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Let’s say the lyric poet, among many definitions, is also a kind of translator, at least that she faces a similar challenge: the task of rendering in one tongue some experience beforehand first articulated, first heard, in another. But where the translator pivots between at least two culturally recognized languages, the lyric poet moves no less complexly between, say, interior and exterior idioms, between the image and the imagination, or between the just-at-first private articulations of her intellectual and emotional self, for which no perfect language exists, and into this thing called “English,” called “grammar,” or a “poem.” Who knows? Though we do know that any such crossings as I’ve described must probably reveal, unless we labor not to see it, the gaps between, the imprecisions, the failures and silences, and thus also makes apparent the very real difficulty involved in such a project. The trick, though, is to make that difficulty sing. I’d say Camille Rankine, in Incorrect Merciful Impulses, her debut collection, sings the point succinctly and, for that, most profoundly when she writes: “I am trying to tell you / something but my mouth / won’t move” (from “On the Motion of Animals”). (more…)

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David St. John chose a fitting title for Larry Levis’ posthumous collection: The Darkening Trapeze. Most of these terrifying yet dazzling poems were written in the last two years before his unexpected death in 1996, at the age of forty-nine. The title phrase is pulled from “Elegy with a Darkening Trapeze inside it” which is one of two Elegy poems that were not included in Levis’ 1997 posthumous collection, Elegy. In the afterward, the editor of The Darkening Trapeze, David St. John, explains that Levis was inspired by the film auteur Federico Fellini, whose movies such as La Strada, often feature the circus. (more…)

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In these erasure poems, Collier Nogues presents oblique, redolent lines that contain and complicate the ghostlike traces left behind from original historical documents. Nogues has created a beautiful, haunting piece of work with The Ground I Stand on Is Not My Ground, winner of the inaugural Drunken Boat Poetry Book Contest.

You can read Nogues’s poems as simply the appearance of inviting, enigmatic words on a page. But you can also read them while moving your finger or your cursor over the offered lines, in this way interacting with the text as you reveal as well as conceal the primary texts on which the poems are based. (more…)

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Before Donald Trump began his march to the White House, before he had his own line of clothing, and before he had his own television show, he was simply a real- estate mogul, setting up casino after casino in Atlantic City. Before Trump dug his grubby paws into the sand, though, Atlantic City was a place of fortune tellers and food stands, a place where families could go for a day or a week to get away from their lives in the New Jersey and Philadelphia suburbs. Louis Greenstein’s debut novel, Mr. Boardwalk (New Door Books, 2014) chronicles that time, when things at least seemed simpler—not counting the racial politics that are glossed over by the suburbanites, narrator of the novel included.

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 The first thing you need to know is that I’m not Chinese.
My name is Raymond Wong and I stopped being Chinese
at the age of five.

And so begins Raymond Wong’s touching account of his own coming of age as a Chinese American. I’m Not Chinese is part memoir, part travelogue, part lyric essay, and it is entirely warm and moving. Wong takes us with him on his journey from resentment to openness and insight, and his is a book that, while appearing at first unassuming, is, we come to realize, thick with humor and understanding.

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Vanessa Blakeslee’s short story collection, Train Shots (Burrow Press, 2014), gives you a little pause. True to the title, the breaths between stories are like the pauses in between downing shots.

Blakeslee is not afraid to end things on a suspenseful note, and I still find myself wondering about the fates of some of the characters.  For example, Layla in “Barbecue Rabbit” kept me up at night, wondering about her and her unhappy, psychopathic son, Ethan. The ending  gives such a rush. Without spoilers, let’s just say I wonder how many people wind up getting listed in the police report. It is rare to find an author who creates characters that stay with you so vividly once the book is closed.

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In her collection of poems, Reports (New Rivers Press, 2013), Kathryn Levy presents a distillation of hurt, regret, and wonder. This is verse that eschews sentiment. These poems toss aside pat notions of speaker and story, offering up instead imperative, Delphic pronouncements in clipped, syncopated lines that exhibit a charged urgency. Reports reads like telegraphic shorthand:

I have to get back—she can’t

rest tonight

—unless I return

and embrace her

(from “Got to Get Back”)

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In her debut novel Mosh It Up, Mindela Ruby proves that she’s done her time in mosh pits. She knows what it means to be loud, fast, and punk and Ruby’s characters are alive with this same energy.

Mosh It Up is about Boop, a San Francisco punk of the punk-revival 1990s, when “real” punks acted curmudgeonly because bands like Green Day were rocketing to success while the real punks continued to play dingy basements and do drugs in dirty bathrooms.

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For the first few months of a job—maybe a year—you feel you have a great thing, until the boredom, the stagnation, the frustration, the repetitiveness sets in. You want out, but it is also your livelihood. You feel hinged between two places, and the powerlessness of it all, until you make that big decision to let it go.

Gary Beck’s collection, Songs of a Clerk (Winter Goose Publishing, 2014), hearkens back to those moments of job dissatisfaction I have experienced, yet in reading this collection, I travel back vicariously, enjoying the journey with Beck.

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Noel Sloboda’s collection, Our Rarer Monsters (Sunnyoutside, 2013), gives voice to the monsters, misfits, outcasts, and bit players of literature in poems that are funny, insightful, and sometimes, a bit heartbreaking at the core. Our Rarer Monsters appeals to fans of fairy tales, mythology, Shakespeare, and of course, monsters. The book is a slim volume of poems and short narratives that explore what is monstrous and what is human and the places where those elements intersect. (more…)

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