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Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King

Source: Poet
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King is a powerful chapbook that tackles fatherhood, family demons and traumas, and finds the bright light in the darkness. What King always does well in his verse is to find the hope even in the darkest moments.

In the opening poem, “In Your Dreams,” the young man is dodging not only physical blows from his father and trying to sway away from his emotional jabs. He reminds us that those traumas are the past and in our reliving of them, we can change the ending and manifest that in our own, true lives. King uses these boxing metaphors in a few of the poems and it serves as a way to remind us that life is not a straight line journey from point A to point B — there are a lot of curves and turns along the way.

When the chapbook shifts to his own journey as a father, the light of hope shines brightest. I absolutely loved “The Light Inside.” It’s such a beautiful poem in which the poet is watched as he contemplates “the country of fatherhood,/where experience alone won’t grant you citizenship.//” He’s folding onesies and waiting for his daughter to arrive where “Everything hangs, waiting for you to fill them/the way your mom and I waited for you//” and “patience is the currency/of anything worth having.//”

Parenthood is a tough state but absolutely worth it for those committed to doing it and nurturing young life. And yes, like King says, “parenting is like gardening.” But in that effort, we also have to tend to our own scars and past traumas so that they don’t poorly influence how we tend our own gardens. Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King is a love letter to his family, his children, and his own past, as he moves forward as a father and a more whole human being. Love and hope are in every corner of this collection, and there is a push for more out of life and a recognition of simplicity, beauty, and importance.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alan King is an author, poet, journalist and videographer, who lives with his family in Bowie, MD. He writes about art and domestic issues on this blog. He’s a communications specialist for a national nonprofit and a senior editor at Words Beats & Life‘s global hip hop journal.

King is the author of POINT BLANK (Silver Birch Press, 2016) and DRIFT (Aquarius Press, 2012). King’s honors include fellowships from Cave (cah-veh) Canem (cah-nem) and Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) Foundation, three Pushcart Prize nominations as well as three nominations for Best of the Net selection.

He’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. His poems and short stories appear in various literary journals, magazines and are featured on public radio. Visit his website, Facebook, Twitter, and on YouTube.

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 101 pgs.
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Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc is a collection that will floor you with its emotional heights and its stunning imagery. The collection’s sections — “This Is What Women Do,” “All I’ve Swallowed,” “Mouthing Your Memory,” and “Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart” — tackle larger issues facing women today in not only patriarchal society but within our own strictures that we adopt to define who we are. I love that LeBlanc opens this collection with “Autobiography of Eve” because she sets readers up for a great unfolding, demonstrating how women have been conditioned into thinking one way about love, marriage, and how the world works, as well as our place in that world. “Now that the sticky juice/of knowledge ran freely down my chin/” — isn’t the truth always a little bit sticky?

I’m going to try not to gush about this collection, but there are so many poems I love from “We Carry” where women are burdened with keys and households as well as the comments of others, the groceries, the organization and schedules, and the weight of abuse when it happens to “Alternative Names for Woman” where LeBlanc begins with those harsh truths about what we earn, how we’re perceived by others, and what we could become despite those misconceptions and putdowns.

LeBlanc talks to the women who have held onto their trauma, to those who re-traumatize themselves, to those experiencing serious heartbreak, to those who feel lost and she holds out her hands to them, hoping they will take that leap of faith for themselves – to become their true selves in spite of it all. It’s hard work this transformation, but she shows you the way in her poems. The road will never be smooth, but in the end, it may be a journey worth taking to be free and to be your unapologetic self. From “Gasoline,” “I’m peeling/back my skin/revealing/the flint of a match/crawling through my blood/my bones/I’m ready/to burn/this fucking frat party/this America to the ground.//”

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc is an evolution of love and self. In her last poem, “Eventually Evolution,” she reminds us that change takes time, even if it seems like love can strike in a few seconds of meeting someone.

