Poetry Book Review: Forgiveness, by Chelsea Bunn

Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn (Finishing Line Press, 2019)

In Forgiveness, Chelsea Bunn struggles with forgiving herself. In this book, you could peel layers upon layers of vulnerability, penned ever so delicately. I have been struggling to translate my reading experience into words, and have been rewriting this book review for a couple of weeks. The poetry was so intimate that I almost want to keep it for myself, a private dialogue between the words and I.

To show you a clearer idea of what the chapbook entails, I selected two extracts. “These Stories Are True” is an erasure poem in which Chelsea adapted from the statements of men accused of sexual misconduct. The following lines are an erasure of Senator Al Franken’s statement:

“The first thing is the most
important thing.

Only you care—
I don’t.”

These Stories Are True (p. 3)

Isn’t this the most genius thing I’ve ever read? To take words of the accused and form the implied reality. I was stricken by both the idea and the delivery of the poem.

Later on in the book, I was completely blown away by “The Meeting”, both due to its emotional strength and its craft. The writing appears to be like a ramble, backtracking at every few lines, giving us pieces of the story in a way that, although disjointed in time, is understood by the reader. Chelsea writes about attending a meeting in which, finally, she has finally found others who understand her drinking. She writes,

“I was there because that is all I ever wanted—
for someone to see exactly
and entirely what I felt
and what I had done and to tell me
that it wasn’t my fault”

The Meeting (p. 12)

I thought the overall poem was beautiful, and perhaps the extract doesn’t do justice to the context. I have highlighted several other lines, but for the same reason of being water down outside their context, I decided not to show them here. There is a wholeness to each poem and to the collection as it is presented.

On a critical note, I may have not completely liked certain forms used, but enjoyed others. It is one of my pet peeves that indentations and line breaks should help the reading process. Each reader is an individual, and I acknowledge that it is perhaps an issue with how I read, but I felt interrupted (in a non-productive way) with some of the forms, as if the choice was aesthetic but not functional.

Having said that, it does not take away from the solid writing and the emotional delivery of the chapbook. I have reread this four times by now, and each time is like the first, and perhaps that is a testament to the poetry. I am left haunted by some of Chelsea’s poems and the need for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is available to pre-order and will be published on 21st June, 2019.


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


Links:

Book: Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn (Finishing Line Press, 2019)

Would you like me to review more books? Support me on Patreon or donate directly to my PayPal. For a list of my published works, take a look at Publications.

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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.

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: 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.

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

Poetry Book Review: “Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken”

I received an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.


I rarely accept requests and do not finish reading, but this was an exception. Unsurprisingly, several other reviewers failed to finish it, and within good reason.

With an incredible cover, the book promises a dark, gothic collection of poetry. The imagery lives up to this expectation. However, the descriptions were quite repetitive. The lines were quite verbose, and I doubt they were given a proper round of edits. I hate to be this person, but although they have poetic potential, these only seem to be drafts of poems — they require more attention to the craft.

This adds to the problem of a poetry eBook that is entirely centred — big cringe! Now, it’s not always a negative thing and sometimes the helps portraying the message, but it’s not the case with this book. Especially with digital reading, where font sizes can be adjusted, the presentation will vary, and any intended shape will be lost. This also ruins any rhythm that would have been present within the poems, if there was one to begin with.

All in all, I don’t think this is a worthy buy for anyone. There are hundreds of books out there and our money is limited, so we must spend it on books that will be of value to us. As much as I hate shutting down someone else’s work and even if the poet has some good ideas, the overall product isn’t totally there.


Sources and Links:

Book: Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken
Book Cover: Goodreads
Support by donating on Ko-Fi or PayPal.me

Poetry Book Review: The Year of the Femme

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Year of the Femme
Cassie Donish

The Year of the Femme is exactly what I like about contemporary poetry. It’s just so damn pleasant to read. It starts out with a 20-page poem, “Portrait of a Woman, Mid-Fall”, which I absolutely loved. Donish’s language is skilful in these two stanzas:

“At the edge of a field a feeling of arrival awaits
Arrival is not a rival of departure
The two have to work together to make anything happen

All the clocks move together through time
In a flock of birds, some birds are a little behind
All the birds are held together by a principle of form” (p. 15)

In the above excerpt, the lack of punctuation adds to the poetic marvel; the garden pathing and gentle echoes are genius.

Throughout the collection, Donish takes us from one vivid image to another. I compare it to being in a maze of floral shrubs, that, even when you are not led directly to your destination, the journey is aromatic and enjoyable, and all I wanted to do is be lost in her poems forever. Read the beginning of “The Leaf Mask”

            “she saw real birds
as wind-up birds with intricate
machinery, their whistles, the metal

architecture of their wings—she saw
them perched atop the hospital,
where exhausted women brought

catatonic lovers. She thought,
all buildings are wild, inviting people into
their mouths. One day she’ll chew


the crowd to dust, spit out bones, watches,
doves
.” (p. 59)

Refreshing—the best word to describe this collection. The shorter poems were consistently engaging and vivid, and I was torn between wanting to read it all in one sitting and wanting to savour it, piece by piece, slowly melting on my tongue. The book ends in the titular poem, “The Year of the Femme”, which is lyrical in its dualistic interplay of form and text. In the first stanza, Donish writes:

“I grew up swimming in a slow-moving river, in words like sister and girls. I knew a waist was supposed to be soft, knew when it should be covered, when revealed.”

The final poem is rich with eroticism, with sensuality, with the perfect combination of tight prose-poetry and loose verse. I find it hard to objectively describe the poetry, because, it is so much more than vocabulary choice or skilful editing. No, we’re taken on a journey, a boat ride with your hands running across the river’s cool surface. Even in the structural dichotomy, Donish’s voice remains effortless and ever-present.  “The Year of the Femme” is filled with queerness and the nostalgia of past experience which might be clearer now, but she goes through them as if it’s her first time, living them as they should have been lived to begin with. And that’s the most touching aspect of the whole collection. Donish embeds her voice in crystal clear images, which in their fragmentation become so complete.

And as the words take a life of their own, as the ink separates from the paper, we’re given a clearer identity while strengthening our connection with our surroundings; each breath becomes a lyrical exchange, to and fro. The essence of being elevates itself to an aesthetic way of being.

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


Sources and Links:

Book: The Year of the Femme
Book Cover: Goodreads
Support Me on Ko-Fi

Poetry Book Review: poems for the sound of the sky before thunder

Note. Direct quotes may appear differently than intended due to editing issues on this blog.

Review

Winters’ collection is both the storm and the silver lining. It starts out well and keeps getting stronger with each poem. Immediately, we’re thrown into a sea of darkness with the poem “Undrowned”, struggling to find ways to stay afloat. It sets out the tone of intensity that is to be expected throughout the collection. In Duologies, Winters writes:

“                                  healing
is the part in the nightmare when you wake up
just before you hit the ground”

(Duologies, p. 22)

I loved these lines because they portray a perfect juxtaposition, the danger of falling is intertwined with the hope of healing. This is what delineates the collection; the interplay of fighting to survive.

It’s a perfect balance of resilience and strength in the midst of darkness. These following lines show that so well:

 “No one ever taught me how to tie a noose,
but no one ever taught me how to heal, either.
This is learning curve beginning with exit wound.”

(Battlefield, p. 30)

There’s a sense of hopelessness but also of hope, in a way that the person is stuck between two possibilities without any help or direction. I also felt a few waves of loneliness, but at the same time, there are strong vibes of independence. We’re all alone to face decisions, the difficulties, the attempts to heal and get better. It centres to the person and the being rather than the surrounding environment. In these poems, I kept finding the reasons to standing back up and fighting, amidst all the pain.

I had to include one of my favourite poems in this review. There’s something about these lines from “Here / Where You Are” that I found to be just perfect:

“          she said                       i don’t think i’ll ever understand you
           just text me when you get home safe okay

i wanted to say                        what do you mean
i wanted to say                        i’m already here”

(Here / Where You Are, p. 38)

I’m already here. Winters found a beautiful way to write about, to what I assume, an unrequited love. It’s romantic yet painful.

Throughout the collection, Winters plays with spacing and format, and she commands the language to serve her poems. It’s one of those things in which I enjoy in poetry. All in all, it was a pleasure to read and would definitely recommend others to check out this collection

I received a free eBook copy in exchange for an honest review


Sources and Links:

Book: poems for the sound of the sky before thunder 
Book Cover: Goodreads
Support Me on Ko-Fi

Poetry Book Review: Hourglass Museum

Hourglass Museum
Kelli Russell Agodon

Review

The title is well-fitting for this collection. Kelli uses artistic imagery and references throughout the book. I specifically liked the titles of the poems, especially when they included “A portrait” or “An Abstract”; fusing art with poetry. Right off the bat, Frida Kahlo is mentioned, which I’m pretty pleased with. I don’t have much experience with art, but the references weren’t lost on me. The imagery of brushstrokes and other techniques worked well, and although used multiple times, it did not end up being repetitive. It was sufficiently varied and kept the collection consistent.

When I write reviews, I tend to include verses or poem titles that really struck me. With this collection, I didn’t have any personal connection—nothing stood out for me. I still enjoyed reading everything and wasn’t displeased by one bit, but, it also failed to make me fall in love with the writing. It’s one of those where I know it’s well-written, but I don’t feel it’s magic, which might quite be personal. It’d definitely be a book I’ll look into again in the future.


Sources and Links:

Book: Hourglass Museum
Book Cover: Goodreads
Reviewer: Jeremy Mifsud

Poetry Book Review: Hearing the Underwater

Hearing the Underwater
by Savannah Slone

Hearing the Underwater is a chapbook you want to have on your shelf—you’ll be reading the poems over and over. Several themes are approached within this collection, including motherhood, mental health and social issues such as poverty. Slone does not shy away from any thought that consume her mind.

In the poem “Cynicism and Other Synonyms”, she starts with the following stanza:

“When I have greasy hair,
I am incapable of being happy,
yet I put it off just long enough
because feeling agitated feels good
sometimes.”


Cynicism and Other Synonyms (p. 3)

And that’s only the beginning (it ends even better, trust me). In a simple way, she shows us how ‘illogical’ mental illness can be, and I could strongly relate right off the bat. Slone bares herself with the rawness of language, without hiding, and that’s why as a reader I found it so easy to connect with her poetry. And if anyone knows me well enough, they’d know how difficult it is for me to channel myself into another person’s world—Slone’s feat is by no means easy.

Her words transferred her anger and passion to me. I couldn’t stop nodding in agreement (with pouty lips and furrowed eyebrows) to some of her poems. Take a look at these lines:

“we pray on as the mounds of orphaned
pleas and rising statistics
pause it has happened
again”

Within Your White Picket Fence (p. 12)

What makes Slone’s work exceptional is that she has something to say, in a way that compels you to not miss a word. Her voice is one that we need more of, so I strongly recommend you to buy this chapbook.


I was provided with a free eBook copy in exchange for an honest review.

Quotes may differ slightly from original due to formatting difficulties on blog posts.


Sources and Links:

Book: Hearing the Underwater
Book Cover: Goodreads
Reviewer: Jeremy Mifsud