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Where Is North by Alison Jarvis

Source: Mary Bisbee-Beek
Paperback, 83
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Where Is North by Alison Jarvis, winner of the 2015 Gerald Cable Book Award, asks readers to think about where their own “north” is — where is their home or where do they feel most at home.  Many of us will conjure up memories of our mothers and fathers, siblings, or just the best friends we ever had.  There are some of us who have lived most of our lives alone, until we meet that special someone who becomes that home we’ve longed for.  Jarvis reaches out through her poems to remind us of these connections and their importance to our own well being and happiness, even as connections end or become distant.

Skaters (pg. 33)

We belonged to snow and ice,
to Dodd's Pond at Christmas, released
from classes, shining our way
through the morning dark, 
like miners.  We'd skate out
together, alone, to astonish ourselves;
past lunch, past supper
past any possibility
our numbed fingers could ever
untie our laces.

In “At the Diebenkorn Show Without You,” the poem speaks of the rural person eager to get out, to move beyond the prairie and its empty roads to a place that is bustling like California, but as it turns, the reader notes a redirection, attention called to the now, to the foreground, to the moment at hand.  Like the poem, the narrator has to self-correct, to refocus and be in the moment, rather than always looking out and at the distance.  Much of the collection moves like this — back and forth — between the now and the future or the now and the past.  In “Daylight Savings,” the changing of the clocks is a reminder that soon a spouse will not be there reminding the narrator not to be late, and in “Ask Me,” love is the actions we take for one another — the small and large — and when you can no longer be asked, how do you make those connections again? In this case, the narrator tells stories.

Time moves on and things change like the farm purchased in “Dakota” for the “young/To begin their purposeful suburban lives.”  It is easy to “map our love with loss” says the narrator of “75 Marshall Avenue,” but it is better to act with love and engage in that dance of life.  Where Is North by Alison Jarvis is the bumpy ride we all take and the love that we leave behind and are given along the way.  Not all of the journey will be good, but we need to remember that home is where the love is.

RATING: Quatrain

Read some of her poems:

About the Poet:

Alison Jarvis was born in Canada and grew up in Minnesota. She is a recipient of the Lyric Poetry Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Mudfish Poetry Prize, the Guy Owen Prize from Southern Poetry Review, and a Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. Her work has appeared in Cream City Review, Gulf Coast, New Ohio Review, Notre Dame Review, Seattle Review, upstreet, and other journals and anthologies, including Best Indie Lit New England. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has been a practicing psychotherapist for 30 years.

2017 New Authors Reading Challenge

The Nightlife by Elise Paschen

Source: Mary Bisbee-Beek
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen is a collection of poems that blurs reality, dreams, and fantasies in a way that requires the reader to parse out the truth from between the lines.  It’s a collection into which the reader will likely stumble into the darkness of an abused woman’s life and fail to leave or fall into the bed of an adulterer, only to take the misplaced shame of faulty perception with them.  “Picnic Triptych” illustrates these blurred lines very well in which the reader is introduced to the “Small Brown Notebook” in which a tall man is found — a stalker of sorts.  Is the narrator dreaming of an encounter with this man, who resembles an artist in a painting by Manet, or is this something more?

Like Manet, Paschen is building an impressionist painting with words: verse by verse, page by page.  Night can make the world a bit more mysterious, and it can encourage the mind to conjure dangers from nothingness, a mind playing tricks on the narrator or the reader, sometimes both.  Like in “Of Mice,” where the narrator and the reader must “fear the carving knife” of “the farmer’s wife”, placing ourselves in the position of the mice — an older nursery rhyme — only to have our world upended and the mice are really escaped prisoners tunneling through the earth toward their own freedom.  Or are we all of these things, trapped inside our own prisons and eager for escape, with only fear keeping us huddled inside?

From “Of Mice” (pg. 32)

the penitentiary.
We lock all doors,
and, when the wind

hurtles umbrellas
against the deck,
we hide.

Paschen’s poems are riddles inside of riddles, dreams and nightmares wrapped inside wonderfully painted landscapes and portraits.  The Nightlife by Elise Paschen should not be missed; it is full of word artistry and surprises.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Poet and editor Elise Paschen was born and raised in Chicago. She earned a BA at Harvard University, where she won the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal and the Joan Grey Untermeyer Poetry Prize, and went on to receive a PhD in 20th century British and American Literature at Oxford University with a dissertation on the manuscripts of poet William Butler Yeats. During her time at Oxford she also co-founded Oxford Poetry.

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 48 pgs.
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Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto, which won the 2015 Oro Fino Chapbook Competition, has deep silences that activate the reader’s mind, which turns each moment over and over to make sense of the devastation. From the deadly tsunami in Fukushima to more subtle moments of broken lives, Fujimoto takes on a first-person narrative in these literary poems to draw readers into that sadness, that loss, that emptiness, the silence to render grief alive.

In “Japanese Apricot Wine,” we see a child left behind by a mother after a long illness, which is likely cancer, and we see the shadows of those last days through the eyes of the narrator. “I open her last bottle. The sweet/smell spreads in the room like a cloudy//green nebula” … “The half eaten apricot is//brown.//She leaves it behind.//” There is a glimmer of happiness in the beginning with a memory of making apricot wine in April, and her mother’s continued love for it even in hospice, but it is clear the narrator’s train of thought will be dragged into sadness until the reader becomes painstakingly aware that her mother is gone.

It is life as it is lived within these pages, and the first-person narratives bring that home in a way that is even more devastating. How do you reconcile the happiest moments, the homes you have with their ultimate loss. When a mother departs from this world, it can leave you unmoored. Do the happy memories serve to remind us of home or their loss? Like many things that would depend on perspective; how far are you from the moment of loss?

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto is a stunning chapbook of poems that will touch readers deeply. The poems in these pages will leave an indelible mark upon you, one that you should wear as a badge of honor.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Naoko Fujimoto was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. She was an exchange student and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University South Bend. “Home, No Home” is her first chapbook.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Seasons of Joy: Every Day Is for Outdoor Play by Claudia Marie Lenart

I had the pleasure of working with Claudia Marie Lenart to edit her children’s poetry book, Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play, which was published by Loving Healing Press in April 2017.

Her needle-felted wool paintings are incredibly detailed and depict children at play in all kinds of weather.  Multi-cultural and joyous, these children become life-like characters that children will want to see and touch.  Each poem calls to mind the carefree days of childhood.  The games played and the imaginations running wild as the children romp and play with bunnies, birds, and in trees.

These pages are full of bright colors and fun games that kids can take with them into their own communities and neighborhoods.  Not only do the poems show children enjoying the company of others who look different from themselves, but it also shows how much fun sharing can be.

Pick up a copy and share with your kids, grandkids, and others in the community.  Get out there and play.

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood explores how trauma can affect those in the same family in the generations that follow the event.  From the death of grandparents in a violent murder-suicide to the abusive relationship between an alcoholic father and his daughter, the poems explore the patterns of behavior that occur through time and repeat from one generation to the next.

“a cry stuck between/Growling and the most bereft sense of loss” (“Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors” pg. 15-16) is the initial sense readers will have with these poems, but what lies beneath is a deep exploration of how emotional response is innate, as Heywood draws parallels between humans and animals.  Heywood’s poems will rip out your heart as you follow the generational grief down the line and the hope that even a cheery paint color could possibly be a shield against the darkness of their patterns.

In “Fire Breathing” near the middle of the collection, we see a narrator who is determined to keep going, getting back up no matter how many times they fall or are pushed down by their alcoholic father or the kids at school.  Is that the light?  Is that the hope? Is that the perseverance that will break the cycle? It seems like a way out, until it doesn’t as the narrator laments, “Because I am not weak,/Because I need to stand up/Run faster than the voices/No one else hears because if I don’t/I’ll fade away behind them,/My body disappearing in the heat.” (pg. 56-7)

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood cautions that “grief is a second body” (“Parasite”, pg. 72-3) that can take control if you let it, and when dealing with a person consumed by it, treat it like a wild animal.  Stand clear, protect yourself.  But by the final poems in this collection, it is clear that to deal with grief, break the cycle of abuse, and move forward, the affected must learn to pause, breathe in that moment of beauty and hold it close.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Leslie Heywood is Professor of English and Creative Writing at SUNY-Binghamton, where she was a 2009 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activities. Interdisciplinary in focus, her areas are creative writing, gender studies, sport studies, science studies, and environmental studies.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a collection of poems in which a journey toward enlightenment is not what the narrator expects.  The Far Mosque is a place where enlightenment can be reached.  Many of these poems are not about a journey to a place but a journey within the self.  Ali plays with language in these poems, with many relying on homophones to carry a dual meaning.

