Poetry Review: “Who’s Afraid of Helen of Troy” by David Lazar

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If you are smart and you like to have a chuckle while you read, then please do yourself a favor and don’t read David Lazar’s clever new book “Who’s Afraid of Helen of Troy: An Essay on Love” in a quiet public place. This erudite romp through romance is to be relished out loud, in the comfort of your own bed or train car—either alone or with some lucky other. Selections might even find themselves on your ex’s voicemail. If you aren’t a scholar of Greek mythology, you might want to keep your aged college texts (or Google) nearby, because you are going to (re)learn a lot. Greek tragedy, after all, has given readers their first roadmap of love. Read the rest of this entry »

Refugee Poet Burns Bright: Middle Eastern Poets at the Poetry Foundation

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Photo: Iraqi Mutual Aid Society

Assyrian poet Younan Houma at last year’s festival/Photo: Iraqi Mutual Aid Society

Twana Twana carried sixty years of memories from his native Mosul to Chicago’s North Side in 2012. Routine work days as a pharmacist in the old city, or glimpses of his favorite landmark, an imperfectly leaning minaret giving Mosul its nickname “the hunchback,” are cherished memories that shape his poems. Though resettlement has greatly helped his children, like many Iraqi refugees Twana finds himself torn between his birthplace and Chicago. “As a refugee you are like a candle, you burn so that others can see,” he says.

This month, Twana is one of a handful of local Middle Eastern refugee poets reading at the Poetry Foundation’s April 23 Poetry Off the Shelf event, “What We Carried: Poetry by Middle Eastern Refugees.” The festival is cohosted with the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, a local nonprofit based in West Ridge which serves some of the eight thousand Iraqi refugees resettled in the Chicago area since 2007. Local refugees as well as published Middle Eastern poets will read at the event to shed light on Middle Eastern experiences in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Flammable Matter” by Jacob Victorine

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Flammable Matter-Cover-2 copyRECOMMENDED

In his first collection, Jacob Victorine writes devastating poems about humans burning. Winner of Elixir Press’ Editor’s Award, “Flammable Matter” memorializes victims—named and unnamed—of fire. Some received media attention when they immolated themselves—monks lamenting Chinese occupation of Tibet, Tunisian food-sellers protesting heavy-handed government forces, and Chicago’s Malachi Ritscher railing against the Iraq war. Some are etched in our collective mind’s eye—like those photographed plummeting from the Twin Towers on 9/11, when the author was a teen growing up in New York. A small boy died in a house fire when playing with matches. The author’s mother, eight at the time, never forgot.

Victorine creates lyric work from fragments of family stories, Ritscher’s self-penned obituary, Richard Pryor’s comedy routine about setting himself alight, government advisories and news reports. One poem, “The Helicopter Concerto” is a multi-part contrapuntal formed from an interview with the poet’s father, a Vietnam veteran. Lines from media comments sections thread through the collection, providing a chorus of interjections, critique and conscience. Humans are messy, complicated and not always compassionate. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “I Remember: Chicago Veterans of War” Edited by Chris Green

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i remember

In “I Remember: Chicago Veterans of War, ” Chris Green has woven the personal memories of veterans from all of the modern wars to capture the experience of going to war and returning from it. It’s a quick read and a charged one, full of all the devastating memories you expect from a book about war. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Reviews: “Hazel and the Mirror” and “The Endless Unbegun” by Rachel Jamison Webster

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hazel & the mirrorRECOMMENDED

Tenderness and pain echo through generations of women in Rachel Jamison Webster’s haunting new chapbook “Hazel and the Mirror.” Each character struggles with leaving some facet of her life, whether the womb, her marriage, or her native land. As time shifts and voices intertwine, we confront troubling questions inimical to the human psyche: How does abandonment shift what is possible in our lives? Is trauma inherited? And what is released or contained in the undoing of a person?

Throughout “Hazel,” trauma reflects and projects through the mirror of time and history, revealing the void intrinsic to uninhabited lives. The struggle in motherhood to retain or to discover an identity separate and apart from a needy child casts a long shadow. Competing identities both repel and attract, as “the punishment of silence, the pummel of distance” obscure and injure the ties that bind. Read the rest of this entry »

South Side Experiences: Nate Marshall’s “Wild Hundreds” Poems Tackle Young Life in the City

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nate marshall - Xavier Ramey

Nate Marshall/Photo: Xavier Ramey

Fans of the 2010 documentary “Louder Than A Bomb” will remember Nate Marshall as the then-teen whose performance closed out the film. I say “will remember” because his performance is unforgettable. In the seven years since the movie was filmed, Marshall received a BA from Vanderbilt University, an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan (where he was also a Zell Postgraduate Fellow), and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wabash College. And now he’s publishing his first collection of poetry, “Wild Hundreds.” Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Small Consolations” by Gary Glauber

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RECOMMENDEDsmall consolations by gary glauber

Gary Glauber’s poetry collection “Small Consolations” may, at first blush, seem a bit tame when compared to recent collections that have set the world of poetry agog. In a twelve-month span that welcomed such offerings as Claudia Rankine’s genre-defying poetry collection “Citizen,” the fluid memory poems of Saeed Jones’ “Prelude to Bruise,” and the haunting untamed animalism of Simone Muench’s “Wolf Centos,” Glauber’s assiduously crafted poems evince a wistful, guarded sensibility.
Like a bare-chested, clean-skinned preppy moshing at Lollapalooza among the sweat-glazed crush of tattooed punks and skinheads who buck every rule, “Small Consolations” harbors great lust, longing and energy, yet it knows that boundaries do not always impede creativity; they often inspire it. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking at Longing: Chicago Poet Sandra Marchetti Debuts with “Confluence”

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S. Marchetti

Sandra Marchetti/Photo: Scott Semple

Sandra Marchetti’s debut collection of poems, “Confluence,” is an intimate and carefully wrought look at longing and the relationship between person and place. In the opening poem, “Never-Ending Birds,” Marchetti establishes some of the themes that will reoccur throughout her collection. In this poem the divide between the narrator and the birds she observes is blurred: “I plume to watch, freshed in the ground;/ they ring the trees as their own/ sweet planets” and “… The swallows so close, beat; I let them scrim/my stance, twist neatly solar./ I swallow, lift my chest where the freckles/ crack, where wet wings gleam.” Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Traces of Time” by Lucio Mariani

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traces of timeRECOMMENDED

Lucio Mariani is an Italian poet who lives in Rome. Born in 1936, his first volume of poetry “Indagine di possibilità” was launched in 1972. He has published eleven more poetry books since then, and has gained recognition as a translator and essayist. “Traces of Time, ” translated into English by Anthony Molino, is a survey that covers the entirety of Mariani’s work specifically drawn from a collection titled “Farfalla e segno: Poesie scelte 1972-2009” (Crocetti 2010).

Only about three percent of all books published in the US are works in translation. Sadly, only about point seven percent of those translations are fiction and poetry. That an English-speaking audience has access to Mariani’s work, thanks to Open Letter Books, is cause for celebration in itself. Read the rest of this entry »

The Great and Royal Animal Within: An Interview with Simone Muench

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Simone Muench/Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

Simone Muench/Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

By Jarrett Neal

I sat down to dinner with Chicago poet Simone Muench to discuss her new collection “Wolf Centos, ” a dazzling yet haunting volume of poems crafted in the Italian tradition of the cento: poems comprised entirely of lines from other poems. Employing the wolf as the primary symbol, these poems address and, indeed, awaken the primal sensibilities in all of us. Muench, whose previous collections include “Orange Crush” and “Lampblack & Ash,” shared the details of her craft, what excites her as a poet, and what makes “Wolf Centos” such a distinct collection.

What was the inspiration for “Wolf Centos”? 
Brandi Homan led me to the form; Vasko Popa, Gabriela Mistral, and my childhood malamute Zach, helped guide me to the wolf.

What was your process in writing these poems?
I gleaned through numerous single-authored texts as well as many world anthologies and, in a similar manner to erasure, when a line would light my eye, I’d highlight it. I would go through texts and underline lines and phrases that sparked my attention. Once I was done underlining various lines that “called” to me, I would then transcribe them in a Word document, until I had hundreds of lines. From there I would start the act of stitching the lines together, tailoring something that made sense to me in terms of atmosphere, associative imagery and sonic latticework. Read the rest of this entry »