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.
There is an abiding anguish that swells like a tidal water through Kathryn Nuernberger’s new book, The End of Pink. It’s an emotional force that takes a little while to establish, not yet fully evident while reading through the table of contents or perusing the first few poems, which seem at first like relatively straightforward engagements with historic books of science and pseudoscience, poems that are the result of the purposeful taking of a subject of study.
Read the review at NewPages.
Oh, the energy of autumnal days! Summer has its blisses, winter its purities; spring lays out romance and adventure, but these short weeks, the light falling like a voice into the distance — they grip me like nothing else. These are the days of the private pleasures of the mind opened into conversation, days in which I thrill at blank pages, new music, appointments fulfilled in the noise of crowds, and my breathe materialized in the cooling air. It’s a time of study and practice. It’s a time of education.
I don’t teach anymore, but I’ve always loved it, especially because I’ve had the fortune of driving at least a small variety of workshops, with a variety of different kinds of students at different levels of familiarity with the traditions that basically define the craft of writing. There are many ways to bend one into the doorway of this craft, and perhaps I’m emboldened by my distance from the profession, but I thought I could share some of my favorite exercises, ones I’ve either led, participated in, or simply heard about.
As is typical of my posts, I’m largely concerned with the writing of poems, but there should be plenty here for prose writers as well. I’ve divided these into the most straightforward categories imaginable — Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced — and while I have some definite reasoning for that, of course don’t feel like you need to adhere to any structure whatsoever. I’m always curious about new exercises and prompts, and I hope some of these stir some thinking for you, either as a teacher or a writer, or maybe both. The bell rings. Let’s begin. . . .
Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review
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
It is an unusual experience to read the mystical poems of the thirteenth-century Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi. I am — sitting in this park in Chicago, June 2016, a presidential election woefully underway, the sound of a siren and a boombox in the background, advertisements for technical athletic shoes flashing on my phone — a profoundly modern, Western reader. My knowledge of Sufism is cursory at best — I’m more inclined to know Madonna’s reading of Rumi (complete with El Cristo Redentor in the background, sure, why not), to have blasted Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from my dorm room windows, or to have seen the Whirling Dervishes in a five minute segment — mixed in with scenes from Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Wailing Wall, and other holy sites — from Baraka, which came free with my DVD player (to be fair, I’ve also seen Whirling Dervishes live, and it is a sublime experience). . . .
Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review.
There is an easy-going quality to the poems in Nina Lindsay’s Because that make this one of the friendliest books this reviewer has read in some time. Lush but clean, emotional but evenly wrought, engaging a diversity of styles over its five sections but with a voice that feels continuous and familiar, these are the sorts of poems one can fall into a deep absorption with. That is not to say that these are intellectually easy—indeed, it is the subtle peculiarities and soft surprises we find throughout that really propel us forward through these pages, and I can’t help but think that this would be an interesting book to teach in advanced courses, precisely because it is so unassuming.
Read the review at NewPages.
When David Foster Wallace died in the fall of 2008, I was halfway through Infinite Jest. It was the Monday after — I walked into a coffee shop in the Loop in Chicago, about 7 AM, and I set my copy of the book down on the counter. The barista grimaced and said, “It’s so sad.” I didn’t know. That’s how I found out.
And I remember finishing the novel then. I remember the sense of urgency, as though it were evaporating there in my very hands, this three pound trade paperback with two bookmarks in it–one for the footnotes.
So when I happened upon Jenni B. Baker’s extraordinary erasure project–Erasing Infinite—memories of that extremely unique and acute reading experience came flooding back. Crafting poems from each page of Infinite Jest–one at a time–this monumental project captures this sense of evaporation with remarkable force, giving us a profoundly new way of approaching the beloved text and, of course, of remembering its author.
But Erasing Infinite is but one of Baker’s many projects, which range from erasures of the Boy Scout Handbook to her OuLiPo chapbook to the journal she runs, The Found Poetry Review, all of which have secured her at the center of one of the most thriving communities of experimental poets. Looking at her work–which so often exquisitely balances play with serious inquiry–we can see just what sorts of possibilities erasure and other found forms have opened up. I recently had the chance to talk with her about these possibilities, about her different projects and the range they have helped lay out, and about how erasure sits in contemporary poetics. . . .
Read the interview and see some of Baker’s pieces at Michigan Quarterly Review.