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Yusef komunyakaa: Pleasure Dome

 

 

Struggling to find a new collection of poetry, I turned to a friend and explained my assignment. She immediately told me she had the perfect collection for me because she believed it was something any young poet should read. With this in mind, I began to flip through the pages of Yusef Komunyakaa’s Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems.

 

This collection of poems comes close to 500 hundred pages. It is full of rich text that leaves the reader captivated with every passing stanza. Each poem offers the reader an enthralling experience. Despite the fact that there is a large array of poems in this collection, Komunyakaa does a fantastic job separating each and every poem. Poems such as “Imagination” and “Sorrow” lay so far apart in similarity, yet both poems seem to play off one another. I noticed this happening multiple times in Komunyakaa’s work.

Pleasure Dome is the perfect read for a hot summer’s day. One of the beauties of Komunyakaa’s collection lays in the fact that you could merely open the book at random, select a poem or two to read, and you’ll find yourself transcend into this sort of poetic sphere. One that deals much with the vitality of life and the vibrant colours present in war. Yusef Komunkayaa’s poetry allows the reader to loose themselves in the stanzas and forget about the dirty dishes that on the kitchen counter.

Imagery has always played a significant role in my personal liking of any collection. Komunyakaa’s collection offers the reader new and refreshing images; ones that have hardly been seen before. Here, I will leave you my favourite poem from Pleasure Dome. I did not manage to read the entire collection from start to finish, however, I do have a new book on my wish list!

 

The Nazi Doll

 

It sits lopsided
in a cage. Membrane.

 

Vertebra. This precious,white
ceramic doll’s brain

 

twisted out of a knob of tungsten.
It bleeds a crooked smile.

 

&arsenic sizzles in the air.
Its eyes an old lie.

 

Its bogus tongue, Le Diable.
Its lampshade of memory.

 

Guilt yahoo’s, benedictions
in its Cro-Magnon skull

 

blossom, a flurry of fireflies
vowels  of rattlesnake beads.

 

Its heart hums the song of dust
Like a sweet beehive.

 

-Shama Doshi

 

 

What’s Written on the Body by Peter Pereira

50068

 

I have always been fascinated with the body and the medical field. What’s Written on the Body was not my intended book to review, but the title called out to me. Just the thought of writing poetry from a medical perspective and terminology is quite intriguing. Peter Pereira did not disappoint when his savvy imagery and storytelling puts me right into his mind. A Nurse Practitioner that writes poetry is sheer genius and his flair for word play is simply stunning.

 

Attending Rounds

“She woke in the night with an elephant

on her chest took three nitroglycerin

dialed 911 got four of morphine

in the field then rolled into the ER

V-fib arrest ongoing CPR

was shocked three times at death’s gummed door before

her heart jingle-jangle rhythm returned.”

 

 

Most of his poems places you right there in the hospital or that moment of crisis. I kept thinking wow! How could someone analyze these tough situations and put them into poems. I respect poetry even more because of how the simplicity and versatility of it reflects everyday life.

 

 Taken

“I’ve doctored her through hip replacement,

colon cancer, stroke. She is the doting grandmother

I never had. Thinks of me as her virtuous, infallible

second son. So it’s no surprise she notices immediately

at her monthly clinic visit the new gold band on my finger.”

 

 

Whenever I visit the doctor, I am always curious to know why other people are there.This book in some way satisfied my curiosity, it also makes me reflect on my health and the health of us humans, how it falls apart and some day we have some kind of medical dilemma. No doubt Pereira’s charm, storytelling and wit are displayed it his poems. A very refreshing and welcoming look at poetry, the medical field and the lives of people.

Lisa Green     

What’s Written on the Body by Peter Pereira

50068

 

I have always been fascinated with the body and the medical field. What’s Written on the Body was not my intended book to review, but the title called out to me. Just the thought of writing poetry from a medical perspective and terminology is quite intriguing. Peter Pereira did not disappoint when his savvy imagery and storytelling puts me right into his mind. A Nurse Practitioner that writes poetry is sheer genius and his flair for word play is simply stunning.

 

Attending Rounds

“She woke in the night with an elephant

on her chest took three nitroglycerin

dialed 911 got four of morphine

in the field then rolled into the ER

V-fib arrest ongoing CPR

was shocked three times at death’s gummed door before

her heart jingle-jangle rhythm returned.”

 

 

Most of his poems places you right there in the hospital or that moment of crisis. I kept thinking wow! How could someone analyze these tough situations and put them into poems. I respect poetry even more because of how the simplicity and versatility of it reflects everyday life.

