Tag Archives: Poetry

Pop Quiz: The Book of Joshua by Zach Schomburg

17 Mar

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Answer the following for Zach Schomburg’s The Book of Joshua.

The experience of reading the poems in the first section of The Book of Joshua, “Earth” feels like:

  • It’s hard to know what’s hell or not
  • Hearing the hum of refrigerators when none are present
  • Listening to your voice on an answering machine
  • Realizing words are tiny blue swans you can only hold awhile before they melt

While reading The Book of Joshua it’s most important to know:

  • The years are not really years
  • “I am not/ you you/ are not me” is the “message” of language
  • This is only further proof of your badness
  • Blood will float a boat as well as water

In “Mars,” the second section of Zach Schomburg’s The Book of Joshua, we see which theme explored?

  • Estrangement
  • Estrangement
  • Estrangement
  • Estrangement

Reading The Book of Joshua feels like:

  • Being called the wrong name for your entire life
  • Listening to a recording of yourself sleep
  • There will soon be a difference between sadness and suffering
  • Scrubbing blood off a horse

The significance of titling the final section of The Book of Joshua “Blood” is:

  • The blood of a poem is words
  • There is no such thing as a “body”
  • The difference between correlation and causation is language
  • A telephone ringing behind a locked door

Review: Butch Geography by Stacey Waite

10 Nov

Posted by Theresa J. Beckhusen

Written by Mirna Palacio Ornelas

When I picked up this book—Waite’s first full-length poem collection—I expected to see the journey of a non-binary gendered person. I expected to go through the pits and falls, the confusion, and eventually a self-awareness. I found exactly that in Butch Geography, but in a way I didn’t see coming.

Waite’s poems take you back and forth through time, juxtaposing the confusion of a child that could never really fall into one of the binary slots of gender with the understanding that forms after having examined and reexamined oneself over time. Many of the poems come from childhood memories; there are instances in which the narrator is confused by the way adults around them behave and react to their appearance. In these, such as “Self-Portrait, 1984,” you’re reminded of that blind confusion that came with being a kid, where you know something is amiss, but you don’t know why, or what.

“Sometimes no one can keep my mom
from crying, I think the frying pans
get grease in her eyes when she cooks,
so I always say I don’t like anything hot.
It’s okay to lie about food, I think.”

In these poems, there is also a sense of detachment, as if the narrator has now come to accept the events that happened. It’s like that breath you release after letting disappointment settle into your bones.

The poems in which the narrator seems to be older, more aware of their being, are not only more lyrical, but also contain a small seed of pride in their acceptance. Moving past the struggles the narrator has faced, the tone of the poems clearly conveys some of the insight that comes with growing up. There’s a certain maturity there. In “Changing the Names,” there’s more of that feeling. It’s settled.

“In Pittsburgh, the rivers want to freeze over,
but can’t stay still long enough. So, for a while,
I call them ice to honor their wanting,
their leaving and returning, always the
slow shift of hands and water.”

The poems that fall in line in feeling with this one create an acceptance that soothes the confusion from the other poems. The narrator is almost taking their younger selves by the hand and wiping away the tears with reassuring murmurs.

The way the poems are written caught me completely by surprise. While there are a few prose poems sprinkled throughout the book, the enjambment in the others does nothing to break up the complete sentences in some poems. “On the Occasion of Being Mistaken for a Man by Security Personnel at Newark International Airport” is a good example of this structure.

“But when I hold my arms straight out
and he traces the outline of my underarms, he makes
that face, the face I’ve seen before,
the ‘holy-shit-it’s-a-woman’ face,
the ‘pretend-you-don’t-notice-the-tits’ face.

By using this structure in combination with this word choice, the poem is presented to you rather than slowly experienced. This writing style can be ingeniously helpful. As a cis-gendered reader, I’ve not had the experiences the narrator has. I’m distanced in a way that can really affect my reading of the poetry. By putting it in such a plain way, by making the poems read as stories, Waite makes these experiences accessible.

There’s much to say about the layout of the book, the way the poems are organized. The poems, for the majority, weave back and forth through time. One that takes place in the narrator’s childhood is followed by one with a more “adult” experience, be it a lover, or a more serious look at gender. It creates an intricate balancing act that is maintained throughout the book. For example, there is “Kimberly,” which ends with the lines,

“Kimberly, I should have been Kimberly.
I would have felt some loyalty to a name like that.”

