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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted January 19, 2011

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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Eric Gudas
  • Date Published March 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-878851-57-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 75pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Best Western, like previous Gerald Cable Award Book Series winners, is composed almost entirely of narrative poems in accessible and familiar language intended to draw us easily and naturally into their scenes and stories. Gudas is especially adept at creating a credible and almost palpable atmosphere through small, seemingly ordinary detail, and in so doing, heightening his stories’ emotional impact. Each scene becomes, in essence, a minor drama of human experience, often one with which the reader can identify, if not empathize.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Taije Silverman
  • Date Published May 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-00-8071-34087-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 85pp
  • Price $17.95
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Houses are Fields joins the fast-growing genre of illness memoirs in verse. (In the last week alone, I’ve encountered no fewer than three such books published in 2010. And I am aware that there are many more.) Silverman’s poems treat the subject of a mother’s brain tumor, exploring relationships between a child and her dying (mother) and well (father) parents; the meaning of death; the nature of illness; and the power—and limits—of memory.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Gail Wronsky
  • Translated From Spanish
  • by Alicia Partnoy
  • Date Published October 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0984578207
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 163pp
  • Price $15.50
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
If some of us want, and many of us do, to read translations in English of work written in other languages, it stands to reason that readers of other languages—Spanish, for example—might want to read poems written originally in English. Wronsky has translated Argentine poet Partnoy’s poetry into English. With So Quick Bright Things / Tan Pronto las Cosas, it’s Partnoy’s turn, beginning with a title (thank you Shakespeare) that’s brilliantly and awfully hard to translate. I applaud Partnoy for her smart, vivid translations of work that is exceptionally difficult to render in another language.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Kamau Brathwaite
  • Date Published October 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8195-6943-1
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 123pp
  • Price $22.95
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The ten sections of Elegguas are structured around a series of “Letters to Zea Mexican.” I needed to know who she was (the first letter begins with her death, seeing her for the last time) and she wasn’t hard to find. A quick search online turned up summaries and reviews of Brathwaite’s Zea Mexican Diary (1993), an award-winning memoir/diary about the death from cancer in 1986 of his wife, whom he called Zea Mexican, an allusion to her ancestry. The first letter in Elegguas, is, in fact, dated 1986, the year of her death. Brathwaite, who is from Barbados where he still makes his home part-time (he spends the rest of his time in New York where he teaches at NYU), is a prolific and highly regarded writer both in the Caribbean and in the United States. I confess, however, and with no small measure of embarrassment, that I was not familiar with his work until Elegguas, and I found it helpful to learn about his earlier writing to contextualize and understand this book.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Gretchen Steele Pratt
  • Date Published 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1-934695-16-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 80pp
  • Price $17.00
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Tony Hoagland selected One Island for the 2009 Robert Dana Prize for Poetry, and it’s indisputably a winner of a book. Pratt is a masterful poet, although her effectiveness is—in the happiest of ways—difficult to describe. Exploiting poetry’s most powerful and effective strategies (economy of language; unusual syntactical arrangements; unexpected, but comprehensible, combinations of words and phrases; a heightened sense of sound and rhythm, among them), the poet turns the ordinary into the oddly exceptional and, often, the exceptionally odd. The book’s opening line, for starters: “The past is a humidity.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Nicole Cooley
  • Date Published November 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-88295-83-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 78pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Milk Dress has many strengths, exhibiting great poetic control and elegance, but no aspect of the book is more interesting to me than Cooley’s successful linking of “world events” and “bodily/personal events,” her experience of pregnancy, birth, motherhood, illness, loss and birth (rebirth?) again “against” (“Write against narrative” she begins in “Homeland Security,” the opening poem) the events of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the daily news, the threat of global disaster. “Write against blankness,” she instructs herself, and, by implication, simultaneously instructs us: read against blankness (“white, white, white”), the empty post-terrorist sky; the empty post-pregnancy crib; the unturned (pre-and-post reading) page.
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  • Book Type Edited by
  • by Michael Beeman, Sean Clark, Eric Markowsky, et al
  • Date Published 2010
  • Format Electronic PDF
  • Pages 312pp
  • Price Free
  • Review by Henry F. Tonn
Chamber Four is a fledgling operation which has burst onto the scene with all guns blazing. A visit to their site reveals book reviews plus their reviews of other people’s book reviews. There is a section entitled “Great Reads” which includes, among others, a review of the wonderful 1972 novel Watership Down by Richard Adams. There is a section called “The Best Places to Read Online,” and there is the announcement that the magazine is now accepting submissions to publish their own fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art. But, most interestingly, they have recently published their anthology of the best short stories published on the web in 2009 and 2010. And it is a good one.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Keith Richards with James Fox
  • Date Published October 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0316034388
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 576pp
  • Price $29.99
  • Review by Nick Starr
Sex? Check. Drugs? Check. Rock and Roll? Check. What else would you expect from an autobiography from Rolling Stones co-founder and guitarist Keith Richards called Life? The book has all of these things in abundance, so much so that one could make the argument that they coined the now clichéd phrase for “Keef” himself. There are, however, some welcomed curve balls throughout this book including the Dickensian aspects of a childhood in post war England and references to both Mary Poppins and Master and Commander. Yes, all of that is here and more.
