field-guide-mediumMy favorite thing about opening up a collection like Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Field Guide to the End of the World is being delightfully surprised at finding poems about teen vampires, John Cusack, alien autopsies, and magic mirrors. From the first poem, the speaker warns us that “we cannot sleep too far from disaster zones” (“Introduction to Disaster Preparedness” line 12). Each poem after this is meant to surprise and humor readers as we prepare for imminent destruction. But don’t let it fool you, because among the wit and many warnings that fill these poems, Field Guide to the End of the World is full of the hope and survival we need during the inevitable setbacks of our lives. And thank goodness for Gailey, because I couldn’t ask for a better instruction manual to carry with me.

One of the poems that I enjoyed in Field Guide to the End of the World was “Lessons in Emergency.” The speaker does a great job of creating a sense of urgency and panic by asking questions and urging readers to construct their own emergency evacuation plan. Despite this poem serving to remind readers of their own mortality and fragility, it stays lighthearted and humorous: “In the end you are still yourself, yourself a little dustier a little blood in the hair, maybe a bit rattled but why are you still clutching the egg-beater in your hands so tight, your fingers still touched with flour?” (13). I love the voice in this poem (and collection) because of its whimsical and chatty nature, and I think “Lessons in Emergency” really captures the energy in the speaker’s voice.

In the poem “Introduction to Spy Narrative as Love Story” the speaker’s playfulness emerges  yet again. The dark images in the poem are brilliantly balanced with odd image that shock readers and create tension within the text. One of my favorite lines in the collection as a whole is “I’ve hidden my gun // in a container of ice cream that’s calling me” (lines 3-4). These moments in Field Guide to the End of the World are what make it such a dazzling collection to read.

Field Guide to the End of the World is split into five sections: Disaster Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Hard Science, A Primer for your Personal Genome Project, and End Times Eschatology. The cover is stunning, and as soon as I saw it at AWP, I knew I had to buy it.

Buy Field Guide to the End of the World here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Moon City Press: Moon City Press is a joint venture of the Missouri State University Departments of English and Art and Design. With series lists in “Arts and Letters” and “Ozarks History and Culture,” Moon City books feature collaborations between students and faculty over the various aspects of publication: research, writing, editing, layout and design.”

(photo of Field Guide to the End of the World courtesy of Moon City Press)

Sad Math, Sarah Freligh

mcp-frelighWhile in Chicago, I picked up the collection Sad Math by Sarah Freligh. Standing in the bookstore Women and Children First, my first thought was Holy Shit. I couldn’t wait to buy this collection, and I had an especially hard time putting it down to search for others in the store. The first poem I read is the first poem in the collection, and it’s titled “Starting With An Old Photo Of My Mother And Ending On A Hill.” The first line reads “She is red-lipped and slender in a shirt- / waist dress, bun of hair hidden / under a white hat” (lines 1-3). The use of color, the descriptions, and the line breaks are well timed, powerful, and evocative. The poem, which is in a lot of ways a character sketch of the speaker’s deceased mother, ends just as powerfully:

They’re as blank as grief can be, the emptiness

of a parking lot ten minutes after the shift’s

let out, a dandelion in the cracked

asphalt waving at the trail of exhaust

from the last car to leave (lines 29-33).

Damn. I needed to put it down; otherwise, I would have started sobbing in the store. What’s amazed me in the past week while reading this collection is how strong the speaker is. The voice throughout demands to be heard, and it doesn’t disappoint. Many of poems offer readers a powerful commentary about womanhood in a stark and striking way: “When he slipped / his tongue into my mouth, / I could feel the old dog / of his heart rear up and tug / at its leash” (lines 15-19). There is not a poem in this collection that I don’t love. Each one is more powerful than the next, funny and daring. In just three sections (70 pages total), these poems will hit home for anyone who has ever experienced loss, sympathized with womanhood, and experienced sexual abuse.

I have to also add something about the book cover and title. The title is what originally brought me to the collection. Sad math? What? Freligh doesn’t reveal where the title comes from until the last poem in the book, which leaves you wanting more (I’m greedy. Give me all the poems). The book cover grabs your attention because it is both whimsical and nostalgic.

Photo courtesy of Moon City Press.

Buy the book here: