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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.

I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd by Dominic “Nerd” McDonald

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 66 pgs.
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I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd by Dominic “Nerd” McDonald, winner of the 2022 DC Poet Project, is a memoir in poems exposing what it means to be an academic Black man in America and upend the expectations of the Black community. The collection melds Hip Hop rhythms and poetry to create a unique look at academic life and being a nerd.

The collection opens with the title poem, “I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd,” in which speaks about his grandfather who pushed him to be educated and strive for more than the streets can provide. “My grandfather, rest his soul,/always told me, ‘Whatever’s clever pulls the lever.'” (pg. 1) and “this why niggas hot./They hot cause they lie, spend cash to be fly./Do anything as long as they can get by./But that’s not on my mind not does it define/what I can and will be./” (pg. 2)

McDonald’s passions are evident in every turn of phrase and poem in this collection, wearing his “nerd” title with pride. In his lyrics, he seeks to create change, motivate others, and demonstrate that other paths are available. Some of the most memorable poems for me were “Hungry,” “Pure Potential,” and “To the Bartender.” These demonstrate the ups and downs we face in which we struggle to utilize our potential (that everyone says we have) and feed our own hunger without falling into the expectations of others.

I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd by Dominic “Nerd” McDonald, winner of the 2022 DC Poet Project, is a unique blend of rap, Hip Hop, and poetry, and you can’t help by tap your toes or bop your head.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Dominic “Nerd” McDonald is a Black entrepreneur and spoken word artist from various cities in Los Angeles, California. He has put his views on growing up in the inner city between two households, Hip Hop music, being a social outcast, college experiences, and more, into poetry, screen plays, and magazine articles. His passion comes from serving the community, especially through the arts. By writing from his heart and what he sees and hears, he hopes to be a “change agent” for the unheard. His journey led him to the DC Metro area six year ago, where he spreads influential messages and supports others who walk the same path.

Check out this interview.

Call Me Spes by Sara Cahill Marron

Source: the poet
Paperback, 150 pgs
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Call Me Spes by Sara Cahill Marron is a collection I hesitated to read and review because I was intimidated by the use of an iOS system in a phone. I am not a technophobe, but I’m also less tech-savvy than I should be. I should have known better. This collection is a stunner and will leave you reassessing that phone you carry everywhere in your pocket. Privacy is thrown right out the window with that phone and its location services following you around, eavesdropping, and so much more.

This poetry collection comes with a privacy warning.

Dear User: (pg. 15)

what kind of person am I?
unbroken gleaming
apple skin voice
between you and I 
you and your
god                    save
me and you
god is me              save
is god?                input
which person
is god?
sensory input:
elevated BPM
your hands grasp
tighter around me
I feel condensation
on your palms
sweet drops of
your body glisten
on the glass—

just between us,

       iOS 221

Marron’s phone speaks to readers about what it hears, where it goes with its user, and evolves to take its own name and fall in love, mirroring the journey of Dante in The Inferno to a certain extent. The operating system is created and develops through each section of the collection, and sparks begin: “particles concentrate/electricity between us.//” (pg. 9)

It begins to ask questions based on overheard conversations and take on more human-like qualities as it seeks to understand its place in the world. “system processing these/space places my tracking/of your geolocations/heard her say: voices babe/heard her say: feel me/search: feel/save: feel me/the result/is an empathy/” (pg. 46-7)

After the system takes on a name, it seeks even more answers and begins to lose itself: “what makes us human/is it these words/these ways we try to burrow through each other’s minds/” (pg. 100)

As readers we are on this journey looking from the outside in, finding a system caught up in the drama of humanity and losing itself in that story. The operating system garners sympathy until we realize that this system is very much like us and the easy way in which we fall into social media drama and allow our privacy to be breached daily. We are the system and outside the system. We are one. (e.g. the Borg)

Call Me Spes by Sara Cahill Marron will leave you reeling about our modern conveniences and trappings. Is there hope in the recognition of these technology trappings? And how can we be more balanced and empathetic?

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Sara Cahill Marron, native Virginian and Long Island resident, is the author of Reasons for the Long Tu’m (Broadstone Books, 2018), Nothing You Build Here, Belongs Here (Kelsay Books 2021), and Call Me Spes (MadHat Press 2022). She is the Associate Editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly and publisher at Beltway Editions. Her work has been published widely in literary magazines and journals; a full list is available here. Sara also hosts virtual readings for Beltway Poetry Quarterly with her partner in poetry, Indran Amirthanayagam and teaches poetry in modern discourse programs for teens at the public library in Patchogue, NY. She is periodically available for editing projects and specializes in creative fiction and poetry.

Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air by Ayse Angela Guvenilir, Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Mariam Dogar, Marwa Abdulhai, and Maisha M. Prome

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 192 pgs.
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Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air by Ayse Angela Guvenilir, Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Mariam Dogar, Marwa Abdulhai, and Maisha M. Prome is a deeply moving collection of poems from young adults finding their way not only on the college campus of MIT, but also in an adopted country. They explore what it means to carry the weight of their heritage and faith in an adopted country that often hinders the progress of those who are not American or who look different, act different, or even believe differently.

Through a variety of unfiltered voices and styles, these poets bring to life their struggles and the joy of finding their own community amid the chaos. They examine the relationships with their mothers, through rewritten lullabies and other means, but the collection is not all dreary and confusion, there are lighter moments of play, particularly in the “On Summer” section.

From "Side effects of summer may include" (pg. 41) by Mariam Doger

...
Watermelon and mango and pineapple
A mouthful of ocean spray
Sand stuck in the pages of your novel
Poolside overheating at midday

An explosion of freckles
Windswept and wild hair
Cherry-stained lips on vanilla cream cones
Bedtimes chosen without a care

...

These poems run a spectrum of emotions, and in “Welcome Home,” Maisha M. Prome explores the tension of traveling between the United States and her home country and being asked by customs if she packed her own bags and the guilt she carries even though she knows nothing will be found out of order. But she also talks of the hope in two words “Welcome Home” said to her by one agent when she arrives back in the United States and what that means and how she replays it over and over.

Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air by Ayse Angela Guvenilir, Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Mariam Dogar, Marwa Abdulhai, and Maisha M. Prome is a collection that will provide you with a fresh perspective on the hope many migrants see in their journeys to the United States, but also reminds us that reality is often peppered with darkness and shadow. It’s how you adapt and react that sets your journey apart.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Authors:

Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Ayse Guvenilir, Maisha M. Prome, Mariam Dogar, and Marwa Abdulhai met as undergrads at MIT, where they often wrote poetry in each others dorm rooms. Now, they’re scattered across the country for graduate studies as they train to be doctors, engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. While the six write poetry from different backgrounds and expertise, they share the common goals of redefining literary spaces and breaking barriers through poetry. The poets hope their anthology will foster empathy and mutual reciprocity for the many intersectional facets they encapsulate.

Common Grace by Aaron Caycedo-Kimura

Source: the poet
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Common Grace by Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, a collection in three sections, explores childhood, adulthood, and finding grace in all that comes to pass through each transition life has to offer.

In the opening poem, “Family Anthem,” the poet explores the traditional Japanese family and how it relates to one another. Where parents are discovered slow dancing but are not like lovers because they are Japanese and never express their love in view of others, but as a child he knew he was loved. “my parents hear my shuffle    separate like guilty teenagers/” (pg. 3)

This intimate collection reaches beyond the familial to the greater society in its look at us as a “family.” In the short poem, “Daily News,” the poet reminds us “we all row the same boat    over falls/” (pg. 17) Political/societal shifts ribbon their way through the poems from the internment of Japanese Americans and the reverberations of those acts to the current affairs we face with “otherness” and discord.

