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Most Anticipated Poetry of 2017

Normally, I don’t have time to check out the upcoming books for the year, but I made a conscious effort to do so — at least for poetry.

Below are the books I’m looking forward to this year:

Whereas by Whiting Award winner Layli Long Soldier, published by Graywolf Press in March 2017.

WHEREAS her birth signaled the responsibility as mother to teach what it is to be Lakota therein the question: What did I know about being Lakota? Signaled panic, blood rush my embarrassment. What did I know of our language but pieces? Would I teach her to be pieces? Until a friend comforted, Don’t worry, you and your daughter will learn together. Today she stood sunlight on her shoulders lean and straight to share a song in Diné, her father’s language. To sing she motions simultaneously with her hands; I watch her be in multiple musics.

Afterland by Mai Der Vang, also published by Graywolf Press in April 2017.

Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.

Said Not Said by Fred Marchant, from my mentor and friend who was recently honored by the city of Boston, and it is also from Graywolf Press in May 2017.

In this important and formally inventive new poetry collection, Fred Marchant brings us into realms of the intractable and the unacceptable, those places where words seem to fail us and yet are all we have. In the process he affirms lyric poetry’s central role in the contemporary moral imagination. As the National Book Award winner David Ferry writes, “The poems in this beautiful new book by Fred Marchant are autobiographical, but, as is always the case with his poems, autobiographical of how he has witnessed, with faithfully exact and pitying observation, the sufferings in the lives of other people, for example the heartbreaking series of poems about the fatal mental suffering of his sister, and the poems about other peoples, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, written about with the noble generosity of feeling that has always characterized his work, here more impressively even than before.”

Said Not Said is a poet’s taking stock of conscience, his country’s and his own, and of poetry’s capacity to speak to what matters most.

Incendiary Art: Poems by Patricia Smith, published by Triquarterly in February 2017.

ne of the most magnetic and esteemed poets in today’s literary landscape, Patricia Smith fearlessly confronts the tyranny against the black male body and the tenacious grief of mothers in her compelling new collection, Incendiary Art. She writes an exhaustive lament for mothers of the “dark magicians,” and revisits the devastating murder of Emmett Till. These dynamic sequences serve as a backdrop for present-day racial calamities and calls for resistance. Smith embraces elaborate and eloquent language— “her gorgeous fallen son a horrid hidden / rot. Her tiny hand starts crushing roses—one by one / by one she wrecks the casket’s spray. It’s how she / mourns—a mother, still, despite the roar of thorns”— as she sharpens her unerring focus on incidents of national mayhem and mourning. Smith envisions, reenvisions, and ultimately reinvents the role of witness with an incendiary fusion of forms, including prose poems, ghazals, sestinas, and sonnets. With poems impossible to turn away from, one of America’s most electrifying writers reveals what is frightening, and what is revelatory, about history.

Cold Pastoral: Poems by Rebecca Dunham from Milkweed Editions in March 2017.

A searing, urgent collection of poems that brings the lyric and documentary together in unparalleled ways—unmasking and examining the specter of manmade disaster.

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Hurricane Katrina. The Flint water crisis. Thousands dead, lives destroyed, and a natural world imperiled by human choices. This is the litany of our time—and these are the events that Rebecca Dunham traces, passionately and brilliantly, in Cold Pastoral. In poems that incorporate interviews and excerpts from government documents and other sources—poems that adopt the pastoral and elegiac traditions in a landscape where “I can’t see the bugs; I don’t hear the birds”—Dunham finds the intersection between moral witness and shattering art.

Hard Child by Natalie Shapero from Copper Canyon Press in April 2017.

Thought-provoking and sardonically expressive, Shapero is a self-proclaimed “hard child”—unafraid of directly addressing bleakness as she continually asks what it means to be human and to bring new life into the world. Hard Child is musical and argumentative, deadly serious yet tinged with self-parody, evoking the spirit of Plath while remaining entirely its own.

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet from Haymarket Books in May 2017.

