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Songs in E— by Dan Brady

Source: Poet
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Songs in E— by Dan Brady, winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry, offers reimagined love poems from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning in which Sonnets from the Portuguese and “One Word More” were run through an unreliable internet translator into Portuguese and back into English. The result is playful, anachronistic, and time-bending.

Some of these poems have a deep darkness in them, but by the end they lighten up like you’d expect a love poem.

Meet Cute (pg. 3)

When we met,
it was a year
like candy.
We had a gift
in each hand.
One old. One new.
We bought antiques
but gradually saw
the rips, the sad years,
the melancholy.
Assumptions took hold.
Death, you say.
No E—,
not Death,
the proximity of Heaven.

The truth of a long-term relationship is contained in those antiques, but there’s also that love that transcends all of those flaws.

Young Love (pg. 5)

Our two angels look surprised
as they bump wings in passing.

You, a pageant queen with rips in her dress.
I, a funeral singer under lattice-lights, poor and tired.

Death, the only thing we can agree on.

When reading these transformed poems of the past, they read like modern poems of love that is beginning, love that has endured, and love that is unsure. But there are moments when poems seem to reach from the past into the present and future.

Brady’s efforts to breathe new life into older poems and make them his own is successful in expressing love, even the desire to find it. I’m not a scholar who has memorized Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, expect for the most famous “How Do I Love Thee,” so I can’t tell you which of these poems come from the original. That is until the final poem in the collection, “E—’s Song,” which appears to stay the closest to Robert Browning’s “One More Word.”

Songs in E— by Dan Brady stands on its own as a collection of poems about the many facets of love, even if readers knew nothing about how they came to be. Delightful and contemplative, they bring to life the reality of love and how humans crave it, abuse it, and cherish it all at once.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Dan Brady is the author of the poetry collections Strange Children (2018), Subtexts (2022), and Songs in E——, winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry, from Trnsfr Books (2023), along with two poetry chapbooks. He is the poetry editor of Barrelhouse and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and two kids.

Hunters Point by Peter Kageyama

Source: Publicist
Paperback, 370 pgs.
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Hunters Point by Peter Kageyama is a thrilling private investigator-based novel set in San Francisco in post-WWII. Katsuhiro “Kats” Takemoto is a decorated war veteran turned PI who takes on a local case in which shipbuilder and shipyard owners, the Vellos, are being pressured to sell their land to a developer, but what Kats uncovers is unbelievable when it leads to connections with James “Jimmy the Hat” Lanza, a government coverup, and, of course, Beat poets from the City Lights Bookstore.

(you now understand why I was interested in reading this book — WWII, poets…)

Kageyama’s characters are dynamic and deeply rounded, from Kats a Japanese-American who endured internment as a teen before joining the fight in WWII, to the Vello family and its deeply held commitment to art and business.Kats is a man who has been through a great deal and those scars show in how tries to maintain control of his emotions in every way, but Molly might just upend all that control.

The secondary characters of Molly, Shig, and Harry are three-dimensional with their own motivations, secrets, and backstories. The shadowy Sand and Lanza are less fleshed out, but for mobsters and a mystery man, it works. An additional character in this novel is Hunters Point with its bustling businesses and diverse families and workers, and it’s where the mystery is unraveled by Kats and his friends.

“They reminded him of his own father, who taught him about family and the layers of obligation, both On and Giri, the obligations we voluntarily take on and those we inherit. We carry many things, and those things make up our story.” (pg. 43)

Hunters Point by Peter Kageyama reminds me of why I love mystery/thrillers. They have you thinking fast, engaged in the action, delving deeper into the characters’ backgrounds to understand what makes them tick, and before you know it, you’ve come to the end of the mystery. And I suspect we’ll be seeing these characters again.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Peter Kageyama is the author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, the follow ups, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places, and The Emotional Infrastructure of Places. In 2021, he released For the Love of Cities REVISITED, a revised and updated version of his award-winning book.

In 2023, his debut novel based on the post-internment life of his parents was released by St. Petersburg Press.

Peter is a Senior Fellow with the Alliance for Innovation, a national network of city leaders, and a special advisor to America In Bloom. He is an internationally sought-after community development consultant and grassroots engagement strategist who speaks about bottom-up community development and the amazing people who are making change happen around the world.

