Temporary Break

Dear poetry friends,

Thank you for your continued support! With the summer coming to an end, the Nervous Poodle Poet is taking a temporary break for two weeks. Do not fear though! She’ll be back on Sunday, September 4rth with a review and interview from poet Kristen Evans (MAMMAL ROOM). Until then, please continue to check out previous reviews and interviews!

Thank you for your patience!

– NPP

(photo below courtesy of SpringGun Press)

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THIEF IN THE INTERIOR, PHILLIP B. WILLIAMS

Screen-Shot-2015-07-27-at-3.53.02-PM-200x257.png“How long does it take a city to discover / how to separate the dead from the soon-dead?” (“Witness” lines 34-35).

When I first read Phillip B. Williams’ poem “Do-rag” in the 2014 Best New Poets Anthology, I fell in love with his voice and style. Not only is he a poet who fearlessly addresses social justice issues, but his poems are not afraid of taking on new forms in order to tackle these tough topics. When I ordered his collection Thief in the Interior, my expectations were high. Now that I’ve finished it, I can confidently say this is a collection that does not disappoint. Each poem is braver than the last, and I’m thankful to Best New Poets for introducing me to Williams’ work.

Upon opening the collection, readers will find a collection of poems that center around gay and civil rights. The prose poem “Inheritance: Anthem” is a powerful account against police brutality: “When backup comes they both lecture you for thirty minutes. You were on your way to a funeral. You will miss the open casket to avoid your own” (15). The poem, which spans multiple pages, transcends form and becomes a work of art (see photo). 20160814_021716.pngWilliams’ language is daring. It withholds nothing: “I keep writing about Black bodies and You keeps asking why, refusing to count the dead piling up at our doorsteps like phone books” (18). Voices like Williams’ become evermore critical in the wake of police shootings and the continuation of hate crimes against the black community.

Aside from the poem “Inheritance: Anthem” Williams dedicates an entire section of the book to a longer poem about the murder of Rashawn Brazell. Williams’ words are haunting, especially when he addresses the mother of Brazell in a series of short poems that begin with “Dear Ms. Brazell-Jones:” “I try to appear broken in order / to appear unbreakable, not worth further breaking” (“Witness” lines 184-185). Because it’s so raw, section two is one of my favorite aspects of the book.

Thief in the Interior also does a great job in addressing gay rights. Towards the end of the book, the poem “Epithalamium” gripped me: “Last month a couple of guys left a gay bar / and were beaten with poles on the way / to their car” (lines 4-6). Although this collection is sometimes tough to read because of the hard topics it tackles, these poems are written with such heart wrenching honesty that it’s impossible not to fall in love with Williams’ words.

In total, the collection is 79 pages of poetry. The cover of the book is fabulous, and I especially loved the size of the collection. If you’re looking for something that will take your breath away page after page, Thief in the Interior is the way to go.

Cover of Thief in the Interior courtesy of Alice James Books.

Buy Williams’ collection 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.”*

ORACLE, CATE MARVIN

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“Mortification, I’ve known your corpse lips. / I’ve undone your pants, reached in to make / balloon animals” (“Epistle, Many-Pronged” lines 1-3).

I have so much love for collections that aren’t afraid to get messy. The ones that are weird and wonderful, dark and funny. Nothing has marked my summer better than Cate Marvin’s Oracle. I’ve been feeling all the feels for the past two months now as I live vicariously through the speaker in Oracle, because she isn’t afraid to take imaginative leaps and stand up against misogyny. Through this collection, readers are introduced to the fierce and witty world of Cate Marvin.

Because of their honesty and sharp humor, some of my favorite poems in Oracle are the high school series poems. The poem “High school: Industrial Arts” does a great job of introducing readers to the sarcasm in Oracle. Readers will fall in love as the speaker instructs students to “make something that no one can use that / no one wants. Don’t ask why. It builds character. / Someday you’ll look back on these days fondly” (lines 17-19). Despite the mater-of-fact nature of the poem, and the brilliantly executed irony, Marvin makes a sincere and empowering statement for feminism: “This is a man’s / work. You, wipe that smirk off your face. Last / thing I need is one of you girls dying on my watch” (lines 23-25). It’s this satire that I admire each time I pick up Oracle.

Aside from the irony, I also really enjoy the bluntness in the speaker’s voice, which is juxtaposed with the unique images in each poem. Just when readers think they know what’s coming next, Oracle twists language in a way that keeps them on their toes: “When it becomes obvious // you aren’t here anymore, and my head’s dented in / with sadness, I must admit that I like to imagine it” (Dead Dog God-Head” lines 36-38). Page by page, Oracle will shock you in all of the best ways.

In total, the collection is 93 pages. The book is hardcover, which is something I appreciated. Upon buying this collection, you can expect lots of dead dogs, cheap wine, flawed adolescence, and a totally badass speaker. In other words, you need Oracle in your life. Like, now.

Cover of Oracle courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company.

Buy Marvin’s collection here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about W.W. Norton & Company: ” . . . Now, in its 90th year and with an annual list of 400 titles, W. W. Norton is a global company, its familiar seagull logo appearing on books in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Latin America. Though the Norton of today is international in scope, there is much about the company that would remain recognizable to its founders: the editorial quality of the books, the rigorously anti-corporate style, and above all the shared sense of purpose that flourishes when all employees have a stake in the success of their firm.” Read more at W.W. Norton & Company. *

Check out Marvin’s website here.