Frostburg, Jackalope-Girl, and Rose Red Review

I’ve been remiss in not writing about my wonderful experience at Frostburg Indie Lit Festival in October, where I was invited to be part of a panel on Fairy Tales Reimagined by Sarah Ann Winn. I stayed with a fabulous group of writers at a beautiful cabin in the mountains outside town, where the view on my morning runs actually looked like this:

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At the festival, I went to wonderful panels and readings, met people in person whom I’d only known online before, and sold some copies of Wolf Skin at the book fair! The panel itself was so much fun, because identifying the traits that make fairy tale retellings successful–both in poetry and in fiction–has been an obsession of mine for years! It was wonderful to be able to talk about that with other writers and readers of the genre, and to get to hear fellow panelists Stacey Balkun, Sally Rosen Kindred, and Sarah Ann Winn read from their books. Bonus: I got to read snippets from Anne Sexton’s Transformations and gush about Donald Barthelme’s Snow White!

One of the chapbooks I bought at the book fair was Stacey Balkun’s Jackalope Girl Learns to Speak (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), from which she read at the panel. This was the first chapbook I chose to read from the mighty haul of books I bought (there was so much goodness!); I literally read it cover to cover at the I-Hop outside Frostburg on the drive home. Jackalope-Girl is a startling, fabulist collection full of wonderfully surreal imagery; I hadn’t read anything like it before. In the first poem Balkun imagines the title character born into a suburban family during an ice storm: “It was unusual/the cold front, the leporid wind scream./Nurses worried in the maternity ward…” She continues:

If the patients looked up, they would have seen
the last photographs of the new-dead flicker

across the screen with captions like tragic…
while frightened deer stilled in yards, antlers branching

toward the grayed sky. Gas stations and their 24/7 signs
stood, for the first time, un-glowing and nobody knew

to blame the jackalope-girl, newborn and hungry,
ears still unfurling, nesting in a stranger’s arms. (“Myth”)

The rest of the collection explores what follows from this premise in all its strangeness. Balkun spins a wonder-tale about Jackalope-Girl with poems that tell of her lost birth-sisters, how she learns to speak, her first time, her first tattoo. But the real wonder of the collection is the extended metaphor Balkun builds, simultaneously, about alienation, adoption, and those who feel like transplants in their own families. I highly recommend picking it up (here’s a link).

Immediately after I got back from Maryland, two of the poems from the full-length collection I’m working on were featured in the autumn issue of Rose Red Review. In the Dining Hall of the Glass Mountain” is a retelling of the Seven Ravens tale; “Bones Knock in the House” is a villanelle exploring the latent content in Hansel and Gretel. Also recommended in this issue is Sarah Ann Winn’s poem, “Witness” and John W. Sexton’s poem, “All the Way Down.” Thanks to editor Larissa Nash for all the hard work she did putting this wonderful issue together!

New Review of Wolf Skin in American Book Review

I have been traveling on and off, since early May, so I only just got the chance to be amazed by this wonderful new review of Wolf Skin in the latest issue of American Book Review!  Huge thanks are in order to Saara Myrene Raappana for her insightful close  reading. Here’s an excerpt:

Reaching beyond the simple retelling or recasting of the myths that compose our culture’s symbolical landscape, Mary McMyne’s Wolf Skin (2014) weaves brave, dark versions of the Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel tales into the emerging identity of a textual version of the poet. In doing so, she creates a new myth about mother- and daughterhood, contrasting the mortality of self and body with the immortality of love. What’s most impressive about this collection is the way that it builds a mere twenty pages into a single composition that illuminates and complicates both the individual speaker and mythical characters, each informing the other… Before any myths have even been mentioned, the book’s central symbology is established: mothers, children, and flying creatures that mediate the connection between the dead and the living… Wolf Skin catches the reader in its snare, personalizing the universal girl of myth and universalizing the individual woman/poet/speaker by blending them together, and in so doing invites readers to identify as closely with the poet-voice as we’re meant to identify with the cautionary figures of our most basic myths.

 

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New Review: The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey

My review of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s haunting new poetry collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, is up at The Rumpus:

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s fourth poetry collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, reanimates the haunting world of 1970s Oak Ridge Valley, Tennessee, where residents lived in the shadow of both the Smoky Mountains and a government nuclear research facility once known as “America’s Secret City.” In an author’s note, Gailey describes her childhood as the daughter of a robotics professor who consulted at the classified Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) and introduces the fictional Robot Scientist’s Daughter of her collection, who she calls “fantastic” but admits shares many of her traits. The poems that make up this collection move in a controlled way between fact and fiction, autobiography and fantasy, giving readers glimpses into the secret world surrounding ORNL in which Gailey grew up, at the same time as they tell the story of a fictional Robot Scientist’s Daughter who was transformed by that world into something other, something monstrous.

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New Review: On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson

My review of Elizabeth Robinson’s haunting hybrid collection, On Ghosts, is now up at Verse:

Elizabeth Robinson’s fourteenth book, On Ghosts, is indeed a haunting collection. Elusive and difficult to characterize, the book contains poems as well as abstract essayistic passages, floating quotations, anecdotes, an e-mail, mathematical formulae, and descriptions of (absent) photographs. In her “Explanatory Note,” Robinson writes that the collection “is an essay on the phenomenon of ghosts and haunting,” and at first glance, this statement appears to be true.

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New Review: The Children’s War and Other Poems by Shaindel Beers

Tonight, I finished reading Shaindel Beers’ second full-length poetry collection, The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt Publishing, 2013). It’s a book in two parts about a difficult subject — the effects of war and violence on children and society at large — but it’s also a book about the healing power of poetry and art.

The first part of the book contains poems based on the artwork of child survivors of war.  In one, “After a drawing by Mercedes Comellas Ricart,” Beers writes from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old survivor of the Spanish Civil War, imagining the reasons behind the artistic choices her speaker made in this piece:

The plane drops a single black tear of a bomb
that tears a hole in the mountains. The station
bell is mute next to the air raid sirens, and we run.
… [The train] is a ghost train, light gray
and see-through because we never got on. I didn’t finish
the tracks because I never learned where they would go.

Another poem, “Little Amira Honors Her Cat, Pepa,” is based on a drawing of a “family of fourteen hiding in a basement” with the speaker’s cat Pepa, who Little Amira claims  “himself was love.” This is why when she draws him, Beers has the girl explain, “his face is an orange heart. He is smiling / with his mouth and his eyes and his whiskers.” Yes, a grenade “blew open the shelter.” Yes, after the explosion, “the world/ became only Lejla and me…” But Amira “draw[s] Pepa over and over” to honor him, and looks to the future with hope, however heartbreaking that hope is: “When I grow up, I will own a pet store./ I will have ten cats named Pepa./ I will do a better job because/ I will be bigger.” Though Beers stares unflinchingly into the inhumanity and violence of war, over and over, she finds humanity and beauty in the artwork it inspires.

The second part of the collection plumbs the same psychic depths in the world at large, beginning with “Me Llamo,” a poem dedicated to Esteban Guerra, a little boy who believes he carries the guilt of the world’s wars because his name means war itself:

At Confession, he recited figures from every
war he could find in the encyclopedias his abuela kept
in the front room. Padre, I killed 500,000 in Spain
In the 1930s. And 750,000 in the American Civil War alone.

From Esteban, Beers moves to victims of domestic violence in the Midwest, a nameless sister who takes the blame for her brother’s death, a girl near Boston who is waiting for a kidney transplant. Scattered throughout these poems about contemporary American people are mythic poems exploring the violent depths of our collective consciousness: there is a poem from the point of view of a raped naiad, a narrative from Daphne of her transformation into a tree. There are poems inspired by art here, too, for example “After Doctor’s Orders,” a poem inspired by a fused glass sculpture by Tom Dimond, which takes as its subject a man-become-bird who “has felt the southern pull on him in fall,/the northern tug in spring…”

By the end of the collection, when Beers describes her son, Liam, staring up from “the orange hammock of his stroller” at the “bright blue field” of the sky, throwing his fists up, his small hands “opening and closing,” we understand exactly what she means when she says he is “trying to grab // the vastness.” Her poems do something similar: they reach into the dark with small hands to capture the vastness of the human spirit.

New Review: Book of Asters by Sally Rosen Kindred

I just finished reading Book of AstersSally Rosen Kindred’s haunting second collection (Mayapple Press, 2014). The poems in Book of Asters, like the poems in Kindred’s first full-length book, No Eden, explore themes of motherhood, grief, and spirituality in beautiful, lyrical language. Many of the poems turn flowers into metaphors for womanhood and desire, exploring the fertility, transience, and healing power of asters, zinnias, and weeds. Others explore what happens when the flower of womanhood fails to bloom, using the language of flowers to articulate the secret griefs of infertility and miscarriage. Reanimating a long-ago childhood when carts drifted through Winn-Dixie parking lots, children placed their heads on their desks to listen to records, and a daughter longing for otherworldly talismans stole “fists of quartz” from a neighbor’s driveway, this evocative collection explores the complexities of family life and the relationships of a mother to her children and “all the children [she] will never bear.” Highly recommended.

New Review: Small Chimes by Julie Brooks Barbour

51Jw4FBEO7LI just finished Small Chimes by my colleague, Julie Brooks Barbour (Aldrich Press, 2014).  What a pleasure: it’s that rare sort of poetry collection you can pick up and read straight through, cover to cover. There’s a narrative, a momentum that pulls you through. I started and couldn’t stop. Here is small town life, family life, in all its beauty and darkness. The hawk eating a dead crow, picking the bones, while a child watches. The girl darting among clean sheets on the clothesline. The teenaged shoplifter. The angry mother. The long-dead relative who died in childhood, leaving only a memory. Simultaneously accessible and reflective, this book is at turns quiet, beautiful, spirited, and tough. Julie Brooks Barbour tells it like it is, and her poems sing. They’ll wake you up.

New Review: boysgirls by Katie Farris

“Not for the Faint of Heart,” my review of Katie Farris’ wonderfully strange fairy tale collection, boysgirls, appears in issue 35.1 of American Book Review: 

Beware: this fairy tale collection will cause readers to sit up straight, to blink, to swallow in fear. Anyone “used to sitting back and eavesdropping, playing the voyeur on the lives of others,” in the words of its narrator, will be disappointed. At first glance, Katie Farris’s debut collection resembles an artifact recovered from an asylum…

READ MORE AT PROJECT MUSE…