What-Will-Keep-Us-Alive-by-Kristin-LaTour

What I’m reading…

I found a  press that looked promising for a place to send my current manuscript, Anchor and Plume out of Baton Rouge, and I ordered a book so I could investigate them further. I’s so happy I ordered Jenna Le’s A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora. Ocean Vuong blurbed the book and called her poems “tender, earnest yet fierce.” Sometimes I move around a book of poems, but this time I started at the first page and found I couldn’t stop devouring each poem.

Le is in love with the sound of language, it seems, from the very first poem which is full of alliteration and assonance. The speaker “know[s] the burn the surf-drunk humpback feels,” after it launches out of the water and “dash[es] the sun’s hot sclera with salt spatter.” The book’s final poem, “Ark,” closes with the image of a dove “Shaken out of the sky,/ the way a woman shakes the knots/ out of a long silk scarf.” Every poem is littered with lovely phrases like these, making it difficult to stop reading for the next one.

The first section of the book titled “And God created the great whales” stays near the sea, recounting how whales arrived there from land, how the ocean sings to those on shore. The second, “And every living creature that moveth,” comes back to land, the Midwest, where speakers are land-locked and lonely. The opening poem of the section, “Minnesota,” shows Le’s playing with form, as two quintets mirror each other in rhyme, while also reversing the theme of the west wind being an ally, then going missing. The final section, “And every winged fowl after his kind,” moves between land and sea, the tricky spaces in life where we feel unmoored. In “Psych!” a young woman comes to terms with a mysterious one-night stand, and the following poem, “Birth Control” offers a question of how beings show restraint, which is given a painful answer.

I highly recommend Le’s book, and look forward to reading more from Anchor and Plume!

What-Will-Keep-Us-Alive-by-Kristin-LaTour

What I’m reading…

I just finished Meghan Privitello’s A New Language for Falling Out of Love.  I had a student this past semester who was vehemently opposed to prose poems, so it’s made me sensitive to reading them recently… giving me both pause and a sense of defensiveness. I think reading this book full of them has helped reset my love for prose in poetry.

One element I argued with my student is that prose poems aren’t stories, aren’t prosaic, are leaning heavily on language since there are no line breaks. Privitello’s poems are beautiful in their language and mystery. The opening of “The Good Life” is a good example. “The heart tires of being a radio. It wants to rock itself to sleep at night. It wants to roll off its shelf and become a stone.” Of course, in a book of love poems, the heart can’t be ignored, but the metaphor felt fresh to me, and developing into a further metaphor of a stone, while hearkening to a cliché, felt different again, coming from the aspect of a machine turning silent and hard.

Nature filters through all these poems, cows in fields and earthquakes, katydids and constellations. There are everyday, mundane objects that shine out from their placement in the poems. “It would be easier to suck on butterscotch candies than memorialize every last breath.” “Your onion memory makes me cry bitter milk when I cut it through.” There’s also humor, “You say heaven is within us, but how could we hold onto so much sky and still wear the same pants size?” Every poem had some gem that sparkled.

I have a hard time writing love poems, so I always enjoy reading how someone interprets relationships and romance. Privitello’s book gave me plenty to sift through and think about. I’ll be going back to it again, I’m sure.

 

What-Will-Keep-Us-Alive-by-Kristin-LaTour

What I’m Reading

The poet Susan Slaviero came to my college recently to speak, and I bought her two recent books. I’ve really enjoyed a little creepy bedtime reading, and wanted to share with you!

Starting with the gorgeous chap, Selections from the Murder Room is like looking through a beautiful, but haunted, Victorian sitting room. So many beautiful things everywhere with a sense of darkness and dread lingering in the air. I loved “Why I chose Taxidermy as my Art” with images like “femurs stained with violet” and “pearly tongues.” The sounds in the title poem are delicious: “ruck your thumb on a clavicle,” “a refrain that rings like penny razors,” or “creased necks chokered in violet beads” are like truffles on display for one’s choosing. For anyone who stood in a dark room facing a mirror as a child, chanting incantations, look over “Hell Mary” with its reminders of “hands bleeding iodine” and “a rent in the glass that summons me three times, spinning.”

As if the poems in this chap weren’t lovely enough, the publisher, Tree Light Books, designed it as an art book, with endsheets cut from a medical book and a limited numbered edition. The cover, with an image of a cadaver being stripped down to musculature, is so tempting and indicative of the content inside I couldn’t NOT get it!

From Victorian taxidermy and murder, I moved on to Cyborgia, a full-length collection published by Mayapple Press.  Full of machine women, Cyborgia touched me as a comment on how society sees/creates/envisions women and how women see/react/behave in the face of society. It’s a confusing muddle where human and machine, nature and made, blend and contort. In the poem “Anatomy of the Grotesque” Slaviero writes, “One cannot separate flesh from burn–/ this thing we call woman melts under your tongue.” This “thing” includes “well-dressed meat” and “transparent segments revealing miniature sparrow lungs.” She is “a beautiful horror.” In “Gretel Discusses her Prosthetic Arm,” the girl who saved her brother calmly shows off her “mechanical limb” that makes her “more than mere girl; I am an armory dressed in gingham and lace.” “Our Lady of Bricolage” points out that “When she is unstitched, you will find/ she is nothing but sticks and bottlecaps,/ discarded girl-bits.” In the end, women cannot be made and are more complex than the sum of their parts. Duh!