Poetry

Pillow Thoughts & The Road Between | Courtney Peppernell | Poetry Review

I was recently introduced to Courtney Pepernell’s works through Instagram and I requested her two poetry books that will be released later this year from Andrew McMeel Publishing: Pillow Thoughts and The Road Between—both collections will be released on August 29. Courtney Peppernell is an LGBTQ author from Sydney, Australia focusing on Young Adult novels and Poetry Collections. Keeping Long Island is her third title release, and the first under her new book brand, Pepper Books. Pepper Books is a publishing house that has just been started this year and will focus on Poetry and LGBT communities.

Pillow Thoughts

35489042This collection was first self-published on October 4th, 2016 and has recently been picked up by Andrew McMeel. Pillow Thoughts is about love. It sort of took me by surprise when I noticed that it rhymes in a ‘fun Dr. Seuss’ kind of way but the subject matter itself is deep and honest. If I had to compare I would say it’s a combination of John Keats and Dr. Seuss. It sets up this sort of innocent, whimsical-humour-seriousness from the beginning with this poem:

Before we begin, I’d like to share a story.

Once upon a time there was a jellyfish. We’ll call it

You.

You became lost sometimes

You could be a little unsure

You tried very hard.

But sometimes it didn’t feel like enough.

I hate to spoil the ending

But you is fine

You is still here.

You is going to make it.

The references to “you is” as a trending internet meme-culture joke is preceeded by a quotation from the Chainsmokers. This lightness of “the here and now” touched with recognizable references makes Peppernell very relatable and accessible as a young emerging poet.

Throughout her collection these references occur. Peppernell places before us lines and images we’ve seen repeatedly on online forums. For instance, she alludes to the famously known Albert Camus quotation changing it slightly:

“you promised you’d never take a road that I could not follow”

The poems in this collection go through love, heartbreak, and the various kinds of dynamics that exist in a relationship between young people. Based on the language used and the style of choice I think this book is ideal for preteens and teenagers. At its core this collection has a message which to me is: you will experience all this and you will hit some serious downfalls, however you will be okay. Everything will be okay in the end.

The Road Between

35489039This collection is exploring growth, mapping the metaphorical geographical spaces in one’s life. I.e. the caves you hide in when you are afraid.

I enjoyed this collection more than the one mentioned above because it deals with various aspects of one’s life where love is a part of it rather than its center.

This collection is also filled with proverb-like sentences like:

“you are not defined by the stage you are at in life. Just because you are unsure of where you are heading doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are inside.”

Untitled

The Cave

I read some reviews of Pillow Talk shaming Peppernell’s use of language and simplicity. I think we need to look at poems like Peppernell’s as: us the readers getting a glimpse into an individual’s growth and healing journey. Peppernell uses poetry as a way to understand herself growing up different. There are many “in the closet” references throughout her poetry, or hiding in a cave for comfort. I think it was more important for Peppernell to write this collection than it is for us to read it and/or judge it. As a reader and poetry lover I find it difficult to review things that are so personal. I wish Peppenell did more with the language, and played around with the structure. I also think some poems shouldn’t have been incorporated in the collection as they distract from the whole. However, I am happy these collections exist and I’m very excited to see what Peppernell will release in her newly created LGBT-focused poetry publishing house. Overall I enjoyed The Road Between more than Pillow Thoughts and both strongly reminded me of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, so if you enjoyed that collection perhaps give Peppernell a try.

Again if I were to recommend this to readers I would direct this to a younger audience perhaps ages 12-16.

Attributed to the Harrow Painter | Poetry Review

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Red-figure Hydria is attributed to the Harrow Painter

The Harrow Painter was an ancient Greek painter of archaic red-figure pottery. Approximately 39 vases have been attributed to him and he got named ‘The Harrow Painter’ by J.D. Beazley in a 1916 article titled “Two Vases in Harrow.”

In the conclusion to this collection Twemlow writes about the Harrow Painter:

“though he has been justly called ‘more than ordinarily competent,’ the Harrow Painter was indeed a minor talent, notwithstanding the undeniable charm of some of his works. If, however, one looks beyond the quality of his line and his relatively low standing in the artistic pantheon, one discovers in him many elements of interest and more than a few delightful pictures.”

35010723The collection of poems Attributed to the Harrow Painter by Nick Twemlow depicts the highly personal bond between father and son (respectively his son Sasha who is named in the poem and dedication) almost like he is talking directly to his little boy as he grows. Both father and son have an eye for art: sculptors like Brancusi, Hellenist sculptures and frescoes, natural landmarks like Burnett’s Mound, etc. There are many classical references throughout the collection of poems, mixed in with Polonius-like advice for his son:

“& don’t worry so much / About whether they think / You’re a boy or a girl. / You have much / To look forward to / In the matrix / Of gods & trends.”

