Poetry Book Review: pomegranate seeds

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pomegranate seeds by melissa jennings

This microchap contains six poems about unrequited love. Although the author describes the book as exploring polyamory, I wouldn’t have realised without being explicitly told. In general, the poems seem to be dedicated to a specific person. Each title is dual, portraying a contrast within itself. I liked this aspect of this collection, as the titles give us multiple lenses to read the poems through.  

you said you didn’t like the taste.
you said things always taste better if they are fresh.

IT WOULD KINDA BREAK MY HEART / MY HEART IS ALL OVER THE PLACE

In these lines, jennings explores the polyamophobia of a person they were interested in. The metaphor speaks well for the reality of how polyamorous hearts are sometimes observed as rotten or corrupted — as if our love is any lesser, less satisfying. When reading (critically), I got the message, yet I didn’t quite feel it the same way I expect to when reading poetry.

Even after reading each poem multiple times, some of their meanings still elude me.

I don’t want it, not like that, you said.
that’s why I want you to have a piece of it;
maybe it could feel something other than a burden.

I MISS YOU / IT WAS A MESS

I personally see the words dampen what the author intends to say. The other person not wanting the heart is similar to the first poem. I know several readers who like a challenge when deciphering what a poet meant or what you are getting as a reader. I am not one of those readers. I prefer the concrete and the clear, and due to that factor, I found it challenging to enjoy jennings’ writing.

Overall, I consider this book as average, rating it at 3/5 stars. The poems had a natural progression and they had some pleasant imagery. I did find it somewhat frustrating at times since the writing style does not fit my personal preference — it must be said that it is not bad writing. I admire the author’s commitment to exploring polyamory and polyamophobia, and it piqued my interest in reading and writing poetry around this topic.

pomegranate seeds will be published on 21st June, 2019. I have received a free advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.


Add pomegranate seeds to your to-read-list on Goodreads.

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Book Review: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Months ago, a friend of mine recommended me Jeanette Winterson, and as much as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit seemed interesting, I was attracted to her memoir Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? With a title like that, I knew I had to give it a read.

I don’t recall having read a memoir before, so I went in without much expectations. In some passages, I wasn’t even sure if I was reading fiction or non-fiction, partly because of the eccentricity of Jeanette’s mother, Mrs Winterson, and partly because the prose is written so beautifully.

The memoir takes us on a journey and exploration of happiness. Much of the book is dedicated to growing up in Accrington, specifically focusing on the author’s relationship with her adoptive mother. Jeanette was a feisty kid from the likes of it, and this has often led her mother to say that the devil led them to the wrong crib. Feeling unwanted is one of the worst things a child can feel when growing up.

Jeanette lets us into her darkest thoughts and does not keep secrets when it comes to her emotions. It’s such vulnerability that makes the memoir so compelling. From the exterior, perhaps to her teachers and family, Jeanette seemed very angry and rebellious. But what child wouldn’t be when you put them in that kind of life?

I find it also important to discuss queer issues especially when they centre so much on one’s destination in life. When it was discovered that Jeanette was seeing a girl, her mother led her into an exorcism. I can only begin to fathom how traumatic that was. Jeanette writes about her past in a somewhat distant and detached way, letting us observe what happened without drowning us in her emotions. This event might have happened decades ago, but the truth is that queer people still suffer from these experiences, and part of our duty is to talk about it and raise awareness. Nobody deserves to go through that, and I think it’s useful that there are people like Jeanette Winterson who discuss and show us these awful experiences.

Towards the second half, we are taken into her adulthood, briefly through her writing career and to where she is now. Overall, it is a story of inspiration on multiple factors. Firstly, because she is self-made, making it out of Accrington as a very successful author. Secondly, because there is paramount honesty about the self and how her trajectory isn’t linear, but it is continuous and the seek for happiness and personal growth does not end with success.


Link: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

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Draft, Edit, Submit #04: Finding Inspiration in the Self

Draft, Edit, Submit #04. Finding Inspiration in the Self

April is celebrated as the National Poetry Month. As some poets do, I wanted to challenge myself in writing a poem a day.

