Poetry Book Recommendations
These days it’s difficult to trust the authenticity of a blurb or a book review. Friends write for friends, teachers write for students, colleagues write as favors—it’s human nature. In an effort to cut through the noise, we’re offering the following book recommendations. The reviewers have sworn not to have a significant personal or professional relationship with any of the authors they’re reviewing, and are receiving no compensation for their efforts, other than the joy of helping a book that they love find a larger audience. Furthermore, often as either editors, contributors, or subscribers to Rattle, many reviewers have already demonstrated a tangible interest in our poetry community, and a fondness for our particular aesthetic tastes. We hope these are endorsements that you can believe.
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for Summer 2015
by Frank Stanford
Death brings out the selfishness in people. We mourn our own losses, the lost potentials. That’s what strikes me most about the new Frank Stanford collected poems What About This, published 37 years after the author’s suicide at age 29. Stanford was a mysterious figure when he was alive, even more so now that decades have allowed his mystique to grow. His poems, rural, rugged, surreal, definitely Southern, and sometimes unpolished, are glazed with a sophistication that allows them, and hopefully the reader, to be at ease with their strangeness. Often the poems seem to drop the reader into the middle of a conversation in which half of the voices are in Stanford’s head. Reading Stanford requires an acceptance of strangeness, that you won’t hear the whole story but will be rewarded with a wonderful telling. It’s a poetry that feels dense in your head, like a heavy meal feels in your belly. He wielded similes (“He talked to death like a man/ fishing in his hole.” ) the way a woodcutter wields an ax—with precision and drastic purpose. So now, after all this, I’m feeling a little selfish. If Stanford could produce such potent work in his 20s, I mourn what he could have produced in his 40, 50s or 60s. At least we have This.
—Grant Clauser (June 30, 2015)
by Ryan Flaherty
The only words I can use to describe Flaherty’s poems are these: it hums like a Rothko. Within What’s This, Bombardier?, poems such as “Essay on Not Knowing What I Mean by ‘Thing,'” interrogate our beyond-all-doubt bias—our propensity for larger-than-life metaphors—while others such as “Canticle Against the Canticle” thrive on a combination of melancholy and sharp wit. Just as Flaherty’s speakers search for what makes their lives worth living—worth recording—the reader ponders the just-as-big questions: “[t]here is a certain shame necessary/ to living well” (“Canticle Against the Canticle”). Ultimately, however, they conclude with a statement, in the most grandiose sense of the word: “I can’t put it down without turning to fragment” (“The Assembly, an Overview”). And the same holds true for this book.
—Jun Pang (June 30, 2015)
by Saeed Jones
Following a year of protests against systems of oppression and the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Leelah Alcorn, and many others, I found Saeed Jones’ book at exactly the right moment. Jones writes in a lyrical voice that takes in personal narratives along with mythologized histories and houses them under one roof. Jones’ poems reminded me that as we speak of histories of violence we also always speak from the precipice before violence becomes recognizable again. He reminded me how important it is, in the face of violence both historical and personal, for each of us to “walk back/ to my burning house”—proclaiming it as ours as we remember why it burns.
—Jeremy Reed (June 30, 2015)
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Note: We’re in the process of closing this section and trying something new with reviews.