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Mailbox Monday #518

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:

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha for review in May.

“I live in a coastal town in the deep south of the Mekong Delta. During the war this was IV Corps, which saw many savage fights. Although the battles might have long been forgotten, some places cannot forget.”

Thus begins the harrowing yet poignant story of a North Vietnamese communist defector who spends ten years in a far-flung reform prison after the war, and now, in 1987, a free man again, finds work as caretaker at a roadside inn in the U Minh region. One day new guests arrive at the inn: an elderly American woman and her daughter, an eighteen-year-old Vietnamese girl adopted at the age of five from an orphanage in the Mekong Delta before the war ended. Catherine Rossi has come to this region to find the remains of her son, a lieutenant who went missing-in-action during the war.

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream tells the stories of two men in time parallel: Giang, the thirty-nine-year-old war veteran; Nicola Rossi, a deceased lieutenant in the United States Army, the voice of a spirit. From the haunting ugliness of the Vietnam War, the stories of these two men shout, cry, and whisper to us the voices of love and loneliness, barbarity and longing, lived and felt by a multitude of people from all walks of life: the tender adolescent vulnerability of a girl toward a man who, as a drifter and a war-hardened man, draws beautifully in his spare time; the test of love and faith endured by a mother whose dogged patience even baffles the local hired hand who thinks the poor old lady must have gone out of her mind, and whose determination drives her into the spooky forest, rain or shine, until one day she claims she has sensed an otherworldly presence in there with her.

In the end she wishes to see, just once, a river the local Vietnamese call “The River of White Water Lilies,” the very river her son saw, now that all her hopes to find his remains die out. Just then something happens. She finds out where he has lain buried for twenty years and how he was killed.

Treading the Uneven Road by L.M. Brown for review.

The stories in this collection are set 1980’s and 90’s Ireland. A by-pass around a small village has rid the residents of their once busy traffic. They feel forgotten by the world. The need to reach out and be heard is explored in every story, from the young woman who starts to have phone conversations with her husband’s gay lover, to the dyslexic man who confronts his cruel teacher years later and the woman whose dreams are shattered because of a married lover. Treading the Uneven Road introduces us to a society that is unraveling and we cannot help feel for Brown’s characters who need to make a choice on how to carry on.

Nanopedia: Poems by Charles Jensen, which I purchased and can’t wait to dig into.

Taking the form of “the world’s smallest encyclopedia” of American culture, the prose poems in Nanopedia explore concepts coined in or corrupted by (or both) America from vantage points that are both deeply personal and politically charged.

Love_Is_Love: An Anthology for LGBTQIA+ Teens edited by Emma Eden Ramos. 3 of my poems are in this anthology and there’s a giveaway for it here. Purchases support The Trevor Project.

Love_is_Love is a collection of poems, short stories, and visual art for LGBTQIA+ teens. All of the proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project, an organization that has been saving the lives of LGBTQIA+ teens since 1998.

 

Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field for review.

“It’s the end of the world,” said a gloomy voice.
Bear looked all around. “No it isn’t,” said Bear cautiously. “It’s a lovely sunny day.”

In this laugh-out-loud funny story, a rabbit and bear discover that things are always better when they’re shared with a friend.

Bear wakes up early from hibernation. If she can’t sleep, then at least she can make a snowman.

Rabbit has never made a snowman, but he definitely wants to make one that’s better than Bear’s.

However, with an avalanche and a hungry wolf heading his way, Rabbit soon realises that it might be nice to have a friend on your side. Especially when it comes to building snowmen.

A tale of friendship, gravity, and just a little bit of poo.

What did you receive?

2018 Poetry Gift Guide

Usually at this time of the year, I’m reading to meet my goal on GoodReads or just trying to finish up the dozen books I’m reading at the moment.Not this year, since I met my goal already.

In the middle of that, I’m usually scrambling to find a meaningful or needed gift for friends, family, and others. I love giving gifts to those who don’t expect them.  I also love sharing some of my favorite books in bookstores and on the Metro, and pretty much anywhere where books can be discussed.

In that spirit, I wanted to provide you with a short list of poetry books I love and why I think you should share them — I’ll even give you a couple hints as to who might love them, even if they say they don’t read poetry.

For the Kids:

1. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, is a perfect introduction to rhyme and poetry, as well as a strong girl who loves science and can do anything. The book will inspire children to get the discovery bug and want to find out for themselves how the world operates and what is going on around them. (my review)

2. Fly with Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple is more than just poetry; it’s a collection and celebration of words and image. This is a collection for bird lovers, young kids learning about nature and birds, and the whole family. Through words and photographs and illustrations, kids can learn about birds in their area, migration, and so much more. (my review)

3. Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds, is gorgeous! Any one who knows Poe’s poems and stories will want this in their collection. The graphic novel brings the poems and stories to life. These classics become vibrant, and it will be a great way to show younger readers the gruesome and haunting lines of Poe come to life. (my review)

For Dog/Animal Lovers:

1. Dog Songs by Mary Oliver brings to life the familial relationship people have with their dogs and other animals. There are moments of pure joy and moments of deep sadness. Her poems always carry a universality, and she reminds us that dogs are sentient beings as well. (my review)

For Science Fiction/Science Lovers:

1. Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey is the best collection for those who love science fiction, zombies, apocalypse survival movies, and its a guide written in accessible, fun, and funny poetic verse. You cannot go wrong with this one. Even my book club enjoyed it, and many of them are not poetry readers. (my review)

2. Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock is a pint size collection with a powerful punch that uses science, humor, and space exploration to examine some deep issues, including body image and disability. These poems will have readers looking at space exploration in a more grounded way. (my review)

Grab Bag — Collections for the Adventurous:

1. Saris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a deeply emotional collection about loss and a tribute to a mother gone too soon. Through the various stages of grief, the poet shares her most intimate loss and the anger, sadness, and confusion she felt. Cherish those closest to you. (my review)

2. Story Problems: Poems by Charles Jensen is a creative collection that brings a new level of interactivity to poetry. Open-ended questions about world and self-examination in a collection with the cover of a composition book from school. A collection that deals with identity and loss, and so much more. (my review)

3. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine is so powerful that even three years after I’ve read it, I still think about all the cultural and racial questions it raises. The essays, poems, etc. blur the line between I, she, he, etc. to make it a much more universal commentary on how we are all human and connected to each other. (my review)

4. Point Blank by Alan King brings to life the rhythm and funk of life as a young boy growing up black in America where the color of your skin still taints how you are perceived and treated. Although there are some fun moments and great pop culture references, there’s a great deal to think and discuss with others about race in America. There’s a frankness to these poems that cannot be ignored. (my review)

If you have someone who’s hard to buy books for, perhaps they need something like poetry this holiday season.

If you need a different recommendation, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to offer a collection that would be suit.

I’d love to hear about what books your buying friends and loved ones, too, even if they’re not poetry.

My 2017 Favorites

No preamble. Let’s get to my favorite reads in 2017:

This is also tied with his chapbook, Story Problems.

WHAT BOOKS WERE ON YOUR LIST OF FAVORITES FOR 2017?

Story Problems by Charles Jensen

Source: the poet
Paperback, 39 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Story Problems: Poems by Charles Jensen, the winner of 2017 Palooka Press Chapbook Contest, is a chapbook written in a composition exam book style, complete with prose and sample questions for the reader. It’s interactive like all forms of poetry, seeking the readers’ input and self-analysis or even quirky responses to strange questions.

I remember these composition exam books fondly (I’m probably the only one) because I could write out my answers as completely as I wanted and there was no anxiety of speaking in front of the class in a presentation format. There also wasn’t the dreaded multiple choice, on which I always second guessed my answers and changed them, inevitably, to the wrong one.

Jensen’s perspective on grief and loss is as infinite as the universe. Imaging an “Origin Myth” of yourself and then the loss of a parent, how could someone so small in comparison to the rest of the universe contain an entire universe? But isn’t it true that our family is often a universe to us and when it disappears through death or other means, we are drifting and empty?

From “2. The Water Cycle” (pg. 7)

“Breath and words a latticework of ruin.”

From “6. Journey to the Center of the Earth” (pg. 11)

“I told people later grief is the absence of hope, but even then I knew it wasn’t true. Grief is when you have hope, and then hope leaves you.”

From “14. Temporary Death” (pg. 19)

“To watch a loved one breathe out without breathing in makes you stop breathing. There’s a long moment that follows in which no one watching is really alive.”

The prose poems are only as complex as the reader who reads them. With its simple language and in some cases platitudes we’ve all heard before, Jensen is able to pull forth the more existential questions self-actualizing humans find harder to deal with and answer. In this composition exam, the reader is asked to dig deeper into what they know of themselves, their religion, their whiteness, their losses and more to see not only the futility of some of our actions but also how identity is a construct that very few of us understand. He leaps from the broader universality of the human condition to the immediate “you” that we are trapped inside with his probing questions and fanciful instructions.

Story Problems: Poems by Charles Jensen is a chapbook with unending possibilities for the reader.  Self-examination and world examination at its best.  Jensen is becoming one of my favorite poets.  His work is unique and universal, but it also challenges the reader to become more than the passive observer.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo: Philip Pirolo

About the Author:

Charles Jensen is the author of six chapbooks of poems, including the recent Story Problems and Breakup/Breakdown, and The First Risk, which was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award. His previous chapbooks include Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press, 2007). A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Field, The Journal, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis. He lives in Los Angeles.

Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 42 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen is a slim and powerful chapbook of poems that not only examines the emotional side of breaking up but all of its practicalities in a way that’s fresh and modern.

In the opening poem, “How to Leave Things Behind Without Even Trying”, the speaker talks about leaving his laptop at an airport and is aghast at how this could be accomplished given its significance in his life. This is then juxtaposed with his boyfriend’s exit from his life and the way in which the apartment was cleaned and staged as if he had never been there at all. The speaker struggles with both losses, trying to interpret their meaning in an effort to understand their absence, but he rightly says, “you wait to learn//anything about what was lost./You wait for the phone call,//which only comes if you’ll be/happily reunited.//” (pg. 8)

There are several poems in which the speaker is taking selfies with beloved literary and pop culture icons from Miss Havisham in Great Expectations to Molly Jensen from Ghost. In each of these poems, Jensen unravels the inner mysteries of loss felt by each of these characters. Havisham’s sadness over lost love is really her belief in true love and that caged birds set free will return but, in the meantime, she’s left wondering who she is without that caged bird to love and protect. The loss of an affair leads Alex in Fatal Attraction to extremes, but even if you don’t go to those extremes after a break-up, you can certainly understand where they come from.

Jensen’s couplets are powerfully crafted so that readers will feel each gut-wrenching loss, like “Everything we’d placed//inside those years spilled out/like blood escaping from a vein.//” (pg. 13, “Disruption”) But lest you believe this collection is all sadness and woe, Jensen has a sense of humor about it all, which one might expect comes with a bit of distance from the actual breakup events.

From “On the Night Gays Across America Celebrate the Marriage Equality Ruling, You and I Divide Our Possessions” (pg. 17)

We shake loose our lives like a braid
untwirling at the end of a long day.

I want everything and nothing
that belongs to you, that holds

a memory of you like an urn
full of ash, the kind of thing

you never open but have to
keep on hand because it means

Yes, I’m leaving you hanging with the above quote from this poem, but it’s one I don’t want to ruin for you. What the selected quote shows you is the humor and the lightness that Jensen brings to his couplets even in the midst of a breakup moment. There’s something to be said about bringing a bit of levity to loss. Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen is a commentary on the modern breakup and the swiftness of it, which can leave each of us stunned and empty. But what it teaches is resilience and growth, a move toward letting go, even if not complete. In order for new things to begin, the old must be broken down, and Jensen does that here with aplomb.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Charles Jensen is the author of The Nanopedia Quick-Reference Pocket Lexicon of Contemporary American Culture (2012 MiPOESIAS Chapbook Series) and The First Risk, which was published in 2009 by Lethe Press and was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award. His previous chapbooks include Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press, 2007). A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Field, The Journal, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. He holds an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University, where he also did graduate work in nonprofit leadership and management. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis, and is active in the national arts community by serving on the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts. He lives in Los Angeles.

Mailbox Monday #409

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

What I purchased:

Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen

With wry humor and poignant contemplation, Breakup/Breakdown provides readers with excellent company, whether recalling breakups of their own or simply witnessing the narrative of the book’s hero. In the poem “Disruption,” our speaker advises that, “Love, my friends, should never / be entrusted to the heart, whose job // is to push away the only thing / the world will ever offer it.” In the midst of loss that is both personal and universal, Jensen conjures familiar figures, from literature to film, to offer another dimension of insight on the path from sorrow to empowerment. This chapbook has all the emotional heft of a full-length collection, and every line glistens with truth. — Mary Biddinger, author of Small Enterprise

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, which I purchased from Audible.

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.
Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.
He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work, and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.
Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.
Rarely has a performer told his own story with such force and sweep. Like many of his songs (“Thunder Road,” “Badlands,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” “Born in the U.S.A,” “The Rising,” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” to name just a few), Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography is written with the lyricism of a singular songwriter and the wisdom of a man who has thought deeply about his experiences.

What did you receive?

Save

Curiosity Quills Blog Tour Continues…

Hello everyone.  I just wanted to let you know that my crazy obsession with poetry is spreading to another blog this week.  Today, I’m guest posting at The Hopeful Librarian as part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour.  I hope you’ll check out my essay, which includes quotes from some of my favorite writers — Beth Kephart, Charles Jensen, and Sweta Srivastava Vikram.

Please stop by and let me know what you think.  Also, you can check out my guest interviewer for the tour, here.

An Interview With Poet Charles Jensen

Poet Charles Jensen

This week at the Poetry Blog of 32 Poems Magazine my interview with poet Charles Jensen was posted. He’s a contributor to the magazine and was a delight to interview.  I’m especially impressed with his answer to the elitist myth about poetry, since I feel the same way about the issue.

First, let me tantalize you with a bit from the interview, and then you can go on over and check the rest out for yourself.

Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

I’m pretty sure none of them are secrets. I love some aspects of “low” culture like trash pop music. I aspire to find ways to sew that into my work as a poet somehow. I am also really connected to film, both as a narrative art and as a form. Physical aspects of film are closely related to the work of poetry for me. I give extensive thought to sequencing, montage, collage, and narrative. Any two things placed in juxtaposition create a narrative. There’s a great story of the Kuleshov Effect, wherein an audience’s construction of narrative changes when the same photo of a person (mostly expressionless) is interspersed with a shot of soup or a shot of a baby, for instance. In the soup narrative, the audience describes the man as looking hungry. In the baby narrative, he looks happy. That effect of context is something I carry with me–how do individual poems, individual lines, individual images speak to each other?

Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

Poetry itself is none of those things. It is the attitude of the reader that determines what poetry is. The only way to dispel the myth is for people to encounter poetry on their own. I always liken it to television. If you had never seen television in your entire life and then one day turned it on, only to see Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, you might say, “Gosh, I hate television.” But most of us realize that television is a multi-dimensional form with various strategies aimed at different audiences. If you watch television long enough, you will find something that speaks to you. This is true, too, of poetry. But because the poetry world has a reputation of being closed, or because it is taught in high school as a “symbolic” art practiced by dead white people, it loses a lot of its contemporary allure. I think now, more than ever, poetry strives to be egalitarian in a lot of ways–people just need to look.

Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

It is always a total disaster–I would change that! My apartment is very small and my desk is very big–about 30% of my living room. The window is behind me. The room gets almost no natural light. It is absolutely not my ideal writing space. In Phoenix, I had a loft apartment with 20′ ceilings, 17 feet of which were windows. My desk sat up in the loft area, overlooking the living room, facing all the windows and light. That was an amazing place to write. I miss it every day.

He also included a poem for readers to check out:

IT WAS OCTOBER
–for Matthew Shepard

I was love when I entered the bar
shivering in my thin t-shirt and ripped jeans
and I was love when I left that place, tugged along at the wrist
as though tied, with a man I did not know.

I was love there in the morning
when our sour kisses bore the peat of rotten leaves,
fallen October leaves. And it was love that we kissed anyway, not knowing each other’s names.

I was love in that bed
and I was love in the hall and down the stairs and into the freezing rain.

I was love with hands punched deep
into the pockets of a coat.
I was love coated in frozen rain.

Back home, I was love stripped of the cigarette-stung shirt, love pulling the stiff jeans from my legs.
I dried my hair and I was love.

It was October. What did I know of love that year,
shuddering in my nervous skin. Miles away, the boy was lashed to a fence and shivering.

Where that place turned red and the ground soaked through
with what he was, I was love.

What did I know of love then
but that it wasn’t enough.

About the Poet:

Charles Jensen is the author of three chapbooks of poems and The First Risk, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County and is a co-chair of the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts. Check out his Website. He’s also a poetry editor with lethe press.

Please check out the rest of the interview on 32 Poems Blog.