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Let Us Imagine Her Name
By Sue Brannan Walker
Clemson University Press, 2017
Paperback $15.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Alyx Chandler

A poetry memoir in the form of an abecedarian is something one doesn’t happen upon very often, but for former Alabama Poet Laureate Sue Brannan Walker, it’s a challenge she skillfully navigates, easily drawing readers into her world of curious speculation and her own personal, unresolved identity. Not only has Walker mastered the art of sharing her wisdom with us, she digs through the trove of history to show us the gems of truth in the legacy of women across the globe who have passed. Read full review...

Dusting for Prints, Poems by Bonnie Roberts
By Bonnie Roberts
Flownwords, Swansea, South Wales, UK, 2019
Paperback $16 or £15
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Susan Hazen Guthrie

“I am Truth’s complete fool… A starving pilgrim.”
Moby Dick, Herman Melville

Bonnie Roberts is a philosopher-king, perched on a precipice between Asia and Europe.  The moment the cover of Dusting for Prints is opened, she has already, long ago, leapt into the Hellespont…Leander-like.

We – you and I, are the Heroes, holding the Light, as we read.

If I am the guide, then I recommend Dusting for Prints, Poems by Bonnie Roberts, with mind and heart…which, upon reading, may have become a little more whole.

The poet warps time, viewing the past in parallel with the now, and the stumbling and scarring it took to arrive here.  The personal past aligns with character.  Do heightened language, poetic form and imagery protect the seeker or is it the knife’s point?

At the very start, the introduction is a poem, a frame – prologue and epilogue; then the expected copyright and table of contents, and then bang, we’re on our way, “Along the Midway,” the first poem.  Ms. Roberts captures the noisy carnival or fair, and within a line, the silence of the galaxies.  The reader could be on a Ferris Wheel or a Redstone Rocket – crashing, thunderous and alone, and all of it thrilling.

In “The Bottom of the Sea is Silent” the father of the past is seen through the eyes of the adult daughter; and she discovers his limitations, magic, and love were, long ago, expressing as violent anger.  In early life we readily learn the anger; however, it takes long-life to see without the judgement.

Sister relationship is in portrait in several different poems, none are sentimental.  Two such poems are “My Sensual Sister” and “Birthright.”  However, it is in “Dusting for Prints,” the title poem, that an indelible image of loss sustains.  The section below illustrates the deft creation within two lines…one line, of antithetical levels – past and present, bearing under and understanding:

We find other loves,

great or greater loves,

but the Loves of our Birth

live in our feet,

and everywhere we walk or fall

is to find who we were before;

A Shakespeare person, I am interested in the poetic line and where the poet choses to break it.  In “Crossing the Dardanelles,”  “The Medicinal and Surreal Nature of God the Day My Father Died” and “Suffer the Little Children,” each poetic line delivers its own evocative image and message, while building the whole.  Furthermore, even the smallest end-line pause reveals a runaway rhythm, compounding the poems’ intense effect.

“Suffer the Little Children” holds a favorite memory of baptism by emersion: 

We are baptized and kick the preacher,

who keeps us under too long,

we splash the two front rows.

There is nothing we can do about

this life in us

This excerpt renders two complete thoughts or one thought housed in the first couplet, followed by a line of action, followed by a line and a half of philosophy.  When read line by independent line a child’s inseparable thinking/action is revealed, as is an immediacy and comedy into which we are delivered.   When read line by line there is a spot of time for personal response, interpretation, such as possible identification with the horror-stricken faces of family and parishioners.  Then on a dime, she turns or returns in the last independent line segment to the adult intellect tethering past hope, recognition of loss, enlightenment.

Ms. Roberts has a distinct feel for port and sea and brings it to the book in story and image. I especially liked ocean imagery, and that of shore, safety, sea bottom, and silence…and endless open sky.  She takes this into many poems, compelling in “Crossing the Dardanelles,” “Phantom Waves,” and “Ishmael, who will father me now?”

In this poem Ishmael (name symbolizing orphans, exiles, and social outcasts) takes on Pip of Great Expectations, as a fellow passenger.  Both watch and narrate, desperately holding on to the coffin/life preserver left by the marked action of Queequeg. 

The poem repeats, “Queequeg is my father…the one whole twisted piece of art that is my father.”  and “He knows I will need hieroglyphics I can feel with my hands –“   

The poem reminds or rather consoles, there will be a balance to the universal struggle: the father – blood or no, carves the signs for the child to return to embrace – whether in this life or the next.

And lastly, as the reader will come to the challenge – a Pileated Woodpecker is a black and white, red-capped North American bird, fairly large.  It does not look like a robin, but I could imagine the resemblance.

Susan Hazen Guthrie is a stage director and dance/fight choreographer. She is a Humanities Scholar and Master Teacher in Voice and Speech and Verse Literature. She is a Teaching Artist for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, New York State Alliance for Art Education, Tennessee Arts Commission, and Alabama State Council for the Arts. Ms. Guthrie is a poet and the author of Shakespeare in the Classroom and The City Shakespeare Projects. She lectures and coaches throughout the country for POETRY OUT LOUD. 

Borrowed Light
By Jennifer Horne
Mule on a Ferris Wheel, 2019
By Paperback $15.00
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Caitlin Rae Taylor

Alabama Poet Laureate Jennifer Horne’s Borrowed Light is a collection of invented happiness, of scrounged-for peace, of borrowed hope and simple solace. It is a balm for a humankind that is no stranger to pain and self-flagellation, for a womanhood that is weary and pinioned. The collection’s entire conceit rests on the titular architectural term: “borrowed light,” light which spills into an otherwise unlit room or passageway from an adjoining, windowed space. Some form of light, literal or metaphorical, finds its way into each of Horne’s poems. It is the simplicity and clearness of this imagery that helps these poems shine, despite the darkness which surrounds them.

The collection begins with a door opening “quietly / so as not to wake the dogs,” a soft, inviting, domestic welcome. Familiar, comforting, but a small thrill, a curiosity for what we may find behind said door. “Morning Gift” acts as a response to Robert Frost’s “Two Look at Two,” the last line of which serves as the opening poem’s epigraph. Horne has played with the structure of her poem here, dividing it not only into couplets but also into two separate numbered sections to denote the stillness and violence of witness. This structure also provides a reminder that a human relationship is a joining of two separate entities who can never fully merge. In Frost’s “Two Look at Two,” a hiking couple are met with their human limitations: “a tumbled wall / With barbed-wire binding.” Yet, for their patience and resistance against their instincts to overcome nature, earth rewards them with the sighting of a doe and buck. In Horne’s “Morning Gift,” the speaker greets a lake on the other side of her door, and what she witnesses there is “Bird…Long neck, gimlet eye, fancy feathered hat.” The speaker is still, witnessing, eating her breakfast and drinking her coffee. Her lack of interference is rewarded as “Two Belted Kingfishers [ratchet] by.” But it is the silence before, the small moment of peace, that our speaker acknowledges as the light in this poem, a light that could not exist without those Kingfishers acting as “disturbers of the peace.”

The second part of “Morning Gift” acknowledges Frost’s poem directly as the speaker’s significant other is revealed as the second witness, the one to read the poem within the poem aloud, to revel in the kismet of their similarities. “Morning Gift,” is itself a gift, reminding Horne’s readers that the smallness and stillness of a domestic life can breed both happiness and surprise, if we let it.

The collection’s first few poems flirt with a similar sort of easiness. They are stillness broken by simple reverie. They give the illusion that the collection’s whole will be the serenity of a quiet life. Until we reach the simmering rage of “Domestic Lessons,” aptly placed as the collection’s fourth poem. Its first section is homey, instructional, a treatise on how to properly make the bed, dust the furniture, fold the laundry. There is little sign of percolating anger until the sixth stanza: “And always, especially to the children / and the man you love, say yes. / It is unwomanly not to yield.” The first section ends, and suddenly we are with the speaker in an art gallery considering a sculpture of “loosely woven white web.” Light pouring in from a window acts epiphanically, urging the speaker, “[before] endless acquiescence / becomes a cage of your own making…it is up to you, / once in a while, / to close the door / and be alone / with your own thoughts.” For femme- and feminine-identifying people, this idea of domestic, womanly imprisonment is familiar, but “Domestic Lessons” wrests away the conceit that the woman, our speaker, is agentless. The poem urges a personal definition of womanhood, a plea for our speaker to recognize her own power and the power of her language: “If you say you are the pillow, / you are the pillow. / If you say you’re the sky, / you are the sky.”

The following few poems, “Simplicity,” “Wick,” “Family Story,” are love letters to women, to feminine spaces, to socially-defined “feminine” arts. They praise female rage and extoll the Biblical Eve, always with the shortest lines, the fewest words, tightly-knit creations that can be held in the hand, their stitches clear, purposeful, economical. One of the collection’s later poems, “Present,” makes a case for Horne’s entire thesis: “When I say that at times in my life / I’ve been saved from despair / by one particular bird, tree, rock, sky, / that’s what I mean by God.” The small, still beauty of nature, but also the vast, jarring indifference of it, the inevitability of death, is proof of life, and that alone acts as deliverance from grief. And the persistence of the soul among that grief to witness the forward march of time is, itself, a miracle: “Each detail is a shading-in / of something hugely necessary. / And here am I: / small, quite small, but present.”

“guest house” follows “Present” as a plea wrapped in giddy play on sound. The long-vowel assonance and soft sibilance of lines such as “two crows harry a hawk, / robins arrive at the end / of the second month / woods’ edge warblers / inhabit this house / its good bones” elicit a quiet, happy reverence, as if the reader is watching the scene unfold alongside Horne. The deliberateness makes for delightful, out-loud read, but the poem ends with another of the collection’s main points: “...the day will come / of leaving and goodbyes, / make your art now.”

Borrowed Light saves much of its mourning for its last few pages. We have been given so many gifts before we reach the speaker of “Cemetery Mailbox,” devising a letter to her passed loved ones. Or the speaker of “Monument,” who recounts her miscarriages. Or the speaker of “Tell,” who lists all the moments she has contemplated suicide. “Voice” closes Horne’s collection, and though its speaker “[wakes] to sunlight, the smell of last night’s bonfire in [her] hair,” this last poem is far from the still wonder of the collection’s earlier poems. The Biblical miracles of the burning bush and Ten Commandment tablets are reduced to a “smoking stump” and “tattered notebook.” The beloved is gone, the speaker wondering if the beloved can be attained again. There is darkness here, the heavy feeling of disappointment, the fog of smoke and rain obscuring the light Horne’s collection has promised. But the titular ideology here comes in the form of a call to action, both to the speaker and to Horne’s readers: “I resolve to do as you urged: / begin my true life, start now.” With the beloved’s voice ringing in our ears: “‘You’re not afraid of not liking it…You’re afraid you’ll like it so much it will change you, / demand a life as big as you can imagine, / a voice to match.’”

Horne leaves us there to question our own lives. To look around at our circumstances, our reactions to those circumstances, and ask ourselves if we have let the darkness envelope us so completely that we are no longer living. She urges us to swallow that darkness, as heavy as it might have become, and create our own light in a world that, though indifferent to our survival, is ripe with wonders that can keep us going if we stop to savor them. Borrowed Light is a peaceful book that reckons with its own sorrow, accepts its sadness, and fights to pull itself through that sadness, into another room, where, perhaps, the light is brighter. Where maybe it casts a shorter shadow.

dark//thing
By Ashley M. Jones
Pleiades Press, 2019
Paperback $17.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Alina Stefanescu

I want this country to inhabit the poetic splendor and formal innovation of Ashley M. Jones' dark // thing. I want everyone and their mother to read it, and no child left behind. But first, I want to thank the author, herself, for poeming the difficult space between blackness, americanism, and power, sparing herself no vulnerability, and clearing the landscape of ennobling lies we tuck into postcards and lullabies.

The poems in this collection are inhabited, lived from within the flesh, situated in the state of Alabama, as Ashley makes clear in "Red Dirt Suite":  

             "I was born in starry Alabama--
             the night mixed me up a blue so sweet
             I swallowed it whole."

She writes Birmingham as only the lover can write the beloved--from inside the space of intimate questioning. The poems circle around the power of stereotype to fossilize into known histories and received wisdoms.

The first poem, "Slurret," begins by listing racial slurs, and revealing their relationship to commercial culture:

             "You a spade, a spook, an open-mouthed
             black pickaninny. Ashy Aunt Jemima,
             Americoon, you blue-gummed Beluga.
             you cotton-picking jigaboo."

The poet's role in speaking to the past is often nostalgic, and Ashley does not abandon this role entirely. In the section entitled, "Side A: 3rd Grade Birthday Party" (a part of the poem "Slurret"), the poet positions her adult mind alongside her child mind with the memory of "that Blond Birthday Party in the suburbs". This juxtaposition of child and woman recurs in several poems and enriches the texture of remembered events by speaking the lived past into the present where Birmingham zip codes are still "chewed like a wad of gum" to establish one's personhood.

To nostalgia, Ashley adds the poet's crucial role in holding a mirror that enables us to see the parts of ourselves we overlook--like the mess in a room we know well. It is this reflective role of poetry that matters more in a world of clickbait, hot takes, and hashtag prayer chains. And it is this lens that feels so imminently personal and challenging, as in "Sunken Place Sestina", where she explores the price of gentrification "at the hipster food hall that fills Birmingham with gentrified spice", and concludes:

             "We add spice--call integration equality; call gentrification progress,
             reduce our brothers to pixelated dust, turn heartache into wine,
             sink further and further beyond a blindingly bright sky."

Many poems probe the difficult, inhumane options offered to black, citizened persons, whether to assume the role of monster or clown ("maybe we're all just shucking and jiving until our time to die") in the limited repertoire of received roles.

Ashley invigorates the ekphrastic form by placing the poet's eye on archival postcards. "Uncle Remus Syrup Commemorative Lynching Postcard #25" examines the once-popular southern past-time of the public lynching by recreating the scene in a chilling layered collage of language and voices. To read it is to know the monstrous depth of our state's socialization, and to grapple with our shared commitment to celebrate a history that teaches us to dehumanize of black men.

dark // thing's greatest contribution to poetics is not an aesthetic or a lyricism or a memorable love-bite--it is the use of poetry to unmask and reveal stereotypes. By  harnessing language to experience in such a richly-textured way, the poet makes clear  the power of stereotypes in authoring history, in normalizing oppression with "harmless" dehumanizations that limit what black Americans can imagine of themselves, or expect of their role as citizens.

"(Black) Hair" plays with the sonnet corona in a prose form that weaves through the poet's personal history with black hair, and ends on an encouraging note of self-acceptance. "Recitation" brings magic to the prose poem form by using its density and heft to offer an embodied experience of dressing as Harriet Tubman for a school poetry recitation. Ashley leads us through the cosseted feel of a body that struggles with adenoids and allergies, a throat whose breath betrays in sudden wheezes, a body she must believe but cannot entirely trust.  "Imitation of Life" explores how we cannot avoid the tiny terrors, the minute complicities, the tangles of careless reactions that lead to the wreck.

For the poet, perhaps nothing signifies as much as what we do to the bodies of the dead, what we put in the mouths of those who can no longer speak for themselves, or raise their voices to refute us. Although I've found no quick formula for honoring other voices when asking them to speak inside a poem, I am inspired by the way Ashley enables the persons that she personifies and subjects to speak through epigraphs.  The lengthy epigraphs quoting Harriet Tubman in "Harriet Tubman Crosses the Mason Dixon for the First Time" and "Avian Abecedarian" position the poems to speak with Tubman rather than for her.

In speaking alongside, or after, Walt Whitman, "Song of My Muhammad" is an absolutely beautiful, fiery testament to the black American experience, as sensed through the black body of Muhammad Ali. It is a hymn that subverts the harm of white supremacy. It is a paean not to the strength of the state or the nation but to the single human being who stands in a ring and readies his gloves.

At her reading in the Birmingham Museum of Art, Ashley prefaced the Harriet Tubman poems by addressing the ghosts in the room. She promised to read "in the spirit of powerful women." In this promise, one holds the spirit and legacy that infuses this collection. In chaos, poetry remains resilient as a source of truth and possibility. A poem is an algorithm of resistance against despair. This book is its pulse.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama. Her poems and prose are recent or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT, Cloudbank, Prairie Schooner, NELLE, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor of Pidgeonholes, President of the Alabama State Poetry Society, Publicity Chair of AWC, and co-founder of the Magic City Poetry Festival. Her first poetry chapbook, Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the ASPS Poetry Book of the Year Award. Her first poetry collection, Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (Finishing Line Press, 2017) included Pushcart-nominated poems. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and was published in May 2018. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.

Trilogy: Kenosis
By Jake Berry
Small Press Distribution, 2018
Paperback $16.95
Genre: Poetry
Carey Scott Wilkerson

Let me propose here that Jake Berry’s new collection of poems, Trilogy: Kenosis, is both an eloquent argument for what remains possible on the page and a splendid exemplar of that very possibility. As ever, Berry’s essential project braids together philosophical sophistication, linguistic invention, and an old-fashioned delight in the work of poetry itself.

The first of three sections, “Scale,” is a kind of formal mediation on the spiritual poetics of postmodernity. At once theological, archaeological, and musicological, these seven gestures open an inquiry into the secret nature of our poetics. Like the poems of its brilliant dedicatee, Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, “Scale” searches for, excavates, and claims (in the name of goodness and deep truth) certain unmapped spaces of hermetic lyricism. Berry’s capacity for poetic utterance is admirable indeed not least for the way in which it transmutes the received tropes of self-disclosure and torques the language of epiphany:

4

out from – sheltering
as the lungs
across the bed
toward zero (face to face)
This is our habitation

to visit
along the way

dust on our

     rags

5

[discovered]
a femur
a pelvis

a shoulder blade
     upon which
     inscribed in Greek
     (as was the Orphic inclination):

     body σῶμα soma
     water ὕδωρ hudor
     spirit πνεῦμα pneuma

an octave apart

a spike in the earth

There is, of course, an urgent human narrative here and indeed in the entire collection. Death and its attendant transfigurations haunt this book. We feel it as much in the line breaks and internal stresses as in the declarative aspects of the poems, which are nonetheless arresting:

7

The word
has shaken
us free

with an essential,
forbidden
summoning

more than knowledge
more than life

a music
one step beyond

“A Second Octave” stages a further modulation of Berry’s philosophical-spiritual exploration. And if the turn here is more inward, it is perhaps also more emotionally explicit. It is among this fine book’s many high achievements that the confessional is never conventional but, rather, always framed inside the dual expressive motifs of a searching mind and a singing heart. I find here, a discernible invocation of Charles Olson’s lines “As the dead prey upon us / they are the dead in ourselves.” And as these are inscribed for yet another extraordinary dedicatee (and an important Olson scholar), I might point as well to the complexity and range of reference in Berry’s poems. Folks, here is a book informed by an architecture of formal design and the architectonics of metaphysical unity:

2

Easter
  for Jack Foley

Out of death –
 such abundant nothingness –
 a fire is lit
 in the imagination
 (who understands this mysterious capacity?)
 Even the seeds we do not want
 spring to life

 We wept
 when he was taken from us
 even though we did not know
 who or what he was

 All those dead
 taken away
 But our sorrow
 cannot prevent spring arriving

“Kenosis,” the titular and final section, is, in some sense not only the center out of which the whole book spins but also the singularity to which it finally returns. Dedicated to yet a third essential artist, David Thomas Roberts, the language here fuses the energies of the previous sections in a dramatic synthesis of stentorian pronouncement and oracular vision:

To surrender completely, utterly
To be broken
  as the earth is broken
  as the seed is broken
  and surrenders its spirit
  so the sky is broken
  and the rain pours down

We have every reason to celebrate the courage implicit in the title’s meaning for contemporary poetics and the vanguard of postmodern spirituality. Moreover, we might also envy Berry’s willingness to investigate those originary forces and the ways they animate his work. I do not know what we must surrender or how, but my own intellect and faith tell me that Berry is showing us something we need to see. Withal, Kenosis is an elegant, daring, and beautifully honest work. Berry says that “memory is the past made sacred.” I believe this book does the same for the presence of language itself.
   
Carey Scott Wilkerson—a dramatist, Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, and author of four opera libretti—is Assistant Professor Creative Writing at Columbus State University.

Mend
By Kwoya Fagin Maples
University Press of Kentucky, 2018
Paperback $19.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Rachel Nix

Mend is history – as with all history, the harshest aspects are either untold or fibbed about by the profiteer. Few moments of America’s past were recorded properly – especially in terms of effect on women, particularly black women. While Maples uses persona poetry to give voice to women in this collection, the tellings aren’t overdone or in any way fictionalized for excess. Instead, they are humanized and shown for more than bodies afflicted by fistula.

The women who speak in these poems were slaves who had their bodies loaned to Dr. James Marion Sims of Mt. Meigs, Alabama in the years between 1845 and 1849 for gynecological experimentation in an attempt to cure vaginal tears. They did not give their consent and of the eleven bodies which underwent wildly invasive and unethical surgical experiments, only three of the women in Sims’ autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” were named: Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. Maples allows their perspectives to be told with careful respect for detail and clear mining of any historical accuracy which could be researched. She delivers their memories in simple language that is colloquially true to the location and time period, as in “Mt. Meigs Arrival,” but also with a lyrical vibrancy that at times soothes before urging the reader to be enraged.

“It’s the most city I’ve ever seen.
When we ride up to the big-house,
the land has all the things I know:
honeysuckles, pines
unseen crickets off somewhere,
and the air is the same sweet I’ve known my whole life.”

Mingled in between poems are a few direct quotes by way of Sims’ autobiography; interestingly enough, they’re the only bits which seem molded for purpose. They work well in juxtaposition to the poems that follow.

”[…] and of course, her life was one of suffering and disgust. Death would have been preferable. But patients of this kind never die; they must live and suffer.” - Dr. Sims

Maples follows his coldness with the poem, “A Thousand Cats” – cats, a south Alabama slang used for ‘vagina’. The delivery of this poem hits at a needed time early in Mend, showing the women possess not only resilience, but that they also see the doctor for what he is: less interested in curing their ailments, but eager for the title he’ll receive for doing so.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Maples’ choice to write in voices that are under the influence of opium – given to the women for pain management, but also caused both confusion and memory loss. This manifests believably in the sequenced sonnets, aptly titled “What Yields.”

“We nod off like pine trees as you
stitch. Always sighing, you hover

over us. Fool, we know you will never
be done, […]”

It would prove difficult to point to favorite pieces in Mend, as all are important and build upon each other phenomenally; however, I’ll say I was most drawn to the sonnets. These occupy the purest reflections of Anarcha, whose straightforward but stunning language give the collection its fiercest strength. Lines such as “Bodies above virtue are never black” jarred me and have stayed with me long after finishing Mend.

Rotting fruit is the take-away image in these poems. Referenced several times across the book, it’s a pertinent way to see the flawed value these women held to science; they were to be used for a white man’s professional sustenance, rather than willing contributors to a broader understanding.

“We are rotting fruit, yet our bodies yield.
How easily we yield to you, for you.
We slide into our poses, blossoming.
You examine our stalks for blight, mildew
and rust. One morning your eyes examine
the field and we are ripe.”

Maples ends the above poem with Anarcha saying, “We must yield, even if you lie to reap.” The calm reserve, layered with pre-implied anger and trauma, amplifies that which the women know they can’t escape but will survive. Before the book leaves you to your thinking, the notion of joy as resistance appears: a reminder that not everything can be taken for another’s use.

With Mend, Kwoya Fagin Maples is equal parts teacher and poet: releasing a part of history that needed to be told, she’s brought dignity and light to the women of Mt. Meigs; further, she’s urging readers to learn and listen, to not repeat the ugliness hidden in our white-washed past. This is a must-read book for anyone, timeless and worth any praise Maples may yet garner for it.

Rachel Nix is a poet in north Alabama and serves as an editor for cahoodaloodaling, Hobo Camp Review, and Screen Door Review.

Known by Salt
by Tina Mozelle Braziel
Anhinga Press, 2019
Paperback $20.00
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Claire Matturro

With a grace that honors her roots, yet soars beyond, Tina Mozelle Braziel has written a singularly beautiful, intelligent, and accessible collection of poems in Known by Salt (Anhinga Press 2019). It’s no wonder she won the prestigious 2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry for the collection.

The poems are rich with images that speak of her native South—“the bottom where I once grew collards,” “glasses of tea sweat on the blue Formica,” “black-eyed peas and okra,” and “the clothes line between hickory and house.” While many poets use everyday images, hers resonate with a wholesome crispness that refreshes, like the simplicity of William Carlos Williams’ “plums that were in the ice box.” Yet Braziel’s images—like Williams’—speak volumes about human experience and evoke themes of loss, growth, bravery, and transcendence.

Braziel’s poems excel with their vivid images, but the language also shines with powerful verbs utilized in a manner which creates something unique out of the ordinary. For example, Braziel’s “cornbread exhales its golden brown,” her “wheels bloomed with rust,” and the scent of money is “musk muddled by thousands of hands.”
In “Housekeeping, a poem reminiscent in tone and sheer beauty to James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” Braziel writes gloriously:

Each morning, a hummingbird

whirrs to the window to watch

the glass bloom with its likeness.

And I recognize the house is not kept

by sweeping straw across floor-planks

and rubbing rags over shelves.

I’d do better to lie in the hammock all day,

lifting a finger to the breeze

sieved through screen,

listening to the cat purr as he strolls

from corner to corner, smudging

the house with his thrum.

With a narrative flow from poem to poem, Braziel tells a story about transcending limits in which the poet goes from being a child trapped in a trailer park to a young woman building her own home. Initially, in “Beneath the Trailer,” the poet, “wearing only Underoos/and clutching a near-empty bag of Wonder Bread,” is thwarted by the underpinning of a house trailer which

… kept me out and was meant to

                        keep me from dreaming my way west,

           from circling the trailers each night.

From this trapped child, with the “trailer park chip on my shoulder” referenced in “Trash,” the poet in “All Our Things are Resurrections,” writes of reclaiming “retired telephone poles,” “old church glass,” and “tongue and groove heart-pine ceiling” in building a new home with her husband. She concludes:

All our things are everyday

calling for me to wake

like water roused to wine,

like sand rousted into glass.

Yet as moving as the home building poems are, perhaps the most powerful and poignant poem in the collection is “Tornado Sermon.” Given that Braziel grew up in Dixie Alley, an area of the Deep South prone to violent tornadoes, she probably experienced first-hand the terror of a tornado. If not, she certainly writes with a precision that speaks of a personal acquaintance with the destruction.

        For three days now we have cleared rubble,

boarded windows, carried each other so no one sits

        like Job in the ashes of what was.

We’ve searched fallen oak and briers

            for chickens, littered fields for photographs.

We’ve seen ourselves in that mirror.

            Now we’ve got to search ourselves

like we searched broken planks

              and fallen chimneys for moan and movement

for someone we might save.

Braziel’s lyrical, captivating voice will no doubt only get richer and stronger as she continues to write. Yet, the young voice she has now is so fine, lovely, true, and strong. Readers can only begin to imagine what might come next from this rising star of modern poetry.

