Review of Leah Poole Osowski's Hover Over Her (Kent State University, 2016)


Hover Over Her: Microreview with Drawings by Julia Koets
 

When I read Leah Poole Osowski’s new collection of poems, I kept a notebook beside me. As I made my way through the book, I sketched in my notebook: a hollow catalpa pod holding several baby teeth, a water-ring bracelet, a conch-shaped heart, a moon-sliced radish. The images map out a landscape of girlhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

Drawing by Julia Koets with quote from Hover Over Her by Leah Poole Osowski

"The images map out a landscape of girlhood, adolescence, and early adulthood."

From the first poem in the book I’m introduced to this landscape. When I read the opening lines, “We came in folded bodies in inner tubes / roll downing lawns / We came calf-bruised,” I imagine the girls’ legs bruised from rolling down a hill in inner tubes. I consider the dizziness I felt when, as a girl, I rolled down the grassy hill in the park down the street from my house. But I also think about a calf, a baby cow, bruised from being born. As I make my way through the book, I think about the three girls in this book as calves, born bruised, born already knowing something about vulnerability and hurt, knowing that girlhood is a landscape in which girls’ bodies are often vulnerable.

If we look at a map of this landscape, we see other images from girlhood, too:

  • “the lip of the town pool”
  • “yellow-crowned night herons”
  • “paper boats folded in their inflated chests”
  • “her eyes—mud puddles at noon”
  • “The birthmark on her back shaped like Cuba”


If we study this map, we see three girls moving through it, making their way through early adulthood:

  • “They’ll take more walks in this phase than any other”
  • “She’s I and she’s you every time you hid beneath your own arms”
  • “Never not a colt on thin legs. Never not a voice lost underwater”


After reading it, I read it again, unable to get this map out of my head.

Drawing by Julia Koets with quote from Hover Over Her by Leah Poole Osowski


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 Tiana Clark’s Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016)


Equilibrium: Review Ending in a Found Q & A by Marlin M. Jenkins
 

Tiana Clark’s Equilibrium is a collection invested in balance as an active process of pulling together ideas, both within and between poems. One of the first things I noticed about the book was its attention to language as an act, one that often brings things into proximity through conversation. Even from the first poem we are rooted not only in a thought but in the articulation thereof: “Took me thirty years to say / I’m glad I don’t pass for white. / Pressed those words into the dark / creases in my palm like a fortune: / a life line of futures I wanted to begin” (emphasis added).

"Equilibrium is a book of questions"

From here, we see a weaving of questions (which we’ll get to later), as well as quoted text. Some of these quotations come in the form of epigraphs (ranging from Gwendolyn Brooks to Leviticus to Mahalia Jackson), which in themselves create a map of historic voices influencing the work. But the collection is also thoroughly and richly populated with things that have been said: by the speaker’s mother, a girl at a salon, a frat guy in Louisiana, a flower salesman, women at church.

With an attentive ear, Clark listens to these voices and finds ways to bring them into conversation, weighs them with and against each other, brings them together into something cohesive though still wonderfully complicated. All these parts and voices, then, are in conversation with the voice of the poet, a voice that is looking outward and inward, that is reflective yet active, critical yet affirming, questioning yet sure—so sure that when the speaker beseeches us in “Broken Ghazal for Walter Scott” with the words “let us chant,” I want to chant with her.

Clark’s attention in these poems to voices, to listening and responding through both reflection and action, reminds us that the word equilibrium’s multi-faceted associations include the inner ear. This concept is central not only as the collection’s title but as the title of the first poem, a poem whose form contains two halves balanced across a shifting rift at its center. But the conversation on equilibrium in these poems isn’t one of simple oppositional binaries; rather, we see many forms of co-existing ideas just as we see co-existing voices. For example, the speaker is both similar and dissimilar to her mother; faith is not only an issue of religion, but one of spirituality, culture, and community; or in the final poem, “Prometheia Remixed,” we find a conversation bringing together Robert Lowell, Paul Robeson, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Nella Larson, Nikky Finney, and a handful others.

All of these interconnected ideas and voices and moments and experiences work toward a carefully crafted equilibrium together. Each piece helps to contextualize others: “Like the way the haze of summer heat / makes a drive home different.” Or, as we are aptly told, “the smallest part / of ourselves cannot be divided.” These connected parts are built like muscles attached to an articulated joint, and “every muscle knows how to get home.”

"Q   Could it be magic?
 A    How we fake to feel the magic inside us."

