• Madness

    Sam Sax

    Poems on themes of queerness, mental health, and STI stigmas. Structured around an excerpt of the DSM-I (from 1952), it fractures and reframes around these concepts throughout the four sections. A couple titles get revisited exactly across the book: Psychotherapy, On Prep or on Prayer; while Diagnosis progresses from Pre to Post. Madness felt more intense than I was expecting, even though it’s candidly so from the start. I had to let it sit for a while, but when I dug back in complexity was all the richer.


    a doctor names the chemical imbalance in my brain

    & suddenly there’s an infant wailing up there.

    i swear the cradle appeared concomitant

    with the diagnosis, a migraine-white

  • My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter

    Aja Monet

    she is an archipelago of shanty towns, she is invention and

    necessity. found scraps, a bouquet of bloody music in her

    hands. cane of sugar, leaves of tobacco, a cluster or bananas,

    coffee beans, the husk of corn, a poppy seed, tea shrub, spikelet


    of wheat, rice flower, gold nuggets, diamonds & coltan—she is

    an incantation bellowing from the fields and mines. look for her

    in the ruins, at the funeral procession, drunk off palm wine,

    screaming in a traffic of arms. lonely, but not alone.

    An “ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters,” My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter feels like an epic volume of poetry, woven from experiences in East New...more

  • Float

    Anne Carson

    First, this is an intriguing object: a clear box filled with twenty-two chapbooks. Each cover is printed in a similar texture in shades that to me represent the range of hues of bodies of water at different times of day and in various types of weather: blues, deep blues, grays, greens. Inside the text has similar variance whether verse, prose, lecture, play. The themes also range about from the classics (Carson’s field of scholarship) to “a chorus of Gertrude Steins performing an essay about falling” to philosophical studies of translation in “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent.” She prefaces it with a John Cage quote, who of course did his own explorations into the framework of silence, before...more

  • If Not, Winter

    Sappho, translated by Anne Carson


  • Brown Girl Dreaming

    Jacqueline Woodson

    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

    wakes up and walks all over

  • L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    Elisa Gabbert

    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

    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

    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

    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

    There is no such thing as a breakdown

    The tree        

  • Slant Six

    Erin Belieu

    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

    that even their toothpaste is somehow more

    desirable than yours.