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Buddy Wakefield

This is less a review of a book of poetry and more of a review of a poet. Buddy Wakefield is one of the most accomplished slam poets out there right now, and I recently had the opportunity to see him perform live in New York and meet him. In slam poetry, there is the added element of performance which can make or break a poem. Buddy uses a lot of extended metaphors and stories from personal experiences in his poetry. At times, his poetry veers into the territory of stand up comedy. He uses humor in just about all of his poems even his more seriously themed work. “The Information Man” and “Pretend” are probably his most well known poems. They are examples of his use of extended metaphors. Some of his more moving work takes advantage of his sentimentality, but he uses it in a way that doesn’t take anything away from the poem. Two of his poems show either side of a relationship. “Flockprinter” is a modern slam poet’s take on a love ode, while “Giant Saint Everything” is a response to heartbreak, reusing some of the same images from Flockprinter to connect the two poems. When Buddy performed, he performed a set of 4 or 5 of poems and then asked for any requests. But when he did, he also said “but nothing tragic, because I’m just not feeling it.” Chances are this is a reference to Giant Saint Everything, because there also aren’t any videos of Buddy performing this poem that can easily be found on the internet. In Buddy’s book, “Live For A Living,” other than his poems, he also features some of his journal entries, most of which are written just as poetically as his poems. It becomes apparent that Buddy’s work translates from the stage to the page, which is not true about a lot of slam poetry. Buddy’s work transcends the corner in which most slam poetry resides.

Margaret Gibson’s “One Body”

(Continued)

On the blue shore of silence. – by emma carone

Pablo Neruda is a Chilean poet and writer. In his collection of poems, On the blue shore of silence, Neruda explores the imagery and beauty of the sea. Originally written in Spanish, this collection is beautifully translated into English by Alastair Reed.

Like the subject of many of Neruda’s poems, his writings have a fluid nature that steadily builds throughout each piece (The First Sea). His use of line breaks and stanza breaks help each piece flow with almost a lyrical quality. Though this collection focuses on one subject, Neruda presents the sea in a different and more unique way each time. His ability to explode small details into new ways of looking at the aquatic world are inspirational for those who love oceans and seas.

Though Neruda’s poetry has been translated, not much of the imagery or beauty seems to be lost. Alliteration, enjambment, and rhyming are all present, and Neruda often switches between narrative poems and more abstract poems. Each poem is also accompanied by a painting by Mary Heebner, which adds an extra visual appeal.

“Pictures of the Afterlife” by Jude Nutter

This is not a collection for the faint of heart. Nutter explores death in many forms and through many lenses, leaning hard towards the unexpected and the difficult. Images of  medical decay and helplessness haunt her poetry about her father, while she seems to hold back a bit when discussing less familiar death, such as her aunt’s ashes. Then, she unexpectedly dives deep and without pause into the most startling aspects of death, such as in the poem “Abortion as Ecstasy.” Nutter’s poetry is more haunting than beautiful, and the images stayed with me for days.

-Natalie McLarty

What the Living Do by Marie Howe

Howe’s collection of poetry about everyday events and her childhood seems almost to be searching for another genre. It may strike some as too prose-y, but not developed enough to be considered memoir. This uncertain structure is particularly noticeable in poems depicting everyday events, where she fails to elevate the ordinary enough to convince me her words really deserve voicing. Her poetry about her family, however, so poignantly and heartrendingly depicts the many facets of the nature of her relationships that I was not bothered by its prose-like style. Whether she writes through the eyes of a child or looking back at memories, Howe creates an intimate voice that drew me into her world from the opening lines. See “The Attic,” an ode to her brother, for an excellent example of her success at poetry which seamlessly blends her childhood, the everyday, and the true emotions of her family situation.
-Natalie McLarty

“Astoria” Malena Morling

Malena Morling is assistant professor of creative writing at University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She won the New Issues Poetry Prize for Ocean Avenue. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times Book Review, New Republic, Washington Post Book World, New Republic, Washington Post Book World, Ploughshares, New England Review and Five Points.

 Malena Morling’s Astoria is an entrancing book published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2006. In the opening poem, “If There Is Another World,” Morling explores the different worlds within a world we all live in. By giving the different worlds a certain earthly concreteness we find that we don’t need to leave this world to find another, and we shouldn’t wait until death to come to this realization:

Especially since there is a kind of moth

here on earth

that feeds on the tears of horses.

Sooner or later we will all cry

from within our hearts.

