Light House Full Self: Book Reviews and Exchanges
When Poetry Betrays Us
I became a mouth among mouths—endless
noise without ears. Words signified nothing.
I held my face open to walls—my self a hole.
Nothing entered—nothing exited. I bought
books but stopped reading. My house was
a full burial, while I turn to dust on a shelf.
Welcome to Light House Full Self
Lately, things have been difficult. There is so much unrest politically, socially, and economically. We are all spread emotionally thin; it hurts to care. But after a long year of searching, I'm convinced that it is far better to care than to feel nothing at all. I want to look for love, that is, I want to feel alive despite the difficulties. Poetry is good for this.
One of my best life lessons I often ignore is, "love is an effort." I have been lazy with my great loves; I don't want to be this way anymore. I want to invest more time and effort in the people, places, and things that are meaningful. Poetry is one of those things (politics another).
I realize to love poetry requires talking less and listening more. I need to read, and read more before I can write.
I’m making a commitment to read 1,000 book in 2017. I’m going to tell you (whoever you are) something about this book. If you think you might like it, I’ll mail it to you. We can share the ideas…we can live them. I want to make my house lighter and my self full. I don't want to own books, I want to know them. I hope to find you in the process.
Day Four (turned into a month): January 31st - February 24th
Reading Location #1: Chaperoning a High School Dance (I read by fake candlelight)
Read time: 7 PM - 11 PM
Elena Karina Byrne
Okay. Let me just begin with, Omindawn makes beautiful books. All book lovers already know this, but I think it is important to just “say so” out loud from time to time. Elena Karina Byrne’s latest collection Squander is no exception to Omindawn’s withstanding quality in book making. It is obvious this press cares deeply about poetry. Elena Karina Byrne’s Squander seeks to defines “a deep care for poetry.” This collection is a perfect pairing between publisher and poet.
Squander is a tribute to language—a love letter to words. It really is charming.
Part of this charm might have something to do with my High School students making fun of me for sitting in a corner reading poems while “Can’t Keep my Hands to Myself” blared in the background. But hey, it was sort of perfect; I was on a “date” with poetry and poetry loved poetry as much as I love poetry—as much as the gracious and brilliant Elena Karina Byrne loves poetry. I acquired this book after attending the Rapp Saloon Reading Series. Elena not only gave a beautiful reading but offered the audience her book as a gift. This is not something I would recommend poets do, however it was extremely endearing. This book is obviously an act of love. But unlike some of the hormonally challenged Freshmen at the school dance where I first meet Squander, this collection is a wise love afair that both clings to mean and lets it go. At times it reads almost as an erasure or ellipsis; the poems hold on to meaning with one hand while the other works to set it free. THIS! This quality of loving and letting go makes the collection a “must read.” Take for example the poem, “Rilke, Somewhere in the Gallery” where Byrne’s voice is overcome by Rilke’s poetic lines. It becomes a play of dialogue, or better put, collage as she writes:
I recognized you in it, your grammarless face as if
absent from the hours,
nevertheless, there’s this necessary, irrepressible
with the mirror’s open bird cage, mind’s closed fists, the will,
and our necessary, irrepressible need to feel that
pomegranate stain on the skin, or burnt violin in
something so permanent about you
by not breaking…
Ah! The play with the broken line (elapsed even) stating the unbreakable nature of Rilke’s language is not only beautiful, it is fun and joyful. The line is broken, the voice is broken, the idea fractured, and yet the poem leaves the reader with a lasting image and feeling This serious poem is so playful, making the form match the content in a way that surprises and delights.
It would be reductive to call the collection an Ars Poetica, but it wouldn’t be untrue either.
Day Four (turned into a month): January 31st - February 24th
Reading Location #2: 2017 Religious Education Congress (right? who would have thought I would be here?)