It is followed by “It Has Always Been Frankie Cossinelli,” with the lines,

“the kind of girl who wore stretch jeans and black concert t-shirts
so you’d know she was a piece of the night sky,
the kind of girl who didn’t blow her nose,
but just sniffed all day long.”

Those two poems give two very different self-depictions from the narrator. It was like a roller coaster, or even just (get this) natural geography. These highs and lows make the difference between the attitudes toward gender and sexuality more stark. You get to see the struggle referred to in some of the other poems. Unfortunately, this layout also has some complications.

The combination of structure and writing style left out something crucial: a sense of completion.

As I read the book, I kept waiting for that big, obvious “OH!” feeling, but it never happened. There were some poems, like “Kimberly,” that took me right to the cusp of an epiphany-like sensation, but the following poem made it all crumble down. This didn’t take away any enjoyment from reading the poems, or even that kernel of truth poetry forces into your meaty center, but it did disappoint. I was waiting for that tangible feeling of being able to walk away having learned something. Notes in my hand, so to say. Instead, I was left wondering if maybe it was just the subject matter: maybe it’s one of those things that never really has a neat, wrapped up ending.

A second reading, however, completely turned this around. I let the poems marinate for a couple of weeks, and when I came back to them, there was a definite sense of completion I didn’t feel the first time around. I found that the poems had already found their way inside me. Not in the obvious etched-into-my-skin way, but not in the written-in-my-heart way, either. Instead, I found them under my skin, under the following layers of fat, and seared into my muscles and ligaments. As an outsider to the world within Butch Geography, this could be the best result. I don’t know if Waite wanted to serve as an educator through these poems, or if just the sharing of these experiences was the goal, but the poems have done their job as a medium, reaching out past the world they were created in.

 

Mirna Palacio Ornelas is a Vouched Indy intern and is currently a junior at the University of Indianapolis. She’s a poetry writer that dabbles in the publishing world. Mirna spends most of her time in the dark with Captain America looping in the background on the lowest volume and light settings while collecting boxes of steakhouse dinner rolls on her desk.

Awful Interview: Jason Koo

6 Nov

Yup, it’s time for another post about how stoked we are for The Letters Festival! Next up to bat? The formidable and dashing poet Jason Koo, who’s trekking all the way from New York City to share his words with us. His most recent book of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem, was released by C&R press. As a patriot, I adore it. (More on that later.) Jason’s going to be reading alongside Lindsay Hunter, Morgan Parker and Jamie Iredell on Saturday, November 8th at the Rodriguez Room at the Goatfarm Arts Center. It’s definitely a “Don’t Miss” in our book. You can get yourself a ticket to that here.

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Vouched: Hey Jason! So, your most recent collection of poetry was “America’s Favorite Poem.” As a xenophobe, I’m really stoked about that. When did you realize that you had America’s Favorite Poem in you? Did Bruce Springsteen really like it too?  

The moment came a long time ago at a diner in Houston when I looked at a Heinz ketchup bottle. The label said “America’s Favorite Ketchup.” I thought that was absurd. Just calling your ketchup America’s favorite. Maybe they had the stats to back it up, but how would anyone know? So I decided to write America’s favorite poem. How would anyone know it wasn’t? I was thinking a lot about consumerism at the time and wrote a poem about all the shopping being done in Houston and beyond and called it “America’s Favorite Poem.” I published it, then didn’t like it anymore, so I kept it out of my first book. It may have been America’s favorite, but it wasn’t mine.  Later I wrote another poem about shopping in Target and becoming obsessed with brands almost against my will as I flipped through magazines like GQ. I was searching for a title–and thought, Fuck it, why not call this “America’s Favorite Poem” too? It’s not like anyone read the first one. Even though it was published–and America’s favorite! The new poem is also not my favorite, though it did make the second book–and became the title poem. Now, of course, I have to write America’s Worst Poem. Some people may already think the two America’s Favorite Poems are already America’s Worst Poems. All I know is I’m always introduced now as the “author of America’s Favorite Poem” and can take that shit to my grave (i.e. on my tombstone).

Bruce, of course, has always been a huge fan of my work.

Vouched: I really like that it all started with a bottle of ketchup. What’s your favorite condiment?