A central mode through which this creation of conversation occurs is through questions. Part of the collection’s epigraph reads: “Always a question / Bigger than itself” (Tracy K. Smith). Equilibrium is a book of questions that is definitely something big, weighty, full—a force of beauty and pain and heritage that carefully examines histories of personal and cultural struggle and makes them all alive and present and useful for understanding and moving forward. I think from here it’s best to turn directly to the text and its questions in order to understand how the poems reach across and between each other, speaking in whispers and echoes toward answers, toward equilibrium in its many forms.

To highlight questioning and weaving as central modes of conversation in Equilibrium, the following Q & A was created entirely from poems in the collection, though the quoted fragments of text have been taken from different moments in the book.
 

Q & A across/between poems from Equilibrium:

Q         What is left whispering in us once we have stopped trying to become the other?

A         I hope you know that I can love the absence of a thing even more than the thing itself.

Q         Maybe for other children the purr of the air conditioner, the sound of a ceiling fan whisking the darkness, or the steady neon glow of a nightlight set their dreams ablaze?

A         [W]e were inside the same heat as each of our hands stretched forward, flexed as church fans we stroked the flames of spirit higher and higher.

Q         We didn’t know, how could we?

A         But I knew this girl that twitched on the floor.

Q         Oh, where does this go? Is this trash? Is this trash?

A         Give me a plane ride to question myself.

Q         What did she find in my body to claim first: my nose, my mouth?

A         All the wavy hair I broke like the back of a slave into submission[.]

Q         Aren’t we always flying, into each other into the mouth of the universe?

A         This is how I tucked her in. This is how we said goodnight.

Q         Could it be magic?

A         How we fake to feel the magic inside us. It took me a while to understand that I didn’t have to beg for it.

Q         Didn’t every moment seem sticky & weren’t we always eating?

A         O taste & see David’s lips, his mouth: a crucifix for my wet begging.

Q         What wanted to be born out of nothing?

A         Please know—I’ve made good with my life.

Q         I want to believe her but how did she die & when did the murdering start?

A         I want to write a happy word, but every line jazzes elegy.

Q         How did I know I was different?

A         I was smashed, a stranger—sizzling in lavish multitudes, my lips gnashed,  tore through day & night.

Q         But what about the little girl rolling away, struck with the red hot g sounds ringing fire songs in her ears?

A         So many questions she cannot answer & They will not answer but she testifies in Death.

Q         What are you trying to tell me here?

A         [S]o much blood in me like a dirty, new sin. [W]hat a river of blood I am. [E]very inky pen I pick up bleeds. Let freedom bleed.


Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and studied poetry at University of Michigan's MFA program. His writings have been given homes by The Collagist, Four Way Review, The Journal, and Bennington Review, among others. A former teaching artist with Detroit's InsideOut Literary Arts Project and current editor at HEArt Online, you can find him on Twitter @Marlin_Poet.

Review of Joshua Jennifer Espinoza's There Should Be Flowers (CCM, 2016) and Sarah Messer's Dress Made of Mice (Black Lawrence Press, 2015)


A Conversation on Corporeality Mediated by Corporeal Person Rochelle Hurt (RH)


Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s There Should Be Flowers (TSBF) and Sarah Messer’s Dress Made of Mice (DMOM) in Conversation
     all italics (and only italics) represent quotes from the above texts


RH: TSBF and DMOM, thanks so much for joining me. Lovely weather we’re having on earth today, no?

DMOM: Today it looks like a radiant darkness within the body.

TSBF: It was supposed to rain today / I was supposed to be born a girl.


RH: I see, yes. The two of you are going through different trials, but both are at least partially rooted in the problem of the body. Which brings me to our first topic: fashion. I’m hoping you can discuss for a moment the relationship between skin and clothing, given that some aspects of identity, like gender, have been described as corporeal styles. What’s your favorite corporeal style?

DMOM: Before I say anything else, I’ll just say: Never wear mouse skin. (Once I lost my human clothes.)

TSBF: I wear my clothes, but also I wear my body....my woman body trapped in a dream.

DMOM: That’s so funny because one time I fell asleep wearing a dress made of mice. It hung empty in its thousand skins fluttering ghost-grey / then white when each cloud passed.

TSBF: Such a coincidence! What if my body became a cloud, / I’m always thinking.
 

RH: Oh, interesting—it seems like you’re both saying that sleep and dreams, in which consciousness is freed from physiological limitations, can be conduits for corporeal transformation.

TSBF: Yes, because the world calls the dream of your body / into question.

DMOM: And I have fallen asleep while reading....not remembering my body.


RH: And it seems that clouds are often involved in this transformation. What is it about the sky?

