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What Flies Want by Emily Perez

Source: GBF
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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What Flies Want by Emily Perez, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is a surreal painting of the rotting fruit flesh we hide behind closed doors and with tranquil, civilized facades. Perez takes a close look at mental illness, gender and racial identity, and so much more in these pages. What do the flies want? They want that exposed flesh – to feed off of it, to get fat on our misery.

From "My Son Is" (pg. 1-2)

...
....He needs 

the shock
of a thing done.
Something stronger
      than his anger, something
      forcing fortune out of him.

            He crowds the dark he darks
            into his boyhood wears
                his hood unhinged.

Every word, every line is nuanced. Even as boys play childhood games with Nerf guns, the violence is there, under the surface, lurking. In “Battle Song” and in “My Children Use the American Flag,” Perez’s lines are commenting subtly on the roles of boys, the expectation of violence, the training it takes even when it is just pretend. She juxtaposes this with her poem “Before I Learned to Be a Girl,” in which the narrator is a “wind unwound,” and she is a fire all her own. She needs no one; she is a force that can take down the darkness, the pirates, the gunman.

Nightwatch (pg. 6)

We killed the mockingbird
and killed so many more. Foolish
to believe that we were ever growing
out of our armored selves, sealed off
like walnuts, small brained and fearful.
We did not want to be vulnerable. We did
not want to stand alone, skin exposed
to the night, trembling against
whatever wind was rising.

There is the constant push and pull between civilization and the feral wilds of ourselves. But even with civility, there needs to be limits because “The thing about privacy//is it narrowed who knew/what forces//tipped the walls./” (“Outbound Flight,” pg. 7) Even in “Accoutrements,” the bounds of marriage need to be reexamined, with everything seeming well from the outside as long as you don’t look too closely.

What Flies Want by Emily Perez, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is stunning in its examination of the pressures we put on ourselves and the pressures society levies bluntly. We have to do more than protect ourselves from outside forces, we need to protect ourselves from our own expectations while holding onto out whole selves, not just portions of us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Emily Pérez is the author of What Flies Want, winner of the Iowa Prize, forthcoming in May 2022. With Nancy Reddy she edited The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood, forthcoming in March 2022. Her other books and chapbooks include House of Sugar, House of Stone, Backyard Migration Route, and Made and Unmade. She graduated with honors from Stanford University and earned an MFA at the University of Houston, where she served as a poetry editor for Gulf Coast and taught with Writers in the Schools. A CantoMundo fellow and Ledbury Emerging Critic, she has received grants and scholarships from Hedgebrook, the Community of Writers, the Washington State Artist Trust, Jack Straw Writers, Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, Summer Literary Seminars, and Inprint, Houston. Her poems have appeared in journals including Copper Nickel, Fairy Tale Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, Diode, and DIAGRAM. She teaches English and Gender Studies in Denver where she lives with her family.

Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon

Source: Book Publicity Services
Paperback, 108 pgs.
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Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon is a collection of poems that reflect on how home is not always the haven many of us feel that it is or should be. “The vast dark but sunlight-speckled ocean/While knowing they have everywhere/And nowhere in the world to flee.//” (from “Involuntary Endurance,” pg. 13)

The opening poems of this collection explore the dark shadows of home, and the narrator often tells us that they wish for a “happy ending,” but these are not those kinds of poems. Canyon unflinchingly explores the scars of abuse, neglect, and the fear that propels the narrator to consider suicide. “I held the knife in my hand/I propped open the blade/I sharpened it against petrified wood/But I could not slice my flesh//” (from “I Wish I Could Tell You This Has a Happy Ending,” pg. 15) The poems also explore what it means to be a woman and a Black woman in a white world.

These poems make you weep. In “Thoracic Biology,” the narrator says, “For the most part I want to learn to let go,/to hurt a little less./My heart is what hurts the most.//Where did I learn to/breathe through the pain, to/cut off the sword piercing through//” I find that I do this; try to breathe through the pain of whatever moment I’m in. Where did we learn to do that? Why is it OK that we need to do this? My experiences are not the same as Canyon’s or any other Black person, but I empathize with those feelings of deep loss, fear, and emptiness. These poems make you want to take action; reach inside these lines and pull these young children out and protect them from harm.

