Here is the Room I Want to Fill with Birds: An Interview with Caitlin Bailey

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The story of Georg and Grete Trakl is a haunting one — a brother and sister living in the shadow of horrific war, sharing a life in poetry and music, but also sharing disastrous drug and alcohol addictions. They had an extremely close relationship, the extent of which no one firmly knows, but they no doubt cared for and protected each other until their untimely deaths — Georg by overdose and Grete, three years later, by suicide — before either had turned thirty.

It’s a story that Caitlin Bailey powerfully imagines in her debut collection, Solve for Desire (Milkweed Editions, 2017), which she dedicates to Grete. Assuming Grete’s voice through a series of richly textured lyric poems, Bailey explores an all-consuming desire that forever holds its subject captive. In the cold but safe interiors of these poems, persona and the personal are blurred, and history finds expression between individuals seeking each other across unimaginable distances.

Read the interview at Michigan Quarterly Review.

An Autobiography of Captivity: On Shane McRae’s “In the Language of My Captor” in the Boston Review

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Shane McCrae is one of the hardest working poets in America. Not only has his output been prodigious over the past few years, but all of his books have worked, separately and together, to articulate richly nuanced understandings of race and racism as they operate at the crucial intersection of public history and personal experience. His fifth collection, In the Language of My Captor, a finalist for the National Book Award, takes this ongoing project into a new, dramatically realized mode, employing the constituent dramatic elements of scene, voice, and audience.

Read the review at the Boston Review.

Sweetmeats to Cure: Lionel Ziprin’s “Songs for Schizoid Siblings”

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Written in 1958 but given due packaging in a new book from Song Cave, Lionel Ziprin’s Songs for Schizoid Siblings are, at the simplest assessment, a historical oddity. They were even at the time of their composition. But their rhythms and psychological shape should be deeply familiar to most of us. Here is one example:

i had a friend.
i had a friend.
his name was pembrooke pete.

i had a friend.
i had a friend.
till he moved down the street.

Limericks! And songs, nursery rhymes, funny little catalogs, most of which roll out in the meters and rhyme schemes of our childhood. We might think the conceit is ironic, that these are excruciatingly hip — and hip they certainly are — but indulging oneself in these for more than a few minutes and one begins to perceive two distinct qualities to the poems of this three hundred page volume that bring them beyond mere curiosity. First, for as whimsical and wry as these pieces can be, they are also extraordinarily genuine. Second, they evince — both across and within the poems — a sophisticated layering of mystical pursuit, existential inquiry, and historical anxiety. These are, in short, real poems — more real than many.

Read the review at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review, “Lowly,” by Alan Felsenthal

 

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The opening poems of Alan Felsenthal’s Lowly suggest a collection that will fall squarely within a familiar subgenre of contemporary poetry: newly crafted myths, fables, and parables. Taking up classic modes of speech and story-telling, many poems of this subgenre operate according to a fairly defined mechanic, developing tight, logical sequences that utilize inversion, tautology, and other structural maneuvers to arrive at illuminating surprises—often with a bit of jesting. . . . But as we progress we begin to see quickly that Felsenthal is interested in something more complex than the mere crafting of postmodern parables. By the fifth poem, “If You Need a Ride,” it’s clear that we are in a much broader project. . .

Read the review at Newpages

Climbing Lion Rock: An Interview with Wawa and Henry Wei Leung

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Hong Kong poet Wawa writes from an extraordinary intersection. Her poems in Pei Pei the Monkey King, a book set within a city where enormous shopping malls and historic temples stand one next to the other, where pet birds sing from cages in city parks while Umbrella activists protest for universal suffrage, capture an urgent and tumultuous sense of change in a place hurtling toward its future—specifically, 2047, when Hong Kong will be fully absorbed into mainland China. And yet, these poems also serve as an astonishing preservation of childhood imagination, delivering raw fables alive with animal immortals and magical forces, in which caterpillars enter our bodies through our navels and flying trees whisk us away on starry evenings. . .

Read the interview at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review, “The Myth of Water,” by Jeanie Thompson

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To undertake a cycle of poems on the life of Helen Keller is to throw oneself at an interesting poetic problem: how to capture the perspective of one who lived in a wholly different perceptual world than most other people. To be sure, there are plenty of fine collections on the experiences of disability—Nick Flynn’s startlingly original Blind Huber comes to mind—but Helen Keller is a singular historical figure who, in our cultural imagination, bears a particular burden as the standout radical subject who, as if through magic, was able to speak from beyond an impassable veil.

It is with an acute sense for Keller’s abilities that Jeanie Thompson works in her book, The Myth of Water. . . 

Read the review at NewPages.

 

 

Book Review, “Violet Energy Ingots,” by Hoa Nguyen

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These are deeply personal, domestic poems, caught up in household activities, the nuances of partnership and parenthood, changing weather, and the day-to-day turbulences that make up the real terrain of our emotional lives: frustration with loved ones, appreciation for our children, fond but sometimes ambivalent remembrances of the past, and bitterness toward the entrenched injustices of our larger society.

Nguyen does not approach these subjects directly, however. Her poems seem to communicate outward from a subconscious that is organized by quantum probabilitiesof resonance and reference. They are messy, haphazard, and playful. They accrue obsessions—sonic and thematic tics—that come together with livewire resonance like the hum of an electric fence. . .

Read the review at The Boston Review