Salsa. Or barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce seems to go well with everything. Salsa not so much.

Vouched:  Any specific kind of BBQ?

I guess Kansas City style? Or St. Louis style? Missouri style? Texas style, too. Perhaps because I did all my graduate work in Texas and Missouri. I wrote poems and ate a lot of barbecue. Poems, too, taste better with barbecue sauce.

Vouched: I eat a lot of BBQ when I’m writing too! Was it The Phantom Tollbooth where they eat word sandwiches or something like that? If your poetry were a sandwich, would it be BBQ or something else?

I actually have a poem in my first book called “I’m Charlie Tuna” that details my sad obsession with–or overreliance on–a particular lunch plate while living in Missouri: tuna salad sandwich, barbecue chips, pickle. So I guess I’d have to say that my poetry would be a tuna salad sandwich with a side of barbecue chips. And a pickle. Or to put it another way, my poetry is written with fingers covered in “barbecue pollen.”

Vouched: Why are BBQ chips so great? I mean – they’re REALLY great. Oh, and not to change the subject, but who’s your all-time favorite athlete ?

I don’t know, but as most athletes like to do at the start of post-game interviews, unlike almost all poets, I’d just like to thank God at this moment for BBQ chips, because clearly all the credit goes to him.

My all-time favorite athlete is a difficult question because there have been many favorites–and many of those have gone on to become enemies when they left one of my Cleveland teams through free agency. Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez were my favorite players on consecutive Cleveland Indians’ teams from 1994-96 (Belle) and 97-2000 (Ramirez), but I hated both of them after they left Cleveland for more $$$$. (Manny a little less so, because he was, after all, Manny.) LeBron James is an interesting case because he was by far my favorite Cleveland athlete while he was with the Cavs the first time around, then quickly become my most hated athlete of all time after The Decision, and now he’s quickly become one of my favorites again after The Letter and The Return. Perhaps if he leads us to a title this year he will be my favorite of all time. But I don’t know if my love for LeBron will ever be quite the same again after our initial breakup.

My favorite Indians’ player right now is Michael Brantley, simply because of how he plays the game: always calm, in control, clutch. Just seems effortless. And he’s got this swag to his step, real style to his movement. He’s also got the best game glare I’ve ever seen from an Indians’ player, even better than Belle’s famous snarl.

But my favorite Indians’ player of all time is Victor Martinez, who played catcher for us from 2002-09. I like Brantley because he reminds me so much of Victor: our best clutch hitter, our most consistent hitter, just a joy to watch play on a daily basis. Victor had this great way of clapping his hands together in an upward stroke (as if he were high-fiving himself) as he popped up from a slide into second base after an RBI double. And he loved the Indians, crying when they traded him to the Red Sox. I will never forgive the Indians for trading Victor to the Red Sox. We got Justin Masterson in return, who for a while was our ace and made that deal look respectable, even necessary; but now that Masterson has gone from being our ace to sucking so much that we had to trade him, the Victor deal looks even worse, especially because every time he’s faced us in a Tigers’ uniform the last few years he’s deposited a back-breaking three-run homer somewhere. I know my love for Victor is everlasting because I never hate him, even when he’s killing us with those three-run homers. I just get angry at the Indians’ front office.

My hope, now that LeBron has given Cleveland one miracle through his return, is that Victor will somehow sign a four-year deal with the Indians for like $20 (pretty much the max they can offer him) and take us to the World Series. Because I’m pretty sure if we can sign just one hitter like Victor this off-season we’ll go all the way next year with our badass starting front four of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. Our #5 starter, T. J. House, is no slouch either. I’ll just keep dreaming here while you ask me your next question.

Vouched: I mean, that is pretty much a dream team. If that miraculous turn of events were to happen, how much do you think you’d spend in tickets during the season? Be honest.

Well, seeing as how I don’t live in Cleveland anymore, probably not that much. But if the team looked World Series–bound, I’d go home to watch as many games as I could during the summer. And if the team were on the cusp of winning the World Series at home, I’d pay pretty much whatever price to be there. Like, up to $500 for a ticket, probably. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and when you’re talking about Cleveland, that “lifetime” is longer than most.

Vouched: What are you most excited about for the Letters Festival?

