Jillian Weise’s bio at the back of her latest collection, Cyborg Detective, boasts an impressive professional history, from books published to awards won to disability rights activism to starring in the tongue-in-cheek web series “Tips for Writers by Tipsy Tullivan.” In Cyborg Detective, Weise continues to show off her skills while holding the mirror up to the literary community.
Poems such as “Cattulus Tells Me Not to Write the Rant Against Maggie Smith’s ‘Good Bones,’” “10 Postcards to Marie Howe,” and “The Phantom Limbs of the Poets” cover the topic of ableism in the writing community and the ableist language and ideation that many writers and artists keep using in their craft. Using this language might not seem like a huge deal to writers without disabilities, but poems like “Attack List” (which is continued on Weise’s Twitter as a transcription informs [braille included]) show the danger of these microaggressions by making us face full-on, violent aggressions. In her list, Weise rethinks Josef Kaplan’s Kill List and Steven Trull’s “Fuck List” with the headlines or summaries of murders and rapes of disabled women. The words we choose matter.
A favorite part of Cyborg Detective for me is “Cathedral by Raymond Carver,” in which Weise reimagines the three characters of “Cathedral,” the blind man actually given a background, a personality, sexuality, agency, all things Carver did not provide.
As a nondisabled reader and writer, I find Weise’s work revealing and informative, a reminder to check my own vocabulary for ableist language and my own thoughts for ableist ideas, and to put an end to them. Weise never resorts to handholding as she does all this, but points out the bullshit with biting wit, dark humor, and a punk rock, cyborg attitude.
Review by Katy Haas
Created by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, each book of the collection focuses on a different aspect of writing: Writing Action, Writing Character, Writing Dialogue, and Writing Humor. Prompts, writing exercises, and words of advice make up each volume, with plenty of space for writers to scribble down their ideas.
In Writing Action, writers are asked to describe what a scared teen feels during their first driving class, and on the opposite page they're asked to write what a reckless teen might be feeling. In Writing Humor there are zany scenarios to explore, including "the silent type: You've fallen in love with your daughter's Ken doll and have decided to tell your husband." Page after page reveals a new and fun scenario to capture.
These four well-designed titles include around 100 pages of inspiration, a nice choice for writers looking for a little bit of guidance.
August is here and with it comes the third annual Sealey Challenge. Started by Nicole Sealey in 2017, the challenge is to read a poetry book or chapbook every day for the month of August.
I participated last year, and it felt like such a satisfying way to round out the summer months as I brushed off the cobwebs and dove into a new book each day.
I managed to end the 2018 challenge learning new things about myself, my reading habits, and my tastes in poetry. I practiced getting out of the house with a new book, the changes in setting feeling like a fresh new adventure. Where would I settle in to read that day, and where would the poet bring me after that?
After a few days, it became clear I simply wasn’t reading enough poetry throughout the other months of the year and there wasn’t a good excuse. If I could read thirty-one books in just as many days, I could carve out more time to read poetry the rest of the year. (Did I stick to this? Not as much as I’d like, but hey—baby steps!) This year, I’m stocked up on chapbooks for a more manageable approach to the challenge for myself. Somedays it is definitely difficult to make time, and chapbooks make the work load a little easier to handle.
Along with learning about my own reading habits, I was also introduced to new favorite poets and books, the magic my body becomes by Jess Rizkallah, Acadiana by Nancy Reddy, and WASP QUEEN by Claudia Cortese among these.
Give Nicole Sealey’s Twitter a scroll-through to learn more about the challenge and see what other readers are up to during the month. I’ll be back later this month with updates on how the challenge is treating me as I move through my picks, which you can see by clicking the “Read more” button below.Read more...
Perhaps it is because this was written in January, and in my part of the world, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees. Maybe it is the hours I had spent hibernating and devouring hours of classic movies from the 1940s and 50s aired on TCM. Or maybe it’s simply the idea of a ‘radio in the sand’ emitting static and faint music from another place in the universe—Hollywood.Read more...
