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Posts Tagged ‘fearless poetry exploration challenge’

Sonics in Warholia, shortlisted for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, is an intriguing poetry collection that pushes the boundaries.  It straddles the line between prose and poetry and is structured like a series of essays.  Chock full of pop culture references, it is a letter from Megan Volpert to Andy Warhol.

I have to be honest and say that Sonics in Warholia wasn’t my cup of tea.  At times it felt like Volpert was trying too hard to be edgy, and there was a lot of what seemed to me to be nonsensical rambling.  And I’ve actually read novels with more poetic language and imagery.  But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to appreciate Volpert’s writing.  In fact, there were some passages that I thought were brilliant, mostly when the narrator moves away from the chatter about Andy Warhol and reveals more about herself.

I see myself, and therefore am not quite myself. The camera is here somewhere, a sturdy ladder and a bird’s sharp eye patched with electrical tape. A direction to act natural is impossible to obey, everything having an out of control seemingness. (from “Recurring Fear of Flat Champagne,” page 52)

The poem that stood out the most for me was “Dear Diary of a Dead Man’s Telephone Number,” in which the narrator has two of Andy Warhol’s old phone numbers and debates dialing them. What starts off as somewhat amusing soon becomes quite sad. Her brother was killed, and she waits until his birthday to dial his old cell phone.

Two rings brings a simple hello in a south Louisiana twang belonging to a young man just like so many times before that I believe through some kind of phone voodoo I am listening to my Lazarus. (page 36)

I think my enjoyment of these poems was clouded by my lack of knowledge about Andy Warhol, aside from what I learned about him in a college Art History course, and the fact that most of the pop culture references went right over my head. Although I enjoy narrative poetry, I think these prose poems are too heavy on the prose for my tastes.

However, the more I revisit Sonics in Warholia, the more I am able to find passages that grab my attention and speak to me. Maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to read these poems, and I honestly think I just didn’t get what Volpert was trying to accomplish. Even so, Sonics in Warholia is a collection I won’t soon forget, one that underscores the diversity among poets and poetic forms.

Short List - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 7 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Sonics in Warholia from Sibling Rivalry Press as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Beyond the Scent of Sorrow, shortlisted for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, is a collection of poems that aims to bring awareness to issues with which women worldwide struggle.  Sweta Srivastava Vikram mainly focuses her writing here on women and nature, going so far as to state in the preface that the goal of the collection is to compare the plight of women to the destruction of the once revered eucalyptus tree.

Vikram’s poetry touches upon such themes as rape and other forms of violence against women, poverty, discrimination, loss, and grief, with many poems depicting the suffering that women endure at the hands of men.

God was seen residing in me once,
just like the tree.
With time, death listens
to the voices of unholy men sitting
on the tip of tongues
satiating desires. (from “Unholy Men,” page 5)

What can I say to a man
who eats pleas for dinner and calls me
the fungus destroying the root of our family’s tree!

Dark are letters that sit on the tip of my tongue.
To climb the mountain of your dreams,
you sent my son to serve the nation, he came back as ashes. (from “Loss,” page 19)

While I mostly enjoyed the imagery and could feel the pain and sorrow in these poems, sometimes they felt preachy and a little too much. However, I think that’s to be expected in a collection in which every poem centers on the same theme. Maybe if I’d read a poem here and there instead of all of them at once, it might not have felt so overwhelming, so stifling. Also, I think my inability to really relate to the poems — coming from a relatively privileged background compared to the women depicted in the poems and not having experienced such oppression and loss myself — may have impacted my reading.

Regardless, Beyond the Scent of Sorrow is a thought-provoking collection of poems, one that aims to empower women and give those without a voice a chance to be heard. Moreover, Vikram stresses that “pro-woman doesn’t mean anti-man” and even dedicates the book to her grandfather. Vikram’s poetry is emotional and powerful, and she exemplifies how the written word can be used to raise awareness about important issues and to educate people in the hopes of sparking change.