At 13, I found a Bra

...
Along my Sierras grows an
    orchard of knowledge of good
    and evil. I take my beatings. I 
    bind myself in woman's hood.

I hook the clasps
along my curved spine.
Only the band knows
the stress of my heart.

I am told every woman 
pays her debt with pain.

    When the daffodil opens,
    the last breath of childhood releases.

Canyon asks the reader how can we survive home when it is at the root of so much trauma? Shall we keep on praying as the narrator suggests in “A Plea to the Inane”? Or do we “hold my brother’s hand./I clench my breath./His scream lowers to a bleat.//” (pg. 47, “All Day Long”)? How can so much pain not force us to go crazy, to lose our minds? Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon is a harsh look at abuse, racism, gender discrimination, and so much more; it is a testament to survival and what it means to hold hands and push through the pain and into the light.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Katerina Canyon is a 2020 and 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her stories have been published in New York Times and Huffington Post. From 2000 to 2003, she served as the Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. During that time, she started a poetry festival and ran several poetry readings.

She was featured in the Los Angeles Times and was awarded the Montesi Award from Saint Louis University in 2011, 2012, and 2013. She has published multiple chapbooks and an album.

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.

Accusing Mr. Darcy by Kelly Miller (audio)

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Audible, 13+ hrs.
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Accusing Mr. Darcy by Kelly Miller, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is part romance and part murder-mystery in which Mr. Darcy becomes accused of compromising/attacking Elizabeth Bennet! How can that be? Elizabeth Bennet is visiting her cousin Rose at the Kendall Estate, and Mr. Darcy has come to stay with his friend Nicholas. The husband and wife team of Rose and Nicholas may have ulterior motives for bringing their Elizabeth and Darcy to their home, but it is not to bring them together in matrimony.

Rose has talked up Captain James Kendall to Elizabeth and vice versa, hoping to make a love match between them. Meanwhile, Nicholas has invited several young ladies for Darcy to consider, even as he acknowledged that Darcy erred in his response to Elizabeth at his wedding. Darcy sets about to apologize to her for his friend’s sake, and the road to love is set in motion.

A murder in the Kendall neighborhood causes concern, but when one of the guests is attacked, a former Bow Street runner is called to solve the matter. A budding romance is hampered by the watchful eyes of investigators and men posted to ensure no one else is attacked until the culprit is caught. Miller has paced this novel well, and Elizabeth and Darcy are able to not only overcome miscommunications and prejudices but also work together and learn what it truly means to be partners. Even in a few short weeks, they have found they have more in common than not.

Stevie Zimmerman is as always a stunning narrator. She does well differentiating between the many characters and articulating the scenes to build tension and ensure readers are captivated. Accusing Mr. Darcy by Kelly Miller, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is full of romance, sweet moments, and mystery. A definite winner.

***And there’s a horse named Serena!***

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Award-winning author Kelly Miller writes Austenesque Regency romances. Her four published books are “Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley,” a “Pride & Prejudice” fantasy, winner, Royal Dragonfly Book Awards and Indies Today Book Awards; “Mr. Darcy’s Perfect Match,” a “Pride & Prejudice” variation recommended by the Historical Novel Society; “Accusing Mr. Darcy,” a “Pride & Prejudice” romance/mystery, winner, Firebird book awards and Queer Indie Awards-Ally Division; and “A Consuming Love” a “Pride & Prejudice” novella. Look for “Captured Hearts,” a variation of “Persuasion,” to be released in early 2022. Ms. Miller resides in Silicon Valley with her husband, daughter, and their many pets.

Forces by Lisa Stice

Source: GBF
Paperback, 122 pgs.
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Forces by Lisa Stice explores the push-and-pull of different forces, desires, and outside drivers can have on our individual lives. From the operational forces of our daily obligations to the gravitational forces of imagination and the magnetic pull of the muse. In the opening poem, “Ritual Hunts,” Stice explores the empty vessel and out need to fill it with something, anything. Do we fill it with junk mail? Does that satisfy us? Or should we fill it with potpourri or fake apples or keys? The poems asks us to examine what we fill our lives with and to be vigilant about what we do fill out lives with. We need to remember that how we fill our lives will go a long way in satisfying our desires and needs and ultimately lead to unrest or contentment.

Ritual Hunts (pg. 3)

Here we have a vessel,
hollowed out and empty
and we squirm in the need
to fill it with wooden apples,
potpourri or junk mail
we will throw away months
from now. Ritual shines
above our design as we crowd
our heads with words, turn
pages in a right to left manner,
read in a left to right manner,
enrich our lives away
and still wait for an established
secret somewhere between lines.
How we always
place the car keys here,
hang the dog's leash near
the door, turn the lights out
at bedtime.

Stice’s poems reflect on the ordinary and create an atmosphere where the calming nature of that life is the centering we need when forces are threatening to derail us. Think of the deliberateness of using the rotary phone – the need to rotate each number one at a time and wait before moving to the next. It becomes a meditation on how to center yourself, remain calm in a storm, and be deliberate in your actions.

In “Lying to Our Daughter,” the narrator has to pack up her home for evacuation from a storm. “Our daughter asks where we are going,/We say we’re going to visit Uncle/Paddy because we want to make this/evacuation feel like a vacation. It’s like/how we never want her to be afraid/even though we know a hurricane/is really just a little storm among many.//” (pg. 48)

These moments of isolated concentration become the mantra for the narrator as she struggles with the chaos of motherhood, military life, and more. Forces by Lisa Stice is an amazing collection that will provide you with a different perspective on the chaos of our lives, particularly when the unexpected keeps you on your toes.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Lisa Stice is a poet/mother/military spouse, the author of three full-length poetry collections, Forces (Middle West Press, 2021), (Permanent Change of Station (Middle West Press, 2018) and Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016), and a chapbook, Desert (Prolific Press, 2018). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee who volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project , as Poetry Editor for The Military Spouse Book Review, as Poetry Editor for Inklette Magazine, and as a writer for the Military Spouse Fine Artists Network (Milspo-FAN). She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) and an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog.

Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams

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Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams explores imagination and reinvention, as Williams takes on iconic characters from fairy tales and literature and enlivens her poems with child-like imagination. The collection opens in that child’s perspective in “‘The Horse Fair,'” in which an observer is in a gallery viewing a painting. “I’m standing in a gallery, sterile, quiet. The horses cannot/stamp off the wall, out of the pigment and into the world.//” (pg. 3) The narrator of this poem is recalling a time when imagination was endless and there was a sense of freedom in that. But by the end of the poem, we know that the sense of wonder and exploration has been hindered by life experience and the narrator wants to return to a time when imagination was a gateway to possibility.

Williams’ poems are imaginative, break with traditional forms and combine a narrative prose within the poem that break up the norm of verse. Many of her poems stretch the meaning of perception and understanding, like in “Drowning,” where the narrator is saved from drowning in the ocean and is fully aware that the saver is “Wary. Watchful. Afraid.” and unable to look at the narrator in the same way. But the pull of the ocean was too much and a need for rest a strong pulling tide. The outside viewer would see the saver as a hero, while the saved here doesn’t view them in that way, especially when they are strapped to the bed.

In these early poems, the ocean, sea, and water are a major component of Williams’ poems. Whether it is the pull of the ocean as a place of rest through drowning or the taste of salt in a narrator’s tears, Williams is exploring that magnetic energy of the ocean — its vastness, its mystery, its a place where darkness resides deep and can be hidden away.

Revolution

The sun burns
if you let
it shine on

you too long.
How long is
too long? Learn

by being burned.
The sun gives
life by shining.

You remember the
burn from the
scars, from the

transformation of being
set aflame and
after somehow surviving.

