Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae (Factory Hollow Press 2014)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
In the past few months, I have read two books by Shane McCrae. First, I read his latest collection In the Language of My Captor – a series of persona poems and loosely autobiographical musings which focus on the complicated nature of race and racism in American history. I fell in love with the way McCrae refuses to bow down to stereotypical narratives of what it means to be black. As a mixed-race man raised by white grandparents, McCrae explores is own nuanced identity beside the identities and imagined experiences of African Americans kept in cages by white museum curators, all the while refusing to preference once experience of blackness in America over another. In In the Language of My Captors, McCrae acknowledges the complicated nature of communicating this spectrum of black experience in the language of white Europeans – this is particularly true when thinking about poetry as a genre whose canon is made up almost entirely of white, male faces.
The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea (Little Brown 2004)
Reviewed by Chidinma Onuoha
As long as there have been people walking the Devil’s Highway, there have been deaths. It is Desolation. It is a wasteland where any green vegetation is grey and were temperatures rise up to the triple digits. Here, bones pepper the region and Levi jeans last longer than flesh. In this book, Luis Alberto Urrea paints a harrowing true story of twenty-six men who took the forty mile death march across the Arizona desert in hopes of prosperity in the United States. Only twelve made it out.
The Owl was a Baker’s Daughter by Gillian Cummings (Center for Literary Publishing 2018)
Reviewed by Bianca Glinskas
“The speech of rain: it was only a matter
of something asking to be let in” 23
Ghostographs: An Album by Maria Romasco Moore (Rose Metal Press 2018)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
“We were proud that a town as small as ours had an abyss of its own.”
Recently, I took my partner up to the place where I was raised, a string of little towns in the corner of northern Vermont on the edge of Lake Champlain. It was ten degrees colder there, beautiful and mostly empty. It snowed. As we drove around he was uncertain, a little nervous. I showed him the half-built mansion across from a dairy farm where the recession and disputes over money lead a couple to divorce before the crew could complete construction. I showed him row after row of cornfields, train tracks. To me it was familiar, comfortable. It always will be. As the product of that rural corner of the world, I don’t mind the emptiness, the eccentricities. My partner said, on our way home: “In some ways it’s kind of beautiful up there. You don’t have to assimilate. You can just walk in the woods, have your delusions. You can be your complete self.”
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead 2017)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is about magic portals. It’s about immigration. It’s about distance. But mostly, it’s about love. Continue reading
Landscape of The Wait by Jami Macarty (Finishing Line Press, 2017)
Derived from the ancient word for “watching,” waiting seems especially relegated to the human animal. Waiting implies the existence of a thought process as well as biology–a stasis, a trance. The state implies a wish, as a reaction to time and action. It makes sense that the literature of waiting has ancient origins, and that the sub-genre thrives during war. The world’s most important epics are also part of the body of the literature of waiting. The Odyssey and Penelope’s wait, and The Aeneid and Dido’s wait are two of our most essential examples. Naturally, the literature of waiting thrived during World War II, when Yehuda Amichai wrote the marvelous poem I heard him read in Hebrew and in English at the Hillel Center at UCLA in the 1990’s, where he said, in essence, that the war was not worth the poems made by the light of warfare. It begins
Out of three or four in a room,
One is always standing at the window.
Forced to see the injustice among the thorns,
The fires on the hills.
The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, trans. by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions 2018)
It had been my intention all along to review Yoko Tawada’s most recently translated novel The Emissary this week, and the announcement that Tawada was the recipient of the first award for translated literature since the National Book Award became the National Book Award in the early 1980s only solidified my thrill at getting the chance to write about this novel. Though all the books selected this year are exciting – I am particularly interested in finally reading Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend – I am particularly happy to see this nod to translated books in American literature. Compared to most countries America’s publication of translated works is nominal, and I respect and appreciate the National Book Award in their effort to encourage publishers to look internationally for new voices. Continue reading
Moon: Maps, Letters, Poems by Jennifer S. Cheng (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2018)
At a poetry reading in September at a planetarium on the Amherst College campus, Dorothea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov talked about astrology – in particular, they talked about moons. Our individual moons: closer to us than other planets and yet too far to ever touch, milky and always changing their shape to match the rhythm of months,. Moons in Scorpio, Aries, Leo, Capricorn. Our moons, they told us, are where our poetry comes from. They were sure of this. Continue reading
The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang (Tor, 2018)
I have never read a book quite like JY Yang’s, The Descent of Monsters, the third novella in their silkpunk Tensorate series. I have read and loved their first two installments, I have read Victorian epistolary novels, I have imbibed mysteries, thrillers, and other assorted noir, but never something that so successfully wove all these disparate DNAs together. Continue reading