Light Activity Involved: THE QUIETING, edited by Michelle Tudor

Reviewed by Cody Stetzel

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(Platypus Press, 2016)

The Quieting is an anthology of ten poems published by Platypus Press. Each poem meditates on the meaning of softness and light. But what are we to make of an anthology of only ten total poems that falls under twenty pages? I find the limited approach to the theme refreshing. Easily, one could compose this same anthology with dozens, hundreds of authors. However, this micro-anthology is well worth the read.

This is not an exhaustive work that leaves you breathless. Instead, I find myself thinking deeply about specific pieces. Two works that stood out to me are “Two birds—One stone” by S.A. Khanum and “At Night” by Anis Mohjani. Both of these are written in voices that echo for a long time. The concision of the anthology enabled me to pay more attention to poems that halt within the flow (to use a water metaphor, a theme heavily-laden within the anthology). A poem, for example, like Terrence Abrahams’ “Just between us,” becomes memorable when it is paired with the noisy contrast of “At Night”: “Take every dream, crack its shell, / watch the yolk run down your fingers, now // take a hunting rifle, run outside—.” Continue reading

Interview with Randy Brown

Interviewer: Stephen Sossaman

51qqpGCbf1L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Randy Brown is a poet, journalist, and editor, and a leading figure in the veterans’ writing movement. He is the author of the award-winning poetry collection Welcome to FOB Haiku (Middle West Press, 2015); editor of a 2016 book-length collection of citizen-soldier journalism; poetry editor of the on-line literary journal As You Were; and a blogger on military experience, culture, and writing. In 2011, Brown was embedded as a civilian journalist with the 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division, the Iowa National Guard unit with which he served before retiring in 2010.

Stephen Sossaman: Every war is different, and so too is the generation that fights it and writes about it. From your readings in contemporary war poetry, what about Afghanistan and Iraq — and military personnel today—seems different?

Randy Brown: I’d like to think that there’s a growing appreciation for different voices, for different perspectives on the battlefield. A variety of voices now seems more easily available to us. Is that a function of how poetry is published and propagated today? Or answer to a growing call for narrative diversity? Either way, war poetry today isn’t as easily triaged into simple categories. It’s no longer just soldiers or aviators, enemies abroad or families waiting by the fires at home. Our war chorus has grown more complicated, more cacophonous.

SS:  So how much of this diversity do you think is due to cultural change, and how much to the vast opportunities of online publishing, ebooks, and self-publishing?

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Buddha vs. Bonobo, by Brendan Walsh

review by Kristen Leigh

 

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(Sutra Press, 2017)

“…how far from where stories shaped/ their mouths and not/ the other way around.”

It is in the above line from Brendan Walsh’s latest collection, Buddha vs. Bonobo (Sutra Press), that I read an inquiry of human communication quintessential to the author’s body of work. Walsh’s commitment to fusing feeling with intellect and presenting the idea within the container of a poem is more than just pleasure reading—although there is much pleasure in the lyricism of his language and imagery. Walsh’s previous work asserts him as a minimalist of material goods, yet nearly hedonistic in his consumption of experiences, culture, language, travel, love, friendship. He communicates a drive, ravenous, for a common shared experience. We are talking about the work of a man who feels it all—who chooses to feel it all—and hopes you might join him in this lettered search for the origin of human compassion. It might be surprising to find it resting in hearts and on haunches in, at least on these recent pages, bonobo communities.

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Stateside, by Jehanne Dubrow

Review by Lynn Marie Houston

419tVkReOWL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_A holiday this past week went largely unacknowledged on my social media feeds. Wednesday, June 14th is known as “flag day.” In fact, the whole week of June 14th to the 18th is called “flag week.” It’s a holiday to commemorate the adoption of the official design of the U.S. flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. We’ve since added a few more stars to represent the total number of states in our nation, but it’s still the basic design we use today.

The passing of flag day with little fanfare makes me think of news articles I’ve seen over the last couple of years that attempt to remind the American people that we are still regularly sending troops to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Just last month, one of my college English students had to turn in his final portfolio early because he was deploying to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit. And yet, like flag day, these deployments seem to go widely unacknowledged. Some advocates have taken to calling the war in Afghanistan “Forgotistan” in order to underscore the lack of public knowledge and support for the ongoing sacrifices of our military personnel.

But it’s not just our military personnel who are continuing to make sacrifices without headlines; their families do, too. In fact, the spouses, parents, and children of our deployed service members have been long accustomed to making sacrifices without much public acknowledgement. I know a little bit about the latter kind of suffering, having supported the man I was dating through his deployment last year. In November, the Heartland Review Press will be releasing Unguarded, my prize-winning collection of poem-letters written to him during our time apart. In honor of flag week and of Forgotistan, I’d like to draw attention to the poems of Jehanne Dubrow, whose 2010 collection Stateside rewrote the Penelope myth for modern times, capturing in poetry the quintessential 21st-Century experience of the woman who waits for her lover while he is at war.

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Pax Americana, by Kurt Baumeister

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

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(Stalking Horse Press, 2017)

When I started the process of reviewing this book, my own small world was not exactly on my mind. More than anything, I eagerly opened my copy to see the workings of the indie press industry. How is Small Press America (there might be a pun buried in here) doing in 2017? There are, of course, a plethora of bookish offerings, but this particular one landed on my radar.

The funny thing is that my life inadvertently encroached. As I began reading this political satire, my husband and I finished another weirdly timed thing: a TV binge of “The West Wing” (a show that ended in 2006)—having ventured into it accidentally, without a thought about the current political climate. We just wanted to see it. Additionally, I was listening to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale on audio for a future review with Snotty Literati, another dystopian-political-kind-of-book. And, well, we can’t exactly ignore the world into which this book was born, for better or for worse: the, um, “Trump Era.” Lastly, I’m a practicing—albeit unorthodox, rakishly anti-Trump, mildly castigated by more than a few—Christian. (Poor Baumeister! Should I even touch his decidedly anti-Christian political prose?) These things worked on me as I read this novel.

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Autumn’s Yard, by Anne Averyt

Reviewed by Sarah W. Bartlett

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Finishing Line, 2016

From the first poem, “Autumn’s Yard” explores themes both enduring and endearing. In this debut collection, Averyt pays close attention to the vagaries of nature – from the external world of Nature we associate with trees, flowers and birds; to the inner world of nature as personal character and spirit; to the Big Questions concerning the nature of life, love, mortality, eternity.

The first thing the reader learns is that Averyt loves to move ordinary language around, catching both the unexpected and the doubly-intended meanings in a single pass. This she achieves through word order, reference and line breaks as much with as the sound of words themselves.

For instance, in the opening poem she writes “Here the doves in coo/mourn . . .” where the pun on here/hear immediately alerts the reader to a needed second look at the stanza. Then of course the mourning dove, rather than cooing, is “in coo,” both a reversal of the anticipated order of the phrase and an added level of meaning. Continue reading

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

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Random House, 2017

I love George Saunders, and I’ll read anything he writes.

My review, in summary: he’s brilliant, a genius even—but Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel which follows a stellar short story career, is more like an amazing exercise to be appreciated and discussed, from somewhere below; however, it failed to do what I personally like in a novel, which is for someone else’s story–besides mine!—to absorb me. That’s a lot to ask, but I often ask it. This explains my love of big, bulky stories like The Nix or The Goldfinch. Saunders offers fascinating ideas, brilliant collaging, and great sentences—but I wasn’t overcome, and I wanted to be. Did I step outside of myself and into the life of another, much like the Bardo “ghosts” step into the lives of the living? Am I closer to the human experience?

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We Are Traveling Through Dark at Tremendous Speeds, by Sarah Sadie

Reviewed by Karla Huston

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(Lit Fest Press, 2016)

I’m one of “those” readers who begins at the beginning of a volume of poems. I don’t page through, lighting on a title to stop to read only to flit off again. I do not read the end of the book first, although as I write this, I wonder, if perhaps I should.

While reading Sarah Sadie’s poems, I start at the start, but first, I read the narrative that scrolls across the bottom of the page like the Breaking News! crawl on national news-tainment channels.

A volume of poems unlike most, it has a sense of “other.” First, Sarah Sadie is the nom de poem used by Sarah Sadie Busse, Middleton, Wisconsin. It is appropriate she has named herself as such, since these poems are about of becoming, of defining and refining the self as (not?) “Middle-aged, middle-class, middle-western. [Middleton?] Flyover territory.”

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

Who isn’t listening to audiobooks these days? I was late, as I am to many trends, as I was with Patti Smith. I think I only “discovered” her in the nineties. Actually, I know exactly when and where I was. The nineties, the East Village, a used record shop (are they still there?) Me, trying, failing, to be cool. I bought Patti Smith’s Gone Again. Hooked, ready for Horses.

I finally listened to Just Kids, which is narrated by Smith. It’s extraordinary. Though the book focuses on her relationship with Artist Robert Mapplethorpe (who, admittedly, interests me considerably less), it was Smith who lulled me with her prose. When poets commit to narrative, sometimes amazing things happen.

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The Neapolitan Novel Quartet by Elena Ferrante

review by Jennifer Spiegel

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My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015): doesn’t this four-book-in-a-row thing blow you away?

My introduction to Ferrante came on the operating table, minutes before I had both breasts cut off. Probably my most-trusted literary confidante had told me to read Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment (2005), and—for some no-doubt predestined reason—that was the book I took to the hospital to get a double mastectomy in the summer of 2015. I read parts of it, in a hospital gown with only socks on—no underwear. The protagonist’s marriage was over. Reality, contorted. I woke up and read again. My body, compromised.

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