All posts tagged: Book Reviews

Katy Ellis: “Fires of the Past Meet the Blue Balm of Now”

Cloud Pharmacy Susan Rich White Pine Press, 2014 — In Susan Rich’s Cloud Pharmacy, we are at a mid-point, a reflective moment in a sincere and eventful life. We drift and we hover, but not passively. Cloud Pharmacy determinedly asks: Why chose to live this one life reluctantly? Though it is not the opening poem, “Clouds, Begin Here”, launches us into the undulating theme of burning away the past in order to heal in the present: It’s so hard to say what the dead really want. In the lost fires of the notebook, words stumble down the columns of green and white paper. In the notebook of the unknown index, blank descriptions, we lose our blue hours. Rich reaches into her childhood school days where she read books made of paper, … drank milk from small cartons (“American History”) but never with cloying nostalgia. To move forward necessitates a look into the past and whatever memories reside there. “Childhood Study: First Late August” shows us the fleeting bonds of young friendships:

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 …

Review // Sierra Nelson’s I Take Back the Sponge Cake

  Reviewed By Kristen Steenbeeke, Contributing Writer I grew up on choose-your-own-adventure books, and now that I’m older, it seems poetry has always been a choose-your-own-adventure lying in wait. You know: the wordplay inviting one to interpret the work how they wish, then that interpretation branching off into some other dimly-lit pathway, which branches to another, and sooner or later one ends up out of the forest altogether and at some dark-blue lake, teeming with fish. This is why Sierra Nelson and Loren Erdrich’s poetry/art collaboration book “I Take Back the Sponge Cake” is so enticing: The poems are like tiny jigsaws in themselves, connected by choose-your-own-adventure snippets, such as “____ the night from day, O dreamers,” with the option to choose “Rest: to repose” or “Wrest: to take by force.” Depending on the reader’s choice of homonym, they are led to another page, another poem, another of Erdrich’s whimsically sad watercolors. The poems are small and concise but chock-full of their own wordplay and tricks. One highlight was “Pseudomorph,” a word which means “a cloud …

Zach Savich: “Forms that Change”

Iteration Nets Karla Kelsey Ahsahta Press, 2010 In the second movement of her sophomore collection, Iteration Nets, Karla Kelsey details the process of echo and alteration by which she remixes lines from authors including John Clare, Graham Greene, and Lyn Hejinian: what was said? Parison? Comparison uttered after a silence dampening off the corn? Pair a son. Pear in sun. Pare the sun so that the roses glow forth. Bad this son. Pad a song. Sad too long in higher red asking to thank, to atone, to bask the centuries away. This associative stammer pops delightfully, like letters in a Boggle board, as it hotwires a misheard phrase. But Kelsey’s sonic playfulness is hardly free play. She anchors meaning as each iteration shoots forth, not refreshing the slate but adding to it: the pared sun circles back to bask us; the roses’ red returns after sadness. Because language lives in time, Kelsey’s playfulness thanks and atones for each move it makes, whatever freewheeling half-prattle forged it. Although our speech may be fragmented, such “speaking / …

Robert McNamara: “Thwarting the Barbarian”

Dreamless and Possible: Poems New and Selected Christopher Howell University of Washington Press, 2010 The Red Tower: New and Selected Poems David Rigsbee NewSouth Books, 2010 For more than twenty years I have been reading the poems of Christopher Howell and David Rigsbee, so the appearance of their handsomely produced and thoughtfully edited volumes of new and selected poems – Dreamless and Possible, by Christopher Howell, and The Red Tower, by David Rigsbee – has been more delight than revelation. They are very different poets, with very different gifts and ways of engaging both language and the world – the one lyrical, metaphorical, intense, heir to the poets of the deep image; the other more meditative, allegorical, philosophical, whose ancestry one would most likely trace back to Stevens, among others. There is also much they share, and at the moment my reading is shaped by a recent collection of essays by Alessandro Baricco, I Barbari, originally published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The barbarians of his title are not invading others, but are us, …

David Biespiel: “Old Masters, Neglected Masters, Non-Masters, and Gems”

For Dust Thou Art by Timothy Liu Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. $14.95 No bland heterosexist suburban poems of backyard sparrows here, Timothy Liu’s latest book, For Dust Thou Art, offers a smorgasbord of impudent isms: onanism, terrorism, “jism,” and solipsism. Titillating perhaps, but stick to the salad bar. The book’s title from Genesis 3:19 misleadingly window dresses a store of randy words, from “good head easier to get than a vintage Merlot” from the first section of the book to “linen falling off our laps as boytoys bathe” from the last section of the book. They sandwich some unsurprising poems in the middle that fetishize 9/11—“A fireman’s boot / exhumed at last—strange trophy / from rubble still too hot to touch” or “Every possible pleasure to be indulged for the world was at an end.” The middle section’s mediocrity begs the question: what of the failure of any poet so far to achieve a “Wasteland” from 9/11? While these poems may stimulate, they fail to surprise, much less catalyze new understanding of people and …