Book Review: Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan (2018)

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Inclusive, Intersectional, and Feminist AF

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through NetGalley.)

I want to believe
I’m a better woman now
that I’m writing poems.
that when I say, poems
I mean another way
to say, revenge.

(Denice Frohman, “Hunger”)

My god understands how slave women plucked pearls
from between their legs rather than see them strung up by the neck.

(Elizabeth Acevdeo, “An Open Letter to the Protestors Outside the Planned Parenthood Near My Job”)

This little grandmother
was ordered to pull down her paintings
because the Rabbi was offended
by her version of Eve: 9 months pregnant,
unbroken & reaching for another apple.

(Ruth Irupé Sanabria, “On Mate & the Work”)

Compiled in response to the 2016 election, Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism features the work of fifty feminist activists; some established poets, other relative newcomers; from all walks of life. The collection is both timely, and depressingly timeless: sexual assault, objectification, interpersonal violence, racism, police brutality, the suppression of women’s voices, disenfranchisement, white supremacy; all are issues that we’ve been fighting for far too long. (Cue the meme, “I Can’t Believe I Still Have To Protest This Fucking Shit.”)

Some of the poems I loved; others, I struggled with; and a small handful I skimmed over altogether. The collection’s greatest strength is its inclusiveness, diversity, and breadth of voices. And yet, Women of Resistance is a little uneven, and I can’t say that I always “got” – or even enjoyed – the poems featured here. (To be fair, poetry isn’t my strong suit, and I’ve been feeling a little burned out on it lately to boot.)

THAT SAID, when a poem resonated with me, it was often a loud and resounding affair. There are some truly astounding pieces of verse in here! In particular I adored the work of Denice Frohman (“Hunger,” “A Woman’s Place”), Kimberley Johnson (“Female”), Jacqueline Jones (“Civil Rights”), Kim Addonizio “To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall”), Laura Theobald (“Getting a UTI”), Elizabeth Acevdeo (“An Open Letter to the Protestors Outside the Planned Parenthood Near My Job”), Ada Limón (“Service”), Stacey Waite (“The Four Nights She’s Gone”), Patricia Smith (“What She Thinks as She Waits by the Door”), Ruth Irupé Sanabria (“On Mate & the Work”), Mary Ruefle (“Woodtangle”), Rachel McKibbens (“Shiv”), and Lauren K. Alleyne (“Ode to the Pantsuit”).

Usually I prefer reading ebooks on my Kindle, since it’s easier to highlight text and take notes this way, but this particular book looks its best on an ipad or other full-color device. There are some neat black and white protest photos here and there, and the formatting tends to stay true to the original.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Witch Doesn’t Burn in this One (Women are some kind of magic #2) by Amanda Lovelace (2018)

Monday, March 5th, 2018

“warning II: no mercy ahead.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for violence against women.)

misogyny
/m ‘säj ne/
noun
1: the power-driven hatred of women.
2: just the way things are.

misandry
/mi ‘ sandre/
noun
1: the reactionary, self-preserving hatred of men.
2: somehow this is going too far.

our
very being

is considered
an inconvenience,

our bodies
vacant homes

wrapped in layers
of yellow tape,

our legs
double doors

for one man
(& one man only)

to pry open so
he can invade us

& set down his
furniture,

never once
asking us

how we feel
about the curtains.

– they love us empty, empty, empty.

in this novel
the woman protagonist

claims she’s not like
those other girls,

not because she finds
their femininity

to be an insult or
a weakness, no—

it’s
because

she knows
all women have

their own unique
magic

that cannot be
replicated by her

or any other
woman.

– the plot twist we’ve all been waiting for.

It pains me that I didn’t love this book more than I did.

I credit Lovelace’s first collection, The Princess Saves Herself in this One, with reigniting my love of poetry. Accessible and invigorating, it showed me that I could both enjoy – and understand – modern poetry. Based on the strength of the first book, and the fairy tale promise of the follow-up’s title, my expectations were really quite high. Maybe unfairly so.

If you read The Princess Saves Herself in this One, many of the pieces here will feel familiar to you; this is not necessarily a bad thing. Lovelace’s words have the same fierce intersectional feminist spark that drew me to Princess. There’s a lot to love here – but there’s also quite a bit of repetition. I was also hoping for a more obvious connection between the poems and fairy tale villains; maybe a retelling here or there. Mostly though the poems just draw on imagery of witchcraft and witch hunts. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, especially given the current backlash against the #MeToo campaign. I was just hoping for something … more.

That said, there are some really wonderful and memorable poems within these here pages. The topics are timely AF, and I love that Lovelace takes care to embrace all women under the banner of sisterhood (say it with me: all women are authentic). If you love women and love poetry, The Witch Doesn’t Burn in this One is still a pretty solid pick, and I look forward to the next title in the “Women are some kind of magic,” The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in this One.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange (2017)

Monday, January 29th, 2018

“i am more dangerous than noreiga”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for rape.)

all things are possible
but aint no colored magician in her right mind
gonna make you white
i mean
this is blk magic
you lookin at
(“my father is a retired magician”)

i haveta turn my television down sometimes cuz
i cant stand to have white people/ shout at me/
(“from okra to greens”)

we need a god who bleeds now
whose wounds are not the end of anything
(“we need a god who bleeds now”)

Wild Beauty falls into that weird, nebulous category of “poems I’m not sure I completely understand, but am mostly smitten with anyway.” A mix of new and previously published poetry from Ntozake Shange, Wild Beauty is enchanting and seductive and, occasionally, raw AF. Shange explores wide-ranging issues, including race, gender, sexuality, love, the military-industrial complex, the police state, the process of creating art, and the centrality of music in her life. As is par for the course with poetry, I wasn’t convinced that I was always picking up what Shange put down, but I was happy to come along for the ride anyway. Well, more or less: it’s true that I did skim a few of the pieces, but these were few and far between.

