Review of Elizabeth Bradfield’s Once Removed (Persea Books, 2015)


Attempting Scientific Inquiry into Elizabeth Bradfield’s Once Removed

by Laura Maher, with illustrations by Julia Koets

 

The animals know: something is beginning, or something is ending. Something has changed. Call it climate change, call it human interaction, call it nature. The animals are looking for what has drawn them.

The humans look on, observe. The humans aim to know these animal desires: to learn them, to learn from them, to understand why the animals behave in the prescribed way that scientists know, or why they do not. Call it exploration, call it research, call it nature. The humans are looking for what has drawn them.

Drawings by Julia Koets

The poems in Elizabeth Bradfield’s Once Removed are possessed of both animal instinct and human reflection. These are poems I am familiar with, but have never read before. These are poems that delight in the world and its questions; these are poems that direct us to hypotheses, not conclusions. In the process of reading the book, I found myself scribbling questions into the margins, like:


Where does language fit into this world?

Hard to care about the split
infinitive when ice storms,
when past dues, when shore erosion.
   

                         —“Distance Education”


How do we name the bodies of others?

                                        Mammal.
Maman. Breasted & nippled
& warm, warm, warm.


                         —“We All Want To See a Mammal"


How do we name what we cannot see?

My heart, my heart—I am so often lost.
How do we map our time apart?

                          —“Travel of the Light”


What are we to do with the wreckage created by living?

        I’ll reckon you. I’ll reckon
we’ve not wrecked it, not yet.

                                    —“Invocation”

and

            what greater hush is there than a boat aground

            then       lifted by tide?

                                     —“August Song”


What does the I know of the self?

                                                It

is harder and harder to leave the stiff forest of I, I, I,
a life cultivates. The trunks of self
thicken, saplings rise, ready to replace

 whatever falls. The wafted drift of meadow
in which I began has been supplanted.

                           —“Deliquesce: A Meditation in Seven Parts”


What can be learned from the wisdom of animals?

 In laboratory dark, birds leap toward
their routes. Their inked feet
prove again and again that they know
which way (and when) to begin.
 

                            —“Travel of the Light”

So much of the book relies on the relationships of subjects—of animal to human, of land to sea, of the living to the dead, of the self to the world. By the end of the book, one has studied innumerable mammals, fish, habitats, human choices, work, and language.

Through repeated observations and the asking of questions, hypotheses tested, Bradfield builds poems that use scientific method as an ongoing process. Even when there is a conclusion to be drawn, we pause just long enough that it can then be refined.

That is was daylight, that we saw the coyote
low under roadside brush, that
it just kept walking and did not
                                                            turn away.

            ...

I stared. Silence, a thick band, wove
from you to me to this coyote just beyond
barbed wire. We attended       
                                                      one another.

                                            —“It Was Daylight”


Bradfield’s poems, though they do much to navigate the complex environments of emotion, relationships, and knowledge, ultimately ask just one thing of us: how will we attend one another?


Laura Maher is the author of the chapbook, Sleep Water (dancing girl press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared in CrazyhorseMoonsick MagazineThe Collagist, New Ohio Review, and Third Coast. Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arizona, a Master of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She lives, works, and writes in Tucson, Arizona.

Julia Koets’s poetry collection, Hold Like Owls, won the 2011 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize and was published by the University of South Carolina Press. Her poetry and nonfiction have been published in journals including Indiana Review, The Los Angeles Review, and Carolina QuarterlyShe has an MFA in poetry from the University of South Carolina and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Cincinnati.