Textured with the sights and sounds of growing up in East New York in the nineties, to school on the South Side of Chicago, all the way to the olive groves of Palestine, My Mother Is a Freedom Fighter is Aja Monet’s ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world. Complemented by striking cover art from Carrie Mae Weems, these stunning poems tackle racism, sexism, genocide, displacement, heartbreak, and grief, but also love, motherhood, spirituality, and Black joy.

Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry by Nicole Gulotta from Roost Books in March 2017.

Inspired by her popular blog by the same name, the Eat This Poem cookbook features more than 75 new recipes paired alongside verse from 25 of America’s most beloved poets. Forage mushrooms with Mary Oliver, then wander into your kitchen to stir creamy truffle risotto. Study the skin of a pear with Billy Collins while you bake a warm vanilla-pear crumble. And honor the devoted work of farmers with Wendell Berry while snacking on popcorn dusted with rosemary and drizzled with brown butter.

Beating the Graves by Tsitsi Ella Jaji from University of Nebraska Press in March 2017.

The poems in Tsitsi Ella Jaji’s Beating the Graves meditate on the meaning of living in diaspora, an experience increasingly common among contemporary Zimbabweans. Vivid evocations of the landscape of Zimbabwe filter critiques of contemporary political conditions and ecological challenges, veiled in the multiple meanings of poetic metaphor. Many poems explore the genre of praise poetry, which in Shona culture is a form of social currency for greeting elders and peers with a recitation of the characteristics of one’s clan. Others reflect on how diasporic life shapes family relations.

The praise songs in this volume pay particular homage to the powerful women and gender-queer ancestors of the poet’s lineage and thought. Honoring influences ranging from Caribbean literature to classical music and engaging metaphors from rural Zimbabwe to the post-steel economy of Youngstown, Ohio, Jaji articulates her own ars poetica. These words revel in the utter ordinariness of living globally, of writing in the presence of all the languages of the world, at home everywhere, and never at rest.

The Thin Wall by Martha Rhodes from University of Pittsburgh Press in February 2017.

Past Praise for Mother Quiet:
“The aim of poetry (and the higher kind of thriller) is to be unexpected and memorable. So a poem about death might treat it in a way that combines the bizarre and the banal: the Other Side as some kind of institution—a creepy hospital, an officious hotel or retirement home. Martha Rhodes takes such an approach in ‘Ambassadors to the Dead,’ from her abrupt, unsettling, artfully distorted, indelible new book Mother Quiet. Blending the matter-of-fact with the surreal, as a way of comprehending the stunning, final reality, Rhodes is an inheritor of Emily Dickinson’s many poems on the same subject.”
—Robert Pinsky, Washington Post

Chiapas Maya Awakening: Contemporary Poems and Short Stories by Nicolás Huet Bautista (Editor), Sean S. Sell (Translator), Inés Hernández-Ávila (Introduction), Marceal Méndez (Foreword) from University of Oklahoma Press in January 2017.

Mexico s indigenous people speak a number of rich and complex languages today, as they did before the arrival of the Spanish. Yet a common misperception is that Mayas have no languages of their own, only dialectos, and therefore live in silence. In reality, contemporary Mayas are anything but voiceless. Chiapas Maya Awakening, a collection of poems and short stories by indigenous authors from Chiapas, Mexico, is an inspiring testimony to their literary achievements. A unique trilingual edition, it presents the contributors works in the living Chiapas Mayan languages of Tsotsil and Tseltal, along with English and Spanish translations.
As Sean S. Sell, Marceal Mendez, and Ines Hernandez-Avila explain in their thoughtful introductory pieces, the indigenous authors of this volume were born between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s, a time of growing cultural awareness among the native communities of Chiapas.

Although the authors received a formal education, their language of instruction was Spanish, and they had to pursue independent paths to learn to read and write in their native tongues. In the book s first half, devoted to poetry, the writers consciously speak for their communities. Their verses evoke the quetzal, the moon, and the sea and reflect the identities of those who celebrate them. The short stories that follow address aspects of modern Maya life. In these stories, mistrust and desperation yield violence among a people whose connection to the land is powerful but still precarious.
Chiapas Maya Awakening demonstrates that Mayas are neither a vanished ancient civilization nor a remote, undeveloped people. Instead, through their memorable poems and stories, the indigenous writers of this volume claim a place of their own within the broader fields of national and global literature.”