 

 Taken

“I’ve doctored her through hip replacement,

colon cancer, stroke. She is the doting grandmother

I never had. Thinks of me as her virtuous, infallible

second son. So it’s no surprise she notices immediately

at her monthly clinic visit the new gold band on my finger.”

 

 

Whenever I visit the doctor, I am always curious to know why other people are there.This book in some way satisfied my curiosity, it also makes me reflect on my health and the health of us humans, how it falls apart and some day we have some kind of medical dilemma. No doubt Pereira’s charm, storytelling and wit are displayed it his poems. A very refreshing and welcoming look at poetry, the medical field and the lives of people.

Lisa Green     

God’s Silence by Franz Wright

 

God’s Silence by Franz Wright is a book of questions. As the title would lead one to believe, God’s Silence  leaves the questioner filled with doubt. While reading the book I had forgotten that poems could be so small. The amount of blank page was belittling in itself. The poem “Hell” is an excellent example of some of the questions the book presents in a tight fashion:

But if they were condemned to suffer

this unending torment, sooner or later

wouldn’t they become the holy?

This book is told through one voice, which seems to be the voice of the poet reflecting on his own beliefs about the afterlife. At times mocking and laconic, like the example above, the poetry in this book stems from a need to contact a being that is everywhere and yet denied to him.  I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to experience whiplash between poems like “Alone and Talking Funny” or “Lines Written in the Dark Illegible Next Day” where a reader could wonder whether he is serious or not (the delivery is stream of consciousness to the point where he’s talking to himself within the poems). To poems that are much more heavier in content, but lighter in portrayal likethe last two stanzas of “A Happy Thought”:

What frightened me, apparently, and hurt

was being born. But I got over that

with no hard feelings. Dying, I imagine,

it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,

but surely no more shocking or prolonged–

It’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

The sentiments become less addled when considering his use of common themes of light, death, heaven and hell in small ways that ask quintessential questions about what happens when our eyes can no longer take in” God’s silence like the sun/ and [seek] to change.”

–Shatara S. Downs

Duende by Tracy K. Smith

The Duende is a mythical creature in Spanish and Portugese folklore. A duende is usually a small sprite or gremlin that plays tricks on people. Federico Garcia Lorca interprets this mischievousness as  “the creative and ecstatic power an artist seeks to channel from within. It can lead the artist toward revelation, but it must also accept and even serenade the possibility of death.” This book of poems has tapped into both connotations of the word.

Front Cover

As soon as I found out what a duende was, I had to reconsider the front cover. The impishness of the child hiding behind hole-driven metal is every bit her inspiration in the “Lorcan” sense. The book balances social commentary that is both jarring and everyday. For example the poem “I Killed You Because You Didn’t Go to School and Had no Future” holds all of “death’s branches that we all wear” (A quote by Lorca included in the foreword) by having a telling title and a reticent ending:

Your voice crashed through the alley

Like a dog with tin cans tied to its tail.

 

Idiot pranks. At the sight of your swagger

Old women prayed faster, whispered.

 

Their daughters yelled after you. Little shit.

Delinquent. You couldn’t even read

 

What we wrote about kids like you. Today

heat wends up the neighbors houses

 

Like fear in reverse. Your uncle

Wears trousers and perspires

 

Into the seams of his shirt. His only belt

Is full of new holes and nearly circles you twice.

 

The title of the poem was actually the note found near the nine year old’s dead body in Rio.  Nothing is heroic or romanticized about it. The irony of the note being left next to an illiterate child gives the poem a sordid feel. One is not really sure who killed the child, but the reader can assume that no one helped him. No one even helped this gremlin child learn to read instead of mock him. His future was handed to him because he didn’t have the ability to make any other.

The language of the poem is repeated in different areas of the book. Her style of writing is personable. I say that because it’s deliberate and spare (without high flung excessively compound vocabulary), but also because much of the poetry in this oeuvre is interpersonal. Either she is requesting some kind of observer’s position or she has the characters speak for themselves. The majority of her poems are first person centered, which makes the dialogue seem like its admitting itself along the way. I highly recommend Duende for those interested in a book of poetry that takes individual suffering and serenades in a voice that echoes many.

