"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, April 26, 2024

Wrapping up National Poetry Month with Five Short Reviews

For the first time in my memory, I actually prepared myself a head of time for National Poetry Month. Back in mid-March I sat down with my several lists of award-winning poetry books and other volumes I've had my eye on for several years. I requested what the library had available from their catalog listings. Six books arrived before we left for our National Parks tour of Utah. I toted the poetry books along with me is a bag crammed with books. Fortunately all of the poetry books were the small, paperback versions.

All month long I have spent a bit of time each day digging into poetry collections and immersing myself in their verses. Here are my reviews.

suddenly we by Evie Shockley. The front flap describes this collection as a "collective dreaming of a more capacious 'we.' But how do we navigate between the urgency of our own becoming and the imperative insight that whoever we are, we are in relation to each other?" And the sections are titled with thoughts about "we" too. For example, section 1 is "we :: becoming & going" and 2 is "we :: uppity & down." Even the titles play with our understanding and uses of language. But before these "we" sections begin, Shockley treats her readers to "alma's arkestral vision (or, farther out)" where she plays with shape poems and words in general.  Here is one example from this section:  


I wasn't always able to follow the organization or who each poem was about but generally it felt like this book was full of dedications to strong and possibly wronged Black women. For example, eleven poems with female names were together under the heading "the beauties: third dimension." As a prose reader I often war with myself when I read poetry, wanting to know "the rest of the story" when I read something that seems like it is part of a story. I often hear myself asking, "Is this poems about abuse? Is this part of the poet's story or is she just writing about universal phenomenons?"

My favorite poem in the collection was one I could really relate to since it was about the COVID pandemic lockdowns. It is called "pantoum 2020." Before I could fully appreciate this poem I had to look up what pantoum meant. It is a poem of any length with four-line stanzas, the second and fourth line of the first stanza serve as the first and third lines of the second stanza. It is the ultimate 'we' poem since we all lived through these experiences together and yet alone. Here are the first two stanzas so you get the idea of the form:

who could have predicted this?
                    year of unyielding busyness giving way
         to days of utter stillness & bewilderment,
                              streets so quiet they invite coyotes' return.

                   year of unyielding busyness giving way 
to dread & longing for another's touch. 
                             streets so quiet they invite coyotes' return,
          vehicles parked beneath clearing skies...

 I do recommend suddenly we and rated it 4.25 stars.
suddenly we by Evie Shockley. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT. 2023. 106 pages. 2023 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry.   

When You Ask Me Where I'm Going by Jasmin Kaur.   
The poems in the first of the three sections were so raw and touching. I was really touched by them...feeling for sure the poet had lived some terrible traumas to write such raw and aching verses. An example from a poem in this section:

i'm trying to settle into my body
feel comfortable inside its walls
stay long enough to decorate each room
sit at peace within me

i'm trying to come home to myself
                                      I really am

Then the second section, turned short story, with no heads up, left me scratching my head. In comparison, the two parts were night and day. I had no idea what was happening or even what the author was trying to do. I almost set the book aside. 

The third section returned to the poetry. But this poetry wasn't as good or as thoughtful as that in the first section.

I finally figured out the format:
-Section one: Sikh girl is traumatized by many life events. At the top of the list is being female in a patriarchal society.
-Section two: Girl leaves the Punjab region of India/Pakistan, travels to Canada to have a baby. She is not married. Time jump; second part of the this section is dedicated to the baby who is now a teenage daughter.
-Section three: The poetry is now in the voice of the daughter and she struggles with teen issues and worries about her mother's immigration status.

The book had me for the first section but the 2nd and 3rd sections weren't as well written or just left me confused and wanting some direction. I think the poems in the first section are so good, so angsty, or hard-hitting this book would be perfect for a collection of poetry for teens at a public or a high school library. (The target audience is clearly YA.) An astute librarian could warn readers about the abrupt shift in the second section. My rating: 3 stars.

