From Category: Books
By Danez Smith. This debut full-length collection is a furious love song to black men, whom he embraces as lovers and mourns as brothers slain by racist violence. An award-winning slam poet, Smith is superlatively skilled at translating the rhythms of spoken word to the page, with double-entendre line breaks that snap from comedy to tragedy, or back again, in the space of a single breath. These poems are inspired in the religious sense of the word, revealing the sacred in the body's earthiest moments, and sounding a prophetic call against injustice.
By Mark Bibbins. This multi-layered yet accessible book-length poem is an elegy for the author's late partner, Mark Crast, one of the many casualties of the AIDS crisis at its height in the 1980s and early 90s. From the vantage point of 2020, a middle-aged gay man looks back on the ghosts of his community and surveys a youth culture that knows of the mass devastation only as history, if at all. Brief unpunctuated lines give the poem the contemporary immediacy of a social media newsfeed, while the everyday embodiments of grief have a timeless relevance.
Edited by Safia Elhillo and Gbenga Adesina. Published as an online PDF anthology by Brittle Paper, this diverse and emotionally affecting anthology features emerging African and African-diaspora poets aged 20-35.
By Zeina Hashem Beck. Winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, this Lebanese poet in exile keeps her heritage alive through lyrical tributes to famous singers of the Arab world. These multi-lingual poems weave together phrases in English, French, Italian, Arabic, and the new hybrid language Arabizi, a creation of the younger generation to represent Arabic sounds in English-character text messages. These poems are hopeful elegies, political dance tunes, nostalgic manifestos.
Lush poems, at first heavy with the weight of memory and responsibility as the author nurses her dying parents, then laden with a sweeter burden of nature's ripeness and the enjoyment of her own body. A mature and trustworthy voice. This book was published by Cloudbank Books in their Northwest Poetry Series.
Part novel of ideas, part romantic comedy, this book begins with a young skinhead walking into the office of World Brotherhood Watch, a human-rights group run by a Holocaust survivor, and saying he wants to help them "save guys like me from becoming guys like me." The events that follow reveal each character to be a very human mix of vanity and genuine altruism, with the latter most often emerging in small moments away from the spotlight. The novel raises provocative questions about the tension between service to grand causes and caring for the individuals in one's personal life, though Prose could have accomplished more with this theme by introducing a true villain to raise the stakes in the conflicts between characters.
More than just a style guide, this book discusses how creative writers can use punctuation for artistic effect. Lukeman, a literary agent and author of bestselling writing manuals, explores such questions as how dashes enhance Emily Dickinson's poems, or how Melville used semicolons to convey tension in Moby-Dick. Includes writing exercises.
This winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize rediscovers the glorious art of invective in the title poem, comprising several pages of (footnoted) insults such as "your brain is the Peanut of Abomination" and "suing you would be like suing a squirrel". This book is a uniquely uninhibited burst of creativity which reminds poets how much firepower we're not using.
By em jollie. This poetry collection is like a stained-glass cathedral window: even in scenes of suffering, the glorious colors give joy and uplift. Much of the book processes the aftermath of breaking up with a beloved woman, though at the end, the narrator seems to find a new beginning with another partner and a greater sense of herself as complete and sufficient. But this therapeutic summary can't do justice to the mystical meaning of her journey. The speaker bravely walks up to the edge of everything we consider permanent, looks into the clouds swirling above the bottomless gulf, and finds a way to praise their ever-changing shapes. These poems imply that the value of falling--in love, out of love, out of Eden into a world of loss--is in how it challenges us to keep our hearts open, to say Yes despite it all.
These quiet poems are charged with a sacred attention to healing the wounds sustained by our bodies and ecosystem. In the aftermath of war or illness, the human spirit finds wholeness by recovering our common bond with whales, dragonflies, and even worms. This chapbook was published in the New Women's Voices series from Finishing Line Press.
By Don Mitchell. Humorous, poignant, and enlightening, these linked short stories are set among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville Island in the Southwestern Pacific. The young American anthropologist in their midst learns as much about himself as about the villagers who have indulgently accepted him as an oddball member of their community. He mourns the collateral damage wrought on this small but culturally rich island by international wars and mining companies.
By Robert Olen Butler. Through brilliant use of flashbacks and alternating perspectives, this intimate novel tells the story of Michael and Kelly Hays, a Southern professional couple who are divorcing after two decades of marriage, though it becomes apparent that they are both still painfully in love with each other. As soon as the reader starts to side with one character, a new twist reveals the other character's vulnerability and the dysfunctional family pattern that he or she is struggling to break. The novel winds toward a suspenseful climax as we wait to discover whether they will tell each other the truth before it's too late.
This readable guide to plotting a work of fiction helps you identify the human need that your story promises to fulfill, and the actions that will advance that goal. Johnson, a script doctor, uses examples from action movies like Rocky and The Hunt for Red October to illustrate the different elements of a story. Whereas many writing manuals focus on the micro-elements of the scene (dialogue, setting, characterization), Johnson looks at the macro-elements, the "why" rather than the "how", in a way that will help any novelist wondering which scenes to include in her next draft.
Turning Point Books published A Talent for Sadness in the fall of 2003, Jendi Reiter's first solo collection of poetry. This collection is a hard look at the demands and challenges of love, and has been praised by such noted poets as Jennifer Michael Hecht. "Jendi Reiter's poems are smart about nature and humanity. In one deft move wet leaves are said to hang heavily on their branches: 'the way a lazy hand hangs over the edge of the bed.' Reiter's poetry is full of such observations and are alive with curiosity about experience and ideas. There's a lot of trouble here too, a 'bound bride', a 'woman left on the ground', a diver who goes so far down he can breathe again. Human life is hard here, but the poems always find relief in the return to the natural world and to the world of thought." Featured on Verse Daily, 11/4/03.
By Jane Smiley. Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this American tragedy recasts the story of King Lear on an Iowa farm in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. When a tyrannical but enfeebled patriarch divides his farm unequally among his three daughters, their prosperous, provincial world is torn apart by long-simmering rivalries and recovered memories of incest. Not only does Smiley nail the dynamics of a family in denial, she believably ties the personal drama to the American diseases of patriarchal entitlement and the rape of the land.
In this short story collection, tornados real and metaphorical rip through the lives of not-so-ordinary people, flinging them into unexpected intimacies and tearing away identities once thought airtight. Luvaas' poetic prose is powerful as the Santa Ana winds yet delicate enough to limn the silences that speak louder than words, as in the title story, where the bond between a widow and her dying handyman is too profound to risk actual words of love.
In this epic historical novel, Haley, the author of Roots, traces his lineage on his father's side from the love affair of an Irish-American plantation owner and a black slave. Though the cast of characters becomes overcrowded in places, this saga provides a grand overview of America's tortured racial history from Andrew Jackson's presidency through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Queen, the author's grandmother, survives incredible trials to see her children reach heights she could never have imagined.
This masterful, heart-wrenching collection by Charlie Bondhus, winner of the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, brings the poetry of gay male love and the poetry of war together with unprecedented candor, but the story this book tells is more elegiac than celebratory of civil rights victories. The alternating narrators, a veteran of the Afghanistan war and his homefront lover, seem free from their forerunners' self-conscious anguish about sexual orientation. They can admit openly how sex between men is like martial arts grappling, how killing can be orgasmic and the camaraderie of soldiers more intimate than lovers. However, the unbridgeable rift of combat trauma still forces them apart.
By Jami Attenberg. This novel about the last day in the life of a corrupt real estate developer in New Orleans is an insightful, morbidly funny story about how tragic choices reverberate through the generations. One could call it a Jewish version of "The Sopranos", but where that show was cynical and bleak, this book is full of compassion and even a kind of poetic justice at the end.
By Eve Tushnet. This debut novel by a popular blogger on Catholic sexual ethics combines brilliant satire, heartbreak, and hope. A half-dozen alcoholics from all walks of life are selected for a reality-TV show set in a residential rehab clinic. When healing and repentance become co-opted into the postmodern performance of the "self", is transformative grace still possible? Sometimes, incredibly, it is, but not always, and not in a fashion that anyone associated with the show could control or predict.
By Linda McCullough Moore. Grace abounds, though sentimentality may be skewered, in these sparkling stories about women taking stock of their flawed relationships with husbands and families—and often finding a surprising bit of information that shifts their longstanding narrative of their lives. A self-lacerating quip or satirical observation of human nature will be followed by a moment of raw loneliness or unexpected kindness that turns the reader's laughter to tears and back again.
In this prizewinning poetry chapbook from Flume Press, the author speaks on behalf of "Eve and Persephone and all/ those other wayward girls" who bravely danced through a dangerous world. Even painful anecdotes brim with a life force conveyed by Townsend's love of sensory details. Book design is above-average with glossy paper and French flaps.
Winner of the Gerald Cable Award reclaims the story of Abraham and Isaac as token of the fierce, ambivalent love of fathers for sons, and perhaps of God for man - a love that in one moment could devour its creation or die for it. Other poems take us from the American prairie to the permeable border between the worlds of the living and the dead. "This is how we came to/ love this life - / by wanting/ the next."
By Gabrielle Calvocoressi. The jazzy, tough, delicious poems in this collection swing through highs and lows of sexual awakening, boxing, and religious devotion. Resilience sings through these anecdotes of bombed black churches and synagogues, down-and-out factory towns and risky love affairs, with characters who know that "all you gotta do is get up/one more time than the other guy thinks you can."
