Apr 30 2015

Books completed in April 2015

1. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
2. Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
3. Blue, poems by George Elliott Clarke
4. Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
5. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
6. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan
7. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
8. One Hundred Years of Solitude (audio book) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9. wingless, scorched & beautiful (chapbook) by Allie Marini Batts
10. how i live now (audio book) by Meg Rosoff

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić, Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone, poetry by Annelyse Gelman, and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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Apr 24 2015

Chapbook Review: wingless, scorched & beautiful by Allie Marini Batts

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wingless, scorched & beautiful by Allie Marini Batts (on FB and Goodreads)
Publisher: Imaginary Friends Press
Date Published: March 2015

“if, in April,
the seeds planted in your scapulas
fail to bloom into wings

at least learn to love falling—
— from “Boneseeds”

The ten poems in wingless, scorched and beautiful delve into the dark corridors of women’s lives and bodies. These are women who have made mistakes, crawled through the muck, endured, and returned scarred but with renewed strength.

At first glance, a reader might perceive these poems as gloomy, but here death and rebirth dance with each other in cyclical pirouettes and hope comes back around eventually. For example, in the opening poem “Boneseeds,” the act of crashing down transitions through catastrophe into flight, while “breeding, trumpet flowers out of the dead ash” reveals how life — both plant vines and oneself — can labor to come back from destruction.

In “Her Intentions Are,” the “you” of the poem is a woman broken down by abuse, her shame and devastation revealed public on a city street corner. Her “every clinging breath is futility” and her “tears are scented and boiling with the stink of desperation”. The imagery, such as wolves and women in battle armor, evokes a feeling of folklore that reflects the inner forests in which she struggles. Though no happily ever afters are on the horizon, the poem culminates in the ability to rise up and continue living.

Female sexuality and how it is twisted and commodified is discussed in the poems “Pussy Pass” and “high art”. The first expresses rage at the entitlement of men, who expect their advances to be granted with ready sex — “every man who thinks sex is a gumball that’s owed to them / after putting two nice-guy coins into the girl-machine”. Meanwhile, the second explores the nature of art, noting “soft filters / don’t make disenfranchised body parts / any less than pornographic.” For me, “high art” suggests that art is a mirror, reflecting both truth and lies that are determined by consensus of the beholders.

Each of the poems collected here is powerful, revealing its own mixture of beauty, strength, and pain. Multiple readings of these poems unveil new layers of meaning and I suggest downloading the collection, which is available free online, and spending time with each one.

“…poor things, they
can’t see that I am
dead inside, numb to their
ether, the drug they smell on me is
freedom, they want to taste it like
ginger, a sweet and hot burn.”

— from “Vampire Boys” (note: not original formatting)

If wingless, scorched & beautiful proves to not be enough for you, never fear. Batts has released two other collections this year — another chapbook, Pictures From The Center Of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, March 2015), and a full length collection, Before Fire: Divorce Poems (ELJ Publications, 2015). Based on the strength of wingless, scorched & beautiful, I would recommend either of these collections as a good way to spend your money in support of the poet.


Apr 17 2015

Book Love: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Description from Goodreads: “Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.”

I have a secret affinity for Westerns or, more accurately, I love the idea of Westerns — although I don’t often read or watch them.

My interest is closely connected with my love for folklore and mythology and the ways modern storytellers break it apart and shape it anew. There is a myth of the American Wild West, often based almost on the image of lonely, noble white cowboys standing up against the dangers of a lawless land. I can understand the appeal of figures like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok and the characters portrayed by John Wayne. Although, I’m more partial to the female versions, seen in Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. I love cowgirls and will be immediately drawn to any story that has women facing the Wild West on their own terms, even not-great movies, like Bad Girls.

I come to this interest in Westerns with the full knowledge that this mythology is deeply problematic, erasing and villainizing the image of POC, particularly Native Americans. It’s a mythology to be tangled with carefully, with room for dismantling, and approached with reservation, oodles of research, and a sense of inclusion.

One of the things that drew me to Under the Painted Sky was not only the diversity of the main characters — Sammy is Chinese and Andy is black — but the fact that they disguise themselves as boys to make their road safer. I loved both of these girls, how they faced their fears and strove for their own freedom. They both have skills and knowledge of their own and learn a lot from each other. Their bond of friendship is powerful, as strong as sisterhood by the end, and I loved the mutual respect they had for each other.

