Blowout (Denise Duhamel)

In workshop we’ve been talking about manuscript titles (and how to choose one), and I think Denise Duhamel’s Blowout is well-titled. This is a blowout:

image of the Lucas gusher

the Lucas gusher, 1901, image: wikimedia

The uncontrolled release of a substance (like crude oil — or, in this case, powerful basic emotions –) under great pressure. Duhamel’s poems in this collection return again and again to the themes of betrayal and divorce, even as the poems vary greatly in style and tone. From the silliness of “My New Chum” (which plays with stereotypical British English) via the commentary on memes (a “cute” hamster that makes it onto CNN in “Loaded”) and the wordplay of “Worst Case Scenario” to the dark “Lower East Side Boyfriend” and the sweet “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” Duhamel covers love in many of its forms. Continue reading

Psychodynamic Electrohelmets Explain Everything: David Kirby’s Biscuit Joint


image of a biscuit joint

a biscuit joint (click for source)

I’ll be honest with you: I had no clue what a biscuit joint was, or that it was even a real thing. I thought, probably guided by the cover design, that it might be something like a malt shoppe, or that Kirby might have just made it up for a (cool) title. Well, now I know better. And after reading Kirby’s collection The Biscuit Joint I think the title is very appropriate: just like the biscuit joint’s parts are virtually invisible but still make for a strong connection, the broad range of topics each of Kirby’s poems covers has little in the way of obvious connections (kind of in the “I do this, I do that” manner of O’Hara, at times), but the whole still comes out strong. Continue reading

A beautiful (adj.) knife, the mind: Barbara Hamby

Poet Barbara Hamby

Poet Barbara Hamby

The ante-penultimate poet on our reading list is Barbara Hamby. Married to fellow poet David Kirby, Hamby was born in New Orleans (just down the block from here, you could say) and raised in Hawaii. I thoroughly enjoyed All Night Lingo Tango (2009). It’s fresh and alive and spunky, as well as full of references a movie buff would swoon over. Now I’m no movie buff, but I recognize the names and can appreciate what she’s doing here. Continue reading

Celebrate Poetry Month With Us!

Poets Angela Ball and Rebecca Morgan Frank

Poets Angela Ball and Rebecca Morgan Frank

flyer for barnes & noble charity reading

Come hear the wonderful Angela Ball and Rebecca Morgan Frank read this Saturday!

Oh, and some of my poet-friends (Christina Rothenbeck, Allison Campbell, and Susan Elliot) and I will also be reading. It’ll be good fun! Promise!

Location: Barnes & Noble, Gulfport MS. Time: 4-6pm. Angela Ball and Rebecca Morgan Frank will also be signing books, and there’s time for a Q&A so come talk to us about poetry!

All purchases at the reading — using Book Fair ID 11324464 — will benefit the Red Cross. Come join us and help us celebrate National Poetry Month! (With the same code, you can also make your online purchases at benefit the Red Cross, if you can’t make it to Gulfport.)

Birds in the Trees, Toast in the Toaster: Billy Collins’ “Aimless Love”

Cat meets Dog (source: wikimedia)

Cat meets Dog (source: wikimedia)

The poem “Monday” begins like this: “The birds are in their trees, / the toast is in the toaster, / and the poets are at their windows” (47). The idea of the work of a poet, if not the poet him/herself, as both pointless and essential is a trope that weaves its way through Collins’ Aimless Love — New and Selected Poems. And Collins finds that there is much to see through the windows (though he seems to use it less / go outside more than James Schuyler, who ‘windowframes’ many of his poems.) Continue reading

i’d pull the pin from my mouth: “allegiance” by francine j. harris

poet francine j. harris

poet francine j. harris

Once you start reading allegiance, it’s like francine j. harris has indeed pulled the pin out of her mouth. Her poetic persona is like a live grenade. The collection is compelling, interesting, and above all pretty consistently spunky. The voice that speaks from her poems is strong, whether she writes about her high school, the grit and dirt and poverty of Chicago, or religion.

Continue reading

Boy with Red Hair: David Lehman’s New and Selected Poems

Cover art for Lehman's New and Selected Poems

Cover art for Lehman’s New and Selected Poems

David Lehman wears hats. Several. Metaphorically and literally. I’ve already mentioned David Lehman’s Last Avant-Garde (his book about the New York School poets) a few times in my posts on Ashbery, Koch, O’Hara and Schuyler, and you may have come across his name in connection with the Best American Poetry series, which he edits, but he’s also a poet, so let’s spend some time on his poetry.

Poet & editor David Lehman

david lehman

His New and Selected is organized in reverse chronological order, with the new poems first, followed by selections of his more recent poems, followed by selected older poems. The book spans several decades: it goes back all the way to the 60s.

There is a lot of diversity in the poems, but as with any good collection, there are also patterns. Recurrent themes (in order of appearance or recognition during my reading experience) are Ithaca, Judaism, Freud, WW2, philosophy, adultery, and the trope of spies or agents. In true New York School tradition, Lehman includes some lists, names of personal acquaintances as well as stars and starlets of pop-culture, literature, and other high-culture.

Continue reading

Let the Flies Have it: Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey


You know how it goes — you see a book you really, really want to read, you get it, and then real life happens. Like coursework, lesson prep, grading, paper-writing, and all the rest. And the book sits there, quietly, on the shelf, and you try to ignore the fact that you still haven’t read it. Well, fortunately this book — Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, wasn’t just on my “want to read” list but also appeared, as if by magic, on a required reading list for a class this semester. Hooray! This means I can read it without feeling guilty for spending time on something not study-related. Continue reading

Make me Born: We The Animals, by Justin Torres

Justin Torres

Justin Torres

Justin Torres’s We The Animals is a slender volume and a perfect example of quality being unrelated to quantity. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this (his first) novel, and a reviewer’s comment that the book feels like a sets of old school home movies certainly rings true for me. The book takes us along as the young protagonist and his brothers grow up around each other with little influence of their parents. Some scenes are intensely beautiful and strange — the boys, dressed in raincoats, smash tomatoes with a hammer because they’d seen people on TV doing it and “having the time of their lives.” The boys want to have the time of their lives, they want to live. They run out of tomatoes and carry on with lotion bottles. When their overwhelmed mother finally appears, takes in the mess and explains (to the exasperation of the boys) that this is what they looked like then she gave birth to them, she has only one desire: “Make me born,” she asks of her young sons, a gesture of despair and hope at the same time.  Continue reading