From "Night Boat" (pg. 19-20)

Unfurl your hands to say: You will no longer here
The trees are rapt with silence

The burning bird settling in the rocks
Stand ever among the broken vowels:

You will no longer hour

The silent groundswell, the swell of silence.

Silence is a pervading theme throughout as the narrator tries to quiet his own beating heart to enjoy the silent moments of nature in “One Evening,” or when Yogis open their mouths to drink rain, rather than speak in “Rain.” The journey has taken this narrator many places, but many of these trips have done little to achieve peace or calm. The narrator is looking for a way to separate from the known self, to find that inner place (“The River’s Address”) where he can return again when the world or his state of mind requires re-balance.

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a meditation of its own, with poems evoking ties to nature and its quiet beauty, but also its tumultuous moments and chaotic presence. Some of these poems will require greater meditation from the reader.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Kazim Ali is an American poet, novelist, essayist and professor. His most recent books are The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009) and Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). His honors include an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. His poetry and essays have been featured in many literary journals and magazines including The American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Barrow Street, Jubilat, The Iowa Review, West Branch and Massachusetts Review, and in anthologies including The Best American Poetry 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock

Source: Library of Clean Reads
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock is a compilation of haiku from readers that were solicited by The New York Times in 2014 during National Poetry Month.  Haiku were guided by the terms “island,” “strangers,” “solitude,” “commuting,” “6 a.m.,” and “kindness.”  Respondents wrote poems on the subjects of living, commuting, working, and enjoying New York City.  This is just 150 of the more than 2,800 submissions and, no, not all of the haiku are from only residents of New York City.  Some come from as far away as Ireland.

(I will caution that I, too, submitted haiku to the Times, but none of mine appear in this collection)

As we leave for work
Youngsters head home from parties.
Eras intersect. — Amparo Pikarsky, Edison, N.J.

These haiku are by turns serious and humorous about life in the city from a sketch artist on the subway willing sleeping commuters to remain sleeping to people jammed together and yet alone on the train.

Hidden among the
sleepwalking, caffeine zombies.
A morning person. — Aimee Estrada, Hyde Park, N.Y.

These writers clearly know the city and all of its nuances, as well as the rote behavior of commuters. It’s wonderful to visit the city in haiku form and see it from a variety of perspectives, including those who have a sense of humor about it all.

Dollar pizza joint
An oasis in New York’s
Harsh desert of cost. — Dennis Francis, Manhattan, N.Y.

New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock provides a wide view of the city and commuting. Some seem to express personal experience, while others are more social in commentary. Each haiku displays a sense of humor and love for the Big Apple. Such a fun collection of poems, which would be easy to dip in and out of on a commute into the city or sitting in a good chair.

RATING: Quatrain

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert

Source: the author
Paperback, 118 pgs.
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The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert calls to mind how things are connected or organized in our lives. Some of these things are not experienced directly by the narrator of the poems, but tangentially. The pasts of our fathers and mothers can affect our lives even without us realizing it, but our own connections also can call back those moments missed or even moments we’ve forgotten. These poems are a maze of memory, experience, and so much more. Weisert’s verse unwinds this maze and finds the hidden connections.

From "The Scheme of Things" (pg. 11)

So: One morning, from nowhere, an unselected self: A gait
that unrhythms you, a gasp that fills your fist
with nameless stuff. Your skull a holy dome -- A new weight!
But on this plain, the claw-and-hunch will coexist
with you for ages.  All aching appetite, her jaws will snap
flesh, and your fine teeth close. ...

Readers will love how she plays with musicality in her poems, weaving the songs of Gershwin around the encounters with the narrator’s lover or the rhythm of words she and her mother used to create a language only they could understand. Weisert’s fluid vision permeates each poem, packing it full of gems like “Voice is our other body, how we move in the dark.” from “The Dark” (pg. 24). Readers will move with her narrator through the past and the present, looking at the two cities left to her by her absent father or the ravages of war that should not be forgotten and never shall.

