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Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Kim Addonizio

Source: GBF
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Kim Addonizio is a collection that you can hold close in your shelter-in-place during the pandemic and know that anything that happens behind closed doors is just kalsarikdnnit, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shut the world out and ignore our problems. Opening with “Night in the Castle,” the narrator has already given up on mercy long ago. The poet infuses this poem with injustice, privilege, and anger, recalling the clashing armies of history and the bleakness of regicide.

The poet is calling our attention to the darkness of humanity, from our clashes among ourselves and the destruction that results to the changing climate we’ve had a hand in expediting. “The earth is about used up/like a sodden tampon & no place to throw it away/” (pg. 14) and “Even the ocean is gasping for air/” (pg. 15), but these are things we already know, yet we are too complacent, too privileged to see that action is required. However, many of us feel as the narrator does in “In bed” that it is all to enormous to tackle head on or deal with daily, we’d rather just put our heads under the covers and ignore it all. We want a hibernation from the ugliness of the world.

But don’t assume that the collection is all doom and gloom, though the humor is a bit dark. My father would definitely appreciate her humor in Résumé:

Résumé 

Families shame you;
Rehab's a scam;
Lovers drain you
And don't give a damn.
Friends are distracted;
Aging stinks;
You'll soon be subtracted;
You might as well drink.

As a writer, I absolutely appreciated the third section of this collection – “Confessional Poetry” — in which writing is compared to “firing a nail gun into the center of a vanity mirror” (pg. 41) or “like sewing rhinestones on your traumas” and “wearing them” at a “pain festival” (pg. 42)

I really like feeling something when I stagger into a poem
& having a place to lie down & cry

Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Kim Addonizio is as much of an introspective emotional and existential journey as it is a confession that we are no where near perfect human beings. We all have a lot of work to do emotionally, spiritually, and philosophically, but as we struggle with these internal paradigms, we’re also watching the world suffer around us and degrade. How do we break through the malaise and paralysis to make progress with ourselves and the world? Perhaps by being less serious about everything, allowing ourselves to fall apart, and taking action that makes actual progress as opposed to the actions that people deem as “making progress.”

RATING: Cinquain

Check out her panel discussion with Sandra Beasley, Katherine E. Young, and moderator Reuben Jackson at the 2021 Gaithersburg Book Festival:

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hrs.
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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, read by the author, is a phenomenal listen. I want to read the book as well in print. Kendi has the perfect voice for this book, and it makes the personal stories far more relateable. Much of this resonated with me because I grew up in the 1990s and I saw many of these phenomena that Kendi talks about. The idea that “color” is no longer seen is obviously ridiculous, but the sentiment is even more trying when systemic processes and socialization force us to “see” color as thug or criminal or worthy of the benefit of the doubt or forgiveness, etc.

“The hate that hate produced. … More hatred makes them more powerful,” Kendi says. He himself is a victim of this, enabling the racist policies and power to continue and gain strength. Hating white people becomes hating black people and vice versa, he adds. His arguments can be convoluted and circular in his narration, which is another reason, I’d like to read the text because I tend to absorb these kinds of concepts better in print than audio. I was particularly fascinated by his conclusion that white supremacy is actually a nuclear ideology that is anti-human because many of the policies it opposes actually would have helped their poor white brethren, so the question is which white people are supreme? Those with more money, at least so it seems from the examples provided by Kendi.

Kendi also reminds us that we often look for theories and evidence that validates our points of view or biases. None of us are immune to it, but we can be watchful for data that caters to those biases and learn how to see through the fog. The story of Kendi in college coming to a conclusion that white people are aliens and that’s why they hate blacks is an illustrate of this point. What we need to understand is that racism is the lumping of one group of people into a group to be looked down upon or turned into the “enemy” or “evil” other. We all have the power to protest racist policies, no matter where in the power structure we are.

The only drawback for me was that Kendi tends to get sidetracked and the narrative becomes convoluted, which muddles the message in some ways. His narrative also is far from linear. I do like how he personalized his examples to demonstrate that all people are capable of racism. This is a message we all need to hear and understand, so that we can be prepared to move away from racism as the human race.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi reminds us not to fall under the mind control of white supremacy that we have no power — if they control your thinking, they control you. These are wise words. Now, if you are looking for a practical guide on how to accomplish real change in policy and processes, this is not the book for you. What you need is to take the lessons in this book about identifying racism and resisting those policies, affecting change, and standing up to the oppression of yourself and others.

RATING: Quatrain

Little Wars by W. Luther Jett

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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Little Wars by W. Luther Jett (full disclosure: we are in a poetry work-shopping group together) begins with “Recessional” a poem-like hymn in which a poet realizes that he works on a poem in night as many men before him have done and that they are all connected to one another in infinite time and space and that all of these poets are these poems. This poem sets up the rest of the collection’s theme of universality and how the little wars we wage with ourselves and others have come before and likely will continue, but for the hope that we can change and be more peaceful. The slivers of light, the blue of the sky, all of these images provide us the glimpse of hope on a distant horizon.

From "Storm Bear" (pg. 14)

...With great claws,
it scattered sand, wiped away the line
we'd drawn between desire
and circumstance. Roaring,
the storm fell upon us, ... 

Wars can begin just like that; a tipping point of rage that wipes it all away, moving into the unchecked desire (for more power, for revenge, etc.). The trembling of these battles whether in the past or far from us still can be heard, if we listen close, like the narrator of “Poppies” — the reverberations remain — the consequences spiral out and are an influence on today, this moment. “We didn’t know there are no/little wars–no distance/we cannot reduce to nothing.//” (“Vanishing Point/Ach Du” pg. 17)

And “A War Story” explains just how we, ourselves, can be reduced to nothing by war — the war itself may seem large and incomprehensible, but the impact is very real, very personal. “Epitaph,” which follows it, is equally devastating in its truth about praising the dead as heroes when they would more than likely prefer to be alive and left unpraised for doing simple things you’d do normally without war at your doorstep.

Little Wars by W. Luther Jett reminds us of all the costs of war and that “we choose” to make them. What would happen if we chose another path? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

RATING: Cinquain

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Advanced Lift-the-Flap: How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 16 pgs.
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How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins from Usborne is full of information in easily digestible chunks for young kids. From the organs to growth and eating, this book covers a lot. Some of the book covers nutrition and the importance of exercise, but there is a lot about immunity, germs (good and bad), and about different levels of maturing the body goes through.

My daughter could read most of this on her own as an elementary school student, which is great because it provides her with interesting facts, real microscopic images of the tongue and other things, and engaged her. She was eager to lift the flaps to learn more, and she was excited to share what she learned with the rest of the family.

The book is visually engaging with full-color images of the body and germs and other things. How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins is a book that children can read over and over. It’s definitely a fun way to introduce important topics like eating healthy and exercising as well as puberty to young kids. My daughter enjoys science, and this book really held her attention, even when she knew some of the facts already from school.

RATING: Cinquain

Alone! by Barry Falls

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Alone! by Barry Falls is a colorful picture book that focuses on how to adapt to change, make friends, and find balance. Billy McGill lives on a hill and he lives there alone, at least until a mouse decides to enter his life. He’s distraught with all the skittering and heads into town for a solution — a cat. The only problem is that the cat and the mouse run about the house, and it forces him once again to head into town for a dog. You can see where this little story is headed by the animals on the cover.

Billy is used to being alone and having his quiet time, but as we all know, life often throws us curve balls and we have to figure out how to deal with change. Billy doesn’t do well with change at first, and gets so upset he yells, even as he turns to a vet and a hairdresser for help with these animals tearing apart his house. Falls does a really spectacular job of creating a rhyming story that doesn’t sound trite or forced, and it will definitely engage younger readers immediately.

Older readers will find Billy a bit mean at first, but as the story progresses they see him change and become more accepting and able to navigate the new things in his life, while still maintaining that peace and quiet he loves about living on the hill. Alone! by Barry Falls would be a fantastic addition to any school library or child’s home library.

RATING: Cinquain

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May is the fourth book in the series, but readers could start with any book in the series because they are self-contained episodes and include enough background for kids if they start in the middle. Baron von Bubbles, aka Bub, is still a big fashionista, but in this one his owner, Bella, has a new focus — creating a pet talent show.

Bub learns some new show biz words and learns how sometimes assumptions about others are not accurate. My daughter loves this series, especially that Bub is afraid of water and Nutz the squirrel is always causing trouble. Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May is a cute story about a talent show and a pug that learns to work with other pets who may not be his favorites.

RATING: Quatrain

Thresholds and Other Poems by Matt Hohner

Source: the poet
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Threshold: the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested.

Thresholds and Other Poems by Matt Hohner explores that threshold in depth, the line that must be crossed in order for the poems to transform or manifest into their fullest selves. The collection itself opens with a dream where “predators/creep into our life like doubt,” but rather than the doubt become a burden it is manifested into something wild that must be guarded against, even when it calls from the darkness. It is one of the poems in this collection I immediately saw myself inside. Hohner captures that “doubt” so well — it is carnivorous and it is sneaky.

The darkness of our modern world is at every threshold, even more present in “Kevin,” in which two brothers have turned the corner as shots ring out and kill another neighborhood boy. There are other poems in which the narrator tells us what we already know, like in “Gulf War Veteran,” that the darkness has won many battles around us and there is no coming back.

Hohner pulls no punches in his poems; we are not allowed to turn away from the horror of 9/11 where Americans are “pelting the concrete like hail” in “Terror in the Dust” or in “Dundalk” where children come to school high on their parents pills. But even in these dark times, his verse bends toward nature’s calming hand, with “the first yellow leaves of autumn” signifying a softer fall for those 9/11 Americans or the children’s veins still pumping and “singing in joy at dawn for the promise of another day.”

Each poem is unrelenting in its exploration of the threshold — how much can we take before breaking, how much can we take before we learn to let go and forgive, how much can we take? The answer is often far more than we believe we can. It would seem why the darkness continues to push us, pressure us, test us. Thresholds and Other Poems by Matt Hohner reach “across time and space” just as the narrator does in “As I Think of You in Italy,” teaching us that thresholds must be crossed to get to the place we long to be and we can do that with an openness to love, grace, and forgiveness.

Rating: Quatrain

Photo credit: Shannon Kline

About the Poet:

Matt Hohner, a Baltimore native, has been a finalist for the Moth International Poetry Prize and taken both third and first prizes in the Maryland Writers Association Poetry Prize. He won the 2016 Oberon Poetry Prize, the 2018 Sport Literate Anything but Baseball Poetry Prize, and most recently the 2019 Doolin Writers’ Weekend Poetry Prize in Ireland. Hohner’s work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies. An editor for Loch Raven Review, Hohner’s book Thresholds and Other Poems, his first full-length book, was published by Apprentice House Press in Fall 2018. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Hohner has held a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, made possible by a grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. Hohner was recently longlisted for the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize and the Live Canon 2019 Poetry Contest in the UK. Hohner has had recent work published or forthcoming in Bhubaneswar Review, Boyne Berries, The American Journal of Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Bangor Literary Journal, and elsewhere. His second collection of poetry will be published by Salmon Poetry in 2022. Visit his webpage and on Twitter.

Everyone Disappears by W. Luther Jett

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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Everyone Disappears by W. Luther Jett (full disclosure I am in a poetry work shopping group with Luther), published by Finishing Line Press, is a follow-up to Jett’s previous chapbook, Not Quite: Poems Written in Search of My Father.

The opening poem, “Nepenthe,” refers to the drug that banishes grief or trouble from one’s mind as mentioned in the Odyssey (yes, I looked this up). Our narrator runs through the poem, looking for those memories in every room, rifles through drawers, unseals books — trying to uncover who did die of starvation, but he has forgotten. This opening poem sets the tone for the collection. It is the search for memory, even the most painful and a wish to hold those tight to almost make the lost corporeal again.

In "Why the Ocean Tastes of Tears"

....
    The snow melts slowly.
Everyone disappears.
    when you want them to stay
everyone goes somewhere
    else and that is why
      the ocean tastes of tears.
It's the one thing you can count on
    when you close your eyes --
      you dream and if
anyone is still there when you wake
  you've witnessed a revolution.

We all cry oceans of tears for lost parents, siblings, friends, children, and that salt is bitter and if often taints our ability to see the joy in what we’ve had. But what a revelation it would be to bring them back to life, even for a moment. “There is no returning,/yet we are always looking back/” says the narrator in “Days Like This.”

There are so many somber poems in this collection — ghost towns of bones, a brother gone too soon, a mother crying, and others — but “Remembrance” is the saddest poem, yet with a sense of humor. It begins, “This is the suit/I only wear once a year.” But you know by the end, a memory will surface where this truth is no longer true and it will break your heart.

Everyone Disappears by W. Luther Jett explores the saddest of truths with a sensitive hand and deep emotional root. His lines will lull you into a trance and gut you when you don’t expect it. But there is a hope, a “star’s kiss” that pierces through that dark shroud, and we shall not forget it.

RATING: Cinquain

En Route by Jesse Wolfe

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 60 pgs.
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I’ve been reading a lot of poetry collections about life journeys this month, and En Route by Jesse Wolfe is no exception. Wolfe’s poems have narrators who are “en route” to somewhere or are about to embark on the next leg of their journey. The collection moves from part one in which narrators are alone to those who are accompanied to those who have almost arrived. Like in the opening poem, “Cumulus,” we are reminded that we may consider any point in our lives a beginning, but there is history behind us that heaps up, making us the well-rounded human beings we are. We shouldn’t forget the past.

From "Cumulus"

At a certain arbitrary point
you have to say, here is a beginning
(not to pretend that nothing lingers,
that the trek across the bridge was a mirage,
or the nights sleeping on abandoned farms,
accepting bread and water from strangers).

“Polliwog Park” is one of the most heartbreaking poems in the collection, with fly balls and baseball diamonds, sunburns peeling away just as a father drives off into his own “separate story.” There are moments of “cleaving” in many of these poems, but Wolfe’s poems embrace that separation, internalizing the heartbreak and using it as a tool to see beyond that momentary end to the journey ahead. Like from “Breakup,” “Or I could turn to our love that never coalesced:/you’re half an abstraction, an empty space/into which I pour my fatigue, distress,/and inchoate faith — my shameful escape/from futures withdrawing all promise of home.//”

Although these poems speak to the “will” of the narrator to move forward from heartbreak and endings, there is also the sense that life’s “momentum” cannot be controlled, like in the poem of the same name.

En Route by Jesse Wolfe’s “Homework” reminds us that “There is work I can only do/by letting go: my hands off the wheel,/the car will find its own way/down the long freeway./ … toward whatever … inarticulate – need.”

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Jesse Wolfe’s poetry has appeared in publications including Tower Journal, Good Works Review, Mad Swirl, and Eunoia Review. An English professor at California State University, Stanislaus, Wolfe previously served as Faculty Advisor to Penumbra, the campus’s student-run literary and art journal. His scholarly work includes the monograph Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and a forthcoming book on intimacy in contemporary British and American fiction.

Whirl Away Girl by Tricia Johnson

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 120 pgs.
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We all identify as our role in the family (mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, cousin, etc.) and we all identify ourselves with our employment (teacher, firefighter, poet, scientist, etc.), but what happens when those aspects of our lives can no longer anchor us — hold us steady? We begin to spiral away, to lose our sense of self, and this is exactly what is explored in Whirl Away Girl by Tricia Johnson. These poems express the deep harm, anger, frustration, and sadness patients with chronic illness can feel — nothing is in their control, leaving them unmoored.

from "Fatigue" (pg. 3)

You are rising in a car and its weight slides in
and down your body
Your hands too heavy to knit
Your head too heavy to raise and no words or thoughts exist

From the first poem, readers will know that they are in for a rough journey with the narrator. Many of these poems will be tough to read back to back, but that’s the point. Someone with chronic illness (like lupus or others) doesn’t get a break. It is okay if you take a break and read this volume in spurts, and it may help to generate greater empathy for the narrator — to sit and think about what she’s telling us life has been like. From the feeling of being beaten down by disease to the condescension of some medical doctors, the narrator demonstrates not only the weight of a breaking down body, but also the weight of the broken medical system and the additional burden it becomes for those who need it most. “When added together become a 10-ton hammer” (“New Doctor”).

 from "A Disillusional Song" (pg. 55)
...
My thoughts are as tangled as the bedding
Woven between my legs
I am antsy, walking, driven
Flopping back in bed, up again
...
I am a stranger caught in a mind, that is caught in itself

Whirl Away Girl by Tricia Johnson is a candid account of being out of control when chronic illness hits and there are few answers about how to improve the situation. Johnson’s poems illustrate the fear that accompanies chronic illness and the sense of loss of one’s self throughout the process. “Battle of You” is probably one of the strongest poems in this collection, but I’ll let you find that gem for yourself. As the collection progresses, the narrator does regain a sense of self and strength, found in the moments of good days and few symptoms. There is joy to be found there, even if it is fleeting.

RATING: Quatrain

Why I Never Finished My Dissertation by Laura Foley

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Why I Never Finished My Dissertation by Laura Foley, named one of seven Best Indie Poetry Books of 2019 by Kirkus, is probably her best work to date. In the opening poem, “What Stillness,” Foley sets the tone for the collection. We picture the narrator beside the pond, in stillness and quiet. But soon there is much more going on as her dog emerges from a swim and the light catches the wet droplets as they shake from the dog’s coat. Readers are privy to how stillness and light can shine the light on situations, changing how we perceive them if we take the time to look and listen. Foley’s collection speaks to this in poems about a marriage for a green card, understanding a father whose life irreparably changed when he became a POW, when confronted with a world where hate and bombast are praised, visits to a sister in a psychiatric ward, and much more.

Foley’s latest poem, “Hindsight,” tackles something different than her previous poem “Hindsight” in Joy Street, in which she examines a photograph of her father. Here, the narrator chooses to marry a Muslim man who needs a green card as a way to escape her white, privileged life. But there’s something much deeper to this escape. It is far easier for her to escape and attempt to run from her true feelings than to think about her truth — feelings for another girl. Hindsight is a powerful thing when time has passed and we can see a situation for what it was without all the other entanglements, rationalizations, and justifications for choosing a different path.

Foley’s use of hindsight in subtler ways demonstrate how we can easily hold onto regret and blame things around us for the choices we make, but these are choices we’ve made and they have made us who we currently are. This all circles back to the title of the collection and the poem, “Why I Never Finished My Dissertation,” in that the narrator’s overwhelming life of a young child, puppies, keeping house, and more lead her to decide against finishing that dissertation. It is a choice, and it could be a choice regretted, but her life’s journey leads to great things — pieces of her family and journey she’d never want to give up.

Twice the Speed of Sound

She waves to me
from the coach window,
shadowed glass reflecting
summer trees,
her face dappled
by a scree of boughs and leaves
I can't see through --
maples not yet reddening into fall --
as she rides one plane
after another, over no rough seas,
into no threatened war,
no lack of easy communication;
still, the space expands
like the universe:
galaxies begetting galaxies,
worlds yet unnamed--
despite phone calls bouncing
from one far-flung tower
to another, while out wide world
keeps rolling under us
at twice the speed of sound.

Foley reminds us that life is “chaotic with possibility” (“Discharge” pg. 40). Why I Never Finished My Dissertation is a meditative reflection of choice, life, living, and learning to look back with a kinder eye on those twists and turns. Don’t miss this collection. I cannot wait to see what Foley brings to us next.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Laura Foley is the author of six poetry collections, including Joy Street, Syringa, and Night Ringing. Her poem “Gratitude List” won the Common Good Books poetry contest and was read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her poem “Nine Ways of Looking at Light” won the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. For more information on Laura’s work, please visit her website.

Field Study by Chet’la Sebree

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 176 pgs.
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Field Study by Chet’la Sebree reminds me of those scientific notebooks kept by scientists in the field who are observing animals or others as they take notes. Peppered with quotations from bell hooks and many others, Sebree explores Black female identity and sexual desire. The poem is less like a poem than a list of observations and comments on Black identity and female desire.

Black women and girls face additional burdens of protecting the reputations of black boys and men. -- Tressie McMillan Cottom
My secret ... I'm always angry. -- Bruce Banner
 ___________

And why wouldn't I be?

In addition the female desire and the struggle of Black women who love and are attracted to white men, Sebree voices some of the issues she’s found in the Black community — how the community does not address mental health enough.

In my early twenties, I worked on an epistolary series.
I didn't know I wrote a book-length suicide note.
I titled it And If I Die Before I Wake.
A prayer and a promise.
__________

I'm alive; I'm alive; I'm alive.
Cry it with me.
It doesn't always feel like it, but it's a good thing.

Sebree has created a poetry collection in which mental health is entwined with Black female identity, the racial tensions that women feel from all sides, and the responsibility they have to project a sense that they are indeed whole. “No matter how far I go, there is never enough makeup for the bullet hole.” Field Study by Chet’la Sebree, which publishes in June, worries and rationalizes and assesses herself like a scientist. Her observations are keen and deeply probing, and she doesn’t let up on herself. This is a frank look at one woman’s struggle with desire and identity, but it has universal applications to others in all communities — less judgment and more love. Definitely not your typical, confessional poetry collection — it’s much more.

RATING: Quatrain