Short List - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 6 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Beyond the Scent of Sorrow from Modern History Press as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems, shortlisted for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, is an emotional collection of poems.  The triptych, like the title suggests, focuses on three women:  Annette, a psychiatrist; Julia, her daughter; and Milena, one of her patients.  Emma Eden Ramos is a writer of both poetry and prose, and this shows in her narrative style.

With Three Women, I felt like I was reading a novel in verse.  Ramos tells a story about grief and family heritage, anger and suicide, and immigrant issues.  I like that Ramos doesn’t use flowery or abstract language and just tells the story.

We spoke our usual mother-daughter dialect
she cursed wildly
I eyed her with disgust
this rabid creature with my DNA
held hostage my distress
and we argued
she raged
it was about five minutes before she left me
in peace (page 7)

M: Hey, I say what I think. I don’t tip-toe like Americans.

J: What does that even mean? You don’t sound foreign.

M: Well I am, I’m Croatian. I actually wasn’t born here.

J: You sound American to me.

M: Well I came here when I was one.

J: So you were raised here, which, I think, makes you one of us. (page 25)

Following the triptych are three separate poems, my favorite of which was “Letter to Suicide (an old friend)”

We met first then
and
Later when Maribeth decided to go the Woolf way
(giant pebbles and all).
She had, after all, graduated with an English degree. (page 30)

Three Women is the kind of poetry book to read when you want a break from prose but don’t want to have to think too hard to decipher imagery and symbolism and just want to enjoy an interesting story.  I don’t think the “Selected Poems” were necessary to include, but they don’t detract from the triptych, which is the main focus.  And just because Ramos’ work is very accessible doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch.

What I enjoyed most about Three Women was the raw emotion displayed by the women.  I really felt their anger and their sadness.  I felt like I really got to know the characters, much more than I expected given the short length of the triptych.  If Ramos can pack that much emotion and that much characterization into a poem spanning about 30 pages, I wonder what she could do with a novel?

Please give a warm welcome to Emma Eden Ramos, who was kind enough to answer some questions about her writing, Three Women in particular, and her favorite poetry collections.

Could you tell my readers a little about yourself (your interests, writing, etc.)?

I am a twenty-four-year-old writer from New York City. I am also currently a student at Brooklyn College.

I’ve been writing since I was fifteen but only began seriously working on my craft in 2009. At that time I was majoring in Psychology, which has greatly influenced my writing.

Describe your poetry in 5 words or less.

Prose-like, semi-autobiographical, moody, character-based.

The poems in Three Women are very narrative, which I enjoyed. Do you prefer writing poetry or prose?

Poets and fiction writers tend to be very different creatures, especially when it comes to time and space. Many poets have the ability to obliterate the concept of time as linear movement (although there are fiction writers–Virginia Woolf for instance–who manipulate the bounds of temporal space). Poetry can exist in a space of its own. It does not have to be cohesive or even logical.

For me, however, working with a narrative structure that fits into a specific space and time is essential. So yes, when it comes to writing, prose is my preferred medium.

Why were the final three poems chosen to follow the triptych? I thought the triptych stood well on its own.

Originally I conceived the triptych to stand on its own, and it is still the main focus of the collection. The chapbook, however, needed to be a specific length, so I chose the final three poems because they expanded on some of the themes that were forefront in the triptych.

What are some of your favorite poetry collections?

I have many favorite poetry collections. To name a few: A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far by Adrienne Rich, Magnetic North by Linda Gregerson, Longing Distance by Sarah Hannah, Odes to Opposites by Pablo Neruda, and there are many others. One of my favorite novels is Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which consists of a poem of 999 lines written by the main character and a commentary on that poem by his eccentric neighbor. It’s a work of genius.

Any hints as to what you’re working on now?

I have a middle grade novella coming out from MuseItUp Publishing in September, and I am beginning to pick up bits and pieces of what will hopefully be a full-length novel. Fingers and all other flexible appendages are crossed. That may account for the difficulty I’m having typing.

Thanks, Emma! Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Indie Lit Awards. I wish you much success!

Short List - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 5 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems from the poet as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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What Looks Like an Elephant was the runner up in the 2011 Indie Lit Awards Poetry category and well deserving of that honor.  I must admit that a blurb on the back cover about the use of math and science language and metaphors intimidated me a bit, but there was no need to fear.  Edward Nudelman’s interest in math and science comes as no surprise, given he is a cancer research biologist, and his occupation clearly contributes to his desire and ability to observe the world around him and better enables him to transform these observations and insights into poetry.

