Today’s special featured book is Ursula Or University by Stephanie Young
Buy it from SPD for $17
Today’s special featured book is Ursula Or University by Stephanie Young
Buy it from SPD for $17
The Dailiness is a door through which we enter and find a world where the mundane transcends and becomes magic. Neatly separated into three sections, the poems in this collection unfold from Camp’s present life to detailed moments of years past. Familial relationships, modes of transport, the high desert landscape where Camp lives and cities far beyond are all gathered into stanzas that wander across the page in experimental forms, as well as stanzas that are stitched together in more traditional forms.
The way in which these subjects are transformed into the unruly and surprising creates a kind of tension that causes the reader to question her knowledge of the ordinary. In “And Now Your Would,” “sound rolls sideways in your mouth” and in “November,” lovers quarrel, “This is a lopsided world when you smile/reminds me of things that have been discarded…” leads to “every tooth of exhaustion/ripped out, every road lined in pine. If there was a night,/I would have slept.”
Camp brings all of herself to the page in her newest book of poems. Years spent as a fabric artist are evident in the ways she experiences the world and translates this complex, multi-layered form into a one-dimensional plane. Indication of this is found in “For Those of You,” where hope is crinkled, night is flannel, and “she wove us into words,/her voice twined with wine…” As well as in “Ten Years,” where pain threads, days scratch and tongues unravel. Yellow knits and wind weaves in “A Form of Light” and in “Dream Pantoum” life is a cuff and your mind is a tiny sock. It’s because of these splendid juxtapositions that the reader is able to brush up against the texture of an encapsulated moment and feel the variations of reality from one memory to the next, from one moment to the next and from one day to the next.
Camp’s love of jazz is also clearly a point of inspiration for these poems. If she were to play an instrument in this collection it would undoubtedly be the letter “s.” Her use of alliteration sounds bold with “s” and imbues musical delight. As heard in “In Provincetown,” where rhythm is strong and the musicality of her choice swings on its use, “talking stripes of light,/sucking sound of rubber boot/on saturated shore,/dug-up slurp of quahogs from sand.” More “s” slips though in “Thelonious Monk On A Subway,” “Fixed Gaze of Winter” and others. Her use of repetition and line breaks also stimulate the sensation of music. Another great example of Camp’s attuned ear can be heard in “At Echo Canyon” where the iteration of the word rock (over 70 times) functions as a downbeat both calling attention to itself and disappearing simultaneously.
The Dailiness begins with a poem entitled, “Looking Around These Days,” where tiny ants march through the landscape of the poem on several different occasions. These ants haunt by the final section where night and moon, sleeplessness, desire and stillness are echoed in a kind of diligence akin to the ant. A presence that while seemingly small, but because of the strength in its multiplicity, can move ground, shift earth and disrupt blind habits. This is mirrored in the measurement of living this collection provides. A daily dose of longing, regret, desire, and memory when spooned in small increments, as in the episode of one single day, becomes a reduction where routine muffles vitality. When each of these single days is compiled into the force of years, of a life, the dosage becomes monumental and the earth shifts. In this way, each poem converts into a breath serving as the tenuous reminder of impermanence and the necessity of witnessing the detailed moments of our lives. Camp’s ability to conjure curiosity in her reader through the seduction of what is familiar casts a spell. When read aloud, especially, the call is impossible to resist. Go willingly. Become unraveled.
Jamie Figueroa is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has been published in various literary journals including Split Oak Press, The Santa Fe Literary Review, The Yellow Medicine Review, Flash: International, ekleksographia and Sin Fronteras. Jamie teaches creative writing at New Mexico School for the Arts. She is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship as well as the Jack Kent Cooke graduate scholar award.
An epigraph from Paul Celan opens the text (“distance,/O you/hand of glances”), which seems fitting—to call upon a great prose poem crafter to begin a very present-day ramble in the form. These are poems in prose, but they are not bound by a prescription of tone; they work the spectrum, often sounding the subtler notes: frustration, amusement, detachment that flirts with compassion. These are the words of a practitioner schooled in old magic, by-gone wisdoms, but who can see the philosophy waiting in the ready head of a pez dispenser:
These are the future’s archaeological exhibits, the glass cases of miniature laughing toilets, of lamps that love applause […] Our rubies, our scepters, our fine-boned combs.
(“Ancient Pez Cat, c. 2003 C.E.”)
The cover of the book is itself a kind of blueprint to the contents. Yes, don’t judge a book by—but perhaps benefit from—its cover. Egypt, literally figured from space is a molten zag of the credible melded to the incredible. Blistering into an ocean, pulsing into a continent,
a Nile river delta, its albedo backscatter of birds from the distant photosatellite…. Whatever the landscape is we want its memory, much longer than ours, never leaving its body”
(“Egypt from Space 1”)
Goldberg has complete control of the poetic camera lens, taking from the cosmic long-shot (literally or metaphysically) and then being able to pull in for the minute detail—
“the shadow in the sternal mastoid and the dot of light near the center of each eye”
(“Art and Life”).
And she sounds good doing it. The metaphor of the camera lens is not enough for this book; these poems have nose, body, mouthfeel. It is a sensual experience to read most of them aloud. Take a line from “Boywatching with Lydia” as a moment of proof:
they peel back into their white and brown bodies, beautiful and sequential as time-lapse lilies.
This book does not make me think of theory. This book makes me think of whether this year’s Beaujolais will be any good. But, there are those who have articulated what it is I am feeling before I’ve felt it, and some of them have theorized about this very thing. I must admit I am reminded of another poet’s claims for poetry and Donald Hall’s 1973 Essay “Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird”:
Whatever else we may say of a poem we admire, it exists as a sensual body. It is beautiful and pleasant, manifest content aside, like a worn stone that is good to touch, or like a shape of flowers arranged or accidental. This sensual body reaches us through our mouths, which are warm in the love of vowels held together, and in the muscles of our legs which as in dance tap the motion and pause of linear and syntactic structure.
Each of the book’s four sections has at least one red car racing through or idling in it. “Red Car 1” through “Red Car VI,” but there are also slashes of red like lipstick on a well-tended mouth throughout—that shock of meticulous passion a “glow like perfect alibi” (“Red Monsoon”). This is a sexy book at the same time it makes room for grief, for Lao Tso, for memory and not just moment. The first poem of the first section “I Wish I Were Mexico” articulates what it means to be haunted—by the past, by a family member, by a fragrance. This collection is THAT kind of book. You read it, get on with your life, and think you’ve left behind. But it won’t let you go. Won’t. The letting will not happen. This book will get you when you’ve cast off your shackles:
He came back as a seaside town. He came back as the great parlor of fragrance thrown open by coconut.
It is a book that will hit you where it hurts, and you might like it. You’ll certainly be able to detect the sonic beauty in the attack.
Egypt From Space is available from Oberlin College Press
Elizabyth A. Hiscox is the author of the chapbook Inventory from a One-Hour Room. She currently serves as Poetry Editor for Third Coast at Western Michigan University where she has also served as Layout Editor for New Issues Poetry & Prose. Her poems appear in DMQ Review, The Fiddlehead, Gargoyle, Georgetown Review, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Solo Novo, and elsewhere.
Many contemporary writers who research historical figures – particularly figures who are female – to use as subjects for a novel or collection of poetry, do so with the intention of “uncovering” them, dusting off the years of neglect to showcase that had they been born in the right century, they would be lauded. The contemporary writer will use their project to give the historical woman the voice she never had. What makes Queen of the Platform, Laura Madeline Wiseman’s eleventh collection of poetry so different from these other books is that the protagonist of this historical research already had a voice. A loud and influential voice. This book is less the powerful contemporary writer reaching into history to unearth something lost, and more the writer allowing herself to be lost in the rich and varied experiences of a powerful woman who has much to teach a contemporary readership about the nuances of power, gender, and the importance of language.
