A Journey Not Across the Universe But Across The Generation Gap
Review: Penultimate Human Constellation
Steven Ostrowski and Benjamin Ostrowski
Tolsun Books, pp.136
Humanity has long searched for meaning and truth by looking toward the stars. Poets Steven and Benjamin Ostrowski believe we only need to look within ourselves. This father and son team present what they’ve learned and what they seek to know in their new book Penultimate Human Constellation: A Father and Son Converse in Poems (2018, Tolsun Books). Less an epistolary narrative and more like a private conversation over a long sleepless night, the Ostrowskis embark on their unique quest. We become privy to their efforts.
A Synopsis Plants the Seed for an Otherwise Flowerless Tale
Review: Staircases Will Outnumber Us
Flash Fiction Chapbook
Red Bird Chapbooks, pp. 40
Jessica Roeder’s chapbook, Staircases Will Outnumber Us, requires much more from the reader than simply enjoying a beautifully written narrative. Throughout her compilation of twenty-one pieces of flash fiction, Roeder creates a world in which we find a blend of fairy tale and cult-like activity. We watch our narrator live among her nameless “sisters” in a treeless forest, where they bear children and build staircases made from stumps, always awaiting the daily return of their “father.” The reader is forced to discover what the treeless forest represents, and thus, the meaning of everything that follows.
Although we are told in the book’s online synopsis that “One thing’s for certain: we are in America,” there is nothing that makes it certain other than the appearance of sparklers in a chapter titled “Fourth” (representing the 4th of July). One could weakly argue that the “father” (a self-proclaimed “god of war” and “god of reason”) could depict our current president, but the sisters are not relatable enough to portray the rest of society as a whole. Then there is the sun, who, although mentioned several times, still withholds its ambiguous purpose. The synopsis gives an obligation to view the chapbook as political satire, thus biasing the natural apprehension of the reader. To be put simply: It cheated.
The woman running for her life from a man in a park. The girl who passes out at a party after a tainted drink. These are familiar stories we’ve been exposed to time and time again in the media. In fact, they’re so common they border on cliché. We’re under the impression there is nothing left to say, but there’s still, for a lack of words, fresh blood in these stories.
Jacqueline Doyle’s debut chapbook The Missing Girl features a collection of stories about the threats women face. From rape to questionable encounters, Doyle’s genius is that through her flash fiction pieces, she relies on our societal knowledge to fill in the blanks of her finely drawn bits of terror; and through them reminds us that for women nothing and nowhere is safe.
M.M. Wittle's creative non-fiction chapbook Three Decades and I'm Gone is her personal story of the author losing her father in her first decade of life, her mother in her second decade, and nearly losing herself to her grief in her third decade. The story is mostly written in a linear sequence of vignettes of prose poetry with some traditional stanza poetry. This treatment of memoir in a chapbook/poetry form gives the popular genre a compact, accessible feel. One can take the tragedy of each decade piece by piece and still experience the fullness of the story because each bit is an independent thought or feeling that supports the story as a whole.
War of the Foxes (2015) is the long awaited follow-up to Richard Siken’s Crush (2005), published ten years ago, which won the Yale Younger Poet’s prize. It is a brilliant work full of questions and unearthing, looking both inward and around, projecting his battles through art, poetry, and the characters within them.
Most of Siken’s poems seem to be self-reflecting, riddled with abstractions and rhetorical questions. He yearns to untie “the knot of the self,” as quoted from his poem, “Glue,” looking at his own writing, his own art, his own life and mentality. It is soul searching in its finest display of craft. Profound attempts to answer profound questions. Siken could be questioning his own existence and his own method of life. “Why live a life? Well, why are you asking?” The very process of writing seems to be the answer to his questions.
Review: When I Was Straight
When I Was Straight
Julie Marie Wade
A Midsummer Night’s Press, pp. 48
Julie Marie Wade’s chapbook When I Was Straight, a title that may lead a reader to expect poems about the transition between sexual identities, is actually largely heterosexually focused. Wade speaks openly about her experiences with men at the start of her sexual awakening, comparing her role as a woman to the ideal feminine condition society preaches, and in contrast to the feelings she had for other women in her life, even before she acted on them. Instead of appealing only to lesbians, the content of Wade’s poetry is extremely relatable for any woman who might not be entirely comfortable in the gender roles society has assigned to her or who is questioning her sexuality.
Feminism is not brought up explicitly, but it is an underlying thread that runs throughout the entire work, lending intensity to her emotions and the words she chooses to express herself. The old-fashioned way of looking at how a woman relates to a man still lingers, although women are doing their best to destroy the sad excuses for the lack of progress, as displayed in the helplessness shown in Wade’s poem “There Was a Man in the Moon”: “The woman did not know how to work/the lawnmower, & the man did not know/how to work the microwave.” This presentation of a woman’s skills in the home versus a man’s know-how may have had a seed of truth in it once upon a time, but now women are freer to learn everything they want about the world. Women are also allowed to pursue careers and hobbies rather than just getting married and having children. Wade’s poem “It Was a Shame” brings up what girls are still not taught—how to be a sexual woman, like Wade was while figuring out her sexuality: “It was a shame. It was a phase. / It was a secret. / I wanted every man I met. / I courted danger on the dance floor.” Even before she was thinking about engaging another young lady in bedroom activities, Wade’s perceived promiscuous nature was looked down upon by society in general as unseemly. Girls going through puberty and experiencing hormones and sexual attraction for the first time are understandably confused about what is happening to their bodies and minds during this time and why they want new things, and they must be taught the truth in order to stay healthy.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff