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Woman Drinking Absinthe by Katherine E. Young

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Woman Drinking Absinthe by Katherine E. Young is a visceral collection that explores female sexuality through fantastical elements and realistic situations from a woman chained to a bear to a woman dealing with the phantom limb of heartbreak. Young has crafted an emotional roller coaster that is both visually unsettling in places and emotionally scathing. Readers will become voyeurs as the musician plays his muse in “Interval,” imagining the notes one body can play. But at other times, readers will be thrust into the comfort and pleasure of a balanced relationship and a oneness in “Euclidean Geometry.”

If There Is a Hell (pg. 27)

it resembles this street in shadow, this street
and this streetlamp, where you and I cling
Soul Food (pg. 44-45)

That first time when you hit me,
I marveled at the crack

your hand made as it struck
flat against my face.

I should have known right then:
we were headed straight

Young doesn’t just plunge readers into relationships in motion, but those that are over, on the side, breaking apart, and being observed from the outside (like “Calculus”). Nothing is taboo in this collection. In “Place of Peace,” Young reminds us “All my life’s been lived in shadow, pattern/pieced by someone else: daughter, mother//lover. Whore. …” and “So many battles are accidental.” (pg.49-55)

Woman Drinking Absinthe by Katherine E. Young leaves us with the question of what do you do when the wildness is within us? How do we let it free to feel the wholeness of ourselves without causing deep grief and a sense of loss? Is it all just illusory? Young leaves us with a bunch of existential questions, but her language will haunt us, causing us to return to her poems again and again.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out her panel discussion with Kim Addonizio, Sandra Beasley, and moderator Reuben Jackson at the virtual Gaithersburg Book Festival 2021:

Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Kim Addonizio

Source: GBF
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Kim Addonizio is a collection that you can hold close in your shelter-in-place during the pandemic and know that anything that happens behind closed doors is just kalsarikdnnit, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shut the world out and ignore our problems. Opening with “Night in the Castle,” the narrator has already given up on mercy long ago. The poet infuses this poem with injustice, privilege, and anger, recalling the clashing armies of history and the bleakness of regicide.

The poet is calling our attention to the darkness of humanity, from our clashes among ourselves and the destruction that results to the changing climate we’ve had a hand in expediting. “The earth is about used up/like a sodden tampon & no place to throw it away/” (pg. 14) and “Even the ocean is gasping for air/” (pg. 15), but these are things we already know, yet we are too complacent, too privileged to see that action is required. However, many of us feel as the narrator does in “In bed” that it is all to enormous to tackle head on or deal with daily, we’d rather just put our heads under the covers and ignore it all. We want a hibernation from the ugliness of the world.

But don’t assume that the collection is all doom and gloom, though the humor is a bit dark. My father would definitely appreciate her humor in Résumé:

Résumé 

Families shame you;
Rehab's a scam;
Lovers drain you
And don't give a damn.
Friends are distracted;
Aging stinks;
You'll soon be subtracted;
You might as well drink.

As a writer, I absolutely appreciated the third section of this collection – “Confessional Poetry” — in which writing is compared to “firing a nail gun into the center of a vanity mirror” (pg. 41) or “like sewing rhinestones on your traumas” and “wearing them” at a “pain festival” (pg. 42)

I really like feeling something when I stagger into a poem
& having a place to lie down & cry

Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Kim Addonizio is as much of an introspective emotional and existential journey as it is a confession that we are no where near perfect human beings. We all have a lot of work to do emotionally, spiritually, and philosophically, but as we struggle with these internal paradigms, we’re also watching the world suffer around us and degrade. How do we break through the malaise and paralysis to make progress with ourselves and the world? Perhaps by being less serious about everything, allowing ourselves to fall apart, and taking action that makes actual progress as opposed to the actions that people deem as “making progress.”

RATING: Cinquain

Check out her panel discussion with Sandra Beasley, Katherine E. Young, and moderator Reuben Jackson at the 2021 Gaithersburg Book Festival:

By Broad Potomac Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital edited by Kim Roberts

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 356 pgs.
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By Broad Potomac Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital edited by Kim Roberts is a well crafted and contains some well-known poets as well as some obscured by history. In the preface, Roberts says, “These poets were born in, or drawn to, the nation’s capital as it grew from its founding, through such major upheavals as the Civil War, Reconstruction, and World War I. … But I have taken particular pleasure in seeking out poems by lesser-known poets as well, especially women, working-class writers, and writers of color.” The anthology also speaks about the homes in which these poets lived and whether they still exist today, as well as what they are today, with some of them homes to embassies of other nations. Roberts has clearly done her research and it is appreciated.

If there was ever a time for a literary historian, that’s today. Kim Roberts has done painstaking research and it it is evident in this look at 100 years of our nation’s history. Of note in the first part of the anthology is Emma Willard, who was a passionate advocate for women’s rights and dedicated her life to educating women and girls. I loved learning about this early advocate for women to be educated, especially about her speech in which she says that women are “primary existences … not the satellites of men.”

It was also interesting to note that a white man, John Pierpont, wrote a persona poem from the point of view of an enslaved man, which is found in the second part of the anthology. To my modern sensibilities, I was wondered aloud how on earth this white man could capture that point of view, especially a man who worked in finance. “Oft, in the Chilly Night,” is chilling in how it depicts an enslaved man almost at peace looking at the night and seeking God’s guidance, but by the end, it seems the man now simply wishes for the peace of death! But it is not the only persona poem from an enslaved person’s point of view written by a man.

Not only are these poems significant in demonstrating that ideas of equality were present in the early years of our nation, but they also show that even as the country evolved slowly there were very forward thinkers inside and outside government who wrote those ideas in poetry. And some of the homes of these poets became part of antislavery efforts and so many other efforts.

By Broad Potomac Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital edited by Kim Roberts is chock full of information about the poets, poems, the nation’s capital and so much more. You can dip into this collection at any time to explore the time period, and you’ll see different styles and topics throughout each second. As you move through the collection, the poems do take on more modern styles and are less antiquated in language. It does provide a good evolutionary look at poetry in Washington, D.C., and written by a variety of poets.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival Panel discussion with Joseph Ross, Tara Campbell, Kim Roberts, and E. Ethelbert Miller:

Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 74 pgs.
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Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell is a slim collection with a powerful anthem and story arc that begins with “The meadow.” This prose poem sets the reader up for the themes to come — self-indulgence, dark desire and hate, outrage, and pain. That meadow is the nation that certain people have built, hiding it behind the ideals of liberty, while at the same time bleeding its people and waiting for the blood to spill.

The anthem of this collection, “Shut up and dribble,” is a chant that calls us to action. We [and I mean everyone, not just the oppressed] should not be silent like they tell us, we should rise up for the ideals and equality denied. This is personified in “Four-cent Father,” a poem in which the death of a Black man in his own garage is settled with four cents. How can a man’s life be worth so little, and how can a man who plays music in his garage be killed by bullets? He was minding his own business, he was spending time at his home — his home was not his castle, he was not safe.

There is a deep, simmering rage in this collection. A raging against injustice, a raging against the expectations of a society that’s created a false sense of justice, and a rage that builds against the circumstances created by these illusions. “Would my grandmother’s/German immigrant bones/have ached for the man/she would never have known/but for the slavers’ greed?’ (“After the Pedestal,” pg. 21) The “American Beast” rears its ugly head, slithering under the covers and slipping into rooms where “rumbling in the voices of grownups/speaking softly after dinner/about the problems of the world.//” (pg. 25) and becomes commonplace.

The poems in Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell will get under your skin, making you uncomfortable not just in the dark but in the light of day. These poems call on us to break the silence, acknowledge the horrors of the past, see the bleak present, and get off our butts and do something about it.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Tara Campbell is a Kimbilio Fellow, a fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and an MFA candidate at American University. Publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Luna Station Quarterly.

