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The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise

Source: Academy of American Poets membership benefit
Paperback, 88 pgs
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The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise, recipient of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award in 2013 and the 2013 James Laughlin Award, is a collection of poems that highlights the power of goodbye and how it can free us from limitation.  Whether those limitations are self-imposed or imposed upon us by others or the outside distractions that keep us locked in place.

There are several poems in the collection about laws against the disabled being seen in public and the societal burdens that come with those medical miracles — prosthetic legs, for instance — and how those “norms” are meant to weigh down the potential of those human beings. While these “norms” must be recognized to be overcome, it is a big obstacle to overcome, especially when those limitations or “norms” become self-imposed limitations on the self. Saying goodbye to those can be a hard process to perform and a distance that can be difficult to maintain, but there is an inherent power in saying goodbye to those things.

Goodbyes (pg. 50)

begin long before you hear them
and gain speed and come out of 
the same place as other words.
They should have their own
place to come from, the elbow
perhaps, since elbows look
funny and never weep. Why
are you proud of me? I said
goodbye to you forty times.
I see your point. That is
an achievement unto itself.
My mom wants me to write
a goodbye poem. It should fit 
inside a card and use the phrase,
“You are one powerful lady.”
There is nothing powerful
about me though you might 
think so from the way I spit.
I don’t want to say goodbye
to you anymore. I heard
the first wave was an accident.
It happened in the Cave 
of the Hands in Santa Cruz.
The four of them were drinking
and someone killed
a wild boar and someone else
said, “Hey look, I put my hand
in it. Saying goodbye is like that.
You put your hand in it and then
you take your hand back.

Weise touches upon the hardships and the freedom of goodbye, but she also talks about its empowering nature. There is a willfulness to when we choose to make those breaks, and there are many of those moments in this collection.  The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise, recipient of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award in 2013 and the 2013 James Laughlin Award, offers a great deal to discuss, and would be an interesting selection for a book club discussion.

About the Poet: (Photo credit: Guillermo Morizot Hires)

Jillian Weise was born in Houston, Texas, in 1981. She studied at Florida State University; the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was the Fred Chappell Fellow; and the University of Cincinnati.

Weise is the author of The Book of Goodbyes (BOA Editions, 2013), which received the 2013 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, which recognizes a superior second book of poetry by an American poet. Her debut poetry collection, The Amputee’s Guide to Sex, was published by Soft Skull Press in 2007.

 

 

 

 

Rose by Li-Young Lee

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 71 pages
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Rose by Li-Young Lee is a collection of poems filled with esteem and reverence for a father who is not fallible, but who is unattainable because of the myth a son has created about him.  Like roses, fathers can be beautiful and yet dangerous creatures, prickly to the touch and radiant.  On the face of Lee’s verse, it is simple, but looking more closely, readers will discern multiple levels of meaning.

From “The Weight of Sweetness” (page 20)

The good boy hugs a bag of peaches
his father has entrusted
to him.
Now he follows
his father, who carries a bagful in each arm.
See the look on the boy’s face
as his father moves
faster and father ahead, while his own steps
flag, and his arms grow weak, as he labors
under the weight
of peaches.

Like in “The Weight of Sweetness,” the boy is beaming with joy that his father would entrust him with something as precious as a bag of peaches, like knowledge passed from one generation to another, only to have that precious gift become a burden and weigh down the child’s steps as he moves forward.  Although there are some poems laden with a heaviness, there are also moments of sweetness, like that in “The Gift”: (page 15)

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,

Here it is clear that the child, who has become a man, continues to esteem his father, holding him high and praising any small gift bestowed upon him, even if it is the most mundane knowledge.  Many kids look up to their parents, and it is a wonder when kids become adults and still admire their parents — faults included — but Lee touches on the big question mark in all these relationships, the inability of us all to truly “know” our parents — to understand their motivations — so that we can learn to emulate the best parts of them.  Rose by Li-Young Lee is powerful, endearing, and filled with heartbreaking awe.

About the Poet:

Li-Young Lee is an American poet. He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents. His maternal grandfather was Yuan Shikai, China’s first Republican President, who attempted to make himself emperor.

28th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

Book 15 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen, translated by David Keplinger

House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen of Aarhus, Denmark, translated by David Keplinger, is a collection that the poet himself calls surrealist, but readers will find them poignant and truthful as well.  The collection includes not only the original prose poems in Danish, but also the English translations Keplinger did in collaboration with the poet.  David Keplinger introduces the collection with:  “It was in this place of natural beauty and order that we set to work on Nielsen’s poems of the neighborhood, rich in imagery of human interaction, comedies of errors, unanswerable questions, an Escherlike world of dark cellars, blind alleys, tenements and fitting rooms.” (page 7)  There is definitely a dark, blind alley in each of these poems — like “Fitting Room,” “Steps,” and “Wistfulness” — that the narrator leads readers to before springing the unexpected upon them.  In many ways, these surprise endings remind me of the one sentence endings of some Anita Shreve novels that change the entire story in a moment.

One stellar poem in the collection is “Reading,” in which the narrator calls attention to something amiss in the text, but does not reveal what it is.  By the end of the poem, it is clear that the one giving the reading does not mean what s/he says.  “the lips don’t move in full accord with what is actually said.”  (page 17)  While the thing that is amiss or the actual context of the situation remains a mystery, readers can easily connect with the realization that something that was thought to be true is not.  A running theme in many of these poems is the careful inspection or observation of the players or the scene to uncover what is “wrong” with the situation or what is unusual about it.  There is always someone watching or the feeling of being watched, like in “Theater.”

There also are a few poems that examine the passing of time and aging in such a unique way that readers may have to take a moment and revisit these poems to truly see the underlying meaning.  “Book” is an interesting look at what we look for in the books that we read — a reflection of ourselves — and how it puts us on edge that someone will turn the page on us.  There is that sense of fear in all of us that our lives are beyond our control or that the choices we’ve made are not appropriate.  In “Birthday,” life burns on its own and cannot be doused by minor events, and in many ways Nielsen is suggesting (without saying it) that life goes on even if events happen that are unplanned or even when they are planned.

Beyond the serious nature of some of these poems, House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen also has a playful side in which shirts are turned into birds escaping from cages.  The collection tackles life’s biggest issues about mortality and enjoying the moments of life we have as we live them, not as they lie in the past.  Another collection that could be considered for the best of list.

About the Poet:

Carsten René Nielsen is a Danish poet. He has published nine books of poetry in Danish and received several fellowships from the Danish State Foundation for the Arts. Translations of his work have been published in The Paris Review, AGNI, Mid-American Review, The Mississippi Review, and in a collection of prose poems, The World Cut Out With Crooked Scissors (New Issues, 2007).

This is the 26th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 84th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.