Dorianne Laux was my professor for advanced poetry (3 times because I’m an overachiever) in college and so any poems that she chooses, I will probably prefer as well.
Even so, I found that this poetry collection was a really wonderful “sign of the times.” Cue Ace of Base here for the beats. There are poems about the future, NASA, the metric system, first person confessional via metaphor, black girls, black girls who riot, guns, gun rights, holiday season (late fall edition), the words of grandparents, reasons why we can’t sleep at night, orgasms (female form), the blood vessels of a mother doing the exact opposite of developing cancer, the nature vs. nurture of marriage, burial rights, rights of passage, writes of passage, a girl in the middle of a night viewfinder on a sniper, the idea that fields grow up, whispers from the earth’s heart.
If I haven’t exhausted a list on the life that we lead (as a collective American whole) then I’m not sure what else would need to be added. This just proves that poetry really is the chorus of the human world. In Greek and Roman dramas, the chorus might seem to a modern reader like a break to the play’s action, but truly the chorus is the mirror of the play. The chorus is the way that we look at the characters through the lens of a collective whole, a society, a viewpoint that’s beyond just being an audience member, but instead a participant. That is poetry.
Poetry is a place where the voice can circle like a penny in a whirlpool wishing well (at the children’s museum of my childhood). It causes vibrations, but rises only to the sound of a whisper, or the thwack of a fist against wood. There is a voice through poetry that can’t be told through fiction, or any other source. It must be stated with fewer, but more specific words, and the author must hold several cold glasses at once, a juggler of words and sounds. Poets are beautiful, and broken, and the sounds they make seem like a thimble, but work like a thunder streak.
And this is why I so loved this collection. It was such a story of our world in 2014. I had many favorite poems.
One of my favorite in the news poems was “Nightstick” by Joy Priest (8). In this poem a nightstick becomes a character and in the life of the young Kentucky girl who is “a Black girl, but don’t know.” I found this poem impossible to not ingest with the rebellions (some say riots) happening all over cities that are facing both class system stereotypes and race stereotypes. Right now, the hot news is Baltimore, a city where years of pent up anger (in my opinion) has been unleashed on a CVS. I’m a little bias to the side of the Baltimoreans because I teach those children in my classrooms everyday. In fact, I’m going to be using this poem with my students to analyze the use of the nightstick as a tool to get at that voice that has been perpetually silenced in history. This is a poem of protest. A poem of emotional carry-ons. A poem for my students who have never once used “your” and almost always use “you.”
Another poem I starred was “Anaphora as Coping Mechanism” by Ocean Vuong. I’m not sure why. It’s a sort of prosy structure and I think Vuong gets the closest that I’ve seen (after Larry Levis) to the reaction of death. There’s the psychologists seven steps of grief, and then there’s Vuong’s “Your tongue is a lit match.” The even though and the afterwards. The continuous, sometimes monotonous circle of death, as if the person keeps dying in every place that they are not. This is captured elegantly, but with a certain rawness that I just loved.
“In Allepo” by Daniel Bohnhorst gains honorable mention for giving the side of Syrians through the eyes of a little girl nightmaring through hope. I could feel her search in my chest. It’s a really strong glimpse into “the other,” and I appreciate that in my poetry.
My most favorite poem in the collection was “Life on Earth” by Amanda Jane McConnon. It made me feel like I wasn’t just a speck in the grand history of things, which isn’t a feeling I usually feel because us humans we always think we’re leading some very important life filled with very important things and our religious values (majority of the party) tell us that we are so loved, so vital. Really, we’re sand (with brains). This poem though, makes me remember I’m something, a fleck of gold, but something.
This is just a highlight of the goodness in this hot pink poetry collection. If I haven’t yet sold you, here are a few of my favorite lines from a randomly selected group of poems:
Our guns softly touch their bark, / barrels quiet white with failure. It was morning. – “My Father Named the Trees” by C.L. O’Dell
Night stains the bookshelves. The moon, / white and swallowed. – “Peter” by Peter LaBerge
They knew routine and pattern; they did what they were told by instinct / what to do, / just like the sheets that have always made certain shapes when hit by / the wind, / a series of wings naming the thing that unfolds inside me. – “Leavings That Change the Future” by Erin J. Mullikin
Or maybe it’s the taboo allure of the island women, / of the luxury of fooling them / into thinking his body, / even after a decade of fighting, / is still as whole as it was in Ithaca. – “Erasures” by Rosanna Oh