Joanne Dominique Dwyer’s, “Belle Laide” Reviewed by Stacey Balkun

February 27, 2014 in Poets At Work

Joanne-Dominique-Dwyer Joanne Dominique Dwyer’s first collection of poems, Belle Laide (Sarabande Books, 2013) occupies a limbo space. Our speaker describes herself as poised between two generations—an outsider on the edge of several worlds, each ready for careful examination.

The central conflict is the world of the beautiful vs that of the ugly, and she gives us a trenchant tour through both. , interweaving themes of legend and science, the known and unknown.

As a fan of Kimiko Hahn’s Toxic Flora, I felt especially drawn to the science:

“Luciferin and luciferase. A pigment and an enzyme./They depend on each other. Neither one can produce a luminous body alone.//Even the arrival of the average child requires both the sperm and the egg…”

Somehow, in a space no bigger than a mason jar, the poem captures it all. It is the jar that captures a fistful of fireflies. We, as readers, become the insects glowing within, able to see out but still feeling strangely trapped, as we feel in our human bodies. 

This corporeal quality is exemplified in the poem “She Had Some Water,” which channels Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses” by using repetition to create a sense of multiplicity:

“She had some sun ascertaining ownership on her shoulders

She had some rain in her hair…”

The final poem brings us back to our speaker, and, like so much of this stunning collection, moves inward towards the body, positioning it as the only source of certainty, even as it is a “temporary occupancy,” the value of which (beautiful or ugly) exists solely in the mind:

“And she’ll be ashamed for her ego-driven desire

to be listed among the holy,

and humbled into a hallow love for her body…“

 

Reviewed by Stacey Balkun

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Losers

February 1, 2014 in Poems

I myself have lost me on unknown day,
While I was accumulating years on my way,
I did not realize then that we might separate,
I thought We were together,
And would remain to each other
To taste flavors of our same fate,
To celebrate,
Passing of Days and nights,
delicious light of the day,
And years sway
Between love and hate,
Suddenly, he disappeared,
While I was walking about alone in my life,
Desperate, tired, losing without strife;
Surrendering to those I feared.

Once I saw my face in a flower,
Then he folded himself and vanished forever,
After that day, from nowhere,
With infecting care,
He breathed into my ear,
With a rare anger,
‘ you are aging like lifeless stones,
Fumes of man living on invisible bones,’
Then he melted in the atmosphere,
Ever since I have myself been looking for me,
In the streets, where I used to wander,
And few other places I hardly now remember,
Where I last saw him, who I m not him; but once he was me;
When I was younger.

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Natalie Diaz, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” Reviewed by Jeannine Hall Gailey

January 29, 2014 in Poetry Book Reviews, Poetry Reviews

Natalie Diaz When My Brother Was an Aztec

Natalie-Diaz-book
When My Brother Was an Aztec
By Natalie Diaz
Copper Canyon Press, 2012
Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec is an ambitious first book written with all the confidence and skillful organization of a poet writing her third or fourth book. Taking on subjects—such as addiction and childhood on a reservation—that could, in less capable hands, teeter on the brink of melodrama, Diaz simultaneously provokes and reins in, creating poems that brim with power. In short, her book is intelligently playful while remaining entirely unafraid of the darkness.When My Brother Was an Aztec treats Diaz’s relationship with her brother—a drug addict and, eventually, a veteran—who acts as a reminder of what she could become. The title poem, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” portrays her brother as an Aztec king, a hummingbird warrior, a devouring god: “My parents/ begged him to pluck their eyes out. He thought he was/ Huizilopochtli, a god, half-man half-hummingbird….” Diaz paints a vivid portrait of a world between cultures, presenting fragments of mythologies from multiple origins. With Mojave and Spanish phrases peppering her poems, she never allows the reader to rest satisfied with stereotypes. In the prose poem “The Last Mojave Indian Barbie,” which recalls Denise Duhamel’s Barbie poems in Kinky, Diaz pokes fun while revealing uncomfortable truths:

Wired to her display box were a pair of one-size-fits-all-Indian stiletto
moccasins, faux turquoise earrings, a dream catcher, a copy of Indian
Country Living, erasable markers for chin and forehead tattoos, and two
six-packs of mini magic beer bottles—when tilted up, the bottles turned
clear, when turned right-side up, the bottles refilled. Mojave Barbie
repeatedly drank Ken and Skipper under their pink plastic patio table sets.
Skipper said she drank like a boy.

These truths are eased by Diaz’s striking voice and vivid descriptions and make for a book that offers a magical transformation you won’t be able to resist.


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Poem: Not To Fear The Dark

December 11, 2013 in Poems

NOT TO FEAR THE DARK
I've learned that night sounds are the ones that
carry the signs and portents.
The voices of the future come dancing out of the dark
like bits of ice from the sky.
The voices speak softly, remind us of our regrets,
hold out our wishes the way Eve did the apple,
pleading “Be brave with me, taste.”  Night opens the ears, 
sings songs of our fathers and mothers walking behind us,
steering us to the confusion and risks and pleasures of this life.
This is why we mustn't fear the dark”
not as children, not at the last moment of our lives 
It is in the night that our indecencies fall away
and our prayers come up out of us without tangle
or torment. I write this to you now so you'll know
not to fear "not ever to fear" the rippling cloth of night.
It belongs to you. It always has.

 

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Low-Tide Lottery

February 10, 2012 in Poets At Work

 

Low-Tide Lottery is an introduction to the work of Claire Trevien. This is an exuberant collection that rummages in the dirt and the rust of the everyday in search of beauty. It crackles with imagination, rubbing history together with the present to create unexpected, wild imagery.

Whenever I read new poetry ‘I’m looking for someone else’s delight in language and ideas; for work that commands and sustains my attention. What I never expect, but what I found in Claire Trevien’s work, is a voice already so mature and refined it reads like a previously untranslated classic rather than a debut. These are serious, visually stunning poems of nationality, history and memory, but they’re personal and generous in their wit, as formally innovative as they are endlessly engaged and engaging. - Luke Kennard

This is fresh, exuberant, intellectually serious poetry, enriched by a French passport and a French library; Claire Trévien draws fruitfully on her joint heritage to create poems infused with formal questioning, linguistic vivacity and local colour. - Katy Evans-Bush

Claire Trévien was born in 1985 in Brittany. She is a poet, critic and literary translator currently undertaking a PhD at Warwick University. Her writing has been published in a wide variety of literary magazines including Under The Radar, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Warwick Review, Nth Position, and Fuselit. Earlier this year she published an e-chapbook of poetry with Silkworms Ink called Patterns of Decay. She is the editor of Sabotage Reviews and Noises Off.

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WHY I WROTE AUTOBIOGRAPHY

February 10, 2012 in Poets At Work

Since I can remember I have always been writing something. Most of all I loved to write poetry, prose, diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles. I still have so much to put down in writing, but I never thought about writing an autobiography and that is why I was surprised by the initiative of my publisher “PublishAmerica”. I was wondering – is there time for it? I leafed through the years quickly and determined that at 62, it might be the right time. It is good that there are people who sometimes hint to you what you have yet to do.I fear that I will not tell the readers much more than I did in my ten published books of poetry. I’m still primarily a poet and I summarized my whole life in verses.I wrote the first 4 000 words and sent them to my good friend Veljko Lukic, who lived in a Croatian town, Slavonski Brod, with a request for him to read it and tell me what his thoughts were about it. After a few days, I received a letter with suggestions. I was a little lost between what I thought and Veljko’s suggestions, and I wrote another letter to ask him to explain some things in further detail. The next day my friend began with an anecdote about Nikola Pasic, a Serbian politician who had a long beard, and was well-known in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The grandson of Mr. Pasic asked his grandfather Nikola where he put his beard when he was asleep, under the quilt or on the quilt. When it was night time, Mr. Pasic could not sleep. He tossed and turned, put his beard on the quilt and under it. In the morning, he said to his grandson:

“Dear child, I was happy and I slept well before you asked me where I kept my beard, whether on the quilt or under it. I slept peacefully and I never thought about it, and when you asked me, you ruined my sleep for the whole night because I could not stop thinking about it. “
It happened to me with this autobiography. My good friend ruined my sleep, but it helped me start this project in a better way, for which I am immensely grateful.

 

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The News Factory Q&A

July 6, 2011 in Poets At Work

What is The News Factory about?

The News Factory is collection of stories of some of New York City’s most brilliant personalities, people who will never be in feature films or hit the pop charts but who are brilliant, with wonderful ideas, artistic talents, story tellers, musicians and so on. In many ways the stories told in this collection of works, mostly told through poetry, is about the soul of what New York city used to be about, a place to be yourself without putting on airs. The collective meaning of this book is also about what is lost with the white washing of history that comes with gentrification. In many ways this is the most personal of my three books.

What kind of characters are you talking about?

Well it varies from the local corner book seller to SRO tenants. In one case I mention a homeless woman who met on 91st and Broadway about 4 years ago who was a former Glamour Magazine model from the 1980s and who now has AIDS, assuming she is still alive. But I also mention the neighborhood dog walker and so on.

What do you mean this is your most personal of your three books?

I mean the subjects of this poetry and short story collection really holds a lot of meaning for me, I’ve put many of my friends in there – and enemies too; landlords who hire goons and thugs to drive tenants from their buildings. I mean these operations have real psychological implications for those who have to deal with it. I’ve seen it happen to my now former neighbors, many of whom still live in my old building. Horrible.

I also feel a certain amount of remorse for the death of the porn houses that use to be in Times Square or the live shows you could see in the back room booths on 8th Ave until recently. It really was part of the scene but they’re gone now. I don’t think you can really label those guys who went to see these shows perverts, most of them were really lonely or just had a healthy sexual appetite. And like the housing issue this was something I felt close to.

Wouldn’t you agree that change is a part of life and some loss is inevitable?

Well in part yes, everything changes but that does not mean that every story has to be whitewashed from history or that neighborhoods have to disappear altogether because some out-of-towner wants to make a killing in the housing market. As it is no one can live here for very long without rent regulation and what kind of change is that? It is recipe for utter disaster which comes with the death of communities. As it is New York is becoming like Paris or London; “Museum cities”.