Among my favorites are “my father is a retired magician”; “toussaint”; “live oak”; “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful & mine”; “rise up fallen fighters”; “7 tequilas gone”; “the stage goes to darkness”; “crooked woman”; “about atlanta”; “who needs a heart”; and “pages for a friend.” I fear that “crack annie” will stick with forever, though not in a good way; the poem is written from the pov of a mother who facilitates the rape of her seven-year-old daughter in exchange for drugs, and it is simply haunting. “ode to orlando” is as well, though in a more melancholy (as opposed to nauseating) way. Written in the days after the Pulse nightclub shooting, Shange reflects on how the tragedy did – and could have – impacted her own family. (Shange’s daughter is gay and has in fact been to the club.)

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Black Genealogy: Poems by Kiki Petrosino and Lauren Haldeman (2017)

Friday, January 26th, 2018

A haunting cry across the chasms of time and injustice.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

You want to know who owned us & where.
But when you type, your searches return no results.
Slavery was grown folks’ business, then old folks’.
We saw no reason to hum Old Master’s name
to our grandchildren, or point out his overgrown gates
but you want to know who owned us & where
we got free. You keep typing our names into oblongs
of digital white. You plant a unicode tree & climb up
into grown folks’ business. You know old folks
don’t want you rummaging here, so you pile sweet jam
in your prettiest dish. You light candles & pray:
Tell me who owned you & where
I might find your graves.
Little child, we’re at rest
in the acres we purchased. Those days of
slavery were old folks’ business. The grown folks
buried us deep. Only a few of our names survive.
We left you that much, sudden glints in the grass.
The rest is grown folks’ business we say. Yet
you still want to know. Who owned us? Where?

In Black Genealogy: Poems, Kiki Petrosino explores her attempts to name and locate her ancestors – a matter made all the more complicated and frustrating for the descendants of slaves. Dehumanized, objectified, and stripped of their personhood, scant records exist to reaffirm the individuality, the bonds, the very humanity and being of kidnapped, trafficked, and enslaved humans. Of her search, Petrosino laments: “For a whole page, instead of talking about H, Old Master counts his glass decanters from France.” And so her journey is arduous, frustrating – at times, even harrowing.

In the second half of the book, Petrosino’s ancestors answer her call. They are angry, amused, loving: everything you imagine an aged great-grandmother to be. They cry out to her across the chasms of time and injustice, both delighting in and envying her living, breathing body.

Bookending and separating these two pieces are several untitled comics, visual adaptations of Petrosino’s poems by illustrator Lauren Haldeman. Petrosino is haunted by a Confederate reenactor, and his Cheshire cat-like like grin.

The three parts of the book – Petrosino’s prose, her ancestors’ poetry, and Haldeman’s drawings – work wonderfully together. While I do love the poems best, the various components complement each other in a way that I can only describe as masterful. The result is alternately beautiful, sorrowful, and downright chilling, as with this more-than-vaguely threatening exchange Petrosino shares with the soldier:

The essays – okay, more like modestly-sized paragraphs – in Part I are sometimes confusing but, to be fair, I think this is supposed to echo the journey of Black Genealogy: the reader’s experience is meant to mirror that of the author.

A strong 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 where necessary.

Read it with: Octavia Butler’s Kindred. For some reason, the illustrations really reminded me of the graphic novel adaptation. I blame it on the lingering, sinister grin.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Wild Embers by Nikita Gill (2017)

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

“She is alone. | And oh | how brilliantly she shines.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to rape and interpersonal violence.)

We are the blood
of the witches
you thought were dead.

We carry witchcraft in our bones
whilst the magic still sings
inside our heads.

When the witch hunters
imprisoned our ancestors
when they tried to burn the magic away.

Someone should have
warned them
that magic cannot be tamed.

Because you cannot burn away
what has always
been aflame.

(“Witch”)

It is the law of the universe
that even ghosts understand
as long as they matter to someone
they still exist and in your heart
they stand.

(“Ghost Story”)

I really wanted to love this collection of poetry more than I did – although this isn’t to suggest that I didn’t enjoy it. Nikita Gill’s poetry is powerful, passionate, and fiercely feminist. With Wild Embers, she fans the flames of rebellion – against a culture so steeped in misogyny and sexism that it’s taken as the norm, the default, the air we breathe – and at a time when we need it, desperately. Whether reimaging sexist fairy tales and myths or challenging abusers – including her own – Gill’s words cut deep, to the bone. They’re also accessible and satisfying, in a way that poetry isn’t always.

Yet she often employs similar imagery and themes, such that the poems start to feel a little repetitive by the final quarter of the book. Less might be more here. Also, I wish she’d taken the idea of giving each part its own unique theme and run with it a little harder. The first section is so clearly about humanity’s relationship to the cosmos, the starstuff that coalesces in our atoms and spirits … and yet, with the exception of parts III and VI (fairy tales and mythology, respectively), she mostly abandons themes (or at least more apparent ones) after so skillfully priming her audience for them.