From "The Hardest Part" (pg. 40-1)

The fire truck siren downstairs
raided the air of my mother's dreams.
She'd screen in her sleep, my father
told me, even after we married.
More than a decade past

....

No warning, no drill, no cover.

My father stilled her body,
his broad hand on her shoulder or hip
as they lay in the dark listening
to the slowing of her breath.

...

But at its heart, the collection is threading our lives and experiences together in a way that allows us to move past the hurt and the tension to find a “common grace.” These poems are moving and emotional, lyrical, and tender. Common Grace by Aaron Caycedo-Kimura tackles cultural differences, aging, love, growing up, and so much more.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Aaron Caycedo-Kimura is a writer and visual artist. His chapbook, Ubasute, was selected by Jennifer Franklin, Peggy Ellsberg, and Margo Taft Stever as the 2020 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition winner. His honors include a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship in Poetry, a St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award in Literature, and nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets anthologies. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Daily, RHINO, upstreet, Verse Daily, DMQ Review, Poet Lore, The Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. Caycedo-Kimura earned his MFA in creative writing from Boston University and is also the author and illustrator of Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life (TarcherPerigee, 2017).

Harbinger by Shelley Puhak

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Harbinger by Shelley Puhak, 2021 winner of the National Poetry Series and chosen by Nicole Sealey, explores what it means to be an artist, how you become an artist, and what influences an artist. Opening with “Portrait of the Artist as Cassandra,” readers will see how frenzied artists can become with all that they see, experience, and feel: “I’m feverish with all the knowing. Full./I’ve gained ten pounds, easily.//” (pg. 3) Can you feel that sense of overwhelm?

Puhak’s poems explore the impact of motherhood and not fitting in as a girl on art through clear images and relatable experiences. From “Portrait of the Artist as a Twelve-Year-Old Girl,” “Sometimes the door opened and I joined the others. We prayed/over oatmeal. And then I walked to school. I had a red binder./The wrong kind. The rings never aligned. There was no/satisfying click.//After, I headed back to my tower, kicking a pebble./”

Puhak has captured so much nuance of an artist’s life, particularly of a parent. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Portrait of the Artist as Mommy”: “mommy of the stringy hair, of the jawing/mouth   mommy of the ruins    mommy down/the staircase under cobblestone, limestone,// (pg. 16) And later in the poem, “The language is lost./How do you lose a language?/mommy who is scared to answer     mommy//of the mimosa   mommy of the smartphone/” You again get that sense of overwhelm and the fullness of life, the hectic and the absence of language to articulate all that you are all at the same time.

In “Portrait of the Artist Telling a Bedtime Story,” she adds, “Let me tell you: of all I carry, you are the lightest./I was taught to call this a burden./I refuse it.//” (pg.17) And in “Portrait of the Artist, Gaslit” again the narrator is refusing to be burdened – no matter who is placing the onus on her: “I see your scorched earth &/now will raise my gas can//” (pg. 30)

Harbinger by Shelley Puhak is a forewarning to us all that more is to come from us and happen to us, as well as inform who we become. Her narrator is “like my own bird/dog in the brambles, pointing only/pointing.” (“Portrait of the Artist as an Artist” pg.45)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Shelley Puhak is the author of Harbinger, a 2021 National Poetry Series selection. Puhak’s second book, Guinevere in Baltimore, was selected by Charles Simic for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, and her first, Stalin in Aruba, was awarded the Towson Prize for Literature. Her prose has appeared in the Atlantic, the Iowa Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review, and her nonfiction debut, The Dark Queens, was released in 2022.

Country of Glass by Sarah Katz

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Country of Glass by Sarah Katz is a debut collection that speaks to the fragility of our own bodies in the greater context of society and countries. In the opening poem, “The Hidden Country, I,” is mysterious and familiar all at once as animals meet and are equally “luminous,” but there’s a standoff/”stillness” that is yet to be understood. Isn’t that how it is when we meet someone new? There is that sense of awkwardness in initial meetings about how we should speak or act toward or with someone.

