Next up at #poetrylive, Rachel McKibbens!

Today I get to start reading Rachel McKibben’s new book Into the Dark & Emptying Field. I first heard her read at Split This Rock in 2012 and was so moved and unsettled and astonished that I dreamt her poems for weeks.

Follow my twitter feed to read along with me!

#poetrylive wrap-up: “Burden of Solace” by Teneice Durrant Delgado

I’ve been live-tweeting from the chapbook Burden of Solace Teneice Durrant Delgado, published by Červená Barva Press. This small but emotionally explosive connection explores the story of the “trade” that brought Irish citizens to the sugar fields of Barbados as slaves. In her author’s note, Delgado explains:

I have strived to make this chapbook as historically accurate as possible. There is not much information on the Irish Slave trade, but I found Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty and To Hell, or Barbados: the ethnic cleansing of Ireland by Sean O’Callaghan to be particularly insightful. I’m also grateful to Dr. Natalie Zacek for meeting with me after a random email and an even more random trip to Manchester, U.K.

In this short sequence, only 10 poems, Delgado has compressed a general history unknown to most into a single wrenching narrative of a young Irish woman whose name we never know. The story is told entirely in first person, but the timbre of the voice changes throughout, from the rushing long sentences of the opening poem’s history lesson, spoken in a bitter but distant voice, through the violent intimacy of her description of the deliverance of her still-born child:

…From my womb, small
and dark, my boy refused to cry, or take even one breath
of plantation air. For that, I said, Aimean, forbidden.

The word “forbidden” echos through these poems, as a liturgy, as the rosary beads (forbidden) that another enslaved woman tried to pray when her child was taken away: “I watched / her work bent fingers worry over imaginary / rosaries for three long days.” What was most forbidden, for both the enslaved Irish and the enslaved Africans, was simple human dignity, and this Delgado has explored and restored with compassion, strength, and clarity.

Here’s the sequence’s opening poem, my favorite in the collection, for how the rhythms of the lines are the rocking of the ship that will carry these girls away to a horror they have not yet been able to imagine:

Susan
-the name of an English ship that trafficked in Irish slaves

Tired of the triangle-
Bristol, Ghana, Virginia-
eager for more profit,
Crown captains played pied
piper, filled your belly in
Galway instead, traded black flesh

for white, work horses for breeding
mares. The shipmaster
forbid African eyes
from looking at the ocean,
knowing how deep water

can be mistaken for
home, but Irish were allowed
to pace the deck, Catholic
sins stronger than any
iron bonds.

Susan, could you tell
the difference between forbidden
lamentations mouthing through
your chambers, between black
and white flesh rotting

in your bowels? Your battered
masts only sketch
a story: water, hell, the
consequences of empire.

BurdenofSolace157

#poetrylive Roberto Carlos Garcia “amores gitano (gypsy loves)” wrap-up

If you’ve been tweeting along, (Wait, is there a word for reading tweets? Does anyone read tweets, or just send them? Guess that will be another post?), you have a taste of passion contained in this dense little chapbook. What I loved most about going through it on a slower re-read is how the poems manage to be both specific and wide-open. Both the man and woman in the poems are so solid—in poem 16 we see “her white summer dress,/ soaked with sweat / rippling like a wet paper towel” and his “freshly ironed polo, / khaki shorts / & leather sandals.” And in these costumes we see too the reel in/toss out nature of this relationship; this poem ends as she comments about him, “You look like a man about to miss a moment.”

And yet even in the physicality and blatant sexuality of the poems there is an openness. Is the woman real? If so, is the affair real? Is the woman in the final poem or two about being married the same woman in the affair? Or is the woman not human at all, but Muse, resistant and flirting and insulting and inspiring? After all, in poem 15 “My eyes fixed / on the books / I love & loath / like an adulterer / his mistress, / I blame you for this.”

Most striking to me is how the chapbook form is being molded to become part of the overall trend of poetry collections that use individual lyric poems to create a narrative arc. While the first books in this trend tended toward personal memoir, the form keeps evolving to cover biography, history, and fiction. The form is so flexible at this point that the narrative arc can stretch through short collection or long, and amores gitano is a great example of how page length is in no way proportionate to the depth of the story or emotional impact.

What should you take from this review? Go buy some chapbooks. Take a risk. Thousands are published each year, and if poets don’t buy them, who will?

Next up in #poetrylive is the chapbook I bought when I ordered amores gitano, because the title grabbed me. All kinds of interesting things happening there. Follow along to see.

#poetrylive Roberto Carlos Garcia “amores gitano (gypsy loves)”

Next up in #poetrylive is Roberto Carlos Garcia’s chapbook amores gitano (gypsy loves) from Červená Barva Press.

Truth in advertising – Roberto is a classmate in both the poetry and poetry in translation tracks of the Drew MFA program. But I’d be in love with this collection even if I hadn’t shared the delicious struggling of translation workshops with him!

Follow along on twitter, or in the twitter feed on the right.
amoresgitano157

#poetrylive Jane Cassady “For the Comfort of Automated Phrases” Wrap-up

Just finished my re-read of this first collection from Philly writer Jane Cassady. Follow highlights on the right in my twitter-feed.

