GRL March 2012
Essays & Criticism on Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction
Image from Wreckage Collection
THIS MONTH’S FEATURED ARTIST:
Matt Wisniewski Artist Interview from Design Tonic Magazine: I first came across Matt Wisniewski when searching for up and coming graphic artist. His arresting portraits made from a seamless blend of photography and layered ghost like images, made me smirk with creative jealousy. Wisniewski lends his decerning eye to grainy black and white portraits and fashion tares, while meshing rolling landscapes and crashing waves..the results are spell binding. In hope to find what is in Mr. Wisniewski head..a turbulent sea, steep cliffs or a misted knoll- we asked him about insight into his work. What makes you tick creatively? I’m really inspired by any kind of beauty but I’ve mostly focused on things I have access to. Growing up I had little interest in fashion, architecture or a number of other things simply because I didn’t have much around me to experience. That’s changed recently but typically in the past I’ve been focused with work that’s easy to find and enjoy online like photography. The way you layer imagery seems effortless, what is your process? Initially I take a number of portraits and textures I’d like to use and experiment with quick overlays. Once I find a combination that works I’ll expand on it. In terms of technical stuff the actual overlay is as simple as using lighten or multiply in Photoshop. Most of the work is deciding positioning and what parts of each image to show, cleaning things up and matching contrast. What brought you to the arts? (background, childhood experience, schooling, mistake?) I’ve loved to experiment with new things since a young age. Art covers a broad range so I was bound to hit on it more than once. I ended up using Photoshop quite a bit as it has plenty of uses. Who do you admire? I really appreciate work with a sense of humour. I’m constantly finding new people but lately Santa Katkute, Melanie Bonajo and Roman Noven are good examples. What feedback has fueled you to keep working..(parents, friends, fashion world, peers, magazines etc.) It’s more of a novelty to me than anything else. If a piece that I think is rubbish gets a lot of attention I’m not suddenly going to be proud of it. What really keeps me going is having plenty of inspiring imagery to work with. Publicity has touched me to some extend in that it’s helped me come into contact with more artists to collaborate with.
Founder/Editor-in-Chief Daniel Casey
Daniel Casey earned his MFA from the University of Notre Dame in 2003. In 2008, Gold Wake Press published his first electronic poetry chapbook, Well Enough. He created and has been editing Gently Read Literature since 2008. Rarely, other literary reviews will publish his poetry. He minds two cats and is the husband of a brilliant geologista. Feel free to email him.
Designer/Layout Manager Carol Jackson Carol Jackson earned her Postgraduate diploma in Arts Management from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, UK. Currently, she is working as Associate Administrator with the Norfolk ChamberMusic Festival/Yale School of Music. Gently Read Literature is her first design/layout project.
Announcing the publication of THE BEDS by MARTHA RHODES from Autumn House Press
Praise for Mother Quiet “. . . Weird, dark, hilarious, direct, otherworldly-these poems display a poet in command of every note the English language is capable of sounding. They will not be silenced: they are unforgettable.” -James Longenbach
For orders, review copies, course adoption examination copies, please email: info@autumnhouse. org or call (412) 381-4261. Click Here to Order Online or place a special order with your local bookstore. THE BEDS ISBN: 978-1-932870-53-4 54 pages | $14.95 plus shipping. Martha Rhodes is the author of three previous collections of poetry: At the Gate, Perfect Disappearance, and Mother Quiet. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Rhodes is a founding editor and the director of Four Way Books in New York City.
“The aim of poetry (and the higher kind of thriller) is to be unexpected and memorable. So a poem about death might treat it in a way that combines the bizarre and the banal: the Other Side as some kind of institution-a creepy hospital, an officious hotel or retirement home. Martha Rhodes takes such an approach in ‘Ambassadors to the Dead,’ from her abrupt, unsettling, artfully distorted, indelible new book Mother Quiet . . . Blending the matterof-fact with the surreal, as a way of comprehending the stunning, final reality, Rhodes is an inheritor of Emily Dickinson’s many poems on the same subject.” -Robert Pinsky, The Washington Post
Of Metal and Water, Mind and Viscera: Pamela Klein on Maya Jewell Zeller’s poetry collection Rust Fish
A Middling Dylan: CL Bledsoe on Ander Monson’s poetry collection The Available World
Devouring Delicious, Savory Treats: Lisa M. Cole on Juliet Cook’s poetry chapbooks Thirteen Designer Vaginas and Post-Stroke
The Meals That Mean: Anne Boyer on Amy King’s poetry collection I Want to Make You Safe
The Beginning of Something: Anne Fox on Fred Setterberg’s novel Lunch Bucket Paradise
The City Speaks in Silence: Dave Alluisi on Wayne Miller’s poetry collection The City, Our City
How to Set the Mood: Jaime Boler on Christopher Bollen’s novel Lightning People
Frighteningly Alive: Collin Kelley on Steve Fellner’s poetry collection The Weary World Rejoices
Athena Lark Examines Portraits of Slavery in Contemporary African-American Fiction
Imprint In Its Wake: Lisa Cole on Charles Alexander’s poetry collection Pushing Water
March Contributors About Us/Review Copies Available
Pamela Klein on Maya Jewell Zeller’s poetry collection Rust Fish
Lost Horse Press, 2011
Of Metal and Water, Mind and Viscera:
One of the pleasures of Maya Jewell Zeller’s first book, Rust Fish, is that the poems reflect a tangible world that invites scrutiny and exploration, close reading and analysis. The title conveys the heady aroma of the Pacific Northwest, oceans, and machinery, promising that this environment will play a prominent role in the collection. And it does: most poems feature salmon, floods, or pines, and several depict an alliance between the speaker and the natural world, including the unabashed “Skunk Cabbage” (2-3), which nods towards Mary Oliver. Just as important, especially when it comes to eco-poetry, the title points to the complicated relationship between divergent, or at least different, worlds—metal and water, stillness and motion, art and nature, humanity and wilderness. But, as Zeller illustrates with her title and her book as a whole, one world can’t be extracted from the other.
More than just a context-setter, the rust fish work as a flexible metaphor throughout the collection, most visibly in five poems that head (and cap) its four sections, highlighting the play between these related, yet divergent, worlds. From the very first poem, Zeller asks us to see statues of fish as fish frozen into statues, simultaneously alive and dead, that have different properties at different times, similar to the way H2O has different properties at different temperatures. We just happen to catch the fish/statues in their dullest state, potential energy rather than kinetic energy: in the past, the fish “gleamed silver, / glowed bronze in the Bellingham sun,” and tonight they will “rise / in long jelly arcs as if no metal / contains them,” but in the present, the electricity of their existence is muted, unseen. The fish seem tame, or at least reined in, as seen by their usual prey: The bugs aren’t afraid; they buzz and glimmer as if no teeth, no snap could crush them again. (1)
And so the poem evokes two emotions that are the negatives of each other, and that temper each other: sadness or nostalgia, the current the poem rides on; and exultation, which exists even in the present: despite the smug indifference of the bugs, the fish are still very much alive. The rust fish have it both ways, which opens up the possibility for reading the same dichotomy in other poems, even if it is less readily apparent. In the same section, “Clarissa” (10) seems to comment on poverty. The girl, for whom the poem is a namesake, is teased by the cruel “for her smell. / At Clarissa’s the potbellied pigs were pets, / cradled or ridden by toddlers. A chicken strolled across the counter.” Her poverty is such that, “when floods came, they [inhabitants of the house] packed their stuff upstairs / and watched old furniture float past.” Clarissa’s existence is one that many consider distasteful, and if not, then her lifestyle inspires sadness or pity: people should not succumb to living like animals, nor should they be so reduced. The poem’s last lines seem to adhere to these kinds of views: Clarissa told me she once saw the sofa she’d been born on, trapped between pilings a few feet out, pink begonia print bleeding in the current. A raccoon was sort of stuck on it, she said. It was the strangest thing I ever saw. These lines could be a moment of irony and judgment, an indication of Clarissa’s disapproval of how she was born. And yet, the still-alive, frozen-in-time rust fish complicate such assessments. Rather than simply disdaining Clarissa, or (equally bad) pitying her, we recognize another option, another way of reading Clarissa, one that involves respect, even if we don’t necessarily understand her or agree with her lifestyle—perhaps especially because we can’t understand her. And so Clarissa becomes associated with the “other,” with the natural world: we see her as a whole, an autonomous self, an ecosystem of sorts, immeasurable by our tools. Zeller’s poems encourage and reward such intellectualizing, but this is not to say that her poetry can’t be enjoyed for its vitality, its often electric language. “Foxglove” (60-1) vibrates with energy, its stanzas so saturated with delicious, overpotent sweetness that reading leaves us dizzy, breathless: Sing pink, I’d hum. Sing your licked petals, your wet rimmed whistle
like bottles left to wind. Buzzing shook your faces. My lips glazed numb with fuzz, my tongue funk-electric. Still, to take this vitality at face value without dissecting it, without thinking about what it means or what it’s doing, is to miss the gold beneath a filigreed surface. To put it another way, tourists should not merely smile at a beautiful coastline; tourists should explore it, should try to understand it, even if understanding eludes them. This poem leads us to do so when, stanzas later, it shifts from sensuality to speculation: Would it have changed if I knew what I learned later, how poisonous you are, how your beauty could burn my muscle tissue, choke my circulation? Even though the question provokes more intellectualizing, this intellectualizing does not mean we hold the poem at arm’s length to think about it. Instead, knowledge of the flowers’ toxicity becomes visceral, adds to the flowers’ allure. The head is, after all, part of the body. Where viscera ends and mind begins—just like where stillness ends and motion begins, where nature ends and art begins—cannot be clearly delineated. These considerations are brought to life most consciously in eco-poetry, a genre to which Zeller’s well-situated book belongs.
CL Bledsoe on Ander Monson’s poetry collection The Available World
Sarabande Books, 2010
A Middling Dylan:
Monson’s first collection, Vacationland, was one of the strongest collections I’ve read in the last several years. It established Monson as one of the most talented young poets out there. His focus on the Michigan of his youth grounded the collection as he created rich images from the landscape of an often bleak, dying Michigan. This was not an idealized fantasy land of mythical boys with slingshots worrying cats; it was gritty and real and intensely powerful. Vacationland also had quite a few formally inventive poems as Monson demonstrated his ability to deftly maneuver between various structures while maintaining solid, meaningful content. Monson’s second collection, The Available World, is something of a change in direction. For the most part, these poems lack the structural exploration of Vacationland. There are glimpses of Monson’s once vivid use of sense of place, and they stand out like spotlights. His focus in this collection is mostly on pop culture. Monson covers the ground between celebrity bloggers like Will Wheaton, a former child actor from the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation; to the kind of anonymity that allows some people the freedom to ignore their humanity and say horrible things online. Few of these poems have the emotional core of Monson’s earlier work, and how could they? How deep could Monson plunge when exploring the importance of Will Wheaton? Monson has made the mistake many of his peers are making and sacrificed content in favor of style, which is, ironically, the common complaint against pop culture in general.
There are standouts, though. Monson is at his best when writing about specific scenes, specific experiences. He writes beautifully about sense of place in “On Basketball,” “Space is the same in Arizona, / I suppose, as in Michigan, or Ames, Iowa, / fireflies overlooking overpasses/ framed by towering bowers of corn…There is this particular flatness…” (lines 1-4, 7). He goes on to describe him and his friends trying to best each other, and then, inexplicably, he includes a reference to Wikipedia,
which keeps in theme with the collection, but seems out of place with this solid poem about boys playing basketball. Monson circles back to several topics in the collection, including preaching/sermons, and the end of the world. He also touches on the idea of availability. Still, one of the more standout poems is “Some of Us Have Fewer,” in which he describes finding a picture of his mother “dim with time” (2). He tries to make sense of his loss: “Her absence/ is pressure like a metal click, a weight/ at the neck’s back, a loose yoke or minnow-/bucket white with ruptured gut” (4-7). He continues: “What I would// tell her is earth, is kept in sacks like all/ good things are. All else is remainder” (7-10). It’s a moving and beautiful meditation. Likewise, “Sometimes the Air Surrounding Me is Sudden with Flowers” is a wonderful exploration of realization as Monson describes going to an emergency room because of hypochondria and encountering true suffering. This poem is so much more powerful, relevant, and simply important than all of Monson’s discussion of pop culture and technology. There are several powerful poems littered throughout this collection, and looking at the credits page, I can’t help but notice the impressive names of journals Monson placed poems in. Of course, I also notice the stronger poems tend to be in lesser-known journals. A friend and I were once discussing Bob Dylan albums, and his stance was that even a middling Dylan album is worth a listen. I would agree about this collection: though it isn’t Monson’s best, there are still so many great poems that it’s worth a look.
Devouring Delicious, Savory Treats:
Lisa M. Cole on Juliet Cook’s poetry chapbooks Thirteen Designer Vaginas and Post-Stroke
Hyacinth Girl Press, 2011
Blood Pudding Press & Dusie Kollektiv 5 2011
1. The online poetry community is abuzz concerning Juliet Cook’s newest chapbook, Thirteen Designer Vaginas, the very first publication from the newly launched Hyacinth Girl Press. The chapbook appears on three “Best of 2011” lists: Daniela Olszewska’s and Jessy Randall’s lists at No Tell Motel, and on Jendi Reiter’s blog. Any avid poetry reader can certainly see what the fuss is about. Who else besides Juliet Cook is gutsy enough to make vaginal rejuvenation surgery the center of one of his/ her projects? “I was just looking for a new female doctor, /but got sucked into this Exclusive/Embossed Edge…” Each poem within the collection is called “Designer Vagina” and there are indeed thirteen of them. Though, of course, this collection is about much more than just the physical female nether-region. It’s about how women are perceived by men and society, how women perceive of themselves when being cast into the role of “object.” “If he doesn’t deserve the present;/if he’s stuck in his desire for the past, then should I/wish to be unwrapped by someone who is wishing for me?/All these frills and frayed edges don’t come cheap.” It’s true: “A designer vagina might just be another punch line poem” and we are going to find out which is the truth. Repeated images and sensory experiences are woven into the text to further assist in the overall unity of the chapbook: ribbons, the color pink, tubes, the feeling of being sucked into something, being tied down or restrained in some way, are just some of the recurring themes here. Also recurring in this collection is Cook’s usual liveliness and friskiness, and her utilization of humor in a sensitive situation. Who else would think of the line, “A bonbon and a boner walk into a bar.”?
Comparing Thirteen Designer Vaginas to Post-Stroke--Juliet Cook’s chapbook also released in 2011--sheds even more light on what is going on here. Post-Stroke also
dealt with how notions of oneself change after a severe change of the physical body. In Post-Stroke, however, the transformation is not a chosen one, as it often is with vaginal rejuvenation. In both collections, there is a feeling present of losing a certain amount of control, of questioning the state of things, but to write the experience down, to make art out of it, is to regain control. The vagina, the woman’s body, and the woman herself are transformed from a punch line into a poem after all. The speaker of the chapbook says, “I don’t want to burst at the seams. /I want to stay intact and gleam.” And she does. Oh, she does. 2. Post-Stroke, one of Juliet Cook’s chapbooks published in 2011, as part of the 5th Dusie Kollektiv, arrived in the mail a few days ago wrapped up in string like a longawaited present. Indeed, reading this handmade mini-book was like devouring delicious, savory treats with a bittersweet aftertaste. Bittersweet, because the poems were inspired by a serious stroke which Cook experienced about a year ago. The stroke caused aphasia which greatly affected Cook’s ability to read and write. It is a testament to the quality of Cook’s work and sensibility, plus her dedication to the craft, that she was able to continue writing and creating after such suffering. Immediately in the text, Cook confronts her new relationship with poetry, her anxiety regarding writing again following the stroke: “PostStroke my words are not over-/ly obvious. Why on earth should my/ non overly obvious poetry be dead?... A vicious new voice will slowly seep out of my skull.” Thus, we see that the poet will not be defeated, that she is confident. Even though her torment, “Like a terrible pterodactyl necklace it bit,/sunk in and left me/bloody” the poet still knows, “I’m not a nightmare. I’m a dark delightful dream.” Undoubtedly, the stroke left its mark on Cook, though the poems here are as alive, and as vibrant, as they ever were. Certainly, the poems in Post-Stroke are different from the poems which Cook wrote prior to her stroke, in collections such as Projectile Vomit, Planchette, Soft Foam, or Volume 2 of H__NGM_N’s Combatives series. The new poems are shorter, bite-sized morsels, though they still retain their playfulness and spunk in the midst of a serious topic. They still relish in sound, rhyme, and wordplay in the most engaging way. The shorter form is perfect for Cook. There were times in Cook’s earlier work that the images in the poems were so tightly packed that they almost overwhelmed the reader. The shorter form allows for more breathing room between Cook’s powerfully rich and surprising images and sounds. The sensory experiences in Post-Stroke are especially visceral and vivid. For example, the speaker’s “…hands are staple removers with metal fangs…” They are “bulbous sausages ready to burst/ out their conjoined links.” In “Angioplasty 12
Show,” “Tiger teeth exhale red angiosperms/ like a tattered face mask./ Misshapen corpse vat writhes open/ a dark vaudevillian synapse.” Cook says that she has new work coming out from Strange Cage Press, and that she is sending out a book-length manuscript which includes poems from Post-Stroke. It will be such a treat to see what else this extremely talented, innovative artist has in store for her readers!
The Meals That Mean: Anne Boyer on Amy King’s poetry collection I Want to Make You Safe
Litmus Press, 2011
There are no IPhones, chat transcripts, or Facebook messages in Amy King’s I Want to Make You Safe. There are no PayPal carts, no online banking apps, no livestreams, no Smartcars, no Lindsey Lohan avatars, no thumb icons pointing up or down. There are no online workplaces: no pages for trading shifts, no paycheck stub databases. This is a book of contemporary poetry, but this contemporary is not exactly the now. One has a problem when accounting for what is left out of a book of poetry. There is no index of words against which I can check to make certain I am being accurate when I assert what has been kept out. Perhaps I have only missed a reference to an XBox? There is, in the first poem, a television screen. But I can say with some certain that this book at least appears pruned of the virtual and its device. The book has its share of fireflies, pear trees, dioramas—it’s even, once got a fax machine and a turntable and a clock—but it’s generally free of the work-like leisure (or leisure-like work) of the intrusively technological. Poetry, here, is a rival virtuality, with its own claim on the manufacture of a second world. Or as King writes, in the Birth of Tragedy: “What is a sad place but the dirt scene/ of the unseen.” Here are some of King’s first lines:
“The last meal could not have been my only palette,” “And who wouldn’t? A burning arm holds an olive pit” “Stupid cafe sandwich, I gave them periodic Cheerios” “There’s always corn” 14
There are a few more like that: “When you talk you speak your beer” and “On my oyster afternoon” and “Milk is a mythical moth that sees its own heart, mainly.” It is not just the first lines, either, that have a lot of food in them. With all of this food, however, there is no account of expulsion: each poem is a dinner immaculately metabolized, but never shit out, and served on a table on which there had never been placed a box from Amazon.com. King’s consistent approach to her poems, beyond the way she guards her work here so insistently against a debased techno-scatological present, is augmented by a perpetual exchange of this for that. A non-domestic sort of thing is often replaced by another sort of more domestic or corporeal thing: submission is a window, novels become rooms, fusion is a thumb. I Want to Make You Safe is full of that domestic and full of lovers but mostly free of that sense of precarity that is, these years, like the monster under most lovers’ bed. This does not mean it is free of language about class. For example, in the poem All Moons Are Scrumptious White Silver, there is the line: “The bourgeoisie have their exploitations, given / a cosmopolitan production of consumption in any country.” There are hints, once in awhile, about what it might mean to pile up all these kinds of words, as in the poem How Will My Enemies: No excuse for the way we handle material possessions, but making love go dollar-designated is like stopping by the snowy palace early nighttime to dine as kings with wallets of peasants and the meals that mean This is work that is both very literary and very contemporary. There is a cohesive image set -- it weaves in and out of the substitutions. There is a subtle assertion of value: the corporeal, the domestic, the natural are the winners. The defamilarization here is not through seeing the unseen or newly seeing the seen, or introducing a new material or form: this defamiliarization happens through a kind of refusal of hypotaxis and an equal refusal of the sustained effort of conceit. The book’s title, then—I Want to Make You Safe—is, I think, to be entirely believed. It’s a book with a demonstrable desire to comfort or soothe: to take a thing which is already kind of lovely and replace it with something even more beautiful. These are safe poems, and it seems like they want to be—for safety is a meal that means, a lover’s bed, a refusal to even mention (at least not at this moment) the grinding systems of the now.