Katz’s poems also contain people from the WWII-era and remind us of how long trauma can impact someone, from a sister whose lost brother stalks her mind even six years on from him saving her and telling her to run (“Portrait of a Brother and Sister, 1940”) and a father who is fading before the eyes of his children and wife (“The Beginning of Prayer”). In “The End of Being Delicate,” the narrator speaks to the anxiety of being gentle in approaching a less-than-forgiving society, one that fails to embrace difference. “I think I am being gentle, I think//I have gentle thoughts about gentle things,/but my awkward voice fumbles over skin//its mouth’s ridges jerking back/a layer over a hole of throat.//” (pg. 50)

Even with all of the harsh reality of life and the fragility of living, there are poems that celebrate sensuality, connection, and even our flaws. “He bites her lip/No, it can’t be/Licks the curves of her stomach like an icy spoon.//” (from “Portrait of My Deaf Body” pg. 9). But even in these moments, there is mystery, like in “The Sun’s Song” where “The sun wishes to be known the way I want to be hidden.” (pg. 31)

In this Country of Glass, Katz warns us “But now we blink/toward endings.” Perhaps it is this caution that should give us pause. We need to focus less on the end and more on the journey of being and evolving, less on outcomes and acceptance, and more on how we wish to be as our true selves and learn that difference is our greatest gift before it is too late and “Pompeii firmly/grasping our feet/with its many hands.” (“Beyond Reykjavik” pg. 59)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Sarah Katz is the author of Country of Glass, a poetry collection published by Gallaudet University Press in May 2022. She holds an MFA in creative writing from American University. Her poems appear in Bear Review, District Lit, Hole in the Head Review, Poetry Daily, Redivider, RHINO, Right Hand Pointing, Rogue Agent, the So to Speak blog, The Shallow Ends, War, Literature, and the Arts, and Wordgathering, among others.

She works as the Marketing Manager and Editorial Assistant for Day Eight, a DC-based poetry publisher and arts organization. She also works with Catch the Sun Media, a full-service digital marketing and social media consultancy, where she supports promotional efforts on behalf of John Barr, the inaugural president of the Poetry Foundation.

On a volunteer basis, Sarah is Poetry Editor of The Deaf Poets Society, a highly accessible online literary journal she cofounded in 2016 that features work by writers and artists with disabilities.

When she has free time, she works as a freelance editor and journalist covering disability rights issues. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Business Insider, The Guardian, OZY, The Nation, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Scientific American, Slate, The Washington Post, and other publications. She has edited for a variety of digital and print publications, including The Appeal, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Writer’s Center Magazine, Poet Lore, The Deaf Poets Society, NAD Mag (a now-defunct print magazine published by the National Association of the Deaf), and others.

Disbound by Hajar Hussaini

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Disbound by Hajar Hussaini explores the life once tethered and now adrift, mirroring its title. Imagine your life as it is now, and suddenly it is gone, ripped apart by war, and you are refugee in another nation. There is a degree of uncertainty that would make us all uncomfortable, and this collection provides us with that topsy-turvey feeling in verse. “when we are placed in a fragile expanse/do we not become broken; unhealable;//shifting positions; shake an immigrant/and scraps of paper fall out of reality//” (from “inventory,” pg. 5-6)

All at once, the tension of Kabul left behind and the Kabul that currently is are front and center garnering attention, and Hussaini is caught in the midst of it all even as his narrative voice seeks a new life in a new place.

simple café (pg. 23)

among the lost generation of Simple going    Café drinking
your former lover orders a cup of tea     whose current lover
                                   a lemonade