Hello the House
by Rupert Fike
Snake Nation Press, 2018
Paperback $15.00
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Michael Blanchard

If poetry is a compass for us as readers to find our place in the world, it is necessary for the poet first to get his or her bearings in time and place. And, that is exactly what Rupert Fike undertakes to do in his newest collection, Hello the House (Snake∼Nation∼Press). The poems here are rich with memory, rumination, and images evocative of a particular place and culture. And, Fike’s imagination drifts easily and dreamily between past and present, flowing inexorably to insights gained or wisdom to share.

In highly accessible poems that are conversational in both tone and diction, Fike serves as an engaging tour guide through a region he calls home. Geographically, that land is a swath of the American South close to the Georgia/Tennessee line. Culturally, it is a world of AM-radio preachers; fried grits, grilled cheese sandwiches, and chicken cooked in bacon grease; and early-morning hunts for “rabbits, /doves, anything with a beating heart.” It is a world also where neighbors are served “a coke-cola on ice complete with tatted glass-holders.” And where family is close and death as familiar as the corpse of a “great aunt laid out/on the dining room table.”

More important than Fike’s eye for telling detail and gift for story-telling, though, is his moral/ethical compass, which guides him in staking claim to a territory all his own in this world, even if doing so lands him on the other side of the metaphorical fence from family and neighbors.

A literal fence figures in the collection’s title poem, a reminiscence about a youthful hunting trip with a hard-drinking father figure. The fence to be crossed here is a “three-strand” one of barbed wire. Symbolically, it marks a key divide in the poet’s coming of age:

He has waited too long to bring me out here.
I’m citified, beyond reclamation.
I will see the rabbit’s side of things
when it comes bounding past with great leaps.

“The Old Man. So Alone. Out in the Cold” provides another example of the poet’s moral awakening. Through memory, he feels a connection to an aging poet who struggled during the public reading of a poem against wind, cold, and glaring sun. The poet was Robert Frost; the setting, the inauguration of John F. Kennedy:

Years later I will have cataracts myself,
but that moment on the store floor was when
I first learned to feel sorry for someone.
For the old man. So alone. Out in the cold.
Who no one would help. And I felt sorry.
Mother wanted to move on, but I dug in.

“Georgia/Tennessee Line, Sunday” provides yet another example. In response to the message delivered by AM-radio preachers of the day, the poet concludes:

Even as a boy I couldn’t buy this,
though I could tell she really believed it.
Here was the first fault line I had noticed
in the great church of grown-up wisdom.
Not that I became a boy atheist,
it’s just that this was when I first knew
I’d have to figure things out all by myself.

If the 47 poems in Hello the House are a true indicator, it appears Rupert Fike has done a lot of figuring things out. And, for that, we are fortunate to have him as our guide.

Hello the House is the winner of the 2017 Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry. Fike’s previous collection, Lotus Buffet (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2011), earned him recognition as a finalist for the Georgia Author of the Year Award, the oldest literary prize in the southeast.

Small Crimes
by Andrea Jurjevic
Anhinga Press, 2015
Paperback $20.00
Genre: Poetry
Winner of the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry
Reviewed by Mary Jane Ryals

Even the cover photo of Small Crimes tells a story--a homunculus clinging to an unclothed woman. The homunculus is a monstrous form used to express postwar anxieties about refugees, persecution of minorities in war and the adoption of minorities into a big world.

Yet this gritty and tender collection by native Croatian Andrea Jurjevic tells an intimate and personal story of survival in a brutal war that occurred in Europe only two-plus decades ago. Named the Croatian Revolution, a million people were counted in the dead, missing, imprisoned and displaced just across the Adriatic from Italy.

Jurjevic focuses, rather than on historical facts, on how the quotidian of regular people’s lives managed to help them keep their humanity in the midst of bombs, firing squads and loss. In “Sarajevo Cycle: 1992 to 1996” the visuals tell the death toll in ironically beautiful language:

past the fast-clacks through debris, clutched loaves of bread,
more Run or RIP signs nailed to posts, the cyclist not heeding

the sickle-shape of a couple’s legs on the sidewalk, or the child in a fuchsia
duffel coat with fingers curled in the red drool under her mouth...

In the poem “Small Crimes,” in contrast, longing, tenderness, and grace through the body come to two people in a car at a roadside shrine of the black Madonna:

I’d leaned towards you behind the wheel.

You stirred, semi-vigilant as I snapped the white buttons
on your shirt, undid the equator of your belt,

ducked from the eyes of people pushing cars
filled with cured lamb, corn on Styrofoam, cellophaned rye

And as the last sprays of sunlight slid down
the hood of the sky, you shielded my black hair,

your hands familiar with churned earth,
and what it takes in the tucked back of a parking lot

to absolve a peopled afternoon of a small crime
and keep it hidden, keep it safe.

In the last section of the book, “Americana: Threshold,” the book’s final poem, “Threshold,” the narrator describes cleaning a “Strange place I resist calling home.”

The descriptions of everyday domestics are angled by the vision of someone who’s seen too much: “Four blistered black mailboxes,” “faded geraniums...like spent debutantes,” and “I try to removed time from the worn carpet, / restore something in this house...”

Yet the mere fact that survival occurs seems a miracle as the end of the poem approaches:
...I think of how right now
someplace boats are leaving their docks,

how easily they move--like the lifting
of eyelids, the sound of dawn, like breathing.

This book of poems certainly earned the 2015 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry that it won, through voice, story, detail, scrutiny, understatement and love of language.

Blue Etiquette
by Kathleen Driskell
Red Hen Press, 2016
Paperback $17.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Tina Mozelle Braziel

If you have ever smarted from a condescending boss or a dehumanizing job requirement or someone acting as if they are better than you, read Kathleen Driskell’s Blue Etiquette. Like me, you will revel in how Kathleen Driskell takes up class—a topic Americans loathe to examine—and how clearly she represents the emotional labor and social costs it exacts. As she says in “Oyster Fork” “what {she’s} after / is…/ an honest presentation— / for once— / of what it is / and what it wants.” In this well-crafted collection she does exactly that by introducing us to the service required of parlor maids, nursing home attendants, drivers, maitre d’s and others.

Driskell’s poems are georgic in how they emphasize the hard knowledge born from labor. Yet they complicate the georgic tradition by questioning the necessity of some work. For example, in “The Oak Room,” waiters are required to hold up a table cloth “curtain” around a heart-attack victim so other diners can enjoy their meals undisturbed. As Driskell leads us “down the dark tunnel of truth,” we come to realize that it is more nuanced than simply indicting the powerful. Instead, we are prompted to consider how many times we used etiquette to veil others (and ourselves) from the struggles of our fellow human-beings.

For me, the poem that hit closest to home is “Evolution.” It begins:

Aspiring to college
I set out
to evolve more quickly
than the finches
and tortoises
I’d read about and more
quickly than the coal miners
and factory workers
I’d come from

As a first generation college student, I am delighted by this surprising comparison that elevates the speaker’s position. As the poem continues, I identify with her, her work as a waitress, and why she would treat the beautiful young women dining with older men with “haughty distain.” When the poem makes its final turn, when it concedes that that these young women were also determined to evolve, I’m again surprised, shocked, in fact, into recognizing how easily I slipped into a similar elitism. This is the genius of Blue Etiquette, how it works to keep all of us honest. In time when the chasm between the haves and the have-nots seems to grow ever wider, this collection is all the more necessary.

Tina Mozelle Braziel, winner of the 2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop for high school students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her collection, Known by Salt, will be published by Anhinga Press in 2019. Her chapbook, Rooted by Thirst, was published by Porkbelly Press in 2016. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin that they are building by hand on Hydrangea Ridge.

How It Is: Selected Poems
by Neil Shepard
Salmon Poetry, 2018
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by: Claire Matturro

Reading Neil Shepard’s How It Is: Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry 2018) is akin to a meditative walk through the lush inner terrain of a man who sees and senses all too much. Vivid, evocative, and varied, the individual poems cross time lines and geographic divides to form a compelling whole. The aggregate impact shows Shepard is not only well traveled, but also fascinated by just about everything—as a great poet should be.
The poems in How It Is include works previously published in books ranging from 1993’s Scavenging the Country for a Heartbeat to Shepard’s most recent 2015 Hominid Up. Given this span, How It Is offers readers a quarter of a century of Shepard’s writings to be savored.

And savored these poems should be. Shepard is an exceptional and emphatic writer, with a sharp eye for the telling detail, a deft hand at conveying truth, and a musician’s gift for hearing the melody in words. His images and language can startle our senses and wake us to mystery, as he does in “The Bell Bird.”

I smell lemon everywhere,
lemon-air and lemon-earth and lemon-trees
and long-leafed eucalyptus. When I arrive
at the canyon’s rim and peer down a thousand
feet to the dusk-silent canopy of trees,
suddenly the Bell Bird sings,
its song almost human, a glissando
across the empty space. It wavers
on the edge of sunset, circling
along the rim or far down
in the gloom or far above
in the temperate air—it’s impossible
to tell where the song comes from.

While some reviewers have compared him to Robert Frost, perhaps because of shared geography as well as their quiet genius, Shepard stands on his own as a valued and singular voice. His rhythmic phrases and the sheer grace of his poetic acumen mark him as an American treasure. He also appears to be having fun with his words, as illustrated in the opening lines from “Oh! on an April Morning.”

Oh! on an April Morning
I’m ready to murder the flowers.
The all-night word-fest left me
in some indeterminate schwa
of sleeplessness, neither long on yawns
nor persnickety and testy,
but stunned, stoned, seemingly
systematically taken apart
by human sounds—

While the collection offers richly textured works of homage, personal insights, and social commentary as well as a poetic travel guide, Shepard truly shines in his nature poems. A Vermonter, Shepard divides his time between New York City and his native state. Yet his lush “Atchafalaya November,” set in a Louisiana swamp, is as true and vivid as if he had been born and raised a Cajun.

We quiet the motor,
loop rope around a cypress stump,
and drift in the pirogue.
Snowy egrets circle out at dawn,
widening the compass of the known,

Soon we must give in
to the butterflies, like roses pinned to darkness,
landing on your hair and mine, give in
to the small tongues and tendrils
of the world that prey on us
with such tenderness.
Then we will look North
and hear it coming,
and not be afraid.

Shepard’s poems not only traverse from Atchafalaya to Corfu and beyond, but they range from when he was “twenty, ripped jeans, rucksack, cervezas and chasers” to being “of late middle age.” The daughter that was “centered in a cradle” in “Birth Announcement” is now “singing Madonna in the shower.” Thus, in this fine collection, readers are invited to join Shepard in his journey and in the maturation of his vision. Thank you, Neil Shepard for inviting us along. It’s a great, glorious trip to take.

Out of Speech
by Adam Vines
Louisiana State University Press, 2018
Paperback: $16.95 Kindle: $9.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Barry Marks

The Dancer and the Dance:

A Review of Out of Speech by Adam Vines

It is easy to dismiss ekphrastic poetry. Long favored by middle school creative writing classes and poetry workshop challenges, it is tempting to exile the ekphrastic poem to the ignoble and ignorable province of light verse.

Then someone mentions Auden’s “Musee de Beaux Arts”, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” or William Carlos Williams’ “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” We remember that in poetry, as much as any art form, the chasm between the pedestrian and the brilliant is wide but there is room for both.

At its best, an ekphrastic poem does much more than tell us about a painting. It zeroes in on what the artist was doing (perhaps unintentionally) and through that, may tell us even more about the world and ourselves than the original work alone. This often requires the poet to get very personal with the artwork.

In his artful and often surprising volume of poetry, Out of Speech, Adam Vines comes at his subjects from a variety of angles and often achieves the most we could ask of ekphrasis. In fact, these poems beg to be read on a standalone basis, without first viewing the subject works. To do otherwise might cause the reader to underappreciate the poignancy of lines like

I, too, see the pages left blank
in the books I left open
the night before.

I, too, can’t bear my foot
toeing into the light.

or the cleverness of
The buses exhaust

themselves on the curb
noses sliming
the windows like slugs

The visual art on which the poems are based ranges from the familiar (Wyeth’s Christina’s World) to the more obscure (Tanguy’s Les Vues) to the unexpected (the statue of Rocky outside the Philadelphia Spectrum). Vines’s subjects are primarily 20th Century paintings, including those by Rothko, Picasso, Rauschenberg and Warhol. These works, some of which represent the psyche rather than visual objects, lend themselves to the varied approaches he takes.

While some poems describe and interpret specific works, others use the work as a touchstone for poems that, if no painting were mentioned, would satisfy. Resort to the visual inspiration only heightens the effect, as the reader sees that Vines is giving us at once his personal interpretation and following the direction of the artist to something universal.

Still others use the reactions of viewers to delve into the meaning of the painting. “The Iconoclasts” uses the reaction of four boys at a museum to Indiana’s “American Dream #1” to amplify exactly the view of America the painter had in mind. Unimpressed with Rauschenberg’s Rebus the boys take out their frustration and boredom by pretending to “dump banana clips and drum/ magazines” into the bullseye-like icons on Indiana’s painting. The recent flood of school shootings make this poem almost unbearably timely and true.

Some of the best poems blend the personal and confessional with the subject, as when the poet describes himself as a viewer. Responding to Hopper’s evocative Cape Cod Evening, Vines begins with pure description, but places himself in the poem by simply noting “but as I move closer/he isn’t….” This brief first person interaction with both the painting and reader becomes meaningful when we see what the speaker sees on closer inspection, ending with the observation:

…She will not
talk tonight. He hasn’t
talked for years.

Mr. Vines is an assistant professor at UAB and editor of The Birmingham Poetry Review. Out of Speech is the rare work that should satisfy both the demanding academic and the avid reader of poetry. While it may not make the reader a fan of ekphrasis, it is an example of what can be done when remembering to include the viewer in what is being viewed.

Barry Marks is a Birmingham attorney, a past President of the Alabama State Poetry Society and a member of the Board of Directors of the Alabama Writers Forum.

The Myth of Water
by Jeanie Thompson
University of Alabama Press, 2016
Paperback $19.99
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Melissa Dickson Jackson

With her recent collection, Jeanie Thompson has attempted something both ambitious and historic: to bring alive the interior monologues and musings of an international hero, Helen Keller.

In The Myth of Water, the complicated thoughts of an ordinary woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances amplify and resound as Thompson wrestles with her own inevitable formal challenges. How, for instance, does one wield the unique tools of poetry when one’s speaker can neither see nor hear. All the luscious skills of sound, all the descriptive and imagistic prowess of the poet at labor must be subsumed by an integrity to subject and cause. Fortunately for Thompson, Keller, with her remarkable capacity to shape language, often operates as a co-creator through her letters, journals, and published works that sometimes serve as found poems or found lines, and more often give Thompson unique insight to Keller’s private voice.
Indeed, readers find here a Helen Keller who is not whole, crystallized and enrobed in the cultural myth that glorifies and, perhaps, diminishes her, but one who is broken by a keen self-awareness, tragic losses, loneliness, doubt, and fear. Thompson’s splendid chronicle of Keller’s life brings the mythic Alabama native down to earth while reminding readers that her journey was even more complicated and angst-ridden then they might have realized.

Thompson’s exemplary research and commitment to a poetic but fact-based narrative frame the document. She begins with a brief essay describing the project and then laboriously cites the facts and events of Keller’s life with a seven-page detailed chronology. Readers are frequently reminded that the poems emerge from a life closely studied as Thompson also includes notes at the bottom of several poems documenting and explaining the poems’ origin stories. Thompson has made every effort to put Keller first with a reverential and respectful thoroughness that sometimes threatens to interrupt the narrative and poetic flow. It is a sacrifice that readers are compelled to respect.

While imagined and fictionalized, the poems strive to create a genuine presence reflective of Keller. Just as the speaker in “Prologue” determines not to “overtax [her] listeners,” Thompson seems determined not to over-poeticize her subject. The voice of Keller remains pragmatic, sensible, compassionate, and careful. She knows doubt, but it’s not simply the existential doubt of navel-gazing elites. It’s also the doubt that speaks to a fear of failure to serve, failure to communicate, or failure to fulfill one’s essential mission. And there is also a yearning to find liberation from the bonds of her disabilities, her gender, her era, her earthliness. In “At Wrentham,” the speaker bemoans a world that “scatters like leaves/torn by storm from the trees” but “believe[s] a woman could be free at Wrentham.” Just as Keller emerges from the chaos of her early silence, Thompson’s speaker emerges from the chaos of her body’s betrayal, from the desolation of a lover’s abandonment, and from the recurring motif of mortality.

It is, however, the death of Anne Sullivan Macy that most grieves Thompson’s Keller. In “First Entry, After Midnight,” the speaker confesses a “sorrow” that “cannot be/ shaped into a metaphor as [she] tries cheating sharp grief.” By the end of the poem “[w]ords crumble into chaotic sticks. That place before a word taught” Keller “to know” Sullivan, and through Sullivan to know a world she loved deeply and people she internalized through her own fingertips and theirs. Sullivan is not simply her mentor and teacher but the figure that brought language, meaning, knowledge, and humanity to a child who had only known an inner primal silence before Sullivan’s diligent attentions. In the poems that follow, readers find an emergent Keller essaying into the world with her own words “explod[ing]/like river birds.”

If Thompson’s task was to “give a sense of Keller’s simple humanity and great heart,” as she states in the introduction, she’s overshot the mark with a document that serves to re-examine the life of an extraordinary person while creatively expanding the miraculous and globally influential persona of Helen Keller. Thompson’s poems never overtake Keller, but respectfully underscore and elevate the humanity of a woman too-often lost in myth.

Melissa Dickson is a poet and mother of four. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, Literary Mama, and Southern Women's Review. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from SVA and an MFA in poetry from Converse College and teaches at the University of West Georgia.

American Happiness
by Jacqueline Trimble
New South Books, 2016
Paperback $21.94, Kindle Edition $9.99
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Foster Dickson

The experience of Jacqueline Allen Trimble’s recent poetry collection, American Happiness, begins not with the poems, nor with the prose preface, not even with the table of contents. It begins with that bright yellow cover, headed by its handwriting-font scrawl of the title and below its elementary-style graphics that mimic cut-outs: on a gingham tablecloth, we have a red flowerpot supporting a black plant with a large black bloom whose blue interior petals show the author in various stages of youth. However, I got the sense, the first time I saw it, that the stark and unsmiling little girl in the flower’s yellow center was the one I was not to ignore.

And it is that stoic-looking who we first meet, in Trimble’s preface: “How My Mother Taught Me to Write Poems.” In it, Trimble describes how her mother, “who was actually [her] stepmother,” raised her in the late 1960s with a strong sense of both civil rights and irony— both of which appear as running themes in the collection. By juxtaposing social justice with sarcasm, Trimble makes her point that the idea of happiness, that much sought-after ephemera, might have as many definitions as there are people who seek it.

American Happiness is divided into three sections of relatively equal length, with twelve, ten, and twelve poems, respectively, making for a slim volume to hold in one’s hands. Ironically, we begin with “Closure,” whose opening poem, “Everybody in America Hate the South,” declares to us the poet’s comprehension of the complex scenario in our native region, while also making sure that we understand her sense of humor about the whole thing, by juxtaposing the “ghosts of lunched boys” with “crazy Aunt Hazel who runs naked / through a house full of company shouting / all the foolish things we think but can’t say.” The section continues with equal dimension, reminiscing on the death of her father and the passing of time, while also wondering out loud about our abilities and inabilities in “Did Jean Paul Sartre Ever Ask Simone de Beauvoir to Go to the Winn Dixie?” Trimble navigates the surly world of “Church Women” and deciphers the difficult emotions in an enigmatic image in “Family Photograph: A Conjugation.”

In section two, “The Geography of Passion,” the tone . . . shifts slightly, not into light-ness but perhaps further into humor, further into the longest-known realities of life, further into what we seek by going further into what we struggle against. (After all, the word from which we derive our English word passion means “to suffer.”) Here, we start with Cinderella entering a third, comfortable marriage and soon we glimpse Ingmar Bergman in Cleveland, Ohio. Following those culturally rich, allusive poems are more, as in “So Much That Fascinates Is the Blood,” in which the fate of Julius Caesar is likened to that of the here-nameless Michael Donald, a 1981 lynching victim in Mobile, Alabama. Trimble reaches into our human geography, into those spiritual places that we only dare to finger gingerly. In the Langston Hughes-like rumination, “A Woman Explains the World to Her Children,” she writes:
The world does not owe you
indigo, the quiet charm
of purple love. Lie down and see.
Manna will not fall
to fill your anxious bellow.
and ends with: “Go on and sing while you’re at it. / Might as well.”

In the final section, Jacqueline Allen Trimble addresses present and recent past. We recognize the subjects these sometimes-long titles, which reference the Klan and Selma, No Child Left Behind, even Barbie. Here, Trimble shows us to ourselves, and it is impossible to be pleased or flattered. With a wry sense of humor, the poet’s deft sense of nuance and irony puts together a jagged portrait of “American Happiness,” using media clips, modern slang, and current events as her raw materials. We see the mistreatment of African Americans and of women then and now, and we survey the cultural significance of oft-played imagery that has resulted in the racial profiling of young black men, a gas-station shooting prompted by loud music, the violent abuse of black students in schools, and re-imagined Barbie dolls too buxom for their packaging. These poems drop the pretense of politeness and say what is necessary to say.

The lack of heft in the physical book, American Happiness, may belie its depth of content. As with all good poetry, what is held within it supersedes the physical object. Jacqueline Allen Trimble’s book is well worth the time it takes to engage the poems in side. I read once that “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” I disagree. Poems like Trimble’s do that, too.

Foster Dickson is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Montgomery, Alabama. Foster’s work has centered mainly on subjects related to the American South, the arts & humanities, education, and social justice. His most recent book, Children of the Changing South, was published by McFarland & Co. in 2011. This edited collection (with Foster’s introduction) contains memoirs by eighteen writers and historians who grew up in the South during and after the civil rights movement. The Alabama Writers Forum’s review of the book stated, “Besides being a great read, this collection provides a valuable new perspective on Southern history. ”His book about the Whitehurst Case, a police-shooting controversy in Montgomery, Alabama in the mid-1970s, is forthcoming from NewSouth Books in the summer of 2018.

Meteor Shower
by Anne Whitehouse, 2016
Dos Madres Press, 2016

$17, Paper
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by John Vanderslice

For several years now, through a series of thoughtful and quietly beautiful books, Anne Whitehouse has proven herself to be among the most astute and substantial poets working in the United States. It is difficult to think of another writer who is able to combine delicate, pitch-perfect lyricism with such urgent personal material. Whitehouse’s talents and her gentle wisdom are on full display in her latest collection Meteor Shower, a book that may be her most personal yet—and her most affecting.

Throughout Meteor Shower, Anne Whitehouse proves herself to be that rare poet who is unafraid to be emotionally straightforward, who eschews the glitter of fashionable wordplay for something far more necessary and more lasting: a connection to herself and to the reader. It is as if, in her later years, Whitehouse does not feel she has time to resort to the kind of opaque gimmickry of which younger poets have long been fond. Her material is far too pressing for that. And she wants too badly to do justice to that material. By no means does this result in a poetry that does not sparkle on the page. Whitehouse’s poetry not only sparkles but it illuminates; and not only does it illuminate but it evokes wonder. It is difficult to count the number of lines in this book that will bring a reader to a dead, whispery stop, repeating the lines to himself, relishing their power and their turns of phrase.

In the book’s opening section, Whitehouse revisits herself at younger periods in her life; demonstrating not so much skepticism as fascination and profound acceptance. Indeed, often what she emphasizes is how much of the past is not even past—to paraphrase Faulkner—but eternal. In the title poem of the section she says, with appreciation and even awe,

I was a girl who fell in love with an island.
Each time I’ve left here,
something of that quiet, introspective girl
has lingered behind and never left.
On visits when I come across her
she has never gotten any older.

This slurring of past and present is apparent in other poems too, notably “An Afternoon Nap,” which starts as a harmless rendition of the writer sliding into sleep while vacationing by the sea. Unexpectedly she hears a voice calling out “Mama,” directly to her, “through the green summer, / “across the long years.” Instantaneously, she is thrown upon her life’s history as a mother, its struggles and its delights. The poem finally resolves with the confidence that, however fraught an experience motherhood might have been for her, the speaker can move on now, content that she did her best. The last lines ring with an unavoidable double meaning.

In contentment I lay, not wanting to rouse,
in delicious reverie, as if drunk from lovemaking,
languorous and mellow, ready for the fall.

In other sections, Whitehouse reveals that her past does not always, or even usually, bring to mind sensations of sweetness. Indeed, she suggests a variety of extended traumas: the failure of a friend's marriage, and the charged atmosphere of her childhood home, one ruled by an embittered, isolated father. At the end of the poem “A Backward Glance,” in which the speaker has been reviewing old family photographs, she admits that she finds the photographs not reassuring but frankly misleading:

In these captured moments
everyone is always smiling,
and yet I want to weep
for what will happen to us,
for what has happened already.

And yet, the clear project of the book for Whitehouse is the working through of exactly all that “has happened,” the admitting to it all, both good and bad, and in the process to relieve herself and us of the burden of that past, neutralizing its sting. As she urges in “Delete, Delete”:

Delete the urge to suffer
that twisted me in knots,
delete the need to be right,
to have the last word,
to have my own way.
Knowing that I cannot choose
the way my life will end.

Readers will be comforted to know that Meteor Shower ends with the assertion that the struggles of her past have done Whitehouse and the world and her poetry good. Similarly, it can only do a reader good to pick up this eloquent and nourishing book, to read it slowly, to appreciate its wisdom, and to linger over its delicious lines.

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas. His historical novel The Last Days of Oscar Wilde is forthcoming in 2018 from Burlesque Press.

Awakening to Holes in the Arc of Sun
by Carey Link
Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2016
$14, Paper
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Harry Moore

A Fairer House Than Prose

I dwell in Possibility—
a fairer House than Prose
—.

—Emily Dickinson

The thirty-eight free-verse lyrics of Carey Link’s Awakening to Holes in the Arc of Sun probe a world of ambiguity, tension, struggle, and pervasive beauty. Beyond all else, the poems affirm and celebrate the transforming power of poetic imagination. Read the complete review

By Lauren Goodwin Slaughter, 2015
The National Poetry Review Press, 2015
$17.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Tina Mozelle Braziel

Reading Lauren Goodwin Slaughter’s a lesson in smallness reminds me of Jane Hirshfield’s statement about poetry: “…true poems, like true love, undo us, and un-island. Contrary, sensual, subversive, they elude our customary allegiance to surface reality, purpose, and will.” The poetry in this lovely debut collection are true poems of this sort. They immerse the reader in stunning water imagery and thrill her with peeks (three poems!) inside the life of the Barefoot Contessa. More significantly, this collection raises essential questions about the nature of our personal lives: Who are we within them? How do we reconcile our expectations for our lives with what we find to be our reality? It is the examination of these questions that reveal Slaughter’s poems to be as emotionally astute as they are beautifully crafted. Read the complete review

by TJ Beitelman
Black Lawrence Press, 2015
$13.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Jim Murphy

“Why do I love such a city / as this?” asks the observant and bemused speaker of TJ Beitelman’s “Why I Love a City” from the Birmingham author’s just-published second book of poems, Americana. The thought continues: “Do mosquitoes have thumbs? They / should. Where is Carl Sandburg when you / need him? Who are my hog butchers?” Here, and in so many ingenious and surprising places in the volume, Beitelman carefully observes and good-naturedly questions the dreams and realities of Americans and their lore, mindfully engaging all the earnestness and kitsch of the culture in the best traditions of America’s great city poets. Walt Whitman, Frank O’Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, Kenneth Koch—and of course, Carl Sandburg—are all present here one way or another, and their collective influence is put to fine use in conversation with Beitelman’s own distinct, contemporary voice. Read the complete review

By James Miller Robinson
Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2014
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Harry Moore

The speaker in James Miller Robinson’s chapbook The Caterpillars at Saint Bernard is on a quest. From the naïve hitchhiker in the first poem, who hears as he is stranded on the roadside “the distinguishable voice / of [his] own particular life / whispering its promises / murmuring its warnings,” to the seasoned pilgrim in the last poem bringing home an entire monastery on his back, the poet is looking for something. Read the complete review

By Andrew Glaze
NewSouth Books, 2015
$21.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Barry S. Marks

Can you blame me for approaching Andrew Glaze’s Overheard in a Drugstore: And Other Poems with a sense of trepidation? The latest book by Alabama’s 95-year-old Alabama Poet Laureate opens with a copy of a 1956 letter from no less than Robert Frost and a photograph of Glaze, Frost, Wallace Stegner, and others at the 1946 Bread Loaf Writers Conference.