Overall, though, it’s a valuable collection of poetry, raw and full of hope and resistance.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Helium by Rudy Francisco (2017)

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Reflections on race, gender, mental illness — and love, naturally!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads.)

Your God stole my God’s identity.
So next time you bend your knees,
next time you bow your head
I want you to tell your God
that my God is looking for him.
(“To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'”)

Once, a friend of a friend asked me
why there aren’t more black people in the X Games
and I said, “You don’t get it.”
Being black is one of the most extreme sports in America.
(“Adrenaline Rush”)

Some days I forget that my skin
is not a panic room.
(“My Honest Poem”)

###

The first poem in Helium, “Water,” took my breath away – and more or less set the tone for the entire volume.

I have a terrible time reviewing poetry; I can’t tell you whether a poem is “good,” technically speaking, only if I liked it. Even then I fear I’m a poor barometer, since I’m as likely to understand it as not.

But Rudy Francisco’s poetry is accessible AF. Also daring, insightful, passionate, and unfiltered. I especially adore the poems that tackle mental illness – which is no surprise, as I struggle with anxiety and depression myself, and thus find this genre incredibly relatable and applicable to my own life.

Many of these pieces appear in Parts I and II; but it’s those poems centered on social justice issues (Part III) that really stunned me speechless. “Adrenaline Rush,” “Rifle II,” “To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'” — these poems will stick with me long after Helium claims its permanent home on my bookshelves. Not that it will stay there indefinitely: this is a book I’m likely to revisit again in the future.

Though Francisco is at his best when writing about social justice issues – toxic masculinity, misogyny, religious intolerance, art as resistance, police brutality, etc. – I cared less for his love poems. Though I suppose it could just be the jaded, 39-year-old widow in me silently screaming, “Please don’t be a love poet!”

I also actively disliked “Complainers” (to paraphrase: if you’ve never had to saw your own arm off with a rusty butterknife, stfu!), which is kind of a bummer: the second-to-last poem in the book, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I rarely read physical books anymore – I’m more an ebook kind of gal – but I found the font a little on the small side, and unnecessarily so, since many of the pages are dominated by white space. Borderline hard-to-read for my nearly middle-aged eyes.

These are all fairly minor complaints, though, given the sheer genius and raw emotion embodied in Helium.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: I Wore My Blackest Hair by Carlina Duan (2017)

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Poems of Loneliness, Loss, and Defiance

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

I was her American
daughter, my tongue
my hardest muscle
forced to swallow
a muddy alphabet.
(“FRACTIONS, 1974”)

in Japan,
I meet a white-haired woman who
tells me her name means moon.
But I am crescent now, she says.
Soon I will disappear.
(“YEARS”)

when
a boy plumps his lip on your throat
and asks you to say something dirty
in CHINESE, you flip the sheets
and bite down, tasting trouble
and rage. in the kitchen, alone,
you devour a pickle. your white
classmate sees you. does not.
white men claim you. do not.
you are small, fierce, and evil: with
two palms and a chest. there are
boxes made for you to check.
Chinese /
American. Chinese / American.
your mom calls. she tells you to stop
writing about race. You could get
shot, she says. so you yank your hair
into a knot at the back of your neck.
so you cinch your belt tight
at the waist.
(“YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE”)

beware of the
Chink: how it bites.
(“WHAT YOU LOOKIN’ AT, CHINK?”)

#####

— 3.5 stars —

Loneliness, grief, identity, alienation, illness, love, sex, rage, immigration, culture: the poems in I Wore My Blackest Hair glide and dance and sprint (and sometimes chomp their way) all over the map, but what they all (or mostly) share in common is an almost stubborn sense of defiance. These are stories about confronting mortality, navigating interpersonal strife, and pushing back against racist microaggressions while holding tight to one’s will to keep on keeping on.

I’ve only recently started to read more poetry; my reticence stems from the fact that I don’t always “get” the stuff. I think I got the gist of each piece, even if some (okay, a fair amount) of the imagery Duan employs went over my head. Even so, it was lovely just the same. And where it wasn’t, it’s because it wasn’t meant to be. Some of my favorites include “MORNING COMES, I AM SHINY WITH IT,” “CALUMET,” “FRACTIONS, 1974,” “MOON PULL,” “I WANT MY BOOKS BACK,” and (so much yes!) “YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE.”

Incidentally, I did notice a certain pattern of repetition over time that I found a little…distracting, I guess? Certain images pop up time and again – corn and boiled eggs; pink mouths and straining muscles; hair, both head and body – almost to the point of obsession.

If I enjoyed a poet’s work, I usually look them up on YouTube afterwards; hearing them perform the same pieces is often even more powerful and moving. I couldn’t find too many videos of Carlina Duan, but this reading of “Twelve Years Old” is both stirring – and representative of the poems in I Wore My Blackest Hair.

CONTENTS

I WORE MY BLACKEST HAIR
PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE
WHAT YOU LOOKIN’ AT, CHINK?
WHEN I BOILED THE CORN
AMENORRHEA
WHEN ALL YOU WANT
CALUMET
WHAT I’VE LOST
MORNING COMES, I AM SHINY WITH IT
EAST ANN
LITTLE SISTER, AMERICAN GIRL
GAME BOY ADVANCE
LATCHKEY
BELIEF IT IS NOT ENOUGH
FRACTIONS, 1974
YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE
I WASN’T JOKING
AUBADE FOR ANGEL ISLAND, CHINA COVE
EVERYTHING’S A FLY
AT THE SUSHI RESTAURANT HE CALLS HIMSELF A GRINGO
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN • GENERATION 1
USIS • ANGEL ISLAND, CALIFORNIA • GENERATION 0
MOON PULL
I RUN AND I RUN AND I
THEN I WOKE UP IN YOUR BED
SEVERED
HERE I GO, TORCHING
HEY, MAN
SHUT DOWN
AT THE PARTY
PACKING LUNCH ON ANN STREET
AND WHEN
I WANT MY BOOKS BACK
ZODIAC
YEARS
PICKING RASPBERRIES WITH ADAM
PLEDGE 2.0, TRIBE, ZOO

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva (2017)

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

poems that bristle and bite

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

mami does not understand why you like holes
in your shoes, in your tights, in your gloves.
what did you want to seep through, brown girl
with bangs? a song not written about you?
really, you were being a seamstress
just like your abuela in the living room making
skirts out of curtains, just making adjustments,
just making holes in places your new skin
was supposed to be.

(“Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs”)

i don’t know if i feel in love
feel beautiful
or just feel
maybe we all need some rest

(“Self-Portrait With Historical Moments”)

I was so excited about this book that I did something I rarely do – namely, brave Adobe Digital Editions to read an ARC. (It is forever crashing my machine, okay.) Lately I’ve been digging poetry more and more and, between the book’s stunning cover and the rave early reviews, I just knew I’d love peluda. And I did! I mean, I do!

Growing up, I always felt weird and awkward and hairy – hairier than most of the other girls around me, anyway, the popular ones in particular. Okay, so maybe I’m one of the white girls Lozada-Oliva writes about in “Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in a Harvard Square Bathroom” –

the ones who don’t shave
for political reasons, the ones who took
an entire election cycle to grow
out a tuft of armpit hair

– which is to say my Italian-German self is only “hairy” when held up to modern beauty standards, e.g., not terribly hairy at all. Maybe I can’t really relate. Even so. I adored all of the twenty-one poems that make up peluda just the same.

Over on her Facebook page, Lozada-Oliva describes peluda as “my yellow chapbook about my hairy latina feels,” which seems as apt a description as any. Lozada-Oliva tackles such weighty topics as beauty, assimilation, racist microaggressions, sex, shame, depression/metal health stigma, alienation, George Zimmerman, and, yes, body hair: clumps and heads and volumes and rivers of hair. Melissa’s Guatemalan immigrant mother Josefina was/is a beautician, so her schooling started early. Her words radiate with ferocity and hunger and wit that doesn’t cut so much as claw and devour.

There’s so much to love here, but one piece really stands out: “Wolf Girl Suite,” which is really a story told in five acts. With all the elements of a feminist horror flick, I am aching to see this one adapted for the screen. Coming to a theater near you, Halloween 2021?

“Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs,” “You Use Your Hands So Much When You Talk,” “You Know How to Say Arroz con Polla but Not What You Are,” “What If My Last Name Got a Bikini Wax, Too,” and “We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party” are other favorites too. But they’re all pretty great.

fyi, there are a number of videos of Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s spoken word poetry up on YouTube, and it’s even more powerful in person. Lozada-Oliva’s delivery is sometimes surprisingly funny, with a dark sense of humor that isn’t always – plainly? – evident in written form (at least not to me, anyhow). Here are just two that grabbed me by the amygdala and refuse to let go.

 

Table of Contents

Origin Regimen
Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe She Got Up Early
Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs
Lip / Stain / Must / Ache
I’m Sorry, I Thought You Were Your Mother
You Use Your Hands So Much When You Talk
AKA What Would Jessica Jones Do?
You Know How to Say Arroz con Polla but Not What You Are
My Hair Stays on Your Pillow Like a Question Mark
What If My Last Name Got a Bikini Wax, Too
The Women in My Family Are Bitches
I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom
We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party
Wolf Girl Suite
It’s Funny the Things That Stick With You
Mami Says Have You Been Crying
Self-Portrait With Historical Moments
Light Brown Noise
I’m So Ready
House Call
Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in a Harvard Square Bathroom

 

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim (2017)

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

misery loves company (or mine does, anyway)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through NetGalley.)

my grandmother says
heartache is
a hungry caterpillar
that must be fed
so it can grow
wings
& fly away
(“feed a fever, starve a cold”)

the girl gets carried away.
she is the sugar cube,
love is the cup of
darjeeling – she
dissolves,
faster
than
you
think
she
will.
(“magic trick 001”)

I’d never heard of Sabrina Benaim before spotting (and immediately downloading) a copy of her poetry book, Depression & Other Magic Tricks, on NetGalley. Later I learned that a live reading of her poem “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” went viral a few years back, with over five million views on YouTube, reportedly making Benaim “one of the most-viewed performance poets of all time.” And indeed, it is awesome and lovely and well, well worth the hype:

Though “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is indeed one of the fifty-three poems found in Depression & Other Magic Tricks, you should definitely check out Benaim’s reading as well; her performance is brimming with frenetic, nervous energy that lends the poem an added sense of urgency. Anyone who has found themselves trying to explain the invisible, elusory monster that is depression to a non-believer will relate to lines like this:

mom says happy is a decision.

OR

mom says i am so good at making
something out of nothing,
and then flat out asks me if i am
afraid of dying.
no,
i am afraid of living.

