May 2016 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

Spring's GNP (Great National Products)












A roundup of the best poetry (26 new books) in no particular order:

Prose

Letters from Langston: from the Harlem Renaissance to the Red Scare edited by Evelyn Louise Crawford and Mary Louise Patterson. Foreword by Robin D.G. Kelley. University of California Press. 343 pages.

Poetry

Sample poems from the following books are found below:

Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen. Alan Squire Publishing. 71 pages.

The Book of Landings by Mark McMorris. Wesleyan University Press. 194 pages.

At the End of the Self-Help Rope by Ed Zahniser. New Academia/Scarith. 65 pages.

The Collected Poems: E. Ethelbert Miller edited by Kirsten Porter. Willow Books. 462 pages.

The Thinking Eye by Jennifer Atkinson. Parlor Press. 64 pages.

Spool by Matthew Cooperman. Parlor Press. 101 pages

Azure: Poems and Selections from the “Livre” by Stéphane Mallarmé, translated by Blake Bronson-Bartlett & Robert Fernandez. 203 pages.

100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu. Les Figues Press. 135 pages.

Bright Stranger by Katherine Soniat. LSU Press. 78 pages.

Rock Taught by David McAleavey. Broadkill River Press. 81 pages.

Why Is It So Hard To Kill You? by Barrett Warner. Somondoco Press. 61 pages.

Matchstick & Bramble by Lucy Simpson. Broadkill Press. 58 pages.

Don’t Be Interesting by Jacob McArthur Mooney. McClelland & Stewart. 81 pages.

The Names by Tim Lilburn. McClelland & Stewart. 65 pages.

Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham. McClelland & Stewart. 105 pages.

Blood Hyphen by Kenny Williams. Oberlin College Press. 79 pages.

Desecrations by Matt Rader. McClelland & Stewart. 79 pages.

English Kills by Monica Wendel. Coal Hill Review. 17 pages.

Scarecrow by Robert Fernandez. Wesleyan University Press. 66 pages.

Beyond Elsewhere by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, translated by Helene Cardona. White Pine Press. 59 pages.

Five Sextillion Atoms by Jayne Benjulian. Saddle Road Press. 71 pages.

The Absence of Knowing by Matthew Henriksen. Black Ocean. 77 pages.

I Am the Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju. Black Ocean. 122 pages.

Porridge by Richard Garcia. Press 53. 66 pages.

Constellarium by Jordan Rice. Orison Books. 87 pages

 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

POEMS

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen. Alan Squire Publishing. 71 pages.

FINAL THEORY

Our expectation is a sphere, the perfect
alignment of mouth and eyes, a Rorschach blot,
a butterfly, but symmetry is not
merely reflection. Throughout nature objects

skew, land erodes, our memories are a jumble,
yet there is symmetry in repetition:
stars, pixels, sleeplessness, the apparition
of his face like headlights in a tunnel.

Scientists claim universal symmetry,
say a “theory of everything” exists,
order, in spite of evidence, persists:
to know the mind of God, patterns are the key.

Prayer has symmetry, and funeral processions,
blood spatter, scattered ashes, a child’s weeping,
cardboard boxes hidden for safekeeping,
his infinite silence, my unanswered questions.

+++++++++++++

The Book of Landing by Mark McMorris. Wesleyan University Press. 194 pages.

This is the tree of                            rootlessness

I carry the pot and                         the earth

and store the tree in                      side my bag

One night the sky will                    open

Stars bloom on the limbs             of caryatids

The Guinea tree and                      guinep tree

united in a barren                           adventure

 

DECORATED                                      HUSTLE

nostalgic Gold Coast (   ) diaphragm

auction

               Absence of Earth

+++++++++++++

At the End of the Self-Help Rope by Ed Zahniser. New Academia/Scarith. 65 pages.

Making Amends

We read our book around the circle,
a chapter a week, then talk
not by turns but by compulsion
whose needs we know too well. Its miracle
moves most of us to speech despite how chalk
mounds in our mouths just then.

This week we list exactly everyone we’ve hurt
and, what is worse, must make there-from amends
for our lifetimes of dirty needs.
Are you kidding? My accumulated dirt
mounds deep. To probe it hazards the bends
or pushing up noxious weeds.

What veils our spirits slowly rends,
slowly, soothed by tears, gratis,
as is our protocol.
From here on out, make your own amends.
This former fixer’s new-won status
is deserter. He’s no more AWOL.

+++++++++++++

The Collected Poems: E. Ethelbert Miller edited by Kirsten Porter. Willow Books. 462 pages.

BUDDHA WEEPING IN WINTER

snow falling on prayers
covering the path
made by your
footprints

i wait for spring
and the return of love

how endless
is this whiteness
like letters without
envelopes

#67

You place yellow
flowers on the table.
I stand looking
at your neck, back
and every petal
that is you. Why
are desires cut
like stems?

