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The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams

Source: the poet
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams digs deep into masculinity’s myths and confronts its history of violence and of atrocities committed against people of different backgrounds. It is a look at America’s past that is coming into the light and begs us to reckon with it, acknowledge it, and move forward with forgiveness and compassion. For those in the current time who have not committed heinous acts, we still must face what we’ve inherited by the privilege of whiteness and maleness and seek the best path forward for the future or there may be little of it left for anyone.

In the “My American Ghost” section’s opening poem, “Pantomime,” the music of the wind is reviving the sheets into bodies as “We wait/for the well out back to//illuminate its drowned coins,/all the gods overrun by prayers//” (pg. 5) In this section, there are poems that try to tackle the issue of racism in this country with poems about Emmett Till//Edward Hopper, Prometheus//Trayvon Martin, Rosa Parks//Banksy, internment, and more. This section is a hard read as I think about whether we need another “white” man telling us about tragedy or civil rights, but these poems want us to question that and turn that questioning gaze unto ourselves as the privileged class of Americans who benefit the most from the systems of oppression. Hopper’s oil paintings of lone characters in dim settings mirror the shadows of Till’s murder and how “Skin can be its own//broken republic.” (pg. 7)

The Dead Just Need to Be Seen. Not Forgiven. (pg. 8)

That old man in the photo our family never talks about,
known best for tracking runaway slaves; tonight

we drag him from the basement up these loose
wood stairs & set out a plate of salted cabbage & rabbit--

so long since I've asked why the empty chair at our table.
With all the warmth a body has to give, we give up on

measuring the darkness between men. Dust & dusk enter
& are wiped from the room. The names we call each other

linger luminous & savage. Still. That tree I used to hang
tires from holds tight its dead centuries. The light

swinging from its branches we call rope-like,
which implies there's no longer rope. Tonight, we'll wash

the burnt out stars from his hair, all the crumbs from his beard.
The misfired bullet of his voice we let burn as it must.

It is clear that America’s past is part of who we are. In “Internment,” the narrator says, “This country goes/weak at the knees at the thought of you, how you nourish/the earth//” Further in this section, an abusive father appears in a story told to the narrator’s own children where the ending is changed to make it more palatable for kids’ ears. But we need to hear the full story, not just a rosy colored version, as the narrator reminds us in “My American Ghost,” “light strikes a coin/differently after a train/flattens its face:” … “our mouths, nestfuls of promises,/we shall open them almost/fully: swallow & speak for what/we’ve swallowed: a whole/new language of witness./” (pg. 30)

The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams is an America that fails to look its past in the eye, accept what has come before, and right that ship. “Is it true this ruin has been ours//the whole time?” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35) or can we be the narrator: “It turns out I was born with a matchbook/in my hands.” and “There’s a reason we refuse/to leave, even now.” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35). While exploring American darkness, Williams is reaching for the light with a hopeful hand for the next generation.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Poet:

John Sibley Williams is the author of seven poetry collections, including Scale Model of a Country at Dawn (Cider Press Review Poetry Award), THE DROWNING WORKS (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A twenty-six-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and founder of the Caesura Poetry Workshop series. Previous publishing credits include Best American Poetry, Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and TriQuarterly.

What Flies Want by Emily Perez

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

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

...
....He needs 

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

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

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

Nightwatch (pg. 6)

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

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

Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon

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

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

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

At 13, I found a Bra

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

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

I am told every woman 
pays her debt with pain.

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

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

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

Useful Junk by Erika Meitner

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

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

Forces by Lisa Stice

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

Ritual Hunts (pg. 3)

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

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

Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams

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

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

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

Revolution

The sun burns
if you let
it shine on

you too long.
How long is
too long? Learn

by being burned.
The sun gives
life by shining.

You remember the
burn from the
scars, from the

transformation of being
set aflame and
after somehow surviving.

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

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

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

Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

Flowers Grow on Broken Walls by Farena Bajwa

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

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

Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth by Laura Costas

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

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

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

Her poems also surprise us with their wit and humor:

“Security” (pg. 28)

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

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

From “Civilization” (pg. 50)


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

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

RATING: Cinquain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

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

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter

Source: GBF
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter, which won the DC Poet Project award in 2021, explores the broken pieces we become to find the whole. Through persona poems, particularly those with the “messy girl” and “candy girl,” Koiter explores what it means to be broken and keep going. The title itself speaks to the overwhelm that many of us have felt at one time or another in our lives, with many of us having that sense during the pandemic. Dealing with grief and sudden loss, Koiter takes us on a roller coaster of emotions, but her words resonate no matter the readers’ experiences.

Her opening poem, “Easter Night,” establishes the atmosphere of hope even in the darkness where there is the chill of services and the heels sinking into grass: “Since yesterday, the earth has tilted./The day’s last light curves/differently over my arm/on its habitual armrest, then dims/and dims to night.//What will I do with darkness in this new life?//” (pg. 1)

Koiter’s poems are otherworldly, like we’re swimming in her thoughts and trying to make sense of things like she is.