Meeting writers I haven’t met before and hearing them read, and reading with peeps from my own hood like the badass Morgan Parker. Always a pleasure to be invited to read in another city–especially when you get flown out and put up in a hotel room!

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: A Bad Penny Review

13 Oct

This past weekend I had the joy of reading in Athens with some folks at one of my top-five all-time favorite bookstores: Avid Bookshop. Janet Geddis and her team do a really wonderful job of carrying a varied and wallet-emptying selection of tomes. Mainstream stuff, graphic novels and oodles of small press and poetry titles. It’s here that I finally came across a copy of A Bad Penny Review, which also hails from Athens and is a total beauty to behold. The anthology is printed by Double Dutch Press, who does a really wonderful job on all-things-aesthetic: the type layout, print quality, paper choice and ink are all gorgeous. And since the collection itself is unbound, I have every intention of framing every page and displaying them proudly about my home – because these works aren’t just good literature, they’re art. I snapped this picture when I was reading and drinking my morning coffee on the front porch of our AirBNB – the makings of a completely dreamy morning. A Bad Penny Review

This piece was done by Claire Stephens and really made me swoon. The pacing of the whole thing is brilliant too – this specific piece was quickly followed by some pretty lustful counterpoints by Terri Witek, and the stark contrast in tone between them was provocative and jarring. Also of note? A diagram sentence poem by Amanda Dorsett titled, Sex Dream With Five Words, that tugged at my grammar-loving heart just as much as it did my love-loving heart. The whole thing is mesmerizing, I don’t want to rob you of the thrill of actually reading it yourself by giving you a blow-by-blow account. Just know that if you see a copy of A Bad Penny Review on a bookstore, you should go ahead and do yourself a favor and buy it. You won’t be disappointed.

Single Sentence Review: The Book of Joshua

12 Sep

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The Book of Joshua
Zachary Schomburg
Black Ocean 
128 p // $19.95

This is a journey without a departure, which makes it endless – an expedition through the space between grief and trauma, an unwieldy terrain that aching with hunger.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Sprezzatura

10 Sep

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Sprezzatura
Mike Young
Publishing Genius 
132 pp // $14.95

 

Mike Young doesn’t fuck around – but does he? This collection will make you pause and think things like “Wow, it’s great to be alive” but also it will make you think, “I wonder what the weather’s like in Switzerland right now?” What I’m saying is that you’ve got to follow the thread, follow Mike Young. The thread is a colorful thing that’s all tangled and strung in odd, unexpected ways. If it gets dark – don’t worry! – it’ll lighten up soon. If it’s too bright just shade your eyes and squint a little. It’ll all even out soon enough.

 

 

 

Single Sentence Review: Bangalore

9 Sep

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Bangalore
Kerry James Evans
Copper Canyon Press
96 pages / $16

Not every soldier goes to war, but these are stories of battle just the same.

Single Sentence Review: The Way We Sleep

7 Sep

Front Cover - 5.21.12

The Way We Sleep
Edited by C. James Bye and Jessa Bye
Curbside Splendor
220p/$14.95

Whether we are nestled or sprawled, heavily cushioned or atop a hardwood floor – these slumber stories occupy the most intimate of spaces: just as much the pillow made by the crook of a heavy arm a the endless expanse of our technicolor dreams.

 

Uterus Poems by Jessica Dyer

22 Jun

Uterus Poems (The New Megaphone, 2014) is a chapbook you’ll happily read in one sitting. A series of blocky prose poems, Dyer casts her uterus as something different on each page. Here it’s a toolbox, there it’s a bread machine, now it’s “as dirty as a Ron Jeremy porno.” Sometimes it’s a rare gem; at others, it’s a rancid dump. In exploring all the roles and identities of her uterus, Dyer lays out how it feels to be a woman, a human. That’s how I read it, and while such a tactic may be rather obvious, I don’t care. Women feel pressure from so many outlets to be a certain way that a response as funny and straightforward as this is necessary.

One poem features Dyer’s uterus as “a mine where dirty men dig out crags–those poky things where I cultivate all my crystal pretties.” The rest of the poem gives the reader rose quartz, pyrite, agate–beautiful gemstones–but the end of the poem whispers of something less aesthetically beautiful: “Deep in my mine there is coal. It keeps me going.” You can certainly read this to mean Dyer needs to call on something darker and deeper than superficial gemstone beauty to get through the day. Men mine women for beauty, and when their beauty is gone, what’s left? What else can society wring from them?

