MicroReviews for Spring 2014

Editors’ Picks

for Spring 2014

Mezzanines by Matthew OlzmannMezzanines

by Matthew Olzmann

Melodic free verse narratives that drift surreal to highlight the absurdities of modern life have been in style for some time—maybe it’s all the absurdity of modern life. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a poet who does it better than Matthew Olzmann. Usually I’m happy when I can find a half-dozen poems in a book that I would publish, but I have to say that I’d probably publish any of the 45 in Mezzanines. Engaging and surprising throughout. “Rare Architecture,” which we nominated for a Pushcart in 2010, is quintessential. And essential.
          —Timothy Green, editor (Feb. 16, 2014)

. . .

Living in the Nature Poem by Mary Harwell SaylorLiving in the Nature Poem

by Mary Harwell Sayler

In an era where so many books seem to be written to have been written, Mary Harwell Sayler fills over 100 pages with genuine purpose. With an ear for the poetic line and internal rhyme, and an admirable concision, she explores the appearances of God in what’s left of the natural world. There are a few too many poems, perhaps, but if you’ve ever wished that Mary Oliver could clone herself, and grow up in a different environment, so she could write from new settings and perspectives (and I have), Sayler might be the answer.
          —Timothy Green, editor (Feb. 1, 2014)


Readers’ Picks

for Spring 2014

Black Stars by Ngo Tu LapBlack Stars

by Ngo Tu Lap, translated with Martha Collins

Black Stars transports me to Vietnam filled with nostalgia as the poems weave rivers, sky, stars, and forests haunted by the dead and the living: “Thirty years later I still see them/ Millions of breasts cut from suffering bodies.” In this river of poems, I can feel the scars of war in both the land and poet and, at the same time, I feel my own scars from the same war, “Scars not even the dark night can hide.” Lap speaks to the river, and to me: “You write to remember/ But sometimes you write to forget.”
          —Teresa Mei Chuc, contributor/subscriber (Feb. 23, 2014)

. . .

Greenhouses, Lighthouses by Tung-Hui Hu
Greenhouses, Lighthouses

by Tung-Hui Hu

I had the pleasure of hearing Tung-Hui Hu read in Chicago a few months ago, and was struck by his imagery (always a help when listening to poems for the first time without having a text to follow!) and the quiet, precise way his poems move. A wonderful collection. From “Windfall Apple”: “The hand has rules: everything that is loose may be gleaned./ A hand counts and gathers the weight of a single apple,/ returning over and over to the moment of having.”

          —Virginia Smith Rice, contributor/subscriber (Feb. 1, 2014)

. . .

Kimonos in the Closet by David ShumateKimonos in the Closet

by David Shumate

The prose poem, with its lack of intentional enjambment, demands of the writer a sense of daring because the turns come not from line breaks but from a willingness to leap. There are a handful of poets working in this difficult genre who can leap consistently and exquisitely, but David Shumate couples this with an uncanny ability to stick the landing. His latest collection doesn’t stick every landing, but it’s as close as we can get in this genre to a masterpiece. An excerpt from “My Desk Sets Sail”:

Again this morning my desk sets sail like a schooner from its harbor. It is a fragile craft easily shattered on the shores. So far good fortune has accompanied me as if soggy old Poseidon were my friend. I lick my finger and raise it to the wind as I’ve seen sailors do, though I do not know what this portends. When I am hungry, I cast out a net. When it’s time to sleep, I stretch out on the deck. I travel for weeks on this little galleon. Rowing with only a pen.

          —Cameron Conaway, contributor/subscriber (March 25, 2014)

. . .

Memoir Poetic of a Naked Cop by Richard Eric JohnsonMemoir Poetic of a Naked Cop

by Richard Eric Johnson

Once history was poetry. Richard Eric Johnson’s Memoir Poetic of a Naked Cop revives that old tradition, recording the author’s experiences as a soldier and a policeman. I say history, not biography, because the poems present sharp, sometimes harsh pictures, not so much the poet’s feelings about them. Mostly free verse but with some rhyme and plenty of wordplay, the poems owe something to Whitman (“Learned Astronomer”) but at least as much to rap. This work excites me because it’s direct and simple, clearly evoking pictures of an era and of a life.
          —Conrad Geller, contributor/subscriber (March 16, 2014)

. . .

The Midnight Channel by Evan PetersonThe Midnight Channel

by Evan Peterson

Evan Peterson addresses famous “final girls” from sci-fi and slasher films—Ripley from Alien, Sarah Connor from Terminator—with both reverence and irreverent humor in this chapbook. Peterson takes the triumph over predator, parent, and fiend alike and weaves his own merry celebration around it. From “The 80s <A Slasher Film Blamed on Slasher Films>”:

Jamie Lee loves Janet Leigh
& audiences love a massive head trauma …

This is a sequel, so up the ante:
different weapons for every murder.

Who are we killing today? <the homeless>
and with what? <antlers>
I love antlers! <fucking hipster>

My personal favorite poem (but difficult to excerpt) is “Ellen Ripley/Alien Sigourney Weaver/1979” which interweaves computer code with lyric lines. As someone with a keen interest in pop culture poetry, I loved this quirky take on familiar horror tropes.
          —Jeannine Hall Gailey, contributor/subscriber (March 14, 2014)

. . .

Red Flower, White Flower by Jennifer TsengRed Flower, White Flower

by Jennifer Tseng, tr. by Mengying Han and Aaron Crippen

Ethereal, magical, full of, as Jean Valentine says on the dust jacket, “humor, mystery, grief and along with grief, unguarded understanding and puzzlement, side by side.” I was bowled over by these elegant poems and wondered at the facility with which the translators captured the musicality of each piece, as in the poem, “The Beloved’s Singing Heard Through a Closed Door,” which starts like this:

Like foxgloves, like a coat mending itself
in a dove’s night, ascending then descending
under a bell-shaped light, as one sees
at the threshold of the mind’s immortal view
the yellow house of childhood unhewn …

Tseng has crafted a collection filled with exquisite poetry. This is a bedside table collection, one I won’t be able to shelve anytime soon.
          —Kelly Fordon, contributor/subscriber (March 6, 2014)

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