Archive for Poetry Books

Welcome, 2015!

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2015! Are you making your resolutions yet? If one of your goals for the New Year is to read more, then try some of these books. I have compiled three lists of great reads from 2014. Authors include Elizabeth Blackwell, Natalie Harnett, Emily St. John Mandel, Roxane Gay, Beth Peyton, and Nicole Walker. Poets includes collections by Rochelle Hurt, John Repp, and January Gill O’Neil. The complete lists are listed here.  Happy Reading!


Best Poetry Collections of 2014!

Every year, I make a list of the best poetry books I have read that have been published. Check out my news link for this year’s selections, and keep these poets in mind if you have not read their work!

The 2014 Big Poetry Giveaway!

For a chance to win free poetry books, stop by my new website and leave a note with contact information. The direct link is here!

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.

With December Right Around the Corner….

In the last few days, we have survived Winter Storm Boreas, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday — a trio of events that have made the last week a bit more chaotic than normal (Although, I admit, while I have many family members who love Black Friday sales, I sleep in…actually saving a lot of money!). I have the rest of this weekend to catch up a bit with grading papers and reading a pile of chapbooks that are sitting on my nightstand.

And speaking of chapbooks, writer William Kelley Woolfitt has posted an interview where I talk, no gush, a bit about chapbooks.  Yes, I talk about Stealing Dust and Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, but I also spend a great deal of time discussing other poets’ chapbooks.  The website has other great interviews in its archives including posts by Justin Hamm and Michael Meyerhofer.  Take a look!

In other good news, the latest issue of Flycatcher is live!  It’s a beautiful issue featuring poems by Rupert Fike, Thomas Rain Crowe, Valerie Neiman, and Mike James.  And yes, two of my poems are also featured.  Happy Reading!

Wrestling with Sestinas and Other Adventures in Form

sestinas twoI have a love/hate relationship with the sestina.  I love to read sestinas — I love the way poets experiment with the form, playing with the end words, while twisting meanings, tenses and even spellings.  I also love to teach the sestina.  The sestina has a fixed pattern  — much like other forms that I teach (the pantoum, the ghazal and the villanelle), so many of my nonmajors suddenly see patterns and organization that they didn’t see before.

But I hate writing sestinas.

I admit it — it’s probably lack of patience or lack of imagination when it comes to linguistics and/or language, but every time I start playing with the sestina, I throw my notebook down in a huff.  The only time I managed to actually finish a sestina, I showed my poem (rather proudly, I might add) to a colleague, who read my piece, frowned, and said, “It’s a sestina, all right.”

Not exactly comforting words.

Still, The Incredible Sestina Anthology edited by Daniel Nester makes me want to try the sestina again.  In this collection, Nester brings to together a wide range of poets who have succeeded with the sestina.  Included are works by poets Elizabeth Bishop, Donald Justice, Marilyn Hacker, Sandra Beasley, Denise Duhamel and Patricia Smith.  It’s not the kind of book that you want to sit down and read in one sitting. Instead, it’s a collection you want to put by your nightstand, where you can read three or four sestinas before you go to sleep.  (This way, you can dream in sestinas — which has happened to me before — it’s a little funky.)

In the last week or so, we have been working with forms in my Writing About Literature classes.  Even though it’s not a creative writing course, I do take a class period to have students experiment with form.  For many, the sestina is the biggest challenge; however, many of my students do enjoy the pantoum and the ghazal.

Today, as I am finishing this post, we are under our first Lake Effect Snow Warning of the season.  The wind is blowing and snowflakes are flying.  It’s a good day to stay inside, bundle up, and try that sestina again.

November Poetry Pick: Render An Apocalypse


The format of Render: An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell reminds me of a survival manual.  Or a religious tract.  Or both.  Thin, with a cover that looks like it has been made out of cardboard,  this collection contains poems with such titles as “How to Kill a Rooster,” “How to Wean a Hog,” and “How to Build a Root Cellar.”  Indeed, these are directions for survival.  And much more.

Certainly, at first glance, the content of the poems sound practical, if not a bit brutal and violent.  But hey, afterall, with a collection title containing the word, “apocalypse” one may expect a bit of brutality.  For instance, in “How to Be Civilized,” the poet states, “Make the pig think/she has a choice//she can defecate/away from her feed//she can still be clean.”  In another poem, “How to Kill a Hog,” the poet explains the directions for after the kill: “Gather her organs up/into your arms//like you once did your mother’s robes/when you were a boy who knew nothing//but the scent of sweat and silk.”

Taken at the literal level, the poems could be seen as mere instructions for physical survival.  But they are more — metaphors dug from the dirt and grit of farm life that explore all aspects of our daily lives. In “How to Be an Animal” the poet cautions us saying, “Forget you ran with them//Wild among trees/wild in your cheer” as if telling us that mere survival means distancing ourselves from what we once were.   In “How to Build a Root Cellar” the poet juxtaposes the physical act of digging with finding and struggling with our own identities: “To build a root cellar//burrow cold from the ground” and “Call your own name until/you have one.”

Render: An Apocalypse was the winner of the 2012 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book prize.  You can read more about Rebecca Gayle Howell and her work on her website.

Brackish Friday

BrackishI fell in love with the poetry of Jeff Newberry years ago, and that love shows through in my review of Brackish posted today at Rattle. Take a look!  Yes, I spend some time in the opening paragraph reminiscing about my years growing up in a blue-collar town, but most of the review focuses on the working-class world of the Florida Gulf Coast.   Brackish is one of the best collections I have read this year!

Tupelo Press Booksale!

Tupelo Press is having a great sale.  From now until October 1, if you buy one book, you can receive a paperback of equal or lesser value for free!  Take a look at their homepage and then flip through their online catalog for some great choices.

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