Poets on Poets: Celebrating New Collections (Part 3)

Rosebud Ben-Oni
April 12, 2020


This week, I simply want to share the good news of others as an introduction to this ongoing series, and have compiled a few things to share here in this space. All I can add at the moment is this: Love. Love, Greatly. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.

Catch the latest Thrush Virtual Reading Series over at YouTube that took place on April 10, 2020 and features Dare Williams, Luke Johnson, Avery Guess, Emily Rose Cole, Jared Harél, and Anastasia Vassos.

Winniebell Xinyu Zong has received a 2020 International Student Scholarship from Kansas State University; you can read her poem “Woman with an Elephant” at Underwood Press.

Cathy Duong has a review of The World I Leave You (Orison Books, 2020), an upcoming Asian American anthology dedicated to poetry on “faith and spirit”, edited by Leah Silvieus and Lee Herrick, over at Hyphen Magazine. Duong notes that “Silvieus and Herrick have compiled verses of questions posed by voices so honest, genuine, vulnerable, challenging.” You can preorder it here.

Erin Adair-Hodges has a review of 4 new poetry collections over at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Kathryn Nurenberger’s Rue that is “often intoxicatingly ruthless in its truth-telling;” Jenny Molberg’s Refusal which is “devastatingly smart” and “a declaration against erasure, against abuse;”Justin Phillip Reed’s The Malevolent Volume which has a “gorgeous precision [that] refuse[s] to perform for the white gaze…crafting instead a new canon;” and Carl Phillips’ Pale Colors in a Tall Field filled with “characteristically fearless syntax propels the poems as they navigate the twinned yearning of body and mind to be held, beloved, up to the light.”

Over at LitHub, Katie Yee celebrates the news that Edwidge Danticat has won the $100,000 Vilcek Prize in Literature.

KC Trommer wants you to know: “This is also Queens.”

Tara Skurtu’s International Poetry Circle now has its own Twitter account, and you can follow it to keep up with the latest online readings of poems.

George Abraham has an incredible poem for his grandfather which you can read here.

Kundiman has posted a tribute in memory of Kimarlee Nguyen.

Here’s a writing prompt I’ve given in the past: Write three self-portraits in the primary colors Blue, Yellow and Red, only you cannot use the color themselves nor their shades (like indigo, azure or cobalt) in the poems themselves.

Here’s a writing prompt for lovers of poetic forms: have you heard of the Gwawdodyn? There are two versions of this Welsh poetic form, but in both are comprised of quatrains (4-line stanzas). Here are the rules for each version:

#1 – Each line must follow this syllable count: 9 in the first, 9 in the second, 10 in the third and 9 in the last

#2 – There must be matching end rhymes in the first, second & last line

#3 – The third line depends on which version you then follow:

(a) In one version of Gwawdodyn, the third line has an internal rhyme, meaning within this line there is a one word somewhere that rhymes with the last word.

(b) In its other version, the internal rhyme within the third rhyme also rhyme with an internal rhyme of the fourth line.

And lastly, yet another writing prompt in which I ask of you: Could we all write more poems about Highland Cows?


Lucy Duggan on t’ai freedom ford’s & more black (Augury Books, 2019)

& more black is two books in one, back to back, with two covers. It is multiple, and it explores multiplicity in a way that’s endlessly challenging and surprising, starting with the form: t’ai freedom ford bends and breaks the form of the American sonnet, weaving it back together, leaving gaps within lines and between stanzas. Two poems imagine Eve as the tree from which the apple grows. Her left arm (or branch) is severed “for picking what felt / free and firm as a missing left breast.” Elsewhere, ford asks: “is this body possible?” It shouldn’t be, but it is: it’s plural, multiple, a body torn apart but deeply rooted, self-sufficient, plucking its own fruit, “free and firm.”

ford maps out constellations of black and queer identity, tracing mixedness and uncertainty: “we be the in between.” At the same time, she pinpoints the white gaze: “who we be? you already know – must be / groovy & rhythmic.” As a white reader, I’m challenged to confront my own presence as part of a violent white gaze that aims to erase the complex voices that speak from these poems. ford anticipates white readers’ claim to “learn” from black artists: she talks of the music “white folks have learned to love.” Each poem is an irreducible microcosm of real power relations.  It’s that multiplicity which keeps me reading and rereading these poems, in awe of the way ford shows us the inescapable shape of past and present trauma, while simultaneously tracing resilience and resistance.


