copper canyon press

Most Read Reviews @ North of Oxford 2022

Just in time for holiday shopping! Most read reviews as determined by the readership of North of Oxford

cas reports

Casualty Reports by Martha Collins

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/10/01/casualty-reports-by-martha-collins/

book cover

All the Songs We Sing – Edited by Lenard D. Moore

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/04/01/all-the-songs-we-sing-edited-by-lenard-d-moore/

Poetics-of-the-Press-GIANT-2-671x1024

A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers edited by Kyle Schlesinger

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/05/01/a-poetics-of-the-press-interviews-with-poets-printers-publishers-edited-by-kyle-schlesinger/

smoking

Smoking the Bible by Chris Abani

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/04/01/smoking-the-bible-by-chris-abani/

diseno de tapa echavarren paperback

Contra natura by Rodolfo Hinostroza Translated by Anthony Seidman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/02/01/contra-natura-by-rodolfo-hinostroza-translated-by-anthony-seidman/

varieties

The Flash Fiction of Lydia Davis

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/03/01/the-flash-fiction-of-lydia-davis/

upright

The Upright Dog by Carl Fuerst

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/06/01/the-upright-dog-by-carl-fuerst/

punks

Punks: New & Selected Poems by John Keene

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/03/01/punks-new-selected-poems-by-john-keene/

World's Lightest Motorcycle

The World’s Lightest Motorcycle by Yi Won, Translated from Korean by E. J. Koh and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/02/01/the-worlds-lightest-motorcycle-by-yi-won-translated-from-korean-by-e-j-koh-and-marci-calabretta-cancio-bello/

GETTING

getting away with everything by Vincent Cellucci and Christopher Shipman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/03/01/getting-away-with-everything-by-vincent-cellucci-and-christopher-shipman/

along

Along the Way by Scott Pariseau

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/11/01/along-the-way-by-scott-pariseau/

a feeling

A Feeling Called Heaven by Joey Yearous-Algozin

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/01/01/a-feeling-called-heaven-by-joey-yearous-algozin/

pool

Poolside at the Dearborn Inn by Cal Freeman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/10/01/poolside-at-the-dearborn-inn-by-cal-freeman/

nosta

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me by John Weir

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/05/01/your-nostalgia-is-killing-me-by-john-weir/

bar

The Bar at Twilight by Frederic Tuten

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/11/01/the-bar-at-twilight-by-frederic-tuten/

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Event Horizon  by Cate Marvin

event
By Lynette G. Esposito
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Event Horizon by Cate Marvin, published by Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, Washington, May 2022) is ninety pages of long, sometimes prose-like poems that deal with universal subjects such as relationships, memories and life problems.
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Rendezvous with Ghost on page eleven explores the possible sensual relationship with a ghost in an historic hotel filled with memories.
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Did it transpire to rise from beneath the floorboards?
Did it escape into the room through a heating vent?
Suddenly, my head palpable as an apple, felt its eyes.
The folding chairs woven into the room by their rows.
The shining caps of knees bent that belong to bodies
that sat with ears attentive as rabbits struck midfield
by a passing motor…
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The eerie scene is set.  The poem consists of twenty-six lines in a one-stanza form presented visibly like a newspaper column.  The narrator’s voice erupts in the last line in italics: But I love him, I love him, I love him.  All is made clear in this imaginative love story.
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Marvin’s poem Blue on pages forty-seven and forty-eight is dedicated to Adam Zagajewski (1945–2021)
and explores grief with the memory of shared observances in nature.
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I really like that joe-eyed weed.
Pictures of pretty pink wildflowers
can hinder sorrow for a second,
by the idea of filling my yard with
the distraction of blossoms whose
colors turn on like a hundred radio
stations all at once.  The problem
with plants for me is all the names I can’t remember….
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Marvin skillfully equates flowers, colors and one’s own yard to the alleviation of grief which she gives a time frame to—a second.  The reader can feel the loss through the carefully selected images of things a person wish they did, the lack of remembering things, and the wondering about where one was when death came for the loved one. All work extremely well partly because they are common to all of us.
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The poem has six stanzas all composed of nine lines.  This reminds me of Sylvia Plath who often used form to suggest a message.  I particularly like this.
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In the poem, My Mother Hangs Up, on pages eighty-four, eighty-five and eighty-six, is presented
in couplets mimicking the back- and -forth conversation between a daughter and a mother on the phone and the masks a daughter wears for her mother’s sake.
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I can feel my mind panting.
She asks me to save the program.
I almost convinced her to fly
to New York to see the performance
with me but her knee is stiff
and she can’t manage stairs.
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The daughter persuades, the mother resists. The poem continues in this venue.  Marvin sets up scenarios of her past, her mother’s reactions and the ultimate concern that her mother thinks she knows her.  It is a fine example of two people in a complicated relationship, a mother and a daughter,
who understand each other but not in the way they think they do.  Mother love does that.  Daughter love does that, and Marvin hits the target on this.
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  Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

Content Warning: Everything by Akwaeke Emezi

content

By Greg Bem

Akwaeke Emezi’s Content Warning: Everything is both deceptive and illuminating. It begins with the appearance of a typical poetry collection but grows through its breadth into so much more. Unfolding like a quilt, the book’s patterns and stories develop with each new layer, each new title, each new line, each new image. That does not make it an easy book or necessarily an enjoyable book, as its title might suggest, but it one of surprise and utter engagement.

