After a short break, NPP will be back this Sunday, June 4 with a review of CRAWLSPACE by NIKKI WALLSCHLAEGER. Thanks for your patience, friends!
Before I kick off the summer for NPP, I wanted to take a short break. I graduated yesterday with a B.A in English and a minor in creative writing (my graduation cap is pictured below).
What’s next? I’m really excited to jump back into school and get my MFA in poetry through the NEOMFA program. I’ll be starting the program this fall.
I’ll be back in a few weeks, but until then, thanks for your patience!
See you in a few weeks, friends! 🙂
“i can’t help but feel like an occupied entity being queer being arab being survivor means my body is a valley of so many shadows” – George Abraham.
It was at an AWP17 reading where I was first introduced to George Abraham’s fierce poems. As I watched Abraham unpack his writing, I was in awe at the beauty of his words, as well as the raw and unflinching honesty he presented to audience members. Months after AWP17, Abraham published Al Youm, a chapbook that places the queer, Palestinian body at center. Weaving together issues of displacement, inherited trauma, and sexual assault, Al Youm interrogates what it means to exist in a body that is “irrelevant in all political scenarios” (15). Through Al Youm, Abraham exposes the violence that has taken place in Palestine, embodying a history “written in ash and rubble” (46).
Throughout Al Youm, the theme of erasure is threaded, creating a statement against censorship and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. When Abraham writes, “even when the land was ours / it wasn’t / (
this is how i feel about my body sometimes)” he fuses the personal and the political, tracing how and why an occupied country and an occupied body are oftentimes the same (lines 54-56). In the poem “Song of Ash” our speaker mourns Palestinian victims, then asks “where were your tears / & hashtags when the fire spread / to the West Bank? when Gaza caught fire / Again? & in August? & in 2014? & in 2008?” (lines 20-23). These searing and vulnerable words unmask the ways in which silence is a form of violence, something our speaker grapples with throughout Al Youm.
As Al Youm calls back to Arab culture and heritage, a sense of displacement haunts the speaker. The poem “Ghazal of Ash” reads, “My people carry another sunrise on their backs; / Bear the ashes of two diasporas on their backs” (lines 1-2). The lack of home and country throughout Al Youm forces our speaker to question the circumstances that make him American. The very first poem, “photographs not taken” introduces this idea: “so where’s home for you? / falls out of a stranger’s mouth” (lines 40-41). This concept is later revisited in the poem “Inheritance,” where our speaker attempts to understand what kind of identity he is to occupy: “sido is forced out of his home at age 20. hence, mama is born in america. hence, i am american” (lines 41-42). What I admire about Al Youm is that it doesn’t attempt to reach a resolution. Instead, it documents the traumas and asks the necessary questions.
Al Youm is a brave and crucial chapbook. These are daring poems that heal as much as they hurt and expose us to the beauty and trauma of language.
View my interview with Abraham here.
Buy Al Youm here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about The Atlas Review: “The Atlas Review was founded in 2012 as a way to combat the institutional weight of the literary community. All submissions are vetted anonymously, allowing the work to stand above names, associates, and credentials. We believe that the strongest work will (and must) innately carry the most important elements of identity, elements that go beyond 75 word bios or accolades. Our work is who we are in the world.”*
“We are as ineffective now as we were in life.” – Danielle Pafunda
There’s something inherently thrilling about reading a collection written in the voice of dead girls. In Danielle Pafunda’s The Dead Girls Speaks in Unison, “Happy Death Day” is an event where “every dead thing / becomes a girl” (50). In a world of broken bones and maggots, of shattered dreams and gashes, The Dead Girls Speak in Unison is beautiful and terrifying. Our speakers are badass female corpses, making this collection a unique read.
From the beginning to the end, reading The Dead Girls Speak in Unison made my goosebumps rise. Pafunda’s images are cutting and ironic, delivering a collections that is full of surprises and dark humor. In the poem “We aren’t much uglier” Pafunda places the female body at center, mocking traditional body standards: “We aren’t much uglier / in death / than we were in life” (lines 1-3). These fierce lines, which come at the very beginning of the poem, are surreal and haunting. Through this poem, Pafunda takes every body image standard and twists it in the spookiest way possible. Lines 28-30 read, “bags of meat lodged / in our innermost quarters / former lives, rotting there” (lines 28-30) . This poem is just one example of Pafunda’s eerie writing style.
Because we have multiple speakers in The Dead Girls Speak in Unison, the poems often feel cutthroat and aggressive in intent. When the dead girls say, “we get no news / of home down here” I feel lonely and desperate for our speakers, yet acutely aware of the inherent awkwardness of identifying with a group of corpses (page 9, lines 3-4). When the speakers say, “Everything tastes dirt / in the companionable ground / where we lie open mouthed” I feel a chill up my spine (page 19, lines 13-15). Pafunda’s images are honest and precise, shocking readers page by page.
In total, The Dead Girls Speak in Unison is roughly 70 pages of poetry. Many of the poems are untitled, or are written in a series of chants, fragments, lullabies, and fables.
Buy The Dead Girls Speak in Unison here & check out the video below of Pafunda reading the poem “We aren’t much uglier.”
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Bloof Books: Bloof Books is a collective poetry press based in Central New Jersey, publishing perfect-bound paperbacks as well as limited-edition handmade books and chapbooks. Our perfect-bound books are available on our site, at select bookstores, and via online retailers.*
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.