Dyer isn’t hopeless. That’s important to say. Even if in one poem she unkindly characterizes her uterus as being smart as a box of rocks–which is to say, not at all–there are other poems where her uterus “is on fire…It’s basically the center of the universe…it’s the power and the glory.” Instead of usually sappy exhortations or pieces of artwork that encourage women to see their sex as nothing but precious, fragile, and beautiful, Dyer focuses on the diversity of women, on the multiple identities women can take on and inhabit. Today, the uterus feels lame and embarrassing, but tomorrow, the uterus will feel powerful. And maybe on Saturday, it won’t feel like much at all, actually, but thanks for asking. Dyer accomplishes all of this with humor and honesty. In one poem, her uterus has gone viral and racked up a ton of followers on social media. In another poem, her uterus abstains from attending its high school reunion, because who really likes reunions anyway, geez?

The uterus may be the organ where fetuses grow, where uterine lining turns to blood, where fertilization can happen, but Dyer uses the uterus–her uterus–as shorthand for much more. Her uterus is a repository for memories, feelings, triumphs, and disappointments. She claims ownership of her body with short, humorous sentences that demonstrate how well she knows her uterus, her life. Her uterus is uniquely hers.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Dear Corporation

7 May

 

Adam Fell’s second collection, Dear Corporation (H_NGM_N Books, 2013), is written to the gods of the twenty first  century, those entities capable of bending the course of history that are simultaneously indifferent to the lives of people who will live through it. Fell’s epistles are survey responses given as manifestos, comment cards in the form of maltov cocktails.

Fell’s Dear Corporation is a call to riot. It screams in the face of welling indifference and easy neo-liberalism that characterizes the opening of our new millennium. He writes:

Politicians never counted on us. Wall Street never counted on us. The cadaverous yuppies and their screaming vegan babies never counted on us. Investment bankers swear they keep finding our faces burned into their zeroes and ones like belligerent, binary Marys. They feel our fingers down the throats of their housing bubbles, our teeth foreclosing on the napes of their uninsured necks. To put it more delicately: I want you to fuck the fiscal responsibility out of me. I want you to fuck me until universal health care. We are the only thing that is too big to fail, so put down the briefcase and come skin the rabbit with me.  (22)

Fell wants to stain the immaculate corporate surfaces over which we crawl like ants looking for spilled Coke. He strips out the eggshell-painted drywall, pulls up the laminate flooring made to look like real wood grain to show us the chaos a corporation is trying to cover with its flattening of human experience. Fell states:

[S]o let me get my wolf cub teeth right into the deer heart of our matter: there is a brimming and braveness and feral intelligence to you that I’m taken with. Where I suspect a wilderness may be, a wilderness usually is, and I can’t help but explore. My dear Corporation, you are the PJ Harvey of the investment banking world, the Margaret Atwood of subprime mortgage lenders. You say you are unfamiliar with the taste of man, but I know a dive bar in Red Hook that proves you a liar.  (54)

Fell uses the corporation to represent everything that isn’t corporeal. Just as the word no longer contains the human body, the corporation Fell addresses is one that has moved past the human experience, and the letters Fell writes could be as easily addressed to Target as the US government.

In Dear Corporation Fell wants to anchor humanity in people instead of the illusory capital, both economic and cultural, held in corporations. Fell writes:

Adam and Eve with the apple unbit never had to un-coin their eyes to imbalance, inequity, the ingenuity and ignorance and incessant allure of the world. To wake in the dark of the woods and realize we have been created at all is to realize we have not always been, that we will not always be. We are not born to stake a claim, but to claim a stake in each other, to burn alive if needed in the pure resurrection of our simultaneous decay. (27)

Fell locates himself with people. Fell is like a human submarine sending out waves of noise in the hopes of having someone give him a signal as to where he is. Ultimately, Dear Corporation is a letter asking us to write back.

And that’s what I found so successful about this book, it’s willingness to be human, to say anything to get us to connect with it as a human document. Dear Corporation is prosaic. It digresses. It writes vaguely inappropriate postcards. It sings with the radio when it’s drunk. It may, at times, lack artifice, but never art.