Feminine archetypes get a modern reinterpretation in verses alternately playful and poignant, in this prizewinning collection whose guiding spirit is the mermaid. Winner of the 2005 Stevens Prize from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.
By R.T. Castleberry. This outstanding poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press sings the ballads of a wandering man, that uniquely American character who is by turns a prophet, a drifter, a lover, and a wounded warrior. Yet, although he may journey from Memphis to Santa Fe to Canberra with little more than a classic book and a brandy bottle, the speaker of these poems also carries the burden of wartime memories, the unwelcome knowledge of how we destroy ourselves. In a time when free verse has become weakened by talky informality, Castleberry restores the muscular rhythms of poetry informed by what T.S. Eliot called "the ghost of meter". The poems' strong forward motion is balanced by a meditative attention to the landscape's sights and sounds.
A small book full of wisdom about overcoming the psychological barriers that can prevent us from taking our own work seriously.
Winner of the 2005 Cider Press Review Book Award, this first collection limns the wonders and losses of everyday life with clarity, compassion and a deceptive simplicity that is the distilled product of wisdom. Admirers of Douglas Goetsch and Wislawa Szymborska may find Colburn's poetic voice especially resonates with them.
This enjoyable collection of short fiction in the Western genre features the top stories from the Cowboy Up contest sponsored by Moonlight Mesa Associates. The book includes adventure tales, humor, and romance, in settings both modern and historical.
Marrying surrealism to a childlike matter-of-factness, in a voice reminiscent of Gertrude Stein, these poems convey the delight and bafflement of having "your mind...whipped by the large whisk of God."
In this unique offering from Fence Books, the author indulges her passion for the textures of language (and clothing), while poking fun at the pretensions of the academic poetry scene. Adopting the persona of a naughty little girl, the speaker of this book deflects criticism by flaunting her frivolity, yet at the same time secretly hopes to impress everyone with her cleverness. The pleasures of this book (particularly its 68 "prefaces") compensate for some repetitive passages.
Jendi Reiter's second award-winning chapbook won the 2010 Cervena Barva Press Poetry Contest. Notable poet Afaa Michael Weaver calls this collection "poems of a life more real than any doll's, as they point up the grace of having confronted the problematic entanglements that attempt to derail a woman making her way through the puzzles of maturing in the last fifty years." Experienced editor Lori Desrosiers calls it "an inventive re-imagining of the fairytale woman...replete with surprise and peppered with humor."
Also known as the artist Tom Taylor, Spiel has written several books that provide material for this powerful collection of new and selected poems. With tough-guy bluntness, a wicked sense of humor, and a haiku-like economy of words, Spiel sketches characters so real you can smell their sweat: traumatized vets, greedy Americans, aging couples hanging on to love despite memory loss, one-night stands picked up in roughneck bars. This is queer poetry without aesthetic preciousness or airbrushed bodies.
By Hubert & Kerascoët. This memorable graphic novel is a tragicomic feminist fairy tale for adults, sketched in an effortless retro style with an earthy color palette suggestive of old storybooks. A troublemaking fairy grants a homely peasant girl's wish for supreme beauty, but the maiden soon finds that being a maddening object of desire is no safer than her old life of humiliation. Her reversals of fortune add up to a profound fable about power, illusion, and sexism.
Coherent, engaging first collection reads like a single long poem in the voices of fairy-tale ingenues and villainesses, B-movie femmes fatales, superheroines, and mythological women. Moving easily between colloquial humor and poignant lyricism, Gailey summons up a feminist pantheon. The recurring figure of Philomel, whom the gods turned into a nightingale after her brother-in-law raped her and cut her tongue out, epitomizes the mixed blessing of art that is brought into being by tragedy. Were women not silenced, this collection seems to say, we would not have the dazzling indirections of myth and fairy tale, the coded language of comic-book symbolism. "Everybody loves the dead girl after she's dead."
This poetry book for young adults fleshes out the emotions and events narrated in the classic Holocaust memoir The Diary of Anne Frank. Read sample poems on her website.
A witty look at the secret pleasures of writing, with wise advice for a writer's hardest tasks.
By Pamela Uschuk. Uschuk is a shamanic poet, invoking the spirits of animals, mountains, and forests, to heal a world that humans have spoiled with war and greed. This poetry collection from Wings Press also gives a voice to her family's ghosts, starting with her Russian immigrant ancestors, and moving on to her late brother and first husband, who were permanently scarred by their service in Vietnam. Nature imagery is a great strength of Uschuk's writing. These are not stylized, sentimental birds and flowers. They are "cliff swallows taking needles of twilight/into their open beaks, stitching/sky's ripped hem." They are the "red velvet vulva of roses" and "yellow ginkgo leaves/waxy as embalmed fans warm[ing] grave stones". Their specificity helps the reader believe that these sparks of life are just as real as the scenes of atrocities that surround us in the news media. Their beauty pulls a bright thread through the darkest stories she tells.
