Happy, happy, happy Poem in Your Pocket Day friends! My #PocketPoem for this year is Fatimah Asghar’s “If They Should Come for Us.” This poem shatters me each time I read it. In her essay “Against Explanation” Tarfia Faizullah writes “The first time I read Vievee Francis’s poem “Say It, Say It Any Way You Can,” I didn’t breathe. It’s a poem that doesn’t let you.'” This is how I felt the first time I encountered Asghar’s poem. I didn’t breathe. When I finished reading it, I was crying, and feeling absolutely struck by its beauty. I often think about the following lines, “my people my people I can’t be lost / when I see you my compass / is brown & gold & blood” (lines 22-24). I have a lot of appreciation for Asghar for writing this poem, and lots of gratitude for Poem in Your Pocket Day, which allows me to celebrate wonderful poems like this one.
“In the country where she lives, which is no country, the madwoman maps desire’s coordinates onto her body.” – Shara McCallum
Hi friends! Thanks so much for your patience last Sunday! It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a review, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been in good company. This week, I’ve been spending time with the collection Madwoman by Shara McCallum. I love the fury in these poems. As they unpack the madwoman inside all of us, McCallum offers us a powerful reflection on motherhood, race, and family. There is a hunger in these lines that is furious and electrifying. As McCallum writes, “And what would that mean: to be seen?” she shatters the shame and silence around so many women, allowing the madwoman to emerge, bold and unabashed. These poems are so daring I am surprised the pages don’t set themselves on fire.
From the beginning, McCallum delivers a collection that challenges. The poem “Memory” comes at the start of Madwoman and establishes the voice of the speaker: “No spit-shine shoes, / I’m dirt you can’t wash from your feet” (lines 3-4). This poem is haunting in its images and sensory details: “I’m bone. Rather: the sound / bone makes when it snaps. That ditty / lingering in you, like ruin” (lines 12-14). Not only does the madwoman struggle to navigate a destroyed world, but the destruction is very much a part of her identity as a speaker. This is also reflected in the poem “Oh Abuse,” where the speaker documents the complicated relationship she has with abuse: “. . . you swallowed the sun / when you came but also taught me / it never shines for any of us, exactly” (lines 12-14). Both “Memory” and “Oh Abuse” are written as single stanzas, a form McCallum often uses in Madwoman.
The poems in Madwoman take place during the speakers childhood, adulthood, and then motherhood. Many of the poems take place in Jamaica and do a powerful job of documenting what it’s like to grow up biracial (see “Race”). Aside from this, some of the best moments in Madwoman occur when the speaker examines her relationship with her mother, as well as her own relationship with her children. The poems “Hour of Duppy and Dream” as well as “Now I’m a Mother” are nicely paired in Madwoman, giving readers a nice contrast between the two perspectives. In the poem “Hour of Duppy and Dream” McCallum writes, “Before consciousness / took hold, I knew my life would be marked // by her sorrow, pressed into my skin” (line 7-9). This poem is raw and emotional, and I love the use of the couplets in both poems. The poem “Now I’m a Mother” utilizes repetition, and is biting in its use of humor and irony: “Everything I’ve said and done has come back to bite me in the ass. / Humility’s what I’m learning – time after time – now I’m a mother” (lines 5-6). Both these poems demonstrate Madwoman’s range in voice and style, as well as the tender moments that make this collection so beautiful.
In total, Madwoman is roughly 70 pages of poetry. When I saw this collection at AWP17 I knew just from the title that it would deliver a punch. I’m so glad I bought it, and as usual, I’m thankful for Alice James Books, which consistently delivers the best.