This is the second book I’ve read by LeBlanc and I have loved both of them.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the full length collections Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart (Riot in Your Throat, July 2021),  Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, March 2020)The Violence Within (Flutter Press, 2018, currently out of print), and All in the Family (Bottlecap Press, 2016, currently out of print) , and a Pushcart Prize  and Best of the Net nominee. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Visit her website, Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, and her publishing house, Riot in Your Throat.

Other Reviews:

Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 36 pgs.
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Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce opens with an apt quote from Wallace Stevens, in which he says music is a feeling, not sound. Luce moves through the music of his collection like a man in love. He loves not only the music, but the music of love.

In the opening poem, “Music to It,” he reaches us through our souls, those moments we all remember when we wanted the music blaring as we moved through our day. He sways and glides on the Metro to an unheard music strumming through his headphones, and he’s unable to stop moving and tapping. Isn’t this why we all love the music we do? Because it moves us, even when we’re in public and perhaps shy about our love of music.

Luce pays homage to what I’ll call “music memory.” In “An air that kills,” he says, “I hear/you whisper underneath/the song, a memory/that pricks without/the power to console.//” Each of us has those songs or riffs of music that recall memories. I cannot get past a song without recalling some memory or moment or loved one who has passed away. There are so many songs that call to us for its melody, its lyrics, its rhythms, but they also are tied to our lives by memory.

From John Coltrain to Richard Strauss, Luce’s improvisations can leave you breathless, swimming in a sea of bourbon and memory swirling in a glass and chinking ice. And you know that there’s a playlist on Spotify for this collection — how could you not have one! I will definitely be listening as I read this collection again. The delightful rhythm of Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce will carry you away, allowing you to lay your head down and dream away in the “light of a love supreme.”

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Gregory Luce is the author of five books of poems: Signs of Small Grace, Drinking Weather, Memory and Desire, Tile, and Riffs & Improvisations (forthcoming in 2021). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Juke Jar, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, Buffalo Creek Review, and in several anthologies. He recently retired after 32 years from National Geographic and now lives in Arlington, VA. He is a volunteer writing tutor and mentor with 826DC.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 228 pgs.
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Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, is a bilingual collection of love poems in Spanish and English that touches the passionate hearts of us all. It is a love letter to lovers, friends, ourselves, and human kind. Amirthanayagam opens the collection with “On my Body,” exploring the weakness of the body to be fooled by love, whether that is the desire of the body to get close to another only to find out it is not love or a person who tattoos their body for love and be stuck with the reminder that it is a failed relationship. Love in this opening poem is both bliss and pain. How true that is.

I love that this collection is both in Spanish and English. It allowed me to reach back into my memory to find those Spanish words I recall from high school and attempt to live in the language Amirthanayagam wrote the poems in. While my translations did not always match what was written in the English poem, the feelings evoked by the poems were the same. The beauty of language is that it can transcend the barriers we have to create connections, much like love can connect us to one another.

There is a deep longing in Amirthanayagam’s poems. His poems are short but full of poetic longing – to embrace those who have moved, those who are no longer with us, the lovers we remember fondly despite the pain of those relationships ending, and even those we have yet to meet.

Keys (pg. 105)

I would have liked to have taught you
to drive, share the stage
when you presented your first book,

write its prologue. Your poems
accompany me to the rhythm of my pulse.
Cars will become more electric

and I will continue loving what
we could have accomplished
in that other time that was within

our reach and is still present,
an open-ended invitation,
the car ready to start.
Llaves (pg. 104)

Me hubiese gustado enseñarte
a manejar, compartir la mesa
cuando presentabas tu primer libro,

escribir el prólogo. Tus poemas
me acompañan al ritmo de mi pulso;
los autos se volverán más eléctricos

y seguiré amando lo que
podríamos haber logrado
en aquel otro tiempo que estaba

a nuestro alcance y sigue presente,
una invitación sin fecha de caducidad,
el auto listo para encenderse.

