‘It Must Be a Misunderstanding’ by Coral Bracho: Adding Color and Depth to One of Life’s Hardships

by Meryl Natchez

Anyone who has experienced a loved one’s trajectory through Alzheimer’s might wonder how a book of poetry focused on that harrowing experience could be uplifting. But Coral Bracho’s It Must Be a Misunderstanding (New Directions; 135 pages), translated by Forrest Gander, is not only tender and compassionate, but leaves the reader suffused in the mystery of being. The book is dedicated to Bracho’s mother, who died in 2012 from complications of Alzheimer’s. A short book of fragmentary lyrics, it builds through its sections like a concerto, adding color and depth as it goes. The themes of Intuitions, Observations, and various […]

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Q&A with Kathleen Balma: ‘From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum’ and the Urgent Need to Describe

by Danielle Shi

Kathleen Balma demonstrates a prodigious fluency with language in her intelligent and entertaining first poetry collection, From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum (96 pages; Eyewear Publishing), in which monkeys battle for social cachet, time grounds to a startling weather-bending halt, and voices become vehicles of desire when arriving at the right destination. Cleverly imagining the ordinary into shapes exceptional and witty, Balma uses an affectionate yet sardonic tongue to interrogate images as familiar to us as Abe Lincoln’s cabin to the ruins of Pompeii to the moon landing. For aficionados of art history, visual splendor abounds: Olympia and Aphrodites […]

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‘Fudekara’ by Liliana Ponce: Evolution Through Repetition

by Roz Naimi

“Why write confessions? Why confess the written?” asks Liliana Ponce in her poetry collection Fudekara (44 pages; Cardboard House Press; translated by Michael Martin Shea). Ponce is a poet and scholar of Japanese literature from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who incorporates her knowledge of Japanese culture into her work: “Fudekara” is a Japanese neologism created from the terms “fude” (brush) and “kara” (from) to mean “from the brush.” Written over the course of a Chinese ideograph calligraphy class the author took in 1993, Fudekara takes as its subject the stroke: the iterative, meditative practice of putting pen to paper. The collection […]

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‘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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