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.
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.
Mother vs. Daughter: The Battle for Choice
Review: Daughters of the Grasslands
Daughters of the Grasslands
Mary Woster Haug
Nonfiction - Memoir
Bottom Dog Press: pp. 192
Paperback Cost: $16.20
With the open information attitude and international connectivity brought on by the Internet age, women are challenging what it means to be wife, mother, and daughter, raising their voices to share their stories and capture the imaginations of young girls internationally. Few express this better than Mary Woster Haug, author of Daughters of the Grasslands: A Memoir.
She claims that tradition and honor are the chains that bind girls to the same limited resources that their mothers and grandmothers have struggled with. In order for girls to fight these concepts, they must often turn against their own mothers, or feel as though they are: Not a battle for the faint of heart. Raised on the grasslands of North Dakota, Haug is a modern woman born from tradition. A self-proclaimed feminist, she tells of her personal evolution away from the values that buoyed her own mother, and Haug’s effort to escape the judgement she read so plainly in her mother’s features. Haug runs all the way to South Korea, taking a year-long professorship at the University in Daejeon. What she discovers is that mother-daughter conflicts are universal. Instead of escape, South Korea is more a harsh emersion into the tensions Haug never wanted to face.
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.
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