What books are you looking forward to in 2017?

164th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 164th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec:

The Red Blues (page 11-13)

There is a dawn between my legs,
a rising of mad rouge birds, overflowing
and crazy-mean, bronze-tailed hawks,
a phoenix preening
sharp-hot wings, pretty pecking procession,
feathers flashing like flames
in a Semana Santa parade. 

There are bulls between my legs,
a torera
stabbing her banderillas,
snapping her cape, tippy-toes scraping
my mottled thighs, the crowd's throats open,
shining like new scars, cornadas glowing
from beneath hands and white handkerchiefs
bright as bandages.

There are car wrecks between my legs,
a mess of maroon Volkswagens,
a rusted bus abandoned in the Grand Canyon,
a gas tanker in flames,
an IHS van full of corned beef hash,
an open can of commodity beets
on this village's one main road, a stoplight
pulsing like a bullet hole, a police car
flickering like a new scab,
an ambulance driven by Custer,
another ambulance
for Custer.

There is a war between my legs,
'ahway nyavay, a wager, a fight, a losing
that cramps my fists, a battle on eroding banks
of muddy creeks, the stench of metal,
purple-gray clotting the air,
in the grass the bodies
dim, cracked pomegranates, stone fruit
this orchard stains
like a cemetery.

There is a martyr between my legs,
my personal San Sebastian
leaking reed arrows and sin, stubbornly sewing
a sacred red ribbon dress, ahvay chuchqer,
the carmine threads
pull the Colorado River, 'Aha Haviily, clay,
and creosotes from the skirt,
each wound a week,
a coral moon, a calendar, a begging
for a master, or a slave, for a god
in magic cochineal pants.

There are broken baskets between my legs,
cracked vases, terra-cotta crumbs,
crippled grandmothers with mahogany skins
whose ruby shoes throb on shelves in closets,
who teach me to vomit
this fucshia madness,
this scarlet smallpox blanket,
this sugar-riddled amputated robe,
these cursive curses scrawling down my calves,
this rotting strawberry field, swollen sunset, 
hemoglobin joke with no punch line,
this crimson garbage truck,
this bloody nose, splintered cherry tree, manzano,
this metis Mary's heart,
guitarra acerezada, red race mestiza, this cattle train, 
this hand-me-down adobe drum,
this slug in the mouth,
this 'av'unye 'ahwaatm, via roja dolorosa,
this dark hut, this mud house, this dirty bed,
this period of exile.

What do you think?

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, published by Copper Canyon Press and ordered for me by my local bookstore Novel Places, is a culture clash of Native Americans integrating into mainstream society and the struggles the children of these family have reconciling their home lives with the differences they find at school and among their new childhood friends and society.  The narrator battles with her mother about why she cannot have a sandwich like the white kids rather than raisins, and insinuates that she’d rather be like the white kids.  By the same token, the narrator experiences first hand the bullying of the white kids in her neighborhood because of her ethnicity — a dichotomy that resurfaces throughout the collection.

“The Red Blues” (page 11-13) is a creative look at a young girl’s blossoming into womanhood, getting down to the gritty reality of menstruation.

There is a dawn between my legs,
a rising of mad rouge birds, overflowing
and crazy-mean, bronze-tailed hawks,
a phoenix preening
sharp-hot wings, pretty pecking procession,
feathers flashing like flames

Diaz is creative and surprising in her imagery and frankness.  She tackles stereotypes, truths, and the history of her ancestors.  From the takeover of their lands by the whites to the current marginalization of her people, Diaz calls attention to the underhanded and sometimes overt discrimination that takes place.  At the same time, she is careful to demonstrate how even Native Americans are plagued by similar struggles with drugs and fitting in that other cultures face.  But there are poems that no matter the ethnicity of the narrator, readers can see the internal and external struggles fought with a loved one who is addicted to drugs.  In “How to Go to Dinner With a Brother on Drugs” (page 46-51), the narrator walks a fine line between telling her brother the truth about his appearance and behavior and avoiding the inevitable fight that would ensue should the conversation be too frank.  The reader gets a glimpse of how manipulative and careful the narrator has to be to get the brother to change his clothes before heading out to dinner, etc.

Your brother will come back down again,
this time dressed as a Judas effigy.
I know, I know, he’ll joke. It’s not Easter. So what?
Be straight with him. Tell him the truth.
Tell him, Judas had a rope around his neck.
When he asks if an old lamp cord will do, just shrug.
He’ll go back upstairs, and you will be there,
close enough to the door to leave, but you won’t.
You will wait, unsure of what you are waiting for.”

But it is more than that, it is the struggle of waiting for a loved one to smarten up, to become all that they can be before your eyes and not fall back into the same patterns over and over. There is a sense of loyalty in these lines, but also a sense of hopelessness.  Diaz speaks of her own pain, the anguish of watching a brother addicted to drugs and the heartbreak of watching parents who love both children struggle to save one from himself and fail.  Each poem’s surface meaning is easy to discern, but upon another read through readers can easily see the emotional torrent of each line and image.  Each poem is layered with multiple images and emotions demonstrating the tumult that infuses familial relationships, particularly those conflicted by cultural clashes and drug addiction.

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz is a glimmering debut collection that hums in the back of the mind and generates an emotional aftermath that will leave readers speechless.  Following a brief pause, readers will want to pass this book onto others to read and discuss.  As far as book club selections go, this would be a welcome addition as the language is easy to follow, the emotions are raw, and the themes covered are modern and relevant in today’s world.

About the Poet:

Natalie Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes, attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey she returned to ODU for an MFA in writing. Her publications include Prairie SchoonerIowa ReviewCrab Orchard Review, among others. Her work was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Best New Poets and she has received the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She lives in Surprise, Arizona.  Please check out this interview.

This is my 60th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

 

 

This is the 19th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

Flies by Michael Dickman

Michael Dickman‘s Flies, published in 2011 and a possible candidate for the Indie Lit Awards if it is nominated in September, won the Academy of American Poets James Laughlin Award, which is the only award for a second book of poetry.  The collection is a dark look at family, but also takes a stark look at death and loss.  However, there are lighter moments in the book, like in “Emily Dickinson to the Rescue” (page 21) that was highlighted in the Virtual Poetry Circle.

Beneath the whimsical wordplay and imagery of playgrounds and imaginary friends, there is a deep sense of unrest and yet acceptance of how things have turned out, though the narrator has many regrets.  In “Imaginary Playground” (page 27), the narrator is playing alone with his imaginary friends, but as the scene fills in, it is clear that where there once were trees and places to play, there is concrete and change.  The narrator is nostalgic for those moments, even if they were solitary moments with imaginary friends — wishing there was a way to return to the innocence of childhood and the creativity that period imbued.  “The swing sets/aren’t really/there// . . . On the blacktop/we lie down in each other’s arms/and outline our bodies/in chalk// . . . There are no hiding places anymore//” (page 27-9)

The reading of “Flies” (page 50-4) is slightly different from the printed version in Flies.

Each poem strives to revisit a memory or a loved one and shine a light on their current state, whether that is rotting beneath the ground or in the sky as a star, but these juxtapositions serve to show readers that it is not crystal clear what happens after we die.   The flies come and haunt those that remain behind with memories, regrets, and happiness, but those that die . . . vanish, never to be haunted by the past or present again. The recurring image of flies transforms from something that is friendly to something that is annoying and horrifying.

Translations (page 64-6)

My mother was led into the world
by her teeth

Pulled
like a bull
into the 
heather

She only ever wanted to be a mother her whole life and nothing else
      not even a human being!

One body turned into 
another body

Pulled by the golden voices of children

A bull 
out of hell

Called out
her teeth out in front of her
her children
pulling


*


First I walk my mother out
into the field
by a leash
by a lifetime
she walks me out
our coats
shimmering

I brush her hair

Wave the flies away from her eyes

They are my eyes

Who will ride my mother
when we aren't around
anymore?

Turned from one thing into another until you are a bull standing in
     a field

The field
just beginning
to whistle us


*


I am led by the mouth
out into the 
yellow

Light turning
to water in the early evening
the insects dying
in the cold and 
returning
in the morning

I put on my horse-head

Led by a bit

A lead

My leader is tall and the hair on her forearms is gold

We lower your eyes
into the tall grass
and eat

Dickman is relentless in his long poems with their ever-changing images that repeat and twist. Readers are exposed to the ways in which memories are recalled bit-by-bit and slapped together and rearranged until a full, clear image is presented. At first these lines are confusing, and some readers may step back from the lines, but only by pressing onward will they see the full impact of the memories he taps. Flies by Michael Dickman is a captivating collection that may require greater attention, but the sharp imagery and twists-and-turns will keep readers riveted even as the poems and memories expand over several pages. On a side note, the book cover is very indicative of the memory recall the poet experiences — it is haphazard and vivid.

About the Poet:

Michael Dickman was born and raised in the working-class neighborhood of Lents in Portland, Oregon. His first book, The End of the West, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2009. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and Field, among others. Dickman is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, and the Lannan Foundation. He has worked for years as a cook and has been active recently in the Writers in the Schools program.

This is my 20th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

This is my 37th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Guest Review: Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser

Today’s guest review of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows is by a good friend and blogging pal of mine, Anna from Diary of an Eccentric.  It didn’t take too much arm twisting to get her to participate in Celebrating Indie & Small Press Month; All I had to do was give her a book to read.  She also gets to count this one for the Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge I’m hosting . . . see how diabolical I am?!

Ok, on with the review:

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser won the Pulitzer Prize for Delights & Shadows, which was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2004. Kooser’s poetry is what one would call “accessible” because it doesn’t take much deciphering or pondering to get at least a surface understanding, though some of his poems go much deeper.

Delights & Shadows is a collection of quiet poems touching upon such themes as memory, aging, death, and nature. Kooser obviously spends a lot of time observing his surroundings, and many of his poems bring ordinary objects or simple moments to life. When Kooser looks at the world, he sees things that many of us would miss, and the descriptions of what he sees are fascinating. In “Tattoo,” Kooser describes an old man browsing a yard sale and contemplates his past after he sees a tough-guy tattoo on his arm. In “A Rainy Morning,” he compares a woman pushing herself in a wheelchair to a pianist, writing “So expertly she plays the chords/of this difficult music she has mastered” (page 15).

Kooser manages to say so much in just a line or two. In “Father,” in remembering his father’s illness, he writes “you have been gone for twenty years,/and I am glad for all of us, although/I miss you every day” (page 36). In “Horse,” he calls a horse “the 19th century” (page 56), which calls to mind civilization’s past dependence on the animal. Other poems compare a pegboard to ancient cave drawings, describe the moment in which a bike rider pedals off, and use a spiral notebook to conjure memories of the past.

Delights & Shadows also includes a couple of narrative poems, poems that tell a story in verse. In “Pearl,” Kooser talks about visiting his mother’s childhood playmate to tell her that his mother has died. My favorite poem in the collection is “The Beaded Purse,” about a man taking home the coffin containing the body of his daughter, who’d left home to pursue an acting career and hadn’t been home in years.

Kooser is a master of quiet observation and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. In Delights & Shadows, he describes the delights in these simple things, as well as the shadows of the past that these objects and observations conjure up.

Delights & Shadows was published by Copper Canyon Press, which was founded in 1972 and publishes only poetry. The company’s pressmark is the Chinese character for poetry, which stands for “word” and “temple.”

Disclosure: I borrowed Delights & Shadows from Serena to review for Independent and Small Press Month. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon affiliate.

Thanks, Anna, for participating in Celebrate! Indie & Small Press Month!  Seems to me that you really enjoyed this collection.  What other Kooser books will you be reading?