Williams’ poems are stunning whether she’s speaking about fairy tales like “Red Riding Hood” or “Cinderella” or more personal experiences. A lot of these poems show a different perspective from traditional points of view, and it enables readers to see the effect of their platitudes and kind intentions on those deeply hurting. We often rely on platitudes because we don’t know how to make things better or how to help. Perhaps it is better to just say that we don’t, admit we don’t know everything. Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams is a must have poetry collection.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Laura Williams cannot remember a time she did not love to read; her passion for writing came later, but poetry has been her life-long love. The younger middle child of four, she has been blessed with a large, close-knit family. She is in the process of earning her doctorate in education, focusing on adult literacy, at Louisiana State University and lives with two mischievous cats.

Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden

Source: GBF
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden is an exploration of devastating, sudden loss as it relates to the 2011 Tōhoku magnitude 9-9.1 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. The disaster caused more than $300 billion in damages and more that 15,000 deaths, and these kinds of large-scale losses are often hard for us to comprehend because of their sheer magnitude, unless we are personally impacted. Eden draws on the mythical signs that nature provides and she cultivates the deep emotional resonance these disasters should evoke from us. She opens the collection with  a “gray” day in which the beach is “covered in whales,” they are “fifty bodies, like tea leaves//at the bottom of a scryer’s glass,/heavy and loud in memorial.//” (Hokotashi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, pg. 3).

We already are called to attention, to attune ourselves to the natural world, to the signs of what comes next. But even preparing ourselves, becoming keen observers will not make us ready enough to be a survivor. How can you explain what it is to survive an ocean that consumed all the land and swept everything away, except for you? It is a cavern of loss that even the greatest climber will struggle to surmount.

In “Corpse Washing,” we’re shown the reverence required of working with the dead, and how much care, listening, and attention to detail it takes to breathe life into the once full of life bodies we mourn and must let go. “I brush the seaweed and trash/from her remaining hair until its soft./I clip the ends of my hair to fill/her empty eyebrows, her missing eyelashes./” And the care that can no longer be given: “The mother takes/the last water to her daughter’s/lips, but the girl rejects it./She’s had more than enough/water for one life.//”

Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden honors those lost to the tsunami and those who were exposed to radiation from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. While “Shikata ga nai” (nothing can be done about it), Eden seeks to provide emotional touch stones to those losses, honoring not only what was, but what cannot be changed and how the world must and has moved on. What is done, cannot be undone. (said by Lady Macbeth in Shakespear’s Macbeth).

RATING: Cinquain

Flowers Grow on Broken Walls by Farena Bajwa

Source: Author Marketing Experts
Paperback, 244 pgs.
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Flowers Grow on Broken Walls by Farena Bajwa is of the Instapoetry variety that are easily read in a short period of time and provide an emotional reaction to broken relationships and the recovery that follows. The collection also includes a series of sketches.

 .... (pg. 11)
As time passed, you started staring more into the space,
our stars were once glowing and before I knew it,
had all died out.
.... (pg.18)
Don't play around when it comes to love.
There is just too much that breaks.
 (pg. 49)
I can't believe you chose a bottle over me.

With the sketches and the verses in these beginning sections, you can see the social media-likeability of these poems from Bajwa’s words. Emotional poems do well online, connecting readers and poets, especially when they have dealt with breakups and other issues. What I loved about this collection was the sketches. I wanted to see more of those and I wanted them to be a graphic novel in verse, rather than sparse verse that kind of tells a story.

One of my favorites in the collection is accompanied by a sketch of the evil queen and mirrors her “speech” to the Mirror on the Wall. Here, Bajwa’s lines take it to another level in which the Evil Queen is asking the Internet for affirmation, and in many ways, isn’t that what many people do with their posts on Instagram and Facebok, etc.

Flowers Grow on Broken Walls by Farena Bajwa explores identity in the aftermath of a breakup and abuse, but it also takes a look at identity in our self-obsessed, social media-focused world. For me, the images won me over because they were paired well with Bajwa’s words. For those who want accessible poems and some imagery, this collection is for you.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Farena Bajwa is a talented poet, storyteller, actor, filmmaker, and voice-over artist. Even though she studied Marketing Management, her creativity comes from her heart. Whether it’s filmmaking, voice-over, or acting, she owes it to her life philosophy: ‘’learning by doing’’. ‘’Flowers Grow on Broken Walls’’ is Farena’s first written collection of poetry that speaks about the journey to self-healing after experiencing the loss of someone, but mostly, the loss of yourself. She wants to inspire her readers using her power of words to make them feel less alone and to let them know that no matter what they go through, healing is just around the corner, already cheering for you.

