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Interrobang by Jessica Piazza

Source: AWP Purchase
Paperback, 72 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

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

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?

Best Books of 2016

2016 had a great many books that thrilled me, and others that delighted. The rest of the year I could have done without —  so many deaths and a horribly long election and a range of backlash to terrify anyone.

For those interested, these are the best books I read in 2016, though not all were published in 2016.

Best Series:

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell (March: Book One, March: Book Two, March: Book Three)

Best Photography:


Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Best Memoir:

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Best Children’s Book:


Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

Best Young Adult Fiction:


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Best Short Story Collection: (I only read 3 and these 2 tied)


Heirlooms: Stories by Rachel Hall (this one has remained on my mind more than expected)


Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

Best Jane Austen Fiction: (this is a three-way tie)


A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner


Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette


The Courtship of Edward Gardiner by Nicole Clarkston

Best Poetry: (another tie)


Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey


Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Best Fiction: (a three-way tie)


The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler


My Last Continent by Midge Raymond


This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

What books were your favorites this year?

Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Source: Jessica Piazza
Paperback, 80 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

With the media overload of the 21st Century, poets are bound to ask: How much of this information sticks and is it absorbed in the way that is expected? Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza, one of the best new authors according to CBS Los Angeles, explores that process by taking articles found in a variety of sections of The New York Times, including real estate and obituaries, and erasing words until a poem emerges from the detritus. Neither poet knew what the other created, and what has emerged is a collection that speaks not to ephemeral constructs but to concrete concerns and connections.

Most of us know that people who hear or read it at the same time never absorb information in exactly the same way, but what’s most fascinating about this collection is how many of the poems seem to respond to one another when placed side by side. Piazza and O’Neill’s poems for Education use the article “Varied Paths Toward Healing for Sites of Terrorized Schools” by Winnie Hu for inspiration, exploring the aftermath of school shootings. “Healing” provides a sharp, zeroed in image of red, a shade that cannot be forgotten because the memory of that violence is seared into the mind’s eye. In answer, “Toward Healing” takes a look at the broken pieces of the school, the touch of violence only to reclaim those terrifying memories to create a “shrine” of hope. Both poems parallel Hu’s article. Violence of this nature is deeply affecting, and people internalize it in different ways, taking from it a sense of hope for the future in those who survive or feeling that deep pessimism that comes from loss of young potential.

In these poems, Piazza and O’Neill are not only looking at how information is internalized and processed, but they are commenting on the information’s presentation by the journalists who wrote the articles. In most of these poems, it is clear that journalists no longer just report facts and data, but also offer a personal perspective on their subject matter.

For instance, the obituary of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the technical director of the Manhattan Project, explores the man’s career and his regret over how the atom bomb was used, but it also discusses the disconnect he saw between what scientists create and how it is used. “Bomb” and “Atom Bomb Pioneer” both pay homage to the creation of science but never shy away from the connection – both good and bad — between its development and its use.

From “Bomb”, “Art was delicate work. Sciences,/a celebrated ivory-tower, almost/wholly divorced from its gravity.// A change of direction that added/sinister overtones to the awakening/world.// A love affair, now dead.// A continuing fury that unified/the immense, tension-filled world.” But in “Atom Bomb Pioneer,” we see Oppenheimer in a different way with the telling end line, “I have known sin,/ he offered.//” Piazza and O’Neill bring the full weight of that creation to the fore, asking us to consider the consequences not in retrospect but in the present. They also take up that mantle of perspective to show readers a new outlook on the subject at hand.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza leaves us with the digestible pieces that can be easily swallowed and endured. But within these pieces, we realize that the whole is not destroyed but enhanced in this innovative poetry collection.

RATING: Cinquain

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, which explores the intersections of poetry, money and worth. You can learn more and read her work at www.jessicapiazza.com and www.poetryhasvalue.com.

About the Poet:

Heather Aimee O’Neill is the Assistant Director of the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and teaches creative writing at CUNY Hunter College. An excerpt from her novel When The Lights Go On Again was published as a chapbook by Wallflower Press in April 2013. Her poetry chapbook, Memory Future, won the University of Southern California’s 2011 Gold Line Press Award, chosen by judge Carol Muske-Dukes. Her work was shortlisted for the 2011 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Award and has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Time Out New York, Parents Magazine and Salon.com, and is a regular book columnist at MTV’s AfterEllen.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Mailbox Monday #376

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, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

15th Affair by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro from my mom.

Detective Lindsay Boxer has everything she could possibly want. Her marriage and baby daughter are perfect, and life in Homicide in the San Francisco Police Department is going well. But all that could change in an instant.

Lindsay is called to a crime scene at the Four Seasons Hotel. There is a dead man in one of the rooms, shot at close range. The man checked in under a false name with no ID on him, so the first puzzle will be finding out who he is.

In the room next door are a dead young man and woman, also shot. They are surrounded by high-tech surveillance equipment. Could they have been spying on the man now dead in the room next to them?

And in the utilities cupboard down the hall is the dead body of a house maid. The murders are all clearly linked and professionally executed. But what is the motive behind it all? Lindsay will need to risk everything she has to find out.

Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza for review from Red Hen Press.

Every day we are forced to integrate the world’s news into our personal lives; we all have to decide what parts of the flood of news resonate with us and what we need to turn away from, out of necessity or sensitivity. Obliterations—a collection of erasure poems that use The New York Times as their source texts—springs from that seemingly immediate process of personalizing news information. By cutting, synthesizing and arranging existing news items into new poems, the erasure process creates a link between the authors’ poetic sensibilities and the supposedly more “objective” view of the newsmakers. Each author used the same articles but wrote separate erasures without seeing the other’s versions, highlighting the wonderful similarities and differences that arise when two works—or any two people with individual tastes and lenses—share the same stories.

What did you receive?

Interview With Poet Jessica Piazza

Poet Jessica Piazza

Last week an interview with Poet Jessica Piazza posted on 32 Poems.

Please check out a part of the interview below, and give her a warm welcome.

How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

Usually I just tell people that I’m a word-nerd and that I’m generally ridiculous. I like getting that out there early. I also probably pipe in that I’m from Brooklyn, New York pretty early on, because I’m really proud of where I come from. Brooklyn has definitely become the trendy place to be for artists and hipsters of all ilk, but growing up deep in South (read: uncool) Brooklyn is a completely different story, and a very particular story at that. Other than that, I’m more likely to talk about my dog than myself. His name is Special and he’s seriously….special.

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

Ha! Obsessions are my obsession. A quick Googling of me reveals that my entire writing life for the past few years focused almost primarily on ruminations about clinical phobias and clinical philias. I wrote poem after poem inspired by these weird obsessive fears and obsessive loves, and my entire manuscript is anchored by them. For me, that was subject was a natural one, since I get addicted to ideas or projects themselves and have to play them out until I’ve killed them in some emotional way. I mean, I *only* write poems in projects, and that’s beginning to bite me in the ass as I try to create a second manuscript. For example, how do you fit together a dozen strange ekphrastic poems with erasure poems made from news articles and tiny, technical poems about bridges? It ain’t easy, kids. That’s all I’m saying..

Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I’m not much a reader of books on writing, but one did move me, years ago. It’s not specifically writing focused, even! It’s called “Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It contains this astonishing tidbit: “If ninety-eight percent of our medical students were no longer practicing medicine five year after graduation, there would be a Senate investigation, yet that proportion of art majors are routinely consigned to an early professional death. Not many people continue making art when – abruptly – their work is no longer seen, no longer exhibited, no longer commented upon, no longer encouraged. Could you?”

Reading that only articulated my already steadfast determination to provide artistic communities: spaces for the sharing and appreciation of poetry, in person and on the page. A year interning with Robert Pinsky (and Maggie Dietz!) at “The Favorite Poem Project” in Boston—an endeavor that set out to prove poetry touched ordinary Americans—was the perfect groundwork for me. As hundreds and hundreds of love letters to poetry poured in that first year, I realized that the power of great literature is not esoteric—it’s visceral, vibrant and necessary. It was right there…proof that poetry could have power as a pop-cultural force, not just an academic byproduct. I wanted to find a way to work with this idea, both expanding poetry’s place (and scope) in education, and simultaneously ensuring its recognition as a viable source of popular entertainment and inspiration.

To that end, over the years I helped to found a popular reading series (Speakeasy Poetry Series in NYC), a successful national literary journal (Bat City Review) and a small university press (Gold Line Press). Funny, though…it’s ironic that, at first, I never thought of teaching as a way to advocate poetry in the community. But when I started as a Teaching Assistant in 2003, I saw the impression that well-made literature could make on generally unimpressed students, and I’m proud to say that I’ve helped create many new poetry lovers over the last eight years of teaching at a college level. No wonder teaching became a passion—it doesn’t get much more inspiring than that.

Thanks, Jessica, for answering my questions. For the rest of the interview, visit 32 Poems.

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza was born in Brooklyn, has a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. She is a co-founder of Bat City Review, an editor at Gold Line Press, a contributing editor at The Offending Adam and has blogged for The Best American Poetry and Barrelhouse. Among other places, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, The National Poetry Review, The Missouri Review, Agni, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Rattle, 42 Opus and Forklift, Ohio. Her dissertation focuses on the intersection between literary analysis and neuroscience, which means she reads a lot of science articles, which also means she’s constantly tempted to shuffle around like a zombie screaming “BRAINS!!!!” at random poets and writers.

Check out a sample poem:

Eisoptrophilia
           Love of mirrors
                               Impression pressed upon the glass perfects
                               even the grossest forgeries.  Reject
                               the sea.  Reject the turning tide.
                               Just below clear water, I reside
                               as duplication of the lake.  Take me
                               away, another underneath again.
                               What mirrors cannot ditto isn’t sin.

Eisoptrophobia
        Fear of mirrors
                                What mirrors cannot ditto isn’t sin
                                simply performed behind the glass.  Within
                                the frame of windowpane, negated dark.
                                Those fleeting squares reveal our darkness back.
                                Aloof, the rain plays taps.  Above, the trees
                                are inimitable.  Distinct, thus blessed.
                                Reflected, I am never at my best.

--Originally published in Mid-American Review, Volume XXX, Numbers 1 & 2 Fall 2009/Spring 2010