Archive for December, 2013

The Best Poetry Books of 2013

As a sequel to my previous post that outlined my choices for best chapbooks of the year, I have included a list of my best full-length poetry collections of the year.  If you haven’t read all these collections, make it a New Years Resolution to do so!

O Holy Insurgency by Mary Biddinger (Black Lawrence Press) Biddinger’s newest collection turns the broken Midwest landscape into a utopian world, a place where heroes and heroines could be children buying cigarettes or lovers relishing the feel of broken glass and the smell of gasoline.

Burn This House by Kelly Davio (Red Hen) Davio’s debut poetry book is a collection of quiet observations about the intersections between secular life and spiritual awakenings.  See here for my more complete review here.

In the Kingdom of the Ditch by Todd Davis (Michigan State University Press)  Davis returns to the natural world in his fourth full-length collection of poetry that explores grief and healing through the Pennsylvania rural landscape (which of course, is my favorite landscape!)

Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey (New Binary Press) In her newest collection of poetry, Gailey returns to the Fairy Tale World, with new narratives that reach beyond the boundaries of make-believe places. See here for a more complete review of this collection.

Render: An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) At first glance, Howell’s Render reminds us of a survival manual for a future apocalypse, but a closer read reveals that her poems teach us how to navigate and survive the everyday – even those days that don’t seem disastrous.  Read here for a more complete review of her book.

Render by Collin Kelley (Sibling Rivalry Press) In Kelley’s latest collection, he explores the past through stories blending narratives with historical events and pop culture, reminding us that we are shaped by what has already happened, his work haunted by the presence of Margot Kidder, Fred Rogers and Three Mile Island.

The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths by Sandy Longhorn (Jacar Press) Longhorn’s second full length book of poetry is a collection of coming-of-age Midwestern narratives disguised as contemporary fairy tales. My favorite poem, “Cautionary Tale for Girls Caught Up in the Machinary” depicts the demise of a young girl, pulled into farm equipment, leaving only “a scrap of cloth” proving “she hadn’t simply wandered off.”

The Stick Soldiers by Hugh Martin (Boa Editions) Many readers will likely think of Brian Turner’s poems as they read Stick Soldiers, a powerful collection of work that explores the turmoil of the warfront as well as the difficult return home.

Scoring the Silent Film by Keith Montesano (Dream Horse Press) Montesano’s second full length collection of poetry explores our world through the viewpoints of minor characters in movies.  Whether we are reading about a high school physics teacher who watches one of his students get shot, or seeing the reactions of a man who is ducking bullets in Total Recall, we are part of an exploration of the human condition and how we interact with the often violent world around us.

Some Kind of Shelter by Sara Tracey (Misty Publications) In her debut full-length collection of poetry, Tracey details the stories of two cousins – one who leaves Rust Belt Ohio and the other who stays – while intertwining their narratives with other portraits of the working-class world. Whether she is narrating a story about a couple who finds a comatose teenage girl in a trash bag of garbage or reciting a hymn-like mantra praising a town that is “a call girl knee-deep/in raspberry Jell-O” Tracey brings beauty and hope to a world that seems void of both.


The Best Chapbooks of 2013

Welcome to my annual post of the best chapbooks of the year! As always, 2013 was a year of good reading, and I have featured my favorite chapbook collections of the year.  I am hoping this list serves as a reminder that in the poetry world, chapbooks need love too!

beautiful, sinister by Kristy Bowen (Maverick Duck Press) Bowen’s collection of prose poems is a story in verse — through lyrical language intertwined in a gothic atmosphere, we meet three sisters whose lives are tangled in love, lust and tragedy.

Fantasies of Men by William Lusk Coppage (Main Street Rag) Winner of the 2012 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest, Coppage’s chapbook is a collection of journeys through the Mississippi Delta.  Solemn, yet beautiful, these poems pluck readers from wherever they are and plunk them down on backroads and in rivers, among fish noodlers, bird hunters and boys who flirt with their small town girls all the while dreaming of bigger places.

Improvised Devices by Brandon Courtney (Thrush Press) From the first poem where the narrator watches two little boys play at war, readers are introduced to a collection that explores the vulnerability of humans, whether they are teenagers spinning uncontrollably through their lives in American small towns or soldiers describing their everyday lives through personal accounts of the world around them intertwined with memories of home.

Town Crazy by John Cullen (Slipstream) Winner of Slipstream’s 26th Annual Chapbook Contest, Cullen’s collection which explores is reminiscent of Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, except that Cullen’s characters and landscapes are wilder, crazier, and yes, more endearing.

[Understory] by Karen Dietrich (dancing girl press) Dietrich’s work is always a favorite, and her newest chapbook, which offers glimpses of her childhood in Pennsylvania, explores themes of love and family, and the complicated relationships between the two.

The Everyday Parade/Alone with Turntable, Old Records by Justin Hamm (Crisis Chronicles Press) Formatted and printed to imitate a record with two sides, Hamm’s newest chapbook explores the Midwestern landscape and people through song and lyrical narratives.

Describing the Dark by Joyce Kessel (Saddleroad Press)  Kessel’s chapbook is an homage to Buffalo, New York, but any reader from a Rust Belt city will recognize the tributes to people (both past and present) and the flawed, yet beautiful landscapes that stitch together a city.

 The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman by Katie Manning (Point Loma Press)  In her first chapbook, Manning imagines the life of a minor Biblical character, the bleeding woman who is healed by Jesus. Divided in half, the book details the woman’s life before her cure and then in the second half, moves into more contemporary times, exploring the intersections of faith and spirituality.

Scrap Metal Mantra Poems by Ken Meisel (Main Street Rag) In his newest collection of work, Meisel plays tribute to Rust Belt places and people. With a spiritual reverence, these poems depict narrators who find Jesus in scrapyards, a couple who marries in a junkyard, and a single bird singing a hymn in debris.

We’re Smaller than We Think We Are by Allyson Whipple (Finishing Line Press) From the opening poem, “Fleeing Oklahoma” readers of Whipple’s first chapbook will be on a roadtrip: a journey that does more than take us on the backroads and open highways of America. Instead, this collection explores the search for identity and where we may find it – in old cars, in dusty homes, in our own bodies.

Have Yourself a Soggy Little Christmas

Two days ago we had almost a foot of snow on the ground.  As of this morning, it’s all gone, except for a few patches of crusty, dirty snow nestled in the shadows. It’s warm out — and windy. Our backyard is one big puddle of water. We are under Flood warnings instead of Winter Weather advisories, which is what we usually see this time of year.

With the possibility of a White Christmas dwindling, Anthony and I have been busy doing last-minute shopping and baking. (True confession: I do most of the shopping, he does most of the baking.) I am off until the first full week of January, so I am trying to make the best of my free time — catching up on correspondence, cleaning out my files, and reading the stack — no box of books — I have purchased in the last few months including some great poetry collections.  I know that 2014 is just around the corner, and I have some important decisions to make in this upcoming year, but right now, I’m living in the moment.

I will return after Christmas to post my best poetry picks of the year. For now, Anthony and I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season!

This is What I Will Be Doing….

Ally Sleeping

…in two more days! As soon as I get my final grades posted, I will take the world’s longest nap inside away from the cold weather and snow.  (In this picture, Ally looks like an Angel, and she is an Angel — when she is sleeping.)

Read This Book: Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman

Eighty DaysJournalist Nellie Bly has always been a personal heroine of mine — from way back when I was in elementary school and I discovered a storybook about her race to travel around the world in less than 80 days. (This was when I was very young. Since I had barely traveled out of my home county — going around the world sounded like a sweet deal.)

Since that time, I have made it an effort to study the life of Nellie Bly — she could be considered a muckraker although most of her important journalism was completed way before the term “muckraker” was coined. One of her best pieces was “Ten Days in a Mad House” where she faked insantiy to do undercover work at the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum.

Unfortunately, most of the work I have found about Bly has been a bit dry and academic — but I just finished Eighty Days: Nellie Bly’s and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman and I have to say that this is one of the best books I have read this past year.  Goodman details Bly’s life (she’s from a small town in Western Pennsylvania) and her struggles as a woman journalist in a time period when women only wrote marriage advice columns and housekeeping tips.  Most of the book, however, traces Bly’s trip around the world — an event that was arranged by a newspaper when Nellie herself told her editor that she wanted to beat the record set by the fictional character, Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s book, Around the World in Eighty Days.

I knew a little about Bly’s trip — however, what I didn’t know was that another newspaper sent another woman to beat Nellie Bly.  Her name? Elizabeth Bisland — and outside of working for women’s rights, she had little in common with Nellie Bly.  Goodman also traces Bisland’s trip, emphasizing the fact that Bly would have actually beat Bly — if poor weather had not slowed her journey.

Goodman’s account of the two journeys is intriguing and insightful. Nellie Bly would go down in history, and I’m glad to read a thoughtful account of her life and this particular journey.  On the other hand, it seems that Elizabeth Bisland’s name would seemingly vanish from history — so I am glad that Goodman found Bisland’s records, so that I could learn about this intriguing woman.


I’m letting my work come home to roost.  This past weekend, I sent out my last submission for 2013.  I have learned long ago that December is not a time to go on any kind of submission spree.  So, I let my work come home to rest — roosting much like the blackbirds that crowd the telephone lines outside of my house, their black feathers stark against a world of white.  It seems that editors are clearing off their desks and cleaning out their inboxes in time for the holiday season.  In the last five days, I have received three rejections.

This past year has been a weird writing year for me. Confession: I have not written a brand new poem since June. I have revised and revised and submitted and submitted, but no brand new poems have emerged from my notebooks.

Instead, I have turned to pieces of literary nonfiction. Since this summer, I have finished five essays, submitting them to various markets.  Much like my beginnings in the poetry world, I have received rejections.  That does not discourage me.  In fact, while I have been rejected, I have also received many remarks from editors who have encouraged me to revise and try again! I am entering into a new phrase of writing, and I am excited about this adventure.

This does not mean I have left the world of poetry behind. Indeed, I am working on my Best Collection posts (Look for my lists at the end of December) of what I have read this year.  And, of course, I have not given up on organizing my full length collection.  To be honest, I think this break from writing poetry will serve me well.