May 10, 2016

Ilyse Kusnetz


Just another day           in hyper-capitalist society—
in my Facebook feed,           news of rabbits and

chickens tortured on meat farms,           but I’m still not
vegan and I’m waiting           to die myself

from cancer I may have gotten           from soil or ground water
contaminated by nuclear weapons,           and no amount

of posting uplifting stories           is going to fix that.
And lord, let them cease           trying to control women’s

bodies, people’s genders,           people’s desires,
let them stop hating people           because of their color

and ethnicities. I want to shake           the bigots and racists
till their teeth come loose           and they lose their bite,

till their tongues           swell up in their mouths
and they’re stricken mute.           I want to save

all the slaughtered animals,           save the seas and their
inhabitants—whales, birds,           the tiniest bivalve—

from choking on plastic.           I want to purify the air
of sulfur and carbon dioxide,           scrape the lead

from plumbing pipes,           god I need to do something
besides dying, besides           thinking about death

and the neo-fascist           politicians who lead
a nation of people           unable to think critically

after 40 years’ systemic           dismantling
of the education system           by the rich

so their lackeys           can make it
illegal to prosecute           corporations for poisoning

the air, earth, water—and Jesus,           isn’t it
a kind of           mental illness

annihilating what you need           to stay alive
for the accumulation of           blind profit—

and in the process killing           and killing and
murdering me,           along with the people and animals

I can’t save but want to,           with all my goddamn
fucking heart, but instead           I’m waiting to die,

trying to find some           last meaning in all of this.
A warning, perhaps.           You’re next.

Poets Respond
May 10, 2016

[download audio]


Ilyse Kusnetz: “Every day in my Facebook feed I see news items and petitions about gross injustices—today it just happened to be a story about animal torture that sparked my outrage, which so quickly spirals to reacting to other sound bytes of horror in my feed and in emails that are sent to me because of petitions I’ve signed—and I want to make a difference, but at the same time I feel helpless, even more so knowing that my struggle with cancer has been taking all my energy. I have to hope that others will take up the battles that need to be fought, but at the same time the search for meaning in my own life has become more urgent. Sometimes all we can do is bear witness.” (website)

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December 19, 2014

Editor’s Pick

for Fall 2014

New LoveNew Love

by Lynn Shapiro

In 2006, Rattle featured one of my favorite poems, Lynn Shapiro’s “Sloan-Kettering,” which won a Pushcart Prize. It was her first, and remains one of only a handful of poems that she ever published. Lynn’s breast cancer returned a few years later, and she died on November 19, 2011. Her husband found this archive of poems on her computer, and released them through Lulu. At 174 pages, New Love is a book of collected poetry that probably should have been selected—it’s hard to imagine any poet withstanding such a raw and sweeping treatment—but the mine is full of diamonds just waiting to be unearthed: These are beautiful, cutting poems that make a vibrancy out of both life and death, bravely and bitingly exploring her own imminent absence. For example, this four-line jewel:


She walks in the water
with her former lover, her white

hair and caftan blowing at his side,
and he is nothing.

Timothy Green (November 29, 2014)

. . .

Readers’ Picks

for Fall 2014

Poet & VampirePoet & Vampire

by Chuck Taylor

Poet & Vampire gives voice to the supernatural prophet, the wise man or holy man—the semi-divine trying to make a dollar outta’ fifteen sense—the absurd man with savant-like prescience that delivers the reader from the deceptions of life. His collection channels dueling alter-egos—Poet as everyman, Vampire as eternal observer of human nature—who project both optimistic expansiveness and visceral misapprehensions. The result is not just a bastardization of poetry to prose, or vice versa, but a rethinking of the parameters of voice—becoming a “vehicular” language casually slipping in and out of identities, and pushing against the cloying shibboleths of 2014 America. This collection evokes a literary slap-stick philosophy that keeps me laughing, my mouth opened wide enough to accept the truth. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

henry 7. reneau, jr. (November 18, 2014)



by Michael Earl Craig

With their plain black titles on neutral white, beige and robin’s egg blue backgrounds, Wave Books collections might appear to the uninitiated generic and/or interchangeable, but the fact is that the press is putting some of the most interesting poets at work today between their simple, misleading covers. Talkativeness, the latest from Michael Earl Craig, ranges from beagle puppies to film directors Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman over the course of its lyrical conversations. As suggested by the book’s title, Craig has a casual voice that welcomes readers into a vast, varied world. Like the film directors he admires, he also has an eye for distinctive details. Craig lives near Livingston, Montana. Perhaps that explains why even his most succinct poems seem to expand the horizon.

Brian Beatty, subscriber (November 14, 2014)


Mexican Jenny and Other PoemsMexican Jenny and Other Poems

by Barbara Brinson Curiel

There’s a lot to admire about Curiel’s collection. I loved the title poem—a 30-page historical re-imagining of an early 20th century Mexican woman named Jenny Wenner. She’s a prostitute who becomes imprisoned in America after killing her husband/pimp in self-defense. Jenny is nearly invisible—an immigrant expelled from an American prison in sickness, sent to Mexico to die. Curiel gives audience to this otherwise invisible figure: “Girls like me/ come from alleys/ from dirt floors/ from cold kitchens/ from one thin blanket.” She is working in the acclaimed, controversial tradition of writers like Joy Harjo and Natasha Trethewey, who sometimes meditate on untold, individual histories, and draw them into the present.

Raul Palma, subscriber (November 13, 2014)


Small HoursSmall Hours

by Ilyse Kusnetz

Every now and then I read poems that shock me into thinking, “I’ve been doing it all wrong. Here I’ve been playing mere word games while real poets are communicating thoughts, passions, experiences.” That’s how I felt while I was reading Small Hours, the winner of this year’s T.S. Eliot Prize. Kusnetz tells stories about famous personages like Marie Antoinette and Galileo with the same familiarity as the account of her uncle who, she says, filched Der Fuerer’s alarm clock at the end of World War II.

Many of the fifty-six poems in this volume disturb as much as affirm, cause outrage while they are provoking reflection, bring pleasure in the midst of atrocity. That’s what good poems can do. In the presence of stuff like this, I often resolve to change my ways, stop poetizing and write about things that matter. Those resolutions never last long, however. Alas.

Conrad Geller, contributor (November 10, 2014)

. . .

Note: Rattle‘s MicroReviews are intended to be honest poetry book recommendations. If you have no relationship to the author of the book you’d like to recommend, you can send 75 – 125 words about why you enjoyed the book through our Submittable portal. Simple acquaintance to the author is not disqualifying, but we cannot accept reviews from family, co-workers, present or former students, or even casual friends (if you met the poet once at a reading, that’s fine; if you stay in touch, that’s not). If any significant relationship is discovered, the review will be deleted and the reviewer will no longer be allowed to contribute reviews. If you’re unsure about whether your relationship to the author is disqualifying, just ask when you submit the review. Reviews are added regularly to the MicroReviews page, and posted for archival at the end of every quarter.

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July 31, 2011

Ilyse Kusnetz


In the factories of
America during
the 19th century, girls

hired to make
sulfur matches
would dip the matchends

into a chemical
vat, then lick the tips
to make them stiff.

The vats were filled
with zinc sulfide,
a radioactive substance

about which no one
warned them, so when
their teeth fell out,

and their jaws and bodies
rotted like bad fruit,
it was too late.

It was not the first time
such things happened.
Bent at their stations,

hatmakers in the 18th century
cured ladies’ hats
with mercury. Their legacy—

blushing, aching limbs,
a plague of rashes,

pages of sloughed
skin, curled and cracked,
minds deranged.

They could not know
they shared a fate
with the Emperor

Qin Shi Huang, who
seeking eternal life,
swallowed pills

laced with mercury.
He built the Great Wall
and unified China,

then outlawed and
burned treatises
on history, art, politics,

and all religions
not sanctioned by the state.
Scholars who dared

possess such things,
he buried alive.
His body lies

in a vast mausoleum,
guarded by
a terracotta army.

Of the factory girls,
mouths opening
soundlessly below earth,

their bodies burning like
forbidden books,
we know almost nothing.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010

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