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poetry

Book Review

The World’s Largest Cherry Pie by Sophie Appel

by on June 26, 2024

The World’s Largest Cherry Pie is Sophie Appel’s debut poetry collection, released by Los Angeles alt lit heir, Dream Boy Book Club. Cherry Pie is an inversion of Alexa Chung’s 2013 work It, illustrating Appel’s disparate constellation of other people’s bedrooms and the activities in it. Appel’s poetry evokes imagery of codebreaking rentals and listless travel between the coasts. In one of Cherry Pie’s opening poems, titled “Cygnet”, Appel states:

“I’m never alone when I have my purse / because It’s actually just made out of me.”

Items like cigarettes, lip gloss, receipts, and change compose a purse. Appel’s narration places more abstract ideas into her purse, like bad dreams and their symbolic imagery. Cherry Pie comes from a place of continued girlhood in a life turning the corner in the other direction, approaching the hurdle of 30 with Appel’s unique tone of feminine anxiety.

Appel evokes a specific late-twenties sense of dread. In one poem, she talks about all the world’s flies drowning in left out glasses of wine, indicating that everything is already so over. While Cherry Pie is rife with post-millennial images alluding to nervous sex and hurt feelings, Appel is also literal through the titles of pieces like “A Public Record of My Self Hatred”. “Like a bad dream,” Appel writes in her litany of items edifying the titular record. Cherry Pie is its own collection of flashing vignettes set against the careening cityscapes of Los Angeles and New York City.

Cherry Pie is an expression of the luteal phase – whatever the subject matter at hand is, it keeps getting worse. Appel confesses in “Except For That Snake”:

“This was supposed to crash.”

All the ugly emotions she writes about culminate in sharp and wrenching lines that embellish the damaging girlhood that stays long after its actual time has passed. As an author presumably in her late twenties, Appel’s book answers what comes next, at least for the women that feel the same way that she does –

“I’m ready for the end now,”

“I’m ready for the desert.”

“Key Hole Limpets, Crabs, & Mussels” adds to the aforementioned idea of ascended girlhood. Like a child, she pouts: “Today was supposed to be nice.” Appel’s narration comes from this ideal of post-25 and pre-30 teenage girldom, an odd space in between the beginning and what is to be perceived as the end of all life. Appel references stilted emotions and positions them against images like the dead flies, establishing feelings of not only loneliness but a complete lack of understanding from the world through the idea of exiling yourself to the desert. In the narrative’s pressing need to be understood, it also communicates that it may be better off alone. In “395 After Plague”, Appel echoes the late Dolores O’Riordan by asking:

“How do you know which way to go?”

She’s answered this question several times in the book, providing a compelling argument for already knowing how it all ends.  

Available now at Dream Boy Book Club

Book Review

Lex Icon by Salette Tavares

by on June 20, 2024

Collection translated to English by Isabel Sobral Campos and Kristofer J. Petersen-Overton

The phrase “echoing through time” and its variants are usually employed to describe something with historical significance, something that is believed to have recurring influence with cycles that stretch beyond a human lifespan. The phrase is often reserved for people or events or works of art that have had their importance decreed by institutional or cultural consensus, and often carries the implied weight of prophecy or destiny in its fusion of space and time. But if you dispense with the grandiosity, it is not a stretch to say that we all echo through time. We are, at least in the United States of America, not trained to think this way. We are instead taught that history is the record of the actions of “great” individuals (usually men) and that the rest of us amount to little more than the threads of the flags and banners that the “great” use as heraldry. I reject this myopic perspective; each of our lives, regardless of positive or negative labels, is a point of impact, echoing in all directions and affecting everything that will come after. This admittedly defiant train of thought is the fault of Lex Icon, a collection of poetry written by Salette Tavares. I cannot think of a more appropriate single adjective to describe this book than sagacious – it is the kind of text that challenges and helps you to push through the noise, providing a necessary clarity that can be both empowering and humbling.

