Autoethnographic is a difficult read. Though the poems are deceptively prosaic, they don’t yield their messages easily, and are unsettlingly dark, disjointed, and at times, so self-referential that they feel like a chaotic nightmare. But once you let go of the desire for linearity and meaning and instead open up to the linguistic subtleties, to new modes of perception, and to the revelations which are decidedly non-linear, the work becomes quite special.
Though the poems in Radiance are powerful and hard-hitting – making the familiar new, and challenging the reader’s perspective, the entire collection is suffused with warmth that continues to charm, even when we’re reading about horror. These are poems that, regardless of theme, remain unabashedly positive, at times, extremely funny, and inviting, even as they’re undermining our prejudices.
Venus Thrash open The Fateful Apple deep in the heart of the Garden of Eden and moves toward Tutankhamen’s tomb, continues on to Atlanta, before mentioning The Tree of Life, The Tree of Knowledge and womankind bearing the brunt of Eve’s disobedience. The reader is left breathless, but driven to turn the page and check the words coming next.
Split by Cathy Linh Che is an honest piece of literature. There is no need for Che to prove her talent as a poet. The poems in Split do this and more. Che uses the pen as a mirror. What she sees—including significant events that impact her personal and familial life—she puts on paper in ways that approach mastery of the art of poetry.
As the title implies, Maria Takolander’s The End of the World makes no pretence at sweetness or ease. While there is certainly a tenderness in the poems of childbirth and domesticity that open the collection, but despite the maternal softness that draws the reader in from the start of many of these poems, the collection has an underlying ferocity which takes the reader below the superficial, into the heart of meaning as revealed by the intensity of each moment it encounters.
The seventy or so poems in this volume appear to have found their best translators in English. The translators and the editor are well-respected scholars and translators, who worked from the original texts; at least three of them are also poets in their own right. It is noteworthy that all four are based in different continents (viz., Asia, North America, and Europe) and have together put their expertise to a most fruitful use, with excellent results.
Working together each week the women built up their repertoire and began to hone their skills. The result is this anthology, which takes the best of their work, and presents, not only poetry, but a story about the writing process, a record of development, and a rather instructive and illustrative catalogue of poetic styles from Abecedarian to Cento, riddle poems to Tanka to Ekphrastic pieces.
There is the belief that dreams are ideas within the unconscious mind that push their way into the conscious mind. This Freudian classification of dreams is insufficient because it creates a “tight box” around what we think dreams are. Thankfully, there are writers like Helene Cardona that move beyond this box in their work. Similarly, Cardona’s poems challenge the narrative, often found in Western cultures, that sees human beings as dominant over and against all other animals. Left unchecked, this narrative creates separation between human beings and animals that, at the core, justifies and allows for the extinction of the latter.
Though each of the poems stands alone and indeed many of the poems in the collection were published individually, there is an underlying story that links the work together. This is a story of memory, loss, history and hubris. It’s a story about a new future and about the relics of the past that travel with us and are left behind as we transform – individually, and as a species. The poems are self-referential, memetic – with cultural ideas and motifs travelling from one poem to another, and metapoetic in a way that is somehow both humorous (at times) and profound.
In nearly all of the poems, the subject and object perform a dance where roles are reversed, aligned, torn, and reconfigured, always with a kind of skewed nourishment, as in “Strangled Collision” where the bread is the love object, imbibed and absorbed like wine and grains of rice, crushed down in a Strangler Fig embrace.