As if that is not daunting enough, the first poem, “Mr. Frost,” recounts a meeting between the Great Poet and a 100-year-old man ruminating on the meaning of life and the value of whiskey. Read the complete review

By Dan Albergotti
Southern Illinois University Press, 2014
$15.95, Paper; $15.95, eBook

Poetry

Reviewed by Mark Dawson

It is easy to see why Dan Albergotti’s 45-poem book, Millennial Teeth, won the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, selected by final judge Rodney Jones.
These poems are ambitious, and broad in theme, and a tour de force in form. In a time when some poetry books are based on delicate epiphanies (or "epuffanies" in some cases), Albergotti’s voice is direct as he explores both inner and outer themes.

Read the complete review

By Harry Moore
Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2014
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Penne J. Laubenthal

Time's Fool, Harry Moore's second chapbook, consists of twenty-four beautifully crafted poems that are both confessional and conversational. As a poet and a scholar, Moore acknowledges his literary predecessors, among them John Donne whose life has much in common with Moore’s own. Moore pays homage in his dedication, as well as in the title of his collection, to Shakespeare, the book of Psalms, and to his wife Cassandra, their children, and grandchildren. Grippingly honest and deeply moving, the poems in Time's Fool are by no means dark. They are celebratory and full of light, held together by hope, joy, faith, and always by love which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Read the complete review

By Allen Berry
Aldrich Press, 2014
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Since the 1920s, poets have been taking their inspiration from the rhythms and moods of jazz. Allen Berry now follows in that tradition, connecting past and present: Chet Baker “raises the sash, / a swan takes flight” in Amsterdam in 1988, and the speaker of “Look for the Silver Lining” says, “I don’t meet him / until Spring 2000. . .” [sitting] “cross-legged / on Stacey’s floor / assembling a CD rack . . . .” The lyric and the mundane are always bumping up against each other in Berry’s poems, and that’s a great part of their pleasure, the romantic aesthetic grounded by the motions of daily life. Read the complete review

By Hank Lazer
Little Red Leaves, Textile Series, 2014
$10, Paper, textile art book, designed and sewn by Dawn Pendergast with artwork by Marilyn MacGregor

Poetry

Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

Hank Lazer’s new book, N24, continues his fascinating investigation into the relationship between poetry and philosophy. By turns—puzzling and revelatory, now contemplative, now celebratory—this slender volume is both a disciplined re-reading of Merleau-Ponty’s core texts and a visionary re-enchantment of the written page itself. Read the complete review

By Jim Murphy
NegativeCapability Press, 2014
$15.95, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

University of Montevallo English professor Jim Murphy’s third collection of poetry takes its title from the first poem in the book, “The Uniform House of Dixie,” which sounds like a Walker Evans photograph and presents images congruent with Evans’ work. Read the complete review

By Irene Latham
Blue Rooster Press, 2014
$14.95, Paper
Poetry

Reviewed by Foster Dickson

Irene Latham’s slim new poetry collection, The Sky Between Us, caught my attention with its title. Latham, an award-winning poet and young-adult novelist, throws the browsing reader a poetic curveball: the sky is above us, not between us. She is inviting us to open it and read. Read the complete review

by Ron Self
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013
$15.95, Paper

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This compact paperback printing of seventy-five lyric poems has an attractive cover with a fresco painting by Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted circa 1511-1512. The collection offers three titled sections: Part 1: As Nature Made Him; Part 2: Family Business; and Part 3: Make It Dance. Read the complete review

By Harry Moore
Finishing Line Press , 2013
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Norman McMillan

As I read the seventeen poems in Harry Moore’s chapbook, What He Would Call Them, I thought almost immediately of Auden’s oft-quoted pronouncement: “Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.” With a clear understanding of the importance of family relationships across generations, Moore celebrates his forebears in most of the poems in this collection. But things do not stop there. He brings his readers forcibly back to the present, connecting his current life with previous lives, his own and those of his parents and grandparents. Read the complete review

These poetry titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

By Barry Marks
NegativeCapability Press, 2012
$15.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

On page 22 of Barry Marks’s Sounding, there is a poem titled “Father’s Day.” Below this title lies a blank page, a sweep of terminal white that drifts beyond the margins and into secret velocities of imagining. A silent withdrawal from the space of language and argumentation, it is but one of the many complex, heartbreaking, and luminous moments in this book. Written in the shadow of a father’s grief, this book is not only a Kaddish and encomium for his precious daughter, who died just after her seventeenth birthday, but also a gift of transfiguration and hope. Sounding is a study in the topology of loss and the exigent forces that make art possible when the world seems to collapse around us. Read the complete review

By Kelly Cherry
LSU Press, 2013
$19.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

The Life and Death of Poetry, Kelly Cherry's ninth full-length collection of poetry, is the 2013 winner of the L.E. Phillabaum Prize for Poetry. Like Cherry's memoir, Writing the World, and her essay collection, Girl in a Library, the book takes writing, language, and communication as central themes. Divided into three sections—Learning the Language, Welsh Table Talk (A Sequence), and What the Poet Wishes to Say—the poems move from silence and the sounds of animals to a father, his daughter, and non-related, yet intertwined friends, attempting to find— not always successfully—the words to bridge the distances between them, until finally reaching the joy of language, and the pleasures of the ordinary word. Dedicated "For my students, then and now," The Life and Death of Poetry is in the tradition of Ars Poetica and John Keats' negative capability. Read the complete review

By Willie James King
Tebot Bach, 2013
$16, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Tony Crunk

Willie James King’s fourth collection of poetry admirably continues the hallmarks of his previous work. He doesn’t just integrate the public and the personal, the political and the contemplative, but explores the myriad ways in which these dichotomies reflect and inform each other. Read the complete review

By Kathleen Driskell
Illustrated by AJ Reinhart
Fleur-de-Lis Explorations, 2012
$8, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

Thanks to the recent superhero movie craze, comics are big again. There are entire conferences devoted to comics scholarship, and comics (or, alternatively, “graphic novels”) have become a popular subject for English courses. What Kathleen Driskell brings to the table is a spin on the image-driven genre we are already familiar with. Simply put, it ain’t your grandma’s comic book. Interestingly enough, Driskell’s Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem comes in the form of an elongated, slim booklet reminiscent of a comic book. The cover art—droplets of rain highlighted against a windowpane—is powered by hues of white, gray, and black. This dark theme continues into the rest of the book’s paratext. Stark black dominates the title and credit pages and acts as the background for the area between and behind panels, otherwise known as the gutter. This sets an excellent mood for Driskell’s dark and hypnotic poetry. Driskell’s writing shines its brightest when it is fixated on the smallest details, like rotten apples being swept along in a current and young faces pressed against windows. While reading, I had the constant sense of being taken aback by these small, strange pieces of beauty. Read the complete review

By Carey Scott Wilkerson
New Plains Press, 2012
$16.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Aaron Sanders

Such a collection as Ars Minotaurica flies so close to the sun that its poetic parts don’t melt as much as dissolve. The poet, Carey Scott Wilkerson, then recycles what’s left over into more poems, and the reader gets the sense that the poet would be content repeating this process ad infinitum. Read the complete review

By Derrick Harriell, 2010
Aquarius Press-Willow Books, 2010
http://willowbookspoetry.homestead.com/
$13.45, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

In his perceptive introduction to Derrick Harriell’s Cotton, Frank X Walker prepares us for the staging of a narrative that speaks to and through the experience of Black America: “Cotton whispers what it means to transcend our collective ignorance, to be raised right and to never forget our roots.” This is an ambitious program, to be sure, but Harriell’s aesthetic commitments are precisely those that permit him to move between epic vision and close observation. That Harriell traces always an elegant arc between these two is the prevailing strength of these fine poems. Read the complete review

By Rodney Jones
Houghton Mifflin, 2011
$22, Hardcover

Poetry

Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Rodney Jones’ 2006 collection Salvation Blues: 100 Poems, 1985-2005 is more than the now-standard late-mid-career new-and-collected; it’s a book you can browse through, read start to finish, dip into, or perhaps even open a page at random and point at a line blindfolded and still hit pay dirt, essence of Rodney Jones.

His new book, Imaginary Logic, is Jones’ ninth book of poetry. In it one finds again his signature combination of the vernacular particular and the highfalutin’ abstract, a mix that often surprises, as though your plumber were to begin quoting St. Augustine while buried under your kitchen sink. Read the complete review

By Anne Whitehouse
Dos Madres Press, 2012
$16, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Mary Kaiser
Describing an aging woman, Anne Whitehouse writes, “to go on living / she would have to give up / who she was until this season.” This eloquent statement of loss and adaptation could be an epigraph to Anne Whitehouse’s latest collection, The Refrain, poems that locate moments of transformation when the old life mutates irrevocably into a new form, moments of terror and confusion followed by clarity and the possibility of a new beginning. A house struck by lightning, a bed-bug infestation, the onset of dementia, a bird trapped in a house, a child trapped inside her parents’ squabbles—all of these moments effect a mysterious change, a new and clearer vision. Like novelists Virginia Woolf and Laurie Colwin, Whitehouse scans quotidian detail for her metaphors, and like them, she always selects the resonant image that, without commentary, gives meaning to the whole. Read the complete review

By Carey Link
Finishing Line Press , 2011
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Melissa Dickson

There is always Music amongst the trees in the Garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it. —Minnie Aumonier

One need not be quiet to hear the heart or the music of Carey Link’s tree-climbing verses. In her debut collection, What It Means To Climb a Tree, Link has composed an ambitious sequence of lyrical poems celebrating and interrogating the arboreal heights. The chapbook, published by Finishing Line Press, also features stylistically naïve but charming illustrations and cover art by Emily Lynn and Patricia Hart Eldridge, respectively. Read the complete review

These poetry titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

These poetry titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

By Melissa Dickson, Johnny Summerfield, Sue Brannan Walker, and Carey Scott Wilkerson
The Halawaukee School for the Exegetical Arts, 2012
$10, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Aaron Sanders

Let’s just say it: Gore Vidal was not being complimentary when he wrote this about Carson McCullers: “Of all the Southern writers, she is the most apt to endure.” Nor is USA Today celebrating the breadth and depth of Southern writing in its review of New Stories from the South: “For those sons and daughters of the South who yearn for fiction that eschews the moonlight-and-magnolias claptrap.” Talk about backhanded compliments. Talk about condescension. Go on: talk about it. Thankfully, folks down here have heard it all before, and they’re not listening. Exhibit A: the new book, Table 5. Read the complete review

By Sue Scalf
Blue Rooster Press, 2012
$16.95, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Kathleen Thompson

The poems in each section of Almost Home welter (to borrow one of the poet’s verbs) with a longing and searching for home, either physical or metaphorical. The irony of the title is set up in the sweeping dedication to the people of not just one, but two home states: Kentucky and Alabama.Read the complete review

By Hank Lazer
Singing Horse Press, 2012
$15, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

Let me be unambiguous: Hank Lazer’s new collection of hand-written poems, N18 (Complete) is a singularly dazzling work of purest art, both textually charming and intellectually rigorous. To read these lovely, swirling, torquing, intorsional, gyroscopically involuted poem/commentaries and lyrico-philosophical objects is to experience nothing less than “The New” of Ezra Pound’s historic directive. And it is an astonishing achievement indeed. Read the complete review

By Anne Whitehouse
Finishing Line Press , 2011
$14, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Mary Kaiser

In her latest chapbook, Anne Whitehouse’s clear-eyed poetic vision uncovers mysteries beneath the calm surfaces of modern life. “This is my life,” she affirms in “Rites of Spring,” “finding one thing in another.” Unclouded by assumptions, Whitehouse’s lyrical voice moves from one carefully observed, imagistic stanza to another, introducing concise narratives that accumulate metaphorical power by juxtaposition, like a chain of haiku. Read the complete review

By Anne Markham Bailey
The Friends of Julian, Norwich, UK, 2011
£7, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Russ Kesler

In Cold Stone, White Lily Anne Markham Bailey gives us poems in the voice of a character she has imagined, a fourteenth-century English anchoress named Anne Wyngfield, who lived in an East Anglican village. The poems are careful to include allusions to specific historical events such as the growing influence of the English vernacular on society and the subsequent controversy over Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, allowing the speaker to be both observer and participant in the times. Read the complete review

By Jason McCall
Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2012
$15, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

If you happened to see the 2011 fantasy/adventure film Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, then you would probably be astonished at how easily you could notice and understand the vaguest allusions to Norse mythology in Jason McCall’s poetry collection, Silver. Read the complete review

By Fred Bassett
Salt Marsh Cottage Books, 2010
$12, Paper; $5.99 eBook
Poetry
Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Fred Bassett’s third book of poems is subtitled “a life in poems,” and this book reads very much like a memoir, satisfyingly so.