DMOM: It’s like a snow globe of wanting.

"the world calls the dream of your body / into question"

TSBF: The sunset is so beautiful I want / to be fucked by it.

DMOM: For luminous bodies shine on us through that portion of heavens.

TSBF: And also the moon is trans.
 

RH: You're both very spontaneous—but TSBF, it seems like you contemplate existential mysteries with a wry sense of humor, whereas DMOM, you approach life with a sizable dose of mysticism. But maybe it’s the act of looking that’s more important here—and reflection, since the sky is sort of like our giant reflecting pool.

DMOM: I always say: Don’t point a mirror at the sun.

TSBF: I’ve heard that, though sometimes I make a prayer…in front of the closet mirror / where the light from inside moves / around the room to see itself reflected.

DMOM: Well a luminous body is one that shines by its own light.

TSBF: I guess so—but when I am holding the camera and / pointing it at myself…I am / trapped in my own gaze.

DMOM: But your body may also become a house to be shined through.

 



RH: This brings up a chicken-or-egg question: Is self-consciousness a vehicle for production of self-image or is self-image a vehicle for production of self-consciousness?

TSBF: It’s a paradox—sort of like how the woman sees herself in everything and nothing.

DMOM: Well, I do begin inside / the eyeball of a cloud, so yes, both.
 

RH: That reflective gaze is an important aspect of self-realization. If we conceive of ourselves at least partially outside of our corporeal bodies, then there must be a sense of dissonance when we see our physical selves in the mirror—whether that particular dissonance is rooted in our spiritual philosophies, our gender identities, the shock of mortality and grief, or other experiences. This dissonance is a kind of death, no?

TSBF: Sometimes I think I’m going to die / and then I remember that I definitely am / going to die.

DMOM: But where are you now without the body? How can the world breathe without your body?

TSBF: Well I describe it this way: When you walk, / the ground seems to breathe you out.

DMOM: So you breathe now with your whole body beneath water.

TSBF: My body has healed now / It is a twenty story building / made of rocks and trees and ivy.

DMOM: Ah, but in the end, the body leaves us / its empty building.


RH: So it seems like dissonance and death can also take part in producing self-image and consciousness. A paradox, indeed. Do you think that language works in a similar way?

TSBF: Some bodies become books about themselves.

DMOM: I know exactly what you mean. Over the years, I have creaked out of silence…. And now suddenly script, the spirit medium’s handwriting, / blowing my body back into bluets.

TSBF: Every poem I write / about being a trans woman / gathers around my body / like fire in the night.

DMOM: And yet what I say is different / from what I mean. And what I say // is something unseen.

TSBF: Well there are answers in forgetting / what words mean. I close my eyes / when I read. I tie my hands behind my / back when I write.
 

"the body leaves us / its empty building"

RH: Language—always inadequate for reconciling the corporeal and the non-corporeal—seems at once productive and destructive. For both of you, the mouth is often a point of exchange between language and body, since, when we speak, the mouth is where thought is filtered through our corporeal selves. It’s where the internal becomes external. It is also then a site of misunderstanding, since we always risk losing the self we know when it is translated into something the outside world must interpret, sometimes wrongly. Do you have any other thoughts on the mouth?

DMOM: Breath // Can be held in the mouth / as long as we wish. A mouth can be half-closed like a lock / that waits.

TSBF: I know for me all that womanhood / caught in the roof / of my mouth / was like honey.

DMOM: An impossible walk under weight of honey.
 

RH: I think I understand. Thank you for speaking with me and with each other today. Do you feel that conversations like this are useful?

DMOM: Well once philosophers tried to weigh a sunbeam.

TSBF: And truly this complex / trauma responds only to the dialectical.
 

RH: Trauma and sunbeams—I’ll take that as a maybe. I, for one, learned a little about what it means to be alive in a body.
 


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 PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati.

 

Review of Claudia Cortese's Wasp Queen (Black Lawrence Press, 2016)

Paper Fortune Teller for Claudia Cortese's Wasp Queen

     a creative review by Madeleine Wattenberg

Handmade fortune teller by Madeleine Wattenberg

In Wasp Queen, Lucy plays the deadly serious game called girlhood. Cortese builds her prose poems in language culled from images of a suburban adolescence. Each poem smacks the brain like the sourest Sweetart in the bag and pushes into all shared secret places of a plucked and pried girlhood. Lucy’s world manifests in the “pubic mist” of public showers, the “hurt of lemon spritz,” the bubbled slurs ascending through peed-in pool water. Cortese claims all those knifey words by the handle, then opens the image wider.

The format I chose for this review is called a fortune teller, cootie catcher, chatterbox, or whirlybird. I remember playing with these with my friends as a kid, unfolding the layers until we arrived at the fortune. Like Wasp Queen, the fortune teller is a game of counting, morbid curiosity, and mystery of the interior. The messages transform as they are hidden, folded, reshuffled. The outer layers fold in. The inner layer is pulled outward and exposed.

In this fortune teller, all divinations come directly from Lucy herself. First, you must select from the “names that could only be thought original by 12-year-olds who subsist on a diet of Twizzlers and Saved by the Bell reruns.” To begin, print and fold: handmade PDF / typed PDF

"In this fortune teller, all divinations come directly from Lucy herself."

Directions (adapted from www.gaillovely.com):

•       Cut out the fortune teller along the outside line.
•       With the printed side up, fold the square in half horizontally and then vertically.
•       Turn the square over.
•       Fold each corner over so they meet in the middle, but do not let them overlap.
•       Leave the square folded, and flip it over.
•       Now fold the corners into the center, making sure they do not overlap.
•       Fold the entire square in half and poke your thumbs and forefingers in under the flaps.
•       Bring your fingers together so the fortune teller forms a peak. Play!

Typed alternate fortune teller by Madeleine Wattenberg


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.

Review of Debora Kuan's Lunch Portraits (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016)


Portraits of Reading Lunch Portraits by Debora Kuan

     a creative review by José Angel Araguz


i.

I have the book in bed with me, trying to sneak the first few poems before going to sleep, when my wife comes in and says: Yum! I laugh, say, Check this out!, then begin reading the first poem, “Automat Prayer,” aloud, letting each short couplet linger:

     Drop a coin in me.
     I’ll give you a sandwich. 

     You speak burger.
     I speak pie.

Each couplet brings an electric mix of laughter and anticipation between us. “Wave your drumstick / proud and high” has me with my hand in the air, an invisible drumstick turning over our bed. As the poem winds down, my voice falls down into it:

     May bright ketchup

     dot your days.
     May your woes

     slide easy
     off your plate.

     May you always
     return

     with an appetite.

The quiet we enter into has us still, locked in place between breaths, a quiet very much like one looking in at an automat, which is looking in on possibility, the quiet of consideration, a quiet very much like prayer.
 

ii.

Reading “Self-Portrait as a Supine Susan Sontag” on the shuttle to work, and envisioning the speaker’s attempt “to recreate”

     that famous black-and-white photo, the cozy ease
     of her resignation on the only piece of

     furniture moored in the ocean
     of that room

I find myself shifting in my seat, wondering what I might look like should someone take my photo right this second. I agree with the speaker’s thought that where we are at “doesn’t seem to suit / your form.”

As soon as I think “we” I know some part of me is trying to shift into the logic of the poem, already feeling the pang of knowing the man taking the picture is

     ready to rush home through the driven snow
     to his family for dinner, to pretend
     he was never here

     tonight, never in the heat of
     your arms – no, Sontag’s arms – in the double
     blue fiction of a shortening shadow.

This moment of amendment at the end of the poem, this is why people read lyric poetry, not for moments of self-assessment or understanding, but self-possibility. Enough reflection, and you begin to see past yourself shifting in the blue light of early dawn.
 

iii.

A week has gone by since I finished the book and I am scrambling with my wife to pack our apartment for a move to another state, another job, another life. In the back of my mind, I go over how I want to start this review: in bed, yum, reading aloud. I haven’t made the connection between quiet and prayer yet in the title. I suppose I’m at the mantra stage, repeating words to myself in one place.

"this is why people read lyric poetry, not for moments of self-assessment or understanding, but self-possibility"

When I sit down to write, I look at the index card of page numbers and phrases that I keep during my reading. More words to repeat: 23-where I come from, 30-coax, 35-blossoms, 45-47 illiterate darkness. I stop when I read 80-What’s left to make meaning from? That’s really what this book’s about. In poems that run through heartbreak and humor (66-Hamburger Helper? Or Hamburger Helpee?), Kuan is answering that question with the sharpness (in all ways) and insight of lyric selfhood.


Or is it non-selfhood? This question holds some weight considering the last lines of the collection:

     And I breathe fire

     and I dress red
     so when I die

     at least the devil can’t discover me
     against the setting sun.

As the walls we’ve lived in for four years grow bare, our paintings and postcards taken down, what is left could belong to anyone.
 


José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of six chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press) and Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in RHINO Poetry, New South, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. He runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence and teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College.