Buy Madwoman here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Alice James Books: “Alice James Books is named after the sister of the famous philosopher William James and novelist Henry James, Alice James. She lived a largely confined and isolated life. The youngest of five children, she never married and lived with her parents until their deaths. Although her four brothers were broadly educated in the US and Europe, Alice’s education was haphazard, reflecting her father’s belief that “The very virtue of woman… disqualifies her for all didactic dignity. Learning and wisdom do not become her.” Keenly self-aware, she started a journal in 1889, as a way of recording her own understanding of herself. She entrusted it to her friend Katherine Loring, shortly before her death in 1892, of breast cancer. Loring sent copies to her brother Henry and other family members. In 1943 it was published, in incomplete form, by a niece, who called it Alice James: Her Brothers — Her Journal. Not until 1964 was the journal published in its entirety. Alice James has since become somewhat of a feminist icon, in recognition of her struggle for self-expression within the repressive Victorian notion of femininity.” *
Sorry, friends! I’ve been busy with school and admission stuff for my MFA (eeeeek!). I’ll be back on the blog next week. I’ve also lined up a review and interview for the chapbook Al Youm by George Abraham. In the meantime, please check out the newest issue of Sixth Finch, which just came out Friday and features some stunning poems and artwork! Happy Spring and National Poetry Month! – Noor
It’s April. It’s National Poetry Month. And here in Akron, we’ve been celebrating through a variety of fabulous literary events. I had the chance to see poets Catherine Wing, Caryl Pagel, and Holly Brown this week at The Big, Big Mess, a monthly reading series. The reading was held at the Northwest Akron Branch Library. Huge thanks to the organizers of the event – it was so much fun, and the poems that were read were absolutely stunning. Check out the work of these poets by clicking on their names.
Next week, I’ll heading over to Cleveland for the Lighthouse Reading Series. Writers Lily Hoang and Kazim Ali will be reading, and I can’t wait to spotlight another great North East Ohio reading series!
Good luck to all the poets out there who are participating in NaPoWriMo!
This is a very special week, as Thursday marked the one year anniversary of this blog! This is also the 50th post for NPP, and I’m so proud of this blog for making it so far. In its first year, NPP has helped promote over 40 collections. Aside from this, 12 interviews have been posted for readers. Every week this year, I was able to celebrate my favorite collections and poets. Each post means the world to me, as I was given the chance to rave about the thing I love the most: Poetry. I have SO MUCH appreciation to the poets who allowed me to interview them, as well as the poets who wrote the fabulous collections I was able to read and write about. Poetry is such an important part of my life, and I’m grateful to be part of the literary community.
Aside from all of this celebrating, it’s also NATIONAL POETRY MONTH! While I usually post stuff for this blog on Sundays, today is special. To kick of National Poetry Month, here’s a small list of ways you can help support the literary community in a meaningful way this month.
How to Support the Poetry Community:
1. If you have the financial means, find a small press from this list and help support the authors and presses by purchasing a few of their books. I’ve also been featuring small presses under each of my blog posts for NPP, so if there’s a book you like, jump over to that press and check out their catalog. Something else you can do is purchase a subscription with one of your favorite magazines or journals. Aside from this, donating to the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports poets and writers (among many, many other things), is another way to help.
2. Read. There are SO many free online journals to read. Support them just by reading their works, and helping promote the amazing poets they feature. I’ve compiled a small list of my favorites on this page.
3. Follow some of your favorite poets on Twitter. Kaveh Akbar
does a great job of featuring work from poets. Also, check out Astro Poets (lead by Dorothea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov), Kelli Russell Agodon, Chen Chen, Jayy Dodd, and Zeina Hashem Beck.
5. On a community level, you can support poets by attending readings or visiting your local library and encouraging them to add contemporary poetry collections to their catalog.
As always, thanks so much for reading and following. I couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off National Poetry Month! Feel free to browse through Nervous Poodle Poetry this week — our interview page is always up and available. Same goes for our resources page. 🙂 I’ll be posting a new review next week.
“Less is known of this black female rage. There is usually no place for it.” – Gina Athena Ulysse
I live for the collections that rage and question, that are unabashed in their depiction of language and culture, and that reclaim what has been stolen. One such collection is Gina Athena Ulysse’s Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, Me, and the World. Combing photographs, poems, and creole chants, here we have a collection that is uncut in its desire to name and take back what it means to be a black Haitian woman in the 21st century. Because When God is Too Busy places the body as center as it draws inspiration from family, history, and politics. Every poem is dangerous in its attempt to unearth the silence inside of us, and the speaker tells us from the beginning that she “ha[s] a complicated relationship with silence” (20).
Because these poems are a shout against shame, they are raw and empowering to read. In the poem “Circles of Power Children of Resistance, or My Rules of Engagement” the speaker asks “why is it that everywhere we go in the world / darker skinned people are always at the bottom / always at the end of the line?” (78). Each poem in Because When God is Too Busy pokes and prods, asking the questions that many have failed to voice. The speaker exposes the years of trauma and oppression her and her people continue to experience: “blood has been shedding in South Africa black blood colored blood” (45). The poems oftentimes break form, and utilize heavy repetition, lending themselves to being read out loud.
In the poem “Parallels My County’s in the Newspaper” the speaker expresses her outrage at the question “Where you from?” that oftentimes comes from people who wish to other her. The complex relationship the speaker has with her country is exposed in this poem as she attempts to reconcile her love for Haiti while acknowledging the following: “yes, we have a history of fucking over our own . . . I’ve come to see that my country’s fucked up” (58). The tension the speaker feels is also shown in the choppy line breaks and displaced chunks of texts.
Because When God is Too Busy is split into four sections. The cover is stunning, and so are the photographs in the collection. The photos expose the ruin, the beauty, and the art work in Haiti. I love how these poems are written, and how powerful this collection is as a whole.
Buy Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti Me, & The World here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Wesleyan University Press: “Wesleyan University Press has an editorial program that focuses on poetry, music, dance, science fiction studies, film-TV, and Connecticut history and culture. Publishing in its current form since 1957, Wesleyan University Press has published an internationally renowned poetry series, collecting five Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen, and two National Book Awards in that one series alone. The mission of Wesleyan University Press is to develop and maintain a sound and vigorous publishing program that serves the academic ends and intellectual life of the University.”
(Photo of Because When God is Too Busy courtesy of Wesleyan University Press)
View Ulysse on TEDx below.
“Infinite Black mothers / wailing in daylight for safe return / infinite Black children / breathing broken & wild to be put down” (“Infinite Monkey Theorem” lines 4-7).
This week, I’ve been spending time with Mannish Tongues, a debut poetry collection by Jayy Dodd. The haunting and beautiful poems inside Mannish Tongues are nothing short of stunning. These poems offer readers a new way to examine the black body and to bear witness to survival. The prologue of Mannish Tongues includes a quote from Essex Hemphill that states “I’m faced daily with choosing violence / or a demeanor that saves every other life / but my own.” These poems rebel against silence, becoming a powerful testament for speech and language, for empowerment, and for the identities we inhabit.
From the beginning of Mannish Tongues to the end, Dodd’s mastery of language is electrifying. There’s a natural rhythm to Dodd’s words, and the play on form keeps readers on their toes. In the poem “There’s Something bout being Raised in Church” Dodd writes: “our knees know something bout aching, / bout singing in jail cells” (lines 28-29). Through this poem, the speaker examines the church and its role in their upbringing, while also reflecting on the importance of language: “Every language I learned was in verse, translated / across all kinds of salvation” (lines 7-8). The careful articulation and weaving together of family, history, and discourse is what makes reading Mannish Tongues so compelling.
The strong voice in Mannish Tongues places the body front and center, forcing readers to bear witness to the consequences of the identities we hold. The poem “Physical Education” challenges our ideas of manhood. It is written as a prose poem and utilizes white space, giving readers a chance to slow down and really take in each word:”He will learn to not cry in the echo of middle school laughter. He will know bruised throat & swollen wrist as rough housing.” This poem is just one example of the astounding fearlessness in Dodd’s voice and in this collection as a whole.
