Poetry Review: There is a Storm in My Head by Jide Badmus

There Is a Storm in My HeadThere Is a Storm in My Head by Jide Badmus
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hidden within the heart of this collection are a few poems with a true subject or a tangible event being referenced. A couple are about the shock and horror of specific airliner crashes; a few more are about the state of Nigerian politics and/or war. These are the strength of the collection. My favorite was “Mid-Night Sun” dedicated to the 2005 Bellview plane crash.

. . . We didn’t hear the metallic groans
Of the shattering aircraft
Nor the scared screams of loved ones
In the throes of death.

We won’t forget you
‘Cos in a moment’s flash
You lit up the dark night like a mid-night sun
Only to leave us gloomy days darkened by grief.

The bulk of the poems in the collection had no discernible specific subject. They spoke in allegory and in cliched metaphoric abstractions. More troubling was the overbearing rhymes wresting control of the poem from the poet.

It’s possible that “bombs” and “floods” referenced in the final poems are speaking to real events or specific occasions. However, after scores of allegorical poems, bombs and floods without specific references could be more hyperbole. It’s concerning that I cannot tell the difference.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Advertisements

Poetry Review: The Watcher by Joshua Pantalleresco

The WatcherThe Watcher by Joshua Pantalleresco
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Building on a long history of narrative epic poetry, this tale follows a young human slave in a dystopian society as he makes his moves to escape the oppressive non-human regime. The interesting premise fights to play through the poetic structure, or lack thereof.

Traditionally, epic poetry is purely narrative with the speaker telling the story of a hero. The structure of the poem, whether it chooses to adeptly utilize rhyme or not, often employs rhythm providing momentum for the poem. In the English and Norse epics, the mid line break [caesura] also built a sub-structure into the poem. Rhythm and [optional] rhyme aided in memorizing the tale.

This tale is free verse since it opted for first person stream-of-consciousness rather than third person narrative. It also opts to eschew all punctuation to achieve the desired POV. That forces all structure onto the line breaks and stanza breaks to reflect the phrases. There is no win from this structural arrangement.

The stream-of-consciousness limitation to the narrative compromises the world building of the tale without third party characters introducing outside concepts. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, the narrow POV is meant to be highly filtered. But with such a tantalizing recent history lingering in the shadows of the tale, one could hope for a wider lens. Characters in the know, such as the speaker’s parents, are silenced by their effective absence.

With everything else stripped away [other characters, context, structure and even punctuation] the reader solely relies on the speaker and the interesting if sparse illustrations by Florence Chan. The speaker fails in consistency. Verb tenses flip from present tense to past tense and then double back again without a subsequent change of subject or time period. Either the speaker is giving the immediate tale that the reactionary rhetorical questions and present tense verbs would imply, or he has gained at least the limited understanding and context provided by the passage of time. Both cannot happen at once, and yet confoundingly here they do. And even the very passing of time is made contradictory. In the scene “The Hunt,” the speaker claims an “after-the-fact” advantage that time provides: “patience was the key to those early days / the times were tough / I had no idea what to look for . . . I’ve tried killing [the stag] every day since I came here . . .” After this the first successful hunt scene plays out in the present tense, despite the opening passage being after the tough times of unsuccessful hunts.

Perhaps the tale is relying on the missing graphic structure that illustrations can provide. Such as in Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga graphic series where scenes play out in the present tense, but the ultimate narrator is also able to apply meta commentary in the past tense from a far future POV. If that is the case, it hasn’t been established here.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Poetry Review: “From Every Moment a Second” by Robert Okaji

From Every Moment a SecondFrom Every Moment a Second by Robert Okaji
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the poet/author of the stunningly sublime If Your Matter Could Reform comes this new chapbook in pre-order until October 2017.

This collection of 20 poems is a study in the ephemeral and the elusive, in the little things like mayflies and beetles, but also in the delicate flicker of shadows. Mostly it aims to express the intangible and barely accessible, such as Grief which permeates the collection:

[from “Every Wind”]

Grief ages one thread at a time,

lurking like an odor
among the lost
things,

or your breath,
still out there,

drifting.

The speaker finds the world around him reflecting his grief, longing, and desperation. From quick observations like the lines “The house finch sings as if / all air will expire at the song’s end” [from “If Ahead I See”] to the extended association of “Firewood”:

For two years the oak
loomed, leafless.
We had aged
together, but somehow
I survived the drought
and ice storms, the
regret and wilt,
the explosions within,
and it did not.
I do not know
the rituals of trees,
how they mourn
a passing, or if
the sighs I hear
betray only my own
frailties, but even
as I fuel the saw and
tighten the chain,
I look carefully
for new growth.