 This opening poem is a bit hopeful compared to my tastes, but its stunning beauty kept me entranced and I had to read it over and over.

The rest of Morling’s book tends to focus on a distant view of death. She is best when she doesn’t worry that death is a common topic for poetry, lets it consume her, and spills it onto the page in stunning mysterious verse:

 There are shadows of scarecrows on the earth
that rise at noon
and vanish into the wilderness
of their own hearts.

“Deaths and Entrances” Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas dropped out of school at the age of sixteen to work. At nights in the pubs he would read the poems he had been working on to his family and friends. Deaths and Entrances, his most famous book of poetry, was released in 1946.

My favorite poem from this book is the title poem Deaths and Entrances. It was written during the London Blitz and its title is taken from a sermon (Death’s Duel) by the metaphysical poet John Donne. Dyland Thomas was not a devout Christian but he was very aware that life is temporary and death is permanent which makes death real in a way life is not. The idea of dying in an incendiary raid was one that huanted Dylan and he wrote several other poems on the topic. The poem ends without any answers and the reader is left pondering the very questions Dyland did. I included the entire poem below:

On almost the incendiary eve
  Of several near deaths,
When one at the great least of your best loved
  And always known must leave
Lions and fires of his flying breath,
  Of your immortal friends
Who’d raise the organs of the counted dust
  To shoot and sing your praise,
One who called deepest down shall hold his peace
  That cannot sink or cease
  Endlessly to his wound
In many married London’s estranging grief.

On almost the incendiary eve
  When at your lips and keys,
Locking, unlocking, the murdered strangers weave,
  One who is most unknown,
Your polestar neighbour, sun of another street,
  Will dive up to his tears.
He’ll bathe his raining blood in the male sea
  Who strode for your own dead
And wind his globe out of your water thread
  And load the throats of shells
  with every cry since light
Flashed first across his thunderclapping eyes.

On almost the incendiary eve
  Of deaths and entrances,
When near and strange wounded on London’s waves
  Have sought your single grave,
One enemy, of many, who knows well
  Your heart is luminous
In the watched dark, quivering through locks and caves,
  Will pull the thunderbolts
To shut the sun, plunge, mount your darkened keys
  And sear just riders back,
  Until that one loved least
Looms the last Samson of your zodiac.

Death and Entrances alone makes the book worth reading, even buying, but the other poetry included is fantastic as well.

-Kyle Stanley

“Without a Philosphy” by Elizabeth Seydel Morgan

While pondering the distance between the vertical six feet of physical separation between the living and the dead, Elizabeth Seydel Morgan has written a beautiful book of poems titled, Without a Philosophy. With exquisite details, Morgan equates death and violence with the ordinary gardening life and struggles with birds and weeds as well as louvered doors and walking to Mexico. The slant that Morgan takes with each poem, to get at the different aspects of enduring life with grief, are enlightening, brilliant and somber. Morgan uses three separate sections within this book of poems to take the reader through the experience of knowing a loved one is dying and grieving with and for them. Showing various stages of grief and acceptance, Morgan also takes care to highlight the struggles of stagnation within the grieving, how life becomes stale and the body seems immovable while also exploring the feelings of transience of self, life and love. One of my favorite poems is “Shutters” (10):

Shutters

Through the slanted louvers, light

cracks the shadowed room; October

Sunday afternoon asserts its life.

Slats of brightness on your blanket

insist the sky outside is cold blue.

Your cheeks would redden like leaves

if only you could rise and come outside.

We could breathe bracing, electric air.

We could walk,

walk fast to keep warm

because there’s a chill out there in the park

though the grass is still green

and most of the trees here in Louisville

haven’t faced the fact of frost. I can’t sit still,

leafing The Times as you lie there.

Its pages litter the light-barred floor.

But who am I to feel so stuck inside,

for we both know the truth

that when we were young I spent

so many golden Sunday afternoons

in shuttered rooms. Crack a cold beer

and oh how we loved shutting out the sun,

some football game droning

its thudding plays beneath our breathing.

Morgan distracts the reader with the fascination of the negative and positive perspective of the light that leaks through the louvers of the shutters and onto the floor. This surprising focus is jarring as the simple “light-barred floor” brings up thoughts of being imprisoned by a death sentence for both the person dying and the person living. She alludes to the self imprisoned choices we make to hole up in the house watching sports or other things instead of living life outside in the sun and how that can be a lovely security and a missed opportunity. The ambiguities within this poem are just enough to allow it to speak to most everyone who has dealt with death.