Mannish Tongues is split into six sections: Confessions, Prayers, Interrogations, Testimonies, Myths, and Eulogies. When I interviewed Dodd, they mentioned one of their influences as Danez Smith. Both Mannish Tongues and [Insert] Boy leave you a little more broken after you’ve read them, but for good reason. This is an important collection to read, and worth every second of readers’ time.
Check out my interview with Dodd here.
Buy Mannish Tongues here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Platypus Press: “Platypus Press is a boutique publisher based in England. We seek to unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.”
(photo of Mannish Tongues courtesy of Platypus Press)
It’s not everyday that I get to read a collection as hilarious as Ugly Time by Sarah Galvin. I have so much appreciation for the humor in this book. It seriously saved my life this week. Upon opening Ugly Time, I couldn’t have known that I had 90 pages about human genitalia, cowboys, rubber band ukulele’s, and lots and lots of butts to look forward to. The genius in Galvin’s writing is that she is able to balance all of these elements while staying true to the emotional turmoil the speaker feels at various points in the collection. Most of the poems in Ugly Time are short, funny, and sassy, making them perfect for when you’re having an especially shitty week. These poems are like that really blunt and sarcastic friend you want to have with you at a party when things go haywire real quick.
In the poem “Why ‘Lexicon Devil’ By the Germs is Better than the Entire Indie Genre'” the speaker states: “From building a garage-sized house wallpapered with gay porn I learned I can do anything. This may be why I tried to kill Donald Trump with my house keys, a self defense technique I learned from Oprah.” This poem captures all of the feels associated with having Donald Trump as president right now. The closer the poem gets to the end, the more satisfaction one feels about imagining taking out Donald Trump with house keys: “To finish him off, we had to hold hands with children dressed in 1980’s tennis tracksuits.” The amusing and random images, coupled with the political message in this poem makes this collection hard not to love.
The charming wit and humor doesn’t slow down in Ugly Time. Neither does the vulgarity, which is oftentimes coupled with weird and wacky images. In the poem “You Deserve an Entourage” the speaker states “You deserve an entourage, and anyone who doesn’t see that can set their dick on fire.” This is a speaker who actually gives no fucks, who does not ask or need your permission, who is so unabashedly herself that nothing will stop her. This is what makes Ugly Time so refreshing, and why everyone needs to read this damn book.
Galvins’ poems will shock you. They are meant to. Every page in Ugly Time delivers a punch, making this one of the most refreshing collections I’ve read. When choosing whether to laugh or die, here is a group of poems that choose to laugh over and over again.
Check out my interview with Galvin here.
Buy Ugly Time here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Gramma Press: “Established in 2016, Gramma Poetry is an independent press that publishes a diverse array of poetry, both online and in print. Gramma seeks to broaden its audience and to be poetry ambassadors by collaborating with people and organizations in other art mediums. Gramma Editors are based in Seattle, Portland, Boise, Boston, and Berlin.”
(photo of Ugly Time courtesy of Gramma Press)
Happy March, friends! I hope everyone is enjoying a (hopefully) quick end to the cold weather. I’m ready for spring, and I started this month out in the most refreshing way: By reading IRL by Tommy Pico. This hilarious and dizzying collection is a great read for anyone looking for a unique spin on poetry. Composed as one long epic poem that is written as a text message, IRL follows Teebs, a queer and Native American boy as he attempts to navigate the world. The language is oftentimes disjointed and messy, and the poem is written in a stream of consciousness kind of way. The speaker effortlessly moves in and out of topics. At points he utilizes Beyoncé lyrics, text message acronyms (LOL), and conversation on Grindr, as well lengthy reflections about Muse. Then, he’ll switch to talking about his Native American ancestry, and offers readers an emotionally compelling discussion about his family and the reservation he grew up in.
I enjoyed IRL because the language is fresh and interesting. I like the choppiness of the writing and how it’s used to evoke the anxieties of the speaker: “Surely Muse will want / to kiss me bc I appear / disinterested in kissing” (36). The pop culture references, which are not commonly used in poems, are utilized to introduce the world of Teebs, which is social media obsessed and ridden with hipster ideals: “Tweets my sushi brings / all the boys to the yard” (50). This is definitely a collection that will be enjoyed by millennial readers because they will catch the social media and texting language it presents.
I also appreciated the way the speaker reflects on the California reservation he grew up in. The anger Teebs feels about the mistreatment of his family and people is fully expressed within the poem. Teebs also seems to struggle with honoring his ancestors and dealing with the guilt he feels about leaving the reservation: “In a poem Sherman Alexie / gives me permission / to leave the reservation I / cut my long hair” (46). The contradictions this speaker feels are shown through the jumbled nature of the writing, and the sadness he expresses is raw and honest: “Kill / the Indian, Save the Man – Sow / a shame so deep it arrives / when I do, it waits for me” (73). Pico does an outstanding job of balancing these contradictions and ideas in IRL, while staying true to the form and style of the collection.
IRL is about 100 pages of poetry. It’s a long, continuous poem with few breaks. When I first opened IRL, I thought I would hate it, but Pico’s writing style and voice keeps you reading further and further. The language will feel jumbled at first, but there’s a rhythm and movement to Pico’s words that is addicting and fun. The unique voice is worth checking out – and I think readers will appreciate the wittiness and humor in IRL.
Buy IRL here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Birds LLC: “Birds, LLC is an independent poetry press based out of Austin, Minneapolis, New York, and Raleigh. Specializing in close author relationships, Birds, LLC believes that great books are a collaboration of editors and authors. Birds, LLC supports readings, events, and podcasts for its authors, believing that poetry demands a human voice to read it, and an audience to hear it.”
(photo of IRL courtesy of Birds LLC)
My favorite thing about opening up a collection like Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Field Guide to the End of the World is being delightfully surprised at finding poems about teen vampires, John Cusack, alien autopsies, and magic mirrors. From the first poem, the speaker warns us that “we cannot sleep too far from disaster zones” (“Introduction to Disaster Preparedness” line 12). Each poem after this is meant to surprise and humor readers as we prepare for imminent destruction. But don’t let it fool you, because among the wit and many warnings that fill these poems, Field Guide to the End of the World is full of the hope and survival we need during the inevitable setbacks of our lives. And thank goodness for Gailey, because I couldn’t ask for a better instruction manual to carry with me.
One of the poems that I enjoyed in Field Guide to the End of the World was “Lessons in Emergency.” The speaker does a great job of creating a sense of urgency and panic by asking questions and urging readers to construct their own emergency evacuation plan. Despite this poem serving to remind readers of their own mortality and fragility, it stays lighthearted and humorous: “In the end you are still yourself, yourself a little dustier a little blood in the hair, maybe a bit rattled but why are you still clutching the egg-beater in your hands so tight, your fingers still touched with flour?” (13). I love the voice in this poem (and collection) because of its whimsical and chatty nature, and I think “Lessons in Emergency” really captures the energy in the speaker’s voice.
In the poem “Introduction to Spy Narrative as Love Story” the speaker’s playfulness emerges yet again. The dark images in the poem are brilliantly balanced with odd image that shock readers and create tension within the text. One of my favorite lines in the collection as a whole is “I’ve hidden my gun // in a container of ice cream that’s calling me” (lines 3-4). These moments in Field Guide to the End of the World are what make it such a dazzling collection to read.
Field Guide to the End of the World is split into five sections: Disaster Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Hard Science, A Primer for your Personal Genome Project, and End Times Eschatology. The cover is stunning, and as soon as I saw it at AWP, I knew I had to buy it.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Moon City Press: Moon City Press is a joint venture of the Missouri State University Departments of English and Art and Design. With series lists in “Arts and Letters” and “Ozarks History and Culture,” Moon City books feature collaborations between students and faculty over the various aspects of publication: research, writing, editing, layout and design.”
(photo of Field Guide to the End of the World courtesy of Moon City Press)