In “The Messy Girl Drives Eastward, with Impending Migraine,” her lines call to the beautiful topsy-turvy nature she’s experiencing: “Lines of birds shift in the air like words that cannot stay still/on the page, latecomers looking for a place/in an already crowded field.” Or the young girl pushing her way onto the swing set “as if/I had never left, as if I could insist/there be no world without me” in “Samsara.” (pg. 42)

As readers move through the collection, grief surfaces and falls beneath the surface. In “After Thanksgiving,” the narrator is eating brandied cranberries in yogurt, but not because she loves these leftovers particularly. It is because they make her feel closer to her mother.

The mind is always churning, it is worrying like the narrator who “worries scab after scab” in “The Messy Girl Carries a Torch for the Boy Who Could Not Stop Washing.” And in “Live Portrait” where the painter is getting the model’s image on the canvas and only “The portrait can bear/the weight of all that/looking”.

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter a ball of our anxieties unraveled until we can do little more than see them for what they are — weights we place squarely on our own shoulders and those that we don’t. The trick is to discern which anxieties we can handle because they are our own perceptions (which we can change) and those that are heavy with loss and grief and must be accepted. “meaning today I am at my most/human, meaning I am not okay and/I’m okay” (pg.76) And it is okay to be on that precipice of everything.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jenn Koiter is a writer, marketer, entrepreneur and breathworker. The winner of the 2021 DC Poet Project, Jenn’s debut poetry collection, “So Much of Everything,” was published in 2021 by Day Eight. Her poems and essays have appeared in Barrelhouse, Smartish Pace, Bateau, Ruminate, Copper Nickel and other journals. She lives in Washington, D.C., with three gerbils named Sputnik, Cosmo and Unit. Visit her on Twitter.

The Damage Done by Susana H. Case

Source: GBF
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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The Damage Done by Susana H. Case (on sale as of March 1 at Broadstone – click the image to save) is a poetic narrative that explores the covert, illegal projects of the FBI, including its counter intelligence program, COINTELPRO, which was used to infiltrate domestic political organizations like the Black Panthers, feminist groups, communist organizations, and others. Janey, a fashion model in the 1960s, and her fictional murder serve as a vehicle through which Case weaves her poetic narrative.

"Woman Identified" (pg. 12)

...Janey looks untroubled
and is running in a bold-patterned

dress past a bridge, debris in soft
focus piled off by the side.
The detective laughs about it later
with his buddies, a strange photo
to sell clothes you can't even

clearly see. Surrounded by rubble.
Painted-on eyelashes - as if
she's a child's doll - 
she looks as if she could blow
away. Part of her did.

Case’s voice reads like crime thriller and a noir detective tale in which a young lady is tired of her modeling life, falls into gun running and pill popping, even as her husband strives to place his heavy boot on her and rein her in. The collection opens with a dead girl in a car – Janey – and the detective on the case continues to face roadblocks to solving her murder. Is it easier to go along with the FBI’s theories or investigate a murder of a young woman. And how the decision weighs on the detective and pushes him further to drink and unravel himself.

The paranoid atmosphere infuses her lines in “The Psychiatric Institute”: “Janey thought the Feds were after her,/She was right. The cops/all agree she was a wacko.” Case has a cast of believable characters in her collection, and while it is poetry; it’s hard not to turn the pages to see what happens next, much like reading a thriller. It’s an examination of psychological motivations, an illegal FBI program that may still be operating, and the lives that it destroyed in the name of justice.

I could not put down The Damage Done by Susana H. Case once I picked it up. This is one poetry collection that will have you on the edge of your seat.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Susana H. Case, Ph. D., is the author of eight books of poetry. The Damage Done, from Broadstone Books (2022) is her newest. Dead Shark on the N Train, from Broadstone Books (2020), won a Pinnacle Book Award for Best Poetry Book, a NYC Big Book Awards Distinguished Favorite, and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Drugstore Blue, from Five Oaks Press, won an Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY). She is also the author of five chapbooks, two of which won poetry prizes. Her poems appear widely in magazines and anthologies. Recent poems can be found in: Calyx, The Cortland Review, Fourteen Hills, Portland Review, Potomac Review, Rattle, and RHINO, among others. She has been published via translation into Polish, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Case is co-editor, with Margo Taft Stever, of I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe, Milk and Cake Press (2022).

Case is a co-editor of Slapering Hol Press and co-curates, with Lynn McGee (series founder), Sandy Yannone, and Carolyne Wright, the W-E (West-East) Bicoastal Poets of the Pandemic and Beyond series which features writers from both coasts and many other regions. She recently retired as Professor from the New York Institute of Technology in New York City, where she taught for thirty-eight years.