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert is not heavy in its musicality, almost creating a dreamlike trance for the reader to easily flow in and out of these connections and, yet, continue to feel the deep emotion, the scars, and awe without plummeting down.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Hilde Weisert‘s collection The Scheme of Things was published in 2015 by David Robert Books. Her poem, “The Pity of It,” was winner of the 2016 Tiferet Poetry Award, and she’s had poems in such magazines as Ms, Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, Calyx, and several anthologies. She lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Sandisfield, Mass.

The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 98 pgs.
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The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky, the winner of the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, is a performance piece written in verse that uses disturbing imagery and rhetoric to examine the boundaries of humanity within the kaleidoscope of immigration, capitalism, and increasing globalization.  Readers will hear and envision a young man on stage speaking truths and satire, picking apart capitalism and so much more in modern society. The collection begins with the poem, “Let Light Shine Out of Darkness,” in which the narrator says, “I live in a body that does not have enough light in it.”  It’s clear that the narrator has been told that he is, or at least he has felt, inadequate.

Borzutzky is exploring humanity from its most vulnerable — a refugee, an outsider — but also how that human must perform in order to find acceptance and not be the subject of violence.  The performance of this book is brutal in its honesty and the reader is forced into frantic reading, almost as one rubbernecks on the road opposite a car wreck.  But in this way, his poems are more powerful because they are “a bedtime story for the end of the world.” (“The Performance of Becoming Human,” pg.15).

So much of the modern world is artifice and natural beauty is shunned or destroyed.  The poet is drawing from current news, from the communities around him, and from the current state of the state. Should the people who live under a regime or a plantation own be asked what they need in order to work or should they merely be expected to work and receive what they are given with gratefulness? Should they expect more for the hard work and the fruits of their labor or should they merely beat down the man next to him on the same social level to receive more?  How does one survive in oppressive circumstances and how do they reconcile the choices they make or don’t make in order to succeed and live?

“The best dictators don’t kill their subjects rather they make their subjects kill each other.”

The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky is all artifice and all reality. There is a duality being an immigrant and a citizen and there is a balance that must be struck in survival. But this collection lifts the veil to show you a dark underbelly. There are no solutions, just a light shone on the whole.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Daniel Borzutzky is a Chicago-based poet and translator. His collection The Performance of Becoming Human won the 2016 National Book Award.

Interrobang by Jessica Piazza

Source: AWP Purchase
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Interrobang by Jessica Piazza is mostly a collection of sonnets that explore a series of phobias and obsessions that often cause us to go over the edge or come very close to our own destruction. This inner turmoil is rarely seen by outsiders or if it is, it is ignored. Piazza brings these obsessions and fears into the light to share with us just how constraining they can be, but there is also an undercurrent of letting loose and a rolling with the punches as they come.

From "Lilapsophobia" (pg. 24)

... But flood's not much
compared with these cyclonic days. No way
to gauge you: wrath or pleasure, unfixed track
away or toward. Untoward, you leave no wake.

Imagine that sleep is the quiet that soothes your fears, imagine to that the light is not hope but something that is jarring and humbling. This is how Piazza’s poems pack their punches, lulling the reader into a known world only to shake them awake with a new world view — one that is a little disturbing. “Antephilia” (Love of Ruin) is one of the most phenomenal poems in the collection, exploring the wreck of a dysfunctional relationship with graveyard imagery and more. Piazza has taken the mess and created a love that leaves a lasting impression in its dysfunction without delving too far into the melodrama of these lives.

Meanwhile, “Pediophilia” (Love of Dolls) almost becomes an ode to loss and the filling up of the emptiness where a daughter once was, only to find it full of creepy dolls in an orphanage devoid of joy and life. Piazza’s imagery is haunting and devastating, and readers will have to force themselves to take it all in, rather than turn away. These poems want you to take notice of the darkness, of the mess, of the emptiness so that you can be ready for the collection’s conclusion and it’s minor note of hope and change.