In “Between Google and Face, a Letter,” Amirthanayagam speaks to the digital distance many of us face now, making love or the cultivation of love more difficult. “Now when I surf the internet/I see that face like a country/behind the Iron Curtain/that’s now rather digital,//bytes of ones, zeroes and light blocking/Cyrano from his beloved. Who will become/his postman and who will make peace”

One of my favorite poems in the collection comes in the back third, “Sustainable Love,” where the longing is ever present from the man who will not cry for his love or clean the office or check the email hoping for messages, as the oceans continue to erode the shore and the man has little choice but to get back to life and his work. “To Wake Up with Moon and Sea” also explores this longing, but instead of another person, there’s a longing for a home country left behind.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, pays homage to love’s beauty, its heartbreak, its longing, and its desire. Fall through Amirthanayagam’s ventana azul and revel in the beauty of love. A collection you’ll turn to in times of sadness and in celebration.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Indran Amirthanayagam is a Sri Lankan-American poet- diplomat, essayist, translator and musician in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. A member of the U.S. Foreign Service, he is currently oa a domestic assignment in Washington D.C. Amirthanayagam has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), when he was eight years old Amirthanayagam moved with his family to London, England, and at age 14, he moved again to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he began writing poetry. He studied at Punahou School in Honolulu and played cricket at the Honolulu Cricket Club. He then studied English Literature at Haverford College where he also captained their cricket team during his last year. He has a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Amirthanayagam writes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. His Spanish collections include Lírica a tiempo (Mesa Redonda Editorial, Lima, 2020), En busca de posada (Editorial Apogeo Lima 2019), El Infierno de los Pájaros (Resistencia, Mexico City, 2001), El Hombre que Recoge Nidos (CONARTE/Resistencia, Mexico, 2005), Sol Camuflado (Lustra Editores, Lima, May 2011), Sin Adorno, lírica para tiempos neobarrocos (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Mexico, 2013), and Ventana Azul (El Tapiz del Unicornio, Mexico, 2016). His first collection in French, Aller-retour au bord de la mer, was published in 2014 by Legs Editions. Legs also published Il n’est de solitude que l’ile lointaine in 2017. Sur l’île nostalgique was published by L’Harmattan in Paris in 2020. His works in English include BLUE WINDOW (VENTANA AZUL) (DIALOGOS/Lavender Ink, 2021), THE MIGRANT STATES (Hanging Loose Press, 2020), UNCIVIL WAR (Mawenzi House/TSAR Publishers, 2013), THE SPLINTERED FACE: TSUNAMI POEMS (HAnging Loose Press, 2008), and THE ELEPHANTS OF RECKONING (Hanging Loose Press, 1993). Check out The Poetry Channel he runs.

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon

Source: the poet
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon is a phenomenal collection and likely one of the best I’ve read this year. You probably won’t read on if that’s all you wanted to know, but please take the time to explore this amazing book with me.

I love that each section of this collection has calls to the sea from “cross rip” to “breaksea.” The opening poem, “Hunger,” calls to the changing tides with “We are all trying to change/what we fear into something beautiful.” There are so many things to fear in the world from the political climate to the climate’s rapid heating and change and the breakdown of society. How do we change our hunger into something beautiful? Agodon further explores this tension in “String Theory Relationships” in which she tells us what we all know — “everyone wants a window or aisle seat and no one wants to sit//in the middle. Call it deniability. Call it the flashlight you keep/by the door never works in emergencies. We are all connected//

Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror (pg. 8)

The evening sounds like a murder
of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs
because we can’t change the world but we can
change our hardware. America breaks my heart
some days and some days it breaks itself in two.
I watched a woman have a breakdown
in the mall today, and when the security guard
tried to help her, what I felt was all of us
peeking from her purse as she threw it
across the floor into Forever 21. And yes,
the walls felt like another way to hold us
and when she finally stopped crying
I heard her say to the fluorescent lighting,
Some days the sky is too bright. And like that
we were her flock in our black coats
and white sweaters, some of us reaching
our wings to her and some of us flying away.