Love the Dark Days by Ira Mathur

Source: the author
Paperback, 232 pgs.
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Love the Dark Days by Ira Mathur is a surreal memoir that weaves between a distant past in post-colonial India and ancestral stories and a married woman looking for guidance on writing her own memoir. The narrative digs deep into the past of her ancestry pulling the thread of pain forward into her present. Mathur says in more than one place that she doesn’t feel like she belongs. She’s looking throughout the memoir for her place in the world.

This sense of drift carries readers through the memoir, which reads like a nightmare in places. Her grandmother Burrimummy has fits of anger and sadness, and her rages seem like a woman battling mental illness, though that isn’t outwardly articulated. Shifting from India to Trinidad and other places, Mathur is weaving place with family history, much of it violent and abusive. Whether subject to emotional abuse and dejection or the physical abuse her mother felt as a child at the hands of her own mother, these instances reverberate throughout the female line in the family. These women are damaged and traumatized, but it is unclear if these women  ever sought help or tried to break the cycle.

“When she is angry like this, I don’t know what to feel. I hate it when she thrashes me but am sadder when she doesn’t notice me at all.”

“The servants, sensing my lower status, are careless with me.”

“I’m too dark, too rebellious.”

Mathur’s view of herself is skewed from an early age, and she carries that doubt with her as she matures. She is never good enough. She even says, “Twenty-four years, and in some ways, nothing had changed for me.” But later as she’s seeking to understand this generational violence and neglect, she absolves everyone of responsibility.

“They are like Russian dolls. I understand now. Mummy blames Burrimummy for being unkind. Burrimummy blames Mumma for ill-treating her, and Mumma blames Sadrunissa for thrashing her. They all took out whatever anger they felt over their own lives on their daughters. no one is responsible.”

The sections when Mathur is interacting with poet Sir Derek Walcott are overly long and fawning of a poet whom she admits was accused of harassing women. Her admiration of his poetry is clear, and she does recognize his faults, but if these scenes were meant to tie in with her family’s saga, they did not fit seamlessly into the narrative. They often pulled me out of her story and made me wonder when she would get back to her family. When she does get back to her family, there are still questions that linger about her husband’s behavior, his family’s acceptance/rejection of her, and her relationship with her own children that remain unanswered. Perhaps that’s a future memoir?

In many ways, this memoir is about a woman still coming to terms with her trauma. Intimate, harrowing, and sad, Mathur’s memoir reminds us that “when brutality is normalized, it is passed on, like a legacy, like DNA.” Love the Dark Days by Ira Mathur is most engaging when she speaks about her family and its legacy and its impact on her as a woman and successful journalist.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Ira Mathur is an Indian born Caribbean freelance journalist/writer working in radio, television and print in Trinidad, West Indies. She also is currently a Sunday Guardian columnist and feature writer. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Andre Ceolin

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Andre Ceolin is a book for ages 4-8, but I bet there are some adults who could use this lesson in empathy and compassion. I loved that this picture book opens with a discussion of what it means to be human. It also explains what family means and that it doesn’t necessarily have to mean you are only related by blood. This opens the door to children, allowing them to see that adopted children and more are families, too.

Esenwine offers “pro tips” throughout the book to help kids navigate their emotions and social situations in which they normally would just react on instinct. He demonstrates how sometimes situations arise because of emotion and that we have to be able to recognize it and adapt to help others when we can. This ability to empathize will enable kids to show compassion for others. Compassion is something every child should learn at a young age, and some adults should be re-taught the concept.

The illustrations show a diverse group of students, which is another fantastic way to bring home the diversity of humanity. The Golden Rule is mentioned about mid-way through the book, but it does seem to come out of nowhere. So a little more contest or a child talking to a family member or a teacher about it, might have been less awkward in the narrative.

Overall, the illustrations where the kids are working out differences or situations themselves after learning these terms are the most effective. A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Andre Ceolin, definitely provides young kids, their parents, and teachers with tools they will need to help children navigate social interactions and other situations.

RATING: Quatrain

**Be sure to enter the author’s giveaway***

About the Author:

Matt Forrest Esenwine is an author and poet from Warner, New Hampshire. His debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017) was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids of 2017. His picture book Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books, 2021), co-authored with Charles Ghigna, was deemed “a necessary addition to picture book collections” by ALA’s Booklist. His poetry can be found in numerous anthologies including The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015) and Construction People (Wordsong, 2020).

About the Illustrator:
André Ceolin studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He has illustrated over twenty books for children. André lives in Brazil with his family.

Summonings by Raena Shirali

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 122 pgs.
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Summonings by Raena Shirali is an urgent calling of female personas in an effort to highlight the continued practice of daayan (witch) hunting in India. But even as Shirali conjures the spirits of these women, she is also summoning her own power as a westernized Indian woman to empathize and call attention to this practice and the unfair targeting of women.

As she points out in the foreword, “India is the world’s most dangerous country for women … The only Western nation in the top 10 was the United States…”

Shirali is fully aware that as a westernized Indian woman there is “distance/between self & subject.” (“on projection,” pg. 12) Her poems aim to bring these women into full-bodied poems based on what she knows about these “witches,” but it is hard to be a spirit without the lens of one’s own culture and upbringing. This mirrors her poem “ojha : rituals” where she questions what “truth” is, especially when it becomes subjective.

These poems are multi-layered and the longer you sit with these lines and images, the more you realize these stories are a conjuring of female power from ancestors and modern women who face oppression. Even as there is a reach for feminine power, there’s also a self-hatred Shirali struggles with: “i was shit & wanted/to be shit. & then i swallowed pretense. swallowed/countries” (“at first, trying to reach those accused” pg. 27) and in “summoning : retreat” (pg. 31) “digging in/the old-world soil/for common root.”

Shirali offers a “different way to look at the same/old face.” (“daayan gets her name” pg. 35) In summoning the spirits of these women, these so-called witches, she’s rewriting the narrative to include their truth, not just the stories that have been told about them. Her poems are when “the earth began to shift”(“daayan & the mountains : ii pg. 58-9). Summonings by Raena Shirali is asking us to reexamine who gets to ask, who answers, and who tells the story.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Raena Shirali is the author of two collections of poetry. Her first book, GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award, and her second, summonings (Black Lawrence Press, 2022), won the 2021 Hudson Prize. Winner of a Pushcart Prize & a former Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University, Shirali is also the recipient of prizes and honors from VIDA, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, & Cosmonauts Avenue. Formerly a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Muzzle Magazine, Shirali now serves as Faculty Advisor for Folio—a literary magazine dedicated to publishing works by undergraduate students at the national level. She holds an MFA in Poetry from The Ohio State University and is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. The Indian American poet was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and now lives in Philadelphia.

The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 416 pgs.
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**don’t read this one until you’ve read the others**

The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White is the seventh and last book in this ghostly mystery series. Melanie and Jack Trenholm are not in a good place at the start of this one. He’s no longer living in the Tradd Street home and they are sharing custody of their twins, while his daughter, Nola, stayed with Melanie. It’s clear that there is some tension between them, but the love they share and the heat are still present, even if they choose to ignore it.

“…faces of my children and Jack stared out at me from the computer’s background wallpaper, a reminder of everything we had lost. Or maybe we had just misplaced it.” (from ARC)

In this story, Melanie is trying to help Veronica, an old friend, solve the murder of her sister, which has been a cold case since their college days. Veronica’s husband, however, is eager to move out of their house and into a new place, as well as close the book on his sister-in-law’s unsolved murder. As with all other books, ghosts are showing up, leaving things in places they shouldn’t, and making things a little difficult for Melanie who is a reluctant communicator with the dead.

In the midst of this mystery, Marc Longo makes another appearance, and desperation has Jack and Melanie agreeing to be under the same roof and allow filming on the book Marc stole from Jack to begin in their house. You can imagine what kind of tension there will be.

The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White has everything I’ve loved about this series from the beginning – ghosts, mysteries, and complicated relationships. I’m so glad this ended happily, and I cannot wait for the New Orleans spinoff series to begin.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews of the Series:

Other Books by Karen White:

About the Author:

Karen White is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—Southern women’s fiction—and has also expanded her horizons into writing a mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina. Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London. When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children, and two spoiled Havanese dogs.

Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is a memoir that seems to have started out as a biography of Frank O’Hara, but really was an attempt by a daughter to capture her father’s attention through the poet that tethered, at least in part, their lives together. Peter Schjeldahl is an art critic who also wrote poetry, essays, and other works, and was immersed in the New York School of poetry in which O’Hara was considered a major poet. Calhoun has felt unseen by her father, according to the memoir, even as she, too, pursued a career in writing, though mostly as a ghostwriter.

