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In Big Muddy River of Stars, her second full-length collection of poems, Alison Pelegrin continues her celebration of the quirks and characters of south Louisiana, tempered now by the devastations of hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. These sassy poems come on like a carnival parade, with boisterous shout-outs to sleepy rivers and Big Shot soda, crawfish and trailer trash and those “git-r-dones” who rebuild homes ravaged by hurricane and high water. Presiding over the book is the spirit of Chinese poet Li Po, Pelegrin’s prodigal mentor and drinking buddy. Sharing his “exultation” and “taste of recklessness,” she wants to write “the Li Po way— / wine and the wide world.” And she does. With lines that laugh and rage and slur in the piquant tongue of her native Louisiana, Pelegrin knows how to play the blues in a bold and irreverent key.
A Narrative Account with Entertaining Passages of the State of Minstrelsy & of America & the True Relation Thereof
A critical look at black identity in American history and popular culture as told from a performative African American perspective.
In Jon Pineda’s debut collection Birthmark, loss takes the shape of a scar, memory the shape of a childhood, and identity the shape of a birthmark on a lover’s thigh. Like water taking the form of its container, Pineda’s poems swell to fill the lines of his experiences. Against the backdrop of Tidewater, Virginia’s crabs and cicadas, Pineda invokes his mestizo—the Tagalog word for being half Filipino—childhood, weaving laments for a tenuous paternal relationship and the loss of a sibling. Channeling these fragmented memories into a new discovery of self, Birthmark reclaims an identity, delicate yet unrelenting, with plaintive tones marked equally by pain, reflection, and redemption.
With their intense lyricism, Meena Alexander’s poems convey the fragmented experience of the traveler, for whom home is both nowhere and everywhere. The landscapes she evokes, whether reading Bashō in the Himalayas, or walking a city street, hold echoes of otherness. Place becomes a palimpsest, composed of layer upon layer of memory, dream, and desire. There are poems of love and poems of war—we see the rippling effects of violence and dislocation, of love and its aftermath. The poems in Birthplace with Buried Stones range widely over time and place, from Alexander’s native India to New York City. We see traces of mythology, ritual, and other languages. Uniquely attuned to life in a globalized world, Alexander’s poetry is an apt guide, bringing us face to face with the power of a single moment and its capacity to evoke the unseen and unheard.
Praise for David Kirby
"Kirby is exuberant, irrepressible, maniacal and remarkably entertaining.... Okay, let me just say it: he is a wonderful poet." -- Steve Kowit, San Diego Union-Tribune
"Kirby's voice and matter (teaching, literature, traveling, rock 'n' roll, everyday bozohood) are utterly personal and, despite all the laughter, ultimately moving." -- Ray Olson, Booklist
"[Kirby] is a poet who peels away the layers of our skin to show us who we are: our weaknesses, our strengths, and our hilarious obsessions." -- Micah Zevin, New Pages
"The world that Kirby takes into his imagination and the one that arises from it merge to become a creation like no other, something like the world we inhabit but funnier and more full of wonder and terror." -- Philip Levine, Ploughshares
"These poems may be too cool for words." -- Carol Muske-Dukes, New York Times Book Review
Inspired by the carpenter's biscuit joint -- a seamless, undetectable fit between pieces of wood -- David Kirby's latest collection dramatizes the artistic mind as a hidden connection that links the mundane with the remarkable. Even in our most ordinary actions, Kirby shows, there lies a wealth of creative inspiration: "the poem that is written every day if we're there / to read it."
Well known for his garrulous and comic musings, Kirby follows a wandering yet calculated path. In "What's the Plan, Artists?" a girl's yawning in a picture gallery leads him to meditations on subjects as diverse as musical composition, the less-than-beautiful human figure, and "the simple pleasures / of living." The Biscuit Joint traverses seemingly random thoughts so methodically that the journey from beginning to end always proves satisfying and surprising.
In his moving debut collection, Matt Rasmussen faces the tragedy of his brother's suicide, refusing to focus on the expected pathos, blurring the edge between grief and humor. In "Outgoing," the speaker erases his brother's answering machine message to save his family from "the shame of dead you / answering calls." In other poems, once-ordinary objects become dreamlike. A buried light bulb blooms downward, "a flower / of smoldering filaments." A refrigerator holds an evening landscape, "a tinfoil lake," "vegetables / dying in the crisper." Destructive and redemptive, Black Aperture opens to the complicated entanglements of mourning: damage and healing, sorrow and laughter, and torment balanced with moments of relief.
In The Black Ocean, poet Brian Barker attempts to make sense of some of the darkest chapters in history while peering forward to what lies ahead as the world totters in the wake of human complacence. Unveiled here are ruminations on human torture, the Chernobyl disaster, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and genocide against Native Americans. The ghosts of Lincoln, Poe, and Billie Holiday manifest from pages laden with grim prophecies and catastrophes both real and imagined. These hauntingly intense documentary poems reflect on the past in an attempt to approach it with more clarity and understanding, while offering blistering insight into the state of the world today. Barker touches upon the power of manipulation and class oppression; the depths of fear and the struggle for social justice; and reveals how failure to act—on the parts of both politicians and everyday citizens—can have the most devastating effects of all.
Throughout the volume looms the specter of the black ocean itself, a powerful metaphor for all our collective longings and despair, as we turn to face a menacing and uncertain future.
Lullaby for the Last Night on Earth
When at last we whisper, so long, so lonesome,
and watch our house on the horizon
go down like a gasping zeppelin of bricks,
we’ll turn, holding hands,
and walk the train tracks to the sea . . .
So sing me that song where a mountain falls
in love with an octopus, and one thousand fireflies
ricochet around their heads,
and I’ll dream we’re dancing in the kitchen one last time,
swaying, the window a waystation
of flaming leaves, the dogs shimmying
about our legs,
dragging their golden capes of rain . . .
O my critter, my thistle, gal-o-my-dreams,
lift your voice like an oar into the darkness,
for all the sad birds are falling down—
Nothing in this night is ours.
Yet, these are ultimately poems of survival. Jarman explores the redemptive power of the imagination and the ways in which we transform experience into stories we tell about our lives. His characters vividly express the will to cling to existence and understand it as they pursue the meaning of family, home, identity, and love. Invented memories resurrect a forgotten past, opening doors of possibility and adding a strange richness to everyday life. "Flowers of the flesh,/ Hung on the cliffs to watch and be watched./ Don't let me see reproach, don't let me see it,/ In your eyes. Let me be the only one/ Who knows and tells you."