how to get over (Ford)

From the haunting front cover to the very last page, this book will be in your face. The intensity pops from these poems in a way you just won’t believe. I’ve never known anyone who used caesura to such good effect. I could hear these poems. Poems like, “how to get over (for colored girls)” and “how to get over (for white boys in the hood” and “hands” and “how to get over (for those of us who can’t quite quit her)” are incredibly powerful.

author’s site

“how to get over (when the poem flirts)”

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Dothead (Majmudar)

This collection has multiple personalities. There is a portion of it that is great. There is a portion of it that seems trivial – clever exercises, passes off as poems. And there’s a small, but telling portion of it that disturbed me, and not in a good or useful way. WHen Majmudar writes about women, especially sex, the language and imagery of it made me pretty uncomfortable. Poems like “Dothead” (that week was India – myths, / caste system, suttee, all the Greatest Hits) demonstrate Majmudar’s wit put to good effect. “Immigration and Naturalization” (But is it still a family / When the son cannot speak / The mother tongue of the father?), “To the Hyphenated Poets,” “The Star-Spangled Turban,” and “Lineage” are outstanding.

So, yes, wade in the gems, even be impressed by the cleverness. And I don’t know, maybe you’ll read poems like, “The Doll” and “Abecedarian” differently than me.

Electric Arches (Ewing)

It was her three re-telling poems that first made me sit up and take notice. In each, Ewing starts with a typed account of an experience with brutal racism, but then stops short. We then see her handwritten (and presumably much more positive) re-telling of how the encounter ended. These new endings (and all three poems are featured in a section of her book called, “True Stories”) contain a magical element, one that allows the persona to reclaim the narrative.

As a white male, I am not sure I was able to find my way into all aspects of all of these poems, but I found enough to get a firm grasp on their power. I can’t wait to share them with students.

Ewing’s site

Rail (Carlson-Wee)

I found this title in one of those lists of new poets to watch for, and I wish I could find that list again because it’s creator is most definitely 1-1. I think Carlson-Wee is writing based, in part, on his experiences of riding the rails. There’s a Kerouac energy here, but it’s more grounded. He’s not reaching for voice or a statement for a generation.

“Secret Air” is a beautiful love poem. “Cry of the Loon,” “Dundas,” “O Day Full of Grace” – the list of great poems could go on for a while. I look forward to seeing his poetry film, Riding the Highline.

What a remarkable voice. I’m glad I found him. You should too.

A playlist to go with the book, a note from the poet, etc.

In the Language of My Captor (McCrae)

Shane McCrae’s, winner of this year’s Anisfield-Wolf’s award for poetry, is the kind of poetry book that I like because it is not a collection of poems, but a unified poetry book. All three sections speak to a different kind of captivity. The most intriguing one is “Jim Limber, the adopted mulatto son of Jefferson Davis.” (These poems make me wonder whether Charles Frazier’s new book, Varina, which focuses on Jefferson Davis’ wife, would be an interesting complement to this book.) McCrae’s most inviting techniques are his use of line breaks and caesuras. It makes me wish I could hear him read his work out loud.

Since it is such a unified collection, it’s hard to extract favorite poems since to do so would be to pull them out of context, but “Jefferson Davis the Adoptive Father of the Mulatto Jim Limber Drams the Freedom of the Negro Will One Day be His Freedom,” “Sunlight,” and “Still When I Picture It the Face of God Is a White Man’s Face” all jumped out at me.

The cover for the book is perfect; I wish I could figure out who created it.

Even McCrae’s dedication – “For my families” – is intriguing. I very much look forward to hearing from him in September.

Prison Industrial Complex Explodes (Eng)

Though it’s classified as poetry, I think this book is everything. It’s also everything we need to make its own headline as title come true. Eng has questions, political, personal, social, judicial – and they are rarely her own. And the responses she provides and / or are provided for her demonstrate that we’re asking the wrong friggin’ questions.

It’s funny, though. Canada has been getting a lot of great press lately, due mostly to the charisma and somewhat to the policies of Justin Trudeau. I know he’s made some dubious and destructive choices about the environment. I’d love for him to respond Eng’s book. And I’d love for someone to create an American version.

 

Read about it for yourself.

Voyage of the Sable Venus (Lewis)

I wish the Epilogue, entitled “Boarding the Voyage,” had been a Prologue. I think I would have understood Lewis’ project better. Her comments about art at the margins put the center of her project and her book in focus in a way they weren’t for me when I read them the first time. The Mothers and “Beauty’s Nest” are remarkable, but what’s most remarkable is the kind of art project that is the focus of the book. And to appreciate that, I think you need to read the Epilogue first.