the only flesh to feed you, by Brendan Walsh

Reviewed by Lynn Marie Houston

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(Yellowjacket Press, 2018)Rev

Brendan Walsh’s latest chapbook, the only flesh to feed you, runner up in YellowJacket Press’ Florida chapbook competition, is a lyrical exploration of how science can inform poetry to better help us understand the complexities of human nature. Like in his previous collection, Buddha vs. Bonobo, Walsh uses the animal kingdom as a foil to explore the wants and desires that drive all living beings, including humans.

The study of science often seeks to reveal the secrets of nature to humankind. In the only flesh to feed you, we watch as the speaker—through the voices of various animal species—discovers his own secret nature and explores his own desires and contradictions. Walsh’s poetic project does enormous work to undo toxic masculinity and heteronormativity. In these pages, we see a partnership that continues the dream of a matriarchal society, like the one Walsh explores in Buddha vs. Bonobo. Oftentimes, the female partner is given the upper hand, and Walsh even draws our attention to homosexual behaviors among certain species, as well as orgies. A couple of the poems include typical narratives about males who mate and leave, but more frequent are tales that tell a different side of this story: for instance, of the male octopus who is aware of the likelihood that his mate will kill and eat him and who chooses to pursue her anyway. The call to flesh, Walsh seems to argue, is larger than any fear of death, is born of it.

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How to Wear this Body, by Hayden Saunier

Reviewed by Bernadette McBride

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(Terrapin Books 2017)

If it’s true, as someone once opined, that, but for love, loss, and death, there would be no poetry, Hayden Saunier’s new book, How to Wear This Body, reifies the power writing wields in excavating the fortitude needed to brave and reckon with grief’s depths and to embrace with gusto life’s joyful offerings.

In four sections steeped largely in wintered themes (with welcome doses of spring’s and summer’s redemptions), Saunier testifies to the human condition through vehicles ranging from life’s quotidian norms to our sometimes dangerous, sometimes hapless, often healing partnerships with others and with all of nature on this teeming planet. In tight, crystalline style, she attunes the corporeal grit of living to the stretch toward the spirit within that endures and sustains, to arrive at a truce, of sorts, with life’s dichotomy of brightness and bitter realities.

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Eros, by Kevin McGrath

Reviewed by Thomas Simmons

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(Saint Julian, 2016)

In the way that remarkable texts call forth other remarkable texts, sometimes in subterranean ways, Kevin McGrath’s EROS for me immediately called two texts to mind––the first unsurprising, Diotima’s instructions to Socrates on how to move from love of a single beautiful body to the totality of love in the Form of beauty. One of the finest two pages of Plato’s Dialogues, this upward motion of the questing spirit deeply resonates in McGrath’s collection, as he moves from a profound devotion to his partner and the life they have formed to the ways in which the world at large reflects that love and also invites new themes and variations.

McGrath explains this in his afterword: “The book’s narrative moves from a singular individual distinction toward the increasingly social and synoptic, for such is the nature of the transition which occurs in the human psyche….” Divided into four sections, with numbers instead of words as titles, as in the great religious traditions from which McGrath teaches, this book is a long practice of deep devotion, in which in the end, however we configure the end, there is nothing left for us to remember because all the remembering has already been accomplished.

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Elephanta Suite, by Paul Theroux

Reviewed by Isabelle Kenyon

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(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007)

Theroux has a gift – it is almost as though I can picture him in India, observing the people there so completely that they come to life on his page.

Elephanta Suite consists of 3 stories. The first seems to come to an end all too soon – I wanted to see where this discontented English couple ended up. (Spoiler) Their death is assumed, but this seems a cheap trick – let them live out the consequences of their actions and please the reader who feels as though she knows this complex couple intimately.

All of Theroux’s characters are complex and so is the reader’s relationship with them. It is the last story, Alice, that stays with me. In the light of the recent “MeToo” Campaign, this story, and the way in which Alice chooses to enact revenge and seek justice –something the courts do not give her—is so poignant. Theroux’s talent embodied in how completely he understands the thought process of Alice’s young adult mind. Alice’s sarcasm, self – awareness and self-discovery are endearing and engaging.

Isabelle Kenyon is a Guildford based poet and a graduate in Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance from the University of York. She is the author of poetry anthology, This is not a Spectacle, and micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered, published by Origami Poetry Press. She is also the editor of MIND Poetry Anthology ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’. Her poems have been published in many poetry anthologies and included in literary festivals, such as Anti Heroin Chic, Literary Yard, Bewildering Stories, The Inkyneedles anthology, the Great British Write Off, the Wirral festival of Music, Speech and Drama, Poetry Rivals, and the Festival of Firsts. Isabelle has been awarded third place in the Langwith Scott Award for Art and Drama and runner up in the Visit Newark Poetry Competition. You can read more about Isabelle and see her work at www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk

All the Names They Used for God: Stories, by Anjali Sachdeva

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

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(Spiegel & Grau, 2018)

This debut short story collection is hypnotizing, lovely, and a relief. As a reader, I found myself exhaling slowly, sucking in air comfortably, trusting in Sachdeva’s authorial control.

The stories are original, unusual (Kelly Link is oft mentioned in comparison). There’s weird stuff: women alone on the range or the prairie or wherever that is, struggling with winter and food and underground crystalline worlds; explorers of ancient ruins—part Indiana Jones and part Old Maid Daughter; girls kidnapped from their African villages and made into sex slaves in the name of Allah; a fisherman mesmerized by a shark-loving mermaid; snot glob-like aliens who replace human limbs with forks. Each one is beautifully written.

Here’s a lovely quote in a book of many lovely quotes: “The shark was a solid whip of muscle, carelessly lethal, and his presence transformed the drab green of the northern sea into a place she longed for even though she could not properly recall it. He dove deeper; the water changed from green to gray to nearly black, and eventually the mermaid left him and spiraled away on her own.”

Sachdeva’s imagery was the big draw for me, though her originality is also notable. Anthony Doerr, who wrote his own super beautiful book (All The Light We Cannot See) blurbs that he looks forward to reading her future stuff. I’d definitely second that.

Jennifer Spiegel is the author of three books, The Freak Chronicles (stories),  Love Slave (a novel), and And So We Die, Having First Slept (forthcoming from Five Oaks Press). She’s also half of the book-reviewing gig, Snotty Literati.