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Vicky Lettmann, Carol Roan
  • Date Published January 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9823545-2-0
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 388pp
  • Price $17.95
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“By the time you’re fifty if you’re in your right mind / you want a divorce from yourself.” Poet Ed Meek pretty well sums up my feelings about it. And similar insights, emotional accuracy, and appealing, understated voices like Meek’s pretty well sums up most of this anthology’s opening lines. Here is Susan Pepper Robbins (“Middle Solutions,” fiction): “‘I told him, I’m not dead yet. You can have them all then, but not now. Not before then.’ Mary turns her head to me, who is not dead yet either, although almost. This year I have lost twenty pounds and gained back thirty, so I’m ten ahead.” And here is Ann Olson (“Coteau, 1969,” nonfiction): “I’m cold. It’s dark. I don’t know where the hell we’re going.” And here is Christina Lovin (“Credo at Fifty-Five”):
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by David Rivard
  • Date Published December 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-573-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
What is poetry if not, on some level, the embodiment of otherwise and elsewhere? The life beyond the very line that brings it into existence. The place the words evoke, but where they are a placeholder, so to speak. Poetry’s ability, its obligation, perhaps, to evoke what is not there or what is beyond even the concept of “there.” Rivard is preoccupied with otherwise-ness, with elsewhere-ness: “all those lives & destinations that might have been mine, but weren’t— / because there are two kinds of distance between us—towards, & away.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Jason Bredle
  • Date Published January 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9841406-1-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 76pp
  • Price $11.95
  • Review by C.J. Opperthauser
This is a book of poems by a man who has very obviously figured out the formula for casual speech, reconstructed it in his own manic way, and added a few pounds of both humor and serious commentary in the process. Smiles of the Unstoppable is a strange, unique collection that is narrative-driven and conversational. The words are not poetic in nature, really, but the flow, the careful repetitions, and the masterful line-breaks are evidence of a language-commander being behind the helm. The humor pulls the collection together. My favorite bit of humor is towards the end of the book, in a poem called “Night of the Jaguar,” in which Bredle lists a bunch of characteristics people share with jaguars:
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by C.J. Sage
  • Date Published March 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-907056-22-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 72pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Tanya Angell Allen
C. J. Sage’s The San Simeon Zebras, published by the Irish press Salmon Poetry, is filled with poems as exciting as the animals they portray. The pieces are quirky and gorgeous. Sometimes they become so overexcited with language they fall off the ledges they’re playing on.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Sarah Vap
  • Date Published October 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9818591-6-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 75pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Alissa Fleck
At the heart of Sarah Vap’s Faulkner’s Rosary is a sense of conflict, at once extreme yet also subdued. With regard to the book’s overarching musings on maternity and the giving-of-life process, in all its various facets from the visceral to the religious, there is a collision of intense longing, optimism, anxiety, and even violence and aggression. Vap is a master of the unexpected juxtaposition, and she carefully fuses not only the maternal with the spiritual and natural, but also the possibilities of motherhood with a kind of child-like nostalgia and attention to detail. Her narrator recalls at one point her own ejection from the gifted program due to her religious curiosities, an anecdote which sits closely to the book’s core. On a technical level, Vap reveals her chops as well:
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Shira Dentz
  • Date Published November 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-84861-128-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 94pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Dentz’s black seeds and white dishes may refer ostensibly to botany or biology (the phrase appears in “Poem for my mother who wishes she were a lilypad in a Monet painting”), but I can’t help thinking of their Old Testament reverberations, and some of Dentz’s preoccupations certainly support this as a credible reference, most especially “The Night is My Purse, and Here’s Why I Empty Out”: a poem based on the Hebrew alphabet and related numerical system; and “Instead of words, my father blew cinders,” the final line of the opening poem in the collection. How not to imagine the ovens evaded, escaped in those cinders? The fires (black and white) of writing (Old Testament), but also of a history of genocide.
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  • Book Type Selected Works
  • by Eugenio Montejo
  • Translated From Spanish
  • by Kirk Nesset
  • Date Published December 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8061-4148-0
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 235pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Venezuelan poet and essayist Eugenio Montejo (1938-2008) authored 10 books of poetry, five volumes of “heteronymic” writings (works by imaginary authors), and two books of essays, a large selection of which are brought together here in this thoughtfully edited and translated bilingual book of Selected Works. The University of Oklahoma Press deserves readers’ gratitude and appreciation for publishing the originals alongside their translations (doing so essentially doubles the size of any volume), and for giving us a multi-genre volume (so many presses resist combining genres in a single book). Montejo’s work is preceded by a lengthy, informative, and exceptionally readable introductory essay by editor and translator Kirk Nesset, who provides enough biography and background to contextualize the work, but not so much as to detract from the focus on the poet’s work itself. Nesset’s introduction is appropriate for academic and non-academics alike, intelligent and serious, but free of jargon and written to elucidate, not impress.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Meredith Sue Willis
  • Date Published July 2010
  • ISBN-13 9780821419199
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 170pp
  • Price $39.95
  • Review by Alex Myers
Part of the Ohio University Press’s series in race, ethnicity, and gender in Appalachia, Meredith Sue Willis’s collection of short stories, Out of the Mountains, captures visions of life in the rural hills of West Virginia. The twelve stories contained in this volume offer a full range of emotions, from heavy sadness and defeat to joy and rebirth, as well as a full range of characters and even—remarkable for a book defined by place—a pleasant variety of settings.
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