For the Comfort of Automated Phrases is a series of love poems from an engaged, life-loving life. Among the collection’s beloveds are: tech-school testimonials, announcements on public transit, moon pies, a tour guide at Sun Studios, a truckstop, the Ladies of Plano Texas Zumba class, a shiny pink katana phone, forever stamps, Beyonce, Job-Quitters, and several poems to Philadelphia. Cassaday also works in an invented-form here, taking lyrics to a song, cutting the words apart, and using them to create a new poem, including the very very funny “Letter from the Divine Whatever to the Newly Out” created from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

The language here is rich, the images original and yet banging the chord of absolute truth, with tenderness exposed all over the place. I have a particular fondness for the poem below, because I’ve written about these same Germantown mockingbirds mocking the sounds of car alarms. And because #5 made me unable to keep reading until I finished laughing.

Philadelphia Mix Tape

1. For the price of taking a tract,
a choir on the sidewalk

2. When the soon-to-be President spoke in the park, he
was unprepared for call-and-response.

3. In line at Pathmark, a woman crooning
“If I were a boy…” over her shopping cart.

4. Waiting for a bus, South Philly, March: the bricks
reverberate with rehearsing Mummers.

5. Unitarian cantata on the life of Harriet Tubman.

6. A political argument boils down as someone says,
“Boy, they play a lot of Pixies in here.”

7. The cars, the buildings, the school hallways,
even the mockingbirds go
“wee oo wee oo weet, wee oo wee oo weet…”

8. On a date, my wife and I pay a dollar a second
to a busker whose steel guitar wafts up the stairs
and out from the Regional Rail.

9. The club behind our house (and I do mean RIGHT
behind our house) makes our 3am bones ache to
comply with the instructions of R&B line dances.

10. My first memory (age 2): families lay on the floor
in the middle of Wanamaker’s (now Macy’s) watching
the Christmas light show accompanied by a store-sized
pipe organ that rivals the one in Arcade Fire’s
“Intervention.”

11. Speeches from shop-front speakers:
our most remixed President.

12. A bus full of kids on the way to the skating rink
sprouts, then blooms, then becomes full blown
“All the Single Ladies” sing along, complete with moves.
(Fadeout in whoh-oh-oh…)

#poetrylive Jane Cassady “For the Comfort of Automated Phrases”

Next book up in my live-tweeting-as-I-read-a-poetry-collection-project is Jane Cassady’s For the Comfort of Automated Phrases, published in 2012 by Sibling Rivalry Press. I read through this book quickly last year, and have been waiting for a time to get back and spend some time with it. So, here I go! Follow along on twitter @ThisFrenzy.

Next up on #poetrylive

Next up on #poetrylive

#poetrylive Sarah Freligh

So I just finished reading, and tweeting from, Sarah Freligh’s chapbook A Brief Natural History of an American Girl. You can read back through the tweets in the box on right. These 17 poems weave a story of a teenage woman’s sexual curiosity and discoveries, told reflectively from an older voice. The territory of how teen sex opens but also limits young women has been told expertly many times, although we still need more and more of these stories in a culture where the measure of sexual experience is the male orgasm, and where we have no word to describe sex that was legally consensual but left young women feeling violated, hollow, used only to give pleasure to someone else. We especially have no single word for the experience of a sexual interaction that both parties enjoyed, that a young women felt made her special or feel special, only to find the details smeared across her social world as dirty or shameful or as her having been “had.”

In the face of those silences, poems like Freligh’s matter. I think, too, of Joan Larkin’s crown of sonnets on this subject, or of Kathie Dobie’s memoir The Only Girl in the Car. The center of Freligh’s poems is not the sexual violence Dobie describes but another intense pain – becoming pregnant and giving the child away. Three of the seventeen poems take this on directly, but others in her emotionally dense book circle around the loss, including poems about her relationship to her mother and her mother’s death.

My favorite poem comes near the end, a tragi-comedy reflection on being a middle-aged woman:

Depending

The rooster no longer cocks
his doodle doo at me now

that I can’t hatch eggs.
Old hen: all fruitless

tubes and bristled
chin. Explaining

the sestina to freshmen
yesterday, I farted. What’s

next? Leak of urine, I guess,
unexpected, like the day

in eighth grade when I felt
the pinch of a tiny hand

wring my insides: the slide,
the trickle, the long walk

to the desk for a hall pass praying
nothing showed. Years later

when I’d say thank you,
Jesus
, or god damn.

You can buy the chapbook through Accents Publishing. You can find out more about Sarah (a former sports writer for the Philly Inquirer) here: Sarah Freligh

#poetrylive

I’m starting a new project on twitter these days: #poetrylive. Since I always want to review, or at least write a few paragraphs about, poetry books I’m reading but never actually do, I’ll now be live-tweeting as I read through each book. Follow along, and you’ll get a taste of what’s happening!

Follow me @thisfrenzy to come along for the poetry ride. Or live tweet whatever you’re reading and let me know so I can follow you!

I just finished Sarah Freligh’s chapbook “A Brief Natural History of an American Girl.” You can read through the tweets on the right in the Twitter widget. And you can buy the chapbook at http://www.accents-publishing.com.