Tag Archives: Poetry

Racism Transformed into a Given: ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (160 pages; Graywolf) explores the subtleties of racism and prejudice that seem all too prevalent in an oft-claimed post-racial United States. Rankine delves into the macrosociology of racism by examining prejudice in sports, economics, and pop-culture, and melds her pinpoint analysis with individual experiences of alienation and otherness at restaurant tables, front porches, and boardrooms. Citizen observes racism from a myriad of angles, employing a clever and effective combination of second person perspective with the speaker’s internal monologue, and fusing various lyric and reportorial forms with classic painting and contemporary multimedia art. In constructing …Continue reading

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Teaching Poetry Means ‘Make It Human’: Q&A with Juan Felipe Herrera

This month, West Coast writers are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of California Poets in the Schools, a collective of professional poets who facilitate poetry and performance workshops in schools around the state. Each year, CPITS introduces more than 26,000 students to poetry and performance; each year, these students generate more than 100,000 poems through the program. By exposing children to poetry at a young age, CPITS teachers encourage a conception of poetry as a humane, practical, and social practice. They coach students in a skill they will likely use all their lives: that of studying and expressing their experiences and …Continue reading

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Examining Daily Life with the Care of Ozu: ‘Talkativeness’ by Michael Earl Craig

Like films, the poems in Michael Earl Craig’s Talkativeness (104 pages; Wave Books) juxtapose pedestrian settings with dreamlike events. And like films, these poems appeal mostly to the visual sensibility, with spare, declarative language that gets out of the way of their delicately rendered imagery. There are abrupt “cutaways” between unrelated scenes—particularly in such associative pieces as “I Am Examining A Small Crumb” and “Quarter to Five”—and narrative pauses during which the poet fixates on some peripheral animal or prop, like a cinematographer racking the focus of a shot. Film figures explicitly into many of these poems; while Craig’s domestic …Continue reading

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Strange Folk Tales, Recognizable Troubles: ‘Walker on Water’ by Kristiina Ehin

Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water (88 pages; Unnamed Press), translated by Ilmar Lehtpere, marries magical realism with oral tradition to create modern folklore about the complexity of romantic relationships. Ehin is an award-winning Estonian poet, having authored six volumes of poetry as well as three story collections and a book retelling Estonian folk tales—all of which noticeably influence Walker on Water. Primarily, these stories remain in the realm of the magical: In the title story, the protagonist practices walking atop the sea while her husband is at work. He is the director of the Climate Change Monitoring Department at the …Continue reading

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Everything Contained in a Small Moment: ‘Saint Friend’ by Carl Adamshick

Saint Friend (64 pages; McSweeney’s Poetry Series), the newest collection by Carl Adamshick, is massive, not in length, as the collection clocks in at well under 70 pages, but in quality. The poems Adamshick presents us with are expansive thought projects. Even the shorter poems occupy a space that is difficult to comprehend—yet they are so readable, like all the poems here. The fact that Adamshick can write with such variance, that he can be in tune with society and with the incredible poets of the past and present, makes his work impressive and enjoyable. In the opening poem of …Continue reading

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An Honest Portrayal of Reckoning with Memory: Lizzie Harris’s ‘Stop Wanting’

“I want to say what happened / but am suspicious of stories,” begins a poem in Stop Wanting (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 72 pages), Lizzie Harris’s debut collection, winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s 2013 First Book Prize. The simple statement of these opening lines illuminates the entire collection, because at the root of these poems, Harris questions how to retell memory without overwhelmingly fictionalizing. This is especially difficult when what happened frightens both writer and reader. Yet Harris investigates her memory with grace and courage in such beautiful poetry that she leaves the reader shivering, line …Continue reading

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Labor Poem No. 10, Emilio Fonseca Construction I

Dan Alter is a poet whose work has been published in Camelia, Southern Lights, Zeek, and, now, ZYZZYVA. His poems “Labor Poem No. 10″ and “Labor Poem No. 11″ appear in Issue No. 100. “I took the form for this series of Labor Poems from Joshua Beckman,” Alter says, “who developed it in his book Shade.”

Alter, who lives in Berkeley and is a union electrician, will be one of several readers at ZYZZYVA‘s All-Stars Summer Celebration on Thursday, July 17, at the McRoskey Mattress Company Showroom in San Francisco. The event is free, and you can RSVP your ticket here. In the meantime, we offer one of Alter’s poems from our milestone issue.

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Music, Marine Life, and Childhood: Lisa Williams’s ‘Gazelle in the House’

As the title of Lisa Williams’s new book suggests, this collection of wild and graceful poems are untamed yet bound to the confines of the page. Gazelle in the House (New Issues, 87 pages), Williams’s third poetry collection, showcases the elegant range of a poet who listens deeply to the world around her. In the poem “Thelonious,” she reaches out to the jazz legend, displaying a particular knack for evoking the rhythms found in jazz:, “the crooked / passage that a flood can settle: / nuanced tread, asymmetrical / ramble only he could muster / from the backward drift of …Continue reading

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‘I can’t forget that I belong alone.’: Keetje Kuipers’s ‘The Keys to the Jail’

In the title poem of The Keys to The Jail (BOA Editions, 92 pages), the latest stunning collection from poet Keetje Kuipers, the poet writes, “We tell our sad stories / until the dog hangs his head.” Those two lines shadow the collection’s heavy sadness, but it’s a sadness from which Kuipers crawls out of, escaping the morbid nature of life and displaying a gift for relating her experiences of the world. We feel we are discovering the world as she is: “the breath / is our own, the voices belong/ to you and me.” The poem that follows, “Birthday …Continue reading

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All That Woe Out There: Rob Fitterman’s ‘No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself.’

“I am a genius of sadness,” reads a line from Robert Fitterman’s book-length poem, No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself. (Ugly Duckling Presse, 80 pages). “I am a prism / through which sadness could be / Divided into its infinite spectrums.” It’s as good a description as any of the book’s central premise: the appropriation of public articulations of loneliness and angst from blog posts, song lyrics, and ads, and the collaging of these excerpts, without context, in a relentless, eighty-page masterwork of Weltschmerz. Invariably first-person and homogenously histrionic, quotations give rise to an emergent “I” that is at …Continue reading

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What It Means to Be Alive and Dying at the Same Time: Jack Mueller’s ‘Amor Fati’

Amor Fati, a thick volume of new and selected poems from Beat affiliate and once San Francisco fixture Jack Mueller, truly lives up to its name (Lithic Press; 177 pages). “Love of fate,” as the title translates, appears in these pages in many forms: as contemplative acceptance, surly fatalism, awed joy. One moment pondering the nature of death, the next exuberantly describing a bird, Mueller vacillates between optimism and resignation as he moves between the registers of philosophical abstraction and concrete observation. Distinctly the work of an older writer, Amor Fati tackles almost exclusively cosmic questions—about mortality, love, and our …Continue reading

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We Want What Language Won’t Do: Dean Rader’s ‘Landscape Portrait Figure Form’

There’s a little room adjacent to the Djerassi Gallery of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in which, during the Paul Klee at SFMOMA exhibit in 2011, several of Klee’s small drawings and sketches hung. While the main gallery—spread with bright, prismatic paintings on large canvases—was overwhelming, the little annex was quieter and still, its pictures more thoughtful and muted. It was a place to ponder and absorb the dazzling content and heady theory of Klee’s works, a place for the emergent patterns of thought and art to coalesce and make themselves known. Dean Rader’s new chapbook, Landscape Portrait …Continue reading

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