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Strange Theater by John Amen

Source: John Amen
Paperback, 112 pgs.
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Strange Theater by John Amen includes surrealism and introspection, as well as poems dedicated to individuals that speak to a broader scope of readers.  It is a peek behind the theater curtain at the backstage machinations of life and the true identity of the theater’s players.  Examining the roles of those on the stage, in the background, the understudies, and the roles that we take in our own lives, Amen takes readers on a roller coaster journey.

From "folk singer" (pg. 91)

of course you're suffering
that goes without saying
alone in yr own private tundra
staggering through the snow

Many of us feel alone with our suffering, and theater, movies, stories, and poetry often help connect us, creating tangential connections between our own suffering to that of others. Some of these poems often draw out the egoism we have about our own lives and suffering, like in “biography,” “ferry approaching in the haze/the monuments he built/he built for himself/for this reason are destined to crumble//” (pg. 17) Many of these players are haunted, haunted by their pasts, their futures, their missteps, and their inability to meet the expectations of others.

from "diaspora" (pg. 30)

last time we talked
I saw deadbolts turning in yr eyes
from light years away you demanded

Amen keeps his readers on their toes as they move from line to line and poem to poem, exploring the uncertainty in all of our lives as it plays out on the biggest stage. Strange Theater by John Amen is wonderfully disconcerting even among the most common of places and people. Imagine looking back on a body of work and seeing only a darkness — a future that hasn’t been written yet — and feel that insecurity that breeds alongside the wondrous possibilities, and you’ll know what it is to walk out on Amen’s poetic stage.

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.

Mailbox Monday #313

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:

1.  Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow from the poet for review.

Mendeleev’s Mandala begins in pilgrimage and ends in pilgrimage, but nowhere in-between does it find a home. Logic is the lodestar, as these poems struggle to make sense out of chaos. Jessica Goodfellow reimagines stories from the Old Testament, Greek mythology, and family history by invoking muses as diverse as Wittgenstein, Newton, the Wright Brothers, and an ancient Japanese monk. In the title poem, Mendeleev’s periodic table, sparked by fire and by trains, sees the elements of the world come into focus as a geometric pattern that recalls the ancient mandalas, also blueprints of an expanding universe as a whole.

2.  Bright Dead Things by Asa Limon from Milkweed Editions for review.

After the loss of her stepmother to cancer, Ada Limón chose to quit her job with a major travel magazine in New York, move to the mountains of Kentucky, and disappear. Yet, in the wake of death and massive transition, she found unexpected love, both for a man and for a place, all the while uncovering the core unity between death and beauty that drives our world. “I am beautiful. I am full of love. I am dying,” the author writes. It’s this narrative of transformation and acceptance that suffuses these poems. Unflinching and unafraid, Limón takes her reader on a journey into the most complex and dynamic realms of existence and identity, all while tracing a clear narrative of renewal.

3.  Lives of Crime and Other Stories by L. Shapley Bassen, an unexpected second review copy, which I will pass along to someone else.

These are great noir stories, with a very intelligent self-awareness that makes them existentially perplexing and entertaining at the same time. Kind of a guilty pleasure. Love the wry darkness.” -Susan Smith Nash, author of “The Adventures of Tinguely Querer

4.  The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen, an unexpected surprise from Algonquin Books.

Thirty years after her death, Alice Eve Cohen’s mother appears to her, seemingly in the flesh, and continues to do so during the hardest year Alice has had to face: the year her youngest daughter needs a harrowing surgery, her eldest daughter decides to reunite with her birth mother, and Alice herself receives a daunting diagnosis. As it turns out, it’s entirely possible for the people we’ve lost to come back to us when we need them the most.

Although letting her mother back into her life is not an easy thing, Alice approaches it with humor, intelligence, and honesty. What she learns is that she must revisit her childhood and allow herself to be a daughter once more in order to take care of her own girls. Understanding and forgiving her mother’s parenting transgressions leads her to accept her own and to realize that she doesn’t have to be perfect to be a good mother.

5.  The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay from Candlewick Press for review.

A toy soldier. A butter dish. A compass. Mundane objects, perhaps, but to the remarkable authors in this collection, artifacts such as these have inspired stories that go to the heart of the human experience of World War I. Each author was invited to choose an object that had a connection to the war— a writing kit for David Almond, a helmet for Michael Morpurgo—and use it as the inspiration for an original short story. What results is an extraordinary collection, illustrated throughout by award-winning Jim Kay and featuring photographs of the objects with accounts of their history and the authors’ reasons for selecting them. This unique anthology provides young readers with a personal window into the Great War and the people affected by it, and serves as an invaluable resource for families and teachers alike.

6.  Strange Theater by John Amen from the poet for review.

John Amen’s STRANGE THEATER takes the reader on a multifaceted journey, each poem a puzzle piece in a mysterious drama, a view onto a stage where dialogues and narratives shuffle and rotate, where characters improvise insights that blur the boundary between horror and the absurd. Offering a unique vision of contemporary life, Amen is a Virgil of sorts, navigating the unknown, plumbing the conscious and unconscious alike. Replete with compelling imagery and frequently shocking proclamations, STRANGE THEATER imprints itself on the psyche, Amen’s voice continuing to resound long after the final poem is read.

What did you receive this week?