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This Is Not a Sky by Jessica Piazza

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 38 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

This Is Not a Sky by Jessica Piazza is the first interactive poetry chapbook I’ve ever read that has QR codes that link to famous works of art. Her ekphrastic poems infuse some masterpieces with new life and connects the art viewer and the poetry reader through her poems. Shining a new light on the relationship between reader and writer, painter and museum goer/art aficionado, Piazza is breaking down barriers and asking the audience to imagine alongside the artist, to create their own realities. Interpretation does not have to be confined to the outlines on the canvas or the lines and words chosen by the poet, much is left outside those constructs, leaving wide open spaces in which to venture on our own.

I love the idea of an interactive poetry collection, but in some cases (22%), the QR Code links to the artworks failed to bring up the correct work or went to an error page. However, a quick search found the pieces Piazza used for inspiration, so it wasn’t too much of a burden. I can truly say that you can enjoy these poems without looking at the artwork or being familiar with it.

In “Cafe Terrace at Night” after the Van Gogh painting, Piazza draws from the subdued lantern light the hidden “tipsy” patrons, looming dark figure in the doorway, and the ominous nature of the darkened streets and inebriated passersby. There’s an undercurrent of danger on these streets where patrons are dressed well and enjoying themselves, except for a lone woman who may be concerned about the shadow in the doorway or may be ruminating on some greater loss.

Gun” after Andy Warhol is a stunning poem, each part represents each of the guns portrayed. In this case, I’m happy the QR Code worked because Warhol painted several different gun paintings in his life. In Piazza’s poem, his painting says so much more about gun violence – the smugness of it, the horror, the guilt, the righteousness, and the empty satisfaction of it. This is a multilayered poem that begs you to read it more than once. I think I spent the most time with this poem. It’s one of my favorites in this slim collection. Underneath these layers, you’ll also find hints of verbal, emotion, and all kinds of abuse and the toll it can take on its victims, even so, is gun violence their only satisfactory response?

Adam and Eve” after Chagall, the narrator (who could be Eve) says, “Overtaken by this goneness (his fingers/in mine soft and white, malicious).” There is so much darkness in just these two lines. Waiting for the last bang of the apocalypse is heady business that engulfs Adam and Eve, but even in the middle, she wishes it to end but by ice. The poem not only calls out the differences in Adam and Eve, but the fate of these two having already been decided. There’s a desire for change but it is useless as the end has already happened. We’re taking a look back as the reader and viewer to lives no longer being lived. Is this a call to reassess our own lives now, rather than wait? Perhaps, but that’s your call.

This Is Not a Sky by Jessica Piazza is art unto itself and a must read for those who love painters and some of the most iconic artists of our time. Piazza will have you looking at the art on the museum walls in vastly different ways. She creates vignettes for the players and for those outside the frame.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza is the author of two full-length poetry collections from Red Hen Press: “Interrobang” (2013) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (forthcoming, 2015) as well as the chapbook “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, a Master’s degree in English/Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University. She is co-founder of Gold Line Press and Bat City Review and a contributing editor at The Offending Adam. Her poetry has appeared in Agni, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Rattle, No Tell Motel, 32 Poems, Forklift, Ohio, National Poetry Review, Pebble Lake Review, Anti- and 42 Opus, among other places.

Mailbox Monday #568

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

This Is Not a Sky by Jessica Piazza, which I purchased.

Jessica Piazza’s THIS IS NOT A SKY begins with the seed of ekphrastic literature, then yawns, then stretches, then bursts beyond those bounds. Each of these 18 poems borrows a title from the greats—from Raphael and Turner to Warhol and Twombly—and through imagined narratives, takes the reader both inside and outside the paintings. In Piazza’s capable hands, the original art works serve as launch pads, and the poems are glorious departures. Through the guided commentary of an italicized speaker (sometimes commentator, sometimes companion, sometimes voyeur), we are taken to a long hallway wherein the reader wanders from room to room, peeking inside. Behind one door, “The ladies wore boas and nothing else; the beautiful men repeated themselves,” and behind another, “You float, no floors, no doors in the office walls, hidden heavy hook of neck, crook of knee.” THIS IS NOT A SKY is a multi-faceted sensory experience; Piazza employs QR codes in tandem with each poem to allow the reader access to the original work of art alongside its poetic departure. Through her finely tuned ear for carefully considered formal metrical structures and rhyme, Piazza merges music, painting, and poetry to breathe new, strange, and modern life into the grand themes that have long given art its universality: death, love, religion, and truth.

Partial Genius by Mary Biddinger, which I purchased.

What happens when you finally realize that you are really good, but only at unremarkable things? What value does memory hold when weighed against heavier commodities such as money and time and conventional beauty? The prose poems of Partial Genius build upon the form in a collective narrative, working in unison to craft a larger story. Post-youth and mid-epiphany, Partial Genius ponders the years spent waiting for reconciliation of past wrongs, the acknowledgment of former selves, and the desire to truly fit into one landscape or another.

“I love this book so much. A work of meticulous craft and profound originality, Mary Biddinger’s newest collection of prose poems is one of the best books I’ve read on our historical moment and the decades that led to it. PARTIAL GENIUS reads like a dossier of the psychological landscape of late capitalist America and the end of empire. In the tradition of John Ashbery, but wholly original in her own vision and voice, Biddinger draws from a deep well of poetic intellect and wit to illuminate the existential threats and imaginative possibilities of our collective self-destruction. In ‘The Subject Pool’ the speaker watches a man tattoo AU COURANT around her thigh. The tattoo artist has no idea. Every poem is chock-full of revelations in every detail. Reading this book felt like sitting by the fire in some secret location with a double agent, smoking her pipe telling tales of all that went down right in front of our faces, while we were all driven to distraction by outrage. To paraphrase Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, She’s got it all in this book.”–Heather Derr-Smith

What did you receive?

We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing
Paperback, 140 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer, winner of the Hudson Prize, is a collection of short stories with quirky characters. Readers will be exposed to the unexpected, as the dead teach us that there is not a moment to waste and the mentally ill provide us with greater clarity than we expect about our lives.

Characters in these stories are frustrated and lost, but they find directions they never expected. With sly irony, Mayer has crafted a set of stories that will open readers’ minds to new points of view, forcing us to examine our own lives and how we perceive others, especially those living just outside the mainstream. Many of these characters are on the verge of irrevocable change in their lives, and there are moments that happen that can change it all.

While of the stories in We Will Tell You Otherwise are vastly different, at their heart, Beth Mayer takes her readers on a journey to explore human fragility and faults, while not losing their sense of hope. These characters have a lot to tell readers.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Beth Mayer’s fiction has appeared in The Threepenny ReviewThe Sun Magazine, and The Midway Review. Her stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest (Ohio University/Swallow Press) and American Fiction (New Rivers Press), and have been recognized by Best American Mystery Stories among “Other Distinguished Stories.” Beth’s collection was a finalist for the 2016 Orison Book Prize and the 2015 Many Voices Project. The Missouri Review’s 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in fiction named her a finalist and her work in Jet Fuel Review has been nominated for the 2017 Best of the Net. Beth holds an MFA from Hamline University, was a Loft Mentor Series Winner in Fiction for 2015-16, and coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate at Century College. She lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul with her family and impossibly loyal dog.