–Shatara S. Downs

Juvenilia by Sylvia Plath

 

It may be considered excessive to recommend an entire canon of a poet’s work to read, so I will refrain from doing so. However, I was recently gifted The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Within this collection is a section entitled “Juvenilia,” containing poems that were written when Plath was somewhere around 25. As the book states, “Many of them were written as class assignments for her English professor at Smith College.” I found it interesting to read such a highly-regarded poet’s earlier work, especially pieces from such a formative time in a person’s life. Elements of Plath’s later poems are certainly present; she has a consistent rhythm that is backed by surprising and artful word choice, along with an unmistakable tone. In this sub-collection Plath seems to effectively draw emotion and meaning largely from imagery. The majority of the poems are dark in nature but that in no way makes this collection any less devour-able. At times it was difficult not to read through the poems rapidly one after the other, as Plath is skilled at drawing the reader in. One of my favorites was April Aubade:

Worship this world of watercolor mood
in glass pagodas hung with veils of green
where diamonds jangle hymns within the blood
and sap ascends the steeple of the vein.

A saintly sparrow jargons madrigals
to waken dreamers in the milky dawn,
while tulips bow like a college of cardinals
before that papal paragon, the sun.

Christened in a spindirft of snowdrop stars,
where on pink-fluted feet the pigeons pass
and jonquils sprout like solomon’s metaphors,
my love and I go garlanded with grass.

Again we are deluded and infer
that somehow we are younger than we were.

I was fascinated to witness what control of language Sylvia Plath demonstrated even as she was writing in college. I found the collection to be both inspiring and enthralling.

-Emily Humberson

The Memory of Gills by Catherine Carter

The Memory of Gills

 

The Memory of Gills by Catherine Carter is a book of poems that reflect humans connection to “nonhuman animals”. A quote on the back of the book captures the style of the collection perfectly:

“Carter’s poems are utterly unique–wry and quiet and carrying a velvet sledgehammer. Her pitch, tone, her sly humor is perfectly tuned. This is not just a brilliant first book, it is a brilliant book, period.” -Thomas Lux

My favorite poem is called  “Raised by Wolves” and it’s about how the speaker compares herself to a wolf who married a human. Here are a conglomeration of my favorite lines:

“…like Mowgli, I married human.”
“…I prune the woods from my yard, rake up the leaves that rustle and hiss like paws under moon-grey trees.”
“I lope for town, pause at a roadkill…in the suburb I catch a cab. In the house I circle twice and snuggle against my spouse.”
“If I dream of veins, it’s his neck my blunt fangs catch, but I learned in the woods how to mate for life, though the mate is different.”
“and everyone marries into another species.”

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves animals or feels that they have a spirit animal. The poems are both straight-forward and metaphorical and all of them have word choice that exemplifies Carters wide ranging vocabulary. I loved reading all the poems in her collection. I also loved the cover art, I think it sums up the goal of the poems very well. And it’s pretty. 🙂

Have a great summer, everyone!!

Paisley Rekdal: Animal Eye

Animal Eye is the fourth collection from American poet Paisley Rekdal. As the title suggests, these poems frequently draw upon animals as conceits in order to make complex statements about life and love. This is some of the most thematically complex contemporary poetry I have encountered; Rekdal juggles multiple themes and ideas in each one of these poems, all while utilizing complex metaphors and formal experimentation.

As stated before, love and romance are major themes in Animal Eye. Two of my personal favorite pieces in the book deal with them directly. “Flowers from a New Love after the Divorce” uses flowers a means to explore both the positive and negative complexities of romantic affection. The thematically similar “Intimacy” features some of my favorite lines in the book:

People should keep their hands to themselves

for the remainder of the flight: who needs
some stranger’s waistline, joint problems,

or insecurities? Darling,
what I love in you I pray will always stay

the hell away from me.

I find that to be such a concise and brilliant examination of the difficulties of a relationship.

A large portion of the book consists of the long poem “Wax,” a dizzying exploration of terminal illness through the conceit of a wax museum. It’s a disturbing and moving piece, as exemplified by these lines:

Look how the wax imbibes our novelty and richness.
It takes on some of our power as well, the blood paint
of the Christ statue seeming
to run, to swell. For centuries they argued

how to divide him, man or God, till Calenzouli shaped
a wax man’s head then split the face
to find it: scalp flayed over the intact portion of his crown, flesh halo
where the passive grey eyes flicker and the stripped muscles gleam.

This is a courageous and strikingly macabre way of examining illness.

Although some of the poems in Animal Eye seem to get away from themselves at points (some attempt to combine a few too many complicated images and metaphors), the book remains a fascinating and compelling exploration of emotionally resonant issues. Rekdal is able to translate her own personal experience into universal statements about nature, romance, and maturity, and many of these statements manage to be deep and moving.

- Anthony Hagen

Paisley Rekdal: Animal Eye

Animal Eye is the fourth collection from American poet Paisley Rekdal. As the title suggests, these poems frequently draw upon animals as conceits in order to make complex statements about life and love. This is some of the most thematically complex contemporary poetry I have encountered; Rekdal juggles multiple themes and ideas in each one of these poems, all while utilizing complex metaphors and formal experimentation.

As stated before, love and romance are major themes in Animal Eye. Two of my personal favorite pieces in the book deal with them directly. “Flowers from a New Love after the Divorce” uses flowers a means to explore both the positive and negative complexities of romantic affection. The thematically similar “Intimacy” features some of my favorite lines in the book:

People should keep their hands to themselves

for the remainder of the flight: who needs
some stranger’s waistline, joint problems,

or insecurities? Darling,
what I love in you I pray will always stay

the hell away from me.

I find that to be such a concise and brilliant examination of the difficulties of a relationship.

A large portion of the book consists of the long poem “Wax,” a dizzying exploration of terminal illness through the conceit of a wax museum. It’s a disturbing and moving piece, as exemplified by these lines:

Look how the wax imbibes our novelty and richness.
It takes on some of our power as well, the blood paint
of the Christ statue seeming
to run, to swell. For centuries they argued

how to divide him, man or God, till Calenzouli shaped
a wax man’s head then split the face
to find it: scalp flayed over the intact portion of his crown, flesh halo
where the passive grey eyes flicker and the stripped muscles gleam.

This is a courageous and strikingly macabre way of examining illness.

Although some of the poems in Animal Eye seem to get away from themselves at points (some attempt to combine a few too many complicated images and metaphors), the book remains a fascinating and compelling exploration of emotionally resonant issues. Rekdal is able to translate her own personal experience into universal statements about nature, romance, and maturity, and many of these statements manage to be deep and moving.

– Anthony Hagen

The Hour of the Pearl

rhona

            The Hour of the Pearl by Rhona McAdam stared at
me from the library shelf, even as I was considering Margaret Atwood for this assignment. And while I esteem Ms. Atwood, McAdam’s stared at me till I picked it up, and then it was glued to my hand. I literally sat down in the library and read it in an hour. Then I re-read it and re-read it. Her voice in the collection is just so compelling and you feel connected to her personal feelings as if you were the one who had put the pen to the paper.

            McAdam organizes the book in a very logical manner; each section contains poems that relate to each other and the particular subject matter well. Section two, Domestic Hazard, deals with poems about what the reader can only assume is domestic abuse, while section one, Family Lines, deals with the authors childhood memories and poems about specific family members.

            A poem in particular that struck me was “A Gentle Severance of the Spirit,” which discusses the death of old friendships; how it’s lamentable but often we rarely notice the separation. It begins “It seems we’ve been shedding the skin of friendship for years now,” a line which was very powerful in its imagery. To shed your ties to someone like the dead skin of a snake is a very striking thought.

             My favorite poem in collection however was “The Footsteps of Fashion,” which I will include here.

Her feet are marching on needles
caught in the vice of seasonal flair
they are bound in leather and suede
they are pressed into sharp points that spear nothing
they are tipped upwards and propped on slender columns
that impale the meshed covers of street vents
or spike the surface of paths, not wanting to move.

Naked, her feet choose new shapes for themselves
t
hey grow red, the bones knot at the joints,
t
he arches sigh and sink earthward.
On certain toes the skin thickens
into graceless lumps the professionals treat
with scalpels and acid.

Her feet leave their shapes in her shoes
press their outlines in leather
scuff their gait in her soles.
Over and over they leave their traces;
time and again she lifts them into fresh shoes
factory clean, the shape of no human appendage
and they must wear their message once more
against the pavement, weather and gravity;
against reason and gender and balance.

            As a lover of high heels and a fashion historian, it’s interesting to see an articulation in poetry about the way fashion, and in this particular case the high heel, shapes our bodies and how we feel about ourselves. The shoes shape us, the speaker’s feet change from wearing heels, get calloused and their arch falls. However, the speaker’s feet also “press their outlines into leather,” shaping the shoes as much as the shoes shape her feet. The last line however strikes the familiar note of “why on earth would anyone wear stilettos?” Women wear them “against reason, and gender and balance.” It begs the question, are women so shallow as to change their bodies for the sake of beauty? I think the answer is, we always have, so why stop now? But all the same we lament the situation.

            I would recommend The Hour of the Pearl to anyone who wants a read that is introspective as well as engaging. Rhona McAdam straight-forwardly opens the door to her life and her mind, and asks you to enter. Go through the door.

-Rachel Icard

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