The queen of the platform is in fact Wiseman’s great-great-great grandmother Matilda Fletcher Wiseman, who as a nineteenth century lecturer, poet, and women’s rights activist was on the front lines of the suffragist movement with women the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The collection opens with one of Matilda Fletcher Wiseman’s poems, “The Heart of A Man,” which catalogues some of the many things that a man’s heart is: a toy, a fruitful field, a doorway into heaven, a faint and fading line. As suggested by these few items, the list is surprisingly complex. The items add up to a nuanced understanding of what “a man” is, which might seem to be using “man” in the old-fashioned, all humankind sort of way, but the last two lines reveal that this is not about humanity as a whole, rather about women’s relationships to men: “The source of a woman’s bitterness, / The chalice of her joys.” This is a fitting introduction to Matilda as well as the collection, which looks not only at Matilda and her successes, but at the complex relationships she had with the men in her life, namely her first husband, second husband, and brother.
Most striking to me are the poems which show the responsibility, the burden, Matilda seems to feel for communicating. In the collection, men are often speechless or quieted by larger forces in society, such as war and work. In “Fairy Tale: Toads and Diamonds,” Matilda offers an explanation as to where her responsibility to communicate might stem:
By wit and repartee, our sisters had tongues.
With hands a flutter, we played word games at night
as woodhouse toads croaked, that old fairy tongue.
Our brothers, those discharged from the war, the dead,
severed or split, in the dialect of trauma, had tongues.
We asked if they needed anything – lips pressed open,
then shut, No, fluent in only one language, that tongue.
In “The Grant Question,” again the tongues of men, specifically those closest to Matilda are silenced:
They press me, Matilda Fletcher, Why speak for U.S. Grant?
. . .
d) Who else stumps for Grant – Stanton, Stone, Anthony, Harper,
Beecher, Douglass, etc.
e) The Maimed – you, Geo, your ears ring. Our six brothers,
tongues scarred from war.
Here Wiseman highlights the ways in which women took the reins politically, citing for us this rich history of strong women. Though, like many of the poems in this thoughtful collection, the end impresses most effectively with Wiseman’s ability to create either a jarring and vivid image or an inspiring call to action:
Why Speak for Grant, Geo? My answer: I can. And, I want to pass
the Matilda Fletcher Bill. I want my name as law.
Another feature of Queen of the Platform that makes it more engaging than other collections that utilize research, reimagining and the persona poem, is that Wiseman allows herself to become a character. The third section consists of first person poems from the point of view of the writer trying to reconcile why she is bothering to embark on this extensive research. The first poem in the section presents a vulnerability which brings a more intimate tone against the sometimes research-heavy details that work to place in the reader in the correct political and social time period. In the poem, “Speaking to My Dead: Matilda Fletcher Wiseman,” the speaker is trying to invoke the spirit of her impressive ancestor in an attempt to create connection:
Will you hear me Matilda Fletcher, if I speak to you?
I research you books and articles in newspapers.
Though you are dead one hundred years, I search for you.
. . .
I dreamed you heard me Matilda, as I spoke to you.
You spoke on suffrage, education, and civil service. You
spoke with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Though you are dead one hundred years, I write to you.
The language in this poem, as in “Lunch with Matilda’s Ghost,” becomes imploring and even a bit playful as the section progresses. Readers can feel the connection growing between poet/speaker and Matilda. It’s this feeling of family and female community that makes this collection of poems more than an expertly executed exercise in research and craft. As Matilda felt the responsibility to communicate, so too does her young great-great-great granddaughter. These poems are a testament to testament, to remembering that women working now for gender rights are not without a rich and textured past. As well that feminism is not just for women, but like Matilda Fletcher Wiseman, the pursuit of gender equality must strive not only for women, but for men as well. These poems use the situation of one historical figure to highlight the ways in which both men and women are trapped through restrictive public policy. And like her great-great-great grandmother, Wiseman doesn’t rely on political message alone, but uses the beauty of simple, but crisp figurative language and the art of narrative to draw readers to the platform.
Queen of the Platform is available for purchase from Amazon
Sarah A. Chavez is a mestíza born and raised in the California Central Valley. She earned her PhD with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in North American Review, The Fourth River, and The Midwest Quarterly, among others. A selection from her manuscript, This, Like So Much, was chosen as a finalist for the 2012 Arts & Letters/Rumi Prize for Poetry and the manuscript as a whole was named an Honorable Mention for the 2013 Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Contest. A selection from her chapbook manuscript All Day, Talking won the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship in 2013. All Day, Talking is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, August 2014.
I would like to start off by saying that I highly recommend Mary Szybist’s second collection, Incarnadine, to any lover of poetry. I admit that I do tend to be one of those people who enjoy whatever I’m reading, but I honestly believe that this book has the capabilities to appeal to a variety of readers, not to mention the fact that it was a 2013 National Book Award winner. The poems are extremely diverse to the point that it is surprising that they work well together as a collection, but they do. The most obvious way in which they differ is in format. The poems come in prose form and blank verse, wide and skinny, long and short. There is one poem presented in a sentence diagram, and there is a circular poem that resembles a sun, in which the lines go outward from the center of the page. The poems also differ widely in content, though most of them explore the same topic, annunciation, in some form or other. There is an annunciation from blades of grass to a little girl, an annunciation about a Right Whale being attacked by Sea Gulls, annunciations from people to spirits, spirits to people, and, of course, the center piece of that exploration is the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. But even this topic feels very modern and relevant. The result of these explorations are moments of beautiful clarity that portray a desire for contact or comfort, a desire to be sure of things that cannot be supported by evidence.
Here are some excerpts from a few of my favorite poems in Incarnadine. The first is from the poem “Update on Mary:”
Someday Mary would like to think about herself, but she’s not yet sure what it means to think, and she’s even more confused about herself.
It is not uncommon to find Mary falling asleep on her yoga mat when she has barely begun to stretch.
Mary Sometimes closes her eyes and tried to imagine herself as a door swung open. But it is easier to imagine pink macaroons—
This poem stuck out in my mind as a vital part of the collection primarily because it draws a parallel between the character in the poem, Mary (perhaps the poet), and Mary, the mother of Christ. The Mary in this poem admits to thinking of the Virgin Mary when she hears her own name, and her implied connection to Virgin Mary seems to have implications on how she sees herself. Mary imagining “herself as a door swung open” suggests a desire to be open to the workings of God, though this idea is so vague and difficult to picture, Mary resorts to thinking of macaroons instead.
The next excerpt I’d like to share is from “To Gabriela at the Donkey Sanctuary,” another prose poem:
I am looking at the postcard of Anunciación, the one you sent from Córdoba in the spring. I taped it to the refrigerator next to the grocery list because I wanted to think of you, and because I liked its promise: a world where a girl has only to say yes and heaven opens. But now all I see is a bright innertube pillow behind her head. All I see is a girl being crushed inside a halo that does not save her.
This is what it’s like to be alive without you here: some fall out of the world. I fall back into what I was. Days go by when I do nothing but underline the damp edge of myself.
What I want is what I’ve always wanted. What I want is to be changed.
Similarly to the previous poem, this poem also draws a parallel between the characters in the poem, Mary and Gabriela, to the Virgin Mary and angel Gabriel. In this poem, Mary seems to need an annunciation from Gabriela, a friend living far away, who she depends upon for verification that something can still happen, that the world is still full of the possibilities they imagined as girls. To me, this poem raises the question, what is Mary without the annunciation? Quite possibly, she is just another woman.
I love that poem’s directness. It is a quality that resurfaces various times throughout the collection, expressing moments in which the speaker reaches out most vulnerably for affirmation or comfort, and I started to savor them more and more as I went along.
I have not done this collection justice in exemplifying the variety that I mentioned at the beginning of my review–that can only be observed by cracking it open yourself–but I hope I have shown some of the books resonance.
Incarnadine is available from Graywolf Press
Ellie Francis Douglass was born and raised in Texas. She studied English Literature at St. Edward’s University, where she studied under the poet Carrie Fountain. She is now getting her Masters in Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Oregon State University in Corvallis.