Southern Illinois University Press

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry

John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

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Crab Orchard Series in Poetry

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Abide

Jake Adam York

In the years leading up to his recent passing, Alabama poet Jake Adam York set out on a journey to elegize the 126 martyrs of the civil rights movement, murdered in the years between 1954 and 1968. Abide is the stunning follow-up to York’s earlier volumes, a memorial in verse for those fallen. From Birmingham to Okemah, Memphis to Houston, York’s poems both mourn and inspire in their quest for justice, ownership, and understanding.

Within are anthems to John Earl Reese, a sixteen-year-old shot by Klansmen through the window of a café in Mayflower, Texas, where he was dancing in 1955; to victims lynched on the Oklahoma prairies; to the four children who perished in the Birmingham church bombing of 1963; and to families who saw the white hoods of the Klan illuminated by burning crosses. Juxtaposed with these horrors are more loving images of the South: the aroma of greens simmering on the stove, “tornado-strong” houses built by loved ones long gone, and the power of rivers “dark as roux.” 

Throughout these lush narratives, York resurrects the ghosts of Orpheus, Sun Ra, Howlin’ Wolf, Thelonious Monk, Woody Guthrie, and more, summoning blues, jazz, hip-hop, and folk musicians for performances of their “liberation music” that give special meaning to the tales of the dead.

In the same moment that Abide memorializes the fallen, it also raises the ethical questions faced by York during this, his life’s work: What does it mean to elegize? What does it mean to elegize martyrs? What does it mean to disturb the symmetries of the South’s racial politics or its racial poetics?

A bittersweet elegy for the poet himself, Abide is as subtle and inviting as the whisper of a record sleeve, the gasp of the record needle, beckoning us to heed our history.

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Always Danger

David Hernandez

Always Danger offers a lyrical and highly imaginative exploration into the hazards that surround people’s lives—whether it’s violence, war, mental illness, car accidents, or the fury of Mother Nature. In his second collection of poems, David Hernandez embraces the element of surprise: a soldier takes refuge inside a hollowed-out horse, a man bullies a mountain, and a giant pink donut sponsors age-old questions about beliefs. Hernandez typically eschews the politics that often surround the inner circle of contemporary literature, but in this volume he quietly sings a few bars with a political tone: one poem shadows the conflict in Iraq, another reflects our own nation’s economic and cultural divide. Always Danger parallels Hernandez’s joy of writing: unmapped, spontaneous, and imbued with nuanced revelation.

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American Flamingo

Greg Pape

Taking its title from an Audubon painting, American Flamingo shares with the artist an exquisite attention to detail and the suggestion of a larger sense of time and place through depictions of the intimate interactions between creatures and their habitats. In his fifth collection of poetry, Greg Pape melds memorable images from the natural world with the drama of ordinary experience to capture small transformations of human character in American settings from Arizona’s Sonora Desert to the icy streets of Washington, D.C. Through elegies, character sketches, and lyric and narrative evocations of family and place, Pape offers lucid and startling poems that bridge the spaces between the past and the present, men and women, and urban and rural landscapes.

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Beautiful Trouble

Amy Fleury

In her first collection of poems, Kansas native Amy Fleury captures images of dragging clotheslines, baked lawns, and sweet potato babies, inserting them with an earnest dignity into her stories of midwestern life. Beautiful Trouble explores the subtleties of landscape, place, families, girlhood, womanhood, and everyday existence on the prairie. Fleury writes of the Midwest with authenticity, speaks of romance with delicate allure, and recalls the heartbreak of childhood without self-pity. In meditations on resilience and life’s contradictions, Fleury engages her characters fully and paints their souls and sensations evenly in language both rare and beautiful. She is a poet in love with sound and its power to summon majesty from quotidian scenes. Her poems are brief and striking, depending on exquisite word choice and balance to achieve a simple order on the page.

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Becoming Ebony

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Recapturing the celebratory voice of Africa in poems that are both contemporary and traditional, Liberian-born Patricia Jabbeh Wesley weaves lyrical storytelling with oral history and images of Africa and America, revealing powerful insights about the relationship between strength and tragedy—and finding reason to celebrate even in the presence of war, difficulties, and death. Rooted in myths that can be traced to the Grebo tradition, Becoming Ebony portrays Liberian-born Wesley’s experiences of village talk and civil war as well as her experiences of the pain of her mother’s death and the difficulties of rearing a family away from home in the United States, and explores the questions of living in the African Diaspora. Turning on the African proverb of “the wandering child” and the metaphor of the ebony tree—which is beautiful in life and death— these poems delve into issues of human suffering and survival, plainly and beautifully chronicling what happens “after the sap is gone.”

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Bending the Bow

An Anthology of African Love Poetry

Edited by Frank M. Chipasula

From the ancient Egyptian inventors of the love lyric to contemporary poets, Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry gathers together both written and sung love poetry from Africa.

         This anthology is a work of literary archaeology that lays bare a genre of African poetry that has been overshadowed by political poetry. Frank Chipasula has assembled a historically and geographically comprehensive wealth of African love poetry that spans more than three thousand years. By collecting a continent’s celebrations and explorations of the nature of love, he expands African literature into the sublime territory of the heart.

            Bending the Bow traces the development of African love poetry from antiquity to modernity while establishing a cross-millennial dialogue. The anonymously written love poems from Pharaonic Egypt that open the anthology both predate Biblical love poetry and reveal the longevity of written love poetry in Africa. The middle section is devoted to sung love poetry from all regions of the continent. These great works serve as the foundation for modern poetry and testify to love poetry’s omnipresence in Africa. The final section, showcasing forty-eight modern African poets, celebrates the genre’s continuing vitality. Among those represented are Muyaka bin Hajji and Shaaban Robert, two major Swahili poets; Gabriel Okara, the innovative though underrated Nigerian poet; Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of Senegal and a founder of the Negritude Movement in francophone African literature; Rashidah Ismaili from Benin; Flavien Ranaivo from Madagascar; and Gabeba Baderoon from South Africa. 

            Ranging from the subtly suggestive to the openly erotic, this collection highlights love’s endurance in a world too often riven by contention. Bending the Bow bears testimony to poetry’s role as conciliator while opening up a new area of study for scholars and students.

 

 

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Birthmark

Jon Pineda

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.

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The Black Ocean

Brian Barker

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.

 

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Cinema Muto

Jesse Lee Kercheval

In Cinema Muto, Jesse Lee Kercheval examines the enduring themes of time, mortality, and love as revealed through the power of silent film. Following the ten days of the annual Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy, this collection of ekphrastic poems are love letters to the evocative power of silent cinema. Kercheval’s poems elegantly capture the allure of these rare films, which compel hundreds of pilgrims from around the world—from scholars and archivists, to artists and connoisseurs—to flock to Italy each autumn. Cinema Muto celebrates the flickering tales of madness and adventure, drama and love, which are all too often left to decay within forgotten vaults. As reels of Mosjoukine and D. W. Griffith float throughout the collection, a portrait also emerges of the simple beauty of Italy in October and of two lovers who are drawn together by their mutual passion for an extinct art. Together they revel in recapturing “the black and white gestures of a lost world.”

 

Cinema Muto is a tender tribute to the brief yet unforgettable reign of silent film. Brimming with stirring images of dreams, desire, and the ghosts of cinema legends gone by, Kercheval’s verse is a testament to the mute beauty and timeless lessons that may still be discovered in a fragile roll of celluloid.

 

 

 

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Circle

Victoria Chang

Taking its concept of concentricity from the eponymous Ralph Waldo Emerson essay, Circle, the first collection from Victoria Chang, adopts the shape as a trope for gender, family, and history. These lyrical, narrative, and hybrid poems trace the spiral trajectory of womanhood and growth and plot the progression of self as it ebbs away from and returns to its roots in an Asian American family and context. Locating human desire within the helixes of politics, society, and war, Chang skillfully draws arcs between T’ang Dynasty suicides and Alfred Hitchcock leading ladies, between the Hong Kong Flower Lounge and an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, the Rape of Nanking and civilian casualties in Iraq.

 

 

 

 

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