After reading through these poems, highly recommending the book to everyone is a logical next step, as most people have dealt with death in their lives, or will. This is the kind of book that will allow you to take your unique grief experiences in conversation with Morgan’s poems about her experiences and though you won’t find answers to the tough questions, you will find comfort in viewing your own experiences from new perspectives. Morgan is masterful with discussing the tabooed macabre from a slant that engages all senses by the time the final poem is read, ironically leaving the reader feeling very alive.

Recommended by Julie Dymon

“Stateside” by Jehanne Dubrow

Stateside by Jehanne Dubrow is a collection of poems that serve as a renewed identity for each military spouse past or present. This is a rare find, as most war related poems center on the soldier and most obvious victims; typically forgetting about those left behind. Dividing her book into three sections, Dubrow gives a glimpse into the hidden tortures, fears, insecurities and realities of the often forgotten plight of the military spouse. Part one explores the tensions that occur during the pre-deployment phase. With a witty playfulness, in part two, Dubrow compares herself, and other military spouses, to Penelope from Homer’s The Odyssey.  In part three, Dubrow reveals the mental and physical progressions that occur within the spouse as she (or he) prepares for the return of their beloved. She approaches each subject from a unique slant to explore the depths of loneliness, stagnation and despair balanced with befriending the self, personal growth and hope that a spouse experiences through the course of life during the deployment. She captures the stages of physical and mental changes that occur during this difficult time with authentic details that allow for those who haven’t experienced this life to get a feel for the deprivations a spouse deals with during a deployment.

Penelope, Stateside

On an island called America,

start fantasizing of the sex

you had with him. Go shop for bra

and lacy thongs at the PX,

black garters, bustiers, a cream

that leaves your body woven silk,

a self-help book for self-esteem,

a bag of M&Ms, skim milk

to keep you thin, and Lean Cuisine

(you hate to cook for one). Or buy

a pair of True Religion jeans,

the denim pressing on each thigh

so that there’s no sensation but

blue fabric like a second skin,

no lover’s touch more intimate

than the zipper pressing in.

But don’t forget. He may come home

so torn that purchases won’t mean

a thing, not the Posturepedic foam

pillowtop mattress, or the sateen

duvet. He won’t be satisfied—

by eiderdowns or bedspreads sewn

by hand – still numb, because he’s stateside

and dreaming of the combat zone.

“Penelope, Stateside” (28) is one of my favorite poems as it shows the juxtaposition between the wife’s preparations for the husband’s return and how he may not immediately appreciate all she is doing to prepare because his body will have returned, but his mind will linger in the combat zone.

Dubrow serves as the civilian’s interpreter of ‘maritime terminology’ throughout this book so that it can be read by those within and outside of the military community. One of my favorite poems titled “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (15) is translated by the teenage opposable thumb as wtf or as ‘what the fuck’, for a more straight-up version. I have shared this book with many military spouses and each one comes back with this poem as the first that they mention. The anger towards a newly discovered deployment is raw and nearly animalistic. Dubrow captures this perfectly within this poem and smartly shoves the military’s own lingo in its face while allowing the collective spousal ‘birdies’ to fly freely.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has experienced a military family member’s deployment or anyone that is curious as to what the experience is like for the spouse. Dubrow is a gifted poet who has accurately captured the experience of millions of spouses throughout history in this one collection of poems.

Recommended by Julie Dymon

Andrew Hudgins’ “After the Lost War”

In continuation of my war fascination, I took a trip into our American History with Andrew Hudgins’ “After the Lost War,” a collection of poems that concentrates on the Civil War.  What immediately struck me was that the Civil War seemed to be anything by a lost war, but reading Hudgins’ collection made me realize that the Civil War was indeed a lost war, one that lost the individuality of those that fought, died, or lived those history-changing times.  Each of these poems stands out on its own and, like the title states, has a strong and unique narrative.  What I really enjoyed was that it seems like there’s a different speak in each poem which addresses that the war wasn’t lived by only one person and didn’t affect only one person.  Hudgins really displays his knowledge of history by including poems that take you throughout the entire Civil War without sounding like a history professor.

I easily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history but also to anyone who wants to have a different experience when moving on to a new poem.  Each of these poems has such a strong narrative that tells a different story.

Unfortunately, I could not find the lengthy poem “Dying” which really stood out to me.  One of my favorites of the bunch.

– recommended by Laura Falcon

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