• Brown Girl Dreaming

    Jacqueline Woodson

    Image of Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor Book)

    Memoir in verse, telling the stories of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood. The poems impart an impressionistic narrative, focused more on the small moments amidst the larger transitions — like the end of her parents’ relationship, moving with her mother and siblings to her grandparents’ home in Greenville, SC, then moving again to Brooklyn — and on the gradual development of Woodson’s path to becoming a writer. Since it’s written from her perspective as a child, it’s published as a middle reader book, but it’s a beautifully rich experience for grown-up readers too.

    Writing #1

    It’s easier to make up stories

    than it is to write them down. When I speak,

    the words come pouring out of me. The story


  • L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    Elisa Gabbert

    Image of L'Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    I loved Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable, and this new book has similar cadences, even though these are true poems rather than lyric aphorisms. The Judy of the title is a character in Wallace Shawn’s play “The Designated Mourner,” which is set “in an unnamed, fictitious country ruled over by an increasingly fascist oligarchy” and involves the dissolution of Judy’s marriage with Jack. Aaron Angello’s introduction describes how he met Gabbert and her partner, the novelist John Cotter, and how the three of them came to rehearse and perform this play over about a year, having long discussions about the work and its characters. After their last performance, Gabbert began writing poems from the perspective of Judy, imagining stories...more

  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds

    Ocean Vuong

    Image of Night Sky with Exit Wounds

    I’ve been reading these past few months since I last posted here, but quite slowly, and then I never got around to writing anything about the books before the library demanded them back. But I read Ocean Vuong’s essay in The New Yorker’s fiction issue, with several pieces on the theme of “childhood reading.” His is centered around the experience of being an immigrant with limited English and writing a poem that the teacher was convinced he must have copied. It ends with this killer line: “I have plagiarized my life to give you the best of me.” I almost immediately went out to buy this collection, and it resonated with me just as I hoped, “with every rib...more

  • Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments

    Elise Cowen

    Image of Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments (The New Series)

    Someone I could kiss
    Has left his, her
    A memory
    Heavy as winter breathing
    In the snow
    And with weight & heat
                     of human body

  • The Sonnets

    Ted Berrigan

    Image of The Sonnets (Penguin Poets)

    This book plays with repetition and deconstruction with many instances of the same lines being rearranged or placed in different contexts throughout the poems. I liked the concept, even if the poems I liked the most were the outliers that seemed to resist the collage treatment.


    Each tree stands alone in stillness

    After many years still nothing

    The wind’s wish is the tree’s demand

    The tree stands still

    The wind walks up and down

    Scanning the long selves of the shore

    Her aimlessness is the pulse of the tree

    It beats in tiny blots

    Its patternless pattern of excitement

    Letters         birds         beggars         books

  • Slant Six

    Erin Belieu

    Image of Slant Six

    There are many entertaining moments in this book, but ultimately Belieu’s dark humor feels more superficial than profound. All the same, I keep laughing at this encapsulation of hipster superiority:


    Wherever you’re from sucks,

    and wherever you grew up sucks,

    and everyone here lives in a converted

    chocolate factory or deconsecrated church,

    without an ugly lamp or souvenir coffee cup

    in sight, but only carefully edited objets like

    the Lacanian soap dispenser in the kitchen

    that looks like an industrial-age dildo, and

    when you rifle through the bathroom

    looking for a spare tampon, you discover

  • Citizen

    Claudia Rankine

    Image of Citizen: An American Lyric

    You like to think memory goes far back though remembering was never recommended. Forget all that, the world says. The world’s had a lot of practice. No one should adhere to the facts that contribute to narrative, the facts that create lives. To your mind, feelings are what create a person, something unwilling, something wild vandalizing whatever the skull holds. Those sensations form a someone. The headaches begin then. Don’t wear sunglasses in the house, the world says, though they soothe, soothe sight, soothe you.

    I’ve been having a hard time writing about Citizen and the experience of reading it, as it would be so easy to blandly describe it — the topics it covers, its blend of text and images — yet in...more

  • The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems

    Olena Kalytiak Davis

    Image of The Poem She Didn't Write and Other Poems

    I imagine if I had a more thorough knowledge of poetry, I would gather more from many of the poems in this book, as there are references I’m missing. At the back Davis apologizes for the “stuff stolen from other stuff.” While there is some quieter moments here and there, overall the book feels forceful. Dan Chiasson’s review for The New Yorker ends with thoughts about loneliness: “The medium of poetry isn’t language, really; it’s human loneliness, a loneliness that poets, having received it themselves from earlier poets, transfer to their readers.”

    After Grass and Long Knives

    Suspect enthusiasm—
    having eaten pins before—
    but that’s what keeps one
    quiet, that’s what makes one

    stay. Empty is

  • Lunch Poems

    Frank O’Hara

    Image of Lunch Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets Series)

    I thought maybe I had never read anything by Frank O’Hara, but while reading this I recognized a few, in particular the one about Lana Turner…. O’Hara writes with an utter lack of nostalgia; these poems are situated clearly in a the now, even though various references clearly date them to an earlier era — somewhere I heard this described as the “eternal present.”more

  • Dandarians

    Lee Ann Roripaugh

    Image of Dandarians: Poems

    I like the elements of color and light throughout these. And especially the insomnial “Sleepless Graffiti” (#2 below) and “Ten Nights’ Dreams.”

    Way past closing time, and you want to walk in the dark with disheveled hair, moonlight juke-boxing its twangy lobotomy through your head. Stroll through the empty small-town downtown — where traffic lights blink their metronomical yellow. Past the historic courthouse. Past the Elk’s Club. Past Green Acres Hair Shack and down by the Pump-n-Stuff, where wild turkeys congregate at night, carousing around the gasoline islands until sunrise and swilling rain straight from the sky.

    Maybe you’ll drunk-dial the fog and dance in its mist: tango, fandango, bolero. Vaporous swirl and dip.

    Maybe you’ll steal a boat, ride it downriver — all