I love seeing the various styles/forms of poems in Hood Vacations by Michal “MJ” Jones and the way they’re never the same from one to the next. This variety shows hard work and willingness to bend. I especially admire how one moment we could be skirting Nate Mackey’s style in Double Trio, and then the next poem is like a small concentration in the mode of Tom Clark. Filled with backslashes, “Turnstiles” is a one-stanza poem about the author’s young son. It is interesting to see how the use of this punctuation flips readers through Jones’ narrative in the poem:
Societal and racial violence, family issues, birth, identity, and travel to hot springs are topics Jones makes fascinating through restrained telling that turns wild, full of expletives and eroticism. I appreciate that there are longer poems here. “Channelings” is seven pages long, in seven sections, so it is a pleasure to read in such a sensible layout and such a relief to see and read a poem this way. Hood Vacations is a break with something to show for, something to keep us there. Exquisite!
Hood Vacations by Michal ‘MJ’ Jones. Black Lawrence Press, January 2023.
Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).
Winner of the 2022 Big Moose Prize, Down Here We Come Up by Sara Johnson Allen is about three women who have lost connection with their children, through alienation, adoption, and across a militarized border. Their lives intersect in a “safe house” for migrant workers outside of Wilmington, North Carolina in 2006. From her deathbed, con artist Jackie Jessup lures home her estranged 26-year-old daughter Kate Jessup. There, Kate meets former teacher Maribel Reyes, who is separated from her family in Ciudad Juárez. While none of these women trust each other, they do have a chance to get back what they have each lost.
The thirteen stories in Rebecca Turkewitz’s debut collection, Here in the Night, are engrossing, strange, eerie, and emotionally nuanced. With psychological insight and finely crafted prose, Here in the Night investigates the joys and constraints of womanhood, of queerness, and of intimacy. Preoccupied with all manner of hauntings, these stories traverse a boarding school in the Vermont woods, the jagged coast of Maine, an attic in suburban Massachusetts, an elevator stuck between floors, and the side of an unlit highway in rural South Carolina. At the center of almost every story is the landscape of night, with all its tantalizing and terrifying potential.
Winner of the 2021 St. Lawrence Book Award, Boomtown Girl by Shubha Sunder is set entirely in the Bangalore region of South India and explores the ambitions, delusions, and struggles of people navigating a rapidly developing city. A rebellious teenager and her workaholic father confront their mutual distrust while dining at a newly opened Pizza Hut; a tailor nostalgic for his past glory in the employ of an Englishman grows obsessed with an American customer; a techie, his fiancée having broken off their engagement, takes a young, eager intern into his confidence. These stories trace Bangalore’s warp-speed transformation from a leafy backwater into India’s Silicon Valley—a place where Digital Age values clash with tradition, where British colonialism casts its strong shadow, and where visions are inspired and distorted by the forces of globalization.
Excisions by Hilary Plum investigates the feeling—the problem and the syntax—of being on a threshold. If you don’t know what will happen next, you can’t yet say what has happened. These poems arise from states of precise unknowing, desperate imagination, inchoate emotion, encounters with mortality and power when they’re closing in but haven’t caught you yet. What is choice, given the terms of an ill body, survival in a grotesque empire? Tenderly and acutely, these poems examine the life of before and after: when something is excised from you, it was you, and you are what remains.
In The Book of Redacted Paintings by Arthur Kayzakian, the narrative arc follows a boy in search of his father’s painting, but it is unclear whether the painting exists or not. The book, a poetry collection, is also populated by a series of paintings. Some are real, incomplete, and/or missing, while most are redacted from reality. The withdrawn paintings concept is the emotional arc of the book, a combination of wishing one could paint the pieces he/she/they envision and the feeling of something torn out of a person due to a traumatic upbringing. A sort of erasure ekphrasis, to foresee artwork that was never painted. A Black Lawrence Immigrant Writing Series selection.
American Scapegoat by Enzo Silon Surin is a book of painstakingly honest and chilling poems about America’s neglectful relationship with its own history. At the core of this reluctance to frame the past in its proper context is the fraudulent and fraught mythology that Black people are what America needs to be protected from. This extremely damaging narrative has been prominently embedded within the socio-political framework of American culture and continues to play an inescapably significant role in the Black experience in America. This timely collection looks both to the past and the future and fosters a deeply essential conversation about what it means to be Black and American in a democracy at war with itself and its humanity.
Jason Tandon’s This Far North practices a poetics of breathtaking quietude. These meditative, imagistic poems evoke a Zen-like “suchness” as Tandon writes about the natural world and the daily tasks with which we busy our lives. Readers looking to slow down, looking for a poetry that is seasonal and sapre, present and attentive, will find much to savor in this collection that makes ordinary moments numinous.
North Country: A Pedagogical Almanac by Carolyn Dekker is a memoir-in-essays about teaching and family life in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The book follows the cycle of seasons in this remote and beautiful place by the waters of Lake Superior during the years in which the author finds a place there. It’s also a look at higher education on the razor’s edge at a tiny and struggling liberal arts college. Above all, the memoir is about a life lived alongside books and what they might teach us about how to love, parent, mentor, and care for others.
Michal “MJ” Jones’ debut poetry collection Hood Vacations is a rhythmic & quiet rumbling – an unflinching recollection of Blackness, queerness, gender, and violence through lenses of family lineage and confessional narrative. A nostalgia for an unreachable home permeates these poems: “We were mighty beautiful once, in golden dust.” The speaker of Hood Vacations tells of magic: of praying mantises, bathtub octopuses, Black ghosts, and bringing back “rainbow soap colors.” It is a book of passing – as, through, and on. Hop on in.
As fearless as she is creative, Chelsea Stickle reaches deep into her bag of tricks to “wow” her readers with every story in her debut chapbook, Breaking Points. Many of these stories captivate the reader in such a way that it feels criminal that they’re only flash fiction pieces, but it’s beautiful enough to accept them as the art forms they are. The courage to experiment with various styles of writing, including a multiple-choice quiz and a flow chart, reveal Stickle’s hidden genius by telling deep stories in unorthodox ways, one that might even spark the beginning of a writing revolution! A standout piece, “How Mature Are You: A Quiz,” exemplifies the glories of pushing conventional boundaries within flash fiction formatting through its whimsical and ironically hard-nosed approach to storytelling with a choose-your-own-adventure type of beat. These kinds of structures, while puzzling at first glance, expand a reader’s view of how effectively a writer can tell a story without falling into familiar patterns. It would not be surprising to see a wide range of unique, personalized styles born from Stickle’s innovation. Ultimately, this collection is more than just an ensemble of witty tales but a mosaic of brilliant artistry.
Reviewer bio: Matthew Rodriguez is a graduate student at Bridgewater State University pursuing his English MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) and currently works as a freshman English teacher at B.M.C. Durfee High School.
The strange and sometimes horrific stories in Adam McOmber’s Fantasy Kit could easily draw a comparison to the work of Angela Carter or even the master of lyrical horror, Edgar Allen Poe, but they are also entirely unique. Made up of fairy tales, myths, and traveling through mazes of space and time; each of these stories creeps through the mind long after the last page. Adam McOmber is the author of three novels as well as two collections of short fiction. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. He teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts where he is also the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Hunger Mountain.