The Beginning of Something: Anne Fox on Fred Setterberg’s novel Lunch Bucket Paradise Heyday, 2011
Preceding each chapter of Fred Setterberg’s absorbing and wonderfully funny novel, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a special section appears with a provocative voice standing outside of the story of the novel. The voice uses “we” and “you,” yet stands apart, like a Greek chorus, historian, commentator, or observer. We hear it just before the first chapter: “The salesman claws the air and urges them closer. He stands astride a 1951 Ford pickup truck…On the collapsed rear flap of the Ford, he fans a dozen mimeographed maps to the fifteen blocks of empty lots… Young couples gather…all of them, outrageously, expecting to become homeowners. Within their grasp is a new house… Working people never had it so good… They might even buy…” With that, we plunge into the great story of the next twenty years, 1950 to 1970, when those blocks of empty lots become the postwar suburbia of West Coast California, homes to blue-collar families of America, the Jefferson Manor of this novel. We follow the unnamed narrator, laughing, wincing, and applauding at his life’s discoveries. Jefferson Manor neighbors see Mister Roberts, The Teahouse of the August Moon, and later, South Pacific, at the drive-in movie to piece together what happened in the war. The narrator’s uncle Win, a veteran, reveals the true drama of the war and his experience in the South Pacific to his nephew, who writes, “I listened to every word my uncle told me, and I wondered if I would ever be ready to take my place in the world.” This coming-of-age novel, filled with jostling coming-of-age kids and the hilarity of their engagements with each other, tells how the narrator takes his place in the world, making his way from innocence to growth, from fear to enlightenment, marking the place he is, trying to find out where he wants to be. Early on, he and his preadolescent pals nourish their youthful delight in carnage with “the gory book” from a father’s library—The Horrors of War: Europe and the Pacific, 193918
1945—finally fighting over the book, yanking it apart, “the paper screeching like a frenzied animal,” and getting a black eye in the bargain. Throughout the novel, the layers of experience, adventure, misadventure, risk, and humor involving the boys of Jefferson Manor keep the reader wondering what can happen next, what new layer can top what’s just been read. Every chapter reveals a tantalizing complexity that makes one breathless. The time of this novel brings in comic books, their value, the importance of their characters—the narrator, tasked with digging up dandelions, “stabbed the screwdriver into the lawn, imagining it to be the fat belly of Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor.” He’s reading Jimmy Olsen Comics and Action Comics—“Comic books can be very educational.” And so good for trading, depending on whether you want Prince Valiant or Green Lanterns or jelly-splotched Casper the Friendly Ghost. The narrator “longed for super powers,” but when his dog Augustus is spirited away by his father, doubt sets in. “The existence of Superman raised questions…Superman did not exist…I didn’t say a word for days.” He gives up thinking about Lex Luthor. Girls are in the story, oh, yes— much in conversation, sometimes in fact, much more in the desires generated by the mind or by uncle Win’s issue of Stag featuring the Lustful Leopard Girls of Burma. “Girls made you wonder what the rules were really all about…Phil and I ardently discussed the theoretical pleasures of young women…Yet Phil and I never talked about what was actually happening in our ordinary lives of failure among the girls we actually knew.” Whoever has been on a teen Scout trip will have memory prodded sharply upon reading the chapter, “Escape from Frog Island.” The leader of this overnight, frazzled by the hijinks of mismatched kids, facing a reverse of fortune, exclaims, “A Scout is never lost!” Yet the boys are lost from the rest of their troop for hours and somehow even manage to set the island on fire. Regardless of the numerous diversions on this trip “in God’s great outdoors,” the narrator ponders what makes popular kids popular and considers at length the possible answers. Some of the most penetrating, funny writing about adolescent experience is in this chapter. The description of the Lost Souls band, seven members, begins the chapter “Jungle Music”: “Our silver jackets flickered in the spotlight. Our lime-green slacks shimmered. Our sheer white nylon pimp socks peeked out from our alabaster imitation alligator Italian pumps and glowed in the dark. We were iridescent.” The Lost Souls, with narrator on tenor sax, play soul music exclusively, “Seven suburban white and brown boys performing the black man’s urban rhythm and blues.” Juniors in high school, “gigging two and three nights every 19
weekend, lining our pockets with twenty-dollar bills.” This chapter, itself iridescent with descriptions of soul music and references to its practitioners of renown, captures for the reader the depth of devotion and excitement inspired in the young musicians. “We were American mongrels, and we loved black music. Every one of us.” When uncle Win tries to turn the narrator to country music, the narrator observes, “Country music was for old men. And I was just getting started.” And then he is into jazz, “deep, deep into jazz.” Again we read about the greats—the lyrics, the rhythms, the artists. Setterberg writes about music in a way that makes you believe you are hearing the writing, a wealth and intensity of sound coming off the page. Throughout the novel threads the tale of the narrator’s mother and father, among the “first generation of suburban pioneers…In the new world, everything seemed possible, the ingenuity that won the war now lavishing its innovations on the home front.” With the advent of kitchen appliances of every kind, and the fabrics—nylon, Dacron, rayon, Zylon—the narrator writes, “We were becoming new people in the new nation without even trying. The dangers were immense.” The narrator’s father, single, in his early twenties, spent some three-plus years in a TB ward and found his way “into other lives, this new world of books”—hundreds of books, books he continued to read all his life. He becomes a skeptical, funny, opinionated, self-taught, talented, demanding father with high standards who tells the narrator, “You choose your tools like you choose your friends . . . For their worth and their weight.” His toolbox is his treasure chest. He proclaims, “General maintenance is one of the secrets of life,” One day, son in tow, he says, “That’s my boy,” to the Marine inspecting his pass at the Alameda Naval Air Station, where he works on damaged aircraft. The narrator understands the pride in that statement— yes, his father’s son. A father who says, “You got to be something, you see? . . . or otherwise you’re just going to be a prisoner . . . if you don’t learn enough to make you different from every other son of a bitch out there scratching around for a job.” And the mom in the story, the author’s delightful sketching of her throughout the novel—a Catholic married to “a rebel, a Protestant, an outsider, the opposition,” who comes upon baking with a fervor that expresses itself in letters to Betty Crocker and inventive concoctions for her appreciative husband. But one time she and her husband “argued in the living room standing up—always a bad sign” about how public should her support of John F. Kennedy be, especially because her husband was a government employee. The four pages devoted to this contretemps underscore the commonality of many couples’ style of confrontation, and lead into the story of the mother’s early years, rendered by the author with great charm. 20
By the end of the novel, Viet Nam has invaded people’s lives, and the narrator, now eighteen, wonders what may be next. One night he walks the Manor, sits on a rock, looks out at the bay, looks up at the moon, “its radiance brutally illuminating all the little orphans of Earth. . . .That’s China out there somewhere, I told myself. Out there somewhere, something, someday.” On his walk back home, he catches the fragrance of jasmine. He takes a deep breath to fill his lungs, greedy “for what I could capture in this moment. For what I hoped to hold inside myself forever.” The reader, too, wants to hold onto the book, to savor the closing words of this powerful, affecting novel. The author accomplishes a book of such grace, laugh-out-loud humor, depth, and outstanding writing that one wants to read it yet again to verify the first eye-opening impression. This novel, with its telling blackand-white photos, recaptures a certain time for many of us, reveals a special time for others, and tells a story that remains universal even as it reminds us about the shifting values of America’s past half century.
The City Speaks in Silence: Dave Alluisi on Wayne Miller’s poetry collection The City, Our City
Milkweed Editions, 2011
“(13) How quickly we erase ourselves— / (14) in favor of abstractions,” writes Wayne Miller in “A Treatise on Power (in 32 Strokes),” and it’s as apt a summation of his approach to The City, Our City as you’re likely to find. The collection, which tracks the history of a mythologized city called, well, The City, intentionally abstracts the concept of cities and removes defining characteristics such as time and location in order to create something of a living museum for metropolises everywhere. The shape and size of The City shifts before us on the page, almost as though we were watching it evolve in time-lapse photography shot by Google Maps; it is a collection less concerned with exploring a culture than with seeing the ways in which cities are hammered into changing configurations by war, art, and language. One of the methods Miller uses to pull us into the mythology of The City is to borrow from other authors in an effort to create a piece of tangible evidence that literature has been keeping track of cities for a very long time. The collection opens with a new poem reconstructed from lines by W.H. Auden, Octavio Paz, and Italo Calvino, three authors from different countries—and who wrote in different languages—describing general city life. Miller uses this hip-hop sampling method several more times throughout, as in his “Poem Slipped between Two Lines by Vallejo”: It will not be what is yet to come, but that which came and already left, this abandoned pool—the water now dust—the yellow light in a window one notices only when it goes out. 22
[...] Again, your words arrive for me to fill silently with my voice—not the voice I’m speaking with now, but that which came and already left. The italicized lines are Vallejo’s (translated); Miller nestles new imagery between these lines like mortar between bricks. Other poems are more indirectly inspired by other authors, as with “In the Barracks: A Found Poem,” a prose poem that includes details from Spanish Civil War veteran Bernard Knox’s essay, “Premature Anti-Fascist.” The poem, about soldiers holed up in a library stacking books against the windows to block incoming gunfire, culminates in one of the collection’s central images: The shooter could not have intended to punch out the letters that were missing, Knox thought, yet they were gone. But the book could still more or less be read without them, and he liked knowing that a bullet’s approximate penetration through a treatise on the history of Western Europe was 350 pages. The image of a book shot to pieces, or perhaps of a book saving a human life, is an essential one in a collection that gives equal time to the dueling histories of war and art. In this way, Miller gives voice to the conflict endemic to city-building, that give-and-take between needing others in order to survive and wanting to lash out at people as an act of rebellion against sheer proximity. As Miller lets us know in “A History of War,” violence, too, can be a cooperative act: Over there, just as here, the color guard raised the flag, the captains sloganeered through their bullhorns. Everyone could hear
the echoing, and everyone roared and shouted—because such words were the river that carried them deeper, that kept them from sinking.
Just as arrows, bombs, fire, and napalm reduce sections of The City to rubble over the centuries, art, literature, and language reconstruct it. Miller’s titles themselves are steeped in the language of poetry; they are often specific types of poems (“In the Museum: A Pastoral,” “American Aubade,” “American Nocturne,” “Nothing in the Letters: An Elegy”) or they address poets by name (“Dear Auden,” “Poem Slipped between Two Lines by Vallejo”). These works thread between battles and reflect on the hustle and bustle of life outside the frequent carnage. Miller takes great pains, however, to act as poet, observer, and/or historian, and rarely inserts himself into the narrative; his poems more often tend to watch others from across busy avenues or through lighted windows. Just as The City is an abstraction, The City, Our City in many ways abstracts its author, as in the opening lines of “American Nocturne”: 1. Here in the Eye of the City, the window of a passing car pulls my reflection from the ether for just an instant then slips it back beneath the street Even the collection’s penultimate poem, “Our Last Visit,” recounting Miller and his father’s last visit to The City (and, perhaps, even with one another; the notes in the back of the book tell us that Miller’s father passed away in 2008), is a series of impersonal images that build into a melancholy whole. Miller eschews dialog and family history and instead lets us walk with him and his father in silence: So we passed beneath the windows of deepset rooms, their bookfilled interiors—that honeyed library light. [...] Then a lovely face at a table— we nodded hello—then a railing and nothing but sea. These individual pieces are deftly strung together by a series of poems (assigned 24
the Roman numerals I through XIV) that focus on the structure of the The City, from its roots as a simple well with “streets opened outward / from the core like petals” to the softly electric voyeur’s paradise of “a bare leg rising in a window. / A bare leg rising in a window...” The ups and downs of The City are put most succinctly in “XIII,” the whole of which reads: Some kept burying the books while others kept digging them up again. Appropriately, the language in the poetry is not immune from this ever-shifting structure. Dashes lance across the page and cut lines prematurely; reversed brackets enclose poems as though between walls; small fragments dangle from the end of lines like dislodging bricks; and double em-dashes separate stanzas like staircases beneath which the words are permitted temporarily to hide. The cumulative effect, as with so much in this collection, invokes not a city, but all cities, at once. The City, Our City is an intended response to the likes of Auden’s “Memorial for the City,” and, for lovers of cities and their mythologizing, is an essential piece of poetic structure in a common narrative.
Jaime Boler on Christopher Bollen’s novel Lightning People
Despite what many readers think, debut novels are not easy to write. Common mistakes freshman authors make run the gamut from implausible storylines to stock characters to awkward dialogue to clumsy organization. A good editor helps, but often a first-time novelist either has that certain something or he does not. That kind of talent cannot be taught; it is innate. Christopher Bollen proves with his debut novel Lightning People that he has that magic and then some. Setting is not everything, but place ranks high on this reviewer’s list of what can turn a good book into a great one. Bollen lives in New York City; thus, he knows the city well and it shows. From the very first page, Bollen knows how to set the mood. Bollen opens his novel with a very real phenomenon: lightning strikes. Through his protagonist, Joseph Guiteau, Bollen writes, “The Manhattan skyline has changed since I moved here from Cincinnati at the age of eighteen. What no one seems willing to mention is that before the World Trade Center fell, lightning rarely struck any parts of Manhattan other than the towers themselves….” The towers served as lightning rods. Without them as protection, lightning is striking many young men and women, primarily from the Midwest. “Most people will tell you that such deaths don’t make sense. Lightning strikes contain all of the inexplicable characteristics of coincidence, no reason, just a dice roll—like a tornado rummaging through one house and leaving the next unbothered.” With the towers gone, Midwesterners, “easy targets in a city that was supposed to hide” them, now function as conductors.
Guiteau loves conspiracy theories, a trait his mother passed down to him, so thinking that the weather has it out for Midwesterners is right up his alley. The men in his family all met a tragic fate at the young age of thirty-four. Guiteau fled his Cincinnati, Ohio, home in an attempt to escape his tragic family history. He moved to New York City and became an actor. With his thirty-fourth birthday fast approaching, paranoia sets in. Guiteau believed if he moved away, he could “shake the predictions told to
Soft Skull Press, 2011
How to Set the Mood:
me about my family, the ones my mother raised me on in a darkened house in Cincinnati that took each death as evidence, each year as a clue.” In New York, Guiteau thought, he could break the cycle of the “pattern that runs through the generations, a conspiracy in the bloodstream that kills with perfect timing.” Bollen introduces the reader to several other major characters, all closely tied together in sometimes shocking ways. Guiteau marries Delphine Kousavos, a beautiful Greek woman and “snake charmer” at the Bronx Zoo, so she can become a United States citizen. Del’s work with snake venom is one of the many fascinating aspects of Lightning People. The other characters comprise close friends of Guiteau and Del. There is Del’s best friend Madeline Singh, who “held her hand for twenty-eight days” when Del’s boyfriend was killed in a car accident years before. Del then became involved with Madi’s brother, Raj, and she reconnects with him after a tragedy leaves her reeling. Completing the circle is Guiteau’s actor friend William Asternathy, who perhaps is the least appealing but probably the most real of Bollen’s characters. Asternathy is jealous of Guiteau, and the lengths to which he goes in his attempts to best Guiteau have far-reaching consequences. “At some point,” Guiteau reflects, “we stopped thinking of our time here as an open story that would only end well. Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice until it does. Behind every senseless tragedy there is a careful logic. At some point, the weather changed when no one was looking, and we were no longer so young in New York.” All Bollen’s characters have their own mini-dramas, making for several intriguing sub-plots that lead a suspenseful feel to the story. Lightning People truly is a plot-driven novel. Employing themes such as coincidence vs. fate, multiculturalism, love, and betrayal, Bollen creates complex, believable characters with the practice of a seasoned novelist. This does not feel like a first novel. He skillfully intersects multiple lives in shocking ways. Critics have compared the novel to the movie Crash, set in Los Angeles. However, I feel Bollen’s New York City works even better than LA to explore traversing lives. New York is built vertically, while LA is a horizontal sprawl. New Yorkers primarily walk wherever they go, while people in LA drive. Interconnecting characters have a better chance of coming into contact in a city like New York than they would in LA. Lightning People is one of those rare novels that you will want to re-read again and again just to see all the clues you missed the first time. Will Guiteau die at thirty-four or will he be the first to escape his fate? That is something for readers to find out themselves. My only criticism is that the fates of the characters all seem to be foregone conclusions. What happens in the end is just as I predicted would happen when I finished chapter one. However, that is really not important here. The true beauty is how Bollen tells the story. Overall, it is an astounding first novel with brilliant plot development and superbly crafted characters. Bollen has a strong sense of place because he is a New Yorker; in fact, Bollen, like 28
his main character, Joseph Guiteau, moved to New York from Cincinnati, Ohio, to attend Columbia University. His New York City is a place still reeling from the 9/11 attacks; his characters, too, still bear the scars of that terrible day. With the lightning strikes, he shows us that even the city’s weather pattern has changed. I would recommend that Lightning People be read with other books about New York, particularly in the wake of the terrorist attacks, such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children. Bollen’s work also pairs well with Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Bollen does not seem like a first-time novelist, and I hope there is a second novel in his future. The real star of Lightning People is New York City, and the novel is Bollen’s homage to the city he now calls home, a city where anything can happen, a city where lightning can indeed strike the same place twice.
Collin Kelley on Steve Fellner’s poetry collection The Weary World Rejoicesv
On the back cover of The Weary World Rejoices, Paisley Rekdal says in her blurb that lots of collections claim to be edgy, but Fellner’s poems are not only truly edgy, but “frightening.” I couldn’t agree more. Rarely does a poet have the courage to take you right to the edge and then push you off the cliff, but Fellner does. This is confessional work that truly takes the next step in stripping the poet bare and to the bone. If there really is such a thing as “post-confessional,” Fellner is surely mining it here with images so direct and bloody that it might make Anne Sexton drop her cigarette into her martini. No one is spared in these poems: crazy mom, meth-addicted dead lover and the poet himself, who puts his own flaws and tenuous mental health under the microscope for all to see. Narcissistic, body-obsessed gay men are pummeled in one breath and forgiven in the next, because who can blame them for wanting to stay thin, beautiful and immortal in a world where so many consider them inhuman. In the poem “I Am Known As Walt Whitman,” Fellner conjures up the spirit and language of America’s bard, but there’s an honest brutality that would make the old gentleman blanche: I broke up with him because I didn’t want to take care of someone who was going to die in such an uninspired way. Somewhere in this narrative there may be a shred of logic to be found. O, my dead dumb boyfriend,
you are my expired muse. Because I know you gave so kindly to strangers, I imaging your hole as raw as the material for this poem.
“Ode to My Friend Who Recently Won A Prestigious Book Contest” is a familiar narrative about a poet whose book is selected, not necessarily on its merit, by a judge “whose poetry will be forgotten tomorrow.” The winning poet is having an affair with 30
Marsh Hawk Press, 2011
a professor, who leaves her for a student: After he broke
up with you. After I begged you to go back your husband. After his female student dedicated her book to him. We wasted our time reading
your lover’s poems, trying to figure out if he’d take you back.
And that brings us to the final cycle of poems dedicated to Matthew Shepard. You might think there is nothing left to say about the young, gay man tortured in a field near Laramie, but Fellner eulogizes Shepard and wisely does not speak for him, but “near him.” Reading this sequence - the collection’s best work - reminded me how quickly horror is shunted away, stripped of its visceral impact as time passes. LGBT people remain at risk, put themselves in risky situations, act out, and search for love in a world that continues to preach that the love they seek is wrong. In one of the three poems called “Ode to Matthew Shepard,” Fellner writes: “Matthew, O Matthew, you died in a field, is an elegy anything/other than a taunt? A way of saying: Look at me. I’m still alive.” And this collection, for all the death and destruction, is frighteningly alive. If you’re looking for prosaic landscapes and hummingbirds, look elsewhere. There are birds here, but they are vultures swooping and diving on the carcass and there is a terrible beauty in that as well.
Athena Lark Examines Portraits of Slavery in Contemporary African-American Fiction
Liberty is rendered even more precious by the recollection of servitude. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero What tangled skeins are the genealogies of slavery! ~ Harriet Jacobs Slavery was an era in America’s history which negatively impacted an entire race of people for many generations. Several books, both in fiction and non-fiction have been written about the subject. I plan to shed light on the trends and ideas written about slavery by five authors specializing in contemporary African-American fiction. Unlike in earlier novels like William Wells Brown’s Clotel, Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, these author’s narratives encompass facts about slavery not normally written. Some of the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to popularize many of the stereotypes that exist today about black people. The books that I will analyze have been written within the last three decades and provide a different perspective into the nature of slavery. Each novel deals with the fundamentals of the slavery era, but each author uses their own unique lens to look into the institution of slavery. Through the perception of the authors, these portraits of slavery tell the stories of brave, courageous and intelligent slave characters. As Don Delillo said in an interview on the power of history in the NY Times Magazine, “Ultimately the writer will reconfigure things the way his own history demands. He has his themes and biases and limitations. He has the small crushed pearl of his anger. He has his teaching job, his middling reputation and the one radical idea he has been waiting for all his life. The other thing he has is a flat surface that he will decorate, fitfully, with words.”
The characters these writers develop in the novels betray the stereotypes of slaves, such as the Jezebel, the loyal and sanctimonious Mammy, or the always noble and
obeying Uncle Tom. You will not find any Mammy characters in any of these books. According to Deborah Gray White in Arâ€™nt I a Woman? Mammy was the perfect image for antebellum Southerners. As the personification of the ideal slave, and the ideal woman, Mammy was an ideal symbol of the patriarchal tradition. Mammy was part of the benign slave tradition, and as part of the cult of domesticity. These portraits of slavery reveal the obstacles, and challenges of both female and male slaves in the landscape of the era. The reader is transformed into experiencing slightly different settings and concepts of slavery. Although the writers describe situations, circumstances and experiences already known about slavery, they tell them in innovative ways. When writing about history the novelist, Delillo says, does not want to tell you things you already know about the great, the brave, the powerless and the cruel. The first author I will explore, Edward P. Jones, tackles the concept of black people owning black slaves and the minor difference this fact had on the daily life of the slave. He also reveals to the reader the consequences involved when black slave owners rule over their own kind. In The Known World, Jones uses extraordinary detail and numerous switchbacks to frame his story. Science fiction author, Octavia E. Butler uses time travel to tell the harrowing story about a contemporary character repeatedly yanked back to the Ante-Bellum South. With her novel Kindred, she paints a portrait of slavery by combining the genres of Science fiction, Historical fiction and African-American fiction. In Cane River author, Lalita Tademy, writes about the concept of beautiful black slave women voluntarily having sexual relationships with their white masters, or rich white men in their communities. Tademy explores the various dilemmas and consequences involved with having such unions. Author, Susan Straight writes about slavery using the lens of a mixed-race heroine in early nineteenth century Louisiana. Like Jones, she uses great detail throughout A Million Nightingales by mastering in the timeless writerâ€™s tip of showing versus telling. The last author I will explore is J. California Cooper. In The Wake of the Wind she writes about the complexities surrounding the slave family and their struggle to survive while enslaved and immediately after being emancipated. Finally, dispersed throughout my explorations of the various novels, I will discuss how they helped me to prepare my novel in progress, The Avenue of Palms. In my manuscript I use a different lens to show a portrait of slavery that is seen through the eyes of the ghost of a slave. Power and class struggles are the common threads that run throughout each novel and link them together. At least three separate genres are represented in these novels. The genres of African-American fiction, Historical fiction, and Science fiction overlap depending on the book. All the books except one are considered African-American literature. William Harmon in A Handbook to Literature simply describes African-American literature as the literary work of African-Americans. The authors in the novels I will discuss incorporated great settings, 34
developed strong characters, and used enterprising plot lines. The protagonists in all the novels are intuitive, strong-willed, and intelligent slaves. In his debut novel, The Known World, Edward P. Jones, gives a unique and different perspective to the institution of slavery. Written in 2003, the book concentrates on the hypocrisy and the often underwritten aspect of black slave owners during Ante-Bellum Virginia. The setting turns the traditional story of slavery upside down, providing conflict and tension. With a wealth of detail, Jones transports the reader to the past, using innovative plot techniques, providing an entertaining yet, complex story about the lives of free and enslaved blacks. His narrative centers around the life and death of protagonist Henry Townsend, a former slave turned slave owner. The novel begins with Henry on his death-bed: Henry Townsend a black man of thirty-one years with thirty-three slaves and more than fifty acres of land that sat him high above many others, white and black in Manchester County, Virginia sat up in bed for most of his dying days… On the fourth day on his way to death, Henry found sitting up difficult and lay down. He spent that night trying to reassure his wife. “Nothing hurts,’ he said more than once that day, a day in July 1855. “Nothin Hurts.” Jones weaves together the past, present, and the future throughout the book. These switchbacks can at times be disorienting, but somehow, he makes it work. This technique allows him to flesh out almost all his characters. Flashing back, Jones writes about Henry’s beginning days as a slave owner. After purchasing his first slave, Moses, for $325 he immediately puts him to work building the big house, It took Moses more than two weeks to come to understand that someone wasn’t fiddling with him and that indeed a black man, two shades darker than himself, owned him and any shadow he made. Moses had thought it was already a strange world that made him a slave to a white man, but God had indeed set it twirling and twisting every which way when he put black people to owning their own kind. Was God even up there attending to business anymore?
