Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Real Time of It by Sally Delehant

      Feeling nothing
is the opposite of love.

The Cultural Society, 2012. This book. Oh, this book. It is a sunburn in the shape of a fingerprint.  An owl pellet filled with candy hearts and rabbit bones. It is a box of petit fours left over from a birthday party where somebody has died.

To say A Real Time of It is a treat is to be horribly cliché.

Ms. Delehant has a pitch-perfect ear for rhythm and sound. Combined with an eye that scans the fields, seashore, city, and home for only the details that delight and surprise, her lines such as: “hearts/ adorned with habit’s form,” “snow geese scramble tic-tock,” “eggs/ coddled and under chandelier light,” and “fortune cookies tah-dah a hated taste” read like grown-up nursery rhymes. Just like in those childhood stories, there is something inherently charming about “a puddle of pantyhose,”  “lamps warm piglets” and “Love the sea’s small papers/ we crumple and throw.”

But don’t you dare read these poems in a baby voice, though. Despite its consistent beauty of image and sound, this book snuggles up with sadness. It is a meditation on deep, human grief: the anguish of losing a parent, the heartache of a failed relationship. Here, Ms. Delehant performs the very brave work of expressing real sentimentality in a world that Ping-Pongs between Hallmark cards and post-modern cynicism. She does that nowhere better than in her prose poem, “Easter Sunday”:

On the first anniversary of my mother’s death, I bake a birthday
cake for an attorney I work for. It’s good for me. It reminds me
that every day is someone’s birthday, until I fuck up the cake. I
don’t wait long enough for it to cool, the top layer peels off into
the frosting, and it looks like shit. I drive to the store to buy a re-
placement cake. I think about how my mom lived—smiled, said
“no problem,” bought cakes, took shit from attorneys. I don’t
know what the end of post-modernism means or what a poem
should do. I only know to sit outside my apartment in my dark
car and hold the new cake, with its crown of cookies propped on
whipped cream, and weep.

The voice in “Easter Sunday” is uncharacteristically blunt compared to the rest of her poems, but, perhaps because of that—that break and that surrender—it is this poem that strikes me the hardest.

A Real Time of It is Ms. Delehant’s first book and a resplendent promise for more to come from this remarkably talented young writer. You can find the book here:

Buy it. Read it. Love it, I promise you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Between the Crackups by Rebecca Lehmann

Salt Publishing, 2011. Winner of the Crashaw Prize. Snaggle-toothed, impish, and daring, Rebecca Lehmann’s debut collection Between the Crackups reads like the love child of Robert Frost with an attitude and Pop Culture with an ear to the ground. Bristling with re-imagined elegies, sonnets, “Letters to a Shithead Friend,” and “A Hundred Words for Loser,” this book completely took me under. At times it was the school bully, passing mean notes in class, spreading vicious rumors. “Bucolic Calling” ends with this unrepentant image: “Mom was in the gravel road crying and we/ laughed at her. We laughed and we laughed at her silly poor-person/ jacket and we laughed at her face, and at her silly tears.” Just as brutal, “For Posterity” snarls the line: “Go publish a bird’s nest.” At other times, though, this book is the victim, exposed, tender and afraid. To contrast, “The Devil is in Detroit” ends with “I never told anyone about the bruise you made,/ but wished I had a bone to break against the world.” In “Particulate Matter,” this stanza nearly broke me:

To the right of the man,
a mother holds a fistful of gnats,
tells me she is saving them for me.
Each gnat is a heartache I
can’t remember.

 The glow worm energy and dark beauty of this book lie in this double-play of aggression and vulnerability. Lehmann shows us an America we all know but don’t want to see: “A kid sells cotton candy in bags at a busy stoplight in summer”; “In the back alley: half/ a bologna sandwich, a flattened refrigerator box”; “The sky like a bathtub/ emptying, the sun a glob/ of blond hair clogging its drain.” In dreams, too, we are not safe from “a snarling monster/ nesting in my oven, its matted fur/ spotted with light and ice, its snaggle-/ tooth a mess of old skulls, forced together.” My favorite poem in the collection, “My Father’s Fourth Tooth,” paints this unforgettable picture of bully and victim and love:
                             A fox hunches

on a bridge, cracking open a clam.
How pink its shell’s ridges; how mealy

 its muscle, its one lonesome tongue.
And the fox—his teeth gleaming,

his fur soaked with brackish water,
gray as my father’s hair.

Part pastoral elegy, part working-man’s ode, and part old-fashioned coming-of-age storytelling, Between the Crackups is an impressive first collection from a bold new poetic voice. Check it out here: and Read this Awesome Book!

Friday, May 11, 2012

SCARED TEXT by Eric Baus

Center for Literary Publishing, 2011. Central question: Is the dictionary a bible that is an animal or a story that is a name? This is the question, or a variant of, that Eric Baus’ Scared Text poses, or disposes of, calling upon language as a semantic menagerie in which meaning and sound, mythology and etymology, definition and transformation swarm, dissolve, and amalgamate, revealing the ontological tension within the acts of speaking and writing. The poem “A Delphi” introduces Minus and Iris, figures/apparitions/word-animals who are as much their own definitions as ghosts of Baus’ pluralized “I,” and the characters from which these poems hang their dream-like narrative, literalizing the poet’s interest in absence as presence and the fallibility of our primary sense. 

Minus tried to write his own bible. It began, So what, saliva. So what, 

Iris told us her dad died in space. The whited-out vowels rang in my     
     ears. Stupid moon. Stupid burned-up blind spot. 

The doctors said his name had burned up. We never knew how it 

Baus’ direct statements hypnotize without confounding, building a world of spiritual breakage in which “Minus’s bible was reading itself,” and “I woke up behind the sky.” Governed by paradox and repetitions that accumulate but don’t cohere, “A Delphi” does best what all of these poems do by walking the line between narrative and non sequitur, quelling the difference by making it extraordinary, a bit blooming, a bit explosion, the same. Injecting each syntactically simple phrase with its own lyric dissidence, Baus allows each (prose) ((yes and no)) poem to move both inward to the music of each sentence and outward to the illusory movements of the whole collection. Indeed, the book's obsession with the distinction, or lack of distinction, between name and namelessness, animate and inanimate, turns every word into an amplification of its own semantic struggle between meaning and noise. “Inscribed, blighted, tongue filled with snow. A throat so other I entered my name,” Baus writes, paralleling language and the act of speaking with the need for identity and articulation that is so often stunted or stunned by the inability of language to let us out of its own Bosch-like incongruity. And like taking in a Bosch painting, reading Baus can leave you a little scared, or sacred, depending on how your eyes feel it.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cost of Walking by Shannon Tharp

Skyskill Press, 2011. I had the pleasure of hearing Shannon Tharp read poems from The Cost of Walking in New York in October. The room fell completely silent as she read. A sudden attentiveness was palpable as the audience awakened to the gravity of her words and to the voice of these poems— one that is careful but insistent and vital. It’s clear that Tharp listens to the sounds of the world, the sounds of her words, and to “the weather within,” as John Taggart writes.

The poems in Tharp’s first full-length collection confront various physical landscapes and climates. The images are often Midwestern— fields, stretches of highway, vacant barns, or they are Pacific Northwestern— rain, fog, harbors, the sea. The poems’ speaker pulls at these environments and turns them inward. Of course this comes at a cost— the longing that is established in thinking through the particulars of existence, an awareness that we walk through the world alone, and what we do have is received in moments and pieces. This is what poetry gives us. This is what it can do: “What of birds and the peculiarity of / flight— a pattern by which to scratch // existence. What of me and the inexpense of / sitting in a field with your face / to any nameable thing.” (“Steady, Less and Less”)

The poems are often short and sometimes written in one and two word lines. This form gives each word weight and value. It’s as if a wind has blown through the poem leaving just its spine or perhaps the edge of a wound: “The / ocean // reasserts / itself. // Each / wave // makes / a crater.” (“Travelogue”) These poems are real and truly beautiful. We get to dwell solely in the sublime, and that’s refreshing. From “After Astronomy”:

“Books, porcelain, windows are open,

and heaven could be said

to be a wreck.

The clouds are here,

they aren’t up in the sky— that’s

your handwriting, that’s the way you write.

I told you I need something

to hold— here I am cold

with you, without.”