“Espaço é o mais alto poema do Universo / que o arquitecto produz / é o difícil extracto do intense / que define / a qualidade da luz.

Space is the supreme poem of the Universe / which the architect produces / the hard distillation of intensity / that defines / quality of light.”

To be clear, there is no pseudo-omniscience on offer here; Lex Icon is not a self-help book and Tavares is not peddling some simple solution to life and its problems. But as you read her poetry, you realize that Tavares is consistently applying a very direct method over and over again: stop, observe, and appreciate. Several of the poems revolve around the impact of shoes or napkins or flasks, and one even explicitly around garbage. She is examining what we typically think of as the mundane detritus of human existence and recontextualizing them as the echoes of our lives, for better and worse. Tavares marvels in awe at the ingenuity required to make such things in the first place, and with trepidation at the rampant consumerism that renders such things simultaneously necessary and disposable. In a sense, she writes as a kind of preemptive archaeologist, studying the evidence of our existence and the negative space we leave in our immediate wake. She even ascribes religious significance to these objects; an absurdity, to be sure, and a knowing one on her part, but one that is both reverential and critiquing, rather than mocking.

“Poema litúrgico sobre o sapato. Durante a leitura deste deve seguir-se rigorosamente a indicação à margem. Não esquecer de o recitar em frente de um microfone ligado a vários altifalantes com grande amplificação de som. Sobre uma mesa colocar um sapato. Os fiéis que seguem este ofício devem estar descalços com um sapato em cada mão.

Liturgical poem on the shoe. During the reading, one should rigorously observe the parenthetical instructions. Be sure to use a microphone connected to loudspeakers at high volume. Place a shoe on a table. The faithful who observe this ceremony should stand barefoot holding a shoe in each hand.”

Tavares asks us to exist, even if only for a moment, within these seeming dichotomies and appreciating the perspective gained therein. My understanding of the historical context is that she is writing as part of movements that are transitioning out of modernism and toward greater experimentation, as evidenced by her multiple references to Dada. In this light, you can see Lex Icon as a embodying an early postmodern sensibility. There is a strong emphasis on the flexibility of meaning and the importance of questioning even foundational or “insignificant” assumptions (emphasis mine). The poetry lays out that the dichotomies only really exist in our minds and that, even if they prove contextually useful, they are always subject to change. Perhaps most importantly, the text pushes the reader to question the moral value judgments we casually attach to such ideas. Things can be both good and bad in different contexts and for the same reasons. Tavares posits that only by bridging the divide that we created in the first place can we begin to approach understanding the human experience.

“Dêem-me palavras que eu descobrirei as coisas / dêem-me coisas que eu descobrirei as palavras. / Entre a palavra e a coisa o intervalo é nenhum / palavra ou coisa a eloquência pertence-lhes: / à palavra porque diz a coisa / à coisa porque diz a palavra.

Give me words to discover the things / give me things to discover the words. / Between word and thing there is no gap / word or thing eloquence belongs to both: / to the word because it speaks the thing / to the thing because it speaks the word.”

I had no knowledge of Salette Tavares before reading this collection, and after reading both it and what biographical information I could find on her, I was not at all surprised to learn that she was primarily a visual artist. In her poetry, I feel the echoes of something akin to photography – an attempt to capture a perfectly distilled moment in time from a universe that is constantly and unstoppably changing. There is a kind of tragic impossibility to the task that makes it all the more beautiful. Tavares’ use of structure captures and language captures the infinite kinetic energy and losslessly transfers it into potential. She reframes the signifier and the signified into two inextricable parts of a perpetual motion machine that echo through time. She is, I think, consistently in awe of what the human mind is capable of, again for better and worse; the only thing that may be beyond our capacity is the ability to grasp the full extent of that capacity.

