Jul 31 2014

Poetry Chapbook Review: TEN by Val Dering Rojas

Book Cover: Ten by Val Dering Rojas

TEN by Val Dering Rojas
Publisher: Dancing Girl Press
Date Published: 2014

ONE.
I think
if he tried,
I would crumble
like the iridescent shell
of a beetle.

Val Dering Rojas’ TEN consists of ten long poems alongside ten mini-poems that explores the inner working of body and soul through the out workings of color and texture. The ten mini poems act as a form of chapter headings in between each of the longer pieces, providing a framework for the chapbook. Read together, all in one go, these mini-poems provide a poem of their own, which unveils a personal journey, from a place of a place of disconnecting from emotional wounding to a sense of inner calm, a spiritual awareness. As interjections, the mini-poems share thematic progression with the longer pieces.

In “An Instance of Affliction,” a medicine cabinet is contemplated, an “axis of obsolete / streets, old razors roads.” The medicine cabinet, the objects within, and the reflection in the mirror fade behind an deeper reflection. The material world itself becomes metaphor for personal experience.

“How To Leave” expresses the unpacking and dismantling of the meaning love with “its utopian tongue”, expressing both how love fails us and also all the things (objects and feelings) that must be left behind. “Love can’t be found / in these humble jars of honey, / in these everyday teaspoons.” At the same time, there is what remains in the leaving: “You are packing yourself up in bags, // stuffing yourself in boxes.” What do we have in the ending of a relationship, but ourselves? The objects (clothing, books, toiletries, towels, bedding), which gets stuffed into bags and boxes, become representative of the self. And yet, the poem, shows how the things we tell ourselves in leaving (“I hate love” or that “love / doesn’t know any truth at all”) are either lies or, at the least, half truths, because feeling, love, emotion lingers.

The progression of the poems eventually lead the reader to realize that the self is enough. In “While Alone at Topanga Thrift,” the narrator explores the feeling of space while discovering objects in a thrift store: “It occurs to me / that most things are made / to be filled; even now, / these old red dough-bowls / brim with sun.” As with the rest of the poems, it’s easy to relate the outer objects to the inner realm. The imagery of a tiny teacup or a ginger jar becomes moving and beautiful metaphor.

EIGHT.
I can’t let you
see me cry,
but if you’d like,
I’ll tell you a sad story.

I’ve returned to these poems several times in the course of reading them, each time discovering something new — a turn of phrase to fall in love with, a deeper meaning to latch onto. Each poem is shown to be lovelier and more evocative each time I read it. All told, a lovely. wonderful collection and I hope to be able to read a full length book from Val in the near future.

Note: A review copy of TEN was provided by the author, whom i consider a friend. Take this review with as much of a grain of salt to taste.


Jul 14 2014

Lifting Our Voices to the Moon

Last Friday night was lovely. I attended Glowing with the Moon, an open mic hosted by my amazing, wonderful poet friend, Lorenz Dumuk. Lorenz is an amazing poet and one of the kindest, most generous-hearted people I know.

The night included a mix of featured poets and open mic participants with a variety of styles, including Yvette McDonald, Lindsey Leong, Scorpiana Xlynn, and others. The out pouring of words as the sky darkened into night was wonderful.

Q&A also performed a couple of sets. The musical duo is comprised of Quynh Nguyen and Alice D. Chen. They play a mixture of covers and original music in a style that is sweet and slightly eerie. They don’t have a website or facebook page that I can link to yet, but they have definitely made a groupie of me.

Lorenz presented several lovely counterparts to the mixture of spoken word and music:

  • He asked everyone to participate in a salt-art table, to draw out our dreams or what we’re looking to let go off in salt, then to sweep it into a bag, which he will later take and return to the ocean.
  • At another point, he asked everyone to stand up and greet a stranger, saying our name, what we hoped to call to ourselves, and what fears we wanted to let go of — the result was an opening up to someone new, perhaps letting in a little vulnerability along the way.
  • Since it was that kind of night, Lorenz also asked us to close our eyes and listen to the wind singing in hushed tones in the trees around us.

I don’t know that I can properly explain how grounding and wonderful a night Friday was and what a great community these artists and poets are. I find myself sometimes longing for community of this kind, a creatively charged group casting their words into the world (I do have my Writing Gang, though life has intervened making it hard for us to gather). Such kinds of communities makes me feel alive to words.

As I usually do after such an event, I went home and threw some words down on a poem I’ve been working on for a while. There’s going to be another open mic at Iguanas in San Jose on Thursday. My goal is to finish this poem in time to read it at the Thursday open mic, which is intimidating since this poem makes me feel vulnerable writing it, let alone reading it out loud to others.

I hope everyone is having a lovely week, full of creativity and joy.


Jun 24 2014

Poetry Review: Hum by Jamaal May

Hum by Jamaal May

Hum by Jamaal May
Publisher: Alice James Books
Date Published: November 2013

Description: “In May’s debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next.”

I admit to being drawn to this collection because of the gorgeous cover and its steampunk robot with a birdcage head, which immediately sparked my imagination. The physical book itself is also beautiful, with a lovely typeset. A smattering of dark pages, each for a “phobia” poem (such as Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored”), appear throughout the book, starting out black at first then lightening toward softer grays. It’s an interesting way to highlight a set of associated poems and there’s a subtle effect to reading words with white text on a dark page that suits the “phobia” poems. For example, reading “Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored” on one of the rare black pages in the books creates an interesting contrast between text and the physical page.