I could not give a book a higher recommendation. This one’s important. Read it. Get it right here:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

OF LAMB by Matthea Harvey & Amy Jean Porter

McSweeney's Books, 2011. Packed with wit, dark humor, and twisted pathos, Of Lamb is a collaboration between Matthea Harvey and Amy Jean Porter combining Harvey's erasure of A Portrait of Charles Lamb by David Cecil with Porter's stunning, often slightly disturbing illustrations that creates a contemporary re-telling of the relationship between Mary and her Lamb. With the outward appearance of a children's book and a story within that follows Mary and Lamb's relationship from naive sexual encounter to Lamb's uncomfortable realization of self to the emotional and psychological disintegration of both lovers, Of Lamb beautifully juxtaposes Porter's bright, inviting, thoroughly weird illustrations (like, are those Lamb's genitals?) with Harvey's lines, a mixture of child-like declarative sentences ("Lamb lived in the background") and the slightly antiquated diction of Cecil's original text ("He moved among the rouged illusions of dawn"). As the story progresses and Harvey's lines lead Lamb and Mary together and apart and together again with Porter's illustrations continually complicating and exacerbating the emotional and psychological drama of Mary and Lamb's taboo relationship, Of Lamb develops both a growing magic and a sense of ontological frustration: how, really, can the girl and the animal love one another? However, Of Lamb's success and delight lies in the fact that it never poses such questions directly but lets the narrative built of Harvey's careful word choices interact with and rattle off and oddly illuminate Porter's illustrations, creating a seamless dialogue between the two artists that endlessly charms, humors, and, thankfully, weirds-out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Not Merely Because of the Unknown That was Stalking Toward Them by Jenny Boully

I have a big crush on Jenny Boully. This is very awkward for everyone involved. But I can't help it. Her first book, The Body, made me go "Whoah" in a Keanu Reeves manner when I was in graduate school, and her next book [one love affair] prompted an "Oh my God, this is so true" reaction that had me pushing the book onto any person who would listen. 

This latest book uses J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy (think Peter Pan) as a jumping off point for Boully's intriguing mix of poetry/prose. The darker adult themes that always existed in Barrie's work are pulled forth, and the anxieties and pressures of reaching or avoiding physical and emotional maturity are highlighted. That sounds serious, and it is, but this book is also fun -- from Neverland logistics (does Tinkerbell need tiny tampons?) to Neverland pinups (Tiger Lily in a seashell bikini, the seductive stylings of Hook). Boully's latest will keep you turning the page to see what familiar scene or character she'll reinvent next -- though I confess that as I neared the end I turned the pages more and more slowly, hoping to make it last.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Factory Hollow Press, 2012. I Want to Open the Mouth God Gave You Beautiful Mutant is a poetry comic written and drawn by Bianca Stone. Imagine if Edward Gorey and Frank O'Hara had the complete DVD set of Star Trek: Voyager when they were roommates at Harvard and the haunting, delightful, generously weird tone of this book, moving line by line, frame by frame, and page by page towards inexplicable wonder, will be immediately clear. In the two pieces in the book, "Waltzing With You" and "Les Miserables," the poetry and the images are so seamlessly combined that it never feels as if one came before the other, as if they were somehow created simultaneously. Blurring distinctions between human and nonhuman, conscious and unconscious, the images have a fragile, hopeful sorrow to them, reminding you that these poetry comics are hand-drawn and that they are human-drawn, in the sense that they are emotionally and imaginatively active, never simply illustrations. That there is never a truly straight line, that nearly every figure and scene is distorted and darkly singular, that lines like "Can you see me in the dusk, asking nothing of it?" are tethered to these figures and scenes in a way that works on a reader's intuition like the waking aftermath of a dream, that as I write this I am realizing that a line is something you both draw and write and how odd it is to have never stumbled on that thought before but how obvious it is that the aesthetic of a drawn line that is never straight would perfectly translate into a written line whose logic, images, or associations are not straight or straight-forward makes so much sense: all of these things contribute to make this book, like any exciting piece of art, an experience that asks to be returned to over and over, never feeling completely tied up. It's as if every time I close and open the book the drawings have slightly shifted or a new line has been added. Did that typewriter say "Enigma Machine" last time I saw it? If only these were the questions we were always asking ourselves.