In many ways, his keen observations about life reminded me of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows.  Nudelman’s narrative poems come to life, like in “Father’s Cobra,” which shows the curiosity of children in a scary sort of way.

Holding a heavy firearm evoked no feelings
of danger, just a twinge of guilt
and a heady sense of relief.
I looked straight into the barrel,
my hand nowhere near the trigger. (page 27)

There are poems about animals, like “Molly,” about putting a beloved, once energetic dog to sleep; relationships, like “Privileges,” a humorous poem about a wife’s gripes and a husband’s unwillingness to change; and youth and old age. I grew nostalgic when reading “On the T, Near Park Street,” remembering my days in Boston, my favorite city.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “One Way to Understand War.” In my mind, the flock of geese symbolized the beauty and romance of war in their ordered flight formations.

Admire their long graceful necks
twisting and bouncing off the ground.

Follow the geese with your eyes.
Watch them look back one last time,
re-form, and race out of view. (page 41)

Admittedly, there were poems that went right over my head, some of which included those science and math metaphors, but I could extract something — even the smallest nugget of understanding — from most of the poems.  I never expect to love every poem in a collection anyway.

What Looks Like an Elephant really drove home the point that you shouldn’t avoid poetry because you think it’s going to be too philosophical or too abstract.  If I’d passed over this collection, I would have missed out on Nudelman’s skilled use of imagery and (mostly) simple but effective language and his ability to churn up emotions and make me think about the natural world around me and my relationships within it.  I don’t take a scholarly approach to poetry; I just read the lines and see how they affect me.  There were many times while reading this book that I stopped to contemplate life in general or nodded emphatically over a shared experience, and personally, I believe that’s the best kind of poetry.

Runner Up - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 4 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of What Looks Like an Elephant from the poet as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Laurie Soriano’s poetry collection, Catalina, published by Lummox Press, was the unanimous choice of the voting members as the winner of the 2011 Indie Lit Awards in the Poetry category.  Catalina exemplifies everything I love in a poetry collection.  While I have no idea whether these poems are autobiographical, it certainly seems as though Soriano exposes her soul in these stanzas.  They affected me deeply with their heaviness and their beauty.

The poems are broken up into four sections, with the first two seeming to focus mainly on childhood.  In “Parents,” she paints a portrait of a troubled marriage, alcoholism, and abuse.

Then there was the drinking,
the reason we got hit
before bedtime, the reason we lay alone
shivering in our beds at unreasonable hours
hearing them murder each other, over and over,
leaving puddles of failure and self-pity
all over the living room. (page 21)

There is a haunting quality to the poems in which the narrator remembers her childhood, but the last two sections of the book focus on a happier time, when she is married with children.  Yet, emphasizing how the past never leaves us and has made us who we are, the moments of joy and becoming one with nature are contrasted with darker poems dealing with death.  Catalina takes readers on a journey as Soriano flees her childhood in Connecticut and embarks on a new life in California, the poems progressing from a painful time to one in which she has come to terms with things.

I think I loved Catalina so much because the poems spoke to me, and I could understand where she was coming from as she described a troubled childhood, falling in love, becoming a mother, and watching her children grow.  “Sweet Bean” is beautiful in its imagery as she describes her daughter’s transition from girl to woman.

The peaceful nipples wake up and announce
pinkly the parade of hormones is here,
the breasts bloom into little pillows,
your belly flattens, the waist carves itself,
and suddenly you have a colt’s legs,
big feet, and a supple back that someone
ought to paint a picture of. (page 72)

My favorite poem in the collection is “Impatiens,” in which the narrator tells her lover that she has met someone else, the man who would become her husband and the father of her children, and she describes him as a flower.  The poem is beautiful in its intensity, perfectly describing the beginnings of true love though it is written after they have already been together for years.  When you finish this poem, you know in your bones that her leaving this other man was the right thing to do and that somehow he understood.