After the sudden death of my husband earlier this year, I had to make my family understand just how bad my anxiety and depression had gotten in the years since I left home. Like, it was literally a matter of life and death. Survival. Luckily, everyone around me seems to understand what I mean when I say “depression” – thank pop culture or my younger sister, whose issues maybe paved the way for the revelation of mine – but “social anxiety” is a whole ‘nother mess. People hear “social anxiety” and think: Shyness. Introvert. Quiet. Loner. Misanthrope. What they don’t hear is “mental illness.” Drugs (maybe) and therapy (definitely) and professional help. “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is heartbreaking and darkly funny and entirely too relatable, in more ways than I’d like.

Despite the collection’s title, not all of the poems explicitly focus on depression. Love, grief, parental estrangement, self-esteem, friendship – all make an appearance here, and why not? Life is a multi-faceted thing. Yet many, if not all, of the poems are tinged with an air of sadness, and why not? Depression sinks its poisonous tentacles into everything, it seems. It cannot be cornered or contained. It’s like that damned fog in Stephen King’s “The Mist.”

Aside from the obvious – birds of a feather, and all that jazz – I like Depression & Other Magic Tricks for two reasons: I actually “got” most of the poems, and it’s feminist AF. In this way, it rather reminds me of another book of poetry, Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in this One. If you enjoyed one, most likely you’ll dig the other.

File Depression & Other Magic Tricks under “seven small ways in which i loved myself this week.”

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale (2017)

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

“We aren’t historic figures; we are modern women.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to violence against women, suicidal ideation, genocide, and racism and sexism.)

It’s strange to me how people always want me to be an “authentic Indian.” When I say I’m Haudenosaunee, they want me to look a certain way. Act a certain way. They’re disappointed when what they get is . . . just me. White-faced, red-haired. They spent hundreds of years trying to assimilate my ancestors, trying to create Indians who could blend in like me. But now they don’t want me either. I’m not Indian enough. They can’t make up their minds. They want buckskin and war paint, drumming, songs in languages they can’t understand recorded for them, but with English subtitles of course. They want educated, well-spoken, but not too smart. Christian, well-behaved, never questioning. They want to learn the history of the people, but not the ones who are here now, waving signs in their faces, asking them for clean drinking water, asking them why their women are going missing, asking them why their land is being ruined. They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.

(“The Invisible Indians,” Shelby Lisk)

Because history moves like a fevered heat down through the arteries of generations
Because PTSD to the family tree is like an ax Because colonization is the ghosts of buffalos with broken backs
Because today only burning flags could be found at the ghost dance of my people

(“Stereotype This,” Melanie Fey)

I feel like I should begin this review with a word of caution: If you see any complaints about formatting problems ahead of the pub date, disregard them. The Kindle version of this ARC is indeed a hot mess, but this is par for the course when it comes to books with a heavy graphic element. The acsm file, read on Adobe Digital Editions (which I loathe, but happily suffered for this book!), gives a much clearer picture of what the finished, physical copy is meant to look like. And, if Amazon’s listing is any indication, #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women will only be released in print.

That said, #Notyourprincess is fierce, vibrant, and nicely organized. It feels a lot like an experimental art project, and I mean that in the best way possible. Within these here pages you’ll find an eclectic mix of personal essays, poems, quotes, photographs, line art, watercolors, comics, portraits of activists and athletes, and interviews with Native women. #LittleSalmonWoman (Lianne Charlie) even adopts the format of an Instagram page, while “More Than Meets the Eye” (Kelly Edzerza-Babty and Claire Anderson) profiles ReMatriate, which shares images of modern Native women on social media in order to reclaim their identities and broaden our ideas of what a “real” Native American woman looks like. (The quote in my review’s title comes from Claire Anderson, a founding member of ReMatriate.)

The topics touched upon run the gamut: genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, cultural appropriation, kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, mass incarceration, mental illness, sexuality, addiction, street harassment, homelessness, and intergenerational trauma.

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Mini-Review: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Morgan Parker (2017)

Monday, February 13th, 2017

“It’s mostly about machine tits”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

This is for all the grown women out there
Whose countries hate them and their brothers
Who carry knives in their purses down the street
Maybe they will not get out alive
Maybe they will turn into air or news or brown flower petals
There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé:
Lavender, education, becoming other people,
The fucking sky

(“Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé)”)

I don’t read a ton of poetry, since it mostly tends to go over my head. There are the rare exceptions, of course: stories written in verse, and the occasional feminist title; see, e.g. The Princess Saves Herself in this One. But mostly I shy away from it, since it makes me feel … not the sharpest tool in the shed.

That said, between the title and the cover, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé proved pretty much impossible to pass up. While I’m sure I missed out on many of the cultural references – I’m white, and this is a collection of poetry about black womanhood – and didn’t pick up all the varied and more veiled messages that Parker was putting down, I enjoyed it all the same. I read it cover-to-cover three times in two days, and with each successive reading, discovered something new. Parker’s poetry sparkles and shines and cuts more deeply, the more time you spend with it.

It’s hard to play favorites, since each piece has at least one or two especially memorable lines. (To wit: “At school they learned that Black people happened.”) But among the poems that really stood out to me are Hottentot Venus; Beyoncé On The Line for Gaga; Afro; These Are Dangerous Times, Man; RoboBeyoncé; 13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl; The Gospel According to Her; The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife; White Beyoncé; What Beyoncé Won’t Say on a Shrink’s Couch; It’s Getting Hot In Here So Take Off All Your Clothes; The Book of Revelation; 99 Problems; and the titular Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé).

