All posts filed under: Book Reviews

Gabrielle Bates: “Sexy & Self-Quarrelsome”—On Zoe Dzunko’s Selfless

Selfless Zoe Dzunko TAR Chapbook Series, 2016 Yeats proposes that poetry springs from a quarrel with the self, and in Zoe Dzunko’s chapbook Selfless, this inciting act is present in the poems’ final iterations. Expectation and limitation—Dzunko brings to life the internal push and pull of both. The speaker slides in and out of her female bodies and all the expectations—socially prescribed, historically mandated, deeply absorbed—that come with them. By proclaiming the self’s absence in the title, the poet establishes a central, paradoxical desire the poems use as kindling. Selfless’s constant, cerebral burn flares thrillingly in the first short sentence: The time you fucked my face it felt like a feather. Profane and lovely, bodily and abstract, human and animal—as Dzunko continues to pair such dichotomies together, the lines between them blur. At once violent and delicate, the speaker becomes, over the course of the book, a vessel inside which contrasting entities battle, swap fluids, and fuse. Time, fucked. Feather, face. When I say this slim volume offers up, poem after poem, a violently sexy …

Philip Rafferty: “the boldness of our going”—On Linda Russo’s Participant

Participant Linda Russo Lost Roads Publishers, 2016 The relationship between poet and environment is, as Linda Russo says in her title poem “Participant,” “kind of Euclidean.” This Euclidean space—the space between a set of points that satisfies a certain relationship—makes up the wonderful drama of Russo’s book. Her work reads as a contemplative stroll, a responsive and interrelational experience with nature and the world. Participant opens with an epigraph and a definition: Rain All interspersed with weeds, […] Rain Gathered from many wanderings- Rain – Emily Dickinson Rain Wan’der-ing (n.): peregrination; a traveling without a settled course;… Rain – Noah Webster’s American Dictionary (1844) The 19th century dating of Webster’s dictionary represents her first engagement with the Euclidean space she is exploring. We are prompted to imagine a fourteen-year old Emily Dickinson in her Amherst home turning to Webster’s to look up the word. The frame exemplifies the relationship between Dickinson’s “wanderings” and Webster’s “peregrination.” Russo is interested in what she calls “inhabitory” poetics. The poetic mode is one entrenched in place as well as associations, …

Michael McGriff: “Rehearsing All Our Names”—On Robert Hunter Jones’s Winter Garden

Winter Garden Robert Hunter Jones Silverfish Review Press, 2016 Feeling proximity to a work of art is seductive. For example, I’ve convinced myself that the paintings of Marc Chagall and the novels of Per Peterson are tailored-made just for me—an audience of one. Whatever words best describe this very particular, very greedy, sense of possession must be the definition for great art. I feel a similar possessive closeness to Robert Hunter Jones’s new book of poetry, Winter Garden. This sense of exclusive connectivity is a fallacy, of course, yet it speaks to the reach and depth—the spell—that Jones’s vision and craft cast over me. Here, in its entirety, is “Changing Names.” There is no sound of water. You’ve nailed the river to its stones. This dream is so real you can’t stop living it. The night opens like a lizard’s mouth and you slide down in. You wake to dark so deep it becomes someone else’s silence. Try out the name you feel on your tongue. It sounds almost right. Try again and it’s closer. The …

R.M. Haines: “The Moral Imagination on Dialysis”—On G.C. Waldrep’s Testament

Testament G.C. Waldrep BOA Editions, 2015 Testament is G.C. Waldrep’s fourth full length collection, not counting chapbooks and collaborations. Formally distinguishing itself from his previous work, Testament is presented as a single, long poem in sections whose nearly every line is left-justified and of equal measure. Provocatively, its most salient concern is with the possibility of “gender as a lyric form” (more about this in a moment). Alongside this stated ambition, the notes tell us that the poem was conceived as an “exploration and response” (146) to books by Lisa Robertson, Alice Notley, and Carla Harryman. Thus, a male poet, interrogating gender, responds to three female writers and calls this response Testament (read: bold). Intensifying this audacity and seriousness of intent, a prefatory note reveals that the book was originally drafted at Hawthornden Castle, during a three week stint in July 2009 while the poet was on a retreat. Given these facts, as well as the poem’s length—142 pages—a reader would not be faulted for expecting a grand statement, perhaps even a manifesto. After all, …