Saying Goodbye to Reviews (for now . . .)

IMG_20170715_223634_564.jpgTwo years ago, I thought poetry was dead. I’d never picked up a collection from a living poet, the only poems I’d ever read were written by dead people, and I spent most of my time writing awful poems that I felt way too proud of. When I took my first poetry class and met a real, living and breathing poet (Mary Biddinger), I was dazzled. Why hadn’t anyone told me that real poets existed? For months (and even today), I felt I’d accidentally tripped over a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I wondered what I’d done to deserve such luck.

Beyond feeling lucky, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I wanted to read every poem I could get my hands on. The poetry world felt endless and vast. It fed into everything I loved and needed. It was the end of 2015 and the very beginning of 2016. For months, poetry was my life raft, the thing I clung onto because everything else felt broken. It was the only thing I looked forward to.

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I remember holding onto The Endarkenment by Jeffrey McDaniel for months. I read the poem “Little Sadness” obsessively, to the point of memorization. The first time I picked up Seam by Tarfia Faizullah, she described the athan, the Muslim call to prayer, perfectly. It was the first time I’d read a poem that reflected the religion I’d grown up with. Sandra Simonds’ The Sonnets shattered everything I thought I knew about poetry and Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon empowered me. These are just some of the first collections I held in my hands. They shaped me, not just as a writer, but as a human being.

Three weeks ago, I used by DIY book shelf to organize the poetry collections I’ve bought over the last couple of years. I have them face up, and they’re the first thing I look at when I enter my bedroom. I want it to be that way. I am still full of more gratitude for poets than I can fit inside my body. I am still hungry for collections, for more poems.

Every post on this blog has been an act of thankfulness to the poets I’ve reviewed. I’ve grown to love reviewing collections, not because I’m an expert, but because I feel that the relationship between a poet and reviewer is special. I loved taking time out of each week to really study the collections I read. I took pride in helping promote them, even if it was on a small blog. Reviewing, to me, is the best way to give love to a collection. It’s been a way for me to say “thank you” to the poets who’ve influenced me beyond the page.

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That’s why I’m sad to be stopping the reviews. Although I’m forever grateful for the collections I read and cherish, I’m ready to move on to other projects. I just finished up reading manuscripts with Mary for Akron Poetry Prize, and for the last six months, I’ve been reading for BOAAT Journal. In a little over a month, I’ll be starting the NEOMFA program for poetry, and teaching Composition for The University of Akron. I’ll probably be blogging more about my time in the program and teaching than doing poetry reviews, but the blog will be still be up.

I’m thankful for whoever has been out there reading my posts. There aren’t a lot of you, but I hope I’ve encouraged at least one person to buy a collection they wouldn’t normally buy, or discover a new journal.

As usual, thanks. Here’s to never forgetting that #POETRYLIVES.

~ NPP

FOR FILTHY WOMEN WHO WORRY ABOUT DISAPPOINTING GOD, SEEMA YASMIN

“Her body is the most treacherous place I have visited” – Seema Yasmin.

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photo courtesy of Diode Editions

Almost immediately, the speaker in Seema Yasmin’s chapbook declares that she comes from “6 generations of shame” (“Polygot,” line 9). What follows this declaration is a series of soul crushing poems that shatter this shame, allowing the filthy woman to emerge as bold and unabashed as ever. For Filthy Women Who Worry about Disappointing God explores topics of sexuality, religion, womanhood, and race. Out by Diode Editions, reading Yasmin’s words feel like being let in on a secret: “We shivered and wondered / How a dirty woman / Could make a man so clean” (“Ablution,” lines 19-21). The more poems you read from Filthy Women, the nastier you become, but in Yasmin’s world, it’s all the more empowering.

The speaker in Filthy Women is vulnerable yet transgressive, sinful yet remorseful: “He stood in a puddle of prayers and apologies / Fake apologies because I didn’t really mean to say sorry / For anointing his body” (“Ablution,” lines 12-14). It is Yasmin’s careful balance of these complex and seemingly opposite emotions that is most stunning. In the poem “Astagfirullah (forgive me)” our speaker admits her “need to die clean” then orders us to “read this surah three times before sunrise / This ayah seven times at noon” and then “right at the moment he climaxes inside of you” (lines 28, 29, & 34). Desire is at the heart of so many of Filthy Women’s poems. She can’t help her own rebellion against the people who “Declare our bodies sacred / Then ban us from mosques” but this does not stop her from feeling guilty (“Sister,” lines 13-14). It is these moments that make these poems feel most human and personal to me.

Filthy Women is a brave reflection about what it means to be a Muslim woman who seeks forgiveness even as she hungers to break the norms and cultural standards that oppress her. At its most shocking, Filthy Women acts as an interruption, showing us that the lessons we grow up with are not always sinless: “when I married a Black man / my cousin sighed: at least she is not marrying a woman” (“rebel,” lines 1-2). As our speaker punches a hole through the rules she’s been given, we readers cheer for her, then dip our hands in a little more mud.

View my interview with Yasmin here.

Buy For Filthy Women Who Worry about Disappointing God here

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Diode Editions: “At Diode Editions our mission is to beautifully craft our books, and to fanatically support our authors.”