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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted April 1, 2012

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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Larissa Szporluk
  • Date Published September 2011
  • ISBN-13 9781936797028
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 64pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Erik Fuhrer
Like Shakespeare’s play, Traffic with Macbeth is a fearless journey into the depths of myth, the human psyche, and often violence. There is a density to many of the poems, which at times renders them a bit opaque. Yet, so well-crafted are the lyrics that the hard shells of her images beg to be cracked. Images that are impenetrable are simultaneously beautiful and terrible and remind the reader of the artistry of mystery. However, no matter the difficulty of meaning, Szporluk’s tone always rings clear. At every step, the tongues of Macbeth’s witches and Macbeth’s own tortured soul slouch at the margins of these poems, whispering to them, feeding them the macabre spirit that produced such haunting lyrics as those in “Baba Yaga”:
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Paul Doru Mugur, Adam J. Sorkin, and Claudia Serea
  • Date Published December 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1584980889
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 370pp
  • Price $26.95
  • Review by Lydia Pyne
Any collection of national poetry shows its audience the formed, collective identity of its poets and their artistic milieu. The Vanishing Point That Whistles: An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry is no exception. In truth, the anthology, brilliantly compiled by editors Paul Doru Mugur, Adam J. Sorkin, and Claudia Serea, sketches a post-Iron Curtain world where Romanian national identity is as fractured as its economy and societal mores are as complex as the centuries of religious strata that seem to overlay every life – or, in the case of the poems, every text. To quote Doru Mugur in his introduction, these texts are what linguist Umberto Eco calls “the authentic fake” and, in the context of The Vanishing Point That Whistles, the texts, the lives, and the poems are the truths, lies, and everything grey in between. The theme of “authentic fake” through a fractured national identity is most clearly seen through the poems and prose that acknowledge the deep and permeating role of religion in Romania’s national identity, rawly juxtaposed against everyday being and everyday living in Romania.
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Chay Yew
  • Date Published August 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55936-363-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 644pp
  • Price $22.95
  • Review by Olive Mullet
As explained in Version 3.0, the plays in this new anthology of Asian American drama are rarely produced outside of New York City and California. Yet they ought to be, as they encompass many cultures’ assimilation and conflicts with white culture. The anthology spans the generations from the Japanese internment years up to the multi-racial 2000s. The first wave of plays has common themes of “Asian American history and immigration, generational and familial conflict, cultural identity and nationalism.” The second wave further includes Chinese and Filipino playwrights, and the third those of Indian, Korean and Vietnamese descent. This last group, with l4% identifying themselves as “multiracial” in the 2000 census, says, “No single writer can represent an entire culture; only a community of writers can do that.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Megan Volpert
  • Date Published December 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1-937420-04-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 62pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Gina Myers
The prose pieces in Megan Volpert’s new collection of poetry, Sonics in Warholia, read more like essays, but defining or discussing the boundaries of different genres serves no purpose and would completely miss the mark of this stunning collection. Comprised of eight pieces, the book offers extended meditations, both far-reaching and deeply personal, surrounding the biography of (and addressed to the ghost of) Andy Warhol. Throughout the book, Volpert masterfully weaves together seemingly disparate images, events, and ideas to brilliantly create complete and coherent essays that can appeal to both those who are familiar and those who are unfamiliar with Warhol’s life and work. Volpert’s vision is clever, touching, and singular.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Angela Vogel
  • Date Published November 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1-935716-10-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 80pp
  • Price $17.95
  • Review by Marcus Myers
Fort Gorgeous, Angela Vogel’s first full-length collection, populates an original fairytale landscape—one grounded thematically in 19th and 20th century American literature and painting—with a village of anachronistic, pop-cultural misfits who define the contours of the contemporary American identity. Vogel’s poems, so playful and satisfying when read aloud, imply that these American archetypes, figures once representing a type of individualism, have now been commodified, reduced to emblems in our mass-produced, mashed-up and hyper-mediated versions of reality. The reader imagines, while reading the thirty-seven ultra-imaginative poems in this collection, that the characters in Fort Gorgeous have themselves mindlessly purchased the dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, neatly packaged and wrapped.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Osamu Dazai
  • Translated From Japanese
  • by Allison Markin Powell
  • Date Published October 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1-93554808-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 100pp
  • Price $11.95
  • Review by Patricia Contino
A teenager goes about her day. Her activities—taking public transportation, going to school, cattily noticing what other women are wearing, doing chores—are ordinary ones. Equally normal are her feelings regarding the death of her father, the grief she and her mother share but can never comfort each other with, and longing for the close relationship she once shared with her married sister.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Bhanu Kapil
  • Date Published October 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9844598-65
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 96pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Jodi Paloni
In first glancing through Schizophrene by Bhanu Kapil, I hardly felt at ease in reviewing a book that depicts the sentiments of the 1947 Partition of India, the aftermath of violence, the displacement, and mental illness, all in the form of prose poetry. I know little about the topic and the genre. The sheer emotional impact of reading disturbing sections out of context left a pit in my stomach. I was afraid to read the account in its entirety, but also, I was ashamed not to. The tome—not weighty in size, but in content—sat on my desk for weeks, haunting me, finding its way again and again to the top of my teetering stack. I’d glimpse the bright, inviting image on the cover, yet worry. What frightened me? Why was the book still there?