Usually, I let poems come to me, and so I only write when an idea strikes me. However, this was different: I had to open a blank document and think on what I would have to write about. I also wanted to stick to one theme for the whole month. The purpose of poetry is often self-exploration or therapeutic, and hence I chose the theme of autism & self so that I get to know myself better in a creative way.

The first week was a breeze. I used day-to-day experiences, including ones that I experiences way too many times but never wrote about. As we approached the end of the month, I started to run out of innovative ideas, partly because it is hard to detach autism or the self from everything that happens in life. And in itself, this has been a revelation. I am who I am, all facets intertwined, and even the way I act in relationships and social situations is determined by my traits.

In the end, I managed to write more than thirty poems about being different and quirky and just being myself. In the process of writing, not only have I gotten to understand myself better, but I have gained a new perspective on my interpersonal relationships, as well as a deeper love for who I am. From an artistic perspective, I got to appreciate the value of ‘basic’ events and how we can create art from experiences that at face value, we might think of as mundane.

Overall, I am proud of my commitment and I’m extremely pleased with some of the poems I wrote. In fact, I already have a couple submitted. As for the rest, I’ll need to spend time to edit & rewrite, but they might make it into a chapbook or full-length someday.


Like what I post? Support me on Patreon or donate directly to my PayPal. For a list of my published works, take a look at Publications and consider getting a copy of my full-length collection, Welcome to the Sombre Days.

Poetry Book Review: If My Body Could Speak

I couldn’t quite put “If My Body Could Speak” down, but I couldn’t finish it in one sitting because each poem tore me apart (it was intense beauty). Baird writes about anorexia, being queer, sexual assault, misogyny, and much more. In each of these topics, she writes from a place of honesty, of hurt — it demands the reader to listen, to feel the pain she goes through.

Right off the bat, she starts with the poem “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny,” which had gone viral when Baird performed it. I was struck by several stanzas, but perhaps my favourite lines are the ending:

when I was little,
someone asked me

what I wanted to be
when I grow up

and I said,

small

When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny

Even when taken out of the context of the poem, these lines are thunderous. I was struck with how Baird was able to take these small words and create something big. She didn’t have to bring out some crazy vocabulary, but rather use language that reflects the core innocence of childhood and how terrible it is for a child to feel these things.

Baird doesn’t miss a beat with the consequent poems, each one taking my breath away. In a way, it’s difficult to review the collection without being able to divulge in each poem. “Girl Code 101” stood out to me more than the others:

13,
the year dad says wearing short skirts in the city
is like driving without a seatbelt.

Girl Code 101

The comparison shows not only the danger but the messed-up mentality of putting the responsibility on the [potential] victim. The tone is nonchalant, showing how normalised it is for a thirteen-year-old girl to be ‘taught’ to behave in certain ways. It is her delivery of this tone that makes the writing so heavy-hitting and poetic. I loved the use of Biblical imagery to discuss the roots of misogyny in religion. In the same poem, Baird writes:

Give me one accomplishment of Mary’s
that did not involve her vagina.

Girl Code 101

This was so fucking bold, but yet fitting. It speaks volumes of how society (and religion) have been consistently tools of the patriarchy which dictate the value of a woman related to her procreativity and other feminine standards. She doesn’t hide behind words in delivering this.

On a similar note, “Pocket-Sized Feminism” is another banging poem:

Once, my dad informed me sexism is dead
and reminded me to always carry pepper spray

Pocket-Sized Feminism

The paradox comes out effortlessly, partly because this is a widespread belief. These line should also be taken into the context of the poem — Baird shows us how it is like to be constantly harassed and to made feel guilty and responsible for not putting an end to it. There’s the delicate dance where standing up for yourself or for other woman will risk her losing friends and get harassed for it (and this would be especially true during teenager years). It’s a lose-lose situation which amplifies the pain expressed throughout.

I found both “The Way I Was Taught to Love” and “An Invitation” to be heart wrenching and realistic queer poems — I could relate quite personally to these. The former of these is about the intense relationship with her mother during the coming out period, and frankly, if I had to quote a line, I’d quote the whole poem. In the latter, she also writes about her mother:

She hates my selective memory.
            She says, You only ever
remember the slammed doors,
            But why don’t you
ever write about how I used
            to sing to you before
bed every single night?

An Invitation

I’ve had similar conversations with my mother, and seeing these lines written caught me off-guard. The mother knows how she nurtured her daughter for so long and remembers all the sweet things she done, and this is contrasted with the pain where Baird focuses on the painful events. These poems are not only important because they tell the poet’s story, but also because many queer people can relate and understand their relationships better.

As the collection progresses, the poetry becomes even more emotional and strong as sexual assault becomes the pivotal topic. Baird writes:

To live in the body of a survivor
is to never be able to leave
the scene of the crime.

To live in the body of a survivor

The simile is powerful because in reality, it is not a simile — it is the truth. We’re ordered to avoid crime scenes; they are closed from public access. Trust me, if you ever experienced something negative, most likely, you would avoid that place, partly to avoid future instances, and partly because of triggers and flashbacks. As assault survivors, we don’t have that luxury. You get to see the victim every time you look in the mirror. You get to experience the whole ordeal when your mind ‘goes there’. This also has implications for one’s identity: the ‘I’ tends to become depersonalised and is disconnected from the body — the crime scene. This is shown in the use of ‘the’ in the title, “To Live in the Body of a Survivor.”

Towards the end, Baird presents “Yet Another Rape Poem”, which is exactly what it claims to be. It’s aimed at the criticism that she writes too much about rape:

“I know you are threatened
because I am
a thunderstorm of a woman.”

Yet Another Rape Poem

Baird has a voice that commands attention. Poetry was a safe place for her to share her story. It not only takes talent to create masterpiece poems like these, but a poet also needs to be as brave as Baird is in sharing them. Even to be honest with oneself is difficult, let alone to read these poems in public and print them in books. As a reader, I felt mightily empowered by this poem and how Baird refuses to be silenced. Truly, I’ve only got praise for her.

Throughout the collection, I was vulnerable and connected intimately to Baird’s words. The rhythm flowed effortlessly, almost in a tone of a bedtime story in which all that should be shocking is normalised. We’re not given any punch lines or twists, but constantly gut-wrenching pain. This style also reflects the reality of millions of people, of how harassment and assaults aren’t a one-time event but are repetitive, occurring daily and how we suffer the consequences without pause. Amidst the hurt of it all, I found comfort in Baird’s brave poems that left me feeling that I am not alone, that we are stronger together.


I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.


Sources and Links:

Book: If My Body Could Speak (Button Poetry, 2019)
Book Cover: Goodreads

Do you like what I post? Support me on Patreon or donate directly to my PayPal. For a list of my published works, take a look at Publications and consider getting a copy of my full-length collection, Welcome to the Sombre Days.

Poetry Book Review: He Tried to Drown the Ocean, I waved


He Tried to Drown the Ocean, I Waved
Kai Naima Williams

I must admit, there’s an indescribable difficulty in reviewing this chapbook. I read the collection three times and I’ve enjoyed it each time. It is evident that Kai Naima Williams is a spoken word poet, as is reflected in the work, but this doesn’t take anything away from the written word.

This chapbook is a personal, self-empowering anthem, as is the first poem called, “Anthem”. In this, the poet established her voice and hooked me in; I wanted to hear what she wanted to say. Immediately after, we are taken into a vulnerable place:

“she tells me we cannot move backwards
her fingers return to the ridge of her scar”


(allegory of the cave, p. 3)

There’s a uniqueness to Kai Naima Williams’ writing. Yes, she uses well-thought metaphors and pleasant imagery, but what I like most is how she subtly weaves them into her poetry. As in the two lines above, we are shown the unsaid.

