BOOK REVIEW: Little Epiphanies by Allison Joseph

Allison Joseph’s poetry collection, Little Epiphanies, is a lovely book.

Her tightly structured and orderly poems eloquently comment on everything from everyday clutter (“Little Epiphanies”) to our fellow mammals (“Ode to the Naked Mole Rat”). Yet she also skillfully uses iambic pentameter to poke fun at strict poetry format in “Sonnet for a Good Mood:”

“How funky can I be in fourteen lines;
how thick a groove can I lay down right here?
How bad can my ass be in these confines–
ten syllables each time seems so severe.”

On the next page, in “A Prayer for Women’s Bodies,” she smoothly transitions to more serious matters, honoring the imperfections that society would have us camouflage or hide:

“…love handles no longer

maligned, each waist its own territory,
own beloved landscape of bruise
or bone, wrinkle or fat. Let us honor
bone, whether porous or pointy,

shattered or submerged, hardworking
scaffolding holding us up when gravity
and graves could sink us down,…”

In fact, what amazes me most about this collection is that the subject matter is so varied while still fitting together well. She makes observations about racism in “Sundown Ghazal”, about Afro hairstyles as statements of black empowerment in “Thirty Lines about the Fro,” and her wandering pen touches on more mundane subjects like public transportation with equal parts observation and insight.

I recommend Little Epiphanies for poetry lovers everywhere.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Hard to Swallow by Pat & Bill Hurley

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Hard to Swallow by Pat & Bill Hurley is a beautiful collection of poetry.

The couple were married just weeks before Bill was diagnosed with cancer. The poems are arranged as a conversation between the husband and wife, with his poems in italics while hers are not. As he did not want to read any poems with angst, some of her poems were never seen by her husband; instead, they appear here as complimentary thoughts on their marriage and the experiences they shared in their short time together. She expresses her worry about his health, her admiration for his courage, and her despair of living without him. Some of her admissions are startling as well as moving.

From “Jealous”

OK, I’ll admit it.

I’m jealous of the cancer.

Ever since she moved in,

She’s had you breathless

He writes of his changing body and how he centers himself through meditation and the contemplation of labyrinths. He also writes of his love for her.

From “March 24, 2016”

…Perhaps angels are the nearest things to our souls, and

as such, are our closest companions to that which is divine.

Although it’s heartbreaking they only had a short time together, this book is a beautiful testament to living life to the fullest and appreciating every moment.

Announcement: My Poetry Collection, Soul Picked Clean

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I am incredibly honored to announce that my first book of poetry, Soul Picked Clean, will be published by Crisis Chronicles Press in early 2019!

Crisis Chronicles Press was founded by John Burroughs in 2008. They’ve published writers from all over the world, in every continent except Antarctica, and from time to time give special emphasis to great Ohio poets. Crisis Chronicles recently published their 100th title.

I will also be appearing at the Massillon Library Local Author Fair on Saturday, November 10th from 1030am – 1pm. I will post updates about the book and future readings as information becomes available. Thank you!

Book Review: Blood Work by Kisha Nicole Foster

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Blood Work by Kisha Nicole Foster is a thoughtful, moving collection of verse from one of Cleveland’s many great poets. Since her first collection was published, her style has evolved to become more visual, more elegant–relying less heavily on sound and more on the written form. Metaphors rather than multiple rhymes.

These are poems about family: specifically her father and son. However, the loss and regret felt over interactions with family are universal and relatable. The visceral connections of blood are used, as the title implies, as well as other metaphors. For example, she speaks about wooden roller coasters in both “Wooden Siamese Cats” and “I Smiled Back.”

[from “Wooden Siamese Cats”]

A wooden roller coaster

you and I

looping through air.

An unauthorized aerial act

of understanding.

She also references testimony in “Forcing Smiles” and (again) “I Smiled Back”, two complimentary poems placed next to each other in the collection.

[from “Forcing Smiles”]

you said whether you lived or died

you would be testimony

and

[from “I Smiled Back”]

When we talked on the phone,

he told me that this thing was life or death.

That if he lived he was going to be a testimony

and if he died he was going to be a testimony.

I wanted to overlook the death part.

I didn’t really need those words in my ears.

The shared use of key words and images makes the entire collection stronger. All the poems are so connected, each one feels like part of a larger narrative. Her streamlined approach uses straight forward language to eloquently convey deeply felt emotions. I know I felt emotional reading her words, especially the ones about her father, since it connected me to my own father’s loss a couple years ago. It’s beautiful.

So if you are a fellow poetry lover, I suggest you get this book immediately. If you are lucky enough to live in the Cleveland area, you can purchase it from Kisha Nicole Foster directly at a poetry event; otherwise, you can contact her through her FaceBook page. I’m sure you will enjoy these verses as much as I did.

Book Review: CHAPTER ELEVEN by E.F. Schraeder

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E.F. Schraeder‘s Chapter Eleven poetry collection links both the financial and political aspects of health care and other industries with the real people that are effected. Poems like “Stopwatch Medicine” illustrate how healthcare feels like a churning machine to the doctor forced to ration time treating each patient. “For These Reasons” continues the thought of people being treated as cogs in a machine, with brilliant lines like:

Every aisle a staggering surprise of

consumer options that tie my hands

with dish rags (10 for $1!)

to women 12,000 miles away.

The poems within this deceptively thin book detail personal loss, health scares, education, the decline and deaths of loved ones–as well as biting social commentary. She even uses the ready-made metaphor of Humpty Dumpty for her purposes on more than one occasion. For example, in “Almost OK — for Humpty” she turns the nursery rhyme’s disturbing imagery into insights on living as a damaged person:

A certain light still reveals

the shadows of the cracks.

My only regret about this poetry collection is that I can’t give you a direct link to buy it from any of the big bookstore sites.. You can, however, order it directly from Partisan Press, or if you are lucky enough to live near Cleveland, pick up a copy at Mac’s Backs  or Visible Voice  bookstores! Trust me. It’s worth the trip.

Book Review: Kisha Nicole Foster –POEMS 1999-2014

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I first had the pleasure of seeing this poet perform one of her poems at the Cleveland Main Library some time ago. I remember she put her whole body into her performance, projecting her voice, and infusing each syllable with meaning and emotion. This book is a testament to how well her performance poetry works on paper as well as in person.

Some of her poems are abstract, relying on sound and impression to create an emotional impact, so that while I did not know what every line meant, my impressions were strong; moods were set. I could hear and imagine each line as I read, and sometimes I read them aloud to make audible connections I might have missed with a silent reading.

Others are all too clear in their meaning. She doesn’t hold back, so that when you read verses about painful loss and heartbreak, you empathise. Much of her work is deeply personal: reflections on loss and desire and how past mistakes inform the better person she has become today.

Absence of punctuation in some poems aids in the blending of lines to create multiple meanings, not knowing where one thought ends and the other begins. She is adept at using color and imagery, and some lines stand out such as (from “POEM. ONE. FOR. EVERYONE.”)

“let’s tell the truth to shame the lies”

The subject matter varies from one poem to another as well: homages, such as “A Viking Story”; love poems, such as “Say Come Love”; and others that are calls to action or deeply personal such as “UNTITLED.”

“in the cold wind of Cleveland you brought me home

to rewalk the path that I laid

move the mountains I made”

This is an eclectic collection, disparate subjects and styles united by her unique voice. I enjoyed this collection immensely and heartily recommend, Kisha Nicole Foster: poems 1999-2014, to any poetry lover.

Books Read in 2017

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Greetings!

In the interest of seeing how what I consume affects what I produce, I’ve been keeping track of the books I read for several years now. It started off as an entry into an annual library drawing and has since become an interesting way to look back on my past reads. Since the list is long, I will not launch into explanations of every book, though I may describe ones that are especially good or bad.

My list is shorter this year than in the past, partly because I have started reading more periodicals (which I do not list). I’ve also consumed more craft and cookbooks. Since these types of nonfiction are not so much read through as browsed and used as inspiration, it didn’t seem fair to include those titles in my tally unless I actually read them from cover to cover. My other non cover-to-cover reading is primarily Rattle poetry magazine. Poetry requires more thought per page, even though the pages themselves are usually much less than a traditional book.

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Here is a handy little color code, to make things easier:

Ebooks (novels, non fiction, & graphic novels): Red

Audiobooks: Blue

Physical books: Black

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  1. Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition by Dan Wells (ebook via Overdrive)

–one of the most original science fiction stories I’ve read in years. A cosmetics company creates a beauty product that accidentally overwrites your DNA, which naturally has apocalyptic consequences. It’s satirical, funny, witty, and horrific. Every science fiction fan should read this.

  1. Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick (audiobook via Overdrive)

–It’s by Philip K. Dick. What else is there to say?

  1. In the Company of Russell Atkins (poetry anthology) (paperback)

–I read this mainly because I attended the book launch in Cleveland. I had never been exposed to Mr. Atkins’ poetry before. While I can’t say his verse was my cup of tea, the other contributors whose poems appeared in the anthology were greatly influenced by his work. I didn’t love every poem, but those I did, stuck with me.

  1. Aesop’s Fables (paperback)
  2. True Grit by Charles Portis (ebook via Overdrive)

–Every year the Massillon library and the Massillon Art Museum collaborate to promote a book for the NEA Big Read. True Grit was the 2017 selection, free copies were available all over Massillon, and the Massillon Art Museum’s main exhibit featured costumes from the movie adaptation.

I’ve never been a fan of westerns, but this book, told by the main character about an adventure from her childhood, made me reconsider the genre. The things I didn’t like about the other westerns I’d been exposed to was the lack of characters I could identify with, their overwhelming machismo, and the stereotypical depictions of cowboys doing stereotypical things. This novel is nothing like that.

The protagonist is Mattie Ross, a young girl whose father was murdered. She hires a gunman to hunt down his killer and accompanies him along the way to make sure she gets her money’s worth. She’s believable both as a child forced to bear the burdens of adulthood and a no nonsense female character; she suffers no fools and fights to be taken seriously. I really felt for both her and the gunman, Rooster Cogburn. I loved it.

  1. Wonder Woman volume 1 by Greg Rucka (graphic novel via Hoopla)
  2. Female Force: William Moulton Marston, the Creator of Wonder Woman (digital comic via Hoopla)
  3. Lock In by John Scalzi (ebook via Overdrive)

–In the tradition of great science fiction, this novel shows how technology adapted to humanity–in this case, to deal with a condition that traps people inside their bodies–transforms human society. There’s also an awesome murder mystery that’s complicated by that same technology.

  1. Bombshells volume 1: Enlisted by various authors (graphic novel via Hoopla)

–I read this mainly on the recommendation that it is a great graphic novel illustrating female superheroes. After reading it, I honestly don’t understand how anyone could think that.

In an alternate history dominated by female superheroes, Bruce Wayne never becomes Batman because his parents are saved by a female superhero. Other male heroes never emerged or at least serve different roles. However, while all the men are off fighting the war, the female heroes are still sexualized objects for male pleasure; they are all basically Forties pin-up girls that just happen to fight crime too.

Batgirl wears a baseball-themed costume complete with tiny shorts and wields a bat. Wonder Woman meets up with army brass who give her a costume to wear as well; she thinks she’s dressed as one of their goddesses, because she sees a pinup girl painted on the side of a plane. And don’t even get me started on Harley Quinn. Her plot made no sense, and each page…just, no. Read it if you must, but you’ve been warned.

  1.  The Shape of Home by Lee Chilcote (paperback, poetry re Cleveland and suburbia)

 

  1. Hag-Seed (a Hogarth Shakespeare novel) by Margaret Atwood  (ebook via Overdrive)

–The Hogarth Shakespeare series is a collection of modern day adaptations of Shakespearean plays by modern authors. In this retelling of The Tempest, Prospero is an actor cast out of his acting company who lives alone with his young daughter. It’s an original take on a classic, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  1. The Flintstones volume 1 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh (graphic novel via Hoopla)

–When I heard there were a series of graphic novels tackling Hanna Barbara characters, I was intrigued–but I was blown away by this one in particular. The story looks back at the creation of the town of Bedrock, Fred and Barney’s wartime history, and even tackles social issues like racism and the treatment of indigenous peoples. It is one of the wittiest satires I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

  1. World’s Best Life Hacks: 200 Ways to Make Your Life Easier by Sarah Devos (ebook via Hoopla)

–I picked up a few helpful tips via this quick and easy read!

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (ebook via Overdrive)

I’ve wanted to read this book for years, but it always seemed to get pushed back for other things. This book is so sad and beautiful. I really identified with the characters. I just loved it.

  1.  Protect Me (Mind Sweeper series, book 0) by AE Jones

–I love this Ohio author’s work. I enjoy seeing the world through the monsters’ or freaks’ point of view, which is usually both interesting and funny. I wonder what that says about me.

  1. Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton (ebook via Overdrive)
  2. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (audiobook via Overdrive)
  3. Wonder Woman: Earth One, Vol. 1 (graphic novel via Hoopla) by various
  4. Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood (graphic novel via Hoopla) by various
  5. Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Guts (graphic novel via Hoopla) by various
  6. Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Iron (graphic novel via Hoopla) by various
  7. Wonder Woman Vol 4: War (graphic novel via Hoopla) by various

   23. Wonder Woman Vol 5: Flesh  by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)

  1. Mockingbird by Walter Tevis (audiobook via Overdrive)

–This was a beautifully told dystopian tale with a message of hope.

  1. Wonder Woman Vol 6: Bones by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)
  2. Wonder Woman Vol 7: War-torn by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)
  3. Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka and various (graphic novel via Hoopla)
  4. Wonder Woman ’77: Vol 1 by various  (graphic novel via Hoopla)
  5. Scooby Apocalypse Vol 1  by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)

–This graphic novel is another fun reimagining of classic Hanna Barbara characters, though it isn’t as witty as The Flintstones retelling. It’s pretty much a straight up monster story with Velma and Shaggy working in a secret lab that causes the apocalypse. It is okay, but I honestly didn’t find it that interesting.

  1. Fight Club 2 (graphic novel via Hoopla) by Chuck Palahniuk, illustrated by Cameron Stewart

–Another interesting but weird read. I did not think it was as good as its predecessor, Fight Club (the novel).

  1. The 6.5 Habits of Moderately Successful Poets by Jeffrey Skinner (ebook via Overdrive)
  2. Doctor Who: Revolutions of Terror by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)
  3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (ebook)
  4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (audio book via Overdrive)
  5. The Walking Dead and Philosophy by multiple authors (ebook via Humble Bundle)

–I’ve been slowly working my way through the Pop Culture Philosophy series of ebooks I bought via Humble Bundle. If you get a chance, I strongly suggest you read them. The series tackles real philosophy problems by setting them in pop culture situations. This one tackles morality in stellar fashion, especially such sticky points as suicide, the ethics of killing, and the rights of a person (or zombie).

  1.  Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy by multiple authors (ebook via Humble Bundle)

–(see above) Same general take, but with different questions set in different worlds.

  1. Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams  (audiobook via Hoopla)
  2. The Walking Dead volume 27: The Whisperer War by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)

–I read this again to refresh my memory before reading the next installment. The book is good up until the disappointing ending. I know other fans loved it, but it didn’t make sense to me.

  1. The Walking Dead volume 28: A Certain Doom by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)

–I loved this installment! This book is so much better than the one before. There is character growth, unexpected twists and turns, and actual resolution for many plot points. Like all Walking Dead stories, there is more story left to be told. There always is; that’s the point of the series. But I felt very satisfied when I finished reading this one.

  1. Sublime Stitching by Jenny Hart (ebook via Hoopla)
  2. Improv Sewing by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut (ebook via Hoopla)
  3. Wonder Woman, vol 2, Year One (DC Universe Rebirth) by various (graphic novel via Hoopla)
  4. Hoopla: the Art of Unexpected Embroidery by Leanne Prain (Trade paperback via library)

–I began embroidering this past year, mostly via YouTube tutorials and practice. However, this book inspired me to sew my own original artwork and think outside the creative box I’d put myself in. It’s a series of articles about different sketch artists that use embroidery in unusual ways–from embroidering cartoons on fabric and stitching street maps on garbage bags to creating miniature portraits. I checked it out of the library three times, and I kept the last checkout overdue ten days so I could really finish. I rarely buy paper editions of books, but this one is definitely a must-have.

  1. Terminal Alliance: Book One of Janitors of the Post Apocalypse by Jim C. Hines (ebook via Overdrive)

–I can’t imagine anyone other than Jim C. Hines–author of The Princess series, Goblin Quest, and Libriomancer— writing a book about space janitors and making it work. He brings the same irreverent humor to this science fiction gem that he’s brought to his other fantasy titles. Reading this is pure fun, and there’s actual science in this science fiction too!

  1. Star Wars: Princess Leia by Mark Waid and Terry Dodson (graphic novel via Hoopla)

–When I saw this graphic novel on Hoopla, I was pleasantly surprised! The story takes place shortly after A New Hope and the destruction of Leia’s home world of Alderaan.  The rebel leaders tell her to take time to mourn and lay low; the Empire has a bounty on all the survivors of Alderaan. Instead, she wants to gather them all together to keep what’s left of her home alive. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but this story sheds some light on Leia’s past and her motivations as she moves forward to save what she can of the world she left behind.

Now I’m just waiting for a series to be written about the older Leia, General Organa.

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My books read list this year is significantly shorter than last year, mostly as I consume lots of different things that I don’t necessarily read cover to cover. Currently I am reading a paperback version of Betsy Greer’s Craftivism (courtesy of my local library), Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle (hardback poetry anthology courtesy of the library), and The Very Best of Tad Williams (ebook collection courtesy my friendly neighborhood library via the Overdrive app).

 

I have temporarily put down (mid-read) How to Be a Craftivist and Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy due to time constraints. I need to prioritize library reading over the books I own so I can read them before they are due, and I proudly own those last two books. Since they are nonfiction essay collections, it’s easy to simply put them down and pick them up again as time permits. The Tad Williams book especially became a priority, because my son was really excited to share this author’s work with me. He hasn’t been this excited about reading fiction on his own in awhile, so I wanted to read it at the same time so we could talk about it together.

If you’d like to discuss any of the books in my list, feel free to comment below or contact me through Twitter or FaceBook. In the meantime, have a lovely week!