The man is simple like the earth, loamy, radiant
and when my eyes behold his face,
the confident smooth masculine skin gives way
to the flashes of color that no one deserves
that are his eyes, flashing that way
because of me. (page 68)

Catalina has become my favorite contemporary poetry collection because I could relate to the experiences Soriano describes in these poems.  Soriano’s blend of narration and poetic language are perfect.  The poems are subtle, yet at the same time they are intense, intimate, and sensual.  The themes of love and loss, pain and joy, birth and death are ones we can all relate to, and her images are vivid yet never too much.  From here on out, whenever someone tells me they don’t read poetry because they can’t understand it or it doesn’t speak to them, I will encourage them to read this collection.

**The Indie Lit Awards poetry board had the opportunity to interview Laurie Soriano.  I hope you’ll take the time to check it out!**

Winner of the 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 3 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Catalina from Lummox Press as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards.  I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second Edition, 1997) edited by the late British poet Jon Silkin features poems from numerous poets who served on the front lines, some of whom were prophetic in predicting their own deaths in battle, giving a haunting quality to the verses.  There are poems translated from German, French, Italian, Russian, and Hebrew, and in the introduction, Silkin said he selected these based on the English versions.  He adds that the second edition was revised to include poems by women.  Silkin states that he chose the poems for the anthology based on what he deemed good, noting that “the reader will be correct in thinking that the more poems there are by a poet, the more highly I think of him (translated works excepted).” (page 74)

Before I discuss the poems, I want to say a few things about the introduction, which at 77 pages was the longest I’d come across in an anthology.  I admit to skimming and skipping because it was (sorry to say) boring, too heavily focused on the work of Wilfred Owen, and featured too much discussion of meter and form.  I did study meter and form in college, but these days I read poetry to simply enjoy the language and imagery and not think about how many beats there are per line.  Still, I can appreciate that Silkin included a wide range of poetic styles.  Moreover, since I took a course on the English Romantic Poets, I thought it was interesting how he made comparisons between the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the poetry of The Great War.

Looking at the list of poets included in the anthology, it’s obvious that Silkin is a fan of Edward Thomas, Edmund Blunden, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Isaac Rosenberg because of the number of their poems he included.  He also features the work of Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Rudyard Kipling, E.E. Cummings, D.H. Lawrence, Carl Sandburg, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, to name a handful.

There are so many poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry that it’s impossible to mention them all, but there are some common themes throughout the collection.  Religion and patriotism come to mind right away.  These poems also touch upon a soldier’s disillusionment and the sadness and the anger that rise to the surface when they begin to question why they are fighting.

I have been young, and now am not too old;
And I have seen the righteous forsaken,
His health, his honour and his quality taken.
This is not what we were formerly told. (from Edmund Blunden’s “Report on Experience,” page 113)

Common Form

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied. (from Rudyard Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War (1914-18),” page 136)

And after witnessing the effects of a gas attack:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. (from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” page 193)

In “Lament,” F.S. Flint writes about young men going off to war, but there is no excitement, no being gung-ho about going off to serve one’s country and fight the enemy.

The young men of the world
Are condemned to death.
They have been called up to die
For the crimes of their fathers. (page 147)

The shift from excitement at the beginning of the war to despair and anguish after they have seen fighting is best summed up in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Glory of Women,” which takes a harsh look at the patriotism on the home front.

You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace. (page 132)

But even the women soon feel the impact of the fighting and understand the senseless loss. May Wedderburn Cannan’s “Lamplight” is so sad in that war took away their hopes and dreams along with the men they loved.

We planned a great Empire together, you and I,
Bound only by the sea;
Now in the quiet of a chill Winter’s night
Your voice comes hushed to me
Full of forgotten memories: you and I
Dreamed great dreams of our futures in those days, (page 151)

Of course, no anthology of war poetry would be complete without a description of the horrors of the trenches and the lasting impact of all that the soldiers saw and did.

