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Interrobang by Jessica Piazza

Source: AWP Purchase
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Interrobang by Jessica Piazza is mostly a collection of sonnets that explore a series of phobias and obsessions that often cause us to go over the edge or come very close to our own destruction. This inner turmoil is rarely seen by outsiders or if it is, it is ignored. Piazza brings these obsessions and fears into the light to share with us just how constraining they can be, but there is also an undercurrent of letting loose and a rolling with the punches as they come.

From "Lilapsophobia" (pg. 24)

... But flood's not much
compared with these cyclonic days. No way
to gauge you: wrath or pleasure, unfixed track
away or toward. Untoward, you leave no wake.

Imagine that sleep is the quiet that soothes your fears, imagine to that the light is not hope but something that is jarring and humbling. This is how Piazza’s poems pack their punches, lulling the reader into a known world only to shake them awake with a new world view — one that is a little disturbing. “Antephilia” (Love of Ruin) is one of the most phenomenal poems in the collection, exploring the wreck of a dysfunctional relationship with graveyard imagery and more. Piazza has taken the mess and created a love that leaves a lasting impression in its dysfunction without delving too far into the melodrama of these lives.

Meanwhile, “Pediophilia” (Love of Dolls) almost becomes an ode to loss and the filling up of the emptiness where a daughter once was, only to find it full of creepy dolls in an orphanage devoid of joy and life. Piazza’s imagery is haunting and devastating, and readers will have to force themselves to take it all in, rather than turn away. These poems want you to take notice of the darkness, of the mess, of the emptiness so that you can be ready for the collection’s conclusion and it’s minor note of hope and change.

Jessica Piazza is a talented wordsmith who can weave pictures that will sear into readers’ minds. Her poems in Interrobang are going to force you to look into the darkness so long that the bright light is almost to blinding to see.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Obliterations

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza is the author of three poetry collections: “Interrobang” (Red Hen Press), “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (Red Hen Press, forthcoming). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in English Literature /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 curates the Poetry Has Value blog (a must read), which explores the intersections of poetry, money and worth.

Mailbox Monday #414

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.

As many of you may know, I attended AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference here in D.C. I attended a great many panels and readings and got a few books and journals free, as well as purchased some and met some authors I’ve read in the past and some literary friends I haven’t seen in a while.

Here’s what I received:

The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

The Bees is Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection of new poems as British poet laureate, and the much anticipated successor to the T. S. Eliot Prize–winning Rapture. After the intimate focus of the earlier book, The Bees finds Duffy using her full poetic range: there are drinking songs, love poems, poems to the weather, and poems of political anger. There are elegies, too, for beloved friends and—most movingly—for the poet’s mother. As Duffy’s voice rises in this collection, her music intensifies, and every poem patterns itself into song.
Woven into and weaving through the book is its presiding spirit: the bee. Sometimes the bee is Duffy’s subject, sometimes it strays into the poem or hovers at its edge—and the reader soon begins to anticipate its appearance. In the end, Duffy’s point is clear: the bee symbolizes what we have left of grace in the world, and what is most precious and necessary for us to protect. The Bees is Duffy’s clearest affirmation yet of her belief in the poem as “secular prayer,” as the means by which we remind ourselves of what is most worthy of our attention and concern, our passion and our praise.

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali

These gently fragmented narrative lyrics pursue enlightenment in long, elegant yet plain-spoken, dark yet ecstatic lines. Ali travels by water and by night, seeking the Far Mosque and its overarching paradox: that when God and Self are one, an ascent into Heaven is a voyage within.

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors explores how we respond to violence, grief, and loss, and the ways animals are emotionally akin to us in those responses.  Driven by the ways those primary emotions get tangled with memory, the ways the body informs the mind, we end up feeling and repeating behaviors linked to original struggles long after they have passed. Fighting against what threatened to cageus, the fight itself becomes the cage, affecting our lives and relationships in the most visceral ways.  Yet it is the simplest things that promote recovery and survival:  a calming animal touch.  Simple presence.

Cattle of the Lord by Rosa Alice Branco, translated by Alexis Levitin

Love. Sex. Death. Meat. Traffic. Pets. In Cattle of the Lord, Rosa Alice Branco offers a stunning poetic vision at once sacred and profane, a rich evocation of daily life troubled by uneasy sacramentality.

In a collection translated by Alexis Levitin and presented in both Portuguese and English, readers find themselves in a world turned upside down: darkly comic, sensual, and rife with contradiction. Here, liturgical words become lovers’ invitations. Cows moo at the heavens. And chickens are lessons on the resurrection.

Over the course of the collection, Branco’s unorthodox — even blasphemous — religious sensibility yields something ultimately hopeful: a belief that the physical, the quotidian, and the animalistic are holy, too. Writing at the boundaries of sense and mystification, combining sensuous lyrics and wit with theological interrogation, Branco breaks down what we think we know about religion, faith, and what it means to be human.

Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn, who toured with Poetic Book Tours and signed my book for me!

Dear Almost is a book-length poem addressed to an unborn child lost in miscarriage. Beginning with the hope and promise of springtime, poet Matthew Thorburn traces the course of a year with sections set in each of the four seasons. Part book of days, part meditative prayer, part travelogue, the poem details a would-be father’s wanderings through the figurative landscapes of memory and imagination as well as the literal landscapes of the Bronx, Shanghai, suburban New Jersey, and the Japanese island of Miyajima. As the speaker navigates his days, he attempts to show his unborn daughter “what life is like / here where you ought to be / with us, but aren’t.” His experiences recall other deaths and uncover the different ways we remember and forget. Grief forces him to consider a question he never imagined asking: how do you mourn for someone you loved but never truly knew, never met or saw? In candid, meditative verse Dear Almost seeks to resolve this painful question, honoring the memory of a child who both was and wasn’t there.

Interrobang by Jessica Piazza, which I purchased from Red Hen directly and got a signature from my Poetry Has Value hero!

Existing at the intersection of darkness and play, the noisy, irreverent, and self-conscious poems in Interrobang take clinical “phobias” and clinical “philias” as their conceit. Each poem makes its own music, the crescendos and decrescendos born of obsessions over anxiety and lust. Encompassing a range of forms (but mostly sonnets), each piece toes the line between traditional meter and contemporary sonic play, while a tell-tale heart beats beneath the floor of the collection, constantly reminding us of our shames, fears, and the clock’s unrelenting ticking. Through individual stories about love, degradation of the self, the redemptive power of genuine humility, and the refuge offered by art and language, Interrobang, winner of the 2012 A Room of Her Own Foundation To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize, illustrates how even the worst-case scenario of these pathologies are, fundamentally, just extensions of the dark truths to which every one of us can relate.

What did you receive?