Autumn is upon us, folks, which means that many of us are gobbling up or slurping down anything with the word “pumpkin” attached to it. We’re getting our sweaters and scarves out of storage, we’re booking it back to school, we’re planning Halloween parties (group costumes, am I right?), and we’re battening down for the cold weather on the horizon. It’s always been an interesting paradox for me, dear readers, that what may truly be the busiest time of year for many is also the most contemplative. Look at how many poems have been written about this time of year. Open up any book of Romantic poems and you’ll find the pages overflowing with praise for the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (thanks, Keats). I know I write more in the fall than any other time of year. I could dive really deep with you and say that it probably has to do with the simultaneous appreciation of death and beauty, but there are writers who can do a much better job of that than I. So with that in mind, I’m focusing on two poetry collections today, one new and one from last year, but both of which I’ve been reading and both of which I recommend.
by Rachel McKibbens
Small Doggies Press, 2013
Like tonguing the raw gum of a newly-pulled tooth or poking the dot of a still-fresh bruise, McKibben’s poems will surprise you with their sudden violence. What will surprise you further is how you keep coming back to it. This author is known as a slam poet, and it suits her: these verses punch the reader, and not with a loud, overbearing, or brash presence, but rather with a quiet, precise jab into just the right nook. These are poems for abuse-survivors, for people with pasts, for those among us with stories we don’t always want to tell. When you finish the book, it will feel like the haunting ache of a phantom limb. But, as McKibbens advises, “When grief takes hold, you monster through it.”
Prelude to Bruise
by Saeed Jones
Coffee House Press, 2014
Saeed Jones has managed to make this basic white girl from the northeast step inside the skin of a homosexual, African-American southern boy and feel the tension and beauty that lives within. He will share his influences from Nina Simone to Patricia Smith to Langston Hughes to Billie Holliday. Jones has read mountains of great poetry and it shows through in this shining collection. Some of the poems read as brutally autobiographical, others are so visceral and physical they can be about anyone, and in fact when you’re reading it, you feel it is about you, which is exactly what a good poet should achieve: a place on the page to inhabit within the writer’s voice. Jones has done this, and well. An excerpt from Postapocalyptic Heartbeat:
After ruin,/ after shards of glass like misplaced stars,/ after dredge,/ after the black bite of frost: you are the after,/ you are the first hour in a life without clocks; the name of whatever/ falls from the clouds now is you (it is not rain),/ a song in a dead language, an unlit earth, a coast broken-/ how was I to know every word was your name?
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