The chapbook explores the author’s identity and ends with the strongest poem, “the black woman is god/the back woman is not god.” I loved the elements of holiness and royalty, and how love is contrasted with worship. In a series of hard-hitting images, she portrays this:

“He said, you are as unconquerable to man as the ocean
I said that doesn’t mean I can’t be drained”


(the black woman is god/the back woman is not god, p. 33)

I am enamoured with this section of the poem; it’s a beautiful way of owning her own worth without forsaking her from vulnerability and humanness. I felt her pain when she described it. It shows that one can be valued and idolised while still being excluded and lonely, and if that’s not the story of my life, I don’t know what is. I’m honestly astounded with how she managed to convey such a feeling through words (although as a poet, I should never be so surprised, should I?)

Overall, albeit difficult to summarise and review, I truly liked this book. I’m a sucker for poetry that explores the poet’s identity. Even though it is relatively personal, it is still valuable for the reader, and probably even more for readers that can relate better to these experiences.


Hyacinth Girl Press sent me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I must praise them for sending me a beautiful product! It’s the kind of love every collection deserves from its publishing press. Get the book here.

Draft, Edit, Submit #03: A Deluge of Drafts

For me, there’s a clear difference between when I work on drafting and editing. During drafting phase, especially for poetry, I don’t need strong ideas; I need strong emotions. My first drafts are often word vomit that I could coherently understand what I intend of showing. The editing phase is meant to make it stronger (or completely rewrite it), turning into an enjoyable piece.

It’s extremely rare for me to draft and edit a piece on the same day. I tend to undergo phases of either. Last year, I wrote so many drafts (I have over 200 loose drafts roaming on my hard drive, some are utterly scrap). Their purpose of writing was to get it out of my system, and even if they’re never published, they were necessary to write.

This month, I revisited plenty of those drafts, and well, some of them were nightmares (well underwritten). Others contained strong emotions that I was able to feel when reading months later, so I’ve been trying to polish them. There’s an oddity to it because my style and skills have changed, so merging older ideas with my current frame of mind.is not easy.

Having said that, it’s a pleasure reconnecting with some of my older work. As a writer, I am interested in hearing how others writers approach their works.

Advanced Book Review: Little Pills

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Little Pills by Melody Dodds

Little Pills is a novel written in verse, following a seventeen-year-old teen with her drug addiction. I found the novel to be creative in its delivery and I couldn’t put it down even though I wasn’t in love with the writing.

What’s surprisingly good is that in a small number of pages, the author developed several characters and relationships; most characters made me feel something. There’s a solid backstory to the characters, and it highlights how drug addiction cannot be extracted from the environment. Having said that, towards the ending, my emotional investment faded — something was missing, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. It could easily be the one-note direction of character development, that although interesting, was predictable.

As a novel in verse, I have to consider (even more than usual) the style of writing. Overall, it was rushed and nowhere near fresh. I’d consider this to be an early draft, with the layout put to structure, but not yet embellished with writing. Many poems brushed the surface of conversations and didn’t delve as deep into the character as I would’ve liked. Moreover, formatting was somewhat basic, especially when it comes to several ALL CAPS sentences to show anger. It doesn’t help convey the anger, it only makes me want to skip to next page. At some points, it becomes the author writing poems to tell us a story, and it rarely feels as if it’s the main character talking to the paper, which is a huge loss in a first-person novel in verse.

To sum up, I’m on the fence about this novel. Although I discussed several negative points, at the end of the day, I still enjoyed reading it. Rated as average, I consider that it was worth reading, but I wouldn’t quite recommend it to friends. I’ll leave it in your hands to decide with this one.


I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review


Sources and Links:

Book: Little Pills
Book Cover: Goodreads
You could support by donating to my Ko-Fi or PayPal.me

Book Review: “Damage” by Poornima Manco

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Damage” by Poornima Manco

Damage is a collection of 16 fiction short stories that take place in Indian Societies, both in India and elsewhere. The overarching theme of this book is how those who cause harm to others have grown up damaged. Dark tones progress along the book, from extramarital affairs and gun violence to rape.

The book delivers what it promises. The reader is shown realistic and believable sections of Indian society as Manco writes parts of dialogues in native language[s] to make the characters as authentic as possible. While doing so, the author also embellishes the prose with rich vocabulary and fascinating images. However, stringing pretty words is not sufficient in storytelling.

I enjoyed most plots, yet they felt artificially construed. The characters did not go through sufficient development within the stores, and I felt that these characters were created to show us a story that Manco wants us to see. It was only until the last few stories that I truly enjoyed reading. My favourite was the 11th, “Palindrome”, which started, continued and ended poetically. I’d have loved the whole book to contain a similar structure in which the main premise doesn’t drown the flow of the story — especially in the cases when the story’s rushed with time jumps at every other paragraph.

Along with the previous point, the characters lacked depth. The author provides us with a description of physical appearances but fails to create personalities that would stick with the readers. Moreover, the physical descriptions of each character were freakishly objectified and sexualised. Arguably, most stories involved love affairs and sexual intimacy; but this objectification at times is described by those characters who would be children when they ‘observe’ such things.

One of my other issues with this book is its strong suit: the eloquent writing. Undoubtedly, Poornima Manco is skilful, using a varied repertoire of vocabulary. This is an unfortunate choice when this voice doesn’t suit the narrative. I found it off-putting, distancing me from the main character. Moreover, adverbs and adjectives weakened various paragraphs. In addition, I noticed a few breaks in point-of-view, but an average reader might turn a blind-eye to these.

Overall, Damage is a collection of okay stories and a few hidden gems. Although the themes are gruesome, the realism in each story comes across easily. If you can get past these few pet peeves of mine, I’m confident you’d enjoy the writing. I also think this collection would be particularly interesting to the Indian community as the subtle social criticism may be quite striking.


I received a free Review Copy from Reedsy in exchange for an honest review.


Sources and Links:

Book: Damage
Book Cover: Goodreads
You could give your support by donating to my Ko-Fi or PayPal.me

Poetry Book Review: The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One

Amanda Lovelace’s third book in the “Woman Are Some Kind of Magic” was published just last week. The main themes include sexual assault, survivor identity and past relationships, and thus is at times powerful and emotional.

Compared to other mainstream books of the same publisher, this collection included a wider variety of imagery and metaphors, which I did enjoy. Yet, upon reading a long collection, the voice gets lost. The tone doesn’t vary, and it gets repetitive, even though the vocabulary progresses.

One of my issues with the book is the formatting, mainly the line breaks. Having a line break after every one or two words is frustrating. It breaks rhythm. It makes it impossible (for me) to read and it distracts me a lot. In some ways, the good poems are drowned
by other
poems
that
make
you
want to
stab
your eyes.

In addition to Lovelace’s poems, the book features a number of guest poets. Their work was placed between Lovelace’s poems, so that we alternated from an author poem to a guest poem. For me, the guest poems were a breath of fresh air — I found myself looking forward to the next guest poem but not to Lovelace’s one. This led me to realise that I was liking the author’s poems less than I thought, and evidently led to my rating drop down to a simple “it was okay.”

All in all, the collection has potential. It has solid metaphors and emotion behind the poetry. I’m not sure that the author managed to deliver what she intended. Would I recommend this book? No. I mean, if you like mainstream poetry or her previous collections, go ahead. But I don’t see this book as being something anyone must have on their bookshelf.


I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review


Sources and Links:

Book: The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One
Book Cover: Goodreads
Help me read more books by donating on Ko-Fi or PayPal.me

Spoken Word #007: “Archetypes” & “Blossom”

You can listen to the audio of both poems on Anchor, Audio: “Archetypes” & “Blossom”

Both of these poems were printed last year in my collection, “Welcome to the Sombre Days” (2018). This book is free for two days only: today, Friday 8th, and tomorrow, Saturday 9th of March. Be sure to snag a copy while it’s free!

The two poems featured in today’s episode can be read down below: