April 20, 2014

‘All the Heat We Could Carry’ by Charlie Bondhus

Posted on April 17, 2014 by in Poetry, Reviews

All the Heat We Could Carry is a compelling, fierce, vivid, yet sometimes understated and curiously dry in tone, collection of poems by Charlie Bondhus, describing  life as a gay soldier in Afghanistan. Bondhus cultivates a theme of heat: sustained, transferred, endured, enjoyed or suppressed, whether in the desert, the bedroom, the front porch, or the end of a pier. His decision to cloak volatile, profoundly disturbing content may seem counter-intuitive, but is actually dead-on, as this kind of material demands a kind of nonchalance. Otherwise it might feel manipulative and purple. Overblown. There is a quiet precision to Bondhus’ poems, like sealing something dangerous, despairing or grotesque in a glass jar. (more…)

‘This Blue’ by Maureen N. McLane

Posted on April 3, 2014 by in Poetry, Reviews

I’ve always been reluctant to make distinctions between “high” and “low” art. Maureen N. McLane, with the publication of This Blue (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), has invited me to reconsider the value of these terms—or rather, to reconsider the hierarchy they seem to suggest. She has made me entertain the notion that the designations “high” and “low” might be more useful as descriptions of particular styles than bald evaluations of a given artist’s taste or intelligence. Certainly, she has made me appreciate the artful ways that “high” and “low” diction co-exist in her own work—and more than co-exist: the ways her idiosyncratic approach to poeming thrives through deft and playful juxtaposition. In This Blue, we encounter the high-brow and the low-ball, often within the same poem.

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‘Haiti Glass’ by Lenelle Moïse

Posted on March 26, 2014 by in Poetry, Reviews

The year 2014 will be hard pressed to give us a more powerful debut poetry collection than Lenelle Moïse’s Haiti Glass (City Lights/ Sister Spit). Moïse comes to the page an accomplished performer, poet, essayist, and playwright, having served as Northampton’s Poet Laureate and been published in numerous anthologies. Longtime fans of her bold writing will delight in this debut, and its magnetic force will bring waves of new readers to her incredible talent. (more…)

‘Purpose & Devil Piss’ by Robert Siek

Posted on February 19, 2014 by in Poetry, Reviews

Almost a year ago, when I first heard Robert Siek’s poetry at a reading at the Bureau of General Services – Queer Division in New York, I immediately responded to his brazen, sharp-tongued, surprising and intimately detailed work. One poem in particular, a sendup of online dating entitled “Good Wording and Perfect Punctuation,” stuck with me. It’s that striking, lonesome opening detail of a landlord’s rained on couch on a lawn that sparked. In his vibrant and blunt debut Purpose & Devil Piss, Siek’s poems have a way of hooking you in with the specificity of daily life’s doldrums (commuting, car battery lugging, grocery shopping, mail opening, dishwashing, working, and working out) and the speaker’s inner thoughts and lively, sometimes brooding associations. These thick-blocked poems recall Bishop in the way that they unravel ordinary events in a stream of detail and “filthy reminders” that make them end up otherworldly. I think of the collection’s title as a sort of division one can face in the everyday: Purpose (the what-we-have-to-do-to-get-by) and Devil Piss (the fanciful and dark ruminations we all may harbor). The title poem, shaped different visually (in couplets: the past and present self) from the others, appears towards the end as a sort of demented prayer (“I’m the first man on earth, / no worries, no past”). In fact, many of the poems in the book end on ambiguity and prayer: “Thank God for turkey dinners / on Saturday afternoons and new family members to care for— / proof that something happened here” and in the evocative “Holiday,” a beautifully described still-life of an urban neighborhood on the eve of Obama’s inauguration, that cleverly pleads “let’s pray for change.” (more…)

‘The Daring of Paradise’ by Brian Day

Posted on January 29, 2014 by in Poetry, Reviews

A homoerotic interfaith adventure awaits in The Daring of Paradise, the newest poetry book by Toronto teacher Brian Day. (more…)

‘Straight Razor’ by Randall Mann

Posted on January 13, 2014 by in Poetry, Reviews

“Just promise me you’ll keep / your mouth away from mine.”  —“Stable” (more…)

‘Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin’ by Patrick Donnelly

Posted on January 8, 2014 by in Poetry, Reviews

This book’s title simultaneously draws one with its high diction and keeps one at bay and the first poem, “When in the Uterine Empyrean They Told Me” seemed to follow suit. Clearly, a poem that at once invokes Second Empire gowns, the King James Bible’s Song of Solomon and friends with benefits in less than a page is going to demand more of a reader than say, William Carlos Williams’s “This is Just to Say.” (more…)

‘Autogeography’ by Reginald Harris

Posted on December 22, 2013 by in Poetry, Reviews

The title of Reginald Harris’ deeply felt debut collection of poems, Autogeography (winner of the Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize), is happily deceptive, a play on autoerotica (or autoerogoneous). Like a map, the title opens itself to neighboring zones and states of being. Title and collection are viscerally complemented by deeply marine-blue cover artwork, a boy wading in the ocean and staring to that always ambiguous border between earth and voyage, that launch pad to imagination, the horizon. (more…)

‘The Late Parade ‘ by Adam Fitzgerald

Posted on December 9, 2013 by in Poetry, Reviews

There’s a new luxury condo building coming to Tribeca—a glass 60 foot skyscraper, with a Jenga-like design that the architect’s firm calls “houses stacked in the sky.” This building was on my mind a bit reading the poems in Adam Fitzgerald’s The Late Parade (Liveright). There’s a clean, sturdy but jagged structuring to the work, and the way the poems look, but also a tremendous amount of risk and adventure in the lyric—a vigorous accruing of language.  (more…)

‘Sisterhood’ by Julie R. Enszer

Posted on December 7, 2013 by in Poetry, Reviews

There are primary and secondary definitions of sisterhood: one relating to blood sisters, and one relating to any community of women. In her second collection of poems, Julie R. Enszer holds both definitions close with evocative results. Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press) offers mesmerizing narratives and observations, as well as surprising intersections of culture and the burden of loss. (more…)