‘Well, as to that, the nastiest job I’ve had
Was last year on this very front
Taking the discs at night from men
Who’d hung for six months on the wire
Just over there.
The worst of all was
They fell to pieces at a touch.
Thank God we couldn’t see their faces;
They had gas helmets on…’ (from Richard Aldington’s “Trench Idyll,” page 143)

One of my favorite poems in this collection, Edgell Rickword’s “Winter Warfare,” personifies winter and the freeze that covered the trenches.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men, and lice. (page 139)

As in all wars, the mental and physical state of the veterans is an important consideration. The men did heroic things in battle, were courageous under fire, but war takes a toll and breaks these heroes down, and some cannot show how broken they are on the inside.

Where are they now, on state-doles, or showing shop-patterns
Or walking to town sore in borrowed tatterns
Or begged. Some civic routine one never learns.
The heart burns — but has to keep out of face how heart burns. (from Ivor Gurney’s “Strange Hells,” page 119)

Although there is diversity among the poetic styles and the poets’ experiences, each of the poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry lead to the same conclusion:  that war is hell.  It makes me wonder how many of these poets were poets before, and how many used poetry as a way to deal with the loss, anger, and haunting memories tied to the war.  Some of the poems made me feel like I was staring into the poet’s soul.  I am in awe of men and women who can put such awful tragedies into words, and I believe that war poetry is among the most powerful and vivid, bringing to life the internal and external struggles in a way that non-fiction and prose cannot.

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 2 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Book 6 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I won The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry in a giveaway on Savvy Verse & Wit ages ago. It’s about time I read it! I am an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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In July 2001, on a vacation to the White Mountains in New Hampshire with my husband, nearly 1-year-old daughter, and my mother, we saw a sign in Franconia directing tourists to a farmhouse that once belonged to Robert Frost.  Of course, we stopped, touring the house and walking the path through the woods that was lined with quotes from Frost’s poems.  And of course, I bought some of the books offered for sale.

I can’t believe it took me so long to devour this slim collection.  Edited by Donald Sheehan, Mountain Intervals, Poems from the Frost Place 1977-1986 features 27 poems from the 10 poets who each spent a summer living and working at The Frost Place during that time.  These poets are featured in the order of their stay:  Katha Pollitt (1977), Robert Hass, Gary Miranda, William Matthews, Mary Jo Salter, Cleopatra Mathis, Denis Johnson, Sherod Santos, Kathy Fagan, and Christopher Gilbert (1986).

Each poet has his or her own style, yet some of the poems are similar in theme.  Many of the poems touch upon nature, and some share themes of grief or lamentations of time passing.  That’s not surprising, given that each of them spent a summer in a quiet town surrounded by nature and nothing to do but contemplate life.

My favorite poems in Mountain Intervals (named after Frost’s poetry collection, Mountain Interval) are those that express sadness and grief so beautifully.  In “At Squaw Valley,” Robert Hass wrote

I wanted to tell you
that when the ghost-child died, the three-month dreamer
she and I would never know, I kept feeling that
the heaven it went to was like the inside of a store window
on a rainy day from which you watched blurred forms
passing in the street. (page 14)

Gary Miranda doesn’t waste words in “The Friend”:

I had a friend
who killed himself.
Simple as that.
He slit his wrists
with a razor
blade and lay down on a bench
and died. (page 18)

But my favorite of all the poems is “A Late Elegy” by Sherod Santos. It’s dedicated to his niece who died in October 1967, and its narrator has a dream in which he must carry a dead child home to her parents.

Though I cannot tell, even
This far from the dream,
If it was her new ghost
Being born into the air,

Or my own, unable
After all these years
To bear the grief
Of a lifetime in its arms. (page 37)

I didn’t like every poem or poet in this collection, but that’s to be expected with a book like this.  Still, I enjoyed the time I spent with Mountain Intervals.  Not one poem was too abstract or difficult for me to extract some meaning, and not one was so cumbersome that I felt the need to skip it.  From what I understand, Mountain Intervals was a limited edition sold by The Frost Place, so it might be difficult to find.  However, tracking down a copy would be worthwhile; I’m happy I have this on my shelf, for the poetry itself and to remember my short visit to the home of one of America’s most famous poets.

Book 1 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I purchased my copy of Mountain Intervals, Poems from the Frost Place 1977-1986. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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