New Books in Poetry: If Men, Then by Eliza Griswold

if men then by eliza griswold

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Eliza Griswold about her book If Men, Then (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020).

Eliza Griswold writes in Snow in Rome, “we hate being human,/depleted by absence.” In her latest poetry collection, If Men, Then (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), Griswold grapples with a world that is fracturing at its foundation. In this series of poems, all at once dark. humorous and questioning, the author moves from the familiar to the unjust to hope with a keen eye. She guides readers through a world that at times strips the humanness from our bones with embedded violence and disconnection, but also calls for us to reconnect by reminding us to be a bridge out among the flames.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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New Books in Poetry: Soft Science by Franny Choi

Soft Science by Franny Choi
Author photo by Graham Cotten.

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a delightful conversation with Franny Choi about her new book Soft Science (Alice James Books 2019).

Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.

Here is a little snippet from our discussion, in which Choi discusses the idea of speaking for the voiceless:

Early in my writing career, I was really struck by the concept of being a voice for the voiceless. I think this has to do with being a young activist kid and realizing that having the ability to write and speak in a way that moved people was a privilege, and [I had] a desire to use that privledge for good. I think not that long after I encountered this concept it started to feel icky to want to speak for people that have mostly been called voiceless but aren’t — and [it became] much more important to highlight those voices rather than speaking for them. 

For someone who is politically minded and writer and is interested in the craft of persona work, I think it makes for a difficult space to know how to operate in, you know. So, I think that the ways I’ve tried to — at least in this book — manage that have been to kind of relocate the voiceless as a populace within myself, like what are the parts of me that feel unspoken for or unable to explain themselves through normal language. There’s a lot that is unspeakable within all of us. For me, I feel my job as a poet is to try to use poetry to use poetry to navigate those spaces.

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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My Ten Favorite Poetry Books from 2019

As I mentioned top ten fiction books list, I read 55 books in 2019 — of these 26 were collections of poetry. This large uptick in poetry reading is largely impacted by the spotlight and podcast interviews that I’ve been putting out over the past year.

I’ve read so many amazing poetry books last year and I hate to leave any one out — but sometimes a collection just resonate with where your at in any given moment. These are some of the poetry books and chapbooks that spoke to me this year (in no particular order).

 

Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade

Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade (Aqueduct Press)

As the title suggests, Mary Shelley does indeed make a monster, crafting it out of the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Abandoned and alone after her death, the monster searches for someone to fill her place. Its journey carries it across continents and time, visiting other female authors throughout the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. These poems are a beautifully moving examination of the eccentricities of authors and how monsters reflect ourselves.

 

Locus by Jason Bayani

Locus by Jason Bayani (Omnidawn)

Drawing on his heritage and cultural experience, Bayani delves into the fragmented identities of Pilipinx Americans. Blending memoir and lyricism and inspired by hip-hop and DJ culture, these poems do powerful work in recovering the voices of silenced communities, reflecting on the importance of family and history in understanding oneself. (Podcast interview.)

 

Brute by Emily Skaja

Brute by Emily Skaja (Graywolf Press)

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s Brute is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors found at the end of an abusive relationship. Her poetry considers the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences — ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention. One of the many things I love about this collection is the way the poems reflect the present moment — ripe of cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other — while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairy tale world just waiting to eat her up. (Podcast interview.)

 

Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan

Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Porkbelly Press)

This chapbook of poems about taxidermy dives into the liminal space between the living and dead, exploring the nature of body down to the bone. Footnotes intricately offer additional layers to the poetry, providing an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation. (Spotlight interview.)

 

Oculus by Sally Wen Mao

Oculus by Sally Wen Mao (Graywolf Press)

Pop culture blends with technology to examine how we reveal ourselves, how we see each other, and the power structures involved in who gets to tell the story. One series of poems is written from the perspective of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, who time travels her way through the history and future of cinema. Through the eyes of Wong, Mao considers the portrayals of Asian characters in movies, from Bruce Lee to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sixteen Candles. (Podcast interview.)

 

As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams

As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams (Orison Books)

The poems in this collection present a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. Newspaper-like columns of prose poetry in his work provide a social critique of violence in American culture, while working within the boundaries of self, family, and the natural world. The book permeates an apocalyptic tension, but what makes it so great is the way in which his poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope. (Podcast interview.)

 

Death by Sex Machine by Franny Choi

Death by Sex Machine by Franny Choi (Sibling Rivalry Press)

In this stunning chapbook, Choi examines her own experience as a queer Asian American femme through the lens of robots, androids, and AI. There’s a beautiful combination of hard science and tender intimacy expressed in her lyrical work as she delves into what it means to have a body.

 

The Devil's Dreamland Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger

The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger (Rooster Republic)

Horror poetry can be profoundly chilling. Tantlinger’s collection blends fact and supposition to relate the life and times of the man thought to be America’s first serial killer. The poems are individually visceral, while coming together as a whole to provide a fascinating narrative arc. (Podcast interview.)

 

all this can be yours by Isobel O'Hare

all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare (University of Hell Press)

O’Hare uses erasure poetry (the act of erasing or crossing out another text to discover a poem) as a dynamic tool to reexamine a multitude of celebrity sexual assault apologies that came out during the #MeToo movement. These poems are fierce explorations of how the men (and some women) making these apologies try to evade their own culpability. (Podcast interview.)

 

Citizen An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press)

This justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The prose poetry and essay styles combined with art make for a powerful and necessary read.

What were some of your favorite poems, poets, or poetry books from last year?


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New Books in Poetry: Ready for the World by Becca Klaver

Ready for the World by Becca Klaver

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Becca Klaver about her book Ready for the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2020).

Becca Klaver writes in the poem ‘Hooliganism Was the Charge,’ It offered reassurance which said, “You are not alone; I can hear you.” Her forthcoming collection, Ready for the World (Black Lawrence Press 2020), reminds us that no matter the digital distance between us we are never quite alone. A collection that both casts and dispels the bindings ever present via social media, patriarchy, and our own paths to growth, this collection allows readers to blur the lines between our sometimes carefully curated online lives and the magical beings we truly are.

Part spell book and a rumination on technology, Klaver explores womanhood and feminism from a distance and up close. These poems ask for us to find a remembrance and a reconnecting. She asks in the poem ‘Manifesto of the Lyric Selfie,’ what is burning in our little hearts?, and dares us to tear down what we think we know to find what we feel.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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New Books in Poetry: BRUTE by Emily Skaja

BRUTE by Emily Skaja

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a delightful conversation with Emily Skaja about her new book BRUTE (Graywolf Press, 2019).

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s BRUTE (Graywolf Press, 2019) is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors of trauma found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention. These poems reflect the present moment — ripe with cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other — while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairytale world.

Skaja recommends: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Russel, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden, and Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine.

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

You can join New Books in Poetry in a discussion of this episode on Shuffle by joining here.


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