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.
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.
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.