Calhoun’s O’Hara journey begins long before she finds the tapes in her father’s drawer and starts to listen to the interviews he conducted when trying to write a biography of the poet. The ghost of the poet has haunted her father and their lives since the start – a father dejected by the cancellation of his biography on a man he admired and a man who threw himself into writing as a critic and more to the detriment of all else, even his own poetry (which some in the book praised to Ada).

For Ada, O’Hara’s poetry was a gift from her father, and through those poems, she experienced New York City in the way that she believed her father must have. She also used this connection to draw her own conclusions about her father and his obsessions, which may or may not have reflected reality for her father. In many ways, she equates O’Hara’s poet-ness with her father’s writer-ness and the obsessiveness it requires to shut everything else out, but what she fails to see early on is how both simply wanted to make connections and to reach out from their own emptiness and fill it up.

Calhoun is on a journey taken by her father years ago, and like many things when we seek something we don’t think we already have, it becomes a competition to do better and be better as a way to prove our worth to someone we desperately want approval from. Maureen Granville-Smith, O’Hara’s sister and executor of his estate, plays a pivotal role in both the journey of Calhoun and her father. What’s more is that Calhoun unravels this late in the memoir – almost too late.

Past the mid-way mark, Calhoun says something about confidence being “the age requirement for everything,” (pg. 134), and there is something to that. We all reach an age where we finally have that confidence we need to overcome certain obstacles or deal with certain moments in our lives, and it is through that we become capable and achieve the seemingly unachievable. This is where were are with the memoir, as well. She has reached that age of confidence where she can finally speak to her father as a writer to a writer and explore how each has lived that life very differently — he shutting everything else out and she carving out time from her other responsibilities to concentrate on writing alone in a chunk of time. And in many ways, she answers her own questions about “How ruthless do you need to be?” to be a writer.

Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is so much more than a memoir; it’s a peek inside the world and work of enigmatic artists and poets and how their lives unravel while they’re working at their craft and they are completely unaware. Calhoun is equally unaware, but soon she begins to realize that she’s seen the signs all along and that no writer/parent will ever be perfect because we are all flawed, we are all editing as we go along.

RATING: Cinquain

Inventory of Doubts by Landon Godfrey

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 84 pgs.
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Doubts follow us in our daily lives, much like the little devils on the shoulders of cartoon characters. Listing our doubts in a journal or simply writing a list when we tackle something new or challenge ourselves can help reduce our anxiety and fear. Landon Godfrey explores these ideas in the collection, Inventory of Doubts, but rather than rely on a human voice, Godfrey has anthropomorphized objects like a feather boa, a dishrag, a box, and many others.

In her prose-like stories, these objects come alive, they become more than the discarded thing. An antique inkwell is not as sophisticated or as academic as it is perceived, and the attic stuffed with discarded items that we no longer care for wishes to be eaten away by termites so it could see the sky and be in awe. Godfrey has collected the uncollectable — silence. We know these objects and their purposes because we have assigned them, but in the silence, is that all that they are? Only what we’ve determined them to be? “Unable to fit in anyone’s pocket, a jealous boulder considers cures for loneliness while it pauses on a cliff.” (“Boulder,” pg. 7)

These objects are stand-ins. They are placeholders for greater questions about our own purposes and our own determinations of what is good and useful and what is to be praised and what is to be frowned upon. Like the dishrag that “experiments with justice, releasing some moisture back into the freedom of air, while retaining a few drops of water indefinitely in a grease-guarded cell.” (pg. 17) Our own experiments, like that of the dishrag, often do not have the best results, but there is always time for change, for reparations. Just like the rag, we too can be reshaped and given new purpose.

Godfrey’s Inventory of Doubts are as fantastical as they are rooted in our own realities. Our conversations with ourselves and our constant “little voices” often have us running in circles or falling into circular patterns of logic, leaving us little room to expand. This collection is an exploration of the human condition: “The seep and clot of it. The furtive fingers of it. The blob and spread of it. The orgy of it. The impossible to remove of it.” (“Stain,” pg. 64) Gloriously imaginative, surprising, and haunting.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Landon Godfrey is the recipient of a 2013 Regional Artist Project Grant and a 2011-2012 North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship. In selecting her first book, “Second-Skin Rhinestone-Spangled Nude Soufflé Chiffon Gown,” for the Cider Press Review Book Award, David St. John writes, “Never has the sumptuous materiality of language felt more seductive than in Landon Godfrey’s remarkable debut collection, ‘Second-Skin Rhinestone-Spangled Nude Soufflé Chiffon Gown.’ These exquisite poems are both sensually compelling and intellectually rigorous—a rare feat indeed. The iridescence of this marvelous volume continues to glow long after one has turned out the lights.” Printed at Asheville BookWorks, a limited edition letterpress chapbook, “In the Stone: Three Prose Poems,” will be published in Spring 2013. Landon’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies—including The Southeast Review, Lyric, Chelsea, POOL, Studium in Polish translation, and Best New Poets 2008—featured at Verse Daily and Broadsided, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her prose on poetry has been published by Q Avenue Press and Gulf Coast, and is forthcoming from Voltage Poetry. Born and raised in Washington, DC, she now lives in Black Mountain, NC, with her husband, poet Gary Hawkins.