Christina Drill on Connie Mae Oliver’s Science Fiction Fiction (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020)

“This is my dimensional petition / my retirement from the spacial,” Connie Mae Oliver declares in the poem “Kendall Toyota” from her forthcoming second collection, science fiction fiction, out this month by Spuyten Duyvil. A lush, chimerical collection of poems and original photographs, sff is an inquiry into the Venezuelan-born poet’s South Florida adolescence. Oliver’s bygone Miami is always a little out of reach, its clarity cresting and falling through films, television, and internets of the past — “What more can you ask / from a word like “neither,” Oliver asks, respecting the warp of memory — “It is not situated for you / already not there.”

In a city still haunted by the 1996 murder of Jimmy Ryce, the suburban sprawl idle as Guantanamo Bay packs with prisoners on Cuba’s nearby shore, Oliver’s speaker hides in racks at the since-shuttered Burdines, eats late in dim cafeterias, finds mud hooks in sitcoms, Zoloft commercials, the early gigantic internet. Some poems, like “Briar Winds,” become roadmaps for South Florida teens skirting curfew— “you know Old Cutler Rd? say you’re / there instead of Churchills” — others situate the reader into the never-never-land of the silver screen. In “Nokia,” parts of cars are stolen and traded off, distances are spliced, future lovers pass themselves on the expressway. Nostalgic cars — Civics, Tauruses, PT Cruisers — cruise from poem to poem, those behind their wheels intentionally abstracted. In “Coral Reef Library,” the speaker watches Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, in which Fellini’s wife walks the street of Rome, not unlike how the speaker rolls fluidly through her city’s own night. Its last line is “That is Cabiria, she lives the life” — followed by a flash photograph of a beagle, its paw bewitchingly set on the cushion of a sofa, where we imagine the photographer is sprawled, rapt by a screen. Projection, Oliver knows, is a perfect circle.

In a lambent volta, low and slow, poems erupt into a bloom of images. A haphazard snap of a cruise ship off Biscayne Bay; a street corner in Kendall; a sister in profile, white sun blurring her edges; tropical flora in flash, likely shot with the invoked Canon Elph. By the time the speaker states “Miami’s beauty is drunk and severe,” we have learned this, through a commemoration that is breathing, bouncing off screens, yet somehow captured and molted to frame. In science fiction fiction, poetry is the very language of adolescence, and its most potent conduit.


Brent Calderwood on Julie Bloemeke’s Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020)

In Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press), Julie E. Bloemeke explores the ways in which the sometimes cold touch of technology can connect us to our deeper desires, even when it threatens to disconnect us from the people around us.

Phones provide a clever and compelling through-line, starting with the eponymous first poem: “Once, we could depend / on the corded spiral of miles, // delay ourselves with the orbit / of finger wheel….” The present, though, is faster-moving and far less certain. Smartphone screens that unlocked with the swipe of a finger only a few years ago now demand thumbprints and facial recognition to reveal their “bright trick of letters.” The body itself has been turned into a key; the phone, a door to the past and future.

Divided into four sections, Slide to Unlock guides us through a speaker’s personal history that is also a history of modern communication. The section “Call Waiting” moves us from the beginnings of self-awareness and sexuality into the first years of a marriage; in the poem “Scar” from that section, a girl with chicken pox is warned to ignore the “threat of my body / tied to itch.”

The adult speaker in the final section, “Cellular,” fully inhabits her body yet longs for physical and emotional intimacy. In the poem “Infidelity,” the speaker addresses her husband not with an admission or accusation, but rather a frank awareness about her own family history:

[…] I came to our marriage
with flagrant truths, progeny
of ancestors openly in other beds,
ruined vows, the choice sometimes
to break, the choice sometimes to endure.

