Sunday, March 13, 2016

Kristina Marie Darling's s Women and Ghosts

The essential question in Kristina Marie Darling’s hybrid text Women and Ghosts is posed early on: “If a man turns his head in such a way, who or what is shattered?” As the book’s speaker addresses this quandary, we witness a subtle subversion of the patriarchy, and an upheaval of the male-dominated literary canon. I see the push and pull of a woman who “drowns under the weight of her own dress,” her femininity; her very existence. At the same time, she is reaching towards autonomy; an identity completely separate from the men who stifle her. The men portrayed here are violent and manipulative. The offer no trace of love. She is mired in a rape culture; she is being pitted against a society which does not value the female voice. She asks, “Why is there so much language, so many words I didn’t want.” She doubts the efficiency of language, but barrels ahead; embraces bravery, and speaks out regardless.

She participates in a conversation spanning centuries with both real and imaginary women: the women reading this text, and the women in Shakespeare’s plays: Ophelia, Juliet etc. Especially pleasing for me is the fact that previous exposure to these texts enhances my experience, but the book is so delicately rendered as to be accessible to even those who have not read the plays.

Darling’s chosen forms—a hybrid of poetry, essay, erasure, footnotes etc.—have been used quite successfully in other books authored by Darling, but this overt commentary on gender politics is new to me. Issues of gender and the complicated relationships between men and women have been the focus of many previous works, but the political and explicitly rhetorical strategies present here are a refreshing change. I see Darling’s books as a continuous narrative, pearls on a string. Women and Ghosts is a welcomed addition.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kristina Marie Darling's Failure Lyric

Kristina Marie Darling released her book Failure Lyric with BlazeVox Books earlier this year. Like Darling’s previous texts, Failure Lyric explores many relevant and emotionally evocative experiences. The most prevalent themes include the futility of romance, marriage and its many betrayals. Recurring images of the winter season, shattered glass, flowers and dead girls are expertly woven throughout the book, providing a cohesive narrative that exists seamlessly alongside a lyrical succession of images. We witness what it is to be a woman covered by the shadow of a man and a subversion of a misogynistic society while being trapped inside of it. Necessarily, there also exists a subdued feminist sensibility which aims to un-stifle the book’s narrator as she responds to her environment. This narrator, for obvious reasons is one which the majority of women can relate to.

Also effective is Darling’s borrowing from other contemporary voices. She carries on a kind of dialog with other female identified authors such as Kristy Bowen, Kristi Maxwell, Allie Marini, and others who also tackle similar themes in their works, and share a common voice. These conversations are necessary in today’s political climate and I appreciate Darling’s willingness to discuss such sensitive topics in such an artful way, making things which are so difficult easier to bear.

You can order Failure Lyric at BlazeVox Books here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lauren Gordon’s Fiddle is Flood

In Lauren Gordon’s latest work, Fiddle is Flood, just released from Blood Pudding Press, the book series and TV show Little House on the Prairie is framed in a new literary context. However, even though there are some echoes and references to Little House on the Prairie, Gordon uses many gruesome, gross and surprising images that were never present in the family-friendly series, like in the poem “The Pig’s Death Squeal”: “we ate his brains/blew his bladder to a balloon kiss/Pa lets little girls eat the curly/curly tails,” or the oddly dark and malicious portrait of God in poems like “Sister’s Sightless Eyes”: “and God hates a liar/God/God hates/God.”

Also interesting to me is the fact that this collection does not have more narrative elements, given its inspiration was a prose narrative. There weren’t many elements of prose at all here. In fact, the book is rife with disjointed, broken lines, enjambments, and lack of punctuation, which perhaps enhances Lauren Gordon’s murky re-imagining of the original story of Little House on the Prairie. This differing form leads me to ask who the narrator of these poems are, if it is the same narrator as the novelized Little House on the Prairie, and if the narrator remains consistent throughout the text. It seems so, though I was baffled by the one modern reference of Minnie Driver (“…my spirit grass/laid flatter than Minnie Driver’s chest”). I am wondering what the purpose of this reference is, and why there weren’t other references like this in other poems. It would have been interesting for me to see the effect of such references, and how they might affect the text as a whole.    

Also important to notice is the presence of many lines of poetry written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which Lauren Gordon said she included because he was a favorite writer of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the original writer of Little House on the Prairie. There is a kind of literary roundtable going on here; Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tennyson, the writers of the television series, and Gordon herself communicating with each other across generations and experiences, and reexamining the same story from differing viewpoints. Perhaps Gordon is making reference to this in “Last Summer I Found God in the River”: “what clings, what stays/the noise we make in ink.” Yes, it seems that the stories we tell and record in ink are some of the few relics we carry with us consistently through time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Elizabeth Taddonio's Stone Boats