Henry’s character connects in one way or another, to all the characters in the novel. They range from Moses, the cruel overseer, to Caldonia, the mistress of the plantation and secret lover of Moses, Augustus and Mildred Townsend, Henry’s parents who buy their way to freedom, Fern Alston, a woman who rules over her plantation with an assured hand, and many others. As a new slave owner, Henry is less assured about telling his father a former slave himself, that he is now the owner of his
first slave. In the passage below, Henry comes up with the nerve to tell him the truth. Augustus takes the news with first disbelief, then fury: “You mean tell me you bought a man he yours now?” Augustus asked. “You done bought him and you didn’t free that man? You own a man, Henry?” Augustus said quietly, “I promised myself when I got this little bit of land that I would never suffer a slave owner to set foot on it. Never. He put his hand momentarily to his mouth and then tugged at his beard. “Of all the human beings on God’s earth I never once thought the first slave owner I would tell to leave my place would be my own child. I never thought it would be you. You could not have hurt me more if you had cut off my arms and my legs.” Finally full of indignation Augustus takes one of his homemade walking sticks and hits Henry with it: Augustus slammed the stick down across Henry’s shoulder and Henry cru pled to the floor. “Thas how a slave feel!” Augustus called down to him. “Thas just how every slave every day be feelin.” Power and class struggles continue during the course of the book with the character, Fern Alston, a slave owner who is light enough to pass for white. Although everyone in her family left the county and lives as white people, Fern is a proud and highly educated black woman. However, her racial pride doesn’t stop her from maintaining class boundaries, as she prefers not to mingle with “any slave that was not house broken.” Jones continues to cross class lines with racial undertones, with a relationship between Moses the overseer and the Mistress of the plantation, Caldonia. The widow experiences deep grief after Henry dies, and depends heavily on Moses to keep the plantation running smoothly. At the end of each day they meet to discuss the events of the day. Jones reminds the reader that although Moses and Caldonia are both black, their separation of class is a deep divide. The two begin a secretive intimate relationship. After an episode of lovemaking, the passage below describes Caldonia’s dilemma of having sexual relations with her slave: They were done and partially clothed on the floor. His words caused her to wonder if Virginia had a law forbidding such things between a colored woman and a colored man who was her slave. Was this a kind of miscegenation? A white woman in Bristol had been whipped for such an offense, and her slave was hanged. Throughout the narrative, Jones doesn’t tell, he shows by using specific, definite, and concrete details. His accounts of the day-to-day life of the slave are told through 36
the lens of both the slave and the black slave owner. His fresh new voice recounts the history of this often unreported fact about slavery in African-American literature. While studying the class structure in The Known World, I recalled my novel in progress, The Avenue of Palms. The manuscript is based on facts about the owners of a real slave plantation in Florida owned by an African princess and her white husband. As the Mistress, this black woman diligently controls every inch of her land, treating her black slaves callously, just like a typical white mistress would treat hers. Her story, like Henry and Fern’s, are reminders that whether the owner is black or white, it doesn’t take the hate and bigotry out of slavery. Jones exposes the lives of black people owning other black people providing a picture of slavery not normally reflected in African-American fiction. Similar to Jones’s novel, Octavia E. Butler’s novel, Kindred, provides snapshots into the daily life of the slave. Butler is most known for being one of the first African-American’s to break into Science Fiction. I found Kindred while doing research for The Avenue of Palms. A quarter of the way into Kindred I noticed three similarities between the two. I also realized how I could improve my narrative just by studying Butler’s use of the super natural, dialect, and setting. The three elements that Kindred and The Avenue of Palms have in common are; they both have super natural elements that transport a character from one era to another. They both have settings that surround the institution of slavery, and they both have strong protagonists that are female African-American writers. In Kindred, Butler uses time travel to connect late 1970’s with the early 1800’s. Butler takes her protagonist, Dana Franklin back in time from urban Los Angeles to the Ante-Bellum South. In The Avenue of Palms, my protagonist, Kara Sloan is a contemporary woman who meets the spirit of a slave, Violet Kingsley, right after the election of American’s first African-American President. Violet is transported forward in time from the year 1821.
What amazed me most about Butler’s use of time travel was the relative ease in which she seemed to do it. She states in the forward of Kindred that although it’s classified as science fiction that, “there is no science in it.” She describes it as a, “grim fantasy.” Butler’s method of transporting her character back in time is extremely realistic to the reader. When Dana is in the process of traveling back in time, she becomes physically ill. After a while the symptoms become a sign to her that she is about to leave the twentieth century for the nineteenth century. While unpacking boxes in her new home with her husband, Kevin, Dana has her first bout of time travel sickness: I bent to push him another box full, then straightened quickly as I began to feel dizzy, nauseated. The room seemed to blur and darken around me. I
stayed on my feet for a moment holding on to a bookcase and wondering what was wrong then finally, I collapsed to my knees…I raised my head and discovered that I could not focus on him. “Something is wrong with me,” I gasped. I heard him move toward me, saw a blur of gray pants and blue shirt. Then, just before he would have touched me, he vanished. The house, the books, everything vanished. Suddenly, I was outdoors kneeling on the ground beneath trees. After Butler sets Dana up for her time travel she describes a distinct change of setting to adjust the reader to the new place Dana arrives at in Maryland across the river from Baltimore, I was in a green place. I was at the edge of some woods. Before me was a wide tranquil river, and near the middle of that river was a child splashing, screaming…Drowning! In Kindred when Dana is transported back to slavery, she is going there as a modern highly educated black woman. Everything about her stands out. She is selfassured. “Why do you talk like a white person,” one of the slaves asks her. Everyone she meets is appalled by her attire. She wears pants. “Why do you dress like a man,” another slave asks her. The Master and Mistress of the plantation she arrives at do not trust her and do not like her, because she “isn’t like any other nigger they know,” the Mistress says. When transported back in time Dana is labeled as the “trouble-maker” slave. She is considered dangerous to have around the other slaves because of her high intellect and ability to read. Although Dana is living as a slave in the era she still has her modern qualities about her. She doesn’t tolerate being called a nigger, until after her first whipping at the whipping post. After that incident she did not care what they called her. Dana’s self-confidence and empowering characteristics would be enough to have her sold, according to Kenneth M. Stampp, in The Peculiar Institution – Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, “It is a melancholy fact,” wrote a South Carolinian, “that a large proportion of our ablest and most intelligent slaves are annually sent out of the State for misconduct.” It really did not benefit a slave to showcase their intelligence. In Kindred, Butler takes this concept and subjects Dana to the consequences of being a bright person. Butler explores traditional concepts about slavery; such as the unusually cruel Mistress, a master that is a control freak and sex fiend rolled into one, and a group of subservient slaves. What makes Butler’s novel unique to the concept of slavery is her use of the super natural, along with Dana’s strong personality. In the novel Dana is transported back in time whenever the Master’s son, Rufus, is in extreme 38
danger. For the novel it was essential that Butler provided a link that brought the two character’s worlds together. Early in the novel Dana finds out that Rufus will grow up to be one of her ancestors, so it is her duty to keep him alive. The first time she is transported back in time to help him he is drowning in the river. The second time she is called back to him is when he starts a fire in his bedroom, a couple of years later. Only to Dana, a day has gone by. Dana is transported forward to her life whenever her life is in extreme danger. Since she is a female slave her life is almost always ripe with danger. Each time Dana is transported back in time, she stays longer and longer and learns extreme lessons on what it’s like to be a slave. On her second trip back to slavery her husband Kevin, who happens to be white, holds on to her when she begins to get sick and is transported back in time with her. There in the era of slavery instead of husband and wife, they have to pretend to be owner and slave. It is during her second trip that Dana begins to learn the daily life of a slave. The slaves that Dana meets on the plantation don’t talk like her, but they do seem to talk pretty well. Butler uses very little phonetically spelled words in her dialog when the slaves speak. She uses patterns of speech that makes the dialog different and effective for the time period: “You watch out,” said the black man softly. I looked at him, surprised, not sure he was talking to me. He was. “Marse Tom can turn mean mighty quick,” he said. “So can the boy, now with him growing up. Your face looks like maybe you had enough white folks’ meanness for a while.” Butler uses the juxtaposition of the eras to flesh out her characters. The Mistress of the house, Margaret Weylin, is the typical wife of a slave owner, who berates her slaves, especially the children that looks like her husband and the slave women her husband lusts over. In Kindred, Dana finds it hard to take such abuse: She cornered me one day as I swept the library. If she had walked in two minutes earlier, she would have caught me reading a book. “Where did you sleep last night!” she demanded in the strident accusing voice she reserved for slaves. I straightened to face her, rested my hands on the broom. How lovely it would have been to say, none of your business, bitch! Instead, I spoke softly, respectfully. “In Mr. Franklin’s room, ma’am”…Margaret slapped me across the face…“You filthy black whore!” she shouted.
As a reader it was captivating to imagine Dana’s journey back and forth from the modern world to the slave era. Butler’s narrative and writing techniques give a different perspective to the tales told about slavery.
Like in Jones’s novel, Lalita Tademy’s debut novel, Cane River gives a snapshot of a subculture in slavery society. Tademy explores the complex issue of consensual sexual relationships among female slaves and their Masters, or other white men. Tademy left a job in corporate America in 2001 to dedicate herself full-time to researching and writing the novel. Her story is about four generations of strong-willed black women in her family who survived the hard times of slavery and post-slavery with their beauty, sheer wit, intelligence and guile. She recounts the history of her ancestors with the legacy of slavery; blending the genres of fiction and non-fiction. Cane River begins with the history of Tademy’s great-great-great-grandmother Elisabeth, a slave living in a little Louisiana farming community called Cane River. A diverse group of people lived in the isolated, close-knit community of Creole French planters, slaves and free people of color. Like Jones, Tademy writes about several issues that still affect the African-American community today. One issue she tackles is that of class-consciousness and the division it caused. In the passage below she writes about light-skinned Elisabeth’s early childhood days on the plantation as a “house” slave, She was eight years old today, would be nine tomorrow, and she was meant for the house, not the field. Everyone, white, colored, and Negro, told her how much pride there was in that. The history of slavery has shown that once the little slave girl enters adolescence and her true beauty begins to show whether she be a house slave, or field slave her life takes a drastic turn. It is then when she has to fight off the sexual advances of the white men on the plantation. According to Linda Brent in her slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave girl, sexual advances towards slave girls and women were a daily occurrence. She states that if a slave is burdened with the gift of beauty her plight would be made even worse. “If God has bestowed beauty upon her,” she writes, “It will prove her greatest curse.” The two main characters in Cane River, Emily and Suzette each deal with sexual exploitation. Tademy describes Suzette’s vulnerability after her father a white man leaves, and her Master dies. She is faced with having to fight off the Master’s son, who begins to grope after her, The puzzling thing was that he was moving toward her with caution when they both knew he could take her if he wanted, without consequence, especially once her father had left Cane River. Only then had she realized how much her father’s presence had protected her. Without him living on Cane River, she would need to find some other way to defend herself or be prey for any of the men who would come and expect her to service their physical or emotional needs. 40
Brent describes how her cruel Master’s sexual assaults affected her. “Truly, Satan had no difficulty in distinguishing the color of his soul!” She writes. “O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me?” It was to escape sexual exploitation by her master that Brent did as Emily and Suzette did; have intimate sexual relationships with white men other than their Masters. Sometimes they did so out of necessity. The children were often times the result of these liaisons, making them instant slaves, like their mothers, not free like their fathers. Occasionally, the women would fall in love with these men, revealing some ugly truth to what Southern society thought about the morality of black women. According to White in Ar’nt I a Woman? Black men and women were thought among Southern women and men to have such insatiable sexual appetites that they had to go beyond the boundaries of their race to get satisfaction. It was black women who, Southern society claimed, tempted men of the superior caste. White men, it was argued, never had to use authority or violence to obtain compliance from bonded women because the latter’s morals was so relaxed. In Cane River, Suzette was hit with a double whammy; she actually loved the father of her children who were always at stake of being sold away from her. In the passage below she begs the children’s father to buy them and set them free: “M’sieu Daurat. If I could just talk to you. You’re a gentleman, like Louis Derbanne was. And he freed his children…” She circled Eugene quickly and dropped to her knees, head bowed, in front of where he stood. A small sharp stone cut at her knee, and she rocked herself on it to clear her mind. She forced herself to stay on her knees, staring at the eyelets of Eugene Daurat’s shoes as she talked, willing the crisscross pattern of the laces to hold her together.
Another issue that Tademy explores is a direct by-product of slavery; color-consciousness in the African-American community. In the introduction of the book, she explains how she felt about her great-grandmother’s color issues and the pride she felt in having white skin. Although she felt adverse to her great-grandmother’s color issues, she describes Emily below, Great-grandmother Emily was color-struck. She bore five children out of wedlock over the thirty-plus-year span of her liaison with a Frenchman. She barely tolerated being called colored, and never Negro. My mother, the lightest of the grandchildren, with skin white enough to pass if she chose, was a favorite of hers… I was always unsympathetic to the memory of Emily because of her skin color biases.
Tademy doesn’t shy away from the issues that influenced generations of women in her family. Head on, she deals with the complex issues of slavery, class and color consciousness, and the legacy that slavery left on a generation of people. The theme of the corrupting power of slavery continues in Susan Straight’s novel, A Million Nightingales. The mixed-raced slaves in A Million Nightingales live similar lives to the mixed-race characters in Cane River. Both of the books use small plantations just outside of New Orleans as their settings. In an interview with Straight she told me what inspired her to write the book on slavery. “Slavery has informed most of American history,” she said. “Writers and Americans who ignore the fact are astonishing to me. Every President, every state, and every battle we fought or are still fighting on American soil is connected to slavery.” A Million Nightingales is a story that centers on the lives of mixed-race slaves. Moinette the main character is a mulatto, with a mother that is African and a white father. Straight said for Moinette’s story, “I wanted particularly to write about mixed-race women and men in slavery.” Moinette is a product of a rape. Her mother, Marie-Thérèse, a slave was given to one of her owner’s out of town guests as a gift for the night. Christophe, another young slave teases Moinette about her status, “You useful for nothing, “Cadeau-fille,” he said. Gift girl. He always called me that, adding, “Yellow girl only good for one thing, for what under your dress. All you are.” Straight tells Moinette’s story by also incorporating a considerable amount of different languages throughout the narrative. “I used French words, African words, and Creole French words,” she said. “Because that’s how people would have spoken back then. I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader, but to help the reader to feel as if he or she were in Louisiana in the 1800’s.” Some of the French words used in the book were used to describe the mixed races of the slaves; sang mâlé, sacatra, mulâtresse, and griffone. Straight’s portrait of slavery is done with great descriptive detail. By showing versus telling she creates an imaginary world for the reader to step into. According to William Harmon in A Handbook to Literature, showing versus telling is an empirical concept. It’s a concept that emphasizes the superiority of dramatization, demonstration, enactment, and embodiment over mere telling. In A Million Nightingales, Straight balances telling and showing very well. She uses specific words by showing with details and showing with emotion. Throughout the narrative she invites deeper understanding and reader involvement. In the passage below, Straight describes Moinette and another slave preparing the meat for the plantation: 42
Lèonide insisted I help her with the meat. A hard freeze had set in, the cane couldn’t be planted because the furrows were solid as stone, and the cold meant pigs should be killed for the smokehouse. At the long wooden table we waited for the sound of iron crushing bone. Pig skulls were long and slated compared to ours. Their brains would be made into jelly. We were covered in blood, after we had cut the ribs into curving shelves. The ax severed the spine. The wind blew tiny splinters of iced blood from the table. The entrails, for sausage casings, were transparent as wet muslin in my fingers. I breathed in the salty, coppery blood – why did blood scent not enter my lungs, as the indigo smell had spread its poison in my grandmother’s body? Straight uses sensory language in the passage above. The reader can see, hear, feel, taste, and almost smell the meat being prepared. Marie-Thérèse is the laundress of the plantation. She and Moinette spend most of their time in the yard washing and hanging up clothes. They live a somewhat peaceful existence working alone, until Moinette is chosen to work solely as the hair dresser for her young mistress. Marie-Thérèse is an over protective mother always aware of the dangers that a young and pretty slave girl could face on the plantation. Her fears come true when Moinette is sold, and sent up the river. While sitting in the boat she is sent away on, Moinette remembers the stories her mother told her about her passage into slavery. She said that boat was dark and the wood screamed. She was inside, held between her mother’s legs. I was in the cargo hold with hogsheads of sugar, which trembled like a thousand drums around me. She said her mother cried but silent so no one would hear, and the tears dripped into her hair when she sat on her mother’s lap, hot when they fell on top of her head and then cold when they slid down her neck...I put my arms around my knees. The wood shook under my dress...the boat croaked like an angry raven. What had screamed in the wood of my mother’s boat?
According to Straight, A Million Nightingales is based on a true story about a woman named Manon Baldwin, who never learned to read or write. Manon was a mulatto woman Straight found in a court document in Opelousas, Louisiana. Manon is sold to a planter, she then has a son, and when she is sold again, she is sold without her son. Manon later returns to the plantation and buys him. She mortgages him out twice, selling him at one time to save her boarding house. “I thought creating a fictional story around her, and him, would make readers understand their lives,” Straight says. After being sold away Moinette’s main goal in life is to find a way back to her mother, her “memère” on the Azure plantation.
Even after the birth of her child she strives and dreams of the day when she can reunite with her mother. Straight’s novel is full of descriptive language that shows the reader what it feels like to be snatched away from your mother and sold to the highest bidder. A Million Nightingales may not officially be classified as African-American literature because it is not written by a African-American, but I consider it a work of the genre because it is written about slavery and the African-American experience. In J. California Cooper’s novel, The Wake of the Wind she plots the horrors of slavery and the consequences it had on the slave family during and directly after enslavement. In the novel, published in 1998, Cooper uses the omniscient third person point of view, with occasional passages from her protagonist, Edessi-Lifee in the first person point of view. Conflict runs throughout the novel, with many layers of suspense, intrigue and mystery. The reader follows the journey of two slaves, Lifee and Mordecai immediately preceding the Emancipation in Texas and during the early stages of Reconstruction. Lifee is a well-read seamstress that has spent all her life as a house slave on the Floyd Plantation. She has been “cursed” with beauty. Like other overly attractive slave women their beauty makes them the ultimate target for rape by their masters and other white men. Cooper describes Lifee and the consequences of her beauty in the passage below: Lifee had large, slightly slanted dark eyes. Soft, full lips, a short, pretty nose that flared delicately wide at the nostril. She was slender, around five feet seven inches with smooth, clear skin the color and texture of golden brown satin, with full, medium-sized breasts, curvaceous hips made for love, plump, rounded buttocks...The wives and daughters of Liffee’s new masters did not like Lifee even as skilled as Lifee was, because Lifee was a pretty woman and made a lie of their words, as many black, brown and yellow beauties did, that negras were ugly and were animals. And their men? Their men could not seem to keep their eyes (nor hands, when possible) off of Lifee. She had been taken with force repeatedly and, once, became pregnant (which proved further to the white ladies that negras were sluts). At first sight of the whitish baby, the mistress truck Lifee with the handle of a riding crop; it left a light scar on the satiny skin at the corner of her eyebrow for life. The male baby was taken from her and sold because of her resemblance to the father...Ahhh, what Black women have suffered without the least honest cause and no consideration. Lifee is sold three times because of her attractiveness; she is moved from Louisiana to Alabama, to Mississippi, finally to Texas. The other main character in the book, Mor, is an illiterate laborer and considered a field slave. Their destiny is decided by their Master who forces them together to disguise the fact from his wife that he is raping Lifee. 44
Although Lifee and Mor do not know one another and are unevenly yoked, the Master demands they marry and live by show and appearances like man and wife in their small cabin. Whenever he makes his sexual calls on Lifee at night, Mor slips quietly out of the cabin. This dysfunctional family arrangement which was prevalent has left its mark on generations of African-American people. In Black Women in Nineteenth-Century American Life, writer Fannie Barrier Williams writes, “In nothing was slavery so savage and relentless as in its attempted destruction of the family instincts of the Negro race in America. Individuals, not families; shelters, not homes; herding, not marriages, were the cardinal sins in that system of horrors.” Cooper continues to take her readers on Lifee and Mor’s journey, as the Civil War experiences its dying days. With utter desperation Lifee’s Mistress takes her to the back yard of the big house to help her dig up buried bars of gold. Intuitive and highly intelligent, she has the foresight to go back to the yard without her Mistress to look for more gold and is faced with a dilemma: Lifee went back to pack the earth down, but checked just a little with her shovel to see if anything was left. She heard a small ting and knelt to dig it out. It was a much smaller box, but it was heavy. Lifee didn’t open it but a little, and something glittered. More gold and silver coins, some big, some little. She sat back on the ground. It ain’t mine, but must I give it to her?” After a moment, “hell, no! It probably belongs to all the slaves who made this money. And I have worked hard.” She got up and started patting the earth down. “They have took all our lives. They took our children. They took our mothers. What do we owe them? They owe us! And I’m keeping this as mine. For a start.” Lifee is definitely not the stereotypical image of the loyal slave. She is constantly aware of how she is being mistreated and courageous enough to fight the system anyway she can. The treasure she finds in the back yard gives her concrete hope in her uncertain future.
Within days the slaves on the plantation walk away to freedom. Mor and Lifee meet throngs of downtrodden, but very happy former slaves on the road to freedom. More slaves walked along the roads as word of mouth spreads from plantation to plantation that the North had won. It was a two-pronged road to freedom for the newly freed slave; one road they traveled was full of happiness due to their new freedom. The other road was the stark reality that they had to fend for themselves. For the first time in their lives they had to make their own decisions about their daily existence. For some of the people it was a concept too hard for them to comprehend. According to Kevin Bales in his book, Understanding Global Slavery, “For some slaves, the first step out of bondage is to learn to see their lives with new eyes. Their reality is a social world where they have their place and some assurance of a subsistence diet. Born into slavery, they cannot easily
redefine their lives outside the frame of enslavement.” In The Wake of the Wind, Cooper writes brilliantly about the lives of the newly freed slaves and their hard adjustment to life without bondage. Lifee and Mor start out better than most as they buy their first plot of land with Lifee’s gold. They share their home and the land with an extended family of people. This family consisted of the tired, hungry and weary people they met scattered along the roads directly after being freed. Together they live, prosper and work on the land for over twenty years. Once told they would fail, the small community of black people survives Emancipation. In the passage below Mor describes what it feels like to prosper and be free: “Ain’t nothing can get rid of us Negroes. We a strong people. We done seen em come and make do with nothing…We’s together. All together. A family. You and Me? We may not make it much further on down this road of life, but, our blood will. It’s goin a long way. Even into the next century. That African blood is strong, ain’t it, baby? That African blood has done survived. They couldn’t kill it with a whip, nor a lie.” The overall theme throughout the novel is self-sufficiency for the black family. Cooper incorporates the concept of the old African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a contemporary African-American author, she uses her unique voice to write about slavery, the newly freed slave and their struggle to survive post-slavery. Together Jones, Butler, Tademy, Straight and Copper all shed light on the institution of slavery by rendering stories about slavery that teaches the reader aspects about the era they may not be familiar with from reading older books. The characters of Moses and Henry come alive in The Known World, a literary world where black people are faced with the dilemma of owning their own race. In Kindred, Dana will be remembered as the courageous modern woman forced back to the era of slavery and forced to live the arduous life of one. In A Million Nightingales, Moinette represents a mixed-race slave living in a city where there are not only power struggles, but class struggles. In Cane River the female slave characters are faced with the dilemma of either consenting to sexual relationships with their Masters and other white men or being raped. In The Wake of the Wind, Lifee and Mor show what life was like for the slave family and how it influenced them once they were free. The contemporary authors of these stories tell them in a fresh new way in African-American fiction, using wonderful point of views, exquisite details and descriptions, and great dialogue and characterizations. In these various portraits of slavery one learns about; a race of people owning people of their own race, the power and class struggles that a slave had to withstand, the life of the mixed-race slave, slave women loving white men, and the incredible strength of the slave family. 46
Bibliography: Bales, Kevin, Understanding Global Slavery. Los Angles, California: University of California Press, 2005. Blassingame, John W., The Slave Community – Plantation Life in the Antebellum South: New York, New York, Oxford University Press, 1972. Brent, Linda, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1861. Burroway, Janet & Stuckey-French, Elizabeth, Writing Fiction – A Guide to Narrative Craft. New York, New York, Person Longman, 2007. Butler, Octavia E., Kindred. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1979. Cooper, J. California, The Wake of the Wind. New York, New York: Doubleday, 1998.Delillo, Don, The Power of History. New York Times Magazine, September 7, 1997. Harmon, William & Holman E. Hugh, A Handbook To Literature. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000. Jones, Edward P., The Known World. New York, New York: Amistad, Harper Collins, 2003. Loewenberg, Bert James, Black Women in Nineteenth-Century American Life. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976. Stamp, Kenneth M., The Peculiar Institution – Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South. New York, New York: Vintage Books, 1956. Straight, Susan, A Million Nightingales. New York, New York: First Anchor Books, 2006. Straight, Susan, interview, February 24, 2011. Tademy, Lalita, Cane River. New York, New York: Warner Books, 2001. White, Deborah Gray, Arn’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South. New York, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1985.
Lisa Cole on Charles Alexander’s poetry collection Pushing Water
Alexander has been working on the Pushing Water poem sequence since 1997, and now, we finally have the full collection available in one volume from Cuneiform Press. During a recent poetry reading at Casa Libre en Solana in November, Alexander said that Pushing Water arose from a vision he was given of a hand pushing through water, leaving its imprint in its wake. The image of pushing water occurs again and again in the book, as in this snippet of the 51st section of the poem: and when the cat bird sings I have another voice or two or three and they sound like water flowing over a ledge a thin wall a screen of water flowing and I push my hand through, as they say, to get to the other side (171) This is not the transparent poetry of William Carlos Williams, his red wheelbarrow and plums in the icebox. Pushing Water is language poetry at its finest. This is a meandering, dream-like journey as we listen to many voices and try to “get to the other side.” In this collection, the poet is continually altering his environment. What is metaphor, simile, and any foray into language, but an effort to transform one thing into another; to take what exists and mold it into something completely different; to finally have control over something, since so many things are out of our control? Pushing Water is perfect for the pursuer of language poetry, a school of poetry originating in the 1970’s, where the meaning of a poem becomes secondary to its language. The reader is encouraged to take an active role in the work, constructing his 48
Cuneiform Press, 2011
Imprint In Its Wake:
or her own interpretations of the text. “The mere shapes and patterns/ of things” become the real joy in this collection, as the reader is carried along, becomes “a guest of the poem/and made place rapture.”It is important to note here that new level of understanding is achieved when we hear Alexander read his work aloud. The listener is able to engage in the work in a way which is more difficult when reading the work alone. Hearing Alexander’s inflections and linguistic stresses allows the listener to truly become a “guest of the poem” (69, 50). Along with language poetry, there are also echoes of Frank O’Hara’s personism. In his manifesto on the subject, O’Hara says that as a writer, you must “…go on your nerve…you have to take your chances and try to avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.” Pushing Water is certainly a text which often lacks in logic and “goes on its nerve” more often than not. O’Hara also stresses the importance of relationships in relation to poetry. In describing the origins of personism, O’Hara said that he was going to write a poem for someone, but then, he realized that he may as well just call that person on the telephone. Indeed, Alexander’s book is a dialog with other poets and artists, both dead and living; both known and unknown to the poet , including, but not limited to, Robert Creeley, Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, Emily Dickinson, Rae Armantrout, H.D., David Jones, Thomas Wyatt, Walter Ralgeh, and Alexander’s wife, the painter, Cynthia Miller. Alexander’s poetry reminds us that worthwhile art is not about following certain rules; art is not about upholding a pretentious loyalty to an artificial audience. Alexander’s book is about taking chances, trusting our intuition, and finally, art is about the formation and preservation of relationships. As the poet claims in section 50: in the dream was possibility of creating the world again the only way was to lift everything up and undergo a mingling of molecules so that all objects knew all other objects each was a part of each and person as well love is form love is mingling of form” (164) Pushing Water is a book that dwells in possibilities that Emily Dickinson would appreciate. Alexander tells a slanted truth. Each line is a tiny riddle that one can puzzle over and meditate on for days at a time. In this way, Pushing Water is truly a never-ending work. As the poet affirms in section 37: when the poem can not end because it’s never been clear what it means to rest in its own unfolding and so it unfolds or perhaps folds like a field of vibrations (108)
Pamela Klein coordinates production at the North American Review and teaches composition in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area of Iowa. Her poetry has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Barbaric Yawp, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Plain Spoke. http://pamelaklein.wordpress.com
CL Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel, Sunlight, three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at http://www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe . A minichap, Texas, was published by Mud Luscious Press. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South’s Million Writer’s Award. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 3 times. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings, http://clbledsoe.blogspot.com Lisa M. Cole is a full time writer who holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Arizona’s Creative Writing program. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Tinder// Heart” and “The Bodyscape” both of which are forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Her poetry has appeared in various online and print publications, including Gloom Cupboard, Sawbuck, Snow Monkey, the Foundling Review, and Bluestream, among others. She also has book reviews forthcoming in Bone Bouquet and Press 1.
Anne Boyer is an Assistant Professor of the Liberal Arts at the Kansas City Art Institute. Her works include Anne Boyer’s Good Apocalypse, Art is War, The 2000s, Ma Vie en Bling, Selected Dreams with a Note on Phrenology, The Romance of Happy Workers, My Common Heart, and JOAN. She can be found online at http://www.anneboyer.com
Anne Fox copyedits Write Angles, newsletter of the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch, as well as the MacArthur Metro, a community newspaper. She co-copyedited the CWC Write On! story contest; and copyedits for writers of fiction and nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in Able Muse, Tiny Lights, The Sun, and the West Winds Centennial anthology of the CWC.
Dave Alluisi is a freelance developmental and copy editor, and the owner of Green Ink Edits (www.greeninkedits.com). He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his amazingly supportive wife and two far less supportive dogs. His interests include reading, writing, watching NFL football, more reading, getting angry at politicians, and, of course, reading.vvv
Barbara Goldberg authored four prize-winning books of poetry, most recently, The Royal Baker’s Daughter, recipient of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize (University of Wisconsin Press). She also edited and translated anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry, including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace (Syracuse University Press). Scorched by the Sun (forthcoming 2012, the Word Works) is a book of Goldberg’s translations from the Hebrew of the Israeli poet Moshe Dor. Currently, she is visiting writer in American University’s MFA program.
GRL Jaime Boler has a Ph.D. in history and has a passion for fiction. She is a freelance book reviewer for the Mobile Press-Register. Boler lives in Laurel, Mississippi. You can read her reviews and author interviews at her blog http://www.bookmagnet.wordpress.com and you can find her on Twitter @bookmagnet
Collin Kelley is the author of two novels, Remain In Light (a 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction nominee) and Conquering Venus, and four poetry collections including the forthcoming Render (2013, Sibling Rivalry Press). His poetry, articles, essays and interviews have appeared in magazines and journals around the world. Find out more at www.collinkelley.com.
Athena Lark is a graduate of University of California at Riverside, Palm Desert where she received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. She is an Adjunct Faculty member at a local community college in Houston, TX, and an independent Journalist and Photographer. She is also a retired U.S. Navy veteran. Athena has been published in the Florida Times Union, Jacksonville Business Journal, Jacksonville Advocate, The Albany Herald, UNF Spinnaker, UNF Alumni Magazine, and The Whistling Fire. In 2005, Athena was awarded 1st place in Feature Writing for her article titled, “Afraid to Die” published in The Albany Herald, by the Associated Press. Athena also worked as the Associate Producer for the documentary “Slave Market Diaries” written and directed by Clennon King. Her Associate Producer credits include her work at WJXT TV Channel 4 News, Jacksonville, FL. Athena’s film credits also include her work as a photography assistant on the Award Winning Independent Feature Film, “Love Trap.” Athena has worked as a contributing commentator on the radio talk show “The Advocate” AM 1460, Jacksonville Florida. She is currently working on her first novel, “The Avenue of Palms” and her memoir, “Sailor Girl.”
About Us Gently Read Literature publishes monthly in-depth reviews of contemporary poetry and literary fiction as well as the occasional original essay pertaining to aesthetics, writing, or culture. Gently Read Literature is always looking for reviews, criticism, and essays on contemporary poetry and literary fiction. Although we are open to examining all styles of poetry and fiction (and, therefore, all poets and novelists) we prefer those authors/presses that do not typically get the attention they deserve. Our guidelines are simple: 500 words minimum with no maximum, with as much direct textual analysis as possible. Contributions should be emailed to Daniel Casey, editor, (email@example.com). “GRL submission” should be in the title of email, and must be in the body of the email or attached as a MS Word document. All contributions should be plainly formatted—12 point font, Times New Roman or the equivalent, single spaced. Because GRL publishes monthly, contributions are consid-ered on a rolling basis. Gently Read Literature is edited and maintained by Daniel Casey, all comments or questions can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Daniel Casey, 223 Eastern Ave, Oberlin, OH 44074.
Available Review Copies POETRY I Was There For Your Somniloquy, Kelli Anne Noftle, Omnidawn Aerial, Bin Ramke, Omnidawn Harm, Hillary Gravendyk, Omnidawn Chinoiserie, Karen Rigby, Ahsahta Press Sancta, Andrew Grace, Ahsahta Press My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Ahsahta Press Engima and Light, David Muschlecner, Ahsahta Press Obedience, Chris Vitiello, Ahsahta Press The Cupboard Artist, Molly Tenenbaum, Floating Bridge Press The Folding Star, Jacek Gutorow, translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk, BOA Editions The Reindeer Camps & Other Poems, Baron Sutter, BOA Editions Litany for the City, Ryan Teitman, BOA Editions Pointed Sentences, Bill Yarrow, BlazeVox Books Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, George Kalamaras, Elixir Press Soutine: A Poem, Rick Mullin, Dos Madres Press Secrets No One Must Talk About, Martin Millitts Jr., Dos Madres Press From the Viewing Stand, Dos Madres Press Call the Catastrophists, Krystal Languell, BlazeVox Books One Sunday Morning, Anne Whitehouse, Finishing Line Press Make Yourself Small, Michelle Brooks, The Backwaters Press Glass Harmonica, Geoff Bouvier, Quale Press Book of Fire, Cary Waterman, Nodin Press Pomegranate, Sister of the Heart, Carlos Reyes, Lost Horse Press 53
Vanishing Horizon, Gerry Lafemina, Anhinga Press Kibbe, Suan Azar Porterfield, Mayapple Press The City She Was, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Center for Literary Publishing (Colorado State University) Our Lady of the Ruins, Traci Brimhall, WW Norton Night Chant, Andrew Demcak, Lethe Press Uselysses, Noel Black, Ugly Duckling Presse Forage, JoAnn Balingit, Wings Press Into the Snow: Selected Poems, Gennady Aygi, translated by Sarah Valentine, Wave Books Notational, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Otoliths Field Work: Notes, Songs Poems 1997-200, David Hadbawnik, BlazeVox Books Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation, Amal Al-jubouri, translated by Rebeca Gayle Howell with Husam Qaisi, Alice James Books Road of a Thousand Wonders, Jeffrey Joe Nelson, Ugly Duckling Presse Indios, Linda Hogan, Wings Press Pith & Amber, Carah Naseem, Fugue State Press Afterimage, Damon Krukowski, Ugly Duckling Presse Little Winter Theater, Nancy Kuhl, Ugly Duckling Presse Re-, Kristi Maxwell, Ahsahta Press No Grave Can Hold Me Down, Aaron McCollough, Ahsahta Press Slot, Jill Magi, Ugly Duckling Presse One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t, Jacqueline Waters, Ugly Duckling Presse True Stories from the Future, A. Molotkov, Boone Dock’s Press Heavenly Body, Leah Stenson, Finishing Line Press The Way We Live, But Kimmelman, Dos Madres Press Ennui: From The Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders, Deborah Hauser, Finishing Line Press One Bird Falling, CB Follett, Time Being Books Unexpected Shiny Things, Bruce Dethlefsen, Cowfeather Press Melons and Memory, Helen Peterson, Little Red Tree Publishing The Book of What Stays, James Crews, Bison Books She’d Waited Millennia, Lizzie Hutton, New Issues Poetry & Prose Say Sand, Daniel Coudriet, Carnegie Mellon University Press After the Firestorm, Susan Kolodny, Mayapple Press Still, Matthew Cooperman, Counterpath Press Absence is Such a Transparent House, Aby Kaupang, Tebot Bach The Hands of Strangers, Janice Harrington, BOA Editions Transfer, Naomi Shihab Nye, BOA Editions Concertos, No Collective, Ugly Duckling Presse Cursivism, Will Hubbard, Ugly Duckling Presse The Hermit, Laura Solomon, Ugly Duckling Presse 54
Journal of American Foreign Policy, Jeff Hoffman, New Issues Press Underdog, Katrina Roberts, University of Washington Press Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You, Lea Graham, No Tell Books Flies, Michael Dickman, Copper Canyon Press Remains to be Used, Jessica Baran, Apostrophe Books The Disinformation Phase, Chris Toll, Publishing Genius Memory Future, Heather Aimee O’Neill, Gold Line Press Downtown, Lee Meitzen Grue, Trembling Pillow Press Flower Chart, Lisa Fishman, Ahsahta Press Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley, Joshua Ware, Furniture Press Books The Crows Were Laughing In Their Trees, Peter Conners, White Pine Press The Open Light: Poets from Notre Dame, 1991-2008, edited by Orlando Menes, University of Notre Dame Press What’s This, Bombardier?, Ryan Flaherty, PleiadesPress Kingdom Come, John Estes, C&R Press The Illustrated Edge, Marsha Pomerantz, Biblioasis The Cold War, Kathleen Ossip, Sarabande Books As Much As, Allan Peterson, Salmon Poetry Naked Woman Listening at the Keyhole, Sophia Rivkin, Mayapple Press Left Glove, Mac Wellman, Solid Objects Fully Into Ashes, Sofia M. Starnes, Wings Press About the Author, Larry O. Dean, Mindmade Books (chpbk) The Yellow House, Robin Behn, Spuytend Duyvil Stranger Air, Stacie Leatherman, Mayapple Press Tropicalia, Emma Trelles, University of Notre Dame Press Pretend the World, Kathryn Kysar, Holy Cow! Press Track This: A Book of Relationship, Stephen Bett, BlazeVox Books Dreamlife of a Philanthropist, Janet Kaplan, University of Notre Dame Press Undone, Maxine Scates, New Issues Poetry and Prose Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered, Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Plain View Press The Relenting: A Play of Sorts, Lisa Gill, New Rivers Press Fishing for Myth, Heid E. Erdrich, New Rivers Press Birds of Wisconsin, B.J. Best, New Rivers Press Kings of the Fucking Sea, Dan Boehl, images by Jonathan Marshall, Birds LLC Rust or Go Missing, Lily Brown, Cleveland State University Poetry Center Say So, Dora Malech, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Firestorm, Zach Savich, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Girl Without Arms, Brandon Shimoda, Black Ocean Ennui Prophet, Christopher Kennedy, BOA Editions At the Bureau of Divine Music, Michale Heffernan, Wayne State University Press 55
Grief Suite, Bobbi Lurie, CW Books The Body, The Rooms, Andy Frazee, Subito Press Historic Diary, Tony Trigilio, BlazeVox Books Born Palestinian Born Black & The Gaza Suite, Suheir Hammad, UpSet Press Strata, Ewa Chrusciel, Emergency Press Breathing in the Dark, Howard Schwartz, Mayapple Press Faulkner’s Rosary, Sarah Vap, Saturnalia Books You and Three Others are Approaching A Lake, Anna Moschovakis, Coffee House Press Mapmaking, Megan Harlan, BkMk Press I & We, Joseph P. Wood, CW Books Annulments, Zach Savich, Center for Literary Publishing/Colorado State University FICTION Pot Farm, MattGavin Frank, University of Nebraska Press Small, Economies: Stories, John Palen, Mayapple Press Twelfth & Race, Eric Goodman, Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar, Daniel Pyne, Counterpoint The Infernal Republic, Marshall Moore, Signal 8 Press Niagara Digressions, E.R. Baxter III, Starcherone Books The Innocent Party: Stories, Aimee Parkison, BOA Editions Tales from the Dew Drop Inne, Kenneth Weene, All Things That Matter Press Insomnia and the Aunt, Tan Lin, Kenning Editions Make It Stay, Joan Frank, The Permanent Press The Keepers, Mike Maggio, March Street Press All the Roads that Lead from Home: Stories, Anne Leigh Parrish, Press 53 All Her Father’s Guns, James Warner, Numina Press The Silver Wind, Nina Allan, Eibonvale Press The Louisiana Purchase, Jim Goar, Rose Metal Press Hystera, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Fiction Studio Books Feather, David Rix, Eibonvale Press (PDF) Access, Xu XI, Signal 8 Press The Cisco Kid in the Bronx, Miguel Antonio Ortiz, Hamilton Stone Editions Destroy All Monsters & Other Stories, Greg Hrbek, Bison Books The Tiger’s Eye: New & Selected Stories, Gladys Swan, Serving House Books Inheritance, Jane Lazarre, Hamilton Stone Editions Hassie Calhoun, Pamela Cory, Scarletta Press Our Jewish Robot Future, Leonard Borman, Scarletta Press Janet Planet, Elanor Lerman, Mayapple Press Insomnia and the Aunt, Tan Lin, Kenning Editions A Marriage of Convenience, Andrew Plattner, BkMk Press 56
Green Gospel, L.C. Fiore, Livingston Press Trigger Man, Jim Ray Daniels, Michigan State University Press Instructions for Living, Laurie Blauner, Mint Hill Books/Main Street Rag Sensation, Nick Mamatas, PM Press Love/Imperfect, Christopher T. Leland, Wayne State University Press Funeral for a Dog, Thomas Pletzinger, WW Norton Events Film Cannot Withstand, Zach Savich, Rescue Press At Home Anywhere, Mary Hoffman, New Rivers Press American Fiction: The Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Authors, Volume 11, Kristen J. Tsetsi, editor, New Rivers Press This New and Poisonous Air: Stories, Adam McOmber, BOA Editions Death-in-a-Box, Alta Ifland, Subito Press Halal Pork and Other Stories, Cihan Kaan, UpSet Press The Cosmopolitans, Nadia Kalman, Livingston Press/University of West Alabama Calendar of Regrets, Lance Olsen, FC2/University of Alabama Press The Wonderful Room, Bryan Woolley, Wings Press Color Plates, Adam Golaski, Rose Metal Press 3/03, Chuck Wachtel, Hanging Loose Press The Underbelly, Gary Phillips, PM Press Pike, Benjamin Whitmer, PM Press Yield, Lee Houck, Kensington Books Fort Da, Elisabeth Sheffield, FC2 We Know What We Are, Mary Hamilton, Rose Metal Press How We Move the Air, Garnett Kilberg-Cohen, Mayapple Press Dream Fishing: Stories, Scott Ely, Livingston Press Under the Small Lights, John Cotter, Miami University Press In the Time of the Girls, Anne Germanacos, BOA Editions Attention Please Now: Stories, Matthew Pitt, Autumn House The Kasahara School of Nihilism, Ben Brooks, Fugue State Press Robot 9 in Wonderland, Louis Phillips, World Audience The Rat Veda, James Chapman, Fugue State Press Flashing My Shorts, Salvatore Buttaci, All Things That Matter Press (pdf copy) Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows, Leslie Scalapino, Starcherone Books Bartleby, the Sportscaster, Ted Pelton, Subito Press From the Hilltop, Toni Jensen, Bison Books University of Nebraska Press The River Road, Tricia Currans-Sheehan, New Rivers Press