mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

43192004Summary from Goodreads:
Weaving together narrative essay and bilingual poetry, Claudia D. Hernández’s lyrical debut follows her tumultuous adolescence and fraught homecomings as she crisscrosses the American continent.

Seven-year-old Claudia wakes up one day to find her mother gone, having left for the United States to flee domestic abuse and pursue economic prosperity. Claudia and her two older sisters are taken in by their great aunt and their grandmother, their father no longer in the picture. Three years later, her mother returns for her daughters, and the family begins the month-long journey to El Norte. But in Los Angeles, Claudia has trouble assimilating: she doesn’t speak English, and her Spanish sticks out as “weird” in their primarily Mexican neighborhood. When her family returns to Guatemala years later, she is startled to find she no longer belongs there either.

A harrowing story told with the candid innocence of childhood, Hernández’s memoir depicts a complex self-portrait of the struggle and resilience inherent to immigration today.

Knitting the Fog is a moving memoir told through essays and poems about the author’s childhood in Guatemala and migrating to the US at the age of 10. It’s a very slice-of-life book, full of the details that a child remembers about playing with neighbors, the oddities of the neighborhood, and being raised by strong women. However, I found the balance of poetry-to-prose memoir made it tricky to read. In my opinion, the prose essays were the stronger of the two styles and could have been enlarged.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · stuff I read

The Golden Goblet: Selected Poems of Goethe by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zsuzsanna Ozsváth (Translator), Frederick Turner (Translator)

45361728._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The Golden Goblet traces Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poetry from the idealism of youth to the liberation of maturity. In contrast to his rococo contemporaries, Goethe’s poetry draws on the graceful simplicity of German folk rhythms to develop complex, transcendent themes. This robust selection, artfully translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner, explores transformation, revolution, and illumination in Goethe’s lush lyrical style that forever altered the course of German literature.

The notes on the translators’ work and the introduction explaining how Goethe’s language changed over time and influenced art and literature were very interesting.

The poems? Eh, maybe not. The translators of The Golden Goblet were very careful to preserve the rhyme scheme and meter of the poems, but in doing so the poems felt very cold. Not inspiring or passionate, which are the first things one thinks of with Goethe. It may have been better had the publishers chose to do a facing-page style presentation, with the original German on one page and the new English translation facing the other. Because it was hard to judge how much Goethe was changing since he didn’t write in English. Since I read German, that would have been fun.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova

41745837Summary from Goodreads:
In poems rich with sensuality and discord, Mukomolova explores her complex identity―Russian, Jewish, refugee, New Yorker, lesbian― through the Russian tale of Vasilyssa, a young girl left to fend for herself against the witch Baba Yaga. Heavy with family and fable, these poems are a beautiful articulation of difference under duress.

I saw the cover for Without Protection in the Coffee House Press catalog and decided to give it a go. These poems are raw and spare, in some cases autobiographical (there are Notes, which I can’t decide were necessary or not). It was a hard collection to read; it didn’t flow well. I think this is a case where the arrangement of the poems in the collection did a disservice – it felt jumbled and confusing.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Mitochondrial Night by Ed Bok Lee

39974939._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Taking mitochondrial DNA as his guide, Lee explores familial and national legacies, and their persistence across shifting boundaries and the erosions of time. In these poems, the trait of an ancestor appears in the face of a newborn, and in her cry generations of women’s voices echo. Stories, both benign and traumatic, travel as lore and DNA. Using lush, exact imagery, whether about the corner bar or a hilltop in Korea, Lee is a careful observer, tracking and documenting the way that seemingly small moments can lead to larger insights.

Mitochondrial Night is a collection that I really, really want to love but I feel like the physical structure of some of the poems (lots of creative spacing, shapes, etc) gets in the way of the reading. The strongest poems were ones where Lee spoke of fatherhood or his daughter. The final poem, “Water in Love,” is gorgeous. A few poems (especially one written in Prince’s voice) really didn’t work for me. But all the poems were very narrative, with sweeping story arcs, and I deeply appreciated Lee’s work with those narrative shapes.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

37570526Summary from Goodreads:
In Islamic and Western tradition, age twenty-nine is a milestone, a year of transformation and upheaval.

For Hala Alyan, this is a year in which the past–memories of family members, old friends and past lovers, the heat of another land, another language, a different faith–winds itself around the present. Hala’s ever-shifting, subversive verse sifts together and through different forms of forced displacement and the tolls they take on mind and body. Poems leap from war-torn cities in the Middle East, to an Oklahoma Olive Garden, a Brooklyn brownstone; from alcoholism to recovery; from a single woman to a wife. This collection summons breathtaking chaos, one that seeps into the bones of these odes, the shape of these elegies.

A vivid catalog of trauma, heartache, loneliness, and joy, The Twenty-Ninth Year is an education in looking for home and self in the space between disparate identities.

I was impressed with the poetic nature of Alyan’s novel Salt Houses so I was really interested in her new poetry collection. The poems in The Twenty-Ninth Year twist around themselves, unable to find an anchor in the body, in addiction, in middle America, or in the Middle East. It reminded me quite a lot of Porochista Khakpour’s excellent memoir Sick with that feeling of displacement. I didn’t quite feel that all the poems went together as a collection, though they are all good.