Spooky Girlfriend Press is treading new water this year by releasing Elizabeth Taddonio’s new chapbook Stone Boats, a kind of hybrid between non-fiction vignettes and prose poetry. Taddonio calls the work a “ghost baby” exploring “total displacement” alternate universes, and paths not taken where she may have been a scientist as opposed to a journalism major, or a mother “having kids and letting them name themselves.” Taddonio certainly names herself as she allows herself to recall childhood at the gas station, collect puppy teeth, and consider various ghost selves. In a strange moment of contradiction however, Taddonio says that “Ghosts are not even real.” There seems to be a tone of internal conflict in the text, a landscape that is at once hopeful and foreboding, as Taddonio wonders, “Maybe I am getting dark” and a friend tells her that “yes, you might be dead.” And yet, there are moments of such strange beauty here. The stories about Taddonio’s mother were especially touching, even if these memories include sunburns and dead skin. The last story also left an impression, watching people stand in the ocean “like moons, fake moons,” guiding turtles toward a light that the real moon can no longer provide for them. Stone Boats provides a light for its readers as well, and is well worth the read.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Katherine Soniat's The Goodbye Animals

Winner of the 2014 Turtle Island Poetry Award, Katherine Soniat’s philosophical collection The Goodbye Animals encompasses a very large world as it tackles humanity’s heaviest questions of birth and death, commemorating life, the world, and all of its creatures. While acknowledging life’s many pitfalls, Soniat still urges us to “breathe with the birds and let wrath dissipate.” She reminds us of the interconnectedness of all things, “the intimacy of time,” and “our cold lineage                     space.”   She assures us that we as humans still possess a kinship with all that breathes, all that still roams this planet. We learn that “nothing is too small,” “Before us the void was/ immeasurable” and “Without plans, everything/had presence” promising us that all that is living has a place somewhere.  

Mythological figures (Orpheus, Eurydice, Aphrodite) point to Soniat’s artistic lineage, again telling us that we are all echoes of one another, all of us beginning as mere embryos, cells, “vibrant in the amniotic pool.” And then life and time moves us so that the “…body has a hole behind the heart/with a lock in front—and a measure/of animal dampness breathes between.”

In the poem “Arrival,” the speaker says, “Soon I’ll have the moon to myself” but don’t be fooled: this is an extremely generous collection that is an invitation to the reader to take on the different identities of our fellow creatures,--our brothers and sisters—to take part in a world much bigger than ourselves, to “Say come here my ready heart/murmur in the frequency of whale.” I’m ready. Are you?

If you would like a copy of The Goodbye Animals you may do so here, at FootHills Publishing.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm

In a recent interview in Pretty Owl Poetry, Robert Cole says that Juliet Cook’s poems “read like a secret keeping a secret.” This is an apt description for their new collaborative chapbook Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm just released from Hyacinth Girl Press. This book is writhing with its own secrets; its own masks; its own messes. This is a place “where the light at the end of the tunnel/is another tunnel smoldering beyond control.” It is a world that, as “Blood Drenched Funnel Cake” says, is “the opposite of diaphanous.”  

This book teaches us that in this world the body, sex, and life itself is something to be feared: “He /she/it can no longer speak for itself.” This is a place where someone might “pluck out her neurons” or walk by “…shopping carts full of legs, breasts, puppy hats/covered in cement," a place where “…pussies purr/and then turn into explosive devices.”  Weird science, violence and horror collide sending us on a wild word ride, unlike any I have been on before.  As “Final Swarm” tells us, we are in a place where “There is nothing gentle left.” We are served cupcakes with “anesthesia frosting” and we “bargain /to taste delicious undoing.”

Similar to a Stephen King novel, Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm is not going to win the award for “Feel Good Poetry Book of the Year” but it may win the award for the creepiest poetry book I have ever read.    

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pamela Uschuk’s Blood Flower

Pamela Uschuk’s new collection, Blood Flower, published by Wings Press, is a reflective meditation filled with deliciously strong narratives that carry themselves from poem to poem. The sturdy and gentle presence of the speaker anchors me in this bounty of luminous words. The beauty of nature, the desert; its music, shines and glimmers like hard stars through these pieces. Blood Flower is a place where “snow drops love notes from the dead/no one wants yet to open…”; “Spring is the dream of the self/split by the Dogwood bud...” and “…the white wolf/ is the question mark of a ghost/praying for the resurrection of the sun…” There is such striking beauty in these passages and it is an honor to share them. While reading, I found myself pleasantly drowning in a fresh pool of lush words.

In Blood Flower, Uschuk explores familial traditions and heritage in poems like “Red Menace” and “Black Swan.” There is also a somewhat political bent in this book. I am reminded of the work of Uschuk’s friend Joy Harjo, as Uschuk is protesting and reflecting on war, while at the same time celebrating “…the frail architecture of grace” and moments “…when the earth sinks/to its hips in the rare currency of peace...” She reflects on America’s and Russia’s war-torn history, and her own family’s Russian history. She urges us to travel back to our roots and our own stories. In the poem “Wildflowers” she talks of her grandmother who told her that “…wind scoured words from your head/blowing stronger each year” the implication here being that we must tell our stories before they are lost and forgotten.

In the opening poem, “A Siberian Cold Front Takes over the Last Week of April” Uschuk says, “I fall daily in love with impossibilities” and in other poems she is “…awakening beneath the healing wheel of stars” to “the wild meteorology of the heart.” So are her readers when we happily sink into her book. In the poem “Thorn of Devotion," Uschuk tells us that a poet’s heart is one that “cannot stop walking…” Walk on, Pamela. Walk on!