NOt Flowers by Noreen Ocampo (Variant Literature 2022)
Reviewed by Jillian A. Fantin
Very infrequently does a poet arrest their reader in so few pages and with such a delicate touch as does Noreen Ocampo. Following her debut micro collection Teaspoons, Ocampo’s Not Flowers continues her exploration of the soft, the familial, and the power of memory. The poetry of Not Flowers reads with the serenity of a Studio Ghibli meadow combined with the timeless Victorian illustrations by Kate Greenaway, curating a fantasy-adjacent field of poetry combining memory and the senses. Nonetheless, Ocampo’s Not Flowers remains deeply rooted in the present, utilizing the power of sensorial memory to curate the speaker’s soft, loving contemporary moment. Ultimately, Ocampo disrupts the seemingly dichotomous relationship between being a flower versus a “not-flower” and finds tenderness and nostalgia to be elements of strength, rather than of weakness.
The Kissing of Kissing by Hannah Emerson (Milkweed 2022)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about a black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which scientists recently captured on film for the first time. The author writes: “despite its ‘supermassive” designation, is not very large in the grand scheme of things.”
Crooked Smiling Light by Alan King (Plan B Press 2021)
Reviewed by Devon Balwit
Alan King’s newest poetry collection, Crooked Smiling Light, (Plan B Press, 2021) moves from punch to caress, offering the lie of easy and sudden transformation, but in the hard-fought, zig-zag feint of everyday effort. Along the way, the reader encounters metaphors from boxing and marathon, giants of history like Nelson Mandela and Amiri Baraka, Whitman’s Learn’d Astronomer, the Bible’s Goliath, Roy Hargrove and the Black Lives Matter protests. All illustrate a man’s life as he moves from son to father, seeking what we all do—love and a meaningful place in the world.
Seeing the Body by Rachel Eliza Griffiths (WW Norton and Co. 2020)
Reviewed by Margaret Anne Kean
“…her body was the only home/I cared about.”
Poet Marilyn Nelson has said “when you go to listen to a poet read, you leave having learned not only about the poet’s reality but also about the reality you are living.” She calls this “communal pondering.” Through Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ exquisite fifth book, Seeing the Body, we are invited into communal pondering about the physicality of grief, silence and absence, as the poet grapples with her mother’s death, its effect on the poet’s body and psyche, and the necessity of living beyond such a monumental loss.
Study of the Raft by Leonora Simonovis (University of Colorado Press 2021)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
“I chant I’m home
How many times
will it take
to feel it?”
Requeening by Amanda moore (ecco press 2021)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
When members of a beehive are diseased—when their temperament changes or the queen is unable to lay eggs–– beekeepers use a practice called requeening, in which one queen is substituted for another to disrupt the current patterns in the hive and create new healthy patterns that will allow its members to grow and thrive. It is impossible not to notice the irony: the queen has an important role in keeping the hive actively developing and yet, once her “usefulness” has passed, she is discarded.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos (Carolrhoda Lab 2019)
Reviewed by Kathryn Leonard-Peck
In this hybrid review, Leonard-Peck combines poetry and critical reading to map the emotional landscape of this stunning YA novel, which as a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2018 New York Public Library Best Book for Teens. For more reviews that challenge the form, click here.
Gardens that breathe: an interview with laura donnelly
Written by Jillian Smith
In Midwest Gothic, her second collection of poetry, Laura Donnelly channels a speaker alternatively fascinated and fearful, youthful and wise, steadfast and skeptical. Through a rough yet rich expanse of memory and history, she seeks to both recover and reframe her past, a process as ominous as it is life-affirming. In doing so, Donnelly honors the resilience, creativity and legacy of her female ancestors, especially their ability to nourish a place into being, to maintain a home that not only withstands what is wild but welcomes it. As a revision to the ubiquitous patriarchal narratives the young speaker was exposed to, Donnelly posits women not just as the keepers and growers of an eternal garden, but also, subverting many Gothic tales, as the heroines of their own stories.Throughout the collection, we feel a complexity of emotions that is as unsettling as it is alluring, each poem a musical note that resounds into the vastness of history, building on previous notes, and both haunting and uplifting what’s to come.