It’s National Poetry Month, ya’ll! You better believe that means I am reading a ton of poetry for this feature (and, you know, also because I love poetry). So, to that end, there are several poetry selections and only one prose selection this month. Thanks to Malvern Books’s National Poetry Month sale, I was able to score some really great collections and I am so excited to share them with you.
If I had to pick a through line in all of the collections I am featuring here, it would be each poet’s engagement with an expansive self that makes these collections both extraordinarily intimate, limited to the particular experience of the writer, and simultaneously ubiquitous. These authors hold up a mirror and ask the readers to consider whether they see themselves in violence or violence in themselves. They also ask the reader to engage with their inner child or adolescent, to play, to be experienced and inexperienced.
With all of that said, I hope that you enjoy these collections as much as I have. Happy National Poetry Month!
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
“Like all scholars in any sort of heaven, I will study
the metaphysics of madness”– “Elegy”
Jericho Brown says it best in his forward to Chen Chen’s beautiful collection when he says, “The greatest achievement of this book is its singular and sustained voice, poem after poem of a speaker whose obsessive and curious nature is that of an adult who refuses to give up seeing through the eyes of an adolescent, one who believes that the world is a malleable place and that asking the right questions changes its form.” Truly, this book suspends you between the beauty of promise and the chaotic muck of searching for one’s identity both within and without a perilous family system. When Chen Chen constructs a thirteen year-old speaker, we believe him. We want to hold that thirteen year old and offer the support and acceptance that they are searching for. This collection really floored me for its honesty and its careful working through the appearance and submersion of intersectional identities.
Personal Favorites: “West of Schenectady” & “I’m Not a Religious Person But”
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
This is a book you have to read and then read again and read and then read again. Jericho Brown’s The Tradition is the music of rage and love and loving oneself. It is violence and mercy and a whole lot of other descriptors that I would feel silly throwing around now. Brown’s poetry is rhythmic. It pulls you in with its music and tells you to sit down and listen. And you do. Like Chen Chen’s work, Brown harnesses the power of asking the right questions, but also the power of acknowledging violence in everyday life. Brown’s speaker indicts the reader for their ambivalence in the face of terror, even as the speaker also acknowledges the pleasures that can be found in daily life. This book moved me to tears on several occasions. It is powerful and important and I suggest that everyone pick up a copy and read it as soon as they can.
Personal Favorites: “Duplex” & “The Peaches”
24 Hours of Men by Lisa L. Moore
“I wear outrage like a hair shirt/ scary and close to the skin/ prickles covering the zipper down the back/ which I can’t reach anyway.”– “Poem I Wrote Instead of Listing the Names of Every Boy and Man Who Has Assaulted or Harassed Me”
The only chapbook on this list, Lisa Moore’s 24 Hours of Men is nonetheless an extraordinary response to the complex interweaving of violence and love day to day. Moore charges you with rage over police violence, homophobia, sexual assault, and sexism, which is carefully tucked in next to the intensity of motherly love. She asks us to consider whether these different kinds of violence can ever be separated from our home-bound selves. This collection is special for its poignancy and its urgent response and call to action. I read through it in one sitting and am sure that you will too.
Personal Favorites: “Inauguration” & “24 Hours of Men”
Dead Girls by Alice Bolin
This essay collection is so important. Also, I feel slightly attacked by it. As a lover of true crime and Law & Order: SVU, I am no stranger to what Bolin terms “The Dead Girl Show,” but I had never considered the systematic harm that this collective obsession with the dead bodies of women causes. Bolin expertly weaves together personal and cultural experience with shows like Twin Peaks and True Detective, exposing the ways in which U.S. culture suggests that the best kind of woman for a man is a dead woman.
Literary Journal Pick:
Okay, so here is where I get to rave. I love Yes, Poetry journal! The content that they publish is always full of fire, honest, and well-curated. Most recently, Terri Muus’s “Alternative Names for Rape Survivors” made me hit the floor. The post new things every day, so if you are looking for a new journal, definitely check them out!