The News Factory is a chronicle of those stories which are far too easily erased from consciousness or just never known.

In your first two books “Last American Roar” and “Organic Hotels” you had a definite political tone to your work, mostly concerning international issues. With the N.F. you seem to focus on local life. Why did you make that change?

That’s where my focus has been for past few years. Plus when you meet people going through the same things, it is these experiences that become real to you. I feel for the Iraqis and Afghanis and so on. Truth is I can’t imagine the hell which their lives have been reduced to. The same things can be said for the Palestinians who tend to be seen as less than human by the international community these days. My heart goes out to them but, we have a war on the working class in this country and it is our neighbors who are being greatly affected.

What do you think your readers will get out of your poetry and stories?

They will have a whole world opened up to them; the world they already live in – which may be surprising. But, more importantly, I think they will be treated to an adventure where the landscape becomes cerebral and allows the reader to delve into their own fears and apprehensions. But most important, this book is an introduction to everyday people and the humor of their lives.

Humor?

There is a lot of humor in this book. In one fictionalized story a young man is visited by a giant cockroach which forces him into a modern day “Old Man and the Sea” tale. He tears about his room to get at the insect and at the same time has a mental break down. Anyone who has been in a roach invested apartment can tell you, that problem can drive you absolutely mad.

When should be expect the release of this book?

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Blackpool

July 6, 2011 in Poets At Work

This poem was written in September 1999 in England.

Prodding, grabbing, shooting, fishing

that’s what you do here

at the end of this lunatic’s pier,

the two-pence shufflers, sifting,

the grey Irish sea and its subsidiary

industries: guesthouses, comedians,

suppliers of coin operated machinery;

Maria Petulengro will give advice

to people from all walks of life;

the onion ring pub beside a motorway;

everyone absurd in chip shops.

Remember the Godfrey Thompson era, the rides,

we laughed as we snapped vertebrae,

broke our noses on the Big Dipper.

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My Winds and Rains

June 25, 2011 in Poets At Work

Stardust winded
Wishes dispersed throughout
You wait
The sacrificing pigeon;
as white as neon

She flies over our head
Builds the nest
For the progeny of Liberty

I kiss you in the spot
Where the star sealed
The enveloped skin
To see the unseen

Your dress
A heavy couture
All brocade, gold and platinum
Twisted muslin with the damask
All over

Releasing the smell of Oud
To bring hot Oriental breeze
In my Occidental body
A victim for the Cross

Somebody wants to
Peace prevail in our realm
Somebody wants to read my writing
Jus as they wish to read

A flying something lightly
Lands in the front of the shores
We by stand the external bygones
Amused and bewildered
We are
Silent as stone
Erected in the midland

All kinds of spices and species
Even slices and pieces
Verbatim’ and Originals
Assembled

Never-ending gratitude
Goblets of Ambrose
We drink in the name of the Supreme
Tonight rains and winds ceased

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The Sorbet of the Divine

June 25, 2011 in Poets At Work

Arbor had fear,
From a passing stranger
I fed the canary while
They sung in unison
Scared they flew away
A stranger approached me
I was about to faint
The crimson ground
Made tectonic sliding
We feared death

She lives in a distance
Yet she lives with my
Breath and the soul
Radiates in her ether
She remembers the Lilly
I brought from the garden
Of certitude, and
The roses in a blasting white

I bestow as a final touch
Where freedom smells Love
The two-sided medal
Has the love pentacle
At the abyss of the surface
I taught on Kernel of the Kernel

She prayed in the biggest Temple
In synergy with the rolling through
My burning cheek, fried
Crystal tear in nacre transformed
I evoked Salamanders
To extinguish the fire
With the fire

The crystalline cup
Of the wine, Divine to obey
My thirst

The wisdom approached in
An old fashion

The knowledge bangs
The manifestation of freedom.

The Love eternal Lady
Wowed the platinum thread
An oracle tapestry
She made
I sat there…
I felt there…
I saw there.

Those I met in
The realm of the hanged forms
I saw her dark sapphire eyes
That kept the beauty Secret
The body that sticks
All fallen stars and
The heart of her
That is a sarcophagus of
The secrets; of the chosen

Her voice is the symphony
Of the golden leaf wheat
And the hush of a Sybil
The argument written in
a forehead
Bears testimony

What the holy womb bears
The witnesses are
Two lights
The Angel of the left and the angel
Of the right shoulder

She recognizes the seal of
A prodigy’s scalp,
And double up and down turned
Triangles
In my Plexus

She is not Mary
She is not Amina
She is not Bathsheba

She is in a circle of curiosity
I’m in the square of stability
Who cares for the mouth?
Of the Cantankerous

The conundrum is set Mandala
The white rose of my being
Bleeds the blue
Because I Love eternally
As a Luna full
Careless of the barking

For a quantum of a moment
I disperse in those I met
They hardly recognize
The quintessence of the “I”
They only remember
Occasionally
The smell of the rose

Even this is for me
A Sufficient Something

I may only rest and
Breath as infant
Marked with the seal
In his forehead

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