handiwork by Sara Baume (Tramp Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
There is an artist inside all of us. The art we create can be subjective, but that does not diminish the time, care, and functionality someone puts into the act of creating. That is just one of the lessons gleamed from Irish author Sara Baume’s nonfiction debut, handiwork. In this short narrative, Baume combines her mediums of sculpting, carving, writing, and photography to illustrate the trials and joys of being an artist. handiwork chronicles her thoughts on the universality of art and its struggles while working on a woodworking series about her fascination with birds. She even treats her readers with the fruits of her carving labors with interspersed photographs of her avian subjects.
Shahr-e-Jaanaan: The City of the Beloved by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (Tupelo Press 2020)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
Winner of the Kundiman Prize Honoring Exceptional Work by Asian American Poets, this collection is a multilayered imaginary where the author converses with Urdu poetic tradition and poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mirza Ghalib, and Ibn-e-Insha, among others. Talukder is also a translator, which, as she explains in the preface, allows for transcreation “Based on the way the particular verses converse with the themes of my poems.” The interplay is not only between two languages, but also between two –or more– different ways of perception and experience.
The White Card by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf 2019)
Reviewed by Olivia Cyr
There is perhaps no better political climate in which to revel in a book that explores race in America than the one the country is in now. As both a self-proclaimed feminist with a background in black women’s studies, and a white woman, I find that I am both well-versed on current conversations about race and women and where those intertwine, and also, admittedly, still terribly conditioned to accept and lean on my own white privilege. While I do follow much of the debate on abortion, women’s rights in the workplace, intersectionality, police brutality, immigration, and the unfair treatment of black people, there is still so much I do not know. I wonder often if my own whiteness does not allow for me to see the whole picture. I think many white folks in this country try, as Claudia Rankine’s characters Virginia and Charles appear to do, and think we are doing as much as we can with the resources available. But Rankine makes it apparent that we aren’t, simply because we are white.
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 Grip of It by Jac Jemc (FSG Originals, 2017)
An old chain spools around a metal pulley next to a swinging kitchen door. The silver chain comes up from somewhere under the wooden living room floor and returns to the same place. When I pull it, it gives a little. On the pulley, three words circle, raised in the brown metal: Closed, Open, and Check. And there is a dial, a hefty metal switch that only moves a centimeter. Other than the give, nothing happens. It’s neat and old and mysteriously low to the ground next to the built-in hutch. An examination of the basement where the chain ends and begins again reveals nothing.
This chain is just one of those objects humans wonder about when they find them after they have moved houses, as I have just done. Continue reading
Royals by Cedar Sigo (Wave Books, 2017)
Cedar Sigo exemplifies a poet who is deeply read and constantly aware of the poetic influences upon him. In Royals, published by Wave Books in late summer 2017, Sigo’s topic is largely the poetic world he inhabits. In fact, the book goes so far as to be meta-poetic—the poems are about creating poetry, conversations with other poets, written to and for poets, and contain allusions to the works of other poets. Poetry as subject is infused into virtually every poem in this book. Continue reading
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (Two Dollar Radio, 2017)
I have heard it said that the best writers are the best listeners, and I believe it because of Hanif Abdurraqib. They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is a collection of essays ostensibly about music, but Abdurraqib hears what lies beneath the singing and instrumentation. He writes lyrically, elegiacally, about Prince, My Chemical Romance, Migos, and many more, revealing truths no run-of-the-mill magazine music-critic could conjure up in an album review. The essays unearth deep personal connections and experiences that are intertwined with the music they analyze. There’s a soundtrack to every essay in this collection that often takes center stage, trading places at times with recurring themes of growing up, racism, and grief. Continue reading
The Voice of That Singing by Juliet Rodeman (Tupelo Press, 2017)
Early in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Mirror, a child watches the family barn burning behind their country house. It’s raining. His young mother watches too, her back to the camera, the water dripping off the porch awning. Still the barn burns. No urgency, as though a barn burning is a natural part of the landscape. Over the course of the film, in every room of the country house, the watcher has the feeling that the child, the narrator—Tarkovsky’s voice reciting his father’s poems–is living at once every age of his life. Continue reading
celeris by Emily O’Neill (Fog Machine, 2016)
There’s a famous Cat Power breakup song from her album The Greatest that interrupts its own declarations of love to reflect on “horses galloping,” asking someone to bring them to her (presumably when they’re done galloping, the lyrics are unclear). O’Neill calls her second chap her book about horses, and given the central galloping/charging motif present, as well as several of the titles involving that animal, it seems to be true. Power’s song “Where Is My Love” is important to keep in mind for Emily O’Neill’s wonderful second chap precisely because it represents everything O’Neill subverts in her book celeris, out since March on Fog Machine. Continue reading