In the opening line, Ireland poses a question about the relationship between the individual, and a theory of everything: “If you consulted your own cipher mind (if what presents as yours could be compressed in such a lazy line), would it encircle this whole ball of string/theory/or only what lies beneath?” In the world of Porch Light, the answer is yes.
Through the dystopia of styrofoam cups, depleted forests, rotting garbage, and an overabundance of aggressive species – colonists or currawongs, there is still laughter, a sense of hope, and a deep, abiding love for the city. In Aiken’s world, the human is absorbed into nature as just another animal, a predator who will one day be supplanted by another species. Though that may not sound like the prettiest of visions, A Vicious Example presents a collection of great beauty, and intense reflection.
For those who saw beneath the veneer of our country’s prosperity, “Howl” was the response of those supposedly mad or insane, observing the interior disintegration of a society enamored of materialism, steeped in religious doctrine but becoming increasing devoid of spiritual direction, still segregated and racist and generally intolerant of sexual honesty. “Howl” helped define a generation that saw beyond America’s inflated sense of progress and supremacy.
Like the best poetry collections, Still Pilgrim coheres absolutely. It has one theme, expressed in the book’s title and the title of every poem. And it sticks firmly to one form, the sonnet. O’Donnell’s take on the form, though, is like Pope Francis’s approach to pastoral care: merciful and generous and forgiving. Meters range from trimeter to pentameter, some of them tight and sprightly, others elastic, heterometric, even sprung, Hopkins-like. Rhyme schemes are many. Rhyming is tolerant of slants and assonances.
I can tell you I only read art. I put down what isn’t. Call it literary or what you must. If it’s not art, my breaths will slow and I’ll out of hopelessness turn to the next thing. That won’t do anything for me. And it can’t be my family because during this time I’m trying to protect them so I act or am grateful they are away for just during this time if this time ends. Sonya’s book is art. Read it.
Light and hope seems to play like a continual refrain through Maggie Walsh’s Sunset. Though these are poems that reflect the hardship and suffering that Walsh has experienced, they are never dark; never dour. Always there is an appreciation of the natural beauty, and a kind of joyousness that comes from sensation and perception in the face of racism, the grief that goes with being separated from home and family, and of feeling different.
Out from Calaboose is an ambitious work, rich with mythology, politics, ecology, and psychology. The book moves through darkness and light, trauma, loss, desire, pain, but also, and always, leaning towards freedom from these things. One gets the sense that this freedom lies almost entirely in the power of words – the poems themselves are the keys.
It is rare when we can call a poetry book a “page turner” in the sense of a drama or mystery, but in his remarkable new work, Miriam’s Book: A Poem, Harold Schweizer accomplishes just that. The connective tissue of each chapter, organized as in a novel, propels us forward with anticipation and curiosity.
I am a firm believer in craft and study. We can all benefit from workshops, retreats, formal and informal study, as well as constructive criticism from our peers. Magnesium is not a bad book, it’s Ray Buckley’s book. Perhaps, Buckley would have given this reader a different experience had he focused on developing each poem and letting the reader in.
The poems in Elvis Alves’ new chapbook Ota Benga have a rhythm that is almost performative. Most of the poems have a subtle rhyme scheme that, when enriched by a modern undercurrent of political anger, comes across with a slam aesthetic. They work particularly well when spoken aloud, with the rhythms of a New York vernacular. Throughout the collection there is a common theme of enslavement versus freedom.