If this poem doesn’t scream America and humanity, I don’t know what does. There are all of us who watch and those of us who act, and those of us who fly away from pain, emergencies, and the struggle. But part of this stems from the fact that we cannot plan for the apocalypse, as Agodon so aptly notes comes to the party “uninvited with a half-eaten bag of chips.” (“I Don’t Own Anxiety, But I Borrow It Regularly”). These are all in the first section of the collection, and you’ll be floored by not only her imagery but her keen observation of human reactions.

Another powerful poem, “How Damage Can Lead to Poetry,” in this collection tackles a family history of suicide. “Damage creates the thought/of brokenness: my ocean never has enough/songbirds, my life never has enough//song. It’s morning and there’s a whisper in my family/history—I know the suicides, the stories/of strange deaths: brother choking/on a balloon, sister tripping on the church steps/and hitting her head so perfectly//her arteries became a celebration. Bastille Day, New Year’s Eve. And she was. And he was. Gone.//” (pg. 16) Agodon also tackles bigger questions like why we choose to kill what we do, whether that’s an animal, a person, a relationship, her lines boil it down to fear. Because as she says in “Hold Still” she would not kill a butterfly for a million dollars, but “things that frighten us/are easier to kill.”

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon asks us to look closer at our own actions and reactions to buck social norms, like keeping our emotions tight to our chests, and reach out more often to those around us. We are all connected, we are all affected by the “rising tides,” and we all could use a little more understanding and love, including love of ourselves. This is a must-have collection.

Also, read “Queen Me” in The Los Angeles Review.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kelli Russell Agodon is a poet, writer, editor, book designer, and co-founder of Two Sylvias Press, living in the Seattle area. Her collection of poems Hourglass Museum was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and was shortlisted for the Julie Suk Award honoring the best book of poems published by a small press. She is also author of the bestselling The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice, which she co-authored with Martha Silano. She was the winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award in poetry, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, New England Review, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is a co-director of Poets on the Coast, a writing retreat for women. Visit her website.

American Software by Henry Crawford

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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With the increased reliance of society on technology and computers, American Software by Henry Crawford speaks to readers in programming language, a poetic device that transcribes everyday life to magnify its societal implications with precision. The collection even opens with a quote from The C Programming Language, 2nd Edition by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie.

I wan intrigued by this collection for one reason, my day job has me writing some technical pieces about mainframes. While I didn’t spy any specific references to mainframes, Crawford does rely on the formats of computing language to craft his poems about life in America. The collection’s opening poem, “Hello World!,” where readers are taken on a trip to one of the most tragic moments in someone’s life (Jackie Kennedy) and they’re whisked away to the automated check out line and the canning of soup, etc., all in the blink of a minute. Comparing that tragic moment in which someone could feel suspended in time and to be moving in slow motion to the current time where automation has taken over demonstrates Crawford’s look at society’s revolution toward speeding up everything.

Several of Crawford’s poems play a bit with perspective — whether as a president in “Lyndon Johnson” you could know every angle of a situation or as a husband and wife in “Living Under Roofs” could you even know your partner’s every thought and desire. Crawford masterfully plays with his poems to create something new, like in “When [Box] Met <Diamond>” where there is an internal conversation about the art of poetry within a conversation between the box and the diamond who meet inside the poem and begin their own conversation and plot to escape.

One of the best poems in the collection, “100 Years of the First World War,” in which references are made to “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae while the poem itself becomes like a play in which the poet is performing alongside McCrae and his “Soldier’s Song” moment.

The use of computer programming tags and symbols can make it harder to decipher the meaning of these poems, but discerning readers will enjoy the play in these poems. Let’s talk with the computer before the screen goes out. American Software by Henry Crawford tackles a lot of America’s societal issues in an automated world — the disconnect between people, the death penalty, wonder, and the pull between life and death.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Henry Crawford is a poet living and writing in the Washington, DC area. His work has appeared in several journals and online publications including Boulevard, Copper Nickel and the Southern Humanities Review. His first collection of poetry, American Software, was published in May of 2017 by CW Books, his second collection, The Binary Planet, is to be published by The Word Works in 2020.

