Friday, April 20, 2018

Front Porch Books: National Poetry Month edition

“It’s National Poetry Month,” I told the crowd in Dillon, Montana who had come to hear me read from my novel Brave Deeds last night, “and so in honor of that, I thought I’d try something a little different.” I coughed, took a shaky breath and, not without a little nervousness, recited a poem I’d recently written about the Iraq War, “We Drown Them in Night.” The poem was inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1959 classic We Real Cool. Since I’d just read the short chapter of the same name from Brave Deeds, in which my character Staff Sergeant Raphael Morgan uses those Cool lines in a cadence while running with his soldiers, and since not enough people know April is National Poetry Month (there was barely a flutter of recognition rippling across my audience members’ faces), the moment felt right to do something I rarely do at my readings: bust a rhyme. Despite my apprehension, and my apology that my poem was “a pale imitation of Ms. Brooks’ masterpiece,” the Dillon crowd seemed to like my stanzas. All in all, it felt good to break with tradition.

Continuing in that same vein, I realize I don’t feature poetry nearly enough in the monthly Front Porch Books feature here at the blog. Father, forgive me for I have sinned and see the errors of my prosaical ways. In reality, a lot of poetry books land on my front doorstep on a regular basis. I turn right around and read a good majority of those books, but for some reason, they just never seem to creep into the monthly lineup of new and forthcoming titles I spotlight here at The Quivering Pen.

This morning, I dug into my towering To-Be-Read pile and pulled out the poetry collections from 2018 which have caught my eye lately. As always, I haven’t had a chance to read any of these—with the notable exception of the first book in the lineup, Ted Kooser’s new collection (a fresh Kooser will always get my immediate attention)—but I hope you, like me, will put these new and forthcoming poetry releases on your radar. I’ve included some sample lines from each in order to further whet your appetite...

Kindest Regards
by Ted Kooser
(Copper Canyon Press)

We could hear the parade three blocks before
it arrived at our corner, a Sousa march
that sounded like distance, distance, distance,
with an occasional boom wadded up in a ball
of steel wool, and then we’d see two soldiers
coming, marching in step, holding high a white,
gold-bordered banner, like the inside
of a lid to a box of cigars, with something
scrolly printed on it.
       (“Memorial Day”)

Wade in the Water
by Tracy K. Smith
(Graywolf Press)

History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman
Corralling her children onto a crowded bus.

History spits Go, go, go, lurching at the horizon,
Hammering the driver’s headrest with her fist.
       (“New Road Station”)

Deep Camouflage
by Amy Saul-Zerby
(Civil Coping Mechanisms)

because i thought say when was a trick question
& you just kept pouring
& now the house is flooded
& we can’t decide who should clean up.
       (“invented reasons for a hypothetical breakup”)

Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch
by David Bottoms
(Copper Canyon Press)

We’d watch the news on my portable Philco.
The jungle was black and white. The bodies were black and white.

The whole house strained in its silence. I was 1-A.
       (“Summer 1968”)

Search & Rescue
by Michael Chitwood
(Louisiana State University Press)

It was her wish,
in the old tradition,
that someone sit up
with the body,

so it wouldn’t be alone
when most alone.
       (“With the Body”)

Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God
by Tony Hoagland
(Graywolf Press)

There are too many characters in this book I’m reading.
I can’t keep track of them all.
How can I care who marries who, or what they wear?
Nevertheless, each time one disappears, I feel a brief, sharp grief,
knowing they will not return.
       (“A Walk Around the Property”)

Of Marriage
by Nicole Cooley
(Alice James Books)

In a Tapas bar I’m alone eating food you hate—cracker stained with black squid,
spoonful of sea urchin, this tiny plate of eggs and olives.

I love food that is all sharp edges, brackish and salt, iced mineral
water that burns the tongue and hisses in its glass bottle.
       (“Marriage in Mixed Media, Acrylic, Canvas, Pixels”)

House of Fact, House of Ruin
by Tom Sleigh
(Graywolf Press)

You’ve got to put your pants on in the house of fact.
And in the house of fact, when you take off your shirt,
you can hear your shirt cry out, Facts are the floor, facts
are how you make the right side talk to the left.

I’m washing my naked belly clean, and doing it with dignity.
I’m turning around, trying to see the filthiness
that keeps making me filthy.
       (“House of Fact, House of Ruin”)

Terrible Blooms
by Melissa Stein
(Copper Canyon Press)

If you’re going to storm,
I said, do it harder.
Pummel nests from limbs
and drown the furred things
in their dens. Swell creek
to flood, unhome the fish.

Café Crazy
by Francine Witte
(Kelsay Books)

I’m eating my salad when Charley says—
how do you know tomatoes
can’t feel? How do you really
know anything? I know this:

when Charley gets metaphorical,
it’s time to hide the wine.
       (“Tomato Scream”)

by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
(Copper Canyon Press)

Because I was taught all my life to blend in, I want
my fingernails to blend out: like preschoolers

who stomp their rain boots in a parking lot, like coins
who wink at you from the scatter-bottom of a fountain
       (“In Praise of My Manicure”)

by Kai Carlson-Wee
(BOA Editions)

In those days the wind seemed to whittle me down
to the root. Round off my fingers as if I were some
piece of glass in the evening sea.
       (“Poet at Twenty-Four”)

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