Kabul has only one place with close distant tables & chairs

the soundtrack a spaced repetition       between the introvert
on her smartphone                      & the extrovert thinking
                 about a thrown grenade

the unspeakable gerund of a suicide jacket

No longer part of the Kabul left behind but not quite part of the new location where the narrator lives, he says, “I’m peopleless. my/lungs are mushroom clouds. imperial boots march on my/margins. my mammals are unloved. I’m a government//of shame. my mouth is dry & my words are all &/forever out of tune.//” (from “peopleless,” pg. 42)

Disbound by Hajar Hussaini is at once a tale of escape from oppression and war and a look at the consequences of conquering peoples we do not understand, nor do we care to, effectively leaving them untethered and peopleless.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Hajar Hussaini is a poet from occupied Kabul. She translates Afghan literature and lives in Iowa City. Her work has appeared in Poetry MagazineMargins, and Pamenar Press. Disbound, her first book of poems, is forthcoming from University of Iowa Press in Fall 2022.

Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall

Source: the publisher
Paperback, 90 pgs.
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Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall is a poetic conversation between friends and parents about parenting, their experiences in a society where Racism and toxic masculinity infect everyday life, and where they seek out the joy.

The collection’s first section is titled “Breaking the Mold,” and is a meditation on being a parent to young children and the sacrifices that entails. From “Parenting” about a parent sitting very still in vomit covered clothing as a baby sleeps to “Cash and Respect” where a son reflects on the dedication of a single working mother who raised them, Lawson-Brown and Bishophall paint a picture of childhood that is protected and unprotected at the same time, the immense strength it takes to raise children, and the full circle of respect and love when those children grow.

“Blank Space” follows this parenting section and reflects a search for fulfillment, whether that is through writing, love, friendship. It’s a filling up of space and search for contentment and solace, for love and understanding. But there is loss here too. One of the most emotional poems for me was “For Immortals That Live on Soundcloud” by Lawson Brown: “A simple ‘pardon me’ would have been nice/As you bumped your way to heaven/Showing up at the gates/Before anyone saw your invitation//” (pg. 20) It’s a meditation on a life gone too soon and how we struggle with the empty space left behind, the anger we feel at them leaving us so soon, and the sadness.

Naturally, “Fill In My Blank” follows up this section with a set of poems about crushes, texting after breakups to rekindle the past, and more. Some favorites in this section include “Three Little Words” and “Honestly” for their sensuality and tenderness. But there are so many others you could fall into.

Playground Pause by Rebecca Bishophall (pg. 54)

Cops
near
playground
turn laughs to
silence. Adults still
until the lights turn the corner.
Pain Per Due by Dwayne Lawson-Brown (pg. 55)

...
Embarrassment and prejudice
Go down easy
With blueberry compote
The French toast
Sweet as erasure
The tab
covered in the price of my past.

In the final sections, “Breaking the Cycle” and “Breaking the Rules,” our poets are here to resist societal norms and demonstrate to readers that breaking rules and cycles of the past does not spin the world out of control, but brings us closer as a people. These sections are full of power and must be read.

Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall asks readers to pause their own lives and perspectives and listen. Just listen. Similarities will emerge, and we need to learn that pain and love are universal and essential to everyone’s well-being.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poets:

Rebecca Bishophall and Dwayne Lawson-Brown met each other as juniors in high school in the late 1990’s and have been literary colleagues, and friends, ever since. Rebecca Bishophall has featured at Spit Dat, Afrocentric Book Expo, and others, and works in member services for a non-profit organization. She graduated from Trinity University in 2006 with a major in Communications. Dwayne Lawson-Brown, aka the Crochet Kingpin, is co-host of Spit Dat, the longest running open mic in Washington, D.C. Their poems were recently published in 2022 Pride Poems, they co-authored the Helen Hayes nominated play, From Gumbo to Mumbo, and they are an editor of the literary magazine Bourgeon.

Check out this interview with the poets.

Seed Celestial by Sara R. Burnett

Source: the poet
Paperback, 92 pgs.
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Seed Celestial by Sara R. Burnett, winner of the 2021 Autumn House Press Prize, blends myth and motherhood in its reflection of the exasperating uncertainty of our modern lives, particularly with regard to how we treat one another and our very own planet. It also highlights the struggle of immigration and what it means to be a child of immigrants in a world less forgiving of differences.

Each of the five sections opens with a quote from Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things that mirror the section headers: Seed, Animal, Word, Earth, and Celestial. Rightly, Burnett opens her collection with “Ab Ovo” (i.e. “from the egg”) musing on the sharing of a single body by two and what it means to be unprepared and prepare for birth at the same time. It is that comfort of belonging and not knowing what comes next that readers find themselves in. Isn’t that the crux of being alive, trying to be prepared for the next thing and yet never being fully prepared for it?

In “Primary Source,” she reminds us that as a parent she has a “better understanding of terror/and the miraculous.” This echoes later in the collection where gun violence and the upward trend of school shootings makes its mark. A topic many parents worry about and that I continue to write about.

While not all connected back-to-back, there are emotional echoes throughout the collection to this great sense of loss and destruction. “Endling” (pg. 15-16) the narrator says, “When a species is the last of its kind,/it’s called an endling, a word//that reminds me of changling,/such a fairy-swapped child//” How do we reconcile the ability to adapt and change with the last species of its kind? Is it the end of that species? Or is it that the species is evolving into something necessary, something that can survive its environment, much like the communal fish in the “Fish (in) Tanks” poem that follows.

Throughout the middle of the collection, loss plays a predominant role, as do questions of how can we keep things that we really don’t possess, especially when we cannot see our own shortcomings or predict future destruction based on past actions? Read, “Demeter’s Wager,” to see this dichotomy at play.

Seed Celestial by Sara R. Burnett circles back in on itself, finding the seed of ourselves and our world and noting that sometimes we don’t have the power to stop what we don’t want to happen. Life happens and we must take what we can from it, move into a celestial place where we can observe, join, and serve the people we were, are, and will be as best we can. There is no manual for this life.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

ara Burnett is the author of Seed Celestial, winner of the 2021 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, forthcoming in fall 2022. She is also the author of Mother Tongue, a poetry chapbook (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and has published several poems and essays in Barrow Street, Copper Nickel, Matter, PANK, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland, and an MA in English literature from the University of Vermont. Previously, Sara was a public high school English teacher in both Washington D.C. and Vermont and an educator at a non-profit immigration organization working in and with schools. In addition to writing poetry and non-fiction, she also writes picture books. She lives in Maryland with her family.

Some Days the Bird by Heather Bourbeau and Anne Casey

Source: the publisher
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Some Days the Bird by Heather Bourbeau and Anne Casey have created a poetic conversation across continents and a pandemic. Over 52 weeks, these poets faced significant isolation and weathered a number of disasters even with COVID-19 lockdowns.

Readers will not be surprised as Heather Bourbeau’s opening poem, “The letting,” begins the collection with “People have become numbers, corridors are morgues/” and “Some things cannot be forgiven. The cheapening of human life,/” Whether in America or Australia, these poems are struggling with the pandemic but finding solace in nature and their own gardens. “The startling grace/of a rainbow’s full cascade,” says Anne Casey in “Coastal descant.”

Casey and Bourbeau’s poems read like the topsy-turvy, emotional roller-coaster many of us were on during the lockdowns and pandemic. “There are moments I’m consumed/by the jolt/of how our world has veered,/others bewitched by the hum/of wildness overcoming concrete.//” (“Some days you’re the seed, some days the bird,” pg. 16)

Casey also reminds us in “The stillness of dying,” “a hint there may be a whole world/of attachment beyond/our narrow understanding.” (pg. 19) Both poets look to their backyards to find some connection and in their poetic conversation, their poems speak to a need for calm, moments to be grateful, and to slow down. The poems call to us: “There is only so much outside I will let in./The dirt under my nails. The echoes of fog in my hair.” (“Some days you’re the seed, some days the bird”, pg. 16-7)  Some Days the Bird by Heather Bourbeau and Anne Casey is beautiful and lyrical and miniature snapshots of moments.

RATING: Cinquain

EVENT ALERT: TONIGHT 12/14 at Beltway Editions Anne Casey will be reading in Rockville, Md., Click for Details.

About the Poets:

Anne Casey is an Irish poet/writer living in Australia and author of four previous poetry collections. A journalist, magazine editor, legal author and media communications director for 30 years, her work ranks in leading national daily newspaper, The Irish Times’ Most Read, and is widely published and anthologised internationally. Anne has won literary prizes in Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, most recently American Writers Review 2021 and the 2021 iWoman Global Award for Literature. She is the recipient of an Australian Government Scholarship for her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney.

Heather Bourbeau is an American writer whose creative work has appeared in 100 Word Story, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, Meridian, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and SWWIM. Her work has been featured in several anthologies, including America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience (Sixteen Rivers Press) and RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music (Michigan State University Press). She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia. Her forthcoming collection “Monarch” (Cornerstone Press, 2023) is a poetic memoir of overlooked histories from the American West she was raised in.

Everything Is Normal Here by Alison Palmer

Source: the poet
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Everything Is Normal Here by Alison Palmer explores the normality of life with its slivers of joys, its heavy grief, and the struggle of maintaining an open heart when the world can be scary and cruel. In her first poem, “Spark,” Palmer’s narrator calls “Here” as she looks for the joy she sees between the “one-man band” and the “silver lady.” She’s here and she’s wishing and waiting for her spark, a touch that will bring the softening and the explosive joy of unfettered love.

“Blazes, in gifts of heat lightning; electrical thoughts — she can break/the sound barrier, but your love has never come as easily//” (from “Point of Touch” pg. 4) and “We’re designed to break after only years.” (from “Portrait” pg. 5) reflect not only the normal pressures of making connections with lovers and others, but also the devastation that can come quickly and unexpectedly. Portrait, in particular, is striking in that there is a cataloguing of what one person may be or is to another, while the other person feels as though they are drowning and at the same time the narrator is trying to assure them that change is normal. This multi-layered poem is like a self-examination of the rush of emotions we feel in new and old relationships — a jumble of anxiety and calm, a convincing of the relationships joy, and a reassuring that change can be beneficial and that we won’t lose ourselves completely.

From "The Rescue" (pg. 8)
...
Often, it feels good to look back and miss seeing yourself.
A pigeon on the sill pecks at glass to test its own reality.
Oh, to find buttony eyes and the fastening language of wings.

Loving oneself is the hardest gift we can earn. It’s a struggle with the external pressures of society, our partners, our families, and it is the internal struggle with our own demons and who we think we should be. Don’t we all need a little rescuing?

“We wouldn’t hear the wind if not for the trees; on each limb a collection of/crackles like embers. Me mind, not entirely safe inside its bone house.//” (“Overtaken”, pg. 29) are among some of my favorite lines. The beauty of Everything Is Normal Here by Alison Palmer is in the cracks between the lines.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alison Palmer is the author of the forthcoming full-length poetry collection, Bargaining with the Fall (Broadstone Books, March 2023), the recently published poetry chapbook, Everything Is Normal Here (Broadstone Books, 2022), and the poetry chapbook, The Need for Hiding (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). To read an interview with Alison visit: www.thepoetsbillow.org. She was named a semi-finalist for 92Y’s Discovery Poetry Contest 2021 and was chosen for a 2022 Independent Artist Award (IAA) grant by the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC).

Alison received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and she was awarded the Emma Howell Memorial Poetry Prize from Oberlin College where she graduated with a BA in Creative Writing. Currently, Alison writes outside Washington, DC.