WHY GOD IS A WOMAN, NIN ANDREWS

WhyGodIsAWoman_Front_compressed_large.jpgI’ll probably be hanging onto the poetry collection Why God is a Woman by Nin Andrews for a long, long time. As a woman, reading this collection was an empowering and emotional experience. Through the use of fiction and poetry, Andrews creates a Utopian society where women are celebrated as the dominant sex, while men are sexualized, confined to the home, and limited to specific careers and ambitions. In this world, our speaker (who is male) struggles to conform. Through a series of prose poems, he protests the unfair treatment of men, and complains about catcalling, the lack of men in STEM related fields, and his culture’s obsession with the size of men’s wings. When our speaker criticizes this world, his father is quick to tell him that “girls will be girls” (30).

By flipping the traditional roles our society has assigned to men and women, Andrews is able to drastically shift reader’s viewpoints, completely altering what we see as truth. The writing is satirical and witty, showing readers the ridiculous and oftentimes infuriating world that we live in. For this reason, this collection is an important read not just for women, but for men too. In one of my favorite poems, the speaker talks about his society’s obsession with tattooed penises. It reads: “no woman will make love to a man who keeps his genital au naturel . . . Island boys, as young as five or six, are ashamed of their undecorated penises” (35). It is during moments like these when Why God is a Woman is at its funniest and most alarming.

Topics such as rape, the over-sexualization of toys (like barbie dolls), and women in the workplace are fearlessly addressed in Why God is a Woman. Andrews flawlessly critiques each of these issues, creating a parody of everything our society considers “normal.” One poem even goes as far as creating a doll called the “Boberto” which is “notable for its exaggerated male attributions, luxurious black hair, and mysterious smile” (46). Every Island boy owns one, despite some Islanders considering them to be “sexist depiction[s] of the male gender” (46). In another poem, Andrews attacks those who believe that women do not belong in the work place: “Scientists often quoted the working men who admitted their inability to repress their instinctive natures, i.e., a profound longing to have, hold, and nurture their own children” (18). As Hilary Clinton becomes the first woman in history to be nominated by a major party, poems such as these are especially relevant right now as individuals question her emotional ability to lead.

Why God is a Woman is an inventive and critical examination of our society. Even as the collection plunges into touchy subjects, it remains whimsical and fun. Andrews offers readers a fresh and interesting outlook. There are way too many great poems in Why God is a Woman for poetry lovers to not own it.

Cover of Why God is a Woman courtesy of BOA Editions LTD.

Buy Andrews’ collection here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about BOA Editions LTD: “BOA Editions, Ltd., a not-for-profit publisher of poetry and other literary works, fosters readership and appreciation of contemporary literature. By identifying, cultivating, and publishing both new and established poets and selecting authors of unique literary talent, BOA brings high quality literature to the public. Support for this effort comes from the sale of its publications, grant funding, and private donations.”

PORTRAIT OF THE FUTURE WITH TRAPDOOR, ELIZABETH ONUSKO

potfwt_cover___frontIn her haunting debut poetry collection Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor, author Elizabeth Onusko explores the many limitations of the human body. Throughout the collection, the speaker attempts to grapple with the realities of their medical condition, seemingly suspended between needing to let go, yet wanting to keep fighting. These conflicts absorb much of the book, making it a chilling reflection of what it means to be alive.

From the beginning, Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor grips readers. It isn’t afraid of being bizarre as it questions the futility of the human race. The poem “How to be Almighty” shows readers its teeth as it challenges our notion of a higher power. It’s written as an instruction manual, and reads: “pause longer than you should //  before answering their prayers. Or don’t / respond at all” (lines 14-16). By putting readers in the shoes of the “almighty” the poem makes a powerful comment about the uselessness of “trying to learn, but  . . . mostly failing” (lines 4-5). It’s fearlessly out of this word, almost existential.

One aspect that is unique about Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor is the ways in which Onusko effortlessly weaves in medical terminology. The collaboration between science and poetry is harmonious and the images that branch out of this are stunningly accurate. In the poem “Pathology” the speaker jumps from one dazzling image to another: “inside my abdomen / / a chain of volcanoes / erupting on cue” (lines 3-5). The images are often wacky and fun, despite the situations that define much of this speaker’s life. My favorite line in the collection (among others) comes in the poem “The Patient” where, despite the speaker’s chest being “catatonic,” there is a “lascivious violinist / who drinks late into the night” (lines 10-11). These images are what makes this collection a thrilling read.

Despite death and danger being on the edge of every poem in Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor, even the speaker recognizes the rare moments of hope. The penultimate poem in the collection is titled “In Spite of Everything” and shows readers that life ultimately keeps moving forward, no matter what. The poem takes us through a series of apocalyptic images, and then ends with: “they find a dollhouse demolished / save for the nursery, / inside of which a baby is swaddled” (lines 30-32). This lasting image may be the crux of what this collection is attempting to portray.

I feel thankful to have spent time with Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor. It gave me a lot to think about, and so many of these poems have left an impression on me. I’m glad to have interviewed Onusko (view it here), and especially happy that she is currently working on her second collection.

Cover of Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor and logo of Red Paint Hill Pulishing courtesy of Red Paint Hill Publishing.

Buy Onusko’s collection here.

93cfb6_91e5277804874b9cb31aa6c1dd718ec3-mv2*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Red Paint Hill Publishing: “Red Paint Hill Publishing is a nationally recognized independent publisher committed to the discovery and publication of culturally diverse poetry & art. We began publishing poetry manuscripts in 2013 in Clarksville, TN. Our books are distributed nationally & internationally through our website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and various brick and mortar retailers including Powell’s Books.”*

[INSERT] BOY, DANEZ SMITH

insert-boyLast month, I picked up the collection [Insert] Boy by Danez Smith and didn’t put it down for two hours. By the time I reached the end of those pages, I felt emotionally exhausted. Smith’s words are raw and unflinchingly honest. I left [Insert] Boy feeling a little more broken than I was when I’d started it. But great collections can do that to you, and this is one of those collections.

The poems in [Insert] Boy center around issues of identity, the different roles we are forced to play throughout our lives, and what it’s like to navigate the world as a queer person of color. The collection is split into six sections: [black], [papa’s lil’], [ruined], [rent], [lover], and [again]. Smith does an excellent l job of letting each section tell its own story. For example, in [black] boy, the speaker aggressively fights against the many labels forced on black men. The poem “Alternate Names for Black Boys” is written as a list and reads: “5. guilty until proven dead . . . . 15. (I thought to leave this blank but who am I to name us nothing?)” Like many of the poems in [Insert] Boy, “Alternate Names for Black Boys” isn’t afraid to transcend form in order to make a powerful statement for social justice.

One of my favorite poems in [Insert] Boy is “All Spring, We’d Watch Grandpa Rub his Knee & Complain about Rain.” It beautifully explores the complexities of the speaker’s grandfather through razor sharp details. It begins, “& then it was summer & our porch would be full of men / with names like June Bug, Turnip Seed, & Delroy” (lines 1-2). As the poem progresses, Smith paints a rounded image of these men by fully analyzing their many contradictions. At one point, the speaker says, “who beat their wives because their fathers did” (line 8), then later balances that out with “who asked their sisters to pray for them, who wept // when their daughters hummed gospel, who worked three jobs” (lines 12-13). By the end, the tension in the poem comes full circle when the speaker admits, “who we swore to never speak ill of // & promised we’d never be” (lines 20-21). The use of repetition (“who”) as well as the well-timed line breaks make this poem, and others, a compelling read.

[Insert] Boy also does a wonderful job of highlighting the struggles queer black men face in this country. Poems such as “Faggot or when the Front Goes Up” are haunting: “a boy made of sunflowers. / more tomboy than boy. / preferred the dress to the plastic gun” (lines 5-7). When the poems address issues of social justice, they do so bravely and without reservation. They’re not afraid to bite, and this is what I appreciated the most.

There’s a natural rhythm and flow to [Insert] Boy which is unlike what I’ve seen before. This collection is a celebration of black bodies, of LGBTQ people, and of the power of poetry. The poems are innovative and the cover art and interior art is beautiful. Everyone should have a copy of [Insert] Boy.

Cover of [Insert] Boy and logo of YesYes Books courtesy of YesYes Books.

Buy Smith’s collection here.

View my interview with Smith here.

55e69c_e7e0191f030c46c1bb3a59b8be8acd91.png*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about YesYes Books: “YesYes Books has been publishing provocative collections of poetry, fiction, and experimental art since 2011. We look for work that acknowledges and celebrates our passionate, complex, and boundless natures.

In these first five years YYB titles have received national awards including the Lambda Award for Gay Poetry, The American Book Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Prize. Our titles have also been included in numerous finalist standings and best book lists such as  Norma Farber First Book Award, Debulitzer Poetry Prize, The Eric Hoffer Book Award, Publisher’s Weekly Best Debuts of the Year, Boston Globe Best Poetry Books of the Year, and more.

With books that are as beautiful to hold as they are to read, YesYes Books engages an international community of writers, artists, and readers.”*

MAMMAL ROOM, KRISTEN EVANS

MAMMAL_3.3fontinEveryone needs a little sass and snark in their life, especially if it comes in the form of poetry. In “Mammal Room” poet Kristen Evans writes, “And while we’re at it, I’d like confirm that you are 11% my enemy.” The speaker in Mammal Room bravely explores feelings of sadness and loneliness, all while being accidentally funny. The poems are both universal and personal, and the speaker isn’t afraid to be cheeky.

Each section in “Mammal Room” seeks meaning in the most unlikely of places. The speaker attempts to navigate an oftentimes unstable environment, paving the way for thoughtful poems that surprise and surprise. In the poem “No, We Did Not Yield and Quiet” the speaker admits “To be honest I am here to break things” (line one). Later, the poem personifies longing. It reads: “Your longing / she had such fine calves and a violent nature, / a voice you couldn’t bear to hear” (lines 12-14). In so many poems, the speaker stands in the threshold of both fear and bravery.

Feeling mistrustful of both people and things, Mammal Room makes readers feel as if danger is always looming in the backgrounds of our lives. It’s an exploration of trust and the consequences of betrayal. The poem “In the Mammal Room” declares “If I tell you to protect this hope, you might give it up / for more attractive geography” (lines 9-10). Despite the speakers’ aggressive search for unity among the violent moments that shake her life, marks of tranquility shape Mammal Room in unique ways.

I think readers will find parts of themselves in Mammal Room. Although the collection is only 57 pages of poetry, I found myself coming back to poems like “When There is Nothing There, a Door Opens” and “Strategies of a Debatable Nature.” I love the size of the book, and I feel lucky to have been able to see Evans read from Mammal Room in July.

Cover of Mammal Room courtesy of SpringGun Press.

Buy Evans’ collection here.

View my interview with Evans by clicking here.