Happy National Poetry Month! In honor of the occasion, I want to share a few books that I’ve read that you may have missed. These three collections stood out for me because of their surprising use of language.
The first is Revising the Storm by Geffrey Davis (BOA Editions, 2014). This collection is the winner of the 2013 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was selected by Dorianne Laux. Terrance Hayes blurbed the book, saying among other things, “Urgent, tender, imaginative: this is a tremendous debut.” Davis holds an MFA and a PhD from Penn State and is a Cave Canem fellow, but it wasn’t these accolades that drew me to the book. Actually a friend and poet, F. Douglas Brown, posted a link on Facebook to Davis’s “From 35,000 Feet/Praise Aviophobia” as featured by Motionpoems. Click here to see the film. This gives you a feel for Davis’s work.
The book is so grounded, has so much heart, but is also gritty and unexpected. The second poem of the book, “King County Metro,” begins:
“In Seattle, in 1982, my mother beholds this man
boarding the bus, the one she’s already
turning into my father…”
“…The air brakes gasp
as he approaches my mother’s row,
each failed rehab and jail sentence still
decades off in the distance. So much waits
in the fabulous folds of tomorrow.”
Davis’s inventive use of imagery and line breaks adds to the tension and vividness of his work. Whether he’s writing about his father or his son, family or marriage, Davis brings us into his world. You can read more about Davis at his website.
The other book I’d like to recommend is Porridge by Richard Garcia (Press 53, 2016). In the light of full disclosure, I have to say that Garcia is a former mentor of mine from Antioch. There he was known for his outlandish writing exercises and for forcing students to write in a variety of different forms: sonnets, sestinas, etc. We often grumbled about this, but we learned a lot. Garcia has authored seven books of poetry and is a recipient of a NEA fellowship. He is fond of prose poems and his work is often quirky, surreal, humorous, and full of humanity; Porridge is no exception. Poet Gary Young wrote that this book is “a fractious mash-up of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, cartoons, games, dances, popular songs and the Bible… Imagine Shakespeare, Walt Disney, and the Brothers Grimm on a road trip….” I would say this is a very apt description of the wild ride this book takes the reader on. Some poems made me laugh out loud while others crept up on me with their sly insight. The title poem, “Porridge” begins:
“Little Miss Blonde Breaking and Entering. Lock-
picker. She touched our chairs. Slept in our beds.
Burn it. Burn it all.”
These prose poems will delight you and may turn your world upside down. Read more about Garcia at his website.
The last book I want to recommend is Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani, translated by Marilyn Hacker (Yale University Press, 2012). Although I read this several years ago, it has really stayed with me. The book is set up with three sections or “tales.” While the poems often shift in subject or voice, this remains a very cohesive work. Madani uses the Scheherazade figure in modern Morocco to take on the corrupt political and social conditions. Although the book is one of protest, the voice is passionate, personal, and prophetic. Madani uses repetition and sound well, which add to the feeling of prophecy.
“I say I
and my hatred bursts in this glass garden.
Here transparency is not for seeing
is not for seeing further.”
The consistency and power of the imagery make this a compelling and inspiring read.
I’d love to hear what gems you’ve read that perhaps the rest of us have missed!
Julie Hungiville LeMay is the author of the poetry collection, The Echo of Ice Letting Go (University of Alaska Press, 2017). She holds an MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles where she served as poetry editor for Lunch Ticket. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, Julie has lived in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley since 1978. You can find more information at julielemay.com.