FAST ANIMAL, TIM SEIBLES

12317086“We spent years on the phone daring each other / not to be young, not to be afraid of whatever / sex might mean,” writes poet Tim Seibles, in his collection Fast Animal (“Terry Moore” lines 29-31). After finishing Seibles’ collection, I let out a quiet “wow.” The writing is fresh and thoughtful, and so much of this collection reads effortlessly. There is a level of honesty in the prose that is unlike what I’ve seen before, and this is what makes it so powerful.

From the very beginning, Seibles makes it so that it’s impossible not to fall in love with the speaker of Fast Animal. The poem “Delores Jepps” remains one of my favorites. It’s innocent, and the graceful way with which the speaker talks about his high school crush in endearing: “I wish I could  / have some small memory of her / warm and spicy mouth to wrap / these hungry words around,” (lines 56-59). The farther you move through the book, the more the speaker matures, but the coming of age poems in the beginning of the book pulled me in the most.In fact, my favorite lines in his collection come from “Delores Jepps:” “I didn’t know anything: my heart / so near the surface of my skin // I could have moved it with my hand” (lines 70-72). These three lines illustrate the upfront yet humble manner with which the speaker addresses his emotions throughout Fast Animal. 

Although the writing is natural and unforced, his collection is very compelling. In “The Last Poem About Race” Seibles writes “I never want to think being American / is impossible, but the truth is / / some silly mothafuckas still fly / Confederate flags . . .” (24-27). I love the blunt nature of this poems. It’s sharp, smart, and important. In another poem, the speaker recounts dating a white woman as a black teenager in the 1970’s: “we knew without saying anything, / we were kissing the color line / goodbye” (“Allison Wolff” lines 66-68). Through these statements, Seibles is able to paint the 1970’s in a vivid and complex way.

In total, his collection is 90 pages of poetry. The writing reads easily, and I was able to finish Fast Animal in only two days. I think readers will appreciate Seibles’ use of detail, as well as his commentary about what it’s like to grow up in the U.S as an African-American male. The writing is simple yet universal, and I personally enjoyed the conversational tone in the poems, and I think readers will too.

Buy his collection from Etruscan Press here.

etruscanpress_logo3*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Etruscan Press: “Housed at Wilkes University and partnering with Youngstown State University, Etruscan is a non-profit literary press working to produce and promote books that nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices. We publish books of poems, novels, short stories, creative non-fiction, criticism, translation, and anthologies.  Three of our poetry collections have been National Book Award finalists; one of our titles was chosen as the Poetry Society of America’s First Book Award, and three poems have been chosen for Best American Poetry.” Check out their website here.*

(Photo of Etruscan Press Logo and cover of Fast Animal courtesy of Etruscan Press. I do not own these photos.)

Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls, Erika Meitner

51HUltlgWFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Poetry friends, there are few collections that make me feel like I’ve reclaimed a part of myself upon finishing them. But after reading Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls by Erika Meitner, I can confidently say that this is a poetry collection that you want to get your hands on. Page by page, many readers will cheer for the speaker because they will recognize parts of her in themselves. Through Makeshift Instructions, Meitner brings us the snark, the humor, and most of all, the truth about what it’s like to grow up as a young woman.

In my favorite poem of the collection, the speaker makes a powerful statement against the wrong information oftentimes given to students in sex ed: “to teach us sex as danger, sex as fear / of consequence, sex as weak-willed passion / gone too far; sex as anything but get-lost-in-it” (“Sex Ed” lines 24-26). I love this poem because it points out the ways in which we often relay the wrong information to young-adults, causing confusion and fear. The details, conversational tone, and strong narrative voice drives the poem forward, and then ends it with a blow: “that we don’t need to ask for forgiveness for exploring fingers, / roving lips and tangled limbs, for baseball metaphors / and base desires, for holding each other close” (lines 76-78). I wish I had this book growing up.

In the first section of the book, readers will sympathize with the book’s commentary about adolescent girls. The pages are filled with all of the awkward truths involved with being 13 or 14. For example, in the poem “Camp Westmont, 1988” the speaker relays her experience about summer camp: “At thirteen / the worst humiliation was not getting caught / with hickeys in the shape of his initials” (lines 30-32). Like this poem, others in the collection are nostalgic and humorous, edgy and sarcastic.

As readers move forward in the collection, the poems do not lose momentum or voice. In the poem “Instructions for Cyclists Contending with Evil” the speakers begs readers to do the following:  “Don’t trust anyone you pass who labels you a sinner / or covers embarrassing objects with curtains. / No matter how many crustless sandwiches they set out for you” (lines 23-25). This humor, coupled with the random UFO sightings sprinkled throughout the collection (thank you, thank you, thank you) made Makeshift Instructions a true treat: “Speak / as quickly as you can / before you get married / or abducted” (“Faith-Based Options” lines 11-14). Page by page, you will fall in love with this speaker as she boldly moves through the world.

In total, the collection is 80 pages of haphazard warnings, UFO sightings, and witty lines. This, my friends, is an instruction manual that we can celebrate.

Buy the collection from Anhinga Press here.

download.jpeg*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Anhinga Press: “Since 1974 our mission has been to bring quality poetry to a broad audience by publishing poetry, sponsoring poetry events and educational activities, hosting and participating in writers festivals, working with area colleges, making our books available as textbooks for students, and networking with other arts organizations as a good citizen of the arts community and the community at large.” Check out their website here.*

(Photo of Anhinga Press Logo and cover of Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls courtesy of Anhinga Press. I do not own these photos.)

Check out my interview with Erika Meitner here.

PLAY DEAD, FRANCINE J. HARRIS

13347004_608829139274104_1614682480243620820_nThis week, I’ve been spending time with Francine J. Harris’s second collection Play Dead. Harris’s words, no doubt, are magic. The poems surprise you again and again, and just when you think you know what’s coming next, Harris dazzles you with her unique play on language, as well as the excellent rhythm in each line.

“our mouths / got us our bitter ass whipped, pick our own – / ers, our switches, our licks, our shut up. our shut up. our shut up” (“in case” lines 33-35). Every line break in this collection is well timed, showing that the level of command at which Harris has over her craft is exceptional.

Leafing through Play Dead for the first time, readers will notice that each poem takes its own shape. Harris is not a poet that utilizes the same moves or form time and time again. Instead, the collection reinvents itself page by page, and demands to be heard.

13413614_608829152607436_4608952628104313017_nWhat I’ve been especially impressed with while reading Play Dead is the layering of images in each poem. “I have light in my mouth. I hunger you. You want / what comes in drag. a black squirrel in a black tar lane, / fresh from exhaust, hot and July’s unearthed steam” (“low visibility” lines 11-13). The poems do not hold back on craft, style, or imagery. They go big, and readers will be thankful for this.

I was lucky enough to be able to see Harris read on Tuesday, June 7 in Cleveland, Ohio. There was a packed house of over 150 people to see her and Terrance Hayes at the monthly Brews and Prose event lead by founder Dave Lucas. Harris has a warm personality, and listening to her read cued me into the voice behind the collection.

One element  that I was thankful to hear by the poet herself is the use of repetition that drives so many of the poems in Play Dead forward. The poem “afterwards the boys stand in the kitchen” continues to be a favorite of mine: “they all / adjust themselves and move around like soft dirt planets. they all / adjust themselves in constant fidget” (4-6). The repetition of the statement “they all adjust themselves” is not just a vehicle that is used to push the poem forward, but it is also critical to the overall statement Harris makes in this poem.13428634_608829159274102_4632936174937087068_n

Other poems in the collection that I really enjoyed are the “Suicide Note” poems that appear in section two, as well as the “pink pigs” poems that act as a thread throughout the collection.

Although I think all poetry needs to be read out loud, it’s especially important for this collection. I spent a few days reading these poems, and I took my time moving through the collection in order to adequately embrace everything Harris puts on the page.

This is a collection that stirred something inside of me, as it will for you.

Photo cover courtesy of Alice James Books.

Buy the collection here.

BRIGHT DEAD THINGS, ADA LIMÓN

414TrM-joUL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg“I want to try and be terrific. Even for an hour,” admits the speaker in Ada Limón’s most recent collection Bright Dead Things (“During the Impossible Age of Everyone” line 5). Reading Limón’s poetry is like engaging in a wild waltz with the speaker. The cheekiness of the voice, as well as the commentary about love and loss is electrifying.

Limón reminds readers of the fierceness that lives inside all of us. In the first poem, titled “How to Triumph like a Girl” the speaker confesses “I like the lady horses best” (line 1) because “let’s be honest, I like / that they’re ladies. As if this big / dangerous animal is also a part of me” (lines 7-9). I love how bold and empowering this poem is. It claims its own space, and starts the collection in a powerful way. This daring tone, coupled with the nature imagery is threaded throughout the book.

My personal favorite poem in Bright Dead Things is titled “Accident Report in the Tall, Tall Weed” and it begins “My ex got hit by a bus. // He wrote me in a text to tell me this. / Now will you talk to me? I got hit by a bus.” (lines 1-3). The blunt manner at which Limón begins this poem is hilarious, and it gets better as the speaker admits that she only ever wished “a little cockroach infestation” would happen to her ex (line 6). I’m also in love with the surprising language in this poem: “I imagine the insides of myself sometimes – / part female, part male, part terrible dragon” (lines 51-52). I let out an enthusiastic YESSSSSS after reading this line. Yes, I was in public. No, I do not care.

Not only are Limón’s poems funny, but they’re emotionally resonant and engage readers in a discussion about love and loss. For example, the poem “Lies About Sea Creatures” has one of my favorite lines ever: “Sometimes, you just want / something so hard you have to lie about it, / so you can hold it in your mouth for a minute, / how real hunger has a real taste” (lines 6-9). These four lines have been swirling inside my head for the last week.

Bright Dead Things has a strong narrative voice. Each poem is its own story. The collection, in total, has 62 poems, and took me about two days to read. This is a collection that I would strongly recommend, and that I will personally be coming back to over and over again. The writing is fresh and exhilarating, the lines seem to have their own movement, and the speaker’s voice is something I found to be both daring and emboldening.

(photo courtesy of Milkweed Editions)

Buy the collection here.