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.
DM Me, Mother Darling by Alexa Doran (Bauhan Publishing 2021)
Reviewed by Audrey Gidman
“We’ve all turned the knob down on God.”
Erotic, synesthetic, nebulous, rebellious, sensual, haunting: these words continuously ran through my mind as I tried to integrate the radically clever and wild movement of Alexa Doran’s debut collection, DM Me, Mother Darling.
How do I say it other than this: the work is amalgamous and full of pain—effervescent, shifting shape, shedding over and over like a snake whose skin has never fit. Doran amorphously circles and strikes at the tensions of motherhood, sex, grief, drugs, God, judgement, resilience, sickness, instincts, and grit as she tries, repeatedly, to convince us “to believe [that] love is / obscene” (25).
What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche (Penguin Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
History is written as much by the victors as it is by its witnesses. Witnesses are often responsible for giving voice to the unrecorded events and marginalized factions that history textbooks tend to gloss over. Poet Carolyn Forche served as one such witness to the beginnings of the Civil War in El Salvador, bearing witness to both atrocities and small glimmers of hope.
My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree by Yi Lei, trans. by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press 2020)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Kudlacz
Who was Yi Lei?
For many in the Western world, this leading figure in contemporary Chinese poetry is probably unknown. Thanks to the efforts of Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi, English-speaking readers can appreciate the richness of Yi Lei’s bilingual collection of poems My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree.
Dancing in Santa Fe and Other Poems by Beate Sigriddaughter (Cervena Barva Press 2019)
Review by Carole Mertz
In Dancing in Santa Fe, Beate Sigriddaughter delivers a fine collection of fourteen poems, all written in free verse. An American poet of German heritage, she has won multiple poetry prizes, including the Cultural Weekly—Jack Grapes Prize in 2014, and multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Her gracious promotion of women’s poetry (at her blog Writing in a Woman’s Voice) is also commendable.
The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E.J. Koh (Tin House Books 2020)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
Asian-American literature is finally having its moment in the United States. In the past four years, books such as Min Jin Lee’s, Pachinko and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We Are Briefly Beautiful have made their way to the New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year lists and have been nominated for a variety of prestigious awards.
As readers, Americans are hungry for new voices in Asian-American literature. While Amy Tan and Haruki Murakami have been the exception rather than the trend, there has been very little representation of voices in contemporary literature. However, authors like E.J. Koh are finally changing things.
Endlings by Joanna Lilley (Turnstone Press 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
“How carefully we preserve the dead and eat the living” (109)
How to write an elegy for animals? Not the ones closest to us, our dogs and cats, chickens, rabbits, the domesticated fauna we use to name and sustain ourselves. How do we write an elegy for the animals we did not save in time; the “endlings,” the final link between past and present? How do we write an elegy for the victims of a murder we won’t even admit we’ve committed?
OBIT by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
I wrote my first and only obituary in 2018, for my uncle. His name was Thom. He died quite suddenly, at 48, after decade-old cancer cells appeared again in his colon, took over his liver, swallowed him up.
Which is to say that I am no expert in the articulation of existence. And anyway, how do you go about writing a single document that might convey the precious, imperfect, complicated, wonderful nuances of an entire life? For Victoria Chang, the obituary is not just a death notice, but a mode. In her latest collection, OBIT, she asks: What continues to live when someone we love dies? What dies with them?
“I used to think that a dead person’s words die with them. Now I know that they scatter, looking for meaning to attach to a scent” (18)
Sea, Land, Shadow by Kazuko Shiraishi, trans. by Yumiko Tsumara (New Directions Books, 2017)
Reviewed by Clara Guyton
Nicknamed “the Alan Ginsberg of Japan” by Kenneth Rexroth, Kazuko Shiraishi brings readers a sight-seeing drive through the mystical mountains of Japan in her collection Sea, Land, Shadow, complete with sharp turns and curves, moments of awe-inspiring depth and darkness, and instants of effervescent lightheartedness.
“on a mountain road in a traffic jam
I have poetry, so I’m fine…” (8)