In this new collection by the accomplished Lillo Way, the reader is transported from earth to sky and beyond by lyrical and visionary poems. This work pulls against the gravity and mortality of life on planet earth. Within each unique tableau we learn secrets for transcendence: the importance of perspective, light and dark as an extended metaphor for wholeness, and the indomitable energy of music and dance.
Like the AIDS Quilt itself to which the title alludes, A Quilt for David is a memorial to victims of the AIDS epidemic that swept up hundreds of thousands of lives in the last forty years, in the same scary way the COVID pandemic has killed so many people in 2020. Only, this memorial for David Acer memorializes more than the victims of the HIV virus. It also revisits the homophobic hysteria that drove so much of the narrative. “All of them emboldened by…a mute president,” as Reigns writes in one of the 79 untitled meditations (both poems and prose pieces) that make up this breathtaking collection.
All of which is to say that this smallish, quiet book is magnificent. But you can’t get away with reading it once, or quickly. It calls you back, draws you in, tricks you into thinking it’s about flying owls, changing peed sheets, watching water wash over the rocks, and taking out the trash, and indeed it is about peed sheets, owls, and taking out the trash just as our lives are about those things, and yet, it is also about everything.
Personification and identification are routes to empathy, to feeling what is felt by another: another person, an animal, an inanimate object. Yvonne Zipter pursues this goal by swapping pieces of herself with pieces of the world.
Chimera says a lot in so few pages, Skelton makes the reader enter moments, fragments of time, the land, life: imagined and real. In this book Skelton once more has demonstrated her skills as a writer.
Reading through You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love, I experienced a litany of emotion that found me racking through memories, hopes, and losses. The work is astoundingly raw and explorative. Harvey dances between forms and visual presentation with the precision and coherency of a professor, the care of a mother, and the creative wield of a comic book artist.
Journey to Tatev is a love poem to the self and to the other, written along the trajectory of a single journey. These airy, deeply rhythmic poems encompass the multi-lingual voice of a migrant, coming-of-age, coming out, coming to terms with the past and future simultaneously. Words and notes dance across the page, engaging all of the senses in this vibrant and deeply moving collection.
At the center of the collection is the breathtaking tour de force entitled “Don’t Spend It All in One Place,” a series of fourteen fourteen-line poems (though not exactly “sonnets” in a metrical sense), whose themes of violence and art and time, coming “unstuck” in time, make one think of Billy Pilgrim, Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-hero in Slaughterhouse Five. There’s a similar dark humor at work in Shapero’s poems.
Skillman employs many references to transportation – trains, mostly, but other kinds too. In the introductory poem we get our first train reference, when the grandmother is counting beats for her own personal waltz: “Always the counting beneath the whistles of trains/ running westward from the town of no money.” (from My Grandmother’s Waltz, p. 18). The train here is ghost-like. It brings a nagging fear of having to escape poverty.
Letters in Language is a powerful collection: vibrant, sexy, sad, and very smart. The poems are dense, but also full of play, open space for reader interpretation, and steeped in cultural and literary references. As with all memoir, it is the exploration of a life, but is also an exploration of poetry, the way in which language itself creates reality and history, and very nature of the literary form.