Many of the poems investigate the horror and trauma of human experience across gender, race, family, and religious history. The poems contribute to a milieu of both pain and catharsis, often with intense and intricate images serving as foundational markers intellectually jaw-dropping and capable of carrying awe within the otherwise morose silences. The breath and its absence is amazingly intricate in all of the poems. Form occupies attention throughout the book, with the anticipated short length of the collection (39 poems) expanding in size like an accordion through dense poems that can be read in multiple ways. The effect of subtle and effective innovations in structure leave us with questions and the urge to dive deeper.

Emezi’s stanzas often make use of splicing by way of the forward slash (“/”), affording the reader with an outstanding degree of complexity that makes a single read of the poem barely an introduction to its fullness. I was particularly affected structurally by the poem “Self-Portrait as an Abuser,” which takes the form in question and duplicates it into two columns. The poem is like two voices speaking to one another, or two cameras positioned away from one another, documenting multiple spaces on conjunction. The power of such an approach is that additional interpretations and readings are both imperative and guaranteed.

A favorite sequence in the aforementioned poem pairs the following, difficult to display here and worth viewing in its original visualization within the book:

she trusted me / i am fresh water /
dark instinct / against abandoning /
i choose when it’s over / i have to choose
she won’t release you / while you’re useful
you’re so useful / my love, i remember /
what it was like / how easy it is

(page 41)

Emezi’s works are halting. Their works are often electrifyingly photographic and deal with the exquisite nature of combining multiple perspectives, images and internal reflections, often starting in one position and actively moving through a scene or snapshot of an experience to a new position. The active movement of the image in this way vibrates with energy and only adds to the curious captivation of the line. Poems like “What if My Father Called Jesus a Bastard” exemplify this method:

he looks at me with those eyes / they scared my mother / almost as much as the
dead bird beating / its wings under his hand

(page 38)

As the title of this poem suggests, the book as a whole connects the poet’s life experiences to biblical themes, stories, and characters. While not overtly critical of Christianity, biblical motifs and their implications are deconstructed through a complex lens bringing together both the poet’s experiences and feelings. Often these come through the speaker’s voice in the context of religious structures and literary relationships. “Christening” opens with priests who “spat” the speaker’s name back and closes with a self-affirming embodiment: “but my throat is a river / full of the holiest water” (page 5). Juxtapositions like this are both helpful and quizzical. In other poems, Emezi’s poetry displaces the speaker’s point of view with a more abstract voice. For example, in “Healing,” Christ is examined through exaggerated and enveloping language:

the son of god says / imagine your chest as a soapy bubble / your collarbone as
a landscape / a horizon stretching [. . .]

(page 26)

The movement between the characterization of the speaker(s) within the book is yet another quality of the complexities the poet brings to the table. Each poem is stunning, and often feels uproarious immediately upon its completion, demanding another read, another look, a step or two back or to the side, to second guess, question, and feel. Occasionally this process carries additional mesmerizing effects when their writing is even more astounding. In “Scraps,” a poem that references Toni Morrison and Freddie Gray in nearly the same breath, the speaker’s lines close with a figurative ellipses indicative of our irresolute world:

there is a story somewhere here,
lost in blood and ash. i don’t have
enough air to dig it out.

(page 23)

The book’s title directly implies the traumatic difficulties faced by those under systemic oppression both past and present. Emezi writes through multiple lineages and of multiple identities, which further solidifies this book as a must-read for anyone who cares about the crossroads of poetics and social justice. The poetry blends difficult subjects into the fold, often flipping the pace of the book through an embedded presence of racism, gender oppression, and sexual violence. The appearance of “everything” is not formulaic; it often reflects reality in that it is both sporadic and universal in appearance and tone, and the poetry reflects the persistence of violence and horror in a matter-of-fact way, again reflective of the systemic reality so many face.

And the book foils horror with hope. “Salvation” opens with some of my favorite lines from the book:

i believe in new skins, even nightmares
can be maps, the space between existence
and function, between performance and effect

(page 42)

“Salvation” in my mind is not a poem of absolution as much as it is possibility, the possibility of individuality and the possibility of process. It is one of critical existence, just as all the poems speak to the possibility for growth; illumination as a result of difficulty and complexity. Like an awakening, the newness that arrives with the beginning and end, and the rereading, of each poem affords not only new experiences but new possibilities. It is an outlook of the perpetual and exponential, with roots of autonomy and self-control.