There are forty-two poems total, twenty-five of which have previously been published elsewhere. For those keeping count at home, thirteen have Beyoncé in the title. The Beyoncé/Lady Gaga mashups are fun, if only because I enjoy imagining them hanging together – or swapping bodies in a Freaky Friday twist.

I feel like I should say more but idk how to read poetry, let alone review it. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is a fierce, funny, and subversive collection of poetry. You don’t need to be a member of the Bey Hive to love it (but it sure doesn’t hurt). It’s earned a permanent spot on my Kindle so I can return to it as needed over the next four to eight (please dog no) years.

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Mini-Review: The Land of Nod, Robert Louis Stevenson & Robert Hunter (2017)

Friday, February 10th, 2017

An Illustrated Version of the Robert Louis Stevenson Poem

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The Land of Nod
By Robert Louis Stevenson

From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.

All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.

The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.

Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.

— 3.5 stars —

Robert Hunter’s The Land of Nod is an illustrated children’s book based on the Robert Louis Stevenson poem of the same name; the poem is produced verbatim, and coupled with illustrations to help bring the text to life.

The art is simple yet whimsical, with a dream-like quality. Hunter uses quite a bit of blues and pinks, which is reminiscent of twilight, I guess, but doesn’t always do the poem’s psychedelic potential justice. The palette just feels a little flat for my taste.

Despite the ominous reference to “frightening sights,” the art is very tame and totally suitable for children of all ages.

I especially appreciated the landscape for “Both things to eat and things to see,” which shows a pig happily blowing on a horned instrument in the dreamer’s band, while the leader foists a giant raspberry in the air.

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Pigs are friends, not food! Or BAMF tuba prodigies. Either or.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Imprisoned: Drawings from Nazi Concentration Camps, Arturo Benvenuti (2017)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

#Resist

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher, as well as an electronic ARC on Edelweiss.)

Humanity continues to kill, to massacre, to persecute, with increased ruthlessness. Before eyes that are increasingly indifferent, passive. When not complicit. There’s no pity for the elderly, for women, for children. There’s no pity for anyone anymore. Man is wolf to man, today as much as – and more than – yesterday.

The older generations seem to have learned very little; the new ones don’t seem to want to learn any more. Wars continue to sow slaughter. Behind the barbed wire of new concentration camps, it has gone one; humanity has gone on being suppressed.

Most of all, this book aims to be – attempts to be – a contribution to the just “revolt” on behalf of those who feel like they can’t, in spite of everything, resign themselves to a monstrous, terrifying reality. Those who believe they must still and always “resist.”

– Arturo Benvenuti, “Without Words”

Born in 1923, Arturo Benvenuti – poet, painter, researcher, accountant, and banker – was just a young man during World War II. Yet his lack of civil engagement haunted him for decades, and the feelings of guilt and powerlessness – reflected in his poetry – eventually proved the impetus for the KZ Project.

In September of 1979, at the age of fifty-six, Arturo and his wife Marucci loaded up their camper and began what would become a lifelong journey: traveling throughout Europe, visiting former Nazi concentration camps (including Auschwitz, Terezín, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald), and meeting with as many survivors and veterans as he could. He also combed through local history museums, public libraries, and public archives, trying to piece together “visual testimonies” of the camps.

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Mini-Review: Labyrinth: One classic film, fifty-five sonnets, Anne Corrigan (2016)

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

The Nostalgia is Strong with This One

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through Netgalley.)

Perhaps, in childhood, you a movie saw;
the title of said film, ‘twas Labyrinth.
It told of maiden and companions four,
and featured a beguiling goblin king.
Now thirty years have passed since its release –
in stature has its reputation grown;
so much, that this enchanting fantasy
is to another generation known.
This tale (the most-beloved of my life)
I ventured to encapsulate in verse,
a true love’s labour; sonnets fifty-five,
which now you, gentle reader, may rehearse,
commemorating film in poetry –
humbly, ‘tis dedicated to Bowie.

— 4.5 stars —

So apparently the ’80s are making a comeback? As a child of the ’80s, this mostly boggles my mind; between the aesthetics (leg warmers, snap bracelets, hair bands) and the politics (Reagan; Wall Street), there isn’t a whole lot to wax nostalgic about. But while Aquanet and Hammer pants were indeed awful, there is one beacon shining through the gaudy geometric patterns: 80s movies.

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Breakfast Club. The Goonies. E.T. Back to the Future. Pretty in Pink. Adventures in Babysitting. Gremlins. Heathers. The Last Unicorn. The Princess Bride. And, of course, Labyrinth.

I watched that movie on a loop. David Bowie. Jareth, the Goblin King. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to dance with him,* or be him. Probably a little bit of both? I dressed up as Jareth one Halloween, though thankfully there is no photographic record of this. My makeup game has never exactly been what you’d call on point. Anyway.

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I nearly fell out of my seat when I saw that someone had written a sonnet – a whole book of them! – inspired by Labyrinth. I figured it could either be really freaking great, or a total disaster. I was leaning toward the latter, actually, since poetry isn’t normally my thing. I want to like it but, more often than not, I come away with the distinct impression that it mostly just went over my head. Happily, this is not that type of poetry.

Anne Corrigan had me at the prologue. I think the exact moment she captured my heart was with the last line, wherein she dedicates the book to the late David Bowie (hallowed be thy name). And it only gets better from there.

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Corrigan’s is a faithful retelling of Labyrinth in a Shakespeare-lite sonnet form. I say “lite” because it’s much more accessible than Shakespeare – and dare I say more fun, too? Though it’s been years since I watched the film (note to self: must rectify this immediately), her sonnets instantly transported me back there: to the Bog of Eternal Stench; the tunnels underneath the labyrinth; and the castle at its heart. I remembered how much I loved Ludo and his bossy little dog-friend, Sir Didymus, keeper of the bridge. Toby, I’m still undecided on. (Crying babies aren’t any more my bag than they were thirty years ago.)

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Is this Good Poetry? I have no idea. But it’s fun, heartfelt, and guaranteed to tickle the fangirl in you. It’s the bee’s knees, the owl’s howl, Hoggle’s goggle.

Bundle it with: the 30th Anniversary edition of Labyrinth; a Jareth, Hoggle, Sarah with Worm & Ludo Funko! Pop set; and the David Bowie Retrospective and Coloring Book to make a pretty rad gift pack for yourself or a Bowieligious friend.

* I was eight, okay. Give me a break!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Go Ahead & Like It, Jacqueline Suskin (2015)

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Not Terribly Interactive

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

Go Ahead & Like It is not at all what I expected. Granted, based on the book’s vague and weirdly broad Amazon description, it’s difficult to pin down precisely; in one breath, it purports to be a scrapbook, art book, self-help book, how-to guide, etc., etc., etc. So perhaps it’s unfair to dislike it for failing to meet my already hazy expectations. But. When the description says that it features “writing prompts,” I don’t think it unreasonable to assume that the book will also include blank space for me to work on said prompts. Not so much.

Go Ahead & Like It isn’t an interactive journal or workbook, with space for the reader to formulate her own lists, but rather an instructional guide, the bulk of which highlights Suskin’s own lists, photographs, and ephemera. The end result feels remarkably self-indulgent: Suskin fans aside, who wants to shell out seventeen bucks to read an assortment of a stranger’s random lists?

What we have here is a case of good idea, poor execution: this book would have been 100% better had Suskin complemented her writing tips with one or two of her own lists (and perhaps a plethora of artwork with liberal white space), and then given her readers ample space to record their own. There’s one blank list at the very back of the book, but that’s it.

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Book Review: Swan Wreck, Casey Renee Kiser (2007)

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Raw, Authentic, Irreverent

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

there will be two hits…
my words hitting the paper
and your eyes hitting my words…

I’d been trying to win a copy of one of Casey Renee Kiser’s poetry collections on Library Thing and Goodreads for months when my name finally came up for Swan Wreck. (As to why I didn’t just shell out ten bucks for a copy, I can hardly justify buying new books when my TBR pile numbers in the hundreds. Not unless it’s on sale, anyway. Priorities!) I don’t read a whole lot of poetry, but the dark, morbid themes and irreverent humor apparent in the book’s titles (I Liked You When I Thought I Was Dead; Spit Me Out; Darkness Plays Favorites) called to me.

The 129 poems that comprise Swan Wreck are gritty, authentic, and shoot straight from the heart/hip. Kiser tackles a breadth of difficult, “Lifetime Movie of the Week” topics – depression, anxiety, suicide, beauty, self-esteem, poverty, grief, loss, failed relationships, consumerism, even insomnia and the process of writing – with varying levels of success. While I enjoyed many of the poems, more than once I was left wondering what I had just read. (Kiser even makes a joke of this in “Anything, Nothing, Something”: “The point of this poem / could be ANYTHING…or NOTHING…or SOMETHING… / Does anyone out there known ANYTHING?”) I wasn’t in love with the use of caps, nor the c-word and the use of the word “rape” as a metaphor or other figure of speech (although to be fair, it’s entirely possible that the reference was both literal and over my head; poetry, not my strong suit).

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Book Review: I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs, Francesco Marciuliano (2013)

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

The Opposite of Dog Shaming / When I See You I Fart

four out of five stars

It’s not easy being a dog
Especially when your person
Thinks you look good in hats

Francesco Marciuliano, the genius behind I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats, gives dogs their day with I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs. From the mundane (“Doorbell,” “Bath,” “Hoarding”) to the irreverent (“On the TV,” “Judgement Call,” “Alpha”), truly gross (“Buffet”), and downright unexpected (“I’ve Been Watching”) Marciuliano delves into the minds of our dog friends. The poems found within these pages aren’t likely to win any awards, but they did win the heart of this dog lady.

(I am guardian to five rescued dogs – previously seven, but the oldest two passed just several months before this book was published – and foster mom to many. Well, just one so far – we had to take a hiatus when our oldest dog was diagnosed with cancer – but I have grand plans. The moral of the story is that I want to pet all the dogs, okay.)

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Scientists, Poets, Changemakers and Heroes (Volunteer Opportunities & Action Alerts)

Monday, October 26th, 2009

There are several “actionable items” – not quite action alerts, but rather opportunities for participation, if that makes sense – I’ve been meaning to share, but just haven’t had the time to blog about in depth. Rather than neglect these projects altogether, here’s a handy-dandy roundup. Please scan through each item and help out where you can; these virtual volunteer opportunities are perfect for activists who have more extra time than they do money!