Elizabeth Spencer Spragins’ passion for bardic verse in The Language of the Bones is irresistible. I can’t imagine a writer who, after reading this, wouldn’t try her hand at it or even use this as a class text to inspire students. Though Spragins does not provide ‘guidelines’ for the forms she utilizes – four Welsh (cywydd llosgyrnog, rhupunt, clogyrnach, cyhydedd hir) and one Gaelic (rannaigheacht ghairid) – a Google search offers plenty of resources (including an article by Spragins herself).
This “American Journeys in Bardic Verse” takes readers from Virginia to South and North Carolina, the deserts of the Southwest, the forests of the Northwest, and all the way to Alaska. Each poem is accompanied by endnotes to provide historical and cultural contexts. Because Spragins has specifically chosen to give “voice to the unspoken, the overlooked, and the forgotten,” these poems require prior knowledge for greatest appreciation, and each is a kind of history lesson. The “starving time” in colonial Jamestown; the forcible removal of the Cherokee Nation from their homeland; people, events, and landmarks of the American Civil War and the south are subjects Spragins educates her readers about through deftly crafted meter and rhyme which, she instructs, is traditionally read aloud.
Spragins also includes contemporary issues and does not shy away from controversy, as in her poem “At Standing Rock,” commenting on the treatment of Lakota Sioux. “Polar Night,” “Hunters,” and “Northern Lights” stand in witness to the devastations of climate change. And the book closes on a series of poems that return to places where nature and spirituality intersect, in “Sedona,” “The Garden of the Gods,” the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (“Sacred Songs”), and Muir Woods (“Spires”). A looking outward from who and where we are physically to something much greater and beyond.
Read more about Elizabeth Spencer Spragins and The Language of the Bones in an interview with Ceri Shaw on AmeriCymru.
Review by Denise Hill
Dante Di Stefano creates a fascinating read of precise opinions and clever phrasing with poetry in his new book, Ill Angels. If I were to divide it roughly into subject chapters, one would be musicians, another would be portraits, then love poems to his wife, verses about America, and poems for his students. Throughout the book, a characteristic worthy of attention is his skill in giving fresh meaning to words.Read more...
When her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 60s, Wolf’s father conspired with doctors, friends, and family to conceal the truth from her, a secret he ends up taking to the grave, a family member the one to finally break the silence. Wolf’s poems are about this time in her family’s lives, the title drawing from the conversation in which Wolf finds out about her mother’s illness:
“Did you know?” she asked.
“Know what?” I responded.
“Did you know the secret?” she asked.
“What secret?” I responded.
[ . . . ]
Now there was an “us”:
the ones who did not know.
Following the revelation about her health, Wolf’s mother challenges the life she created behind the shield of her husband’s secrecy; Wolf the voice in her ear urging her to finally do whatever she wants.
Wolf writes in a straightforward voice, never losing readers in overly flowery language, instead focusing on clearly relating her mother’s story, giving her a voice when she was denied one by her husband for so long.
Reading Did You Know? is an intimate peek into an archaic practice—a husband able to dictate his wife’s medical care while hiding it from her—but as women are currently fighting for bodily autonomy while access to abortion is challenged, the chapbook ends up feeling incredibly current.
Review by Katy Haas
"People in glass houses should not throw stones"
The characters within the novel are very thought out, and the reader is able to visualize their appearance as well as learn about their personalities through the words on the page. Gabby, who is a detective, is a strong female lead, and this is nice to read as she is seen as a feminist character. Each character adds their own input into the story and their lives are all intertwined through a series of events which will be revealed within the novel.
Each chapter is full of suspense, and they are short, so the reader is not left hanging or bored with the content. The plot is structured into two strands: before and after the murder.
The settings are beautiful within the book, and they can only be described as a paradisiacal haven where only the rich of the rich get to go. The story is set, for the most part, in a huge glass rental house, and though cliché, the saying “people in glass houses should not throw stones” perfectly applies to this novel. Pathetic fallacy is used a lot to set the tone of each chapter as the plot twists and turns.
As the reader, you go through a roller coaster of emotions throughout, deciding who to side with and trying to work out who is lying and who is telling the truth. And you constantly question yourself as to whodunit.
Overall, this was a very good novel by Holahan, and I will not hesitate to pick up another of her books in the future, as I read this one in only one weekend!
Review by Tom Walker