Lex Icon is now available through Ugly Duckling Press

Book Review

Paper Birds: Feather by Feather / Pájaros de papel: Pluma por pluma by Sonia Gutiérrez

by on June 11, 2024

Review by Frank Mundo:

When I received “Paper Birds: Feather by Feather / Pájaros de papel: Pluma por pluma,” the latest poetry collection by bilingual writer and poet Sonia Gutiérrez from El Martillo Press (April 2024), I was surprised by its unusual heft. 180 pages is quite a lot these days for a poetry collection by a single artist. Turns out, however, the high page count is a direct result of the book’s unique presentation – at least, it’s a format I’d never seen before. Not only bilingual, some of the poems are also described as “interlingual” in the book’s introduction by Mexican writer Susana Bautista Cruz. Interlingual is the relationship between two languages, which, in this case, refers to the natural, multicultural (and inevitable?) mashup of English and Spanish by Latinos and Chicano Americans into, essentially, a “new” language known as Spanglish.

Divided into three sections, the book presents 14, 12, and 14 bilingual poems, respectively, each one printed side-by-side, first in English and then in Spanish. A smaller selection of Spanglish versions of the poems, translated in this collection by bilingual poet and musician Francisco J. Bustos, are shared after that. Offering these poems in all three languages this way is interesting to me and, I would argue, an empowering poetic exercise and experience for fluent readers and speakers of any of these languages. In the third section, there’s also a single bilingual short story called, “Teresa and the Birds Inside,” which is Gutiérrez’ take on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” except her version takes place at a DMV in San Diego with a broken A/C and which is possibly haunted by what seems to be a flock of horrible screeching birds. Finally, several illustrations and other bonus features help fill out the book’s 180 pages, including the bilingual versions of the introduction, acknowledgments, and a helpful discussion guide for book clubs and educators.

My favorite piece in the book is “The Giver of Poems,” a beautiful and vivid homage to the prolific Chicano poet and educator Francisco X. Alarcón, who, with insight and compassion, explored in his writing important themes in Latino and gay identity, mythology, the Nahuatl language, Mesoamerican history, and American culture. In “The Giver of Poems,” there’s a sense of peace and clarity, but also a playful tone that seems apropos. The speaker of the poem is experiencing an inspiring and lucid or “woken” dream, where the unnamed Giver of Poems, perhaps Alarcón himself, awakens “on white / sheets of paper” in a sky full of “luminous letters.” Using his hands, he “kneads words / forming clouds / made of poems.” Don’t sleep on the wordplay here with knead and need. This joyful little literary moment pays off later when The Giver takes a break, of all things, “and goes up the stairs / of a giant / uppercase A” until “laughing and smiling,” he “goes down its slide” with his arms “wide open.” I can’t help but smile picturing Alarcón, who Gutiérrez calls her Chicano role model and Literary Saint, on a break from making clouds into poems with his bare hands, only to slide down the slope of an upper-case letter A with his arms in the air.

Listen to Sonia Gutiérrez reading the “Poema Giver” para–Francisco X. Alarcón, the Spanglish version of “The Giver of Poems.”

 

I asked Gutiérrez about her homage to Alarcón and how he became such a major influence in her work and her life. “His poetry is medicina,” she told me. His work “allows us to look at the Mexican American (the Chicano) experience through a historical context.” Like so many of us do, Gutierrez got her poetry legs in an Intro to Poetry course in school, unearthing poetry gems from that giant Norton poetry anthology. These excavated poets would serve as her “professors and teachers” at that time, helping her recognize what poetry is, what it looks like, and what it could do and be. She told me that’s why she teaches Alarcón’s work sometimes in her own college classrooms, so her students can discover and experience his work, too. She also said she liked how Alarcón told fellow poets often that he didn’t write poems, “he wrote tattoos,” which was the title of his first poetry collection. She admired the way he composed poetry against convention without capitalizing words and using periods, and the meaning he shared behind this creative choice ‒ that the period, he said, would come at the end.  

