The Other Side of the American Dream
Review: Don't Call Us Dead
The Other Side of the American Dream
Review: Don't Call Us Dead
One aspect that makes poetry such a powerful form is how it is often used to tackle pertinent and even controversial topics. Race and sexuality are two timely issues, and Danez Smith tackles both of them in his book of poetry Don’t Call Us Dead. As a gay, black man in America, Smith has a unique perspective that shapes much of what he writes. In some ways, his poems speak to a very particular demographic and yet, they ring true for larger audiences.
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.
Lilith. Feminist icon. Biblical nightmare. And now, the subject of Julie R. Enszer’s latest poetry book.
Lilith’s Demons, Enszer’s third book, reimagines the infamous, ancient figure Lilith as a modern, empowered woman. Split into three parts, the book begins with poems from Lilith’s point of view, followed by a middle section narrated by her demons (all with their own unique name and personality), and finally, closing with a short section narrated by angels who are drawn to Lilith’s alluring power. Through the eyes of Lilith and her demons, Enszer crafts a beautiful and thought-provoking narrative of the modern issue of women’s oppression, and the punishment they receive.
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.
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.
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.
Open the pages as a stranger and emerge a well-versed friend in Diana Whitney’s debut book of poetry Wanting It. This deeply personal collection of poems invites readers to explore feelings of regret, love, confusion, and that inexplicable longing each of us feels when our hearts aren’t ready to admit their true desires. Whitney brings you along on her journey of self-realization, reflecting on the movement from herself as she once was to the woman she always wanted to be through beautiful imagery and clever metaphor.
More than a mere assortment of poems, this book reads more like a memoir exploring such issues as gender roles and self-identity. Divided into four sections, each speaks to a different time in the author’s life and the inner struggles she faces at each milestone. “Watched Pot,” the first of these sections, details the author’s life as a free-spirited young woman exploring her sexuality and what it means to be a member of the female gender. The honesty in her revelations is at times harrowing as it reaches into the hearts of her readers to establish a connection they may have never realized existed. She details her changing definition of feminism as one who freely gives her body away to “city mouse and country mouse” (Peckerville) alike to her realization that there is more to being a woman than entertaining the male gaze. This changing definition has a push and pull effect on the reader, causing them to fluctuate along with the author. Whitney uses the nature surrounding her farm town as a means to communicate her confusion. The readers feel the author’s confusion about her own understanding of what it means to be a woman through her inability to subscribe to one definition of feminism and womanhood, just as the nature surrounding her is unable to subscribe to just one season.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff