Monthly Archives: February 2012

INSOMNIA DIARY by Ryan McHale

Bob Hicok’s “Insomnia Diary” is a collection of poems written by a mature poet.  It seems fitting that the book housing Hicok’s poetry isn’t too flashy.  The University of Pittsburgh Press chose a simple layout, tried and true.  There is nothing too sophisticated about the manner in which this chapbook was printed; binding and material used are standard, layout is sober, and the blurbs on the back cover are all business.  The front cover features a painting by Luis Cruz Azaceta that offers insight into Hicok’s project.  A gaunt, darkly lit nude man dangles a clock by a thin string in hues that are at once warm and hauntingly drab.  It took me more than one inspection to realize that the man is in fact decapitated, and that his lifeless eyes are staring directly at mine.  This is a disturbing image, no doubt, but one which properly evokes the hegemony of time that runs through much of Hicok’s poetry in “Insomnia Diary”.  In order to grasp the material in this chapbook, it helps if the reader realizes that at the time of its publication, Hicok had been teaching creative writing at Virginia Tech for some time, and he had published several other chapbooks that had gained national recognition.  He is a mature man who intimately understands his craft and what to do with it.  In short, Hicok is a serious poet, and “Insomnia Diary” is a serious chapbook.

The most recognizable characteristic of Hicok’s poetry is simplistic structure and diction.  His verse is devoid of erudition and most poems are loosely based on blank verse, some being broken into couplets or stanzas.  There is nothing experimental about Hicok’s approach to his subject matter; in fact, I detect a certain disdain for the experimental in “Cutting Edge”:  “Anyway, sorrow about a dog / looks silly in a beret.  It / should be plainspoken, / like everything else / I try hard not to say” (80).  His form helps to convey his subject matter in a straightforward manner.  Hicok’s expertise shines by way of subtle elegance when tackling subjects ranging from the absurdity of the midlife crisis to the emotional turmoil of miscarriage.  These are topics coming from those years between 30 and 40, a place that Hicok knows well and can weave into provocative verse that has an amazing ability to connect with people of all ages.  Underneath the dispatch from that bizarre midlife space lays a tone reminiscent of those tumultuous younger years, when the world was interpreted through a mind/body connection lubricated in beer and narcotics.  His images are solid and the impact is visceral, all delivered in a mood that oscillates from raving hilarity to somber meditation.  The speed at which Hicok is able to shift between subjects and mood keeps the pace lively and the poems fresh.  There are few, if any, misses among the 84 pages of poetry here.  What’s more is that it seems every poem fits perfectly in relation to the others, which speaks volumes not only for the poet, but the editorial staff at the University of Pittsburgh Press as well.

Hicok has proven himself a masterful yet accessible poet.  He writes from experience in a tone that straddles the line between optimism and cynicism.  At its core, “Insomnia Diary” is real poetry in every sense of the word.  It’s one of those books you want to shove in the face of anyone claiming that American poetry is dead.


		

AND WHAT IS LEFT, AS MUCH AS THE HANDS WILL HOLD, AND A VIEW OF THE EMPTY PORCH by Sara Seaton

This chapbook is so dang cute I carried it around with me for a few weeks. I liked to pretend it was a small notebook for me to write down flashes of genius, prose-y lines and obscure subjects. The entire chapbook is made out of repurposed paper. The cover feels like a rough two-pocket folder, a milky texture-ized color. The cover image is a cutout. Looks like a paper tag with a man stamped onto the refurbished paper. The man on the cover looks like the King of Spades.

Greying Ghost Press was born in 2007. Like Slash Pine, all of the their books are handmade. But this isn’t why I’m a fan. They stuff the chapbook full of stuff. FREE poetry pamphlets, an old photo of a baby named Paul Roos, a page out of Lassie, shapes of the map of the mouth of the Chattahoochee River. The text is printed on résumé paper. Novelty and personality rolled into one.

The story told by Andrew Borgstrom is about a boy, a mother, and a father. It’s also about a cat named Kitsch and a murder. The entire piece focuses on possibility and irrelevancy in a world in which matters don’t matter. Each page possesses three “sections.” Each section moves from clarity to ambiguity. A favorite section occurs on the last page. Don’t fret – this part doesn’t give anything away:

The inscription may have mentioned the time year, the holiday that
required the gift to be inscripted. The inscription may have referred
to the book as a classic, even if it was not an actual classic, even if the
inscriptor did not know what constituted a classic, even if the pages
were blank, even if it was a dictionary, which is possible and likely.

Borgstrom disorients the reader by his constant building and breaking down of the same images. It is both mystifying and absorbing. An aesthetically charming chapbook with a twist: a mysterious slaying of a possible father.

Review of Sasha Fletcher’s I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon For Anything I Done by Emma Fick

The day I got “I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon For Anything I Done”—a chapbook written by Sasha Fletcher and published by Greying Ghost Press—in the mail, I waited until I was sitting comfortably on my couch before I opened it. Good thing, too—because suddenly, I was sitting in a sea of tiny bits of paper. Turned upside-down, the packing envelope rained sheets of found paper, mini-books, medallions but out of old books, and even a “Greying Ghost” pin onto my lap. So before I even cracked the cover of “I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon,” its presentation had me hooked. I wanted more.

I was not disappointed. In terms of its content, “I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon” chronicles the dissolution—and possible resolution (?)—of a relationship. Before you dismiss this as the standard fare, let me assure you haven’t seen a couple’s relationship explored quite like this before. It mixes the mundane (“When she woke up she put the coffee on”) with the absurd (“She unraveled a crow like a clementine…”) with the grotesque (“…and cooked the flesh in its mouth). Certain motifs become more and more apparent as the collection goes on: teeth, buzzards, trains, fire, bandits. As you trace them through the pages, you’re able to piece together a sense of what they might mean.

Overall, the chapbook provides a rather desolate and disturbing look at companionship. The whole thing is set in a desert—dry expanses of space, vast plains of hot heavy sand. Buzzards are always swarming overhead, waiting to feast on the kill. Vicious fires erupt and burn indiscriminately. It’s a bleak look at the monotony and boredom a relationship can take on, punctuated by harsh fires and fights that start “licking at that dry air.”

The poems in the collection work together to provide a cohesive and satisfying reading experience. Certain poem series work up to a fervor—especially the “Great Train Robberies” series—that provide you with distinct threads to hold onto. Amidst the fantastical imagery, these poem threads give you something with which to pull yourself through the collection, a string to trace your journey with. Through the fevered pitch of fire and buzzards and dry sands, the distinct sets of poems keep you anchored in the narrative.

“I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon” is the perfect length to be read all at once. You can sit down with it, read it from start to finish, and leave it feeling both fulfilled and wanting more. It’s a collection that merits multiple readings, with each reading leaving you feeling like you understand it a little more—and a little less. The collection is at once manageable and complex. I highly recommend it—from aesthetics to content, Sasha Fletcher delivers in her new collection “I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon For Anything I Done.”

A Review of Rachel Mallino’s 309.81 by Alex Goolsby

The chapbook 309.81 by Rachel Mallino was published by dancing girl press, a small press that describes itself as an indie publisher with a goal “to publish and promote the work of women poets through chapbooks, journals, and anthologies” that “bridges the gaps between schools and poetic technique – work that’s fresh, innovative, and exciting.” The first thing I did when I received the chapbook in the mail was look for Mallino’s bio. I love author bios and author pics because they tend to show you something more about the author: how they view themselves and how they wanted you to see them. There wasn’t one. I wanted to know more about Mallino so I googled her. She popped up on a blog about tattooed poets where she shared the vine tattoo that wraps around her foot. She claims it represents the unhealthy relationship she has with her mother. This relationship is fodder for the first two sections of 309.81.

309.81 is broken into four sections. The first section titled ‘In This House’ opens with this quote from Thoreau: “Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.” Each of the nine poems in this section addresses the odds and ends of our houses, like berber carpet, nail-polish & notebooks, and strands of hair, but their ordinariness is tortured by the harsh realities of this mother and this daughter. The second section is titled ‘To Be Fifteen Again’ and contains a series of poems that a numbered and series that, if you put all the titles together, you get the phrase ‘Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.’ This black humor surfaces throughout Mallino’s work, adding even more depth to the pieces.

Throughout all the poems, Mallino’s word choice is pure perfection. One of my favorite things about reading poetry is feeling the way the words writers choose roll around in my mouth. Mallino is sensory delight with lines like “I sniffed out the screwdriver / and ruptured that lock like any good scab” and “to have linoleum thin hair – a finger’s runway.” I found myself reading lines over and over again just to feel how they sounded, ones like “how z in Elizabeth / cuts right through the name’s soft tissue” and “this house is a comfortable chemical” and “maybe the bile / is my good Easter dress.” Simply fantastic.

These poems may center on the affects of a teenaged relationship between a mother and a daughter, but no teen angst will be found within these pages. Mallino’s words are visceral, and my ears were heavy with the weight to the all-too-real relationship that readers are forced into, the relationship between this mother and this daughter and medication and the frenzy of new life.

With this publication, dancing girl press has succeeded. 309.81 is like raw concrete you’ve fallen and scrapped your knee on. It opens you up so you feel the blood pumping inside. And later, you’ll realize you’re still tugging on the scar it left long after it’s healed.