A Dark Ordinary has a combination of visually intriguing poems, reminiscent of e.e. cummings, and poignant prose poems that grasp your imagination. Using vivid imagery, unusual description, and vibrant language, Dyckman successfully paints a portrait of the sad, bleak, “dark ordinary” lives of child laborers in early 1900s America.
In her debut poetry collection Glass Harvest (2016) Amie Whittemore unites all aspects of the universe: family, nature, farmland, music, and even the mythical and mysterious. It is full of surprises, moments of elation followed by moments of poignant grief, dark imagery juxtaposed with snapshots of beautiful, rural landscapes. With her poems, Whittemore celebrates the offbeat and unconventional, resulting in a collection of poems that mirror the chaos and unpredictability of family, both in form and content.
Songs for a River, McGahan’s third book, combines eloquent descriptions of nature, vivid artistic philosophies, and serene paintings of grazing buffalo in mountainous landscapes with a complicated romance that spans almost the entire novel. There is a Zen-like quality that carries over from page to page, inviting the reader to see art, nature, and relationships as more than just ordinary aspects of one’s life. But between the lovely portraits of wild North-West America, McGahan addresses the similarities between art, humanity, and the spirit of nature; although our pride as humans is to live and govern above the rest of the animal kingdom through reason and emotions, at our base nature we rely on the same instinctual tendencies as our hoofed and feathery counterparts. And even though we might consider ourselves beings of intellectual and artistic ability, it is difficult to push aside the lingering traces of animal ancestry along with the need to break free from societal restraints.
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.
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.
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.
The path to happiness can be crooked and twisted with daunting barriers along the way. In Vanessa MacLellan’s debut novel, Three Great Lies, the key characters seek their own forms of happiness – only attainable when they recognize the truth about themselves.
MacLellan sets her tale in Egypt. Her bored and self-absorbed protagonist, Jeannette, decides to trust a local teenaged boy, to show her a newly opened tomb with no tourists. She survives a harrowing ride in a motorcycle sidecar to arrive at the site. Like Alice before her, she soon finds herself tumbling down the rabbit hole. Jeannette awakens from the fall and learns she is still in Egypt, but Egypt from 3,000 years ago.
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.
“Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem” by Jacki Skole, the term “Man’s Best Friend” takes on a whole new meaning. Skole uses her journalism background and her love of animals to shed light on a topic that hits home for just about anyone who has ever brought a dog into their lives. It is during her search to find out the history of her recent four legged family addition, her dog Galen, that Skole begins to uncover something unfortunate: the truth that many dogs face once they arrive at a shelter and the urgent need for change in the animal shelter system.
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.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff