2017 Staff Recommendations


2017 Titles Recommended by Bind Reviewers

To close out 2017, we've put together a short list of books published in 2017 that we read and loved but didn't get to review (yet). Here are our staff picks (alphabetical by author):

Ornament by Anna Lena Phillips Bell (UNT Press)
What Weaponry by Elizabeth J. Colen (Black Lawrence)
Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing (Haymarket Books)
Sycamore by Kathy Fagan (Milkweed)
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker (Tin House)
Double Portrait by Brittany Perham (Norton)
Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande)
Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey (Ecco)
Gilt by Raena Shirali (YesYes Books)
Unlikely Designs by Katie Willingham (U of Chicago)

If you'd like to review any of these titles for The Bind, please get in touch!

We also have a few changes to announce: Starting in January 2018, The Bind's reviews will be published every other Friday, rather than every Thursday. We'll also be publishing more interviews and lesson plans, along with our usual reviews, responses, writing prompts, and creative-critical experiments. 

Happy New Year!

Review of Nicole Homer's Pecking Order (Write Bloody, 2017)

8 Things Nicole Homer’s Pecking Order Taught Me About Motherhood


a creative review by Leila Green

 

In Nicole Homer’s first full-length poetry collection, Pecking Order, she examines motherhood and its impact on women’s bodies. Her poems circle miscarriages, births, and child-rearing, uniquely focusing on their dreary, physical aspects. They subvert the power typically associated with childbirth, exploring the visceral elements that often render it grotesque. In “Motherhood,” she laments:

Motherhood is like
being pecked
to death
by my
favorite birds
made from my
body, torn
by beaks sharpened.

In this way, Homer strays from often romanticized notions of motherhood, offering a more sobering, nuanced account of birthing and raising children. The strange violence depicted here is mirrored in another poem, “How I Became a Mother Contemplating Loss,” in which the act of giving birth is totally stripped of melodrama and instead painted with blood and other unsavory fluids:

My body offered me a new
dream: a woman as round as I, reaching into me; a room, dimly lit and
gray; voices talking to me; tears and sweat and shit and blood, my blood,
my screams. Then, my newest prayer on my chest. Hungry for my body
and suckling at me until we were both milk drunk and near sleep…

This portrayal of mother and child as undergoing intertwined traumas invites an inquiry about the ownership of women’s bodies. Aside from the physical effects, what does giving birth say about mothers and their bodies? How much of ourselves is lost when we give birth? Homer writes of her newborn son: “I held him for hours that way. His hair flaked with my blood. His skin/ sticky with my blood. His blood, my blood” (“How I Became a Mother Contemplating Loss”). This mingling of selves is at odds with the body’s reclaiming after childbirth. Even after they are born, a mother’s child is still an inextricable thing. Through offering more realistic, less saccharine versions of birth and motherhood, Pecking Order forces us to reexamine often glamorized understandings of what it means to birth life, assume the role of a mother, and reclaim the body. Ultimately, Homer makes us wonder: Does motherhood elevate or lower women and their bodies in the proverbial pecking order?

Although Pecking Order begs many questions, it ended up answering several of my own. Homer’s poems taught me that:

1.     Giving birth is not only beautiful, but violent. Even grotesque.

2.     Our bodies barely belong to us. Even our children can pillage them, grow, then go elsewhere.

3.     Motherhood makes women belong even less to themselves.

4.     We have to work to reclaim our bodies, after birth, during life, after death.

5.     Our children can be cruel reminders of what we are not.

6.     Overarching narratives about the power of motherhood ignore the ways in which it often renders us powerless.

7.     Our children’s bodies are inextricably, and eternally, tied to our own.

8.     Motherhood is a double-edged sword.


Leila is a 24 year old writer from Milwaukee. She posts reviews of black poetry and literary fiction on her Instagram: @black.book.quotes.

Review of Jenny Johnson's In Full Velvet (Sarabande, 2017)

Queer Ecology: a Review and Field Guide to Jenny Johnson's In Full Velvet

by Madeleine Wattenberg


In one of his journals, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that “all things therefore are charged with love, are charged with God, and if we know how to touch them give off sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him.” “Dappled Things,” the first poem in Jenny Johnson’s collection In Full Velvet, engages Hopkins’s reflections on the energies of nature, but, in a wonderfully simple declaration, Johnson releases God from her own studies:

            Thanks Gentle Hop for this this-ness, for teaching attention
How to mark hard word-bodies with stress,
            Acute glyphs, blue scores   For reckoning the risks
in disciplines rod—between sheets of loose leafed linen—
            You knew few might hear your coded address

Do I look hard enough to receive?
            I am not moved by God, but I am moved by this
To experience the largesse: What you look hard at seems
            to look hard at you
  O to be marked reciprocally, yes please

What is left without God in the picture? Love. And, of course, the poet’s tools—attention, language, possibility. A desire to be marked by what one marks. Like Hopkins, Johnson proposes an attunement to the surrounding environment and its agencies; it just so happens that to attune to Johnson’s world is to become aware of nature’s queer chords and cadences, the ever shifting possibilities of relation that the world’s individual parts form and reform. Where imposed binary systems perpetuate the reduction of relation, Johnson’s poetry embraces, even renders necessary, the multiplicities of a queer ecology. Instead of the double-sided coin—two faced and singular, the currency of a hetero-capitalist vision—queer ecology insists on infinite (re)combination. Johnson’s work enacts this possibility of relation—the possibility of relating. It enacts the possibility of love. Her poems achieve this in part by looking beyond the page in their address toward reader or history or (her) love, while simultaneously paying tribute to the arrangements of non-human and human bodies marked in stress and score across the whitespace:

I kiss my hand to male bonobos making out in public
in spite of Western science
trying to explain away   The glorious kink
            of spinner dolphins’ whistle-clicks
over-under rolling, belly-on-belly clasping by the soft tips
            of flukes, riding dorsal rudders to the brink

Queer ecology requires us to consider non-human agencies, non-human modes of knowledge, and Johnson’s poems operate in the tension between this requirement and an inescapable embodied human subjectivity: “I’m breathing through my skin,” she writes. Here, Johnson positions her speaker’s material relation to the remaining world, isolated via the body, joined via the body. As we inhabit the world, the world inhabits us.

In drawing on Hopkins, Johnson moves to mark not only the ascents and descents in sound, but to develop a scansion of nature’s erased, ignored, and suppressed queer bodies. An unheard music. She addresses the othering of the queer body that occurs through language, when cultural codes mark these bodies apart from the socially accepted script in order to separate and reduce them. This is no more apparent than in the collection’s title poem “In Full Velvet,” which describes the deer that keep their velvet through the mating season.  Johnson lists a number of coded names given to these stags, including antlered does, monsters, raggedy horned freaks, and leaves the parallel to the way we similarly mark human queer bodies as an echo throughout the book.

In Full Velvet explores violent consequences of the body deemed deviant, but also presents a glimpse at the alternative to scripted norms. One such glimpse occurs in the poem “Severe,” where Johnson writes:

As if to be butch is to be made of mythical perimeters,
and not the sky revealing itself between storms
in sudden naked flashes.

The normative body is a body of erasure, which obscures “A small pouch O tiny nipple / O lactating man” the “dandelions . . . growing stamens growing pistils” the wind that, “rips each part apart However we / clone and clone and clone”.  The this-ness in the illuminated sky. There’s possibility contained in this separation into parts, there’s a multiplicity in how parts may join and function and be inhabited.

"Johnson’s poetry embraces, even renders necessary, the multiplicities of a queer ecology"

I’m fascinated with the way the word “part” evolves throughout Johnson’s collection—part, a part, apart. One poem even seems to form an invocation to multiplicity (“O Lord of Parts, O Holy Tool Shed!). While Johnson’s poems revel in the necessity of relation, her speaker also repeatedly questions the possibility of it: “When talking about how the brain imagines the body / neurologists use the word ‘schema’ to describe the little map // that lies across the cortex, sending / all our visible and invisible parts. // Love, we are more than utility, I think.” This reads as a resistance against the reduction of parts into symbols, genders, sexualities, use. The alternative lies in a naked encounter—“Love, I know my body’s here when the turkey vulture comes out of the thicket, wings spread wide, smelling all of it.” In “Vigil,” Johnson writes of “space and joy becoming one.” In Full Velvet is about the lived violence of those whose identities that lie outside the heteronormative script. It’s also an argument for the ways that a queer ecology can recognize joy and pleasure erased through heteronormativity’s hyperfocus on biological reproduction. Johnson details acts of joy and pleasure that occur in nature outside contrary to a reproductive drive in order to form this argument. Here lies the answer to the question “Out of a prohibited body why / long for melody?” and the wonderful oxymoronic resonance of the phrase “one crowd,” which holds the paradoxical containment of both one and many, the singular contributing to the multiple in order to establish chord and music. A body of parts and a number of possibilities held together by a breathing, singing skin.

As I read In Full Velvet, I referred frequently to a copy of A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America. I was struck by the attentive care to sound contained in the entries. Each birdcall and song is carefully (and often opinionatedly) noted. I also found the expected insistence on binary formulations (male this, female that) as I read about the birds that wheel in and out of Johnson’s collection. The following field guide “entries” are composed of lines taken from In Full Velvet (italicized) and A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America (not italicized).
 

Field Guide to Full Velvet Birds


Catbird (Dumetélla carolinénsis)

Common near dense cover.
No other bird between earth and air.
Song is of squeaky quality,
with little or no repetition;
However the wind
rips each part apart,  

it is a poor imitator.
However we
clone and clone and clone


Grackle (Quiscalus major)

[The] perched grackle wrings its way
toward a branch, close enough that I can see

 the feathers spiked roughly beneath the beak,
an iridescent weight making limbs sway.

Song of stick-breaking noises, whistles,
and rattles is long, loud, and varied.

Was I vanishing? Instead of returning?
Young have brown eyes until October.


Osprey (Pandion haliáetus)

Here she points across the river to an osprey nest.
The only prey are taken at or just below the surface.

While black-winged ospreys plummeted from above,
we were born beneath. You know what I mean?

 
Starling (Stúrnus vulgáris)

Short-tailed, dark, and fat-bodied.
Consider how gracefully I ascend,
gregarious and aggressive,
a starling with supernatural restraint.
Blue eggs (4-6) are laid in nest hole.
A monument to pieces.

 
Turkey Vulture (Cathártes áura)

How dare I speak of the marked when I am the diurnal creature damming the night
sky with engineered light,

a common carrion eater, scavenging in fields and along roadsides.
Love, I know my body’s here when the turkey vulture comes out of the thicket, wings
spread wide, smelling all of it.

Feeding vultures are soon joined by others flying in from beyond human vision.

 
Yellow-Throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica)

A yellow-throated warbler measures your
schisms, fault lines, your taciturn vibrato.

Black streaks border breast.
We watch as all but the sheer black
underwire melts.

Song is loud and clear.
Tonight, as one crowd, we will bridge this choir.

 


 Madeleine Wattenberg's lifelong dream of writing reviews entirely in emojis feels closer than ever. The words of women and nonbinary writers keep her imaginary zeppelin afloat. Her own work appears or is forthcoming in journals such as Hermeneutic Chaos, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Mid-American Review, Muzzle Magazine, Ninth Letter, and Guernica. Direct birdcalls to @topazandmaddy.