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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.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider

Source: Purchased (Rattle subscription, bonus)
Paperback, 31 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider won the Rattle Chapbook Prize in 2017 and provides a glimpse into the nation’s struggle with immigration and insight into the working class for those who are unfamiliar. Schneider’s poems are beautiful in their simplicity. The chapbook opens with “Hot Iron,” and explores the residual effects of emotional and physical abuse. Even the most mundane and routine actions of people, like turning on the flat iron to straighten one’s hair, can be a symptom of something deeper.

From "41st Birthday" (pg. 24-5)

A mile later I hit a train.
The long arms descend
like at a border crossing
with dramatic clanging and the hysteria
of the lights.
I move up, nose in real
close
and I just can't help
but be afraid sometimes

Many of his poems are this way, little stories from the lives of two people spending time together, supporting each other, and more in a way that reflects larger issues of immigration and abuse. There is beauty in the little moments of watching hummingbirds reach a feeder or the last living tree of a certain species. In “Chasing the Green Card,” Schneider explores the raw emotion of a man and his wife who love one another and must face government scrutiny in their immigration hearings with little guarantee of a solid decision.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider tackles some raw subjects and emotions. It’s a solid chapbook that explores a part of America that is solidly in the news and looks at the human side of the debate. Readers will connect with the plight of this tax cab driver and his wife, but they also will see the beauty in their struggle.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Mather Schneider is cab driver who writes poems. For many years, he and his wife would get up together and drive in to work, and he got a few good poems out of those commutes. He writes poetry and prose.

Mailbox Monday #468

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.

Here’s what we received:

Accidentally Yours by Robin Helm, a Kindle freebie.

Two worlds . . .
Two centuries . . .
Two men who love the same woman . . .
Two prayers fervent enough to shift time . . .
Endless questions and possibilities . . .
What would a man give for a second chance at love?
What would he sacrifice to keep it?

What if the proud, arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice never changed after his disastrous proposal to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford? What if the humbled man who successfully courted her was not the same Mr. Darcy?

In Accidentally Yours, Book 1 of the Yours by Design Christian fantasy romance series, worlds collide and time shifts when two men fall in love with the same woman.

Reader Diana Oaks said, “Reading this is a bit like eating something that mixes sweet and bitter – like French Vanilla Ice Cream with a bitter Dark Chocolate topping. I’m enjoying both, but the intermingling of the two does interesting things in the palette of my mind.”

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider, which won the 2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize winner.

When Mather Schneider met Josie she was an illegal immigrant from Mexico working at McDonald’s in Tucson and he was a cab driver who went to McDonald’s to buy coffee each day. One day she poured his coffee, then placed a small piece of paper over his money and slid it back to him on the counter. With that gesture she gave him a reason to get up in the morning. She also gave him more trouble than he wanted, more bliss than he could have imagined, and a coupon for a free Egg McMuffin.

How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz for review in March from Wunderkind PR.

Vulnerable, beautiful and ultimately life-affirming, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work reaches new heights in her revelatory seventh collection of poetry. Continuing in her tradition of engaging autobiographical work, How to Love the Empty Air explores what happens when the impossible becomes real―for better and for worse. Aptowicz’s journey to find happiness and home in her ever-shifting world sees her struggling in cities throughout America. When her luck changes―in love and in life―she can’t help but “tell the sun / tell the fields / tell the huge Texas sky…. / tell myself again and again until I believe it.” However, the upward trajectory of this new life is rocked by the sudden death of the poet’s mother. In the year that follows, Aptowicz battles the silencing power of grief with intimate poems burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, capturing the dance that all newly grieving must do between everyday living and the desire “to elope with this grief, / who is not your enemy, / this grief who maybe now is your best friend. / This grief, who is your husband, / the thing you curl into every night, / falling asleep in its arms…” As in her award-winning The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz counts her losses and her blessings, knowing how despite it all, life “ripples boundless, like electricity, like joy / like… laughter, irresistible and bright, / an impossible thing to contain.”

What did you receive?