Content Warning: Everything arrives to the world as books are continued to be banned, Black folks are continued to be murdered, and the world continues to deny Trans people their presence and livelihood. It is a book that confronts these brutal circumstances while also offering the reader a glimpse into Emezi’s unique experiences (and storytelling) by way of diverse, rapidly-shifting points of view in accelerated sequences of events. It is a book you must read but it is a book you should read, and it is a book we can all benefit from reading more than once.

You can find the book here: https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/books/content-warning-everything-by-akwaeke-emezi/

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.

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Smoking the Bible by Chris Abani

smoking
By Charles Rammelkamp
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Chris Abani’s Smoking the Bible is a long letter to his brother, dead from cancer, full of sadness, grief, melancholy, but also a strange kind of nostalgia and a groping toward forgiveness, a resolution of grief that can never come. The poems are written on a train ride through the American Midwest, the train itself a metaphor for so many journeys.
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The title refers to a memory, growing up in Nigeria with his older brother, using pages from their often violent father’s Bible to roll cigarettes. As he writes in the poem, “Leather,” which begins with the observation, “The Bible is heavy with vengeance”:
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 And so we smoked Father’s Bible.
 Page by torn page folded into the origami
 of an adolescent rebellion.
 All these pages inhaled,
 the holy evocative power of words and we
 remained silly children bound by our fears.
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Indeed, Smoking the Bible is full of ghosts, which necessarily refer to a profound past that lives on in the present, and which introduce God into the equation, that Ultimate Ghost. In the poem “The Ghost Speaks” he writes:
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You tear Psalm 23 from Father’s leather-bound Bible,
roll it. Silently I recite, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not –
You consider the roll and with the match and flame
already licking the edge of the paper, you ask if I think
God remembers my name.
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Abani is no stranger to political oppression. He spent six months in prison at a tender age for writing a political thriller, Masters of the Board, on suspicion of having helped organize a coup. The plot of his novel resembled what actually occurred in Nigeria. His brother, like Chris, was also a political refugee. From the very first poem, “Flay,” addressed directly to his brother, we understand this. “Migrant,” he writes,
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 punished by spice and the scent of cooking,
 you wake up on a cold day in another country
 and put your faith in hot rice and braised goat,
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and the persistent aftertaste of a lost home.
Gospels are made of less than this.
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So the train metaphor becomes even more pointed – flight, escape. As he observes in “Ritual Is Journey,” “To be a man, to be black, to be a black man, / is a dangerous journey.”  In “What Is Traveled, What Is Fragile,” while winding up a mountainside in America, on the train, Abani writes, “The first lie they tell you
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is the lie of immigrants. The truth
is America is a nation of refugees
of trauma, displacement, and fanatical hope.
When we say immigrants we mean
I left home but I have nowhere to arrive to.
When they say immigrant they mean
an anxiety that leads to murder, erasure—
of indigenous, black, brown and other bodies stamped
into bedrock, into foundation, into sacrifice, deleted.
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And later in the poem,
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Grief is the beast we must all ride,
for the sublime yields only after the grotesque
has been traveled with grace: a living.
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“Jordan Is No Mere River” is addressed to God. It starts “I don’t know how to work out this loss with you, O God,” meaning his brother’s death. “Here in the Midwest, winter haunts everything.” And later in the poem:
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Now death feels familiar as my palm on your brow.
We are citizens of displacement, never
recognized for who we are. Never
from where we travel to.
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Moreover, his mother, a white British woman, represents the tribe of the colonizers, an inherent tension; his father is violent and abusive. In “Lineage” he writes about his father’s “quiet revenge” against the British, “blow after blow dealt to my mother, / his white English wife.”  While she did try to leave her husband, he writes in “Cameo: The Cut,” “No woman can leave five children like a wayward past. / No road can hold that journey.”
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In “Portal,” Abani spells out the situation that forms the background to this thoughtful sequence of poems, the underpinning urgency with which he addresses his brother:
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I wear my father’s death like a scar.
I wear my brother’s death like a scar.
I wear my mother’s death like a scar.
Not a talisman, but another kind of medicine.
The danger of begging the dead to return
 is that sometimes they do.
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“How to speak of us / without speaking of Father and Mother?” he asks in “Cameo: Broach.” Likewise, in “Rain” he asserts that “our father’s violence” has bound them as brothers. “How to Write a Love Letter to Your Brother,” which begins in “A train station silent but for the hum of tracks,” includes the lines:
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When father stepped to you, just before
the first blow landed, I heard you
begging, negotiating, pleading
that began as words became a keening.
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How overwhelming! The futility of grief, though inevitable, dominates the landscape. In “Offertory” he writes, “Though we know grief cannot raise the dead,  / we speak the spells nonetheless.” Similarly, “Fragrance” begins “Sometimes grief is acceptance / that love has always been inadequate.”
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I think of that endless summer of fragrance –
smoke from burning Bible pages….
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The final handful of poems in this powerful collection, from “Scythe” (“I watched your tense quarrel with death”) and “Vigil” (“My brother’s jaw slackens in death,  / mouth falling open, slides to one side.”) through “Mbubu,” “Crossing,” “The Familiar Is a Texture We Cannot Trust,” and the last poem, “The Calculus of Faith,” focus precisely on his brother’s death. This inevitably brings up the theme of religious belief and meaning. “The Calculus of Faith” begins, “In the end I realize / every human body is a scripture,” and later goes on:
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The second miracle was an onionskin sheet
of paper torn from a King James Bible
filled with oregano and thyme and smoked.
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Smoking the Bible is a powerful, elegiac collection, eloquent with grief and forgiveness.

You can find the book here: Smoking the Bible

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

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Come-Hither Honeycomb by Erin Belieu

come
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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“If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time // to die,” Erin Belieu writes in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease,” one of the fifteen poems that make up her remarkable new collection, Come-Hither Honeycomb. It’s this ironic tone of dubious hope that characterizes much of the book; or, as the title of one the poems about the fragility of life puts it: “Dum Spiro Spero” (“While I breathe, I hope”).”
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As in her previous collection, Slant Six, Belieu kicks her observations of the everyday up to a higher metaphysical gear, muses about the deeper truths of existence.  The poem, “The Man Who Fills in Space,” about a clueless collector of things, is reminiscent of the Mister Jones character in Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” or John Lennon’s “Nowhere Man.” The poem begins with an epigraph from Guy de Maupassant. “…and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains?” She writes:
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But when he pokes the canker
of that great, blank whatever
he never hopes to find, he swears
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he hears it laugh, the terrible what
of what is not. It yawns
right back at him.
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There’s a kind of existential dread at work here. What are we doing here? Why are we alive? (You know something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?) The man who fills in space contemplates the sadness of the moon. It’s his loneliness, too. This theme of ungraspable purpose recurs again and again; in the poem, “In Which a Therapist Asks for the Gargoyle Who Sits on My Chest.” With subtle humor, Belieu writes, “It’s exhausting,
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how the whole’s designed to scrub
our greasy pan of sorrows to
a gleam in which we’ve actually paid
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to see ourselves. Caveat emptor?
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Buyer beware, indeed! Later in the poem she observes:
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Maybe it’s enough to recognize
ourselves unsolvable, half trash,
half glitter bomb, dropped along
the trench by dying stars.
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The French say, who can say?
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The epigraph to Come Hither Honeycomb, a quotation from Paraic O’Donnell’s The Maker of Swans, expresses this same sense of the elusiveness of ultimate certainty. The villanelle that opens the collection, “Instructions for the Hostage,” likewise suggests this uncertainty at the base of our lives:
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You must accept the door is never shut.
You’re always free to leave at any time,
though the hostage will remain, no matter what.
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Escape is always an option, but – there really is no escape. We’re all hostage to time. Belieu makes this very personal, contemplating her age, as if calculating how much time she has left. Dedicated to her son (“Always”), she seems to gauge her own time in relation to him; as he grows up, she grows older; there’s an almost palpable awareness of the passage of time, as in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near.”  The poem, “As for the Heart,” begins:
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I am come to the age
of pondering my lastness:
buying what seems likely
my final winter coat at Macy’s,
or when a glossy magazine
(so very blithely)
asks me to renew…
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This awareness of the fleeting, finite nature of time is especially at work in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease.” There’s nothing like being under scrutiny in a doctor’s office to reduce you to your mortality, after all, just another piece of meat. The poem begins:
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Science in its tedium reveals that every spirit
we spirit ganks a solid half hour from
our life spans. So says my doctor, a watery,
Jesus-eyed man, and hard to suffer
with his well-intended scrips for yoga
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Later in “As for the Heart,” contemplating maturity, she writes,
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Just yesterday,
while standing in the kitchen,
my son complained nonstop
about his AP psych class
while wolfing warmed up
bucatini from a crazed,
pink china bowl.
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Shiny, kvetching creature.
Even if I could tell him
what he doesn’t want to know,
I wouldn’t.
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It’s tempting to think Belieu has her son in mind when she writes the poem, “When I Am a Teenage Boy,” with its lovely opening lines:
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I am like my parents’ house, in a state
of constant remodel we can ill afford,
the noise behind a tarp producing little more
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than dust.
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Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken / of the soul… she quotes Longfellow to her doctor in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease.”
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What are we, ever? Always becoming. Until we aren’t. In “Loser Bait,” from which the collection’s title comes, Belieu writes
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Some of us
are chum.
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Some of us
are the come-hither
honeycomb
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gleamy in the middle
of the trap’s busted smile.
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Maybe the best we can hope for, indeed, is “If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time // to die.”  Carpe diem, dude!
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Erin Belieu’s poetry is vivid and original. In the final poem, “She Returns to the Water,” a naked woman, now past her youth, swims naked in a pool at three a.m. Belieu describes her dive like this:
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the arc of her
trajectory pretty
as any arrow’s
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in Saint Sebastian’s
side.
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What a simile! Gobsmacking. Erin Belieu’s poetry is a delight to read, for its wit as well as its wisdom.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