This is not the story of a marriage unraveling, but the more complicated, particular, and moving story of a woman reconciling herself to an undeniable, almost genetic, desire for self-expression; she is steeling herself for both the connection and alienation that may result from this authenticity.

The final poem, “Slide to Unlock: Blue Note,” provides consolation rather than pat resolution. “Some things in me cannot be held. / I married a man that knew this and somehow // blessed my brokenness.”

Bloemeke’s language throughout her debut collection is both precise and dynamic, tangible and dreamlike. By finding the balance between extremes, Bloemeke thus provides the lyrical analogue of the speaker’s journey, which is all the more rewarding for its complexity.


Kristine Esser Slentz on Kate Garrett’s A View from the Phantasmagoria (Rhythm & Bone, 2020) and Constantine Jones’s In Still Rooms  (Operating System, 2020)

 I’ve been in love with the Rhythm & Bones Press for some time now, so when I had the opportunity to receive an ARC of Kate Garrett’s forthcoming A View from the Phantasmagoria, I took it. Immediately, with a title like that, I was prepared to fall down the supernatural rabbit hole. What I wasn’t prepared for was the tenderness of my heart to bleed onto my cat-hair-filled keyboard.

Garrett opens her book by marching right up to some near clichés and then proceeds to turn them to cause chaos with every perception one could have possibly had in life on this Earth. An example of this style is masterfully done in this poem:


He strokes my hair while I

squeeze into an old dress.

It’s far too small these days,


green-sequined, an unflattering

cut. I insist on it, need to demonstrate

what I’ve been saying, to prove


him wrong. I’m not gorgeous

and he will change his mind

about wanting to feel my laughter


from the inside. But I offer up

the edges of this moth-gnawed relic.

I hate throwing anything away.

Examining feminine constructs and societal ideals oftentimes through the guise of biblical, gothic, and mythological references with relentlessly spectacular imagery, Garrett destroys the reader’s need to breathe repeatedly. The deeper one goes in this collection, the more twisted and jarring the language becomes, devastating with lines like, “Woodbine twines around my ankles, knees/and infinite harvested sunbeams quiver/in the grass, hug the soles of feet aching/with a week of unknown sorrow, legs heavy.”

There’s a poignant personal note at the end of the collection that clarifies the journey just experienced by the reader. This note isn’t needed to understand and appreciated the work as a whole but it is important as human beings that it is read and considered.

Please, dear reader, be prepared to be utterly disassembled by this majestic manuscript.

Now, get ready to read some gothic-ness! Constantine Jones’ first book, In Still Rooms, has just come out with The Operating System press and is already devastating readers, particularly myself.

Going to the same MFA program together (what’s up City College of New York), I became familiar with some of Constantine’s work, especially poetry since I myself and a self-diagnosed poet. Their poems vibrate majestic and mesmerizing vibes as you slip down into a gooey narrative that leaves you trapped on the moors of existence. Seriously, they wrote a whole collection on death as a person.

In Still Rooms fits right along with this disquieting aesthetic. Using some classic gothic and Greek drama devices along with modern storytelling, Constantine tells the tale of a family and all its ghosts, hidden and otherwise. Living in a home that has housed generations, its former tenants are still around to give the reader a chorus between sections – and they have things to say. Be aware, as haunting and loving the content is, the structure of the manuscript itself follows suit as this is a hybrid work with prose, poems, and musicality throughout.

Please read the interview at the back of the book. The Operating System does this wonderful thing where they have all their authors answer a few questions for the reader. In which, Constantine says, “I hope this book introduces me to so many other Greek-American think-makers. I hope it can lodge itself as a missing piece connecting more of us to each other, both within and across generations. I hope it might work to dissolve the barriers between arbitrarily incongruous identities – the Greek, the Queer, the Southern, etc. This version of a life exists, and if this book can be testament to that, I’ll have done what I came to do.” Can it be said any better?

Please, dear reader, be prepared to be solely shattered by this ghostly text.


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