‘Black Card’ by Chris L. Terry: A Satirical Look at Racial Identity in America

by

Chris L. Terry’s new satirical and funny novel, Black Card (272 pages; Counterpoint), challenges ideas about race and identity as it follows its unnamed mixed-race narrator as he navigates the complex world of the punk rock scene in the American South, trying to understand where and how he can fit in—or if he can ever fit in. Structured episodically, Terry’s novel manages to address specific and thematically relevant incidents of the narrator’s life minus an overwhelming page count. “I was finally black again,” the novel begins, in 1997. “I sat on my bed, waiting for proof. Gray smoke oozed under […]

Continue Reading

‘Mickey Rourke and the Bluebird of Happiness: A Poet’s Notebooks’ by W.S. Di Piero: A Literary Time Capsule

by

The relationship between a writer and their notebook is a strange and sacred one. W.S. Di Piero has been keeping a notebook since he first started writing, and, in the poet’s own words, his notebooks have taken on many roles, including “workshop, interrogation room, [and] monk’s cell.” In Mickey Rourke and the Bluebird of Happiness: A Poet’s Notebooks (Carnegie Mellon University Press; 88 pages), we are treated to selections from three decades’ worth of De Piero’s notebooks. Through this collection, Di Piero hopes to “craft a shadow self-portrait composed of hopped-up episodes from my mental and emotional life.” The resultant […]

Continue Reading

The Common Reader’s ‘James Baldwin & American Democracy’: Another Country, Another Time

by

Nobody knows his name. The literary and political legacy of James Baldwin is going through a revival through works like Raoul Peck’s Academy Award-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, and director Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk. Add to this, the newest issue of The Common Reader: A Journal of the Essay, published by Washington University in St. Louis, and its eleven essays that further explore the lasting work and meaning of the author. High points of the issue, titled James Baldwin & American Democracy, include Cecil Brown’s piece, “With James Baldwin at the Welcome Table,’’ in […]

Continue Reading

‘The Painted Forest’ by Krista Eastman: Thoroughly Acquainted with the World

by

Krista Eastman had been living away from her native Wisconsin for many years when she began writing her essay collection, The Painted Forest (144 pages; West Virginia University Press), and it was during this time that she began to consider the meaning of home. Once she left the small, working-class town in which she was raised, she told Poets & Writers, she found she often “had to explain myself and my home to others, putting a complicated place onto maps where previously there’d been nothing at all.” That’s when she “became interested in the role of telling about a place, […]

Continue Reading

‘Blackfishing the IUD’ by Caren Beilin: Inflaming Technologies

by

Just over halfway through Caren Beilin’s newest book, Blackfishing the IUD (165 pages; Wolfman Books), she states the simple truth that we have already learned, have already felt and suffered with, over the course of our engagement with this work: “Reading is ruining my life.” Recounting her own experience with medical gaslighting, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the copper intrauterine device (IUD), and what it means to have metal—a toxic thing, an inflaming thing—placed in the uterus, Beilin’s text is part critique, part personal essay, and part platform for the stories, worries, angers, and generous advice of other affected women. Her voice […]

Continue Reading

‘The Tradition’ by Jericho Brown: Bursts of Ecstasy and Longing

by

To some extent, every poet creates a persona. Think of Berryman’s Henry, for example. But Jericho Brown has done so more fully and convincingly than most. Born Nelson Dimery III, he answered to the name Jericho in a dream. In that dream the name allowed him go through a door. He later learned that the loose translation of the name is “defense,” and he discarded his birth name and became the unmistakably singular poet Jericho Brown. In the same way, he has transformed his evangelical fundamentalist upbringing into spirituality, physicality, and song. This transformation is showcased in his latest book, […]

Continue Reading

‘Hard Mouth’ by Amanda Goldblatt: What Grief Can Do

by

When Denny, the twenty-something narrator of Amanda Goldblatt’s first novel, Hard Mouth (242 pages; Counterpoint Press), flees Washington, D.C., for a mountain cabin to avoid witnessing her father’s final cancer-ridden days, the reader hesitates to judge; after all, who’s to say we wouldn’t do the same in Denny’s place? We all grieve in our distinct ways, and in that regard Denny’s choice seems as sound as her father’s to reject treatment for his third round of cancer. After ten years of watching her father slowly decline, she realizes, “I needed an out…I did not yet understand that courage was unrequired […]

Continue Reading

‘Love and I’ by Fanny Howe: A Meander through a Singular Mind

by

Fanny Howe prefers to be alone—perhaps that’s what makes her such a perceptive poet. In her latest collection, Love and I (80 pages; Graywolf Press), the fruits of Howe’s solitude are on full display. Howe is introspective, curious, and content when she is by herself. Many of the poems in Love and I celebrate the comforts of being alone: I’ll sit at the window Where it’s safe to say no. Won’t go out, won’t work For a living, will study the clouds Becoming snow. That’s not to say Howe doesn’t grapple with the aches of loneliness as well: “Someone help […]

Continue Reading

‘Be Recorder’ by Carmen Giménez Smith: A Call to Action

by

Anyone who has ever questioned the capacity of poetry to do something needs to read Carmen Giménez Smith’s newest collection, Be Recorder (88 pages; Graywolf Press). Be Recorder refuses to pretend it lives elsewhere, in some untouchable world of the lyric. Rather, each poem is undeniably here, in the now of state-generated violence and imperialism, of oppressive immigration policies, of love, of motherhood, of writerly politics. This list, while certainly marking many of Giménez Smith’s major attentions, is painfully incomplete: Be Recorder sees everything, even what it has yet to witness. It is this impulse –– to witness and uncover, […]

Continue Reading

‘Home Remedies’ by Xuan Juliana Wang: Perfect Worlds

by

“Family,” “Love,” and “Time and Space” comprise the three sections of Xuan Juliana Wang’s first story collection, Home Remedies (204 pages; Hogarth). These categories describe this book better than much else could: Wang conjures an incredibly wide range of characters and plotlines, all tied together through notions of familial bonds, love, and temporality. There are no broad strokes or homogenizing glances in Wang’s work. These stories, concerned with Chinese young people and their engagements with culture, curiosity, and identity are complicated and specific, personal and detailed, messy and absurd. Each story Wang creates is so perfectly and wholly its own […]

Continue Reading

‘The Churchgoer’ by Patrick Coleman: The Limits of Doubt

by

Even if Patrick Coleman’s first novel, The Churchgoer (354 pages; Harper Perennial), was not prefaced by a quote from Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, the story’s noir flavors would be unmistakable. Mark Haines, a former youth pastor turned burned-out security guard and amateur surfer, lost his faith and more than a step when his beloved sister committed suicide years ago. In his rearview are a wife and a teen daughter who can barely swallow their bile to speak to him on the phone every so often. Meanwhile, always close at hand is the alcohol addiction he fights to keep a […]

Continue Reading

‘Stubborn Archivist’ by Yara Rodrigues Fowler: The Preciousness of a Moment

by

The task of organizing one’s life experiences into a comprehensible narrative is a universal one—why else do so many of us go to therapy? Through our internal dialogue we create stories, or perhaps allow ourselves to live according to the stories that best help us cope. This is a work of inclusion and omission, of unearthing and rearranging: But there were good times There were good times. Come on. Be honest with yourself. Yeah the sex had been good sometimes… And she had loved him… And there were other things. But she’s a stubborn archivist. Yara Rodrigues Fowler’s first novel, […]

Continue Reading