“You miss being a girl? I ask her.

Not as much as I thought I would. Just feels like when I’m being a boy, I can cut a wider path.”

The trope Under the Painted Sky most clearly breaks from is the image of the lone noble cowboy image/hero image. Instead of solitude, the story presents the strength of community and the power of being backed by the family you choose. On the road, Sammy and Andy meet three young cowboys — two from Texans and one Mexican — who join them on their journey to California and teach them some cattle wrangling skills. The interactions between the five characters are often hilarious, and the author does a great job of showing how their friendship blossoms into complete trust.

Under the Painted Sky is sometimes thrilling, sometimes touching, and often funny. It had me staying up way to late so that I could finish it. A fantastic debut and a wonderful read from Stacey Lee. I’ll be looking out for more work by her.


Apr 3 2015

Big Poetry Giveaway 2015

bigpoetrygiveaway2015

In honor of Natinal Poetry Month, Kelli Rusell Agodon hosts the Great Poetry Giveaway every year over on her blog, where you can find links to others who are taking part in giving away poetry books. Every participant is required to give away two books of poetry, one of their own and one by a favorite poet.

To participate in my giveaway here, just post a comment with your name and email address included. Please also let me know your first choice, if you win.

Book One: Cedar Toothpick: The Tomboy Diaries

Cedar Toothpick“Cedar Toothpick is a book of nutshell poetry, written by Stefan Lorenzutti (that’s me) and illustrated by Laurent Le Deunff. I tell the story of backwoods gamine Tomboy, one thimble-sized poem at a time,” wrote Lorenzutti during his kickstarter campaign.

“Each poem is a description of a diorama, such as one finds in ethnographic or natural history museums—bell-jar spaces in which wolves, frozen in time, thread soundlessly through twilit forest; and wigwam inhabitants, cross-legged and ringed round their storyteller, shiver as the wind outside rattles frame of shelter.

The poems in Cedar Toothpick describe 27 diorama scenes through which Tomboy passes over the course of a witching hour and the following day.

There are two important sounds overlapping in Cedar Toothpick: the whisper of Tomboy’s moccasin footfall on pine needle; and the squeak of ancient parquet, as the reader meanders up and down the labyrinthine hallways of this nonexistent ethnographic museum, pressing his or her nose up to the glass of each Tomboy poem.”

This is a lovely little collection of poetry with beautiful illustrations, which I wrote more about in a previous post. I’m really happy to be able to share this with another poetry lover.

Book Two: The 2013 Rhysling Anthology

Edited by John C. Mannone.

“In January 1978, Suzette Haden Elgin founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association, along with its two visible cornerposts: the association’s newsletter, Star*Line, and the Rhysling Awards. Nominees for the 2013 Rhysling Award are selected by the membership of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Each member is allowed to nominate one work in each of two categories: ‘Best Long Poem’ and ‘Best Short Poem.’ All nominated works must have been published during 2012. The anthology allows the membership to easily review and consider all nominated works without the necessity of obtaining the diverse number of publications in which the nominated works first appeared and serves as a showcase of the best science fiction, fantasy and horror poetry of 2012. The Rhysling Anthology is available to anyone with an interest in this unique compilation of verse from some of the finest poets in the field of science fiction, fantasy and horror poetry.” (Description from Goodreads.)

This collection features poems by amazing poets, such as Catherynne M. Valente, Jane Yolen, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back, Sandra Kasturi, Amal El-Mohtar, Theodora Goss, Rose Lemberg, and oodles more.

It also, I must humbly add, includes my short poem, “Red Riding Hood Remembers.”

* * *

The giveaway ends on April 30th at midnight, at which point I will use a random number generator to select the winners.

You can find others who are giving away poetry listed here.

Good luck! And Happy National Poetry Month!

 


Apr 2 2015

Books Finished in March

1. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
2. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
3. Paladin of Souls (audio book) by Lois McMaster Bujold
4. The White Darkness (audio book) by Geraldine McCaughrean
5. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
6. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
7. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
8. Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and Blue, poetry by George Elliott Clarke

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