The Cinema of Our Tender Hell
Review: Things to Do in Hell
Collection of Poems
Coffee House Press, pp. 91
In his collection of poems, Things to Do in Hell, Chris Martin depicts the mundane in all its hellish glory. Its title sets a tone for the dichotomy within, seemingly belittling the grandeur of hell. His poetry brings attention to life and death, light and dark, pain and mercy, the quotidian and the grandiose. His poems are accompanied by unsettling drawings of everyday objects. These objects, covered in words, act as a sort of visual poetry, going beyond the standard line-by-line poem. The only way I can describe the aesthetic of this book of poetry is a creative, sometimes calm and untheatrical, display of ennui that attempts to connect earth and hell.
On her dedication page, Cherene Sherrard indicates her poetry collection, Grimoire, is “[f]or the mothers.” I am left with the following question: what makes a mother a “mother?” Is it the nine months of carrying a child in the womb, giving birth, and then raising said child? Or is it simply the act of loving a child, despite not ever meeting them due to gestation or birth complications?
I ask this question because many of the speakers in Grimoire are childless, either due to miscarriages, complications, or stillbirths. Are they included in Sherrard’s dedication to “mothers”? Can they even be considered mothers without living children? These mothers in Grimoire, who have lost their babies, are Black mothers in America, and for many, they have lost their babies due to factors out of their control such as miscarriages and institutionalized racism.
Piñata Theory by Alan Chazaro is a collection of poetry, a collection of memory, a collection of what it was and is like to be a Mexican-American.
Chazaro has moments of sincere examination—“Lucha Libre, in Two and ½ Parts,” a poem which is split into two and a half parts, is an example in which he explores how he may have turned out had he been raised in Mexico instead of the United States. He writes:
For the non-Spanish speakers, what Chazaro is saying is: Mexican me might’ve been more ready than American me, might’ve loved more easily than American me.
In this we learn the epicenter, the foundation, for most of the poems is a search for identity. Chazaro thinks: What if I stayed? What if I were raised in Mexico? Who would I have been? These are valid questions for anyone raised outside of their home country.
The word itself evokes fragility, as well as a certain sense of clarity. It’s easy to conjure the image of stained glass windows in a cathedral, or worn sea glass on the edge of a sprawling beach: both images clear, both images concrete. But what is really “clear” this day in age?
Dobby Gibson’s fourth collection of poetry, entitled Little Glass Planet, asks this very question.
An Ode to Writing
Review: The Intangibles
Coffee House Press, pp. 96
The word “intangible” means “unable to be touched or grasped; not having physical presence.” Elaine Equi’s newest collection of poetry, The Intangibles, is an ode to writers and writing itself, that thing which cannot be grasped but is full of life and creativity and which all writers try to bend to their will, or else let themselves be consumed. Infusing her respect for past writers and the writerly craft, Equi’s simple, well-crafted prose brings the reader on a historical and literary journey, where the influence of and appreciation for past poets enhance the depth of her work.