A native of Roanoke, Alabama, who now makes his home in South Carolina, Bassett has structured his book chronologically in three sections: The Boy, The Man, and The Old Man. True to the meandering ways of memory, however, the poems in all three sections often move around in time as the speaker remembers old neighbors, long-ago tragedies, and childhood questions. Read the complete review

By Gabriel Gadfly
1889 Labs, 2011
$7.99, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

In this parlous time, no serious artist can avoid the question of the relationship between aesthetic commitments and the complexities of an increasingly-political daily discourse. My own solution, for instance, has been to deny politics, particularly war, any real place in my work. However, I fully understand the impulse, and I am always pleased to find someone who wields this sensibility, and its attendant forces, with invention and insight. Gabriel Gadfly’s collection Bone Fragments exemplifies precisely that fragile mechanism in which horror and humanity are held in the transformative flux of poetic vision. Read the complete review

By Joseph P. Wood
CW Books, 2010
$18, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Alan May

The poems in I & We are confessional (in the poem “I Was a Finalist,” the speaker claims he was contending “for wife ignorer of the year”); grotesque (one poem begins “If I were a lesion[…]”); and often political (see the poem titled “Supreme Court Makes Pact to Lose Virginity by the End of December 2002”). Most of these poems find firm footing in the mundane and the base (see “Middle Class Syphilis” and “The Punch”—which is literally about a punch); however, the everyday is sometimes given an almost mythic or heroic rendering. The best example of this can be found in the poem “Total: A Biography.” The speaker in this poem gives the reader the opportunity to experience his Uncle Hymie’s sciatica. Read the complete review

By Rupert Fike
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2010
$15.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

A “lotus buffet” evokes the image of a long table filled with various dishes from India. Just as easily, however, the phrase conjures up a scene in which someone is hit repeatedly with a large aquatic plant. Either image would work for this collection, which is both full and hilarious. Read the complete review

By Russ Kesler
Wind Publications, 2011
$15, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Russ Kesler’s second book is filled with poems of quiet, steady observation. This alone is pleasing. The poems move beyond attentiveness, however, and into meditation. The “as if” phrase of the title poem appears in three other poems as well, establishing a mode of approach that joins nature with tropes of nature, reality with what’s imagined, the mind with the world. Read the complete review

By Anne Whitehouse
Finishing Line Press, 2010
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by P.T. Paul

Down the left side of the front cover of Anne Whitehouse’s book Bear In Mind is a black, orange, and yellow strip of artwork titled “Transit of Venus: Ingress.” Down the right side of the back cover is the reverse image “Transit of Venus: Egress.” At first glance, one might wonder what, exactly, is the significance of this particular choice of artwork. And one might wonder exactly what one is supposed to “bear in mind.” However, within the pages of this book, one might find more questions than answers, as well as poetry that will make one momentarily forget their original questions. Read the complete review

By Michael Meyerhofer
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2011
$15.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Lewis Robert Colon Jr.

Crack the lid on the melting pot of contemporary poetry and you’ll find no shortage of poets trying to do what Michael Meyerhofer does effortlessly in Damnatio Memoriae, his third full-length book. Many of the poems in the Brick Road Poetry Prize-winning volume are the kind of imaginative feats of cleverness that Amy Gerstler has perfected. This good-natured weaving of tragicomic autobiography, obscure history, and imaginative dives down the what if rabbit hole is the sort of stuff that’s easy to like but not so easy to pull off. Read the complete review

By David Oates
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2011
$12.95, Paperback

Poetry

Reviewed by Allen Berry

Drunken Robins is a new collection of haiku and senryu from poet David Oates, collected over the last twenty years of living in rural Appalachia and Athens, Georgia, where Oates is a teacher and public radio host. By his own account, Oates's work adheres to the philosophy of the poet Basho in that he tries to write, not as if he were in medieval Japan, but rather drawing inspiration from nature and the life that surrounds him. Read the complete review

By Barry Marks
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2010
$15.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Melissa Dickson

Barry Marks’ Possible Crocodiles, winner of the 2010 Alabama State Poetry Society book of the year award, is remarkable as a living document of a man engaged in the quiet heroics and failures of life on earth. Marks doesn’t seem concerned with issues of craft or artificial manipulations of language for the sake of Poetry with a capitol P. His work speaks to a genuine struggle in the face of emblematic twenty-first century ordeals: a computer virus, a tedious wedding guest, a holiday meal with family, the body as depreciating real estate, returning to the dating scene, loving and mourning a lost daughter, doing the dishes, and the impossibly shifting dynamics of human love, connection, and communication. Read the complete review

By Anne Cope Wallace
Summerfield Publishing/New Plains Press, 2011
$14.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Kathleen Thompson

A funeral pyre and a vibrant Veteran’s #2 rose: what contrarieties does this book of ninety-one pages hold beyond its cover? Wallace confirms in her brief preface that she has discovered such collisions of “music and cacophony,” their “sounds of sorrow and song, grief and joy” wherever she’s traveled. Indeed her poems in four numbered sections hum along from darkness to light, from grief to acceptance, and from weakness to power. Read the complete review

By Irene Latham
Blue Rooster Press, 2010
$14.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Sue Brannan Walker

Irene Latham’s The Color of Lost Rooms is a museum of art, history, literature, and the long treasured artifacts of the human heart. To open the book is to take a museum tour, to stop and revel in all that is found there. Read the complete review

By Louie Skipper
Negative Capability Press, 2010
$17.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Russ Kesler

It seems most probable that the “tongue” in the title of Louie Skipper’s new collection is meant to connote language, or a way of speaking—the “tongue” of poetry. In fact, in the book’s title poem, the speaker acknowledges that he’s “planned the jailbreak of these words from within, / my scratching of ink.” Yet I couldn’t help but think, as well, of the concept of speaking in tongues—praise and consolation—as I read these lyrical and well-made poems. That religious connotation of “tongue” also seems appropriate, given that Skipper is an ordained Episcopal priest. Read the complete review

by Janet Johnson Anderson
Mirror Press, 2011
$20, Paper

Poetry

Book Noted

This collection of some 160 pages by Janet Anderson, a Huntsville poet, was compiled in response to the tornadoes that hit Alabama on April 27, 2011. The book features black-and-white photographs of the tornadoes and their aftermath and poems related both directly to the tornadoes and more generally to themes of loss, grief, resilience, and recovery, often from a religious perspective. This book is available for purchase at all Books-A-Million locations, with profits going to disaster relief organizations at work in Alabama. Read the complete review

By Eva Skrande
River City Publishing, 2010
$20, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Russ Kesler

If you think of the flight of a butterfly—unpredictable, jinking and dodging, lighting for a moment then off again into the ether—you will have an apt metaphor for the movement of imagery and story and sound in the poems in Eva Skrande’s My Mother’s Cuba. Don’t look for the personal narrative or the political polemic, but expect instead the ethereal lyric, poems that pay homage to the sublime. Read the complete review

By Georgia Ann Banks-Martin
Plain View Press, 2010
$14.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

Georgia Ann Banks-Martin particularizes the homiest of subjects, which ironically, charges them with emotion. A splinter is small, but when stuck in your hand, it feels large.

She creates no distance between herself as a writer and herself as speaker. Her voice, which runs throughout the collection, creates a narrative pull and suggests connections. Read the complete review

By Robin Behn
Spuyten Duyvil, 2011
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Emma Bolden

The Yellow House, Robin Behn's blisteringly brilliant fifth collection of poetry, shows the reader how the inner space of a woman moves as she moves through her life—through loss and love, creation, death, and recreation—with the metaphor of a yellow house, a house which “is the dream of the woman”—the self known and recognized—and at the same time “the dream about the woman / another woman, her/not her, / woke in the middle of, and wept.” The collection is, in one sense, narrative: as one moves through the poems, one moves through the shifting spaces of the house and comes to discover the events of the woman's life which create these spaces, and how the house itself reacts.... Read the complete review

By M. Ayodele Heath
Reviewed by Allen Berry

Hailing from Atlanta, M. Ayodele Heath is a unique and powerful poetic voice. In his new collection, Otherness, Heath explores the age-old themes of otherness and the African American experience in a fresh way. However, it would be a grave error to state that Heath’s latest collection offers the black perspective, Read the complete review...

By Joseph D. Reich

Poetry

Reviewed by Allen Berry

Joseph D. Reich's latest work, Pain Diary, is ambitious both in length and in style. The book consists of two lengthy poems each roughly as long as T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” which draw on Reich’s time working with recovering drug addicts and the purportedly Kerouacian experiences of his time on the road. Read the complete review...

By Joseph Harrington
Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

Memory is the velocity of a Self formulated in the cracked mirror of art. Joseph Harrington’s masterful new book, Things Come On, is more than an amnesiac memoir, the “{amneoir}” of its subtitle. Indeed, this text is more than a radically-conceived biography in which the personal and the political are fused in Harrington’s mother’s death from breast cancer and his parallel study of the concomitant disintegration of the Nixon administration. Things Come On is, indeed, a new form of epistemology, a fearless crossing of the fold between narrativity and knowledge. Read the complete review...

By Jeffrey Side and Jake Berry
Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

Dear Felix*,

I have a proposal and a problem, indeed the two are one. Each is less knowable than the other. And here it is: I’ll write to you in the manner of the post-belletristic bon-vivant and you reply in the corresponding style, a style of correspondence, or a corresponder, a core responder just so we can get to the heart of the matter and it matters heartily or either hardly matters. In any case, let’s write. Because it is the right thing to do. Read the complete review...

By Melissa Dickson Blackburn
Reviewed by P.T. Paul

Conventional wisdom holds that a cameo is either an oval piece of jewelry “consisting of a portrait in profile” or “a short descriptive literary sketch that neatly encapsulates someone or something” and that a sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines, usually romantic in nature. In the case of Melissa Dickson Blackburn’s Cameo, conventional wisdom would be both right and wrong. While there is a portrait in profile on the cover of the book, it is the one posed full-face—an emaciated figure whose dark gaze and articulated ribcage startle for their incongruity in the cameo setting—that is most compelling. And within the covers of her book there is a preponderance of fourteen-line poems, but these are not your typical sonnets. Blackburn’s poetry startles just as surely as the portrait in the cameo frame startles, but with the same juxtaposition of expected and unexpected, conventional and unconventional. And her sonnets are love poems, but they embrace her heritage, her family, her childhood, and her grown self, while encompassing the influences of her artistic education and experience.

Read the complete review...

By Jake Adam York
Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Jake Adam York’s third book of poems continues his project of investigating recent southern history. Specifically, in his last two books, York has set out to identify and memorialize the twentieth-century martyrs, America’s own martyrs, of the civil rights movement.

Read the complete review...

By Alan May
Reviewed by Robert Gray

Many of us come to poems with what might be called an outdated metaphysics. We have been conditioned to think that poems are puzzles waiting for their “Deep Hidden Meaning” to be unlocked, that the poem’s meaning is in there, coherent and whole, just as the poet intended. But a lot of contemporary poetry doesn’t work that way.

Read the complete review...

By: E.E. Wade
Reviewed by: Bruce Alford

The novelist John Updike, who died in 2009 just shy of seventy-seven, when asked, “How have your aspirations changed?” responded, “The urgency of my youthful news presses less groaningly.” Remove the word “less” from Updike’s statement, and you get a sense of the voice and tone of this debut collection of poems, eyestodewhurld. E.E. Wade, “the young artist,” has something urgent to say. However, she tempers her enthusiasm with straightforward self-assessment.

By: T. Crunk
Reviewed by: Lewis Robert Colon Jr.

The poems in Tony Crunk’s new book, New Covenant Bound, attempt to release some of the humanity bound up in data. Alternating between lyric poems written by a grandson and epistolary prose sections written by a grandmother, Crunk’s preoccupation is not so much the original displacement of one western Kentucky family but the ways in which the single wound of that displacement can expand across two generations.

By: David Rigsbee
Reviewed by: Russ Kesler

Reading David Rigsbee’s The Red Tower, I am struck by the difficulty to categorize these poems. While there are lyric moments, these are not lyric poems; while there are specific allusions to family and friends, the intent of this work is not narrative—not in the conventional denotation of that word. Rather, these poems tend to narrate a tension between seeing the world as it is and accepting it on those terms.

By: Emily Elizabeth Schulten
Reviewed by: Jane Elkington Wohl

Emily Elizabeth Schulten’s poems wash with the slosh and slurp of southern American wetlands. The reader feels always on the edge of creeks, puddles, rivers, and oceans. Schulten seems to be particularly interested in the intersections of water and land, whether it’s the actual bank of the river or the mud on the creek’s bottom.

By: Sue Scalf
Reviewed by: Melissa Dickson Blackburn

Sue Scalf’s chapbook collection, To Stitch a Summer Sky, is full of the lush imagery its title implies. From first poem to last, Scalf presents visual vignettes which weave the natural and the mortal worlds with a romantic flair. The poems’ central preoccupation is frequently the mutability and solitary nature of the human experience.

By: Andrew Hudgins
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

Few poets writing today engage so thoroughly with questions of good and evil as does Andrew Hudgins. Since his first book, Saints and Strangers, twenty-five years ago, Hudgins has consistently, unflinchingly, investigated human nature, and why we so often fail ourselves and one another.

By: Sonia Sanchez
Reviewed by: Barry George

Although “Alabama writer” and “haiku poet” are not associations which readily spring to mind in relation to Sonia Sanchez, both her Southern roots and life-long passion for haiku figure prominently in Morning Haiku. Sanchez, born and raised in Birmingham, moved to Harlem in her late teens. At twenty-one, as she recounts in the book’s preface, she experienced “an awakening,” reading haiku in New York’s 8th Street Bookstore. Ever since, she has revered this “tough form disguised in beauty and insight,” the one-breath poem that makes us alive to the moment.

By: Dennis Sampson
Reviewed by: Russ Kesler

The poems in Dennis Sampson’s Within the Shadow of a Man often address big questions such as evil and injustice, as a few random titles might suggest: "Mysteries," "Naming the World," "Brotherly Love," and "Concerning the Suffering of Others.” These poems are more often interested in ideas than in things. And fittingly, the poems are structurally capacious, usually having long lines and sometimes running to four or five pages.

By: Alan May; Illustrations by Tom Wegrzynowski and Alan May
Reviewed by: Carey Scott Wilkerson

In a time when perhaps too few poets are willing to explore the ontological rift between language and meaning, discovering Alan May’s book Dead Letters is an occasion both for a new mode of celebration and some old-fashioned investigation of the poetic project itself. This daring collection—by turns experimental and surreal, meditative and poignant—is indeed a powerfully imagined and, finally, astonishing achievement.

By: Carey Scott Wilkerson
Reviewed by: Jeremy M. Downes

One of the central poems of Wilkerson’s attractive first book, Threading Stone, unravels the title’s mystery, as the Greek hero Theseus is challenged to follow the thread (the gift of Ariadne) through the great stone labyrinth at Knossos. Even for Theseus, this is much harder than it first appears; not only is there the monstrous Minotaur, but the very act of “threading the stone”—through using language, through creating narrative—is called into question by this book’s “rhizomic world” where every thread appears to lead in multiple directions.

By: Sean Hill
Reviewed by: Bruce Alford

The cover illustration of Sean Hill’s debut collection is a striking detail from a watercolor, circa 1939, by Frank Stanley Herring. A crowd of “colored” people, leaning on trees or sitting on benches, blends into a storefront. The buildings are copper-colored and deep red. Shades of red, from strawberry to rich rust, dominate. This is Milledgeville, Georgia, the setting of Hill’s book. Specifically, this is McIntosh Street—as red as a McIntosh apple—named for a Scottish clan whose tartans were chiefly red. “McIntosh Street the sign reads,” writes Hill in the poem entitled “Nigger Street 1937.”
Black people have settled here and transformed the place into something that surpasses the single shade the street sign implies. Now the street is red....

By Sue Walker

Reviewed by Celia Lewis

She Said demonstrates Sue Walker’s finely honed ear for poetic language (including the nuanced rhythms of southern speech), an unerring sense for authentic characters, and a command of the lyrical narrative. She sets herself the daunting task of consistently engaging the reader while using “she said” in each poem. A Houdini of a tale-teller, she seamlessly succeeds, never allowing the tension of these forty-eight poems to falter or fail. It is a tour-de-force of word play, brimming with joyous riffs of sound.

By: Jennifer Horne
Reviewed by: Kathleen Thompson

Jennifer Horne’s first full-length poetry book is as stimulating and breath-catching as its initial promise. The cover art, the title, and its epigraphs are all rife with folk art, superstition, and history. Eudora Welty’s words alone conjure up the image of Cash McCord slinging rocks into a bottle tree as Livvie’s old Solomon lies inside dying—another titillating tale told on a porch aptly framed with southern yard art. And the framework for this book? Oh, no—it has thirteen parts.

By: DéLana R. A. Dameron
Reviewed by: M. Dickson Blackburn

DéLana R. A. Dameron has written a terrific book in the original sense of the word. How God Ends Us is an exploration through poetry of those terrifying and terrific aspects of life that may cause one to tremble, whether in fear, in beauty, or in love. While God is often present throughout the book, the collection is not simply a celebration of the God that Dameron proposes ends life so much as a searching meditation on the ways of ending and the nature of the human condition and mind as endings emerge into view.

By: Hank Lazer
Reviewed by: Sue B. Walker

Hank Lazer’s fifteenth book of poetry, Portions, is a “language house a / moving place that / feeds & carries,” a linguistic portioning that addresses how it is “to be”; it is “a way / to see out / to learn of / the world we / miraculous stand upon” (“House,” “Nature”). The book is an “invitation into a / new way of / saying (“Invitation”) that is in keeping with Heidegger’s claim that “language is the house of Being” (On The Way To Language). Portions is a “secret & saving / way through the / world in a thin book” (“Way”).

By: Robert Gray
Reviewed by: Russ Kesler

Robert Gray’s book Drew: Poems from Blue Water straddles two genres. In its subject matter and narrative arc, it is a memoir of the life and death of Gray’s older brother Drew. Broken into seventeen discrete sections, the story centers around the family’s cabin at a central Alabama lake. Yet that story is told via a series of poems, each section comprised of one to four poems. As memoir, the book is a moving and compelling tale.

By: Mary Carol Moran
Reviewed by: Melissa Dickson Blackburn

Strewn with frequent sonnets and the occasional villanelle—as well as historical, literary, and personal reflections—Mary Carol Moran’s Equivocal Blessings delves into the penance we all must pay to the loved, the lost, the dead, and the remembered. Divided into three sections—“Clearing,” “Breathe With Me,” and “Strong Bones”—Equivocal Blessings features diverse approaches and narrative themes....

By: Clela Reed
Reviewed by: Tony Crunk

The opening poem of Dancing on the Rim pointedly announces the scope and general subject of Clela Reed’s first book of poems. "Prologue" describes a sort of pre-lapsarian age in male-female relationships, when "Love / was that boundless pool that held / the swirl of Time…."  Though most of the poems directly engage this theme of romantic love, the theme of time is the more subtly handled, and the most effective poems are those that engage both themes most obliquely.

By: Emma Bolden
Reviewed by: Alan May

Often in love poems (or poems about unrequited love), we see the love relationship stand as metaphor for something more complex and, perhaps, profound. During my first reading of Emma Bolden’s The Sad Epistles, I was slightly worried that Bolden’s poems weren’t working hard enough, that the honest-to-god ache she relays, akin to the ache we often hear/feel in pop songs, wouldn’t be enough to carry me through the chapbook again and again. However, with subsequent readings, I fell more deeply in love with the poems and their earnestness, humor, and terror.

By: Sue Scalf
Reviewed by: Keith Badowski

The strongest poems in Sue Scalf’s latest book Burnt Offerings are dramatic monologues that go beyond their Biblical sources and imaginatively explore the personalities of the speakers. “The Plain One,” for instance, reveals Martha’s fiery reaction to the “scolding” Jesus gives her. The poem has an angry tone as Martha internally justifies her hurt over Mary’s lack of help in preparing and serving the food....

By: Peter Campion
Reviewed by: Russ Kesler

Among contemporary collections of poetry, many books tend to be dominated by the personal narrative; others employ a more public, politically aware voice. Peter Campion’s The Lions blends these opposing temperaments. In poem after poem personal experience is set against the larger concerns of war and the “baleful knowledge” that an understanding of the world is by nature fragmentary at best.

By: Kathleen Thompson
Reviewed by: Robert Gray

The first thing one notices about Kathleen Thompson’s The Shortest Distance is the blurb by Harper Lee, stating that Thompson’s poems are “quietly earth-shaking” and have reduced her to “a quivering mass of admiration & greed for more.” This impressive introduction establishes high expectations. Furthermore, Lee’s use of oxymorons to characterize Thompson’s work attunes the reader to the many paradoxes and contradictions that pervade the volume.

By: Jerri Beck, ed.
Reviewed by: Kathleen Thompson

Technically a chapbook (less than forty-eight pages), this book contains twenty-seven poems by eight poets.  How invigorating to be reminded, surrounded by in-your-face-tweeting heads, of the art of conversation—its give and take, its eclectic range of subjects, its intellectual stimulation—interspersed with an occasional lyrical whisper.

By: Carol Prejean Zippert
Reviewed by: Bruce Elliot Alford

Carol Prejean Zippert returns to her southern roots in this second volume of poetry, Meeting Myself ’Round the Corner. These poems are about love, community, and family. She writes about her father, for example, who she describes as quiet, witty, and clever, who could solve word problems in his head. She writes about her aging mother, forgetting her medication and “emptying every dresser drawer,” and she writes of her grandchildren.

By: Brett Eugene Ralph
Reviewed by: Michael O. Marberry

In his poem “Firm Against the Pattern,” the first of twenty-nine poems in his new collection titled Black Sabbatical, poet Brett Eugene Ralph writes: “Closing my eyes, I extended my tongue / and pressed it firm against the pattern: / I tasted yesterday’s rain, / the carcasses of moths, / broken glances, tears, / the smoke of not-so-distant fires— / all those desperate gestures / we collect and call the seasons.” These lines, so reminiscent in their focus, set the tone for Black Sabbatical—a collection that frequently hopes to navigate the connections between character, place, and memory.

By: Rita Dove
Reviewed by: Lewis Robert Colon Jr.

The erasure of George Bridgetower from 182 years of Beethoven biographies inspires Rita Dove’s new book Sonata Mulattica, a kind of speculative elegy that appends to the biographies an extended and playfully conjectured footnote. Dove recognizes in Bridgetower a familiar historical archetype: The black or brown artist whose genius and importance, the authors of history seem to have agreed, are negligible. It’s a syndrome that treats some of history’s marquee stars like background scenery, props in the lives of their white counterparts.

By: Louie Skipper
Reviewed by: Emma Bolden

Rarely comes a book with the power to change the way its reader thinks, believes, and lives for the deeper, the fiercer, and the better. Louie Skipper’s It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun is such a book. These startling poems present a mind wrestling with the most difficult questions of being—what is our place in the world, what is God’s place in the world, and what are we to make of death?—in such a beautiful and brave way that the reader cannot help but be engaged in—and better for—the struggle.

By: Sebastian Matthews
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

Perhaps due to the growth of MFA programs, leading to more competently-written poetry as well as more competition for publication, most first books of poems don’t seem like first books any more. We Generous is no exception. Stylistically mature, with a distinctive voice and viewpoint, the poems in this book, many of them published originally in journals small and large, take us on a kind of road trip, into scene after scene of late-night jazz clubs, rainy bad-neighborhood streets, rural roads, a country church, a vacation cabin, even to “Wine Mart, that cavernous retail barn” (“Buying Wine”).

By: Joel Brouwer
Reviewed by: Steven Ford Brown

Joel Brouwer’s new book And So furthers his reputation as careful craftsman and ensures his inclusion among the best of the younger generations of poets writing in America today. And So is a lyrical and erudite book in which the characters—and this is a book about people together, alone, and often alone together—live out their lives in a series of changing landscapes and relationships.

By: Jim Murphy
Reviewed by: Mary Kaiser

In Heaven Overland’s opening poem, the seller of a broken-down Cadillac El Dorado claims its metal chassis functions as “a powerful antenna / to draw so much distant matter down to earth.” This image is the perfect introduction to Jim Murphy’s beautifully structured collection about Americans and the faulty, charged vehicles in which we travel.  Iconic figures ranging from the revered to the notorious, from W.E.B. Du Bois to Elvis Presley, inhabit these poems in settings from New York to the Sonoran desert, but their real destination is the past: a turn-of-the-century riverboat, a Hollywood street corner in the thirties, a Bakelite radio tuned in to early rock ’n’ roll.

By: Andrew Hudgins, with illustrations by Barry Moser
Reviewed by: Norman McMillan

When I pulled Andrew Hudgins’ new volume, Shut Up, You’re Fine, from the mailer, I was struck immediately by Barry Moser’s cover design. The choice of print, the border, the faded subtitle all looked terribly old-fashioned, and I thought immediately of The New England Primer. After completing the poems, I went online to check my memory, and I found that the covers are indeed similar. Then I read the Primer, and I knew that Shut Up, You’re Fine could well be read as a parody of books that exhort children to be good and warn them of the terrible dangers of not doing so.

By: Jeanie Thompson
Reviewed by: Jake Berry

The title of Jeanie Thompson’s new book is extracted from a letter written by James Wright. A portion of it appears as an introductory quote: “[The seasons] move, as we move, from place to place. As we move, we carry them and they carry us . . . the seasons bear us.”  This sense of the seasons is evidenced in the rich poems that fill Thompson’s new collection.

By: Molly Peacock
Reviewed by: Russ Kesler

The poems in Molly Peacock’s sixth collection, The Second Blush, are playful and insouciant, but also unafraid to look deeply and honestly at the vagaries of human relationships, whether marriage or friendship. And as always with Peacock’s work, a formal element, particularly in this case riffs on the sonnet form, provides another layer of polish and opportunities for joy in experimentation.

By: Daniel Anderson
Reviewed by: Russ Kesler

The title of Daniel Anderson’s second book Drunk In Sunlight suggests an altered state of consciousness. But “Drunk On Sunlight” could also serve as the book’s title, since so many of the poems here reflect a kind of rapture provoked by the wonders of being: “How excellent it is to be alive,” as the speaker of “Aubade” puts it.

By: Robert Gray
Reviewed by: Michael Marberry

In his new collection of poetry I Wish That I Were Langston Hughes, Robert Gray, over the course of thirty-two poems, attempts to do what so many of us cannot: pay precise and appropriate homage to those classic, influential wordsmiths. Whether praising John Donne (“he held holiness at arm’s length yet firmly in his hand”), Langston Hughes (“[he] awoke the power pain and beauty that springs from blues”) or U2’s Bono (“he sings a new song / one man struggling to find what he’s looking for”), Gray dives right into the thick of it—losing punctuation and capitalization along the way, meditating on and incorporating these poets’ own sentiments into his praise of them.

By: Brendan Galvin
Reviewed by: Mary Kaiser

A birdwatcher’s life list is the record, compiled over his lifetime, of all the species he has spotted, whether in his travels or while watching his backyard feeder. But the phrase suggests other meanings too—the rolls of the living, the list of what survives. In his latest collection, Whirl Is King, subtitled Poems from a Life List, Brendan Galvin compiles the poems of a passionate birdwatcher who calls himself a “failed / teetotaler of birds,” and a poet with a passion for locating and honoring what is truly alive.

By: Sue B. Walker
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

Alabama Poet Laureate Sue B. Walker recently released a CD. No, she has not become a musical artist as well as a poet (although there is some quite nice singing on this CD); rather, Walker has recorded two of her longer poems, “Blood Must Bear Your Name” (28.51 minutes) and “We Are All Alike” (12:15 minutes).

By: Diann Blakely
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

Cities of Flesh and the Dead, Blakely’s third book, is composed of five sections which hold nineteen poems, many of them long and sequenced. Some are in memoriam poems for other poets: Anthony Hecht, Lynda Hull, William Matthews, and Herbert Morris. Because of this, an elegiac tone runs through the book, but it is by no means the only note struck.

By: Dan Albergotti
Reviewed by: Mark Dawson

Some first books are revised MFA theses, and some are wonderful. The Boatloads, however, is so unified in its themes and in its sets of poems, and conveys such maturity in each poem, that I believe it is shaped more by the author’s obsessions than by chronology of the poems.

By: Coleman Barks
Reviewed by: Sandra Agricola

Winter Sky by Coleman Barks is a perfect book for muted December. And winter is the ideal time to dig into books piled beside the sofa requesting our attention. It is the season for the wholehearted yes that poetry demands—“I have often avoided / the wholehearted yes / saying there is plenty / of time. There is not.”

By: Maurice Gandy
Reviewed by: Sue Brannan Walker

“What are words worth?” the poet of The Calpocalypse asks—and the answer is “not less than everything.” Maurice Gandy’s rollicking linguistic “coming-of-age” epic/ poem/narrative/myth/journey/beach-life 1960s-early 1970s California experience is a virtuoso tour-de-force pop-culture history/performance that marks Gandy as a significant poetic voice not only in the Alabama poetry scene, but nationally and internationally. The Calpocalypse won an iUniverse Publisher’s Award and a USA Book News Recognition, and it was displayed in the 2008 London Book Fair.

By: Sue Scalf
Reviewed by: Allen Berry

A good friend and teacher of mine once told me, “Poets have the gift of an extended goodbye.” Sue Scalf’s new collection of poems, Bearing the Print, dedicated to her late husband Sam and daughter Leslie, reads at times like an extended farewell. Using nature as a slate, Scalf explores the themes of love, death, and the hope for renewal. These themes are addressed with beauty and grace, without the slightest overstatement.

By: Barbara Wiedemann
Reviewed by: Irene Latham

This forty-page staple-bound chapbook features twenty-six poems that take the reader on a journey to places like "Kelly, New Mexico" and "The Oregon Coast Near Langlois." With nearly a third of the poems titled after specific locations, it reads on one level like a travel journal, documenting the sights and sounds on the trail.

By: Hank Lazer
Reviewed by: Alan May

In little more than a decade, Hank Lazer has published three very important books of poetry: Days, The New Spirit, and Elegies & Vacations. During this time, Lazer has also made various presentations, written, and had conversations about poetry. We can see this fruit come to bear in the probing, provocative, and essential essays in his book Lyric & Spirit.

By: Emma Bolden
Reviewed by: Mary Kaiser

Emma Bolden, a distinguished alumna of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and an assistant professor at Georgetown College, writes lush, sensuous poetry that explores the territory where intimacy partakes of myth, where the contemporary confessional mode merges with tale and elegy, ode and ballad. In the seventeen poems that make up The Mariner’s Wife, Bolden’s voice, following in the tradition of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, heightens the personal through language that has the precision, candor, and dignity of Sappho’s classical idiom.

By: Jake Adam York
Reviewed by: Bruce Alford

How does a white man from Gadsden, Alabama, deal with a topic that was once thought perhaps better and more appropriately handled by African Americans? York succeeds because he speaks with his own voice. He does not appropriate the language of another culture and remains devoted to telling the truth his way, while not disowning the cultural and linguistic identity of another.

By: Louie Skipper
Reviewed by: Sydney F. Cummings

Louie Skipper’s third major book of poetry, a “verse autobiography,” titled The Work Ethic of the Common Fly: Still Shots from the Journey, is a compilation of fifty-five poems, divided into four sections: Prologue, One, Two, and Three. All of the poems, except the Prologue and the last poem in Three, which are couplets, are three-stanza poems of varying length in free verse. Its theme is not only time but the influence of time past on the present and both of these on the future.

By: Dan Kaplan
Reviewed by: Michael Marberry

“Let me guess: you knew a guy named Bill” is the sentiment that begins Dan Kaplan’s investigative poetry collection, Bill’s Formal Complaint—a group of thirty-two poems, ranging from sonnets to prose poems, that seek to answer one question: who exactly is Bill? Or better yet, what is Bill?

By: Jorge Carrera Andrade; Edited by Ivan Carvajal and J. Enrique Ojeda; Translated by J. Enrique Ojeda (essay) and Steven Ford Brown (poems)
Reviewed by: Juan Carlos Grijalva

Ecuadorian poet Jorge Carrera Andrade is more alive than ever. After reading a good number of outstanding Latin American poets, I usually ask my students: “Who was the most interesting, provoking, and engaging poet?” The simplicity, beautiful imagery, and existential complexities of Carrera Andrade are always among my students’ top poetic preferences. For their and my own enjoyment, and for that of others who do find in Latin American poetry a good companion, this new Spanish-English edition of Micrograms (Tokyo, Japan, 1940), edited by Iván Carvajal and J. Enrique Ojeda and translated by Ojeda and Birmingham native Steven Ford Brown, is an occasion for celebration.

By: Bruce Alford
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

Bruce Alford’s first book, composed of sixty-six poems, many of them set in the South in small towns, truck stops, and roadside attractions along blue highways, offers an almost carnival-like abundance of sights, smells, and sounds, an imagistic and linguistic richness sometimes strange, sometimes surprising.

By: Beth Ann Fennelly
Reviewed by: Lauren Goodwin Slaughter

The poems in Beth Anne Fennelly’s third collection “can not / not no longer” (“Colorplate 23” in “Berthe Morisot: Retrospective”). They are compelled—reluctantly or recklessly, sometimes hilariously—to (“not / not”) try to speak out. But throughout its seven parts, including three section-long poems, Unmentionables emphasizes the difficulty of such articulation....

By: Maurice Manning
Reviewed by: Jeanie Thompson

Like all great poetry written from the heart, Maurice Manning’s Bucolics holds up a mirror for us, reflecting our fear and awe in the corporeal world. A balm as well, its music and humor can soothe our ragged souls.

By: Tony Crunk
Reviewed by: Lewis Colon Jr.

Tony Crunk writes the kind of poems that compel folks who claim to “hate” poetry to admit that well, actually, they like his poems. Crunk’s is a poetry of unlabored images and unadorned language. His new book, Cumberland, is complicated in the best way for contemporary poetry to be complicated.

By: R. T. Smith
Reviewed by: Mark Dawson

Some poets are prolific and productive, while some are merely prolific. R. T. Smith is decidedly the former. Outlaw Style is his fourth full-length book of poems in six years (and from four different, very respected presses). It is, perhaps, his most ambitious and impressive book since Trespasser (1996).

By: Irene Latham
Reviewed by: Bonnie Roberts

The cover art aptly describes this first poetry collection by Irene Latham as an organic, growing, nature-of-life-itself work—the roots, the thorns, the blossoms, the birds.

By: Janet McAdams
Reviewed by: Lewis Colon Jr.

Several poems in Janet McAdams’ Feral “retell or refer to stories about feral children” as the author clarifies in the “Notes to Poems” addendum. Upon finishing the book, McAdams’ second, the reader may recall as the most interesting poems those that are referred to rather than retold.

By: Kelly Cherry
Reviewed by: Lauren Slaughter

In a 2002 interview with Southern Scribe, Kelly Cherry commented that as a young child “even before I had words to say it with, I had something to say…. This need to say what was mine to say preceded anything else in my life.” This urgency “to say” has produced a seventh collection of poetry that demonstrates a range of emotional, technical, and lyrical concerns.

By: Willie James King
Reviewed by: Sue B. Walker

Willie James King is a masterful poet-physician, environmentalist, and surgeon-priest. He attends to the ills that befall the bonehouse of the body in which we live and recognizes that it is at once the mortal frame, our spiritual being, the work we do, and the earth we inhabit. The House in the Heart is a potent poetic prescription that helps right wrong.

By: Tom Kimmel
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

Performer and songwriter Tom Kimmel’s debut book of poems is uneven but nonetheless pleasing. Like a homecooked meal made with much care and some ability, it satisfies.

By: Carol Vanderveer Hamilton
Reviewed by: Perle Champion

In Blindsight, Carol Vanderveer Hamilton explores the struggle between the dark and the light through people in dark places praying for a light to better see by.  She opens with an invocation from The Common Book of Prayer, “Enable with perpetual light / The dulness (sic) of our blinded sight.” Her quest begins with diminished sight in Part I, Scotoma; travels through Part II, Double Vision; and ends with far-seeing in Part III, Hyperopia.

By: Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolden, and Vivian Teter
Reviewed by: Kyes Stevens

Edge by Edge is a collection of four chapbooks with poems by Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolden, and Vivian Teter.  In How To Recognize a Lady , Emma Bolden’s chapbook ,  the reader will find sharp and unabashedly direct poems pushed and pulled by the lilt of language, and then bitten back to the driving point by words skillfully crafted that show what women are subjected to in society’s written and unwritten rules. 

By: Richard Lyons
Reviewed by: Jim Murphy

At a point approximately midway through Fleur Carnivore, Rich Lyons’ Washington Prize-winning third volume of poetry, an augury emerges, voiced in such a way that both bleakness and hope are held within a single couplet: “The future never is, it dies to arrive. I’m not what you said I’d be, / the future whispers. The future is . . . .” The achievement of tone at a moment like this, simultaneously filled with authority and puzzlement, is pure Lyons.

By: Nikki Finney, ed.
Reviewed by: Jessica Hume

The idea of a ringing ear often connotes certain sensory reactions: curiosity, intense listening, and persistent musicality so inherent in one’s being that it refuses to leave. These connotations are what make The Ringing Ear the perfect title for Cave Canem’s anthology of black poetry released in the spring of this year. The anthology, fully titled The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, and edited by the estimable poet Nikki Finney, is a fresh and enrapturing collection which embodies the sensuality of the South, in all its beauty, tragedy, ugliness, and wonder. 

By: Matthew Graham
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

This is Matthew Graham’s third volume of poetry and the sixth book in the River City Poetry Series, edited by Andrew Hudgins. The title refers to one of the book’s two epigraphs, this one from the Book of Isaiah: “ . . . ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.”

By: Jake Berry
Reviewed by: Sue B. Walker

Brambu Drezi: Words that define liberation, that are beyond boundaries, that testify to the genius of Jake Berry. Brambu Drezi: a Wittgensteinian rendering of: “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. But of course there is then no question left and just this is the answer.” Brambu Drezi is an answer.

By: Janice N. Harrington; foreword by Elizabeth Spires
Reviewed by: Bruce Alford

The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born with a goat’s face, the cousin laid on a railroad track: such images make up the core of Janice Harrington’s Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone. These images weave in and out of her poems but never appear the same as the poet plays with theme and variations.

    

By: Alan May; Images by Tom Wegrzynowski
Reviewed by: Stuart Bloodworth

The poems in Alan May’s Notes Toward an Apocryphal Text appear as tight little blocks on the page, like columns of newspaper print, or as if larger poems had been trash compacted. I admit I had trouble getting past the seemingly arbitrary form. Then early in the collection I came upon this...

By: Wayne Greenhaw
Reviewed by: Jennifer Horne

Wayne Greenhaw is something of an institution in Alabama, well known for both his fiction and nonfiction, winner of both the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year and the Clarence E. Cason Award for Nonfiction. Now, in his nineteenth book, he has turned his attention to poetry, or, one might better say, has collected in print the output of a lifetime...        

By: Sue Brannan Walker and J. William Chambers, eds.
Reviewed by: Wade Hall

Alabama’s colorful history and cultures have always provided our writers with plenty of raw materials and inspiration for their poetry and fiction, and this collection of poetry testifies to the variety and richness they have found. Good material, however, doesn’t automatically translate into good poetry.                    

By: Jeff Hardin
Reviewed by: Mark Dawson

Jeff Hardin’s Fall Sanctuary was chosen by Mark Jarman as the seventeenth winner of the Nicholas Roerich Prize. The poems are deeply informed both by Hardin’s Christian faith and by a lifelong, meditational relationship with nature.         

By: Mary Kaiser
Reviewed by: Russell Helms

Much like the canvas of Joan Mitchell, which “leans so all her drips go down,” Mary Kaiser writes with her paper leaning forward, words too heavy for the task slipping to the floor. Bound within a serene yet austere hand-sewn cover, Kaiser’s seventeen poems weave together a seemingly dissimilar community of master artists. From the brilliant and fleshy images of Velázquez to the curiously sterile yet surreal box art of Joseph Cornell, Kaiser imagines them into a combined reality to illuminate the magic of eternity.

By: Jerri Beck, ed.
Reviewed by: Keith Badowski

Poems from the Big Table samples the work of five poets, all members of a Birmingham poetry workshop. The concept of binding several chapbooks together in one volume makes economic sense and potentially widens the audience for each poet.

    

By: Grace Bauer and Julie Kane, eds.
Reviewed by: Dwight Eddins

Yeats asks, in a question that is really a lyric lament, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” In the case of the uniquely-gifted poet Rette Maddox, it is impossible to separate the two. His dance was the dance of death in the embrace of the Scotch, malnutrition, and tobacco that ultimately killed him (he was 44) in the form of esophageal cancer, but it was out of this embrace—organically and inevitably—that his poetry bloomed.

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