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

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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, “The End of Pink,” by Kathryn Nuernberger

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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.

Writing Exercises 101, 201, and 301

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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

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

Rumi: A Love List of Lines

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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.