Reading this collection felt like I was watching a father raise his son, teaching him about art, sculptures, and the classical period, and simultaneously getting glimpses into the reflections the father has on his son growing up:

“armed with your vicious / Youth / Your tabula rasa affect / Your deep understanding of nothing.”

Overall the effect achieved by catching a glimpse into one particular father-son bond over art is one of intrusion. Unlike poets who discuss more general “applicable to all” kind of poems, Twemlow’s collection feels like it was written specifically for his son and no one else, and we, the readers, are mere observers.

Strangely enough I feel like this poetry collection belongs more with art majors than poetry majors. I would recommend this work to people who have an eye for reading into classical art, who enjoy sculptures, and who want to catch a glimpse into one particular father-son bond.

This book is scheduled for publication in November from University of Iowa Press.

Thin Places | Children’s Poetry

32608482Thin Places is a poetry book written by Lesley Choyce—it has one single narrative running through in free verse. The story follows Declan Lynch who is young, lives in North America, and is a little unusual. He is not popular at school nor very well liked. He feels out of place even in his own family, out of place, out of time. He narrates:

I want to live in my own kingdom

An island filled with amazing beings

Only I can imagine

Things get stranger when he begins to hear voices from what his parents call his ‘imaginary friends’ but he himself feels their presence to be much more significant. Over time, he can’t tell if the voices he hears are real or made up. The most significant voice in his head is that of a young maiden named Rebecca who guides him to travel to his ancestral home (Ireland) and explore its thin places. She tells him that thin places are:

These are places where they say

The spirit world and the physical world

Are close together.

Sacred places

Ancient burial sites.

This work as a story contains many elements from Celtic Mythology, Irish landscape, and childhood imagination. In its format however, the book is written in non-rhyming verse for children. I would probably recommend this to children around the age of 6-8. The main complaint I’ve read so far from its early reviews is that the poetry is not in any way challenging. There’s nothing to read further into, rather, it is a short story with its sentences divided to look like poetry. While I agree it may be that way for adults, I think it may be different for the age group targeted. I am by no means suggesting that children can’t handle advanced verse, but I remember from my personal experience a time when poems were presented to me as obstacles and challenges. Poems were never something to enjoy but something to dissect and discuss with a lot of pressure attached. I thought that they were all written by people like Shakespeare and that it would automatically be hard to understand. It wasn’t until later years in high school when I began to appreciate poetry. Since free verse has taken over, I think it’s time to start introducing children to non-rhyming poetry as well. I haven’t encountered much free verse for children and I’m glad that books like these exist. Choyce makes poetry accessible to children with this collection. The narrative captured in Thin Places is as lovely in content as any Dr. Seuss poem or Shel Silverstein only without the rhyming.

I would recommend this for parents with young children who want to introduce poetry to their young ones. This is a book to read in one sitting and children’s libraries as well as elementary school libraries should have this in their collection.

This book will be published by Dundurn.

Drinks with Dead Poets | Book Review

“Every word, phrase or sentence spoken by the literary figures in this book is drawn verbatim from their letters, diaries, journals, or essays.” – Preface

33011553The main character is a professor by the name of “Glyn Maxwell” (name of Author) who finds himself in a dream-like, quaint, rustic, village school. There’s a pub, a church, all like in the old days. He must teach a semester-long course on poetry.  He is charismatic, funny, and passionate–a bit like Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society.

He is given this syllabus to teach: “Reading List for Elective Poetry Module” featuring a week on each one of these poets: Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Brontes, Coleridge. Poe (on Halloween), Clare, Yeats, Whitman, Browning, Byron.

Each lesson feels like you, the reader, are present in a small seminar at University where the students can freely joke with the professor and also become fully engaged with the material—and the professor is passionate, and charismatic as he decomposes poems, discusses the poet(s), and asks thought-provoking questions. The lecture is followed by a vivid ‘hallucination’ or imagining that the narrator is meeting the poet in discussion. This whole book is a dream-like state. The dead poets talk to the narrator, get invited to class where they are publicly interviewed and they share anecdotes. They also explore parts of this town like the library, or pub. I enjoy the ways in which the whole text is full of literary references. For example if a student jokes a bit too much the teacher announces that ‘Yorrick’ is in the class. Simultaneously it merges the past with the present. Students for instance pick up that Bob Dylan songs have Poe references, as do Hitchcock films. I was more intrigued by the poets I genuinely like (Dickinson, Poe, and Whitman) because I was curious what Maxwell would do with them, and what new things I might learn about them. I found there were many funny parts, like when the narrator/author tries to write a letter to Walt Whitman but he just can’t get it right, because it sounds too much like something a teenage fan-girl would write, so he crumples up every draft thanking his lucky stars he didn’t ‘send it.’

Here are some of my favourite lines

Keats Lecture:

“poems that stay stay because the body feels them”

Dickinson Lecture:

“You can’t teach Emily Dickinson, you can’t write like her either. You no more have to write in her stanzas than you have to write limericks or clerihews. But you do have to absorb that she wrote about everything else she could think of—herself, others, life, death, God, Time, being here, being gone—in little quatrains shaped like hymns, rhymed or half rhymed, mostly four beats then three beats, four, three, stanza-break, and she barely left her bedroom…what you owe to such a poet is a true pause for thought.”

The visit to the library (with Emily):

“There are old books on every stall, twelve stalls, volumes and volumes, and great swathes of canvas thrown back behind the hardwood frames as if to protect them when needed.”

(A draft) Letter to Whitman:

“There’s more Life than there is Art, your poems seem to say, and the glory is in the reach, the stretch, the straining ever upwards like plant-life in the sunshine.”

I really enjoyed this book, and it really comes across as a work of passion. I wish I would have spread it out and read the poet alongside each chapter so that it feels like a real course. One can see that the author is well-versed and well-acquainted with the poets he teaches. The whole work felt like a love letter to these poets. I hope that if this work gets worked into an audiobook there will be more voices for each student and they find suitable voice actors for the dead poets because the whole work is mostly in dialogue and it would be fascinating to experience it that way—something like the way they recorded Lincoln in the Bardo. I thought it was well written, and captures the poets spot on because as the preface mentions the words, the attempt to reconstruct them, and capture their spirit comes from the poets’ archives and is probably as close as we will ever get to them.

I strongly recommend this book to readers who enjoy poetry, have liked studying poetry, want to learn any more about the poets listed, and who like 19th century literature from the Western Canon. Again, the feeling I had reading this was akin to sitting in a University lecture taught by a great professor…and that is a very pleasant feeling.

The book is scheduled to be published in August by Pegasus Books. Click here for link.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory | Poetry Review

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front cover

Okay, let me paint you a picture:

You know that friend you have—you know the one—the individual who peaced out a few times to go find themselves in the East by being spiritual in Buddhist monasteries for a few weeks, the one who smokes pot and talks about the peace at parties, the one who thinks about attending protests, is probably vegan, and every time you’re with them they listen to Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix, and somehow is also insanely pretentious because they drop references to Charles Bukowski, any of the confessional poets, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Wordsworth, the pot-lord David Foster Wallace (who they suggest is far too pretentious and unreadable, but they themselves sounds like), the Great Gatsby, and who deep down thinks they’re Jack Kerouac?

If you miss that friend (who you love very much and wish you could have their courage and go with them) because they probably left you again to have another adventure without you (because you suck for reducing them to a stereotype in book reviews), then just read this poetry collection. It’s a textual embodiment of that person.

The weird thing is, that while that hipster friend who has become a trope right now is already a cliché, I think Chris Banks is actually an original because he was born in 1970. He actually did those things BEFORE they were cool. So let’s get into the collection:

This book really is for everyone, as the dedication suggests. It’s filled with references, which most avid readers or English majors will pick up on.

My personal favourite is the simplest one, devoid of any of the things listed above, which has the most honesty. It’s called “Fossil”

“To match in words

The impression

Some extinct creature

Left in mud long ago

To be that permanent

And still not there.”

The collection is divided in four parts:

  1. All Night Arcade
  2. The Cloud versus Grand Unification Theory
  3. Selfie with Ten Thousand Things
  4. Finders Keepers

The poem which starts this collection is called “Progress” and is representative of the kind of ‘protest-poetry’ that Banks offers:

“Gene-targeting and molecular cloning. The shrine /Of the genome has broken into—Glo Fish /…Insulin-producing bacteria / are grown in large fermentation tanks to provide / medicine for diabetics  / …demand / Big Pharma give us an alturistm patch, one to create / more empathy in politicians, say, or nasal spray, / to make children more resistant to fear-mongering, / and body shaming.”

The collection is filled with contemporary references like ‘selfies,’ society-accepted norms that mean nothing in the large scheme of things, and criticisms of capitalist-driven-corporations, and their lack of empathy, eco-love, or humanity.

There are some knock-out lines scattered throughout this collection like:

“most poems I read feel like I’m walking / through someone’s private zoo.”

– “Roadside Attractions”

Overall the collection is good, and it’s worth a try. It doesn’t take too long to read. I do wish that the collection had a well-written introduction to the poems and a better outline of Chris Banks as a poet. I wish there was more context.

Many thanks to ECW Press for sending me an ARC for early review. This collection will be published on September 5, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Up Against Beyond | Poetry | Review

“Holt has little interest in plain speech that is not, simultaneously, slippery. One thinks one has the meaning, the image, of the verse, and then it is gone — as fleeting as the moment of reading.” – George Elliott Clarke

34713994Jason Holt is a Canadian poet who lives in Nova Scotia and teaches at Acadia University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Western University in 1998. His books include Blindsight and the Nature of Consciousness, which was shortlisted for the 2005 CPA Book Prize and various academic works like Leonard Cohen and Philosophy, as well as Philosophy of Sport—a topic he teaches at Acadia in the Kinesiology department. His full academic bibliography can be found here. Up Against Beyond includes poetry selected from his six previous poetry book. This collection includes poems ranging from 1994 to 2017.  His use of language in his work Inversed (2014) received praise from Toronto’s poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke—one of my favourite professors at the University of Toronto—in an article titled “Linguistic Masquerades to Savour.”

Up Against Beyond, as a collection, contains a total of 121 poems and is divided in eight sections.

  1. (1994) Poems selected from Fine in Kafka’s Burrow
  2. (1999) from Memos to No One
  3. (2003) from A Hair’s Breadth of Abandon
  4. (2005) from Relics from an Open Vault
  5. (2009) from Longstern Poems
  6. (2012) from “A Brace of Sonnets”
  7. (2014) from Inversed
  8. New Poems

Holt’s poetry is hyper-self-aware and  playful with an intense sense of humour. For instance, the first new poem listed in section eight starts with:

“this is a poem/ I don’t/ title my poems/ not because/ I’m pretentious/ although/ I am pretentious…”

It’s the kind of poem that knows exactly what the reader expects to find from a Ph.D. University professor, and yet, it turns it on its head making fun of itself before the reader gets a chance to. Other poems sound like a proverb: “too many/ books/ Spoil/The prof” where the reader is left alone wondering what to make of it.

However, many of his other poems are so memorable and quotable told in a more sombre and philosophical tone, with the elegance one expects from a poet. Holt rewards readers and gives them the poetry they deserve. One of my favourite poems is this one (from which the title of the collection is derived):

“the only place to go

is up against beyond

what other challenge worthy

what other meaning

less than war

more than game

between covers of book or bed”

Most of Holt’s poetry is brief. The one proverb-like being indicative of that as it is in itself a single poem, alone on the page and each individual line is often one or two words with few exceptions. Clarke referred to Holt’s poems as “whimsical parades of terms and phrases” where one must puzzle his/her way through as a reader, akin to figuring out a Rubik’s cube, which is perhaps the best attitude to have, entering this collection.

What I particularly enjoyed about this collection is that excerpts are taken from the poet’s life spanning 23 years. We get to see a poet in various moods, and various spaces, using language as a tool for each occasion. I would recommend this work for anyone interested in reading new poetic voices and particularly those who are open to experimental poems. This collection also has a brief trailer on YouTube.

Many thanks to Anaphora Literary Press and Anna Faktorovich for sending me an ARC for early review. This poetry collection will be published on July 20, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy | Review

This work will be published on June 6, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

This collection is an amalgamation of poems from various authors who are a source of wisdom in both the East and the West. The collection brings together a spiritual community that remains connected in that they wrote of essential human truths universally experienced no matter of background, sex, or religion. John Brehm writes in the introduction:

“no poem can last for long unless it speaks, even if obliquely, to some essential human concern.”

Wisdom Publications is a non-profit charitable organization and the leading publisher of classic and contemporary Buddhist books and practical works on mindfulness. Their main goal is to cultivate Buddhist voices the world over, and preserving and sharing Buddhist literary culture.

John Brehm, the editor, won the Brittingham Prize in 2004 for his own poetry collection Sea of Faith. His goal for this collection is to present readers with:

“poets who strip themselves of all self-centered stories and desires, speaking out of pure consciousness and placing themselves on equal footing with all beings…like insects [Issa]…or fallen trees [Neruda]”

The collection is divided in three sections:

  1. Impermanence
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Joy

The inclusion of Western poets like Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, or even Jack Kerouac may come as a surprise, but the purpose of this collection is to show:

“how beautifully the Dharma manifests even in poems by poets who were not practicing Buddhists or knew little or nothing about Buddhism.”

Brehm uses the term Dharma broadly speaking, selecting poems which demonstrated:

“the way things are, universal law, or the truth of things, who force the reader to pay attention in a world filled with distractions”

I enjoyed the ways in which Brehm shows that at the end of the day, no matter what part of the world one is from, at the core of the fundamental truths that unite us all we are experiencing the same things. Love, joy, and impermanence in a transitory life are all universally true and not particular to any single corner of the world. I was very grateful to read this collection and be reminded of that, particularly with the news circulating the past few weeks (this whole year really). It’s a reminder that we are not alone and that regarding the things that make us fundamentally human the world is really not that divided.

I recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys poetry, spirituality, and is looking for a source of hope.

Many thanks to Wisdom Publications for sending me a copy for review.