Only More So
Millicent Borges Accardi
I have enjoyed Millicent Borges Accardi’s poetry for years. She is so clean with her poetic intentions. Every poem begins with a clear exposition and then unravels into pure lyricism. Her poems are full of craft; they have a distinct architecture. I think I could recognize her poetry solely by its voice. It is a great gift to be a poet with such “a voice.” Her new collection, Only More So, explores the big subjects such as war, dysphoria, economic / social inequities, religion, faith, and the loss of faith.
I was fortunate to be at a conference this weekend with a hotel room to myself. This proved to be invaluable because Accardi’s poetry must be read aloud. The music in these lines is exquisite, the word-play is witty, and the poems content—well, it is illuminating. These poems show the best and the worst of humanity. Even more exciting (or uncomfortable), these poems show how often the worst of humanity comes from its best attributes. The poem “The World in 2001” literally took my breath away with it unflinching look at the lack of self-awareness in the United States before 9/11. This poem, in contrast to the hyper conscious poems about war and violence, really packs an emotional punch. “The World in 2001” opens with the lines:
“My Dad and me, we made fun of slackers
And weeper in Chelsea. People who lost
Jobs. Girls who had babies out of wedlock.
Folks who couldn’t save, didn’t pay American
Compare these lines to title poem “Only More So,” which reads:
You see it was very much like this.
In the flatland dregs, the fat-coated
soldiers knocked at the door, so a woman
was forced, with a gritty smile,
to invite them in, to sit by her
yellow fire, to swallow up her walls.
This collection is an incredible exploration of empathy—how it works, how it is needed. This collection does important work, while at the same time delighting the reader. Every poem had its own incredible ending—Accardi, like a master, lands every ending beautifully. It is worth reading this book solely for its zinger lines, but it is more than a collection of one liners—it is a book that tells the story of growth—of going from naïve judgement (religion) to complicated understanding (spirituality)
Day Three (and honestly 4--I'm so behind): January 29th / 30th
Reading Location: Looking at Wedding Dresses (no lie)
Read time: This one took some time...
Having once worked as a wedding planner, helping couples pick out $30,000 stationary while I was struggling to make rent, Laura Mullen’s Enduring Freedom is a flash back of my early twenties. Having once been a bride and briefly a wife, Laura Mullen’s Enduring Freedom is the humiliation of my early thirties. Nearing forty, I wish I would have read this book sooner.
Wedding planners and photographers understand that their job is to hide the true terror of the event, so the bride, groom, and guest (with some time) can reinvent the day to fit their imaginations. The collection brilliantly is time marked with descriptions of wedding photos; the other poems reveal what is happening beyond the staged images.
This collection is quirky and quick witted; a painful joy to read. The book is biting, but in such a kind way—it breaks the bride to free the person. The poems move through several different perspectives seamlessly. It is almost undetectable that everyone is an accomplice in the soul reducing ritual of marriage—almost.
In the “Bride of the New Dawn,” Mullen writes,
“She appears to be recognized as herself and not herself and not herself, new / because endlessly recycled, not what she was but not what she will be—see?”
In the poem, “White Bride,” Mullen writes the wife’s voice,
“Blank page. It’s this dress—I can’t breathe in it.”
In the poem, “Bride of the Detail,” Mullen writes in (what appears to be) the wedding planners voice,
“This is the kind of attention to detail that can really set the tone for your invasion, I mean conflict, I mean occupation.”
In the poem, “Colonized Bride (Jewel in the Crown),” Mullen writes in as the groom (perhaps thinking of self in the third person) explains,
“If [he] had governed India anywhere as competently as he governed / her body, no wonder everyone lauded his actions / He ravaged her mouth”
The list of Bridezilla sketches is long enough to feel the drudgery of the ritual, yet the collection is short enough to hold the reader captive from cover to cover. The poems continue to believe in love and beauty, but reveal how traditions become perverted—how marriage has been wrapped into its inverse. There is no love (well maybe self-love) in the bride.
Day Two (and honestly 3): January 27th / 28th
Reading Location: Everywhere
Read time: Anytime
Wesleyan University Press
I know, the promise was a book a day, and I have every intention of catching up, but…
this book is worth a broken promise; it promises the "broken" is poetry. I had to spend more time with Kazim Ali’s Bright Felon. The back copy of the collection calls it “eloquent,” and it is, it is. It walks at its own pace, and does in fact walk long line by long line from one side of the world to the other. This book, like Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and C.D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining actually takes possession of the reader.
I wandered around my small town while equally occupying someone else’s Marble Hill, Cairo, New York, Paris, Buffalo, Washington, DC and Home. Only none of it felt like someone else’s world. For a few days, it was our world. This is great, great writing--writing that out writes words. Below I’ve given a few sample lines to give you some sort of evidence for what I’m trying to say about this book.
I really think to miss this book is to miss a piece of life. I will never be the same, and I’m grateful for it.
I’m terribly sad to give this book away. In fact I intend to be sneaky about this one. I’m going to give it to a friend so I can visit it. I will need to visit this book again.
Excerpts from Bright Felon:
Later all the promises were broken and the settlements spread into
It’s always the broken that holds the universe in place.
That’s what I would say about poetry and prayer.
Remember why Djuna burned her books on the sinking boat:
Because none of them prepared her for the moment in which she
Was asked to burn them.
That’s a new thing: to actually hear what is being said around you.
Did I learn the way breath moves into and out of a person, and that a
Body is only a place the soul coalesces.
Or is it the other way around, the body like an antenna. The body the
Real thing pulling the soul-essence of the universe into its house.
I always think about going back and going in.
All the same.
Or is it.
Cities are like my deck of cards, one line after another, one thing and
then another disappearing.
From “New York City”
If there is a book that will teach us will we be able to read it or do we
have to write it first.
From “New York City”
Have you ever been so thrown down, so twisted to disappear with liquid
Into the air.
From “Washington DC”
You hope like anything that though others consider you unclean God
will still welcome you.
My name is Kazim. Which means patience. I know how to wait.
Day One: January 26th
Reading Location: YMCA / 4 mile walk
Read time: 5 AM – 6 Am
White Martini of the Apocalypse
Why? Why did I wait so long to read this book? I’ve had it almost a year.
In some ways I’m grateful for the timing. With the OrangeOne as president, Apocalypse(s) seem possible making the title poem of the collection, “White Martini,” even more uncomfortable with the lines:
The White Martini of the Apocalypse
Stayed locked behind glass
In case anyone got an itchy lip.
The astronomer found ways to look at it
Without being noticed. Taking aim
He quivered like a bow string.
Would you drink it if you could?
The “discomfort” of honest lines is matched with Sweeney’s ability to convince readers throughout the collection that “NO,” no we do not want to drink the Apocalypse—we long for life.
The world may end, and what good will poetry be then? Chad Sweeney’s White Martini of the Apocalypse answers this; these poems deliver the immediate and give value to “the moment.” Poetry isn’t a monument to death, but the practice of being fully aware of life.
Life isn’t about avoiding death, it is the feeling of being alive. These poems thwart disaster with beauty page after page. As found in the poem “Shipwrecked,”
An artist who wasn’t ready to die
Cast a bronze sculpture of grass furious in wind. The purples of
Late summer moved over the bronze and over the noble
Undying will, the will undying in the dying grass.
Meaning doesn’t have to be lasting. We don’t have to destroy the world; that’s not our job. It is the World’s job to destroy us and in the process we gain love, admiration, and value for the time we have together in this wild existence. Even in his poem “southern Gothic” zombies embrace their “sorrow” as:
Their bodies were not theirs
Any more than the horizon was,
Any more than a coal mine.
They crossed the snow.
They crossed the snow.
I’m tremendously indebted to this book. I pulled it randomly from a stack but it provided exactly what I was looking for: I love poetry again.
If you are interested in having me mail you this book email me at nicellecdavis @ gmail.com