In “Bones Speak,” another nod to Alarcón and his multicolumn poem, Gutiérrez offers a “tattoo” of her own. According to the book’s Notes section, Alarcón says the columns of poems are “like copal smoke signals.” And since “Bones Speak” is also one of the works selected for Spanglish translation by Bustos, we get to experience the full power of this triple-column collaborative composition, with all three versions, side-by-side on one page, one in each column – and wow! It’s a stunning example of poetic expression. 

But this collection is more than an homage to Alarcón or to bilingual or even interlingual poetry. Timely stories, histories, narratives, dreams, and testimonies explore subjects in themes of human, environmental, social, and cultural dignity. Before reading the book, I asked Gutiérrez about her writing and what readers might expect. “Ever since I was a child,” she told me, “my way of seeing the world has always been through a lens of social justice.” So, years later, when Gutiérrez discovered poetry and started writing her own poems, it made sense that she would write about the issues that, as a poet, needed to be addressed.

“I’m a poet concerned about humanity,” she said. “I’m a poet concerned

with the environment. A poet that would like for people to have dialogical communication about pressing issues. Anything that needs to be addressed

we should have the ability to discuss.”

In “Testimony of a Tree,” we get just that, a firsthand account of what it’s like to be the trees along Highway 805 in San Diego, who “had wished their lives / on the superhighway / would always be green.” Interestingly, the first three of the four stanzas of this scathing environmental poem are offered in first-person plural: “but nobody asked us / why one day we turned pale, / our bark fell and arms / went bare.” The final stanza, however, switches to first-person singular – a foreman, perhaps? A delegated representative? Maybe the star witness, who knows? Either way, in the final stanza of this testimony, we get our grass absolutely handed to us: “What I do know is we never / dreamed of living next to / burning black asphalt / breathing in the sulfuric waste / of humanity away from the birds / and bees…”

In “Neither Rooster, Nor Bird, Nor Human,” we learn what things are by what they are not – starting and ending with the rooster, the bird, and the human. A very short piece, it’s even shorter on forgiveness – and the last stanza will stay with me for a long time. Looking now in the book, I see that I circled this stanza because I knew I’d need to come back to it later: “A human is not a human; / he is an inhumane animal, / killing the Earth / with his utter will.”

In “An American Landscape,” we visit that “chilly February night / under a star-spangled sky…” where Trayvon Martin “…stayed warm / fastened like a monk…” or what some called a thug, in his hoodie.

“The Indictment of Index Fingers and Thumbs,” is an indictment of our justice system in America. It opens with the poet, standing before “Judge Justice…” who is examining the six index fingers and six thumbs that facilitated the shooting deaths of Charles Smith, John Crawford III, Micheal Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and India Kager. “Who pulled the trigger?” the Judge asks, and the fingers and thumbs, “Dumbfounded and with white knees…” “…pointed at the firearms…”

In “Bakr Red Petals on a Beach,” Gutiérrez addresses the four children from the Bakr family, ages 9-12, who were killed by a missile from the Israeli naval force on the fishing beach west of Gaza City: “With bull’s-eye precision / on an open shore / Flower Killers came to Gaza…”

“The Colors of Death” personifies Fukushima and grills her about the nuclear accident that poisoned the ocean and displaced at least 164,000 people: “Ask Fukushima / if she drank clean water / this morning.”

Finally, in “Eulogy for Súper Pancho from the Land of Maiz,” one of the longest poems in the collection, the poet responds to Donald Trump’s painful and unfair statements about Mexicans during his presidential announcement speech in 2016. Súper Pancho, our brave hero, with his “corn-tortilla cape” and shovel, “his super weapon,” is paired against Mr. Liberty Mouth, who’s “snarling mouth” spews “torture words.” There’s a nice black-and-white illustration of Súper Pancho whose “tamale arms / and legs don’t hide / from the scorching sun / to sell diamond-faced / watches nor does he build / golden hotel skyscrapers, / reaching for the Green / Dollar God.”

There are so many standout