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

Poems From the Asylum by Martha H. Nasch, edited by Janelle Molony and introduced by Jodi Nasch Decker

Source: Publicity
Paperback, 336 pgs.
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Poems From the Asylum by Martha H. Nasch, edited by Janelle Molony, with an introduction from Jodi Nasch Decker, is part poetry collection, part family history and mystery, and part examination of psychiatric practices at the time of Nasch’s confinement at St. Peter State Hospital in St. Peter, Minnesota.

I don’t plan to explore much of the history of her family or how she and her husband got together, had a child, were separated by her confinement, and eventually split up. The history is informative regarding her life, though there are some mysteries regarding her treatment at the hospital and her procedure that seemed to make her more ill after birthing her son. I’d rather focus on the poems, but the whole book is an interesting exploration of this family, its dynamics, psychiatric care at the time, and so much more. About 80 pages are dedicated to the family history, family tree, maps of the neighborhoods, and more. About two-thirds of the book is Martha’s poetry, written while she was in the asylum.

**Of note is that there are asides detailing the meaning of metaphors used by Martha, as well as other techniques, which too me seemed overdone and extraneous, but to others could be helpful.**

From the early poems, it is clear that Martha feels betrayed, whether her poems are about a specific or imagined infidelity by her husband, it is unclear. Martha does not specify with whom or when the affair occurs, but it is clear that she is devastated. “When the dearest one she had on earth was unfaithful to his wife./” (from “Forbidden Lust,” pg. 94) Many of these poems read like short diary entries, seeming to be the way in which Martha tries to make sense of the heartache she feels as she has nothing else to do in the asylum but feel and wallow. She even wishes that he could feel the bitterness she does, but by the time he begs her for forgiveness, it will be too late, she says in “Failure.”

In many ways her poems fit nicely in the modernist movement of poetry, mirroring a stream of consciousness style but with rhyme.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “A Cottonwood Tree.” Martha remembers her love of nature and the changes of seasons, but soon comes to a realization that she has become like the tree, losing its leaves and entering its fall season. “To have no world, nor loved ones near,/All nature’s beauty marred./To be cast into hell, alive,/And in an asylum, barred.//” (pg. 121)

Not all of these poems are merely dedicated to her role as wife and mother. There are some about other patients, etc. These are equally as interesting. Poems From the Asylum by Martha H. Nasch, edited by Janelle Molony, with an introduction from Jodi Nasch Decker, gives readers a glimpse into world of asylums at the time, and into the mind of a woman isolated from her family.

RATING: Quatrain

Check out this interview with Janelle Molony and Jodi Nasch Decker:

The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country by Amanda Gorman

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Hardcover, 30 pgs.
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The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country by Amanda Gorman is a beautiful book that tries to hold the hope of this poem inside its covers, but fails. The hope of Gorman’s poem oozes out of the stanzas, breaks free from the line breaks, and sizzles off the page. It’s hard to believe that she’s only our 6th poet to read at an inauguration. Where have these presidents been that they didn’t seek the powerful words of poets in their own times?

I digress. The foreword in this book is by Oprah Winfrey, and it’s about what you would expect it to be. She pulls quotes from the poem like many reviewers do and she talks about Gorman’s words, the themes, and more. But I wasn’t overly impressed with it and felt that the poem can stand on its own, just as it did at the inauguration.

It’s funny because I started this blog so many years ago, looking at individual poems in magazines, rather than full collections. And here I am again, looking at a single poem that is as powerful and beautiful as the world around us. We just need our eyes to be opened.

Is our world broken? In some ways, it is. And we do carry our losses, like we wade in the sea and the “norms” are not “justice” or “just is,” they are ripe for change and we can make them… for the better. “Victory,” Gorman says, “won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges/we’ve made.” We mustn’t forget, “History has its eyes on us.”

RATING: Cinquain