A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 46 pgs.
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A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta is the migration of the Parsi, the immigration of a young woman from India to America and the feeling of exile and belonging. Several centuries pass in this slim collection of poems, but like the book cover, each person in these poems is on a journey, one that seems to take them away from where they were to a new destination. However, these journeys end up being very circular, bringing them back to the culture and the past they have tried to leave behind. The past is integral to who they are, as is the migratory journey they embark upon.

In the opening poem, “Refugees,” readers are taken to the migration of Parsis in 917 AD in which “the boat is too small” but the past recedes until “the joy and blood that had come before/already turning to myth./” But even in this flight from one place to another, there is a deep-seated worry that things will not change for the better, but Mehta leaves us on the shore of the white beach with their hope. In “Sleep,” we spend time with this family in its new land, leaning into the hope that they can belong on this land, even with the traditions they carry. But their “Welcome” is not as comforting. While they can retain their traditions and the myths of the past, as well as their religion, they are unable to share that with those outside their group.

Mehta is taking us on a journey from her ancestors to the present day, and woven throughout these poems is the angst created by holding onto tradition and letting go to belong somewhere. In “The Towers of Silence,” the narrator says, “But there are places/that I long to describe/in a language I do not know./And the Towers, by our not being in them,/that is our sacrifice.//” These poems speak to the deep sacrifices of migrants as they move from the home they know to a new home that pushes back against their history and traditions.

from "Decorum" (pg. 12-14)

...
I do not know what I should do in a desert;
You cannot assume anything of yourself
Until you have experienced fire.

A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta is just one look at migration and the sacrifices that entails, as well as the need to belong in a new home. There is a fencing off of the past and culture that occurs internally in some migrants, while there is also the fencing off of cultures and groups of people in their new home — separating them from others and preventing them from sharing their own stories and cultures. Mehta is a master storyteller who takes her poetry into the past to demonstrate the richness of a future in a new country.

RATING: Cinquain

I Dream of Empathy by Marianne Szlyk

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 48 pgs
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I Dream of Empathy by Marianne Szlyk is a slim collection of poems that search for empathy, an understanding of how others feel.Her poems speak to the hurts of the past, to the environment, a mother, a husband, and a self. She reflects with sadness for the past and present, but with a sense of hope that things can be better as long as we strive to connect with one another and our environment. There are some poems that are deeply sad, like “She Wonders What Will Become of this City,” in which the narrator says, “She wonders what will become of this city/once the oceans rise and ghost towns form like coral reefs.// The real coral reefs will have crumbled,/all color leaching away into the corrosive sea.//”

Szlyk is an artist of words. She paints full pictures and creates poetic stories to give readers an internal monologue, but also a painting of a life. Like in “Cabin Fever,” she helps the reader see the hopeless feeling of cabin fever, how there is the desire to do something, but nothing inside the home. There is an immobility in that fever. The narrator of the poem is sitting and replaying saxophone songs in her head, while the laundry piles up and the use of the dryer worries her about the impact it will have on the environment.

One of the best sections of the collection are the “Scene from the Blue Room,” where Szlyk explores the relationships between a grandmother, granddaughter, and mother in a series of poems. The love of the sea/lake is passed from generation to generation. The passage of time is distilled into melting ice cream in a cereal bowl and the wafting big band music in the first poem in the series. In the second poem in the series, the granddaughter has made it to the bedside of her passing grandmother, missing her father and their times by the pond/lake, and wishing her relationship with her mother would improve. In the third poem, the granddaughter has grown up and had to sell the house she loved to visit. There’s a sense of closure in that she understands that walls can be painted over.

I Dream of Empathy by Marianne Szlyk is full of surprises and sharp observations about human relationships and how to find empathy or at least understand where others are coming from. She conjures a story where the reader has little choice but to fall in and follow her lead.

