Bulletproof is all about mortality and the poems develop like a verse novel as they attempt to come to grips with the inevitable that waits for us all. Despite the morbidity, the poems are never maudlin. In fact, they’re almost cheery, in a grim black sort of way, effectively giving the middle finger to death. How very Lemmy, though he wasn’t immortal after all.
The recurring themes of this brilliantly haunting collection run a powerful range, from tragedy and trauma to innocence and carnal desire. Derr-Smith offers an intimate, unyieldingly honest account of her life and experiences. The subjects, the lines, the words all scream truth. Often brutally. Often beautifully. Her themes and approach leave a lasting impression.
Contradiction and absurdity reign freely, and non sequiturs pop up out of the blue, each fetched further than the last, as if the poet were striving for the most unlikely next line ever to come out of left field. The effect is to loosen up the reader’s consciousness and allow her to gaze into an open-ended world of expansive possibilities. It’s a wild world, where sense and nonsense are on an equal footing, but she soon finds that the poet has left a trail of delectible crumbs to follow.
The landscape of Seminara’s poetry is often domestic – home life, motherhood, abusive relatives, relationships, aging, and illness, but there is also magical realism, shapeshifting, sublimated desire, and a range of literary influences that come through the found poems, centos, erasures and remixes. The poetry plays with metapoetic themes, with traditional rhyme schemes and rhythms, and are self-referential in a post-modern way.
Faber’s grief is like a river that runs through the book, sometimes coming across as confused, sad, and angry, but never maudlin. Instead, grief becomes the starting point for a celebration of life. It’s not just Eva, and the many aspects of her life and death that are discovered through this work. It’s also about what it means to live in the face of such an inevitable and untimely death.
Though the narrative presents a fast-paced story of ambulance, medication, confusion and return, we’re in the realm of poetry, which can be dream-like, with a multitude of simultaneous meanings. The poems operate on several levels at once, from the struggles of a failed body and its attempts to come back from the nightmare of motor neurone degradation, to the writer’s daily struggle to make sense of language and the self against an increasingly incomprehensible world.
Hazel Smith’s Word Migrants is a poetry collection that is utterly relevant right now. Smith brings her cross-media poetic aesthetics to such topics as racism, the plight of refugees, diaspora, stereotypes, climate change, grief, aging and death, semiotics and literary theory all in a way that weaves and intersects seamlessly. Though there’s a neat circularity in the book – starting and ending with disappearances, Word Migrants is organised into five sections, each with a slightly different focus. The first, “The Forgiveness Website”, focuses on the nostalgia and sense of loss that comes with displacement. This chapter explores refugees and migration, but also the motion from past to present, and of all that we lose in our identities as we try to find ways to live and forgive in the face of oppression.
John Amen’s Strange Theater lives up to its name in that it is a strange book. Most of the poems are written to people we do not know. It appears that they are friends or acquaintances of the author but we are not sure about this. It also appears that he haphazardly throws words together to make sentences that do not make sense but somehow are able to tell a story. In this way, Amen reminds me of Federico Garcia Lorca.
Kerdijk Nicholson’s poems are not difficult to read: they flow in straightforward rhythms, and take on familiar landscapes and territories, but the poems in Everyday Epic are much more complex then they seem at first glance. It is through the everyday moments of such universal elements as love, grief, work, that we find the epic, and in those old stories of conquest and domination, where we find our most shameful and least ‘epic’ natures.
During the Crusades, European priests kissed cannons, by way of blessing them, as soldiers marched east to fight what was perceived as the threat of Islam. Instead of cannons, Antonio J. Hopson uses words as his weapon of choice in the poetry collection Seven, and that for the most part focuses on a love affair. “I am a poet. I use words” (Mr. Law, 31). Amazingly, his use of words gives the impression that this affair—at least for him—resembles the carnage of the Crusades.