Hum is dedicated to “to the inner lives of Detroiters.” When I think of Detroit these days, I picture photo essays that show the city in seemingly apocalyptic states of decay. May’s poems reflect this state of everyday apocalypse. “Still Life” presents a “Boy with roof shingles / duct taped to shins and forearms / threading barbed wire through pant loops” as well as other trash can armor in the face of what seems to be a wasteland. While in “The Girl Who Builds Rockets from Bricks,” a girl wanders in “the caverns of deserted houses,” performing “her excavation for spare parts: // shards of whiskey bottle, matches, / anthills erupting from concrete // seams, the discarded husk / of a beetle.”

{C} Continue reading


Jun 9 2014

Joys, travels, poetry, and other doings

A lot has been going on over the past couple of weeks since I last posted, so I’m going to sum things up in list format (in order of importance, rather than chronology) to make things easier on myself. I still have to do my book and movie round up for May, but that’ll come tomorrow probably.

– The biggest announcement by far is the birth of my nephew. The Monster (my niece) is being adorable around him, very gentle and loving so far. I can’t even express what a joy it is to welcome this tiny little person into the family.

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– I also turned 34 years old in the past two weeks (on May 26 to be exact), and a Happy New Year to me. A gentleman recently told my friend that she should count her birthday as the true new year, since it announces another new year of her life. I love that, and it seems like a perfect time to reassess life, the universe, and everything. With all that’s been happening, I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but I’m planning to think about taking a serious look at my goals this week. It so happened that my birthday was marked by…

– getting rather sick. Oh the joys of coughs and runny noses, just as I’m launching into…

– a two week work trip, involving two conferences and an industrial plant visit. Travels took me to Detroit, West Michigan, and Montreal. There was a lot of work and a lot of trying to rest in order to recover from being sick, so I didn’t do much touring, except for two beautiful days in Montreal. I let my feet carry me around the city to here and there, exploring Old Town and other areas of the city center. It was beautiful out and I’d like to have more time to explore Montreal properly in the future.

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Montreal with the Parc du Mont-Royal in the background.

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Inside the Basilica of Notre Dame in Montreal.

– Being in Montreal, I had to go see Cirque du Soleil. It was a bigger expense than I had planned, but Kurios is a steampunk inspired show, so I couldn’t resist. They did a marvelous job with the aesthetic and it fit really well into the acrobat sequences. The first half, in particular, was astounding in beauty and stunts. The second half had a few weird bits that I didn’t get, but it didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment. Kurios is my favorite of all the Soleil shows I’ve seen.

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Inside the Cirque du Soleil: Kurios tent. The show had an awesome steampunk aesthetic.

– I came home to two poetry pretties in my mailbox — the lovely TEN chapbook by Val Dering Rojas (which I received from the author) and Live From The Homesick Jamboree by Adrian Blevins (which I received as part of a poetry giveaway). I’m looking forward to reading both!!

 – Two contributor’s copies of the Strange Frenzies anthology also arrives. The anthology includes my poem, “Comfort At Last.” A wonderful surprise.


May 14 2014

Poetry Review: Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty

Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty

Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty
Publisher: Aldrich Books
Date Published: April 2014

“You wish you had coined the word zaftig;
that you were OK with abdomens
that hung over bikini bottoms.”
— from “Zaftig Profiling”

Practicing Disaster is collection of narrative poetry presenting  an exploration of ordinary lives. These are people you could meet on the street, from the a sixteen-year-old hotel maid to a short order cook to any number of strangers you might meet on the street. For example, in “Eating at Work,” an employee travels further and further afield in search of lunchtime solitude. While in “Some Basic Consumer Math,” the owners of a Chinese restaurant tailor their food for their most loyal customers, all from the retirement home nearby, making their Sa-Cha chicken “about as mild as the contents / of a store bought spaghetti sauce.”

Some of the prose poems, in which thought condenses into thought, are among my favorites. They allow a free flow feel of the poem, different from the lined sister poems. In “I was 36″, the narrator describes her first experience getting a pedicure, remembering the same sloughing off of her grandmother’s feet. In that youthful remembering is the memory of childhood discovery and the “lesson in not going through other people’s personal affects”, and just as one can “flake off the dead skin” there is the feeling of flaking off the past.

“The Patient” also explores time passing, like the dropping of green beans into a bucket or the beeping of machines: “The doctor uses the word / aphasia / I focus on the center— / a phase / a moment.” The disjointed, jigsaw pattern of the words on the page (which I couldn’t possibly replicate here) matched the disjointed experience of a patient in the hospital, as well as the way the past jumps forward and seems to collide and become a part of the present.

In the titular poem, a women plays with the idea of disaster on her commute, imagining “overpasses from her car could spill like ink in blotchy slow motion,” and how she might shape catastrophe to set herself free. Knowing the trapped feeling of the commute, I can sympathize with the narrator, have even practiced a few of my own disasters.

Many of these poems reflect similar kinds of personal experience, even if they are outside us (as though we are people watching at a corner cafe). As a reader, there a sense of Yes, me, too; I’ve felt the same. Reading “Zaftig Profiling” (quoted at the top), I also wished I had coined the word zaftig, that I could, as mentioned later in the poem, laugh loudly in mixed company.

At first glance, what’s revealed in these poems could be described as mundane, bits of ordinary lives normally passed over or cast away as unimportant. The narrative voice of these poems, likewise, is straightforward, seemingly plain. However, this initial impression is deceiving. I’ve read through this collection twice now and have made new discoveries on each read, subtleties of voice and thought I hadn’t noticed the first go around. There are layers of humor, breaths of poignancy, beautiful discoveries.

Edited to Add: I should probably note that I received a free review copy from the author.