‘Ante body’ by Marwa Helal: A Window into a Double Life

by Roz Naimi

The latest collection from Egyptian-born, Brooklyn-based poet Marwa Helal, Ante body (80 pages; Nightboat Books), demonstrates the participatory nature of Helal’s work. The book offers a kaleidoscopic window into the double consciousness of the emigré, her post-migratory grief and dispossession, and the cheeky coping mechanisms that come into play. In her exploration of our post-pandemic political moment, Helal harnesses and discharges an energetic exigency, calling the reader into an honest mindfulness through non-traditional and experimental poetic play. Ante body invites us to trip over language, to recover, and view those stumbles as necessary toward achieving wisdom. Whatever linguistic baggage the […]

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‘Customs’ by Solmaz Sharif: The Complicity of Speech

by Ray Levy Uyeda

Solmaz Sharif’s second collection of poetry, Customs (104 pages; Graywolf Press), interrogates the English language and its role in shaping America. English was the language used to write the U.S. Constitution, enslave kidnapped West Africans, and free enslaved African Americans; it’s the language used to go to war and used to achieve liberation. Customs inspects language itself as a device for colonization and country-making, which in this land is the same. The collection, split into three sections, begins with a poem called “America.” Eighteen lines composed of 12 sentences, each sentence three words long, the poem appears almost like a […]

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‘Dead Winter’ by Matvei Yankelevich: Winter on the Page

by Chiara Bercu

Matvei Yankelevich’s latest poetry collection, Dead Winter (40 pages; Fonograf Editions), is a wheeling and melancholic address to winter as a mimetic object. “My task, my cross—to reassemble winter’s/ memory,” Yankelevich states in one the earliest of his twenty-seven poems. He meets this attempt to capture winter on the page by mounting an inquiry into the season as a site of recursion, ungovernability, and wasting. Yankelevich pictures winter as an “abandon” forever short of expression. Within “imagined limits,” winter appears to modulate time in an alternately moldering and propulsive manner: “Of/ course, one can look out a window, one/ can […]

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Worries

by Edward Derby

Hungers, germs, personal email gone to SPAM, lost postcards that explained everything, what to do about the weeds in the gravel, catalytic converter theft, a blood stain in a library book (page 17), sock holes, black holes, global warming, automatic subscription renewals, bankruptcy, asteroids, air quality, a helicopter circling the neighborhood, eviction, sagging underwear elastic,

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‘Horses Drawn with Blue Chalk’ by Rocío Ágreda Piérola: Language as an Unlimited Spectrum

by Chiara Bercu

Translated from the Spanish by Jessica Sequeira, Horses Drawn with Blue Chalk (42 pages; Ugly Duckling Presse) is Bolivian poet Rocío Ágreda Piérola’s first English publication, a bilingual presentation of poems from her 2017 chapbook, Detritus, and prose fragments from her working manuscript Quetiapine 400mg. In her introduction, Sequeira aligns the collection with the work of Argentine poets such as Hugo Mujica and Héctor Viel Temperley, situating Horses Drawn with Blue Chalk at the interstice of “carnality, communion and the word.”  The opening excerpts from Ágreda Piérola’s manuscript make a bid for fragmentation as a means of “reconstructing and vanquishing […]

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‘Czesław Miłosz: A California Life’ by Cynthia L. Haven: The West Coast’s Mythic Allure

by Peter Schlachte

Czesław Miłosz: A California Life (256 pages; Heyday) is as much as portrait of a place as it is of a person. Cynthia L. Haven’s biography of the 1980 Nobel winner and towering voice in 20th century literature explores Miłosz’s work not distilled through the lens of his upbringing in Lithuania nor his formative years in Poland, but through his later life, residing on Grizzly Peak in Berkeley and teaching Slavic languages and literatures at UC Berkeley. From the opening pages, Haven writes beautifully of California’s history and landscape. Here she is describing California’s famously balmy weather: “At first, the […]

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Friend

by Dominica Phetteplace

She says Namaste even when not in yoga class, whereas I will not say om under any circumstances. She says she doesn’t resent the younger generation, that they are completely of a world that we made, that to hate the young is to hate ourselves. She says that guys on dating apps indicate their marriage suitability by listing their hobbies as ‘hiking’ and ‘rock climbing.’ Her hobbies include cocaine and gambling, but she leaves those off her profile. Somedays she doesn’t feel like getting out of bed, but if I say I want to get coffee she will walk with […]

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‘Lightning Falls in Love’ by Laura Kasischke: A Series of Unending Moments

by Chiara Bercu

Laura Kasischke’s latest poetry collection, Lightning Falls in Love (144 pages; Copper Canyon Press), is a charming address to time and the eternities sustained in memory. In fifty-two poems, Kasischke moves multilaterally over the many folds and features of memory, both personal and fantastic. “I was living my life a second time/for the first time/in my life,” she writes, “understanding/that I’d already lived a long time before I realized/that I was old enough by then to have been/my own daughter when my mother died.” What’s assembled in the collection is a swift mélange of the past, equal parts ordinary, death-bound, and […]

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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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