poet calls into question human curiosity and the vanity that sometimes comes with that, in which the scientist believes only good will result from research and experiments, despite historical evidence to the contrary.

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey has a gift of putting the bigger questions into a more manageable world within her poems.  From “They Do Not Need Rescue,” “No one needs rescue here in America’s Secret City./…/Not the children/dying of leukemia quietly in hospitals funded/by government grants, uncounted because/their numbers might seem damning.//”  We want to bury our sins and hide from the truth, but it cannot be secreted away, no matter how hard we try.

About the Poet:

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, WA and the author of Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers, available spring of 2013. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches part-time at National University.

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust

Source: Press 53
Paperback, 114 pgs
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Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust, selected as the 2015 winner of the Press 53 Award for Poetry, is a collection of contemporary sonnets in which a pilgrim tackles the challenges of the modern world, including debt, divorce, addiction, and more.  Sonnets are one of the more challenging forms of poetry because of their rhythms and rhyme schemes, but Foust is never shy in her word choice nor the selection of each poem’s topic.  Her pilgrim is like Dante in the Divine Comedy, who searches for truth, beauty, and love, but unlike him, those concepts can manifest in very different ways.  In Foust’s modern version, the Pilgrim comes from a place of instability in which her father “smelled like failure because/he could not pay the bills.” (“The Prime Mover,” pg. 15)

From the seven deadly sins overheard at a party to party etiquette, the shallowness of Pilgrim’s cloud is seen through judgmental eyes, even as the Pilgrim seeks solace in the bathroom with the newspaper.  She buries her head in the sand to avoid the realities of the world around her — the lack of depth and mindfulness — and she’s paralyzed with fear and inaction.  The juxtaposition between her upbringing with the new life of high-end parties, among the elite with their own yachts and mansions, is stark.

From “Wrath, Talking about ‘The Change'” (page 10)

‘Menopause is a bitch and, trust me, not
one in heat. Black cohosh and primrose,
soy, and those compounded creams
you rub on your belly. Yuck, and none of it
works–I still hot-flash like a neon sign
in a full grand mal fir, I still rail

From “Indentured” (page 14)

Pilgrim’s own teeth, like her parents’, are soft
as chalk and will not bleach quite white.
She recalls how her father used to swoop
into the room, vanting to suck her blood,
his bridge boiling Polident blue in a cup

The search for more begins as a slow burn as Pilgrim recognizes the folly of the high-end Fifth Avenue “subway coat” and the use of the Escalade to drive the kids to sports.  There is the danger that she will fall in love with that life and all that it offers, even if it is shallow and unfulfilling.  With references to Hamlet and other classics, Foust has created a ripe mixture of classic and contemporary poetry within a classic form, which readers can and will spend hours ruminating over.  The urgent need to undergo a pilgrimage is tempered by Pilgrim’s awareness that the journey will take an emotional, spiritual, and moral toll.  In spite of those challenges, she sets off.

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust is a masterful work about the search for meaning in meaninglessness and the search for fulfillment in a world abound with distractions and shallowness.  Foust is a rare talent and her sonnets are masterful, but modern and fresh.

About the Poet:

Rebecca Foust‘s book Dark Card, won the 2007 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook and was released by Texas Review Press in June 2008, and a full length manuscript was a finalist in Poetrys 2007 Emily Dickinson First Book Award. Her recent poetry won two 2007 Pushcart nominations and appears or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Margie, North American Review, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others.  She also is the new Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change, which will feature a different woman poet (over the age of 40) each week in its “Poetry Sunday” column.

Check out this interview with Rebecca in SFWeekly.  Here’s another review.  For your viewing enjoyment, Foust reads “the fire is falling.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doll God by Luanne Castle

Source: Poet Luanne Castle and Poetic Book Tours (my online tour company)
Paperback, 82 pages
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Doll God by Luanne Castle reflects on the passage of time and the impressions we leave behind.  Imagine the dolls you or your sisters or friends had as children and how much they were loved and cared for … imagine the stories that were created for them and the lives they shared.  Now, imagine what has become of those dolls, where are those talismans of hope and joy?  Are they buried in an attic or a closet, were they left behind in a field to become so much detritus?  Is that all they are?

from “Debris” (page 57)

And now, I can’t get the image
out of my mind:
dried paint chipping,
the spread of mold pockmarks,
velour paper edges fraying, canvas rips, a gradual
flaking into sand, then dust sifting down
to be layered over by debris
of another generation
always the shifting sand
like a dust storm

Castle asks these questions and more in her collection, seeking answers to how our pasts are shaping us even now and how those pasts have faded with the passage of time.  From large toddler dolls to doll gods, Castle evokes an adult sensibility within a child-like wonder, and the anxiety that raises up in the verse is tangible, just as the fear of time passing too quickly can hit us when we least expect it.  She causes us to reflect on our triumphs, our past joys and innocence, as well as to let it go into the ether to be rewritten by future generations.

This emotional collection will take a toll on its readers, but the journey will leave them changed in terms of perspective and renewed in that they will want to live more fully and enjoy each moment in the moment.  Reading these poems once will reflect one meaning, but upon subsequent readings, the poems leave readers to ruminate on their own lives.  Doll God by Luanne Castle is multi-layered, with bright spots in the darkness of loss.  Castle has a wide range and more great things are sure to come from this poet.

About the Poet:

Luanne Castle 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; Western Michigan University; and Stanford University. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Barnstorm Journal, Grist, The Antigonish Review, Ducts, TAB, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, Wisconsin Review, The MacGuffin, and other journals. She contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.  Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Crow-Work by Eric Pankey

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 71 pgs
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Crow-Work by Eric Pankey is a collection that pushes the boundaries, rooting itself in the now to seek out the past and more.  The past is so far back and unreachable, yet many of us stretch ourselves as far as we can to reach the past only to fail.  Returning again and again to the birds and the fox, Pankey weaves verse anchored in nature so that it can reach out for artistic beauty and something more ethereal.  Like the crow cleaning up after death and failures, Pankey is searching through the detritus looking for the something of beauty or hope.  There is a shadow hovering in this collection, weighing down the narration — a sense of depression that lingers.  In “Crow-Work,” the crows are “scavenging” what they can efficiently after thousands of innocents have been slaughtered by a comet.

Pankey examines the fault of memory and its inability to maintain the true nature of the past, but there is always that longing for something that has been gone.  “If he’s my brother he’s a faded forgery,/Fleshed out in dust motes, an embodied loss,” the narrator explains in “My Brother’s Ghost.” And in “Depth of Field,” “Once, to my footfall/On an icy wooden bridge/Carp surfaced, expecting to be fed,/Hovered a moment,/Then descended into the murk.//”  The narrator is looking for that thing of beauty to anchor himself in the moment so that he too does not descend into the murk.

The Other Side of the Argument (page 43)

But she prefers the morning glory,
How slowly its bloom unfurls,
How its curl of vine
Catches the flaw in masonry
First, then the crosshatch
Of kite string we hung
From the porch
As a makeshift trellis,
How it needs only a foothold
To fill half the day with blue.

However, these poems are not all darkness, as a young boy sits on the edge counting the seconds as he turns the pages of a book he does not want to end in “Beneath Venus.” The narrator of these poems also reminds the reader that s/he is not the one that alters the space or brings change, but that the space changes them, especially as readers interaction with the poems themselves. There is a continuous, inner struggle in Crow-Work by Eric Pankey, but it is a struggle with which we all can relate. Another contender for the Best of 2015 list.

About the Poet:

Eric Pankey is the author of nine collections of poetry. TRACE, published by Milkweed Editions this year is the most recent. Two new collections, DISMANTLING THE ANGEL, and CROW-WORK are forthcoming. He is the Heritage Chair in Writing at George Mason University.

WET by Toni Stern

Source: Wiley D. Saichek Publicity
Paperback, 76 pgs
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WET by Toni Stern begins with poems close to home and the latter half of the collection is about the wider world as the narrator explores contemporary life.  Some of these poems display humor, like in “Greetings Issa!” where the narrator speaks to a spider and assuages her fears that she could be squashed with a broom.  In “Turn Off,” the narrator laments the deaths of insects she watches flying into the lamp even as she continually attempts to get engrossed in a book that is clearly not grabbing her attention.  Other poems read like lyrics from songs, which makes sense given her history as a songwriter with Carole King.

From "Natural Resources" (page 58)

In this winter of 2013-14
California's stricken,
a drought-ridden
Eden.

Edible California,
I am your homegrown daughter,
I fill my mouth with water,

bittersweet.

Stern’s verse is vivid on the page and lyrical, particularly in “Jamming” — a poem that could remind readers of The Beatles more whimsical songs like “I am the Walrus.”

From "Jamming" (page 38)

Ragged euphorbias
tall as a man,
weather this tight-fisted,
iron-poor land.
Pink floribundas
jockey for space,
poise and predation
adorn every face.

Stern is open and honest in her poems, and had fun with her verse and rhymes. Each poem brings a freshness to its subject. “True Love” was one of my favorites because it demonstrates in so few words what true love ought to be.  WET by Toni Stern is delightful, fun, and energized.

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Toni Stern enjoyed a highly productive collaboration with singer/songwriter Carole King. Toni 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. Listed among Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” the top-selling album of its day, Tapestry has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, received numerous industry awards, and, in 2012, was honored with inclusion in the National Recording Registry to be preserved by the Library of Congress. Rolling Stone named “It’s Too Late”—Tapestry’s biggest hit—as one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In 2013, King performed the song at the White House. “It’s Too Late” also features in the hit Broadway show and soundtrack album Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Stern’s music has been recorded by many artists, including Gloria Estefan, Barbra Streisand, Faith Hill, Amy Grant, Andy Williams, the Carpenters, the Isley Brothers, the Stylistics, Helen Reddy, Dishwalla, Drag On, and many others. She has published several illustrated books and has also enjoyed success as a painter, studying with Knox Martin at the Arts Students League in New York. Wet is her first volume of poetry. She lives with her family in Santa Ynez, California. Photo credit: George Scott

 

 

 

 

 

Silent Flowers edited by Dorothy Price, illustrated by Nanae Ito

Source: Library sale
Hardcover, about 40 pgs
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Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems edited by Dorothy Price, illustrated by Nanae Ito, is gorgeously illustrated and focuses on a lot of traditional haiku poets and their poems, which focus on the seasons, nature, and humans in nature.  There are about three haiku per page, English translations only from the likes of Basho, Buson, and Issa.

“Sacred music at night;
Into the bonfires
Flutter the tinted leaves.” — Issa

I was reminded reading the introduction to this book of Suey’s comment about defining poetry or what a proper definition would be.  Price mentions in the introduction that Wordsworth, another poet, defined poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility.”  I’m not sure that helps much.  What I’ve loved about haiku is its ability to recognize something unexpected in nature and describe it in a way that illustrates something of the spiritual. I’ve written some horrible haiku but I still love the form and I think its one of the easiest to learn and teach, even if the poems are no where near as good as the old masters.

“The moon in the water;
Broken and broken again,
Still it is there.” — Choshu

A haiku by Basho about a butterfly is accompanied by a wonderful depiction of the butterfly among the orchids, and it is seamlessly incorporated with the poem on the page.   Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems edited by Dorothy Price, illustrated by Nanae Ito, won me over with not only its beautiful imagery in verse, but also its gorgeous, black and white illustrations.

Joy Street by Laura Foley

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 46 pgs
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Joy Street by Laura Foley is a slim collection of poems that sometimes use a blunt edge to carve out the truth, while others use needle-like precision to get at the harsh realities of life.  However, despite these sometimes sad topics, there is a light, a sense of hope in many of them that things can be better.  In “Near Miss,” she evokes the stabbing pain of heartache that accompanies the loss of family or a spouse in a way that equates it to death even as it passes her by.  There is a sense that the narrator would rather she be the one to die than her loved one, but at the same time is relieved that she is not dying.

Drift (pg. 26)

I eye-roll Aunt Lizzie, who can’t see me over the phone, tell her I’m
dating a woman now, but at ninety she’s adrift in uncharted seas, till I
say we may marry—and she crests the wave, her kind old voice
soothing: Oh, but Laura, you’re still attractive to men, grasping the rudder
with practices hands.

In “Hindsight,” she looks at the photo of her emaciated father after his internment by the Japanese as a POW after WWII and identifies how different he looked, but her partner is quick to point to their similarities — the eyes of a survivor.  The narrator’s relationship with her father is clearly not as close as she would prefer, but there are ways to connect with a distant father and seek out the things that connect them.

Many of these poems are about making connections, either to family or lovers and potential lovers.  “Voyeur” is a testament to desire and the human need for connection with those we love, even from a distance.  But beyond these intimate connections, there is a connection that we feel with the earth and growth.  In addition to these connections, we all want to be remembered, like in “On Sense.”

Joy Street by Laura Foley is about the joy we can find in interaction and by living. Despite the challenges we face — a relative who doesn’t understand our lifestyles and choices — we can find enjoyment and amusement in these interactions and rise above the darkness of hatred and oppression.  We need to search for the light in any darkness, because that is what makes living worth it in the end.

***Enter to win a copy of Laura Foley’s collection by leaving a comment by Jan. 14, 2015, at 11:59 PM EST. Must be U.S./Canadian resident***

About the Poet:

Laura Foley is the author of four poetry collections. The Glass Tree won the Foreword Book of the Year Award, Silver, and was a Finalist for the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Outstanding Book of Poetry. Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines including Valparaiso Poetry Review, Inquiring Mind, Pulse Magazine, Poetry Nook, Lavender Review, and in the anthology, In the Arms of Words: Poems for Disaster Relief. She won Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Award and the Grand Prize for theAtlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest. She lives on a woody hill in South Pomfret, Vermont with her partner Clara Gimenez and their three dogs. Please visit her website for book information or more poems.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry in 2015

2015Poetry

Welcome to the 2015 Poetry Reading Challenge!

No need to sign up or set a goal, other than to read at least 1 book of poetry or 20 poems this year (these can be by different poets if you choose).

If you share a review or a post about poetry on your blog this year, link it up below!

Here’s to another great year in poetry!