Review of Jessica Jacobs's In Whatever Light Left to Us (Sibling Rivalry, 2016)


Runner's Log for Jessica Jacobs's In Whatever Light Left to Us

by Sara Watson

Most runners will tell you that logging the miles is nearly as satisfying as running them. There is a particular joy in looking back at where you’ve been, in adding it all up. This is what Jessica Jacobs offers us in her 2016 chapbook, In Whatever Light Left to Us. Here is a portrait of a runner in love, a record of a love built across miles and years. Running, for Jacobs, is both a metaphor for and a kind of love itself. “Once there were two women, running through winter,” she writes, in the chapbook’s opening poem; “Each counted the other’s strides to stay joined in time, kept pace with the other’s breathing.” Here, too, is what I like best about Jacobs’s poetry: its attention to both the interior and natural worlds. There are bees in this book, and deer, magpies and alligators. There is also a girl discovering desire, becoming a woman who worships her wife. It’s a somber book, and also a sexy one. To read it is to be enveloped in humidity, submerged in a deep and steady love.

In the spirit of record-keeping as a means of reflection, I offer this calendar, a kind of runner’s log marked with phrases from In Whatever Light Left to Us. 

Text from In Whatever Light Left to Us by Jessica Jacobs


Sara Watson's poems have appeared in BOAAT, PANK, The Southern Review, and other journals. She studied poetry at Chatham University and earned a PhD in English & Comparative Literature from the University of Cincinnati in 2016. She likes sentences, animals, rivers, porches, and lesbian lit. and currently lives in Pittsburgh where she teaches Women & Gender Studies.

Katherine Webb's Bad Drawings for Good Poetry: Jones


Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones (Hub City Press, 2017)

From Ashley M. Jones's "Viewing a KKK Uniform at the Civil Rights Institute":

All you can really tell at first
is that it was starched.
Some Betty Sue, Marge, Jane,
some proper girl
with a great black iron
made those corners sharp.

This was the first poem of Ashley's I ever read, and in six lines, she knocked me in the gut. By putting the horrifying hood of a klansman into the hands of a Betty Sue, we're forced to reckon with the ways terror began and begins in domestic settings, among familiar faces. The poem also reminded me of the first time I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. My brother and I were kids, afraid to look closely at the photos, afraid we'd see someone we knew—and loved—in one of the white mobs.


Katherine Webb is responsible for our Bad Drawings for Good Poetry feature. She is a writer, editor and educator in Birmingham, Alabama, where she directs the Nitty-Gritty Magic City Reading Series. She's always on the lookout for new writers to host. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Bitter SouthernerPANK, among others. She’s not a visual artist.

Katherine Webb's Bad Drawings for Good Poetry: Mortara

 

some planet by jamie mortara (YesYes Books, 2015)

From "your house becomes an angry mouth": 

colin writes suicide letters on the bathroom mirror / threatens to hang himself from the lip of the gutters / tyler says farewell and mark says nothing / you and I hide the ladder and find the last bowl of chili waiting in the kitchen / it speaks after weeks of growing its own being and a taste for riddling: / what is a home but not your home?

The poems in some planet so completely, so capably capture the feeling of being young and lost, full of existential angst while trying to maintain a who-gives-a-shit front, being full of universal hope and wonder while being crushed by the grind, all the while trying to make sense of who you are, trying to love yourself, and maybe love another, maybe accept the love of others. Reading the book made me feel like I was 22, drunk, and depressed again, but this time, I had someone saying, "Open your eyes, kid. Look up at the stars."

For some reason, no image better captured that feeling, or jamie's sense of humor, than this bowl of riddling chili. 


Katherine Webb is responsible for our Bad Drawings for Good Poetry feature. She is a writer, editor and educator in Birmingham, Alabama, where she directs the Nitty-Gritty Magic City Reading Series. She's always on the lookout for new writers to host. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Bitter SouthernerPANK, among others. She’s not a visual artist.

Review of Aziza Barnes's i be, but i ain't (YesYes Books, 2016)

 

Mouth & Mutt in Aziza Barnes's i be, but i ain't: Diagram + Review by Rochelle Hurt

Use the outer ring as a key for themes and motifs in the quoted lines. The relationship between and among quotes and themes is represented by color and spatial alignment. 

Aziza Barnes's i be, but i ain't invests in a range of themes: family, illness, sexuality, violence, self-preservation, race and otherness. Ultimately the collection is about identity in the context of these issues, all of which are linked via the body. In this book, the body is both a source of anxiety and a means of survivalthe question and the answer at the heart of the speaker's struggle to be

I'm particularly interested in Barnes's mouth imagery. Through the mouth and related activities, the speaker establishes conceptual associations that form a web of themes and motifs. For example, family is often seen alongside food and booze; food is also often used in comparisons to the speaker's body, including polycystic ovaries, while booze frequently appears in descriptions of sex, desire, and dating. Meanwhile, family and love are both linked to the speaker's defensiveness ("my mother. She taught me first to screw up & steady mean // mug on the pavement at folks not my kin"), which is linked back to eating ("your mama remodeled my mama kitchen, which is insulting & I think of you when I eat"), which is a means of self-preservationas is the speaker's teeth-baring alter-ego, "the mutt," who appears in several poems throughout the book. In turn, teeth represent both destruction and desire ("Told them to chew you up until you couldn't breathe just to be in their warm mouth"). In the diagram above, I've used examples from the book in order to represent just some of the ways in which these ideas and images begin to bleed into one another through their overlapping and cyclical associations. Use the outer ring of the diagram as a key for themes and motifs in the quoted lines. The relationship between and among quotes and themes is represented by color and spatial alignment. 

Barnes's figure of the mutt is a beastly projection of the disdain piled on the speaker's body by a social system that devalues Black bodies, women's bodies, queer bodies, ambiguous bodies. The speaker defines the mutt in terms of this degradation in an early poem: "a mixed person. You can mixed, just don't be mixed up! half & / half. bi-____ multi- ____ & other words for emptiness. cavity. not of / teeth." So the mutt may be the speaker's internalization of this disdain, but manifest as a full embrace of those qualities that seem to garner disdain in the first place. She wears her body without shame and becomes the mutt on her own terms. In the final and most stunning mutt poem of the book, we see the speaker "sitting still with my blood running but not out." 

From one angle, a mutt is all moutha being that snarls, growls, licks, drools, chews, bites. For women, and perhaps especially women of color, to be an open mouth without shame is a monstrous transgression. Women are expected be seen but not heard, consumed but not consumers, their legs and lips closed. Women of color are often assumed already guilty of and doubly despised for crossing these lines. Thus Barnes's repeated mouth imagery is not only a refusal of meekness, but also a reclamation of the loud mouthand the language reflects this. Barnes's syntax and music is brash, unapologetic, and quick to make leaps, commanding a reader's full attention.

Yet agency in this book isn't simple. Through its associations with consumption, the mouth also becomes a mechanism of internalized otherness and self-destruction. Near the beginning of the collection, Barnes writes: "In my own home I attempt nightly / to eat my body alive," and while the book doesn't offer false hope or tidy resolutions by the end, it does offer a deeper and more contextualized view of self-de- and reconstruction. In the final poem, Barnes compares the constructed self to a house using formations that test syntactical structures. The fragmented lines push and pull each other into hard-won cohesion until they finally conclude:

                 you know this part that you              won't last that you will be torn     back down
to your simple                                               self you may in the process               forget what you were
until                          you are again                                                     what you were a slab of wood
        a nail & no intention                           only you are different now you are
touched you have been moved                 made & unmade       swiftly        you have been lived in  


There is a friction between resistance and desire—for love, for sex, for understanding, for a coming to terms—in these poems, which offer bared teeth alongside open mouths. This is the central line of tension running through i be, but i ain't, pulled taut by Barnes's sharp and compelling tongue.


Rochelle Hurt is the author of In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street, 2016), which won the Barrow Street Book Prize, and The Rusted City (White Pine, 2014), a novella in prose poems. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, Hunger Mountain, Poetry International, Vermont Studio Center, Jentel, and Yaddo. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati.