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Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 28 pgs.
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Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an eye-opening chapbook of poems and essays about what punishment actually is — beyond the concrete walls and bars on the windows and doors. This is a chapbook that packs a serious punch in the gut from the title poem, “Punishment” to the essays on how poetry not only taught the prisoners how to see beyond their four walls but the poet how to see things and people differently.

From "Punishment" (pg. 7)

The men tossed entire libraries. A rage of books.
Lobbed in high arcs like footballs,
or pitched overhand like grenades.

When caged like an animal and treated inhumanely how would you react if you did not have a blanket and the prison was unbearably cold? Would you have an ability to make a reasonable argument with the prison staff, or would you resort to the basest of reactions? Would you give up that which is most precious to you, like a family bible with calming words or a photo album that comforts you in darkness when your family cannot be near? Readers are asked to think about these questions and to see beyond the crimes and the violence of these men to see the humans broken here.

Gomez deftly places readers inside the prison with her students who still tentatively work on poems and show small kindnesses to one another even as they know once outside the classroom they must return to their “hard” selves — no longer showing emotion or kindness. Even though she is given permission to teach poetry to the prisoners, the staff make not effort to welcome her, but in fact remind her in the least subtle of ways that she is under their control and direction and that her freedoms are left outside.

From "Echo" (pg. 15)

by rain and wind. Absence
expands inside him like smoke.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an exploration of how poetry and words can provide hope and satisfaction to those who have none. It can help them explore what is good without compromising their prison personas. Gomez is asking the reader to see these men as human beings — men with hopes, deep losses, and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Nancy Miller Gomez grew up in Kansas but currently lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Rattle, Bellingham Review, Nimrod, and elsewhere. She has a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing from Pacific University. She has worked as a stable hand, an attorney, and a TV producer, and volunteers as the director of the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, an organization that provides poetry and writing workshops to incarcerated men and women. For more information on the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, visit their website.

Mailbox Monday #481

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Martha 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 this week:

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine, who I heard speak about the book at Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.

But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hind, who was at the same book festival.

It is true that I am nervous. But why will you say that I am mad?

In “The Cask of Amontillado,” a man exacts revenge on a disloyal friend at carnival, luring him into catacombs below the city. In “The Masque of the Red Death,” a prince shielding himself from plague hosts a doomed party inside his abbey stronghold. A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, faced with a swinging blade and swarming rats, can’t see his tormentors in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a milky eye and a deafening heartbeat reveal the effects of conscience and creeping madness. Alongside these tales are visual interpretations of three poems — “The Raven,” “The Bells,” and Poe’s poignant elegy to lost love, “Annabel Lee.” The seven concise graphic narratives, keyed to thematic icons, amplify and honor the timeless legacy of a master of gothic horror.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez, which I received from Rattle magazine.

Nancy Miller Gomez entered Salinas Valley State Prison with a backpack of poems and a fear of being caught in a lockdown. What she discovered was compassion and human connection. The poems and essays in this collection, Gomez’s first, were inspired by her experience teaching writing workshops in jails and prisons. Punishment explores the stories of people serving time in the criminal justice system. It demonstrates the ways creative expression can mend emotional wounds, bridge differences, and reconnect us to our humanity. Punishment is a moving tribute to the redemptive power of poetry.

Freedom City by Philip Becnel, which my dad who never reads bought at the book festival.

After President Trump unceremoniously dies from natural causes, four misfits from Washington, D.C. who call themselves the Fearless Vampire Killers sever the heads of Confederate statues and wage a comedic guerrilla war on post-Trump America. When President Pence enlists droves of fascist volunteers to crush the “alt-left” uprising, the rebels must risk their lives to run the fascists out of D.C.

What follows is not only a battle for survival—but a desperate search for remnants of what once made America great.

Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe LoBell by Joe Lobell, which was free on lulu.com.

A collection of thirty-nine poems spanning 1986 through 2016. PRAISE FOR THE POETRY AND PERFORMANCE OF JOE LOBELL: “Lobell is a true original and turns a mean phrase…. His work casts a spell like Lou Reed’s early work or the early readings of Jim Carroll or Patti Smith.” — THE HERALD “With a hipster’s cool detachment Joe Lobell prowls through the mean streets underbelly of New York City speaking words as vivid as a flashing neon light.” —DOWNTOWN EXPRESS “This stuff is excellent.” —ERIC BOGOSIAN “Lobell’s readings contain some of the elements present in the celebrated Beat Generation jazz renderings…. His recitations lock into the rhythms of free-flow rock music and fasten on gritty situations from storytellers loom.” —DAILY FREEMAN

What did you receive?