When You Ask Me Where I'm Going by Jasmin Kaur.  Harper/Collins. 2019. 244 pages. 2019 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Poetry.

The Kissing of Kissing: Poems
by Hannah Emerson
I pretty much had my mind blown by The Kissing of Kissing. I didn't read the back of the book, the author bio, or the information about multiverse language until I read the first three poems and I thought something is going on here. 

What a treat to be welcomed into the brain and the thought-patterns of a non-speaking autistic poet. I set aside what I have in terms of preconceived notions about language and just enjoyed the process.

If I had bothered to read the summary I would have been more prepared for the delightful experience ahead of me: "In this remarkable debut, which marks the beginning of Multiverse—a literary series written and curated by the neurodivergent—Hannah Emerson’s poems keep, dream, bring, please, grownd, sing, kiss, and listen. They move with and within the beautiful nothing (“of buzzing light”) from which, as she elaborates, everything jumps" (Publisher).

from "Kissing Tendril Mind":

Please get that you get
that freedom is yearning
to grow yes yes yes. Please
get that kissing mind needs us
to kiss knowledge yes yes. Please

get that knowledge is the light
of the heart yes yes...

Highly recommend. 5 stars.

The Kissing of Kissing by Hannah Emerson. Milkweed Editions. 2022. 96 pages. 

Serenity: Poems
by F.S. Yousaf. "Soft spoken yet powerful, Serenity perfectly captures the constant battle of fear and courage that lives within us."

I sensed a lot of insecurity in the first poems. A sort of  'I love you, do you love me' type. I fatigued rather quickly of the roller-coaster, emotional ride these short poems took me on. In fact, I was ready to abandon the book. But I pushed on. The poems in the last section, "Tranquility", were the best. The poet has come to the realization that he alone is in charge of his feelings and will not cede this power to another person in the future. The last poem of the collection was my favorite:

...Grow independently, figure yourself out --
examine every crack and layer beneath,
confront every shadow you hold, ask yourself
why it calls you home.

Do not go back the same person
you once were.

My rating: 3 stars.

Serenity: Poems by F.S. Yousaf. Andrew McMeel Publishing. 2022. 144 pages. 2022  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Poetry.  

by Saskia Hamilton. "Judgment is suspended as the poems and lyric fragments make an inventory of truths that carry us through night’s reckoning with mortal hope into daylight" (Publisher).

Almost all the poetry collections I read this month were divided into sections or chapters. Usually the poems in one section would grab me more than the others. I imagine the poet thought through this and decided to lump together themed poems, or intentionally wrote poems on a theme. The first section, Faring, tells the story of a mother who is preparing to leave her young son due to cancer. The poems are told without sentimentality, though I am crying even to remember them. 

Raising a child not a reader. Readers are scattered in families like wildflower seed. One or two in a generation (24).

Saskia Hamilton incorporates little snatches or snippets of other poets' works into her own, examining them for their truthfulness.  The publisher refers to these as 'lyric fragments.' My husband, looking over my shoulder as I read, asked, "How is that poetry?" I don't know, but I liked it.

Late in the season, eating a pear
that is the memory of a pear, ...
mealy now, late season, fragrant
of September and sun (37).

The last section, Museum Going, contained the least-like poems in the collection and more like little notes-to-self about the experience of going to museum and having experiences with art. Once again, I struggled a bit and wished the publishers had included photos to enrich my experience. But then I realized I can go to the internet myself. I don't need permission to do that.

Of all the books I read this month. I would be least likely to recommend All Souls to other poetry readers only because the form is so different, so unpoetry-like. But I enjoyed my experience with it and rate the book with 4 stars.

All Souls: Poems by Saskia Hamilton. Graywolf Press. Minnesota, MN. 87 pages. 2023 National Book Critics Circle Nominee for Poetry.

Dark Testament: Blackout Poems
by Crystal Simone Smith. (I reviewed this book separately here) My rating: 5 stars.

And, that's a wrap folks. Thanks for sticking with me through this long-ish post about poetry.


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