Some people seamlessly accept the maturity and responsibility that comes with adulthood. Some of us call our moms a lot. Some dig their heels into the ground with the resistance of a toddler heading to time out. Chloe Caldwell, by certain definitions, is the latter. Caldwell’s latest essay collection, I’ll tell you in person, includes lengthy but devourable essays about some of her craziest decisions, most obstructive and devastating problems, major disappointments, and the relationships that got her there.
Jacob Appel’s The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street proposes an intriguing question, and with it, a particular view on and of society. While it may play fast and loose with both extremes of logic, insisting on familiar reality at times and abandoning it to implausibility at others, its characters struggle with that compelling question of choice and consequence, often long after they have resigned themselves to passively letting their lives play out.
There are some cravings that can last a lifetime. If there is any evidence of this, it can be read in Clementine von Radics’ poetry collection Mouthful of Forevers. These poems separately challenge the reader to look at how they define love and how they heal from it. They make us question whether or not love is just one thing, or a mangled mess of emotion. Von Radics begs us to be raw with ourselves, to explore the types of love the world has to offer, traditional or not. She teaches us that the type of love we learn is the definition of love we bring with us, the love we challenge.
Kathleen McGookey’s words are brave. She begins her latest collection, Stay, with a quote by Gary Young: “The worst thing you can imagine is not the worst thing that can happen to you.” And yet, worse for McGookey translates to great for the reader. Her bravery comes across on every page, not as a battle cry or manifesto, but slowly, quietly, in the most unassuming way. The vulnerability permeating each poem is, perhaps, the bravest words can be.
Mark Jay Brewin, Jr. dares his audience to pontificate the world and relationships around them in his stunning work of poetry Scrap Iron. Written with a narrative voice, these poems are less like traditional poetry and more like beautifully detailed, deeply personal stories that explore the complexities of familial relationships and the desire to be elsewhere. Broken into three parts, there is a clear beginning middle and end to this book of poetry that is lacking in other similar works. Rather than leaving the reader empty and unfulfilled, the carefully comprised structure of this book ends with the reader left in a state of deep thought and satisfaction.
A Morbid Nature
Stephen C. Behrendt
Shechem Press, pp. 109
Hardback cost: $24.95
The very essence of the word refraction takes its basis from the physical world; referring to when a ray of light is diverted from one path and begins to traverse another. In his new poetry collection, Refractions, Stephen C. Behrendt uses the term as a focal point for his collection to take an alternate look at the morbid aspects of humanity. Behrendt creates a portrait of love, nature, and what it means to be human through an epic scope, looking at life not only through the viewpoint of an animal, but through the viewpoint of his own life.
The Funny Truths About Human Nature
Review: Walking In On People
Able Muse Press, pp. 80
Melissa Balmain’s book Walking in on People transfixes readers with the humor of her and her family’s everyday life. The poet's simple language illustrates a play on observation, thought, and vantage point as she tackles marriage, raising children, and pop culture. Delivering lines that are thought provoking and eloquent, she simultaneously keeps the poetry genuine with her direct language. Balmain is boldly “walking in on people” where many choose not to go. This collection shouldn’t, however, be seen as spying, but rather as a different take on the renewal of faith in everyday human nature.
The poems in Balmain’s collection have varied subject matter and are intended to be humorous. Readers of more than one personality type should be able to at least smile after entering this poet's world. Because some of the entries are so short, every word has to mean something…and each one does. Walking in on People is constructed in such a way that the poems flow easily from one to the next. It also helps that they are divided into sections so the reader can skip around to the subjects they find more interesting.
Many lines can be very funny and innocent at the same time. One of the better examples comes from the titular poem “Walking in on People,” which reads, “I witness at a conference enjambed / of friends rebounding from a recent breakup / and once, two mimes in nothing but their makeup.” Balmain manages to get across a serious point while keeping the words light so the reader and the mood do not become overwhelming. These lines obviously are talking not only about a breakup from the outset, but also about two friends reacting to their perceived hardship.
So poetically haunting is Jen Michalski’s From Here, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact characteristic that makes it so beautiful and enticing. Is it the way each story shapes a world of its own and invites the reader to places they never before have seen? Is it the stunning metaphors and descriptions that build characters strong enough to be perceived as real people? Or is it the incredible way Michalski articulates that familiar sense of longing, of yearning for something, anything more than what we have now? Whatever the reason, From Here captures the reader’s heart and fills it with powerful imagery and emotion.
Review: Brassbones and Rainbows
by Jason Cantrell
Brassbones & Rainbows
2Leaf Press, pp. 120
Shirley Bradley LeFlore’s debut poetry book, Brassbones and Rainbows, is a vivid collection that uses a musical voice to address political and social issues. LeFlore’s word choice throughout her poems evoke the feelings of gospel and blues, and when reading the poems you don’t hear the writer’s voice speaking to you; it shouts and sings with passion you can feel in every line.
Many of the poems in the collection are written in a voice that shouts from the page, making one picture the poet as one who is fighting against being silenced. While the words in the poems don’t specifically say who or what is trying to silence the poet, the undertone of racism and prejudice stands out as the ideology the poet is preaching against. The need to shout out loud and be heard is perhaps best expressed in the closing lines of her poem “Brass Reality,” which reads, “you can bury me in the east / you can bury me in the west / but I’m gonna rise-up and be a TRUMPET in the mawnin.” A reader might recognize these lines, and a Google search of them reveals similar lines in a gospel song, “You May Bury Me in the East.” LeFlore changes the message of the gospel in a simple yet riveting way. The gospel song repeats lines about Christians longing to fly away, and one memorable set of lines reads, “You may bury me in the east / You may bury me in the west / But I'll hear the trumpet sound / In that morning.” The line in the gospel verse indicates that the trumpet sound, playing somewhere off in the undefined distance, signifies hope with each new dawn. LeFlore’s poem, on the other hand, boldly declares that she won’t be waiting to hear the trumpet, but instead will rise up and be the trumpet, playing out loud to spread that hope.
LeFlore’s perspective as an African American southerner comes out clear in her choices of words that call out the stereotypes most commonly associated with her race. In one poem, “Sonnybrotherman Dance,” she writes about a man dancing in what feels like protest against oppression. She tells “Sonnybrotherman” to “Dance in a cotton field / a tobacca farm / a steelmill grind / on a watermelon rind.” The images thus evoked are of an oppressed man dancing to show his passion, his freedom. The poem then calls for the man to dance in order to rise above racism and climb above the insults and crude names he has been called. She tells him, “Dance that boy named colored down in the ground / Stomp that boy named nigga with your 200 pound / Dance that name deep.” These lines bring to mind an image of a man burying the names he has been called, “colored” and “nigga,” and continuing to dance as he leaves those names behind him, buried deep underground. Then, towards the end of the poem, she says, “You don paid your dues / Work a lil soft shoe / Dance your own tune.” These lines tell the message that the subject of the poem has earned the right to dance, and the freedom to dance in his own way, because of the price he had to pay to gain that freedom.
LeFlore also uses a distinctly southern voice in her writing, using a grammar and style that immediately brings to mind a regional accent. She uses alternate spellings of many words to express the accent in them, such as in likes like, “cuz I got a gee-zus complex,” and “jus a box recycled, with a bag of ole bones.” Lines like these add to LeFlore’s distinct voice, and it’s easy to imagine, while reading these poems, LeFlore standing before you like a gospel preacher, shouting out the words.
After reading LeFlore’s poems, one doesn’t have to know for themselves the struggles of being an African American woman living through oppression and fighting for her voice; reading these poems makes you feel as if you have experienced those struggles, and you can hear the fight in the voice on the page.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff