book reviews

I learned back in a high school weather class that the air in the upper regions of the atmosphere is so thinly spread out that you could fly around in a freezing vastness before encountering a single burning particle. That’s close to how I feel about this collection, though clear air might be replaced by every manner of cloud, by which I mean to represent the wild, weaving language in its beautiful and dangerous abstractness.9780989734417_cvr

“we eclipse / a limit to human strength / we eclipse / eclipse when you are / dying no body listens to you / because every body does”

Part of what connects Valerie Hsiung’s poems both in their individual interior and in the context of the rest of the collection is her heavy, heavy interest in repetition. The poems also relate every human instinct and expression with a piece of a landscape or some element in the natural world, resulting in a magnetic web of connectedness.

“Azaleas to play / and thru azaleas / prescience / Azaleas to play/ and thru azaleas / the place without them / prescience / Azaleas / as if the country/ and banned them”

The collection seems to me an attempt to break us of the way we think about and vocalize our thoughts and the conflicts behind them. It abstracts and blankets these thoughts while grounding them a bit (or, rather, trying to ground them) with repetition. Either way, they guide a sort of floating along as we ascend and descend into and from these struggles to think and address. And, my god, it’s a beautiful exploration. Hsiung prioritizes playing with the space on the page and repetition to make a more interesting and open composition out of these pieces. And it does; to me, it does achieve that openness which otherwise might be absent in these poems, which don’t have many clear markers as to beginnings and endings but if they did it would feel forced against the grain of her established aesthetics. In a lot of ways, the playfulness reminds me of Stein’s Tender Buttons, though under your face is certainly more directive and space-wandering.

I’ll end by saying the best part of this book is the vast amount of surprises. You’d think repetition wouldn’t allow for many, but you’d be wrong. You’d be weatherman wrong.


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I saw Carrie Lorig read with Nick Sturm and a couple other local-ish talents in Cincinnati, my current digs, a week or two ago. When she began, or maybe it was after her first poem, Lorig mentioned that her being into sound is pretty obvious. It is. It really is obvious, and this chapbook from Magic Helicopter is proof and success.

The first thing I feel I must relate this book to is Ariana Reines’s book THE COW, as that book and this one both have some amount of focus on the cow’s body in order to discuss the human body, but this book is a book much more concerned with the sentence, with its restructuring, with its ness in every sense, and with making or Imageremaking or tweaking slightly certain words to help the flow flow. What I mean is: “a cow looks like me when it pets all over my underneat. a cow looks like me when i choke light. when i choke light, it is immediately.”

The language here is playful, sentence-considerate, and somehow Lorig manages to vary sentences over long-ish poems that sustain themselves on this language and on this variance. The poems, in discussing the body somewhat, mention blood or the body often, but rarely directly, and I have this wild idea that this restructuring of language while playing with modes of variance and repetition seeks, perhaps, to consider a restructuring of the body, to restructure a considering of the body, to make a body happen out of thin air. This book is a body.

Wong‘s first full-length, a chunky and beautiful thing composed of sections, is a rhymic dynamo that lulls and startles. Now let me explain. Wong creates these sort of formulas and rhythms of speech very organically and naturally, making the sentence-level writing do most of the work, and the accumulation of images and thoughts exist just under the surface. These sentences, after you begin to get lulled into their schematics, will suddenly pop like a bottle rocket and force you to snap back to some other state of mind.

Though some of these formulaic results are dull compared to the starkness of the others, the gems are wide awake and ready to work. Wong’s sentence-level play is so strikingly beautiful and simple and provokative that I’m running out of words for it all. So here’s an example: “opening: the edges: of fabric braiding into itself / and how making the bed requires: uncurling: like / a piece of parchment a declaration an admission”.

There are enough surprises embedded into this collection to warrant a good handful of re-reads, which is exactly what I plan to do. This book is a mass of fairy-tale-like punches that expose accidental self-reflection in a mess of descriptions about a slowly burning world of social intricacies and accidents. It’s a beatiful mass. And mess.

This first tiny gem from Tree Light Books is one of the best chapbooks (maybe the best) I’ve encountered all year. Honest.

The thing is filled with dry death: with bones, ghosts, dirt. It’s stark and self-aware, acutely focused on delivering these dark images thick with brilliant and quick language — something like speaking with sweet top soil in your mouth and on your teeth. Picture it.

Lists are also present, molding this darkness into an organized chaos (I’ll admit I’m a sucker for such things). Here’s a selection from one of my favorites, called “Characteristics of the Murdered Object,” which sheds light too on the incredible textured language this thing has to offer:

next door, pistols laboring to fire.

a muffled hour, a rotted footstool.

a woman cast into dark mirrors, fretwork and filigree.

dreaming of nightgowns, of calving moons.

I’d go longer but I hate spoiling. This tiny, gorgeous thing is available over at Ghost Ocean Magazine‘s brand new Tree Light Books.

Keeping alive her often-focus on Saginaw, a Michigan city ranked among the most dangerous in the country, Gina Myers‘s False Spring is a sort of diary in the life of a Saginaw resident. This simple and beautiful little chapbook from Spooky Girlfriend Press chronicles a daily exhaustion of life, of work, of a significant other halfway across the country, all while the bang-bangs of gunshots ring from beyond the window.

Each page contains a stanza of a day, maybe a week, flowing with frustration and confinement and a subdued urgency cloaked in static. I suppose you could call each staza/page/piece/fragment a list of activities, of problems, of possible temporary solutions to the ailment of an existence in a violent city like Saginaw. But what keeps this chapbook from stepping foot in the dead-grass-dog-shit-backyard of sappiness and darkness is the underlying powerful love for Saginaw which Myers keeps in this book’s engine.