In What Follows, the poet writes: “It’s the end of the world and we can’t stop saying the word tender.” Tenderness runs through the book, even as Webster demonstrates brutality and strength in the face of life’s experiences. These poems explore the vastness of the human experience, from sexual powerplays and the crimes commited against fellows to the mundanity and beauty of factory work. There is very little that escapes H.R.‘s glance and raw lyricism. H.R. Webster has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Vermont Studio Center, and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, PoetryMagazine, Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, 32Poems, Muzzle, and Ecotone. You can read more poems at hrwebster.com
Every year Black Lawrence Press awards The St. Lawrence Book Award to an unpublished first collection of poetry or prose. This award is open to any writer who has not published a full-length manuscript in any genre. The winner receives $1,000, book publication, and ten copies of the winning book. Deadline to enter is August 31, 2022. Find out more by stopping the NewPages Classifieds.
Indebted to the docupoetics tradition, Raena Shirali’s summonings investigates the ongoing practice of witch (“daayan”) hunting in India. Winner of The Hudson Prize, these poems interrogate the political implications and shortcomings of writing Subaltern personae while acknowledging the author’s Westernized positionality. Continuing to explore multi-national and intersectional concerns around identity raised in her debut collection, Shirali asks how first- and second-generation immigrants reconcile the self with the lineages that shape it, wondering aloud about those lineages’ relationships to misogyny and violence. These poems explore how antiquated and existing norms surrounding female mysticism in India and America inform each culture’s treatment of women. As Jericho Brown wrote of Shirali’s poetics in GILT, her “comment on culture, on identity, on justice is her comment on poetry.” summonings offers a commentary on power and patriarchy, on authorial privilege and the shifting role of witness, and ultimately, on an ethical poetics, grounded in the inevitable failure to embody the Other.
Runner-up for the Monadnock Essay Collection Prize, Without Saints by Christopher Locke is a journey to rediscover hope between the ruins: Poet Christopher Locke was baptized by Pentecostals, absolved by punk rock, and nearly consumed by narcotics. Like the propulsive Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, Without Saints is a brief, muscular ride into the heart of American desolation, and the love one finds waiting for them instead. Christopher Locke was born in New Hampshire and received his MFA from Goddard College. His poems, fiction, criticism, and essays have appeared in numerous publications, and he is the recipient of the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award and the 2018 Black River Chapbook Award. He now lives in the Adirondacks where he teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at North Country Community College.
News of the Air Fiction by Jill Stukenberg Black Lawrence Press, September 2022
News of the Air by Jill Stukenberg was selected as the winner of the annual Black Lawrence Press Big Moose Prize (Dec 1 – Jan 31). In this novel, Allie Krane is heavily pregnant when she and her husband flee urban life after a rash of eco-terrorism breaks out in their city. They reinvent themselves as the proprietors of a northwoods fishing resort, where they live in relative peace for nearly two decades. That is, until two strange children arrive by canoe. Like the small ecological disasters lapping yearly at their shore, the problems of the modern world may finally have found Allie, her husband, and their troubled cypher of a teenage daughter. This eco-novel of a family, told from three points of view, explores how we remake our lives once we open our hearts to all the news we’ve chosen to ignore.
Live Caught by R. Cathey Daniels is the story of Lenny, who finds himself out of options. He’s lost his arm to his abusive older brothers and lost his bearing within his family. Desperate to escape and determined not to lose hope, Lenny steals a skiff and attempts to ride the Carolina rivers from his family’s farm deep in the western North Carolina mountains all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. When a storm sinks his boat, he is suddenly in the hands of a profanity-slinging priest, whose illegal drug operation provides food and wages for the local parish. Snared within a power struggle between a crooked cop and the priest, Lenny must once again rely on the thinnest shred of hope in his attempt to escape.
Selected out of the Black Lawrence Press open reading period, the shifting speakers and landscapes of Rotura allow the poet to explore the themes of the Latinx experience and life itself; truth, family, longing are searched through language both direct and lyrical. It’s a long journey, but Araguz’s poems travel borders and boundaries creating an essential collection. José Angel Araguz’s most recent collection is An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press). He blogs at The Friday Influence. José is an Assistant Professor at Suffolk University where he serves as Editor-in-Chief of Salamander and is also a faculty member of the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program.