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Mary Biddinger
  • Date Published June 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0982876619
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 48pp
  • Price $9.00
  • Review by H. V. Cramond
When we first meet Saint Monica, she is covered in gauze and iodine. The epigraph that introduces Mary Biddinger's Saint Monica informs us that the historical St. Monica was student to St. Ambrose, mother to St. Augustine, and wife of an abusive, alcoholic pagan. That Monica, patron saint of adultery victims, alcoholism, and of course, disappointing children, spent much of her time working for the redemption of her husband and once wayward offspring.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Scott Wrobel
  • Date Published April 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0983879015
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 232pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Mark Danowsky
Research cul de sacs and again and again you will be told that their purpose is to reduce traffic. Sure, I’ll buy that as a contributing factor. Dig a little deeper and you come across a buzzword, “perceived risk.” But we all know the real reason: privacy. Anyone who’s ever looked into buying a house has discovered that you pay extra to live on a No Outlet street. We pine for a space of our own away from the bustle of the modern world, but as Scott Wrobel reveals in cul de sac, here lies danger.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Joseph Millar
  • Date Published January 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0887485497
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by James Crews
As one might gather from the titles of Joseph Millar’s three volumes of poetry—Overtime (2001), Fortune (2007) and Blue Rust (2012)—he is a direct heir to the working-class likes of James Wright, B.H. Fairchild, and current U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine. But it would be reductive and unfair to call Millar simply “a working-class poet,” as though the only readers to which he could possibly appeal are those who have spent time laboring in the “real world.” Simply put, Millar is a poet who traffics in the real things of an everyday world, crafting well-spoken poems that take up the most universal themes of friends, family, hard luck, and love. And his newest book, Blue Rust, in spite of its grit, its grease, and its often mournful tone, astounds with countless moments of shimmering clarity, offering brief reprieves from a tough life eked out in the shadow of a troubled past. “Dutch Roll” finds Millar and his father ice-skating, sharing a rare, transcendent day:
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  • Book Type Collection
  • by Juan Ramón Jiménez
  • Translated From Spanish
  • by Christopher Maurer
  • Date Published February 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-983-32200-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 161pp
  • Price $18.00
  • Review by Patrick James Dunagan
Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez is generally not well known to most contemporary English readers. If there’s any familiarity with his name—let alone his work—it most likely comes in some foggy concept of his relation to his compatriot Federico García Lorca. It’s unfortunate that this Nobel Prize-winning writer has been so outshined by his disciple’s notoriety. With The Complete Perfectionist, editor and translator Christopher Maurer raids Jiménez’s books, papers, and biographical record to assemble various fragments (poems and aphorisms; sometimes Maurer includes titles, sometimes not), under headings such as “Dream,” “Instinct,” “Rhythm,” and “Perfection,” with his own ambivalently short and jumpy introductions to each. As Maurer says, “the title, theme, selection, translation, and arrangement” are all his own. While Jiménez’s work receives fresh exposure to new readers, it does so only insofar as its end goals may have been re-aligned under Maurer’s conceptive framework.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Evelio Rosero
  • Translated From Spanish
  • by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom
  • Date Published September 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8112-1930-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 144pp
  • Price $13.95
  • Review by Olive Mullet
Prize-winning Colombian novelist Evelio Rosero has written a dark comedy in Good Offices. From the perspective of the hunchback Tancredo, a night of changes unfolds in a Catholic church in Bogota, Colombia. Tancredo has just finished his exhausting duties serving almost 100 unruly elderly and cleaning up when he is summoned to Father Almida’s office and learns of a crisis. Almida and the old sacristan Machedo have to be absent from the evening mass in order to persuade their sponsor to continue his bounty. Their last-minute replacement, Father Matamoros, enlivens the mass and congregation with his beautiful voice. Secrets come out, and not just the passion between Tancredo and the sacristan’s goddaughter, Sabrina. The real revelations are the corruption and abuses of Father Almida and the sacristan. The loving spirit of Father Matamoros seems an apt replacement; except, he too has his faults, noticeably alcoholism.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Dana Gioia
  • Date Published May 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-613-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 80pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Alissa Fleck
Dana Gioia’s Pity the Beautiful resists many of the common conceits and devices of contemporary poetry books, instead frequently embracing rhyme, meter, formal structure, and strict narrative. The collection even boldly employs a vaguely Poe-esque “ghost story” in the form of a long poem. The poems in Pity the Beautiful open strongly and are immediately engaging; Gioia has mastered the art of hooking the reader from the first line. We are then urged along by poems that end by questioning far more than they have explained. Occasionally Gioia dwells a bit too long, however, allowing some of his poems to become slightly over-written.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Kei Miller
  • Date Published April 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-56689-295-7
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 270pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Wendy Breuer
The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller begins: "Once upon a time there was a leper colony in Jamaica." This fairytale narrative voice, created by the character of “the writer,” seems to address you, the reader. As the haunting central character, Adamine Bustamante, tells us: "Sometimes you have to tell a story the way you dream a dream, and everyone know that dreams don't walk straight." To enter the dream of this story is to get caught up in a wonderful web.
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