The story itself is a fascinating one with themes very relevant to modern readers: the impact of colonisation, racism, cruelty and social inequality, as well as love, hunger, and the desire for meaning and self-actualisation. Johnson is a natural storyteller, providing narrative context in between each of the poems. However the real heart of the collection is the poetry, which goes deeper than scholarship would otherwise allow. Johnson puts the reader right into the moment of experience, using language that is both harrowing and wry.
There is a stark, necessary brutality to these poems, and so many wonderful, poignant lines that one is tempted to quote continuously in an effort to impress upon readers the importance of this work. Therefore the best recommendation is to read it whole, in its entirety, to absorb its authentic reflections and stunning phrases and to reap the rewards of personal insight and possibly even enlightenment.
What’s interesting in all of Smallwood’s work is how she manages to put together myriad disparities to create a whole. Thematically, these poems are drawn together by the overarching concept of exploration of the universe, but the poems themselves are as diverse and disparate as poems from different authors.
It’s rare to come across a collection that is suitable for such a broad age range, and yet Blackford, something of a literary jill-of-all-trades, manages it perfectly. Though her poems are lighthearted, often exploring the secret and not so secret world of animals and other aspects of nature, they are anything but facile. Often there is a dark heart, or a rich philosophical exploration of the nature of psychology, history and mythology.
It takes a lot of craftsmanship to have readers get inside the personalities and the culture of the characters in poems based on scholarship and detailed research—a huge task; all of the poems stick to the topic of Kafka and explore aspects of his family and his times.
Margie Shaheed’s Dream Catcher poems are eloquently woven word quilts. Life-filled, sensual, powerful, tender, courageous and unapologetic. Her poems are beautiful, richly crafted testaments written by a woman who knows and understands life in its many nuances.
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.