Jessica Piazza is a talented wordsmith who can weave pictures that will sear into readers’ minds. Her poems in Interrobang are going to force you to look into the darkness so long that the bright light is almost to blinding to see.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Obliterations

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza is the author of three poetry collections: “Interrobang” (Red Hen Press), “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (Red Hen Press, forthcoming). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in English Literature /Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University. She is co-founder of Gold Line Press and Bat City Review, and curates the Poetry Has Value blog (a must read), which explores the intersections of poetry, money and worth.

Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Dear Almost: A Poem by Matthew Thorburn, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a book length poem exploring a year-long tangle with grief after a miscarriage.  Broken into the four seasons, the poem rises and falls with the ebb and flow of melancholy. It attempts to illustrate the loss of what could have been or what almost was or even what you wanted to be.  It’s the loss of potential … the loss of discovery of that being.

From "Once in Early Spring" (pg. 3)

"So that her flight is
flighty, a hop and flap
flutter skip from
branch to branch to
lower branch -- here-ing
and there-ing -- then
the branch dips"

Thorburn relies not only on the natural world to demonstrate fleeting life or the sudden drop off that catches us off-guard emotionally, but also the wider urban world he notices walking with his wife or when he is alone on the streets. Despite the emptiness the narrator feels at the lost one-ounce life he’d imagined taking flight, there are moments of creative imagining, a filling in of what could have been or might have been had things turned out differently. What’s absolutely stunning is how true it all is, particularly:

From "Once in Early Spring" (pg. 11)

"My own words fall

away now, sound weird,
off, odd jangle-clang
in the ear like when
we say something again
and again until
it slips loose of its mooring,
its meaning, so that
we wind up staring"

Grief often paralyzes us, makes us sound unlike ourselves and unable to articulate what is happening to us emotionally. It is even harder for us to connect with others who reach out to us to help us through that pain, and many times we choose to withdraw, to forget, to hold that grief unto ourselves because we don’t know how to express it, how to share it, or how to process and let it go.

From "Three Deer Beneath the Autumn Moon" (pg. 44)

"this hurt is like a burr
hooked in the haunch
of a deer: I carry it with me
all day.  I think of you still,

so still, not there anymore"

Dear Almost: A Poem by Matthew Thorburn is beautiful in its attempt to articulate that which we cannot explain or even deal with.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Matthew Thorburn is the author of six collections of poetry, including the book-length poem Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016) and the chapbook A Green River in Spring (Autumn House Press, 2015), winner of the Coal Hill Review chapbook competition. His previous collections include This Time Tomorrow (Waywiser Press, 2013), Every Possible Blue (CW Books, 2012), Subject to Change, and an earlier chapbook, the long poem Disappears in the Rain (Parlor City Press, 2009). His work has been recognized with a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, as well as fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His interviews with writers appear on the Ploughshares blog as a monthly feature. He lives in New York City, where he works in corporate communications.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, is a delightful story of a young girl bubbling over with so many questions and problems to solve. She reminds me so much of my daughter and her endless questions about why things are and how they became. Many kids inquire, but like Ada, they need to be encouraged to explore, to experiment, to create, and to discover. Ada is a strong girl who is not afraid of failure, with each mishap she begins again, returning to her same questions and moving forward with each new piece of information she learns.

Her parents and teachers have no idea what to do with her inquiring mind, and even when they put her in the “thinking” chair, it’s hard for Ada to stop her exploring and wondering. My daughter and I are just beginning her exploring from rock discovery kits to scientific explosions and creating slime. It’s wonderful to share with her the knowledge I learned and to see how she uncovers the connections and has fun doing so.

The poetry in Beaty’s book is fantastic, if a little awkward in some places. But overall, children will get the bug — the discovery bug — and want to find out for themselves how the world operates and what is going on around them. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, is delightful, and my daughter and I cannot wait to check out the other kids books she has about kids dreaming big, doing great things, and having fun too.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Andrea Beaty was raised in southern Illinois in a town so small she knew everybody and their pets. And they all knew her. She was one of six kids and spent our summer days traipsing through the fields and forests hunting for adventure. She was a big reader as a kid and LOVED Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon Mysteries. Then Andrea moved on to Agatha Christie books and then the classics. She attended Southern Illinois University and studied Biology and Computer Science. After that, she worked for a computer software company. Now, she lives in Chicago with her family. Visit her website. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Also, check out David Roberts’ illustrations online.