Barrel Children, by Rayon Lennon

Review by Lynn Houston

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(Main Street Rag Publishing, 2015)

With Ishion Hutchinson’s recent win of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, it is perhaps time to have a larger discussion about the work of poets who are writing about their relationships to Jamaica. One such poet local to the New Haven area is Rayon Lennon, whose work has won a Rattle contest, among many other accolades. Tess Taylor, from the NBCC board, writes about how Hutchinson crafts “poetry [that] compresses witness” and that “concentrate fervor and anger.” Rayon Lennon’s collection Barrel Children has a little of both the poetry of witness and anger, but it also captures those moments when, despite economic hardships spawned by colonialism, we discover or create connections—sometimes unconventional ones—with other people.

The premise of Lennon’s collection is the experience growing up as one of the barrel children, like many children in Jamaica, whose fathers send items back home to them from America, where they have gone to be able to support their wives and children with better wages, but where they also often start new families are never seen again. The items they send back to Jamaica are shipped in barrels. Continue reading

Small Ceremonies, by Cynthia Snow

Review by Lynn Houston

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(Slate Roof Press, 2016)

Small Ceremonies by Cynthia Snow is an indispensable poetic catalogue of what you never knew you needed, a paean to our last moments of earthly things. Snow’s work makes present a million tiny apocalypses, not the grand disasters that summon horsemen, but the subtle hurricane of otherness that loss ushers into our most intimate spaces.

Snow’s book has been exquisitely put together by Slate Roof Press using a letterpress printer, and deliciously textured cardstock with an oval cut-out front cover over laid onto an illustration of ceramic birds. The book includes a few photos of gardens and bowers that echo the intimate quality of the poet’s voice. The poems in Small Ceremonies are often like secrets whispered to childhood friends. The voice offers up its lyricism as sanctuary, ushering us into a sanctified space even when it confides erotic happenings.

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The Philosophy of Unclean Things, by Rosemarie Dombrowski

Review by Lynn Houston

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(Finishing Line Press, 2017)

As editor-in-chief of Five Oaks Press, I should disclose that I published Rosemarie Dombrowski’s first poetry collection, The Book of Emergencies, in 2014. What I loved most about that book is the same element that shows up in her latest collection The Philosophy of Unclean Things published by Finishing Line Press–how life provides an ethnographic symbolism for her art. The Philosophy of Unclean Things is a collection that Rosemarie has jokingly referred to as her “dead bird poems,” and a reader can see why. She makes a lens out of a fascination with decay, with how things inevitably and organically waste away and return—not all at once—to earth. In her previous collection, in which she wrote about the challenges and miracles of raising her autistic son, family life became the site of a tenuous nesting. Here, Dombrowski expands her view—The Philosophy of Unclean Things gathers life, art, and relationships from far and wide, even including the rift between a citizen in her country in a series of poems that explore the psychology of the expatriate, another wonderful kind of dis-ease in Dombrowski’s universe. Continue reading