The Twenty Ninth Year is out now in the US.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B. Hill

40046136Summary from Goodreads:
A Publishers Weekly Top 10 History Title for the season
Booklist’s Top 10 Diverse Nonfiction titles for the year
BookRiot’s “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections”
Most Anticipated Books of the Year– The Rumpus, Nylon

A revelatory work in the tradition of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, DaMaris Hill’s searing and powerful narrative-in-verse bears witness to American women of color burdened by incarceration.

“It is costly to stay free and appear / sane.”

From Harriet Tubman to Assata Shakur, Ida B. Wells to Sandra Bland and Black Lives Matter, black women freedom fighters have braved violence, scorn, despair, and isolation in order to lodge their protests. In A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, DaMaris Hill honors their experiences with at times harrowing, at times hopeful responses to her heroes, illustrated with black-and-white photographs throughout.

For black American women, the experience of being bound has taken many forms: from the bondage of slavery to the Reconstruction-era criminalization of women; from the brutal constraints of Jim Crow to our own era’s prison industrial complex, where between 1980 and 2014, the number of incarcerated women increased by 700%.* For those women who lived and died resisting the dehumanization of confinement–physical, social, intellectual–the threat of being bound was real, constant, and lethal.

In A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, Hill presents bitter, unflinching history that artfully captures the personas of these captivating, bound yet unbridled African-American women. Hill’s passionate odes to Zora Neale Hurston, Lucille Clifton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, and others also celebrate the modern-day inheritors of their load and light, binding history, author, and reader in an essential legacy of struggle.

*(The Sentencing Project)

I inadvertently finished my first #ReadHarder2019 task – poetry collection pubbed after 2014 – because the flap copy for this book doesn’t mention that DaMaris Hill’s responses are in poetry form! 🙀 (well, the Claudia Rankine comp should have clued me in, maybe)

Here I was, ready for some rather academic essays about the incarceration of Black women, and got slapped up the side of the head by Hill’s poems. And they are STUNNING. Each poem (or section of poems) is for a Black woman “bound” by incarceration, whether enslavement, racism, Jim Crow, misogyny, or the modern prison-industrial complex. Highly recommend.

The highlight of this collection is a poem cycle for Ida B. Wells that is presented first as a mathematical or logic equation then translated into poems. An incredible work of art.

A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing published yesterday, January 16.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Apropos Shakespeare · stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509–1659, selected by David Norbrook and edited by Henry R. Woudhuysen

609526Summary from Goodreads:
The era between the accession of Henry VIII and the crisis of the English republic in 1659 formed one of the most fertile epochs in world literature. This anthology offers a broad selection of its poetry, and includes a wide range of works by the great poets of the age – notably Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Sepnser, John Donne, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Poems by less well-known writers also feature prominently – among them significant female poets such as Lady Mary Wroth and Katherine Philips. Compelling and exhilarating, this landmark collection illuminates a time of astonishing innovation, imagination and diversity.

Selected and with an introduction by David Norbrook, and edited by H.R. Woudhuysen.

One of my goals this year was to read very (very) long books. One of my goals was to start, and finish, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. I loved the poetry we read when I took a Restoration literature class, and I love Shakespeare, so I was very interested in an overview of poetry  from this period. It’s a long haul of a book but a good overview of British Renaissance verse from the early Tudor period through just before the Restoration. I would have like better notation (there were a lot of analogies or references not explained), and for the poems in Scots or Welsh better translation side by side on the page as opposed to the endnotes, but I do appreciate that the editors didn’t modernize the spelling. It was harder to read in places but very interesting to see how spelling began to standardize over these 150 years of verse.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy from the local indie bookstore.

mini-review · stuff I read

Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr

35959197Summary from Goodreads:
A new volume of poetry from the New York Times bestselling and esteemed author of The Liar’s Club and Lit.

Long before she earned accolades for her genre-defining memoirs, Mary Karr was winning poetry prizes. Now the beloved author returns with a collection of bracing poems as visceral and deeply felt and hilarious as her memoirs. In Tropic of Squalor, Karr dares to address the numinous—that mystery some of us hope towards in secret, or maybe dare to pray to. The “squalor” of meaninglessness that every thoughtful person wrestles with sits at the core of human suffering, and Karr renders it with power—illness, death, love’s agonized disappointments. Her brazen verse calls us out of our psychic swamplands and into that hard-won awareness of the divine hiding in the small moments that make us human. In a single poem she can generate tears, horror, empathy, laughter, and peace. She never preaches. But whether you’re an adamant atheist, a pilgrim, or skeptically curious, these poems will urge you to find an inner light in the most baffling hours of darkness.

I’d never read Mary Karr’s poetry before, didn’t even know she had previous collections 🙀 but I have read her memoir Lit and loved it. I found Tropic of Squalor very interesting. I liked the poem cycle that made up the last half of this collection. (I am the worst reviewer of poetry – can I speak critically about the work? Nerp, not a clue. But I enjoyed reading it.)

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley from the publisher.