++++++++++++

The Thinking Eye by Jennifer Atkinson. Parlor Press. 64 pages.

The Laws of Succession

Asters to ashes, dogwood to liriodendron: wild has its way.

The afterlife is the understory — maple samaras in a red whirl,
a downdraft over a deadfall; out of cold dormancy too early,

it seems to me, but what do I know?

Turkeys, a nodding flock of twelve at least,
a quorum, a jury, trample the duff of twenty years

ago when highbush blue- and lowbush huckleberry

held this ridge with birch and bobwhite quail,
and one little pin oak with its shadow of ground pine.

Now a copse of young silver beeches, their last year’s

leaves chattered cold in the wind, has shaded out the bushes,
overbrowsed anyhow by too many white-tailed deer,

barely skittish, willing just yards from the house

to graze the back lawn, itself returned, reversing
the laws of succession to bitten down grasses, to pasture.

+++++++++++++

Spool by Matthew Cooperman. Parlor Press. 101 pages.

Spool 11

a surrogate body
speaks in flame
moving suites of
O! to air
a waterdrop darkly
leaf or tongue
brachial bird throat
resides in each
gasp of seizure
wings toward a
harmony flox field
so it goes
you go and
make a flame
a match of
T hees to flesh
declaration         So much
               lifts the leaves
                              their undersides ghost
                                             music or plangency

++++++++++++++++++

Azure: Poems and Selections from the “Livre” by Stéphane Mallarmé, translated by Blake Bronson-Bartlett & Robert Fernandez. 203 pages.

Saint

So window’s eye’s hidden
And frayed sandalwood adorns
Nauseated viola
Tingling with flute or mandolin

Is the saint, spreading
The ancient book, unfolding
A Magnificat of diving silks
Long ago at vespers and compline:

At this window-eye’s sagging glass
That brushes a harp by the Angel
Formed with its flight of evening
For a delicate phalange

Of the finger, that, without the old sandalwood
Nor book, the harp balances
In its fletchings, musician, harvest
Of silence, o black apples of silence

+++++++++++++

100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu. Les Figues Press. 135 pages.

Chinese Silence No. 4
After Billy Collins, “China”

I am a cicada floating in a coffee cup
on the desk of the Poet Laureate.

Grant proposals are being written.
Many bottles of Napa wine are emptied.

But even when his nodding head
strikes the desk like a bobbing Buddha’s

I lurk silently inside
my mug, chipped by the teeth of Ezra Pound.

 ++++++++++++++

Bright Stranger by Katherine Soniat. LSU Press. 78 pages.

What Else There Is To Do

Because the earth spins round and our lives are wired,
we don’t hear the slow drip of rain
from the eaves.

Bell in the breeze, missed.

So we say we’re busy thinking
thoughts that multiply and reinvent themselves. Lips stretch
to a smile, or turn down with menace on bad days.

Maintain a glimmer of yourself running through the hourglass.
In the middle of a starry galaxy, you might look down

through miles of wonder.

Try rubbing your cheek on a bark of a tree, then waiting
like the jaguar whose nose is said to be uncanny.

One summer morning, the man who had a profound stutter
was heard speaking fluently to the lion in the zoo, while a deaf
girl at school wanted most to live in a sea-cave with her drum.

++++++++++++++

Rock Taught by David McAleavey. Broadkill River Press. 81 pages.

Observing dusk at the Warren family camp on the shore of
Lake Bonaparte, western edge of the Adirondacks

The lone skunk
nosing her prow
from cabin to
shed, boathouse,
lodge, peaceably cleaved
a slow arcing curve
around the aspen or birch
I leaned against.
Despite the streak
between her eyes
and the impressive wake
striping her body black,
white, black, white, black,
she was hugely calm.
Not happy: aware
of her competence.
She did not spray.
I may have flinched.
Any noise I made wasn’t much,
the ripple of her passing.

+++++++++++++

Why Is It So Hard To Kill You? by Barrett Warner. Somondoco Press. 61 pages.

Immortal One

Good Morning, angel fish.
Why is it so hard to kill you?
The others were easy:
The green bird flew away
and returned to the nest
in my Lab’s soft jaw.
What of my Tabby mixes?
Crushed by tires,
decapitated by foxes.
Even the last of five dogs
stopped bringing back the ball.
And less than a mile from the door,
a hayfield where I bury horses.
But you? You refuse, in spite
of my forgetting your food
or new carbon for your bubbler.
Once I left you on the porch.
You lived for two months
eating uncautious flies
that sipped your tank water.
Come on little triangle,
is your song here not complete?
Why won’t you die?

+++++++++++++++

Matchstick & Bramble by Lucy Simpson. Broadkill Press. 58 pages.

The He-She God

God wanted a womb,
so he made one out of electricity and dark matter.
He could wear it when he wished,
change his gender like changing the weather.
He bought silk kimonos, made to order,
owing to his grand physique and painted
his toe nails blood-on-a-wolf’s-maw red.
When the mood passed, he’d don
his white beard and grow ponderous again.

++++++++++++++

Don’t Be Interesting by Jacob McArthur Mooney. McClelland & Stewart. 81 pages.

Don’t Be Interesting
for Oliver

(i)

My friends are sculpting down
the major works of tiny canons.
My friends are working on translations.

Like your twelve-page board book adaptation of Moby-Dick.
The book and I are saying:
Don’t be interesting. Be bifurcated, um-tied.
Go fog your rover self into looped repudiations.

Non-belief, anonymity, and art. That’s your people.
The book says that people are art.

+++++++++++++++++

The Names by Tim Lilburn. McClelland & Stewart. 65 pages.

Ricardo

He’s made a bed for himself
in the room of a long kitchen knife
or he sinks into a stream,
understream slide, where as he sharpens, clarity
pinholes him between the eyes. He hears applause
of a paid-for
smacking, arriving in his breast, he deliverer
of the goods, his name on the cheque,
he’s genuine smoke, the uranium gun.
He places his throat in material fervour.
He bobs in the flow of Rilke’s queer Christology,
chaotic bumping of carnivorous perfections.
He pours all muscle into a spire
resting on a single, simple x.
Movement in his chest and arms,
horses quickly circling.

+++++++++++++++++++

Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham. McClelland & Stewart. 105 pages.

Frog Lake

Ditchweed, fuchsia. The first thing grows after fire.
Chased here by weather, rain then clearing sky,
Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Miserable Man,
Round the Sky, Little Bear, Bad Arrow.
A grave, one unmarked, months from here.
Brome grass in all the places the earth’s been turned.

+++++++++++++++

Blood Hyphen by Kenny Williams. Oberlin College Press. 79 pages.

Concrete Poem
For Peter Kreeft

I was a writer in another life. Now I am God.
At night I light the lawns for miles around
with my door whose door has become a writing table
with four stout legs screwed on.
The concrete populations of lawn and garden
gather toward me, doorstops for my door of light.
And even in that crowd, where any concrete persons
could disappear, the saint and the gnome stand out
together, as obvious as a couple of secret lovers,
each guarding the other from the only
Virgin in the neighborhood
endowed at birth with concrete clothes.

+++++++++++++++

Desecrations by Matt Rader. McClelland & Stewart. 79 pages.

Talking Trojan War Blues

“All the new thinking is about death,”
Robert Hass said, longingly, in a scribble
Of blackberries. I was dreaming Seamus Heaney
On the porch while the children pedaled
Their bicycles down the street,
Dragging their long, late-summer shadows
To death behind them. Such tender
Desecration. Even Achilles’ horses wept
In the field of battle the days before
They were made to drag through dust
Hector’s body. “Longing, we say,
Because desire is full of endless distances.”
Robert Hass said that. You can be in my dream
If I could just remember it. I said that.

+++++++++++++

English Kills by Monica Wendel. Coal Hill Review. 17 pages.

Wheeling, West Virginia

I cried so much last night
that I was super skinny this morning
and I dreamt that we drove to West Virginia
to climb inside a mountain.
The stairs were steep and I was afraid of falling.
We’re in the lentil capital of the nation,
you said. But no lentils grow
that deep underground. In the darkness
of the mountain’s hollow inside
I ordered shrimp. Each pink body
curled on the plate like a tendoned larva.
Maybe it wasn’t really a shrimp between us.
Maybe it was something we had made.
Now I’m waiting for the subway.
All morning I heard its roar from inside the earth.
It said, the next train is now arriving
on the Far Rockaway track, please stand away
from the platform edge
.
It said, there is train traffic ahead of us,
please be patient
. A person can travel
for hours underground
and never leave this city.
Sometimes it feels like the future
will never arrive
and I can hear the chambers of your heart
echoing with laughter.

++++++++++++++

Scarecrow by Robert Fernandez. Wesleyan University Press. 66 pages.

we adorn

I ask for the broken ladder to fill my head
for sunstroke, red horns of wheat
For dailiness, let me know particulars
O red horn brightened in my chest,
the hairs are countless, I ask
for lozenges like islands, and the color —
red yellow blue — staining the dark
I ask for daylight, forms noticed, held, cut
down from shadow and trembling, held
for the moon’s horn filled with red honey
and for the chance of day, a gamble with red chips

The time is taken, culled, like
fruit the time has darkened, blue,
seven panes of glass crushed into the roots
the time is deadly, a coral snake
and we adorn, we adorn

+++++++++++++

Beyond Elsewhere by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, translated by Helene Cardona. White Pine Press. 59 pages.

  The pact with the heavens is broken. Paradise escapes
beneath our feet: a cursed wind insists on making us fall
from above ourselves, with implacable patience. Month
after month, every stone of our imaginary temple collapses
in a slow attack on reality.

  With the last breath of passion, all that remains of our
faces are fallen icons: two angelic visages torn by the blade
of a love profaned to vestiges. Only our soulless faces and
eyes remain, unable to withstand the vision of the fall.
Only she and I remain: nothing. Nothing but the nausea
whose sensation precedes the proclamation: the disen-
chantment.

+++++++++++++++++

Five Sextillion Atoms by Jayne Benjulian. Saddle Road Press. 71 pages.

CLEAN

What was the word I can’t remember,
what words did I know at nine?
Plenty with a father like mine. His sister
cornered me. Was it the stone
room, it had a porch door
a stranger could come in, was mother
alive I can’t remember who slept
upstairs, I turned the knob to the attic
door, it was cold, it was hot, I looked
through the box, smelled his cashmere clothes,
bra with a plastic straw attached,
blew air in the cup, slipped into the straps —
was it a curse word or a bad thought? Don’t say.

 +++++++++++++

The Absence of Knowing by Matthew Henriksen. Black Ocean. 77 pages.

Wall Chart

Leaves and wind
In their vague nightly synthesis
Unable to sustain a memory
Or conflate a distinct moment

Here in the room with the machines turned off
And the windows cracked
The tearing of the star lingers
Too long to influence
The floor unscrubbed
No sentence can turn the husband back to bed

In another house
The children have dreamed of murders
I walk past each front door and understand
The disaster simplified by economics

First cut off one finger
Then the entirety of poetry must go

++++++++++++++++++++

I Am the Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju. Black Ocean. 122 pages.

THE ROOM THAT FLIES TO OUTER SPACE 2

  the bird and the whistle

When night arrives, birds hanging on the laundry line begin to puke black water.

The stuttering boy goes up to the roof and whistles. Footprints left by birds in
The air shatter quietly in the wind. The whistles evacuate. The flocks of sheep
inside my soul change the seasons. They evacuate. At night no one can hear
the whistles people blew on the roof. The birds that bit them flew away.

On the roof, cotton explodes out the hanging blanket like intestines gored
from a sheep. Hundreds of ivory colored bugs burst out the white cotton and
blacken into the after-glow of the night sky. Dad, all people have disappeared
to the extent of years they have lived. Shut up! My sheep are weeping. Dad, the
sheep that weep are never mine. They are yours.

Like how on the day spring arrives butterflies wipe away their souls stroke by
stroke, I think about how a person disappears to the extent of all their lived
years and it makes me cry.

Biting a dead butterfly, a bird flies off to a room on the mountain.

++++++++++++++

Porridge by Richard Garcia. Press 53. 66 pages.

Blue

Peggy did not want to be born. She hid in her mother’s
ribcage. Then she fell through the slats in churning
water that carried her away. She woke in a city of the
future where no one lived. There was a clock on a
tower that ran backwards. In the distance she heard a
train. Or perhaps someone was playing a large
harmonica. Because in a former life a forest troll had
kissed her, she loved the color blue. Her mother loved
it too. They would sit on the pavement in a vacant lot.
Peggy heard voices from another country no one else
could hear. What do they say, her mother would ask.
Peggy knew, whatever the voices said, it was not true.
So she made something up. She said, the voices say
blue, blue, blue, once and forever, blue.                     

++++++++++++++++

Constellarium by Jordan Rice. Orison Books. 87 pages.

GRESHAM COURT

My father warns against change, though my chest’s already sore
with swelling, my biceps smooth — I trade some strengths for others.

How will you live this way? I tell him about the older man I dated
who drove a freezer truck in the suburbs, bought beer, paid for liquor;

so I brought him home, his arms sleeved with tattoos, one a burnt
skull, its sockets black hollows. And everything expected — insistence

and anger, blood welling in my mouth. I watched a traffic signal
flicker across the flat wall — the room sliding from memory, sweat

inside his shirt. Then hospital, police report, valium for sleep, the room
walled off by curtains from a hall full of ruin, one man dead by heart

attack, the stench of singed hair, lights burning all hours, fluorescence
and pain, the on-call repeating his one word consent, a nurse

changing ice packs, my broken wrist x-rayed, wrapped, a night
nurse to check swelling, taking down vitals: Honey, buy a gun.

____________

Grace Cavalieri is the founder /producer of “The Poet & the Poem” for public radio, now celebrating 39 years on air, recorded at the Library of Congress. Her latest book is a memoir, Life upon the Wicked Stage.

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