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Cody Walker: “Trades I Would Make”

My preferred forms include the clerihew (four lines) and the “Mad Gardener’s Song” stanza (six lines)—so I’m not sure how I wrote this 93-line poem. I know where I wrote it: in an Ann Arbor café called Mighty Good. And I know when I wrote it: in the summer of 2011, over a series of Sunday afternoons. But as to how and why: who knows. Maybe because I deeply love rhyme and, more and more, feel that it works in the same way that metaphor works: requiring, as Aristotle wrote, “an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.” Or because I want the world, or at least the poetry world, to be louder. Or because I really would trade Ronald Reagan for Donald Fagen. When I finished the poem, I happily shared it with a few friends—but I didn’t imagine that it would find a home in a print journal (due to its length and weirdness). So I want to thank Kevin Craft and everyone at Poetry Northwest for making space—twice, now!—for this curiosity. And …

Notable Books – Reviews of Carol Light, Heather Christle, Hadara Bar-Nadav and more

Heaven from Steam, Carol Light (Able Muse Press, 2013) Friendship is one of the conversant pleasures of a literary life, and has rarely been reason (historically, at least) not to offer words of encouragement for a long-anticipated book. Carol Light is a friend of mine, one whose poems I’ve read, enjoyed, and argued with for years. Disclosure aside, it’s not familiarity with the poet which prompts me to report that Heaven from Steam, Light’s first book, is a keen-eyed sonic boom of a debut. It is, rather, an appreciation for the assiduous, soulful orchestration of technique that makes this book stand out. A book of days unfolding over decades, Heaven from Steam is a substantial achievement—a sometimes searing, often soaring interrogation of love and longing in all its forms—carnal and maternal, devotional and divine. Comparison with Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine, which explores similar themes in an altogether different register, is inevitable, and revealing. Each demonstrates the remarkable patience of the long view—of the gradual, focused accretion of a body of work—that I find more and more …

Notable Books (NW) – Reviews of Mary Szybist, Robert Wrigley, Nance Van Winckel, and more

NOTABLE BOOKS (NW) – Fall-Winter 2014 The reviews included in this feature section were first published in our fall-winter 2014 print issue. Incarnadine, Mary Szybist (Graywolf Press, 2013) Readers have waited a long while for Mary Szybist’s second book, Incarnadine, and that seems right. In an age of gush and glut, Szybist works patiently; her poems exude painstaking care, every line fleshed out (or broken), every word placed (or erased), just so. I mean this quite literally: titles like “How (Not) to Speak of God” and “On Wanting to Tell [       ] about a Girl Eating Fish Eyes” demonstrate how in Szybist’s hands words both fill and empty out the spaces they occupy (in the breath, on the page). The effect is helped by the lovely, large-format book design, which amplifies the white space around each poem. And concrete instances, like the sentence diagram “It Is Pretty to Think” or the aforementioned star-shaped “How (Not) to Speak of God,” embody the lyrical impulse to make the felt world visible with persuasive tact. But this is …

Kate Lebo: “Fishing for Icarus”

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.  – Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, Almost Famous But Phil, our Phil, was so cool, in that stylish, cipher-ish, miserable way that makes a man handsome, impossible, unforgettable and rich, no matter what face he was born with, no matter what was in his pockets when he died. He used English like an invented language. When we first met, he drove me to Squalicum Beach and bantered about the moon until I ran out of jokes. We sat on a log to watch the night, swimming distance from a rotten pier whose final job was to touch all the water we wouldn’t reach. Annie Dillard set her historical epic, The Living, in Bellingham. This pier could be home to one of the book’s best cruelties. Phil hadn’t yet read it. I leaned into him, studious. Later, a year after our paths stopped crossing, we shared a booth in a Bellingham bar, the one tucked into a …

Amy Glynn: “This Is Your Captain Speaking – Mary Jo Salter’s Nothing by Design

Nothing by Design Mary Jo Salter Knopf, 2013 — Twenty years ago, Mary Jo Salter published Sunday Skaters, a very fine collection of poems that touches on themes and ideas that longtime readers would be likely to recognize as signature preoccupations (mother-daughter dynamics, elegy, history and historical figures, images of clocks, of hands, of snow; and a delight in unexpected double meanings that arise from having heard or read something wrongly). The book includes poems about her relationships with both her mother and her (then) young children, disoriented reflections on a year spent in Iceland, lighthearted and serious contemplations on marriage, her own as well as an alternately poignant and humorously aphoristic wedding benediction for an unnamed younger couple. Around the midpoint of Sunday Skaters there’s a poem titled “Two Prayers,” set in an airplane just before takeoff. The poem is quintessential Salter: self-effacing humor, puns, malapropisms and serendipitous mishearings – and her other throughline-preoccupation: a substrate (tarmac in this case) of existential dread. Speakers in Salter’s poems, always thoughtfully observed and compellingly human, often …

Fall & Winter 2013-2014

The Winter 2013-2014 issue is now available and burning up newsstands around the globe, with new poems by Michael Collier, Jessica Fisher, James Hoch, Nate Klug, Kate Lebo, J.W. Marshall, Suzanne Paola, Hannah Sanghee Park, Oliver de la Paz, Emilia Phillips, Cody Walker, Emily Warn, and many more. It includes our year-end round-up of Notable Books, with reviews of new books by Mary Szybist, Robert Wrigley, Nance Van Winckel, Rebecca Hoogs, Kate Lebo, and many others which appear here in our Book Review page, online. The stunning cover art is by Stephanie Pierce, with additional visual art inside by Emily Gherard, Holly Mattie, Cheryl Sorg, and Rich Lehl. Subscribe now, or ask your bookstore to order and carry Poetry Northwest. (We are distributed to the trade through Ingram and Small Changes.)