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By Joshua Michael Stewart. This poetic autobiography is a blues song for the dead-end economy of Midwestern towns and the family wreckage they harbor. His characters crackle with energy that could find its outlet in verses or fists, parenting your own children or stealing someone else's, a guitar or a bottle. As the one who escaped, Stewart plays through all the octaves of emotion, from gratitude to judgmental pride, to survivor guilt, to wary compassion: "of loving/the lost with raucous praise, of letting the gone go."
By Douglas Kearney. Read these energetic, challenging poems once quickly for their frantic virtuosity of sound and rhythm, and again slowly to tease out the allusions in each compressed line. "Buck" was a racial slur in post-Civil War America for a black man who was sexually powerful and defiant of white authority. By juxtaposing it with "Studies", Kearney mocks the pseudoscientific white gaze, and also demands a place for black subjectivity in the canon of high culture. This second theme emerges most strongly in the two poem cycles that bracket the collection. The first reworks the Labors of Hercules through the legend of 19th-century African-American pimp Stagger Lee (the subject of numerous murder ballads by artists as varied as Woody Guthrie, Duke Ellington, and The Clash). The second cycle replaces Jesus with Br'er Rabbit in the Stations of the Cross. As great satires do, these mash-ups make us ask serious questions: Who gets to go down in history as a hero instead of a thug? Would an oppressed people be better off worshipping a trickster escape artist, rather than a martyr?
In this enchanting, multifaceted novel, a shy boy begins to uncover the secrets of his family of vaudeville performers when he finds a ventriloquist's dummy belonging to his late grandfather. (In keeping with his family's off-kilter understanding of reality, the boy was named after the dummy.) A shift from magical realism to psychological realism halfway through the book may at first disappoint fans of the former genre, but ultimately fits perfectly with the human George's choice to break the family pattern of sacrificing truth to illusion.
By Francine Witte. In this tough-minded, bluesy poetry collection, the narrator cuts her no-account alcoholic ex-husband down to size—and curbs her lingering desire for him—by contextualizing their relationship within nature's larger creative and destructive patterns, from forest fires to mass extinctions. "Charley" is just another predator, and not an apex one, at that. Witte's portmanteau words give the poems a distinctive voice and an improvisational quality: bees are "sticky with flowersex", and humans "go along futurestupid", like any other species unable to predict the meteor strike with their number on it.
By Kaveh Akbar. This fierce, dazzling debut poetry collection describes the difficult path out of alcoholism and into the disciplined joy of being present in the moment. Simultaneously self-lacerating and grandiose, the speaker leaps from one aphoristic observation to another, through the ecstasies of Islamic mysticism, his devouring relationships with lovers both male and female, and self-annihilation as the ultimate extreme of pleasure. Yet he discovers that sobriety has its own nearly unbearable intensity, the rupture of his isolation by genuine connection with others.
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By Wendy Waters. Fans of Anne Rice and "The Phantom of the Opera" will enjoy this paranormal romance/horror novel that asks creative questions about God, love, and power. The angel Gabriel has tried so long to enlighten humanity that he has become bitter and violent. He has lost faith in love, and believes that humanity must be redeemed by force. He rescues an abused girl who is a musical prodigy, in exchange for a claim on her talent—but her love and innocent wisdom make him question whether the end justifies the means.
Vital, innovative first collection of poems blazes with the agony and ecstasy of rebirth. "We stand in the fusillade,/refusing to camouflage ourselves./Every bullet swallowed turns to gold in our bowels."
This chapbook from FutureCycle Press is named for a necropolis outside San Francisco, a city of cemeteries where the dead outnumber the living by 800 to 1. Yet Laue's poems are anything but morbid. Like the Biblical writer Ecclesiastes, this poet cannot erase his awareness of mortality by means of religious rituals or hopeful platitudes, but finally finds a precarious peace in appreciation of the present moment, and a substitute for immortality in the cycles of nature.
His ninth book of life absurd, and fascinating... "Two barn owls discuss Descartes as they/disembowel a field mouse without the help/of knife or fork. They are friends and/share even the tastiest bits. For instance,/each gets one lung. Sum, says one. Ergo/cogito, says the other. Then they chuckle./The night is cold; the fields are white...."
By Lynn Domina. This now widely published author's debut collection from Four Way Books enters into the mysteries of love, work, and death, through small but pivotal moments between parents and children, husbands and wives. Although it moves like a family history with flashbacks, the scenes have a timeless quality because the relationship of the characters from one poem to the next is left undefined. The woman speaking in first-person could be the author, the daughter of the farming couple with the strained marriage who appear in some of the other poems, or an invented character.