1. Science

It really chaps my rotund hide when speciesists claim that animal advocates are “anti-science.” Being all diverse and stuff, I’m sure the animal rights and welfare movements are home to a fair share of science-averse humans, but for the most part, we’re hardly anti-science. On the contrary: many of us harness the power of scientific research to demonstrate that veganism is a healthier alternative to “meat” and dairy consumption; that nonhuman animals can experience complex thoughts and emotions; that our exploitation of nonhumans animals is both unnecessary and harmful; etc., etc., etc. (you get the idea). On the whole, I don’t think we’re any more anti-science than our omni counterparts.

Personally, I love science; once upon a time, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, specializing in anthrozoology and world vegan (then vegetarian, but wev) domination. I still peruse research articles and scientific journals (of a social nature) on occasion, just for the fun of it. No, it’s not science per se that I take issue with. Rather, I object to the imprisonment, torture, killing and exploitation of sentient, non-consenting animals, usually for redundant and frivolous research.

So I’ve become increasingly interested in “vegan” science, particularly in supporting such endeavors whenever possible. For example, I would love to donate my body to science when I die. The thought of spending my “afterlife” rotting away on a body farm somewhere brings a smile to my face; doubly so if my remains can save a nonhuman animal from being birthed, tortured and killed in the name of science. Oooh, Dr. Brennan, pick me, pick me!

Anyhow, when I saw an ad for research volunteers in the latest issue of Best Friends magazine, I immediately fired off an email to Dr. Frank McMillan to see how I might help. He pointed me to five open surveys, all of which are related to studies he’s conducting at Best Friends (as described here):

Dr. Franklin McMillan has been the director of well-being studies at Best Friends since October 2007. As director of well-being studies, Dr. Frank assesses and studies the mental health and emotional well-being of animals who have endured hardship, adversity and psychological trauma. Through these studies, he hopes to learn what the effects of trauma are – the psychological injuries and scars – and how best to treat them in order to restore to these animals a life of enjoyment rather than one of fear and emotional distress.

He is currently conducting such studies on cats from the Great Kitty Rescue in Pahrump, Nevada – an institutionalized hoarding situation – and the fighting dogs taken from the estate of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick.

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"…even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings…"

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

 

Prologue
Sound of a Battery Hen

 

 
You can tell me: if you come by the
North door, I am in the twelfth cage
On the left-hand side of the third row
From the floor; and in that cage
I am usually the middle one of eight or six or three.
But even without directions, you’d
Discover me. We have the same pale
Comb, clipped yellow beak and white or auburn
Feathers, but as the door opens and you
Hear above the electric fan a kind of
One-word wail, I am the one
Who sounds loudest in my head.

 
Over the past few months, I’ve written a series of posts on the themes of motherhood, maternal exploitation and deprivation, and the intersection of speciesism and sexism in Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals. Previously, I discussed examples of these vis-à-vis “pork production” and the “dairy industry.”

While Masson also explores the exploitation of sheep, goats, ducks and chickens in The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, the mother-child bond between a mother hen and her chicks receives the most attention of these remaining groups – so I’ll conclude my discussion with a look at “egg production.”

Photo via Jeanette’s Ozpix

In previous posts, I noted how female non-human animals (like their human counterparts) are especially vulnerable to exploitation because of their reproductive systems. Their ability to give birth – oftentimes referred to as a “miracle” in humans – makes them particularly valuable as the producers of future “commodities.” Their value, unfortunately, does not lead to preferential treatment from their captors. Instead, they suffer especially brutal and prolonged abuse.

As such, females become machines, assembly lines, destined to produce milk, eggs, flesh – and a replacement generation of baby-, milk- and/or egg- machines:

By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially brutal and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction.

Certainly, we recognize that the theft of a mother’s child is an atrocity when the victims are human mothers and children. At the same time, we argue that non-human animals deserve no rights because they are mere brutes, “lesser” beings, ruled by instinct and instinct alone. Yet, what is the drive to reproduce and parent if not an evolutionary instinct? And if we follow the popular line of reasoning – i.e., animals are creatures of instinct – does it not stand to reason that the maternal instinct is especially powerful in non-human animals?

Many – if not most – non-veg*ns find it difficult to relate to non-human animals, who (supposedly) are so different from us. At a fundamental level, our differing modes of communication make cross-species communication more difficult, particularly when one species (that would be us) has little interest in communication (and mutual understanding and respect) to begin with. Even so, many humans live with “pets,” the majority being dogs and cats; and, as we’ve come to recognize certain expressions and non-verbal cues in these mammals, such empathy can be extended to other, similar species – such as cows and pigs.

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To Kaylee, Our Sweetest Girl

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

I was looking back through some of my babydoggy posts, and realized that I forgot to share the poem that Shane wrote for Kaylee last September. (Here are Ralphie and Peedee’s odes; O-Ren and Jayne are still waiting on theirs.) So here it be, along with some photos of my babygirl. Sweetest dog ever, she is. And shiny, too!

Kaylee

2007-07-17 - Dogs Outside - 0029

Kaylee the sweet with the very big teeth,
Come sit here and stay very near
I’ll pet your head, as you go to bed

Kaylee the wise, with your soulful eyes
Let me feed, and give what you need
I’ll give you dinner, so you stay thinner

Kaylee the mother, like no other
Go outside and run, and have some fun
I’ll watch you close, forgetting my woes

Kaylee our friend, a rat terrier blend
Time to scratch your ears, throughout the years
I’ll always praise, those adoption days

Kaylee our girl, running around in a whirl
I’ll put you on the bed, pat your head
I’ll drift asleep, with Kaylee in contented sleep

– Shane Brady, September 3, 2007

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