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 368 pgs.
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Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner is set in post-war England when women are looking to hold onto the freedoms they’ve gained as the men became soldiers. Evie Stone, from her previous book The Jane Austen Society (check out my review), is one of the women working at the rare book store, Bloomsbury Books. She’s working in the background on her own project after a disappointment at Cambridge. Vivien Lowry, who works at the cash, has a list of grievances about the men who run the shop, particularly the Head of Fiction Alec McDonough, the golden boy of the manager Mr. Dutton, who has more than 50 rules that need to be followed without question by his employees. Meanwhile, Grace Perkins helps keep the ledgers for the bookstore and is a calming force. Her time at the bookstore is a source of solace from a turbulent home life where her husband has lost his job and she becomes the sole breadwinner and caregiver for her two sons and husband. These women appear to have little in common other than their jobs.

Jenner is fast becoming an automatic pre-order buy for me. Bloomsbury Girls is another historical fiction novel that takes real-life people like Samuel Beckett and others and breathes life back into them as they interact with Jenner’s own characters. Vivien has such a chip on her shoulder given how she was treated by her fiance’s family after his death in WWII, but she also sees the world of men in the shop as stifling. She wants everyone to see the world through her eyes, but Grace has her own ghosts to deal with and her approach is more conciliatory. Meanwhile, Evie prefers to fly under the radar as much as she can, although her work at Cambridge did gain recognition, though not the kind she wanted.

This little bookshop is a microcosm for the post-war world around them. Evie, Grace, and Vivien may be working women, but there is a little bit of distrust or hesitancy in trusting others on the part of all three women, until they realize that they need to come together to create the world they wish to see. I don’t want to giveaway anything in Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner. I absolutely loved the characters and their foibles, and I loved how these women came together with the help of some famous women who paved their way behind the scenes of other men. Don’t miss this gem of a novel.

RATING: Cinquain

Bloomsbury Girls is on sale on 5/17, check out this excerpt from the audiobook.

About the Author:

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

A Message from Author Natalie Jenner:

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved.

But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team).

Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,

Natalie

Check out the Book Trailer:

Useful Junk by Erika Meitner

Source: GBF
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Useful Junk by Erika Meitner is a poetic exploration of memory and desire, but also a collection of perspectives on the body and how it is seen and what it sees. The collection opens with the poem, “I would like to be the you in someone’s poem.” Here, Meitner’s narrator expresses a desire to be seen in all her glory and quirkiness, even if it is just a fiction.

When you enter this collection, you’re in a surreal world where the poet explores what the junk mail knows about us and our finances, but also what junk mail fails to know about our feral nature and our desires to be wanted and seen with all of our flaws. Meitner’s poems offer vignettes of “multitudinous and wild pasts” and our many futures. “don’t you worry about how/scattered memory gets (pick-up-sticks, a box//of buttons, shards of plastic beached across/an entire coastline) and how we’re just trying//to find the origin,” (from “All the Past and Futures” pg. 18-9)

She tells us in “Medium Adam 25”: “I am not an abstracted/self in the wet night. I am not a static/enterprise either, and as I move through//time and space, many things are vanishing/in exchange for a wanting with no end…” Isn’t it the truth of each of us. We are not this abstract perception that others have of us; we are fluid and changing even if it isn’t as obvious by our physical selves — though those change too.

Useful Junk by Erika Meitner is intimate and existential all at once, and readers will swim in the morass and indulge in memory and perception imparted with quick wit and contemplative angst. Meitner provides us with a bridge between our memories and their changing patterns and our desires to be seen coupled with the anxiety of how we are perceived by others and ourselves.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Erika Meitner was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, New York. She attended Dartmouth College (for a BA in Creative Writing and Literature), Hebrew University on a Reynolds Scholarship, and the University of Virginia, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing as a Henry Hoyns Fellow, and her MA in Religious Studies as a Morgenstern Fellow in Jewish Studies.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a collection that pushes readers to their limits with her beautiful, tragic poems. Their dark beauty with their sometimes violent images reach inside us, pull out our hearts, and ring them until there is little left but open love and empathy.

In the opening poem, “Extreme Girlhood,” the birth of a girl is a sign that suffering is to come, whether it is from parental expectation, abuse from within the home, and other malodorous events. But “Mama, I made it/out of your home/alive, raised by/the voices/in my head.//” the narrator reminds readers that there is another side to that dark tunnel. In this poem, Shire has set up the reader for a wild, emotional ride, but if we can just hold onto that hope, we’ll be OK.

Part poetry collection about abuses and darkness, part collection about accepting the people we are, Shire is unafraid to call out our platitudes and attitudes:

From "Assimilation"

...
The refugee's heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother's unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office, 
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus -- yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I can't get the refugee out of my body,

There is always that push and pull between the homeland of the past (a home nostalgia tells us is placid) and the new home refugees are seeking (a home that is not as welcoming as expected, if at all). Shire tells us in “Home” to remember that “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.” and “No one would leave home unless home chased you.” When times are troubling, refugees sometimes would love to return home, but “home is the mouth of a shark. Home is the barrel of a gun.”

Unbearable Weight of Staying

I don't know when love became elusive.
My mother's laughter in a dark room.

What I know is that no one I knew had it.
My father's arms around my mother's neck.

A door halfway open.
Fruit too ripe to eat.

Shire infuses her poems with her Somali culture, paying homage to rituals and loved ones, while at the same time exploring the struggles of her homeland with famine, the murder of women, kidnappings, and more.

 Filial Cannibalism

From time to time
mothers in the wild
devour their young,
an appetite born of
pure, bright need.
Occasionally,
mothers from ordinary
homes, much like our
own, feed on the viscid
shame their daughters
are forced to secrete
from glands formed
in the favor of men.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a stunning collection in which “the trapdoor to heaven/opens its mouth” and “girlhood an incubation for madness.” There are so many themes in these poems from racism to gender bias, but is Shire’s search for grace that holds these poems together.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her début book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth by Laura Costas

Source: GBF
Paperback, 103 pgs.
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Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth by Laura Costas reimagines the Greek myth of Ariadne in short prose poems. There’s no need to worry if you are not familiar with the myth because Costas provides you with an introduction to her character as it was developed ages ago. Her introduction serves as way to provide readers with a context that her alternate reality for forthright Ariadne springs.

In her opening poem, “Answering Machine,” Ariadne speaks to us from some outside realm, and while she would love to hear us, speak to us, and tell us what happened, she cannot. We need to imagine it and speak for her, like Costas has done. Here, our heroine awakens in a different, more modern time. She’s disoriented and fumbling to find her ground. “The rapid little flicks of your eyes produce upon you unrecognizable flesh that your bones should refuse but don’t,” the narrator begins in “Gyroscope.” In “Hot Rod,” the narrator urges, “Push your food to the floor.”

Through these topsy-turvey poems, Costas is creating a world in which we can see how limiting a myth can be, that no one is just one thing or another — hero or helper. We are all three-dimensional and multi-layered, and in some cases, we war with our desires, our practicalities, our “roles” in society.

Her poems also surprise us with their wit and humor:

“Security” (pg. 28)

Above the bed the ceiling cleaves. Beyond the cleft, around our necks, we’ve only keys. It’s the locks that make the thieves.

Or by turns, her unconventional thoughts about the society we’ve created and the blindness we all carry to its norms and expectations:

From “Civilization” (pg. 50)


None of us thinks to crash the turnstiles, so, turned away, we carry on, rumor and reflex at fists for our attention, the lucky ones among us to forget in the morning all that we lost last night..

Like in “Sagittarius,” Costas reminds us “this world was made to bend in.” (pg. 92) Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth by Laura Costas is more than a retelling or reimagining of a myth — it is about the labyrinth of life, its twists and turns, its backward and forward steps, and the need for each of us to step outside the lines sometimes to find the truth of ourselves and our place in a world that makes little sense unless we provide it some direction.

RATING: Cinquain