Q&A with Jenny Qi: ‘Focal Point’ and a Full Picture of Grief

by Chiara Bercu

Jenny Qi’s first poetry collection, Focal Point (98 pages; Steel Toe Books), sees release this week. Written over the course of Qi’s graduate study in oncology, and upon the loss of her mother to cancer, Focal Point quilts together meditations on memory, bereavement, racism, divinity, and motherhood. Victoria Chang describes the collection as a “book of crossing.” Its sixty poems forward a fresh, intertextual probe into experiences of transition and bring delicate attention to life in the wake of loss. Qi was the winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Award, and her essays and poems appear in the […]

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Q&A with Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky: Into the Den

by Laine Derr

ZYZZYVA: In Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (2009), you write fondly of your dad, a star basketball player, trophy in hand. Is there a game/sport you enjoy playing? Robert Pinsky: In high school I was not bad at the team sports, and as a Stegner Fellow at Stanford I was a standout in Sunday morning softball games, (Not saying much—as tiny a distinction as the Hemingway character’s boxing championship at Princeton.) For years I got great pleasure from tennis, but at some point, writing became the one theater for all my efforts of a […]

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Q&A with Kaveh Akbar: ‘Pilgrim Bell’ and Learning Out of Order

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In his new book of poetry, Pilgrim Bell (Graywolf Press; 80 Pages), Kaveh Akbar plays with the spiritual, familial, and corporeal. The poems meditate on the places of our origins; the land from which we came, the people through which we arrived, and the languages we spoke among and after those places and people. Kaveh is the winner of a 2017 and 2018 Pushcart Prize and is the Poetry Editor at The Nation. ZYZZYVA spoke to Kaveh, whose poems appeared in Issue 107, to discuss the book, God, and miracles. ZYZZYVA: The first and the second to last poem of […]

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Q&A with Kelly Cressio-Moeller: ‘Shade of Blue Trees’ and the Presence of the Body

by Alana Frances Baer

Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s debut poetry collection, Shade of Blue Trees (79 pages; Two Sylvias Press), consists of thirty-seven poems, broken into four parts. Cressio-Moeller has long established herself as both a visual artist and writer, with her widely published poetry earning nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and Best of the Net awards. Having spent most of her life in San José, California, Cressio-Moeller draws heavily from California terrain. She points to the heavy knots of human relationships, reminding us that love comes with grief. And she writes of and from daily life, mapping the jagged edges of relationships […]

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Spotlight on Issue 120: Q&A with William Brewer

by Chris Carosi

As a poet originally from a former steel-town outside of Pittsburgh, I have a thirst for stories and writers coming out of the area, especially Appalachia and what is known, by turns accurately and inaccurately, as the “Rust Belt.” I am most interested in the writers from this part of the country that have been writing essential books that highlight the personal experiences of working-class communities. I’m thinking of presses like Belt Publishing and West Virginia University Press, not to mention the dozens of books from other small and university presses that seek to give writers from these areas platforms […]

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Hangover 1.1.2019

by sam sax

Like a hammer swung into antique champagne flutes / Like a family heirloom traded for a Twix / Like a red dictionary dropped from a replica famous bridge / Like a robe made out of skin that, turns out, is your skin & oops you must wear it / Like the man who lives in your occipital lobe slowly whittles a sad stick and sighs / Like a headwrap made of crane flies / Like a framed section of your brain hanged in a museum / Like a school of hungry kids all banging their forks & knives at once […]

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‘On Valencia Street: Poems & Ephemera’ by Jack Micheline: A Return to San Francisco’s Core

by Lindsey Pannor

“The art world is so fucking boring it could make your heart cry,” writes the late Jack Micheline in On Valencia Street: Poems & Ephemera (133 pages; Lithic Press; edited by Tate Swindell), and it’s a phrase that neatly captures the vibrancy of Micheline’s gut-wrenching artistic project. On Valencia Street contains an array of unpublished work by the honorary Beat (Micheline purportedly derided the label of “Beat poet” as a “product of media hustle), as well as varying pieces of memorabilia, including drawings of a Basquiat-Johnston lovechild, posters for live readings, and nearly illegible notes written on napkins. Micheline’s aesthetic […]

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

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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 […]

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

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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, […]

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

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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 […]

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Q&A with Brandon Shimoda: ‘The Grave on the Wall’ and Writing with Ghosts

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How to capture a life, how to represent it, is a difficult if necessary question to address in writing. Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall (222 pages; City Lights Books) relentlessly contends with this concern as it recounts the story of Midori Shimoda, the author’s grandfather, within the entangled histories of immigration, Japanese incarceration during World War II, mourning, and memory. The book is also an examination of writing itself, the mechanism available for, and sometimes burdened with, conveying these stories; with relaying and reimagining them, opening them to visitation. A chronicle of the living and the dead and the places […]

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

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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, […]

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