A couple strong poems find inspiration in art. One from Hokusai’s wood print “Two Cranes on a Snowy Pine”
and the other from the jazz riffs of Miles Davis and Johnny Coltrane. The latter reflects both the improvisational jazz licks and the cadences of previously likewise-inspired poets such as Allen Ginsberg.

[from “The Resonance of No”]
. . . while standing with hands in soapy water, thoughts
skipping from Miles Davis’s languid notes to the spider
ascending to safe shelter under the sill (after I blow
on her to amuse myself), washing my favorite knife . . .

. . . And if I linger at the plates, even the chipped one,
admiring their gleam after hot water rinses away
the soap residue, who could question the gulp
of ale or the shuffle of an almost but not quite
dance step or stumble while arranging them on the
ribbed rack, back-to-back, in time to Coltrane’s
solo. Then the forgotten food processor’s blade
bites my palm . . .

I received my copy of this collection directly from the poet.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Poetry Review: Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home by Dane Cobain

Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come HomeEyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home by Dane Cobain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rough around the edges, this poetry collection reflects its raw slam poetry roots without the benefit of editing or reworking to confirm that there’s sense and context to the sounds and beats laid down. Like an REM song, the sounds maybe be pleasant, but that doesn’t always translate to coherence. It’s more akin to a Facebook rant that one agrees with, but which doesn’t enlighten us.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some lines, verses and poems rising above the non-specific and idiomatic. There are–such as in “Donald Trump’s Huge New Erection” which shows the poet’s appreciation and understanding of Ginsberg’s Howl:

. . . Money is the mean little shit
who burned the wings off butterflies
aged eleven holding mirrors
up towards the sun,
who called his father a bastard
for simply standing up to him . . .

. . .Money is metal,
the acidic taste of hangovers
your mother never mentioned,
the tears of seventeen-year-olds
volunteered for war
now showered with brains
as bullets hit the skulls
of their commanding officers . . .

Unfortunately, what works at the mike doesn’t always translate to the page. Then, a rare gem will shine with the promise of energy-infused poems hiding out deeper into the collection. The opening lines of “The Fusion of Music and Movement” are breath-takingly simple and beautiful: “She’s always an illusion / a confusing fusion / of music and movement,” but then seem compromised if not undermined by the over-reliance of wordplay and rhyme in the lines that immediately follow: “where every chord / should be explored, / and I can’t afford / to lose her . . .”

One strong poem is “The Boy in the Picture” that takes the time to narrow its scope and hone its message about a vintage WWII photograph:

He could’ve been anyone,
so he was everyone,
every murdered son
on the Western Front,
and every bullet
from every gun;

. . . there’s something sinister and brooding
and when you’re steeped in sepia
it’s easier to believe in meaning . . .

The best poem in the collection, “Beneath the War Memorial,” is exquisite. The humble voice contrasts with the bulk of the collection as it zeroes in on the universal theme of trying to find meaning in the inexplicable. It’s closing lines are contemplative and , perhaps, perfect: “Search for truth and wisdom; / search for subtlety / beneath the linden tree; / place your hand / on my thigh– / the birds will melt / in snowy silence.”

I received my copy of this poetry collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: Echoes of the Soul by Daniela Alibrandi

ECHOES OF THE SOUL: Short Novels, Poems and ThoughtsECHOES OF THE SOUL: Short Novels, Poems and Thoughts by Daniela Alibrandi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection of poems, thoughts, modern fables and vignettes is translated to English from the original Italian. It felt translated in its stilted prose verging on romanticized abstract cliche. The fables, too, felt un-nuanced and heavy-handed with a goal in mind but stunted development. One could wonder what has been lost in the translation process.

No particular poem or tale stood out as better or worse than the rest. One did heavily push into speculative fiction territory with its bleak image of a future society completely divorced from its past and elderly citizens. Another, veered toward folktale centering on an Italian equivalent of Santa Claus, the Befana. This diversity of genres adds flavor to the mix.

My favorite moments were mere couple-line descriptions that had something new to offer:

[from “The Kiss of Old People”]
Those two were still seeking something from each other, worth waiting for. Perhaps there is always something that lovers can receive, even if it is the tacit and intimate promise of dying together.

[from “The Reunion”]
. . . memories were bursting from the fog in which they seemed to have dissolved.

[from “Those Four Minutes”]
He opened the bathroom, as bare as the rest of the house, with only a razor and a toothbrush left on the edge of the sink. It was an environment without a story.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Poem Review: “Odin on the Tree” by Jo Walton

2 of 5 stars.

“Heroic poetry is largely of a bygone era. Attempts to resurrect the genre as recently as the 1800’s in England largely failed. So, other than in fantasy books that draw upon medieval imagery (and songs and poem forms) in the construction of their worlds, one rarely sees a new heroic poem. But then there is this, an anachronism if there ever was one. . .” I wrote this about Paul Park’s “Ragnarok”, but here Norse epic poetry rears its head yet again, albeit less successfully.

The exploration of the style is noble however. Most of the lines employ the heavy mid-line pause known as the caesura, but the line lengths are not consistent, with the shorter lines being particularly unhelpful in telling the story. A couple lines consist of merely four elemental nouns and pronouns. Perhaps they serve as a sort of chorus as a variant to standard epic verse with 2 strong beats both before and after the break. The longer lines reflect this tradition:

. . . Light fails, blood price
Death, war, fire, ice.

Here is memory’s price, that I killed and I lied
And I pondered death’s price as I lived, I denied
The dominion of death for the races I shaped
And gave my breath to draw them through the dark.

Throne, price, hang tree,
Fire, ice, you, me . . .

This poem appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew. However, the page formatting is dreadful and compromises the poem. All lines are indented–unnecessarily–which forces nine lines to spill their final word onto the line. This was never as the poet intended as seen with a quick online search for a different format. The broken lines disrupt the poem’s goal of exploring the Old Norse heroic poetic verse with a heavy caesura. The editors of this anthology owe Walton an apology in this regard. One can see the poem as it’s meant to be seen: “Odin on the Tree”. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s wonderful speculative fiction short story, “Sleeper”.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Poetry Review: Animal Husbandry Today by Jamie Sharpe

Animal Husbandry TodayAnimal Husbandry Today by Jamie Sharpe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This poet’s debut collection works in many ways and shows the foundation for which his outstanding 2nd collection, Cut-up Apologetic, later built a strong voice of social commentary and anti-corporate critique. It’s this sophomore collection to which I gave top poetry recognition in my blog’s Best Reads of 2015.

Sharpe uses dry irony with self-deprecation to probe truth without overstaying his welcome in any particular scene. In “Two Trains,” this self-commentary takes the form of a mangled mathematical story problem: “Two trains depart from stations in opposite / Cities. If train “A” is going 155 km/h, / What’s the fuel economy of my ’86 Chevy / As I drive to the corner store for cigarettes?”

“Cirrhosis”

I drank my grandmother’s wedding ring
and sold the pawn tickets for peanuts
(salted).

Wandering into the broker’s at 10 a.m.,
I looked at the kid like he was my conscience.
He looked at me like I was 10 a.m.

The collection later turns toward more corporate and civic matters. “Central Intelligence” cuts into the logic of agricultural behemoths like Mansanto. “Poetry Today” pokes at the poetry scene and e-commerce simultaneously. While “Home Inspection” veers toward absurdism in its logic.

“Home Inspection”

Before I even step
into this house
let me point out
something about the foliage.

Those leaves on
that there bush
were new in spring;
given it’s late July
I’d say they have
two months tops.

I doubt they’re
under warranty.

A couple poems stood out for their narrative edge. The first, “Coup D’etat,” hones in on a certain mother / son relationship to which I could relate despite hyperbole: ” . . . she was a frail woman / weighing ninety pounds / both soaking wet and holding a / pot roast / as she was apt to do // one day / whilst Mother reclined in the bath / with a chuck steak defrosting / beside her in the warm waters / my ennui sent the tub into a boil / which Mother / ever careless / failed to recognize . . .”

In “The Two Grandfathers,” one watches a myth in the making: “Darryl and Dean Walker were identical twins / everyone could tell apart. / Dean’s appendectomy scar was a dead / giveaway, though both brothers’ tendency to remain / clothed in public, at least while sober / rendered this moot. // Less obvious was the half-grin Darryl wore, / as if choking down a joke. There was also / Dean’s missing arm . . .” Two poems later in the collection, one cannot help but notice the reference to “The Two Grandfathers,” but this time edged with a truism.

[from “The Present”]

. . . But the past inevitably descends into myth.
Stories of grandparents become fables.
Tumble back far enough (England? Jakarta? Jerusalem?)
and history becomes a blank wall to graffiti what you will.

I was gifted my copy directly from the poet.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]