She is the recipient of the following awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: the 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist, and Arts and Humanities Fellowships for 2018 and 2019. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Robert Gover Story Prize.

Her novel TreeVolution was published in 2016, followed in 2018 by her hybrid fiction/poetry collection Circe’s Bicycle. Her third book, a short story collection called Midnight at the Organporium, will be released by Aqueduct Press in 2019.

Check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival Panel discussion with Joseph Ross, Tara Campbell, Kim Roberts, and E. Ethelbert Miller:

Raising King by Joseph Ross

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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As in stated in the introduction to Raising King by Joseph Ross, Dr. King “knew racism disfigured the white people who used it. Thus, he focused his life in such a way, built on compassion, that his work might free both those who suffer from racism and those who inflict the suffering.” Throughout this collection, Dr. King’s compassion infuses each line, even though “the boat [the slaves were on] is dust./The whip//survives.” (“Martin Luther King, Jr. — Prologue,” pg. 9)

The backbone of these poems are Dr. King’s own words in Stride Toward Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait, and Where Do We Go From Here. Through Dr. King’s words and teachings, Ross has recreated a compassionate look at a man frustrated with a system of oppression, but determined to save his oppressors and the oppressed. “a lunch counter/become[s] an altar,” but only after significant training in nonviolence. (“Be Broken,” pg. 32-3) This compassion stems from the realization that many whites who oppress have inherited their hate (it’s what they know, all they know, how they were taught). In “Inheritance,” Dr. King’s voice rings true: “I will not/destroy him just because/someone taught him//to destroy me.//” (pg. 37-8)

Compassion is often seen as a weakness, but in reality it is the strongest weapon we have against barbarity.

Bomb (pg.40)

War is like this: two women,
a baby, a man gone, a man lost.

I was lost like this: a baby
in the back bedroom.

a wife shaking, unable to be
still. A friend, calm but about

to break.

A crowd gathered. I ran home
to see what was left of me.

The crowd was angry.
I wanted their anger 

to love my own. But my wife's
shaking stopped, keeping me

from breaking.

Keeping me from becoming
the bomb I feared.

It is compassion and empathy that strengthen our character and our ability to rise above the baseness of our human nature.”We have not been victorious//over anyone. We want to ride/beside everyone.” (“We Prepared,” pg. 49) The collection also includes commandments as Dr. King’s movement becomes more urgent, almost as though he knows that the opportunity for real change is fleeting.

Ross’s poems are still relevant to the struggles we continue to face, with “Sheet, Cross, and Flame” calling to mind some recent reactions by parties who have lost and continue to rage against those losses. But Dr. King reminds us in Ross’s poems “Manners and decency/reach down and pat us//on the head. This is/about me grabbing//your hand demanding/you ask my permission//before you touch me.//” (“Decency,” pg. 108) With Ross’s words and poems, Dr. King rises again and leads by teaching.

I’m so glad that my last book of 2020 was Raising King by Joseph Ross. It was a comfort to read these words and remember why I treat others with compassion when I can, especially when it is hard to do so. While we must “choose//never to throw them [stones]//at one another” (“Chaos or Community,” pg. 136-7), we also need to “Let the/bones//rest.” (“The Bones,” pg. 119)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Joseph Ross is the author of four books of poetry: Raising King (2020), Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Southern Quarterly, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump, edited by Martin Espada. His poems also appear in Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together; Imagine Peace. He served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington, D.C. He is a seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee, most recently for “The Mountain Top,” from Raising King. His poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. As a teacher and writer, Ross was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Reinhold Niebuhr Award in 1997 and the William A. Toohey, C.S.C. Award in 1993. In 2006, he was awarded Teacher of the Year by the senior class at Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. In 2020, he delivered the Robert L. Giron Global Humanities Lecture for Montgomery College, Takoma Park, Maryland. The lecture was titled: “Literature Consoles and Confronts: When Poetry Is a Tool for Justice.”

Check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival Panel discussion with Joseph Ross, Tara Campbell, Kim Roberts, and E. Ethelbert Miller: