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Reality has begun to show its age. Have you noticed? Joe has. Calamity Joe is the pen name of the mysterious narrator in a new kind of poetry collection. Spending his days in a lab, talking to mice & microbes, he will soon be the last living member of his family. More and more, life seems to hint at its syntax, and Joe feels that he can just make out the page he inhabits. Drastic measures are called for, but for what? Poet Brendan Constantine hasn’t crafted another novel in verse, but a secret life revealed by poetry. Open it anywhere and be rewarded with poems that stand alone; read it from the beginning and discover the deeper context that ties every image together. As with his previous collections, Constantine employs countless approaches to poetry and no single style dominates. Looking through Joe’s eyes, we understand that life has no single story, that love is not a single feeling, and that consciousness may be an act of sheer will.
The poems in Cartographies travel new territory, exploring the heart’s changeable geography and the soul’s uneven terrain. They map the familiar, sometimes astonishing, and always complex world of the poet’s native San Gabriel Mountains, as well as nearby Los Angeles, with its cultural richness and social/political tensions. Divided into four sections—The Soul, The Self, Mountains, The City—Cartographies investigates and fathoms our most profound relationships with time, nature, love, and death. In poem after poem, Simon finds meaning in unexpected locales, from a hospital AIDS ward to the “Rorschach” on a butterfly’s wings to a barrio bakery, and in the briefest of moments, evoked by the plaintive voice of a spider, or provoked by a breathless escape from an avalanche. With clarity and eloquence, these poems dramatize the persistent paradoxes present in our daily lives, those interstices of yearning and mourning, fear and celebration, or anguish and amazement that reveal the deep wells and turbulence of human consciousness. With consummate craftsmanship and inner grace, Simon apprehends the elegiac within the purest moments of joy, and intimates catharsis within despair. She opens the mind’s windows to myriad small miracles provoked by the barest glimmers of wonder and hope.
A Collection of Collage Poems
As Gertrude Stein might have put it, a cento is a collage is a mix tape is a video montage. This hypothetical description is fitting in a number of ways. Although the cento form is ancient—in existence since at least the days of Virgil and Homer—it was also used to striking effect in the Modern era: consider, for example, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Ezra Pound's Cantos. More recent centos include John Ashbery's "The Dong with the Luminous Nose," Peter Gizzi's "Ode: Salute to The New York School 1950-1970" (a libretto), Connie Hershey's "Ecstatic Permutations," and the "Split This Rock Poetry Festival - Cento, March 23, 2008" (a collaborative protest poem delivered in front of the White House). The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems, edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford and with an introduction by David Lehman, features an extensive sampling of centos, collage poems, and patchwork poems written by Nicole Andonov, Lorna Blake, Alex Cigale, Allan Douglass Coleman, Philip Dacey, Sharon Dolin, Annie Finch, Jack Foley, Kate Gale, Dana Gioia, Sam Gwynn, H. L. Hix, David Lehman, Eric Nelson, Catherine Tufariello, and many others.
"Changing the Subject might have started from the spontaneous combustion a listserve offers, but its poems quickly transcend the casual. The poets play jazz riffs, often responding to motifs in each other’s poems, but each poem also stands alone. Here is the best one can hope for in successful collaboration: excellent poems." — Rochelle Ratner
A Long Playing Poem
In the tradition of the Langston Hughes’ classic Montage of a Dream Deferred, Mitchell L. H. Douglas uses persona poetry to explore the personal and professional struggles of soul legend Donny Hathaway in his debut collection Cooling Board: a Long-Playing Poem. Douglas presents a narrative in two sides: side one focusing on Hathaway’s development as a young musician and subsequent rise to fame and side two bearing witness to the adversity that plagued his later years. Readers see Hathaway as true to his family and faith, and uncompromising in his quest for musical innovation. In a nod to Hathaway’s legacy as a musical trailblazer, Douglas implements a significant poetic innovation through the book’s format. By including alternate versions or “takes” of poems readers receive new information and interpretations of the poems. It can be likened to an album with previously unreleased versions of popular songs. Along the way, poems resembling liner notes and pop charts enhance the experience, reminding readers that the music is the heart of this ride. Above all, Douglas’ depiction of Hathaway reveals the human side of a man who has remained a mystery in the time since his death. Not only does the poet speak in the voices of Hathaway and his long-time collaborator Roberta Flack, the reader also hears the voices of those closest to Hathaway whom we are less familiar with: his mother, Drusella Huntley, his grandmother, Martha Crumwell—Hathaway’s earliest music teacher—and his wife, Eulaulah. With Douglas as a guide versed in the power of possessing many tongues, Cooling Board captures its reader like the best Hathaway song: passionately, honestly, and with an undeniable sense of purpose.