“A startling first collection of poems—startling because of bone-crushing violence and poverty and startling also because of the beautiful and precise language the poet brings on these scenes, violent or not…. The genius of these poems is that they insist on seeking the human despite devastating circumstances. Even the most wrung-out individual must still have a soul.” —James Tate, from his judge’s citation
The daughter of sharecroppers and raised on a small farm near the Carolinas’ border, Judy Jordan in her first poetry collection transforms the harshness of her youth with the beauty, inventiveness, and musicality of language. Physical and emotional privation, familial violence, racial enmity, and recurrent death haunt Carolina Ghost Woods, which is set amid the lush landscape of the South and enfolds the wildness—inclement and consoling by turns—of nature and agriculture. Jordan, though, reveals…[more]
Whether honoring a dead friend or reveling in the lustful music of insects, whether on a Costa Rican bus “hot enough to contain all desire” or on a BART train abundantly full of experience and memory, whether delighting in the wacky wisdom of kids or ruing the silly hunger of adults, Ras’s poems poke into unlikely nooks and invented crannies. Lines that find their start in the seemingly personal reach out toward questions that matter to everyone, how to laugh, how to hope, how to love.
In his moving debut collection, Matt Rasmussen faces the tragedy of his brother’s suicide, refusing to focus on the expected pathos, blurring the edge between grief and humor. In Outgoing, the speaker erases his brother’s answering machine message to save his family from “the shame of dead you / answering calls.” In other poems, once-ordinary objects become dreamlike. A buried light bulb blooms downward, a “flower / of smoldering filaments”. A refrigerator holds an evening landscape, a “tinfoil lake”, “vegetables / dying in the crisper”. Destructive and redemptive, Black Aperture opens to the complicated entanglements of mourning: damage and healing, sorrow and laughter, and torment balanced with moments of relief.
In her first collection, Suji Kwock Kim confronts some of the most difficult, most unanswerable questions—colonialism, the Korean War, emigration, racism, love. She considers what a homeland would be, for a divided nation and divided self: what it means to enter language, the body, the family, the community; to be a daughter, sister, lover, citizen or exile.
In settings from New York to San Francisco, Scotland to Seoul, her poems question “what threads hold/our lives together” in cities and gardens, battlefields and small towns. Across the no-man’s-land between every “you” and “I,” her speakers encounter, quarrel with, or honor others, traveling between the living and the dead, between horror over the disastrous events of the past, and hope for the future.
With its wide range of voices, styles and perspectives, Notes from the Divided Country bears witness to the vanishing world.
Chris Hosea’s manuscript will be published by Louisiana State University Press in 2014.
In this debut collection, Eyes, Stones, Elana Bell brings her heritage as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to consider the difficult question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The poems invoke characters inexorably linked to the land of Israel and Palestine. There is Zosha, a sharp-witted survivor whose burning hope for a Jewish homeland helps her endure the atrocities of the Holocaust. And there is Amal, a Palestinian whose family has worked their land for over one hundred years—through Turkish, British, Jordanian, and now Israeli rule. Other poems—inspired by interviews conducted by the poet in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and America—examine Jewish and Arab relationships to the land as biblical home, Zionist dream, modern state, and occupied territory.
The unusual voice encountered in Curses and Wishes carries a quiet, slightly elevated conversational tone, which flows from intimate secrets to wider social concerns.
The poet has faith in economy and trusts in images to transfer knowledge that speech cannot. In Curses and Wishes the short, simple lines add up to a thoughtful book possessed with lyrical melancholy, a harmony of sadness and joy that sings: ‘’May happiness be a wheel, a lit throne, spinning / in the vast pinprick of darkness.’’ By the close of this ambitious work the poet has inspired readers to see the multifaceted effects of our human connections.
In his award-winning first book, J. Michael Martinez reenvisions Latino poetics and its current conceptions of cultural identity. In Heredities, he opens a historically ravaged continental body through a metaphysical dissection into Being and silence. The hand manipulates a surgical etymology through the spine: the longitude where “history gathers in the name we never are.” The poems seek to speak beyond codified aesthetics and dictated identity politics in order to recognize a territory of “irreducible otherness” where the self’s sinew may be “reeved through revelation” and where, finally, one finds “obscurity bonded to light.” This stunning collection heralds the arrival of an important new voice in American poetry.
“I had a clock it woke all day,” writes Jonathan Thirkield at the outset of The Waker’s Corridor, a book that charts an assiduous attempt to recover lost time. Housed in elaborate and varied formal architectures, these poems navigate the disorder and gaps left by the violence of loss. All measures of time—psychological, personal, historical, numerical—collide and overlap in intensely lyrical verse. What results is a journey that winds through shifting lands and interiors, across theatrical stages and city streets, into voices and objects that emerge in sudden, vivid relief, and just as quickly disappear. By turns dreamlike and sternly rational, arcane and contemporary, intimate and dramatic, it is a book of blinding, austere, and beautiful awakenings.
Playfully invading the traditional territories of poetry, Sally Van Doren throws into question form, subject matter, and the sound and meaning of words. The poems in Sex at Noon Taxes mix straightforward narrative, midwestern vernacular, and linguistic ambivalence, embedded in which is a struggle between the mind and the body. While one poem admonishes the reader to “Forget the phonics / of the focal/fecal. Phrase, / fashion, and effuse,” in another the speaker says, “I refine my sense of / pain when you touch me / with something blue.” A preoccupation with the visual, artists, and artwork seeps through many of these imagistic minitexts. These poems look for release in descriptions of physical acts and in intricate manipulations of language. Sometimes they find it: “Along comes the sentence to / break up the monotony of possession.” More often, though, the questions they pose resist answers: “What extravagant / commodity is sex?” and “Which el- / lipsis omits love?” Gender identification blurs as the poems probe theories of articulation and investigate the geographies of language and love. Through wordplay and word work, these poems travel a tightly crafted sphere of emotions and ideas.