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Red Rover Red Rover by Bob Hicok

red rover
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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One thing you notice about Bob Hicok’s poems is that so many of them have no stanza breaks, and when they do it seems a little arbitrary anyway since every one of them is a stream of consciousness, developing its own logic, as if the poet is thinking out loud.  Indeed, in an interview several years ago with Split Lip magazine, Hicok said, “I don’t really know where my poems are going; I almost never know where they’re going.” He goes on, “I wish in a lot of ways that I could plan poems out. A lot of people talk about walking around and they’re writing as they’re walking around, or they’ll build a sense of a poem over a period of time. And for me it’s so much about just sitting down and seeing what shows up. The first thing that shows up that has energy and catches my attention—I just start following where it’s going.”
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Take a poem in his new collection called “A lament, pep talk and challenge walk into a bar.” It begins
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Banjo. Zither. Carnegie Hall. The Four Tops and Seasons.
Greek chorus, Music of the spheres and triangles
and dodecahedrons.  The Kinks. The Mozarts
and Fats Waller and Puentes.  The Butthole Surfers.
My office is bigger and more flexible than my heart
and this is a weird way to critique my heart….
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And he’s off, musing about what it means to be a good person, helping others (“and do unto others goes from words / dropped in the suggestion box to law.”), the futility of good intentions, of wanting selflessly to bring clans and tribes together. And then, “It’s no accident I began”.
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this meandering with music: no two species
could come from more distant planets
than a Steinway and a sax,
yet listen to how well they get along
when they put their mouths where their fears are,
when they lend us our better-tuned selves.
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No accident that Hicok describes his verse as “meandering,” and yet it coheres in a heartfelt message. “Don’t just have but be a soul,” the poem concludes.In that same interview with Split Lip, Hicok laments, “One of the things that I am uncomfortable with as of late is that some people are looking at me as a funny poet, and I think that can pretty much be the death of a career.” Indeed, the title of the poem just quoted takes the form of the classic joke about three different characters walking into a bar, but there’s obviously a serious moral consideration at its heart.
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Make no mistake, Hicok can make you smile with his versatility with words. He is funny! In “Pedagogy,” a 55-line poem with no stanza breaks, he and another person are passing notes, “the most private genre after the shopping list.” You have to smile at such an observation. And later in the poem, “I try to make the word / ‘theater’ out of ‘hate her’ but need another t / and one less h.” But Hicok goes beyond “funny.” “If you make a joke,” he notes in the interview, “it usually stops the conversation, and that’s not my intention at all.”
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Indeed, so many of Hicok’s poems in Red Rover Red Rover concern themselves with how we humans are wrecking the planet.  It doesn’t get much more urgent than that. Poems like “On the Rocks” and “Weather Report” and “On the Other Hand,” which takes Greta Thunberg as its subject, directly confront climate change and human responsibility.
“Having our cake and being eaten by it too” addresses the thoughtless human greed at the core of this, as does “After you, or what would Whitman, Emerson, or Merwin do?” (The title is a jokey play on “What would Jesus do?”). This poem begins, “It’s not too late / to schlep water in a bucket to your sink.” It goes on with example after example of how the human urge for convenience has wrecked the ecosphere. It concludes,
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On the count of three, never use
electricity again. One, two, two
two, two, two
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This, too is funny, right? But of course it’s serious. And heartrending. Oy. How are we going to get out of this mess? “Looking in the mirror” has the same message. It’s a poem about the Amazon burning because Brazil is clearing the forest for cattle, because cattle provide beef for hamburgers, and so many of us love our Big Macs and Whoppers. If each one of us just stopped ordering cheeseburgers,
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the closer we are to being able to breathe
tomorrow and more importantly the day after
the day after the day after
the ten thousand years after that.
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While not prescribing a solution to the world’s problems, Red Rover Red Rover includes several poems about the Tao, the Way, living in harmony with the natural world. Indeed, the book’s title, itself a kind of joke as it plays on the simple childhood playground game, comes from the ten-page poem in the center of the volume, “My Tao”: “red rover, red rover, send good or evil over.”
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But Bob Hicok is just thinking out loud, not really suggesting or commending any social policy changes, not really. These poems are entertaining, first of all – yes, often “funny” – but they are challenging and thought-provoking at the same time.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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Obit by Victoria Chang

obit
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Written in the slender, right-justified form of newspaper columns, so familiar to readers of obituaries, these poems are no less lyrical for their journalistic form. Two events inform these poems.  “My Father’s Frontal Lobe,” the first poem, begins:
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My   Father’s   Frontal  Lobe  –     died
unpeacefully  of  a  stroke  on June 24,
2009 at Scripps Memorial Hospital in
San Diego, California.
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The second poem, “My Mother,” begins:
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My Mother died unpeacefully  on  August 3, 2015 in her room at Walnut Village Assisted Living in Anaheim, California, of pulmonary fibrosis.
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These two dates, June 24, 2009, and especially August 3, 2015, recur again and again as Chang writes the obituaries for what has been lost – “Victoria Chang” died June 24, 2009: “Because he did / not die but all of his words did.”  In the first poem, “My Father’s Frontal Lobe,” she has written:
.                                                   When the
frontal lobe died, it sucked in its lips like a window pulled  shut.  At the funeral for his words, my father wouldn’t stop   talking, and his love passed through me….
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“Voice Mail,” “The Future,” “Civility” (“Maybe / this is what happens when language / fails, a last breath inward but no breath / outward.”); “Reason” (“My father’s words / taken out of his brain and left downstairs.”), “The Clock” also died on June 24, 2009, the circumstances of their loss and the questions their loss provokes noted in separate obits.
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Things that died August 3, 2015, for which she writes obits, include “My Mother’s Teeth” (“…died twice, once in / 1965, all pulled out from gum disease. / Once again on August 3, 2015.”); “Ambition” (“I buried ambition in / the forest, next to distress.”); “Chair,” “Approval” (“I love so many things I / have never touched: the moon, a shiver, / my mother’s heart.”); “Form,” “Optimism,” “Friendships” (“…died a slow death after / August 3, 2015.”) ; “The Doctors,” “Time,” “The Situation” (“at least part of the situation; my father / was the other situation.”); “The Head,” “Hindsight,” “The Priest,” “Similes” (“There was nothing like death, just / death. Nothing like grief, just grief.”); “Language,” “Clothes” and “The Face.”
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There are plenty of other dates and other things whose passing is noted in their own obits, because the overarching themes in these poems are grief and language and their intricate intersections. “Grief,” indeed, gets its own obit (“Grief – as I knew it, died many times.”).  But there are so many insights into the grieving process throughout these poems.  “…our sadness is plural, but grief is / singular,” she writes in the obit for “Tears.” In one of the several obits for “Victoria Chang” she notes, “When someone / dies, there is a constant feeling of / wanting to speak to someone….”  In the obit for “Oxygen,” she recalls her mother’s difficulty with breathing that the pulmonary fibrosis caused (“I’m not sure / when I began to notice her panic / without the oxygen….”) and reflects:
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Like   grief,  the   way   it  dangles   from
everything like earrings.  The  way   grief
needs oxygen. The way every once in a while   it   catches   the  light   and   starts
smoking. The way my grief will die  with
me.
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Juxtaposed against her obit poems for the death of her mother and the crippling of her father are tankas written about her own motherhood, for her own children. This Japanese five-line form is so appropriate for these brief reflections. Each of these intervals contains two such stanzas. Several of them begin with the line, “I tell my children,” and several others with “My children, children.” The very first of the tanka intervals reads:
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My children, children,
there’s applesauce everywhere,
but it’s not for you.
It is strange to help someone
grow while helping someone die.
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*
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Each time I write hope,
the letters fray and scatter.
The hopeful poets
never seem to have dreams,
never seem to have children.
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Indeed, “hope” is so entangled with “grief” that it’s tough sometimes to distinguish the two. In an obit for “Hope,” which “died on October 15, 2014 when / the FDA approved two drugs, Esbriet / and Ofev for pulmonary fibrosis,” Chang alludes to Emily Dickinson’s famous poem (“Hope is the thing with feathers”) when she writes:
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                    Hope is the wildest bird,
the one that flies so fast it will either
disappear or burst into flames.
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OBIT concludes on a wider angle, as if, as in a movie, the lens widens to include a more expansive vision.  For the final obit is for “America,” which “died on February 14, 2018, / and my dead mother doesn’t know.” That’s the date of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, in which seventeen people, most of them children, were gunned down, and over a dozen others were injured. Though certainly not the last school shooting, in many ways the Parkland shooting marked a change when the children themselves said enough is enough and began to protest the insanity of guns in the United States.  And thus, after so much grief, so much noting of loss after loss after loss, Victoria Chang concludes her collection on a redemptive note, with the final tanka:
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I am ready to
admit I love my children.
To admit this is
to admit that they will die.
Die: no one knows this but words.
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*.
My children, children,
this poem will not end because
I am trying to
end this poem with hope, hope, hope,
see how the mouth stays open?
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –
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Soft Targets by Deborah Landau

soft
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Deborah Landau’s new collection continues themes from her previous book, Uses of the Body, which explores the inevitable decline of our physical selves, the body’s vulnerability, its exposure to pain, while celebrating the creative aspects of our beings, the intimate intertwining of pleasure and death. Like that collection, too, there are only eight titles (seven in Uses of the Body), with many of these poems composed of parts which build upon themselves.
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Unlike the previous collection, these poems add an urgency of political turmoil on top of the individual defenselessness/helplessness, the existential equation. The metaphor of the “soft target” recurs throughout. The first title, “when it comes to this fleshed neck,” begins:
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When it comes to this fleshed neck
even a finger could do it
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even a sharp stick,
a blunt blow, a fall –
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my jugular
there’s a soft target
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What an image, the soft exposed throat; you can see the vein throbbing under the thin skin, practically begging for violation. This poem ends with the vision of a suicide bomber on a subway train.  Everybody is vulnerable.
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The next three poems, multi-part suites, focus on Paris (“there were real officers in the streets”), site of so many terrorist attacks; Frankfurt, Germany, as the Holocaust goes into full swing (“those Nazis, they knew what to do with a soft”), and America (“America wants it soft”).  “Existence is killing us,” she writes in the first, with bitter irony.  Paris, the city of love, romance, Eros. “…in Paris we stayed all night / in a seraphic cocktail haze,” she writes, when one may be at her most exposed, least vigilant, not to say at the same time triumphant in her possibilities.
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Tonight we’re the most tender of soft targets,
pulpy with alcohol and all asloth.
Monsieur, can we get a few more?
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A few pages later:
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I’m a soft target, you’re a soft target,
and the city has a hundred hundred thousand softs;
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the pervious skin, the softness of the face,
the wrist inners, the hips, the lips, the tongue,
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the global body,
its infinite permutable softnesses…
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And indeed, this section of the poem likewise ends with a vision of a terrorist’s arsenal: “The bad news is Kalashnikov assault rifles / submachine guns, pistols, ammunition….”
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Later in this poem come the lines:
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I rolled over and tried to sleep
thinking mostly of self-preservation,
how it makes everything else irrelevant….
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Keep your wits about you! The next poem is exactly about self-preservation, the author’s Jewish grandmother escaping Nazi Germany at the end of the 1930’s.  The poem begins:
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I don’t know
what’s so neo
about neo-nazis
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they seem a lot
like the old
nazis to me
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“Those Nazis, they knew / what to do with a soft” – those lines that make up the title of the piece – “an adagio of soft”: a slow, orchestrated movement, deliberate. Yet she escapes, “when, how, when would she / get to New York, St. Louis, Detroit?
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(the swiftest bike to bike
a frantic Frankfurt, her wits
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the manifold papers
certified stamped correct)

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And then we come to America wants it soft, which is again the current political moment, when “To be female on coronation night was a difficulty. / Her skin under his thumb was a sickhouse was too much.” This sounds so familiar in the Donald Trump era, doesn’t it? Even before the Alabama and Georgia abortion laws. And again, keep your wits about you! Note the escape routes, be familiar with the exit strategy:

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Keep your passport handy, keep cash

keep water and batteries, collect your meds

and loved ones, just in case,

and silence your phone.

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This poem ends with a sort of elegy for our dying democracy:
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The end of America, no one knew how to manage it

but we tried the typical ways of numbing pain –

my daughter painted tiny flowers on her toenails,

I mixed honey and vodka, squeezing in a lime,

and we carried on with our breathing –

my father was still alive, my body kept aging,

the pills helped a little, not a lot.
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The final poems are no less powerful, contemplating the responsibility of giving birth to a child in these times, a daughter no less, while celebrating the creative act (“Such a reckless act, to pop out a human, / with the jaws of the world set to kill.”); and contemplating, too, the sheer inevitability of death, no matter how we try to forestall or circumvent it.
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I’ll antioxidize as best I can
bat away death with berries and flax
but there’s no surviving
this slick merciless world
a bucket of guts we’ll be
full-blown dead
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Deborah Landau’s subtle, mordant wit is evident throughout these passages, as is her lyrical skill with words and sounds (“alcohol and all asloth”; “wrist inners, the hips, the lips”; “the swiftest bike to bike / a frantic Frankfurt, her wits” to cite a few examples).  Soft Targets is relevant and gorgeous at the same time.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –

http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf

Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi

girls
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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My first impression, reading Tishani Doshi’s poems, is what a charming, arch, witty, mischievous writer she is. The imagery can be so violent, so alarming, so depressing, but something about the expression makes you want to snicker.  Take the poem, “Everyone Loves a Dead Girl.” The very title makes you pause.  “Even those people who do nothing,” she writes,
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but make love in the grass all day long. Benevolent people.
Their hearts leap when they hear a story of a dead girl,
and when they tell it to someone (how could they not?)
the telling is a kind of nourishing – all the dormant bits
inside them charge around like Bolshoi dancers re-entering
the world alive, and with wonder.
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Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but giggle a little at the Bolshoi dancers.
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A survey of some of the titles in Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods bolsters my claim. Forget the title poem, there’s also “Ode to Patrick Swayze,” “To My First White Hairs,” “Your Body Language Is Not Indian! or Where I Am Snubbed at a Cocktail Party by a Bharatnatyam Dancer,” “Meeting Elizabeth Bishop in Madras,” and “The View from Inside My Coffin,” to cite only a handful. Doshi is so urbane, so clever, so droll.
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And so educated. The poems sing with references to artists, writers, science and culture. “Jungian Postcard,” for example, is written as if writing a tourist card to the great founder of analytic psychology; she takes on the star-struck tone of someone on vacation.
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Dear Carl, the days here are impossible:
all silence, and the sea. Yesterday we saw
the horizon unstitch itself from the sky
so delicately, and further down the beach,
two stray dogs materialized like lost souls
from a genie’s lamp. I just had to cry.
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Several poems are prefaced with epigraphs from poets like Dean Young, Wole Soyinka  and Wislaw Szymborska. There are Golden Shovels, a form invented by Terrence Hayes, including one called “The Leather of Love,” which is after John Berger, the English poet and art critic.
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“Love in the Time of Autolysis” plays on one of Doshi’s favorite themes, the decay of the  body.  The poem begins so charmingly as a promise to a lover, reminiscent of the Metaphysical poet, Andrew Marvell:
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When you die, Love, I will leave you out
like a Zoroastrian, listen to the hiss
of oxygen withdraw, watch your blood
pool and glister…
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…as your body morphs from man to farm. / It will almost kill me to see the swarms / of blowflies….”  Gross … but funny!
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A native Indian, Doshi lives in Tamil Nadu, India, and her poetry is lush with the atmosphere of the subcontinent. “Summer in Madras,” “Monsoon Poem” (“Let me tell you how little / is written of mud, how it sneaks up / like a sleek-gilled vandal to catch hold / of your ankles.”), “Calcutta Canzone,” “Coastal Life” (“All night the electricity surges and stops, / smothering wires  and fuses, while lizards / plop.”): the poems are artful travelogues in themselves while plundering Doshi’s deeper themes of lust and decay.
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And speaking of travelogues, a number of Doshi’s poems are set in various exotic locations around the world. “The Women of the Shin Yang Park Sauna, Gwangju,” for instance is an amusing poem about sitting in a public bath with strangers who speak a different language. “Hello, I’m naked, the bubble above my head /says, translated into Korean for their benefit.” “Encounters with a Swedish Burglar” is a fantasy of a break-in during “the unbearable brightness of 3 a.m.” (“I think I scared you more – an apparition / in a white nightgown, bolted upright in bed / like that kid from The Exorcist.”). “Understanding My Fate in a Mexican Museum” begins “I met my past and future selves in a museum in Mexico.” She addresses these selves: “In time, // dear past and future selves – in time
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we will resolve our joint concerns. Just leave me
for a moment with these Aztec gods to listen
at the crossroads. I may never hold creation in my skin
but I will always dream it.
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Dreams are a recurring leitmotif, and a number of poems allude to the vulnerability of women in the world. The poem “Disco Biscuits” highlights both of these elements. The poem begins:
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We were talking about the subject of Quaaludes,
of which I know nothing except back in the 70’s,
when I was being born, Bill Cosby slipped them
to a bunch of women.
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She goes on, “most of us have known a man / who arrived like Bill – sleek and proud as a July thunderstorm.”  The memory always comes back, like a dream. “And how it works is a kind of time-warp / that bitch-slaps you when you’re at your innocent best…and suddenly, kablam, I’m seventeen, and everyone has / something to hide…” The poem concludes:
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All our old selves are parading the beach, whispering how
there should be a museum for this kind of installation.
They’re crushing bits of nostalgia in their heels. They grow
photophobic and bendy. They splinter. They shirr.
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Doshi’s skill with rhyme, internal and end-rhymes, is apparent from the foregoing excerpts, graceful as dance (she danced with the Chandralekha troupe for fifteen years). From “The Day Night Died”:
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Stars exposed themselves like pervs.
Forests under duress released
nyctohylophobia from their nerves.
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Tishani Doshi’s poetry is a delight to read. Do yourself a favor.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –
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