RATING: Quatrain

Escape Velocity by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut and Giveaway

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 90 pgs.
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***full disclosure: Kristin is a member of my poetry writing workshop group***

Escape Velocity by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut forces you into motion with each poem, starting with “You Say We’re Like Magnets.” She illuminates the tension — the push and pull of magnetism — between lovers even if the relationship is not quite in sync. There’s a joy in the tension, the figuring out how pieces fit, how they push each other to grow, and so much more. Ferragut’s poems have a ton of depth, but they are equally smart, beautiful, and witty (with a bit of dark humor).

from "Intermittentamorous" (pg. 20)
...
Identifying as intermittentamorous is exhausting
The on and off, yin/yang, dream
of love versus hope of freedom.

Feels like a long practice to learn to be done,
a sigh and unplugging. Skin intact, space for sleep
and a nod to the vast possibilities in silence.

The first section focuses on reactions and the movement that results from those reactions. Ferragut’s poems are intimate and relatable, whimsical, and a spiraling kaleidoscope of science, love, frustration, and moving forward in life. “A Twenty-Four-Year-Old Getting Two Dozen Roses at Forty-Nine: A Dialogue with Myself,” is a delightful examination of aging and changing perspectives.

from "Drowning" (pg. 39)

What was the cause of death?
What is the difference? When
life is terminal and living on
                  so 
                          long.

Ferragut doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff of life; she meets it head on. “Escape and Loss” explores the sadness and regret that comes with the passing of family and friends. “Guilt hides beneath fingernails;/sorrow clings to laughs’ underbellies,/they will escape despite you./But you might leave regret…” (pg. 41) Her poems will turn the world upside down for you, force you to look through a new lens to find the beauty even in darkness. There is an undercurrent of joy and hope in her poems, and perhaps this is what gives her collection the velocity it needs to let readers escape into the real world and see it through Ferragut’s eyes.

Escape Velocity by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut is a journey through life but it’s a window into the darkness to find hope and a way forward when things don’t quite go according to plan. There’s magic in these pages, and I beg you to discover the worlds created in these poems.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kristin Kowalski Ferragut teaches, plays guitar, hikes, supports her children in becoming who they are meant to be, and enjoys the vibrant writing community in the DMV. She is author of the full-length poetry collection Escape Velocity (Kelsay Books, 2021) and the children’s book Becoming the Enchantress: A Magical Transgender Tale (Loving Healing Press, 2021). Her poetry has appeared in Beltway Quarterly, Nightingale and Sparrow, Bourgeon, Mojave He[Art] Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Fledgling Rag, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. Visit her website.

To Enter the Giveaway:

Leave a comment on this post with an email so I can contact you if you win a copy of Escape Velocity. Deadline to enter is Sept. 10.

Incandescent Visions by Lee Hudspeth

Source: the poet
Hardcover, 68 pgs.
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Incandescent Visions by Lee Hudspeth is a collection with big aspirations, exploring where creativity comes from and how it evolves. It also pays homage to several important people in his life. The collection is laid out in chapters, not sections, much like a memoir would be. One drawback for me was the prologues of each section and the explanation of the poems in the sections; those would have worked better at the end. I prefer to read and reread poems to sit with them, suss out meaning, absorb the feelings they generate.

From Mom

...
Sometimes it's easier to step back and be right here
On the sidewalk
From Stronger

...
In the moment, it's not about the moment
Ghostly priors, messy entanglements
Hanging like links of a heavy chain

There are moments in the collection where the reader will be beside the poet and looking at their own life and the past that haunts them. These poems aim to provide a look at how those pasts can shape us but also at how we have to let them go. There are strong moments in many of these poems, but if the aim is to explore creativity, the strongest poem in the collection is “Framework.” Imagine a blank sheet of paper with a red dot: “I hold the framework in my hands/The framework embraces me in return/It is a portal to other lands/”

Incandescent Visions by Lee Hudspeth is a debut collection with big ambitions that fall a little short, but if the poet’s explanations and prologues were kept out of the collection or to the end of the book, the poems could have stood on their own. Some poems need to be refined. Rhyming poems are generally not something I enjoy, but in this case, Hudspeth does an admirable job. If you’re looking for a collection with heart, Hudspeth opens his to you.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Lee Hudspeth is an award-winning author and poet, musician, and fellow human being. Incandescent Visions is his first book of poetry. He is the co-author of ten nonfiction books in the field of Information Technology. He has written articles for professional journals like PC Computing and Office Computing. He is the author of over one hundred articles in the online magazine The Naked PC, which he co-founded and co-published. He lives in Southern California with his wife, two sons, and their cat. Find out more about Lee, his books, and his music at LeeHudspeth.com.

The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 108 pgs.
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The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva is musically New Orleans, but also a collection of poems about learning a role that you may or may not take on.  It takes on the pomp and circumstance of the city and reveals an underbelly of sadness and want, while paying homage to the beauty of the city and its culture. The dichotomy of New Orleans comes to life in Leyva’s poems.

 From "Inamorata" (pg. 5-6)

...
and a funk in the other
     Nola when your bounce
         leaps from speakers

comes the great gyrate
    the whole line
        all heredity backing it up

...

Where'd you sleep
   last night? In the pines?
        Nola you fat and fine

the quick-quick-slow
        that repeats
         like being sick and tired

of being sick
    and tired or late again
            on last week's rent
...

Leyva’s poems are beautiful songs full of love, passion, and sadness. It’s a collection that pays homage to the past and invents a future. It’s about leaning into a bi-racial skin and finding a path that makes the most of an American life that is not always easy and is not always the most glamorous. It’s about breaking out of the molds assigned to us and creating our own lives and incorporating cultures in ways that make the most sense for our own well-being.

Poems like “Ear Hustle” unearth the dark past of an Americanized New Orleans culture in which powdered faces from beignets are unaware of the ancestors who cut the cane for that sugar. There’s that undercurrent of culture that he explores in his poems, but not to seek a rescue but to pay homage to the sweat and the work — to the understudy of society’s labors. These poems are multilayered, while the surface appears playful and musical. It’s a collection that celebrates rather than shames, though some poems do illustrate some of the shames of American history.

One of my favorite poems in this collection, “Sonnet for the Side Eye,” examines nature’s destructive tendencies (like Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans) with humanity’s obsession with naming that destruction. Leyva is tackling a great many things in this collection, but this poem in particular takes our obsession with categorizing things head on. So much divisiveness stems from these labels. But how do we as humans get to the point where we no longer label our fellow humans as a way to harm them or treat them as “other?”

Don’t miss The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva. I heard him read at a poetry event online and had to get my hands on this book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out this interview with Steven Leyva in ArtsFairfax.

Until the Right One Comes Along by Chris Haley

Source: Poet
ebook, 90 pgs.
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Until the Right One Comes Along by Chris Haley is a highly emotional poetry collection about the search for the right partner. With moments of shallow assessment of other men, Haley’s narrator turns those observations on himself and finds his own appearance lacking. At more than one moment in the collection, the narrator considers himself unworthy of love and unattractive.

“When living is the dynamic you question daily”

“And for so many years I had thought I was not much to look at
Not much to glance Or stare at…

This is less a poetic collection and more of a memoir about the struggle of finding love in a world where instant gratification is prized over longevity and loyalty. He uses prose poems and rhyming verse, though the rhyming verse worked less well when I read it. The prose poems were the stand outs in this collection.

This is journey to find love is full of ups and downs, meeting someone who is the right fit but at the wrong time because you don’t love yourself enough. Meeting many wrong men to find that they only want a one-night stand.

Until the Right One Comes Along by Chris Haley explores the harsh realities of looking for companionship and love in today’s world as a LGBTQ+ person, which makes it doubly hard. It’s an emotional roller coaster, but ultimately, the message is you must first believe you are worthy of love in order to find it.

Rating: Tercet