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 »

Poetry Review: “Résumé” by Chris Green

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Resume by Chris GreenRECOMMENDED

With the holiday season already in full swing, “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ yuletide story about surly old skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge, will once again be brought to life on stage and in countless TV movie adaptations. Yet most workers, in the wake of the Great Recession, can’t help but identity with Bob Cratchit, literature’s most put-upon worker. Given the devastation of both the national economy and the global economy, having a job and keeping a job, any job, has prompted many individuals to re-evaluate not only their work life but the very meaning of work itself. Creative writing has always provided fertile ground for such inquiries: fiction (“The Jungle,” “The Grapes of Wrath”), plays (“Death of a Salesman,” “Glengarry Glen Ross”) and the ragtag poetry of Charles Bukowski, Frank O’Hara and others, question our capitalistic system, the Scrooges who run it, and the value of what all workers do each day to earn a buck.

“Résumé,” Chicago poet Chris Green’s latest collection, takes readers on a contemplative journey through his hardscrabble employment history, which includes stints as a janitor, landscaper, adjunct poetry instructor, security guard and other wage-slave positions. The poems that comprise this slender collection explore the highs (such as they are) and plumb the depths of the catch-as-catch-can world of unskilled labor. Read the rest of this entry »

They Are All Outsiders: Marvin Tate Talks About “The Amazing Mister Orange”

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AMO_CoverAny project Marvin Tate undertakes is just a sliver of the performer’s multimedia career—he’s been one of the funky minds behind the band D-Settlement, performance poet and all-around mixer-upper. That said, a sliver of Tate bursts with rhythm and spice, and his slim volume of poems, “The Amazing Mister Orange,” channels and chronicles the down-on-their-luck, the temporarily mighty going for a fall, with zingy grace and tempo. We chatted over email about the book’s genesis and style.

Who was “Mister Orange”?
Mister Orange is/was a name I once called my good friend Ainsworth Roswell, an amazing performance artist who taught me how to be in touch with the freak in thee. His favorite color was orange, he was Jamaican by way of England and so he had this incredible accent  that blew MF’s away. He would put on these underground shows in Post Wicker Park in dank basements, BDSM clubs and on street corners. He ended up committing suicide by jumping from the seventh floor of the Water Tower Place and landing in the food court. I bet he was making a statement; he was always interested in class, weed and race. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Nothing By Design” by Mary Jo Salter

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RECOMMENDED maryjosaltercover

When I consider buying poetry for other people, there are two main groups I typically shop for: those who have not studied poetry but have an interest, and those who have. Neither group is particularly easy to shop for: the newbies need something that can be read on the surface, yet possibly has greater depths, while buying for the vets requires knowledge of their particular taste: did they study critically or creatively? Do they like narrative with their poems or are they all about sound? Do they like experimental poems or do they find them pretentious? The joy of discovering Mary Jo Salter’s new collection, “Nothing By Design,”  is that she has given me a book I can give to both groups without fear.

For the newbies, Salter should be a revelation. Her poems feature easily defined narratives, some of which arc between poems, such as the ones in the section, “Bed of Letters,” which mediates on the divorce of the speaker. Poems throughout the collection deal with universal topics and themes ranging from infidelity, war and death. Read the rest of this entry »

Beauty and Thought: Dan Beachy-Quick on “Wonderful Investigations”

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dan-beachy-quickBy Micah McCrary

His author’s bio reads: “Dan Beachy-Quick is the author of five books of poems, most recently ‘Circle’s Apprentice.’ ‘A Whaler’s Dictionary,’ his celebrated collection of meditations on Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick,’ appeared from Milkweed Editions in 2008. Beachy-Quick teaches at Colorado State University, and lives in Fort Collins.” The Chicago-born Beachy-Quick, most recently the author of “Wonderful Investigations,” is an author willing to scrutinize his interests—both academic and aesthetic—in a way that many writers of nonfiction seem afraid to try.

Beachy-Quick spoke about his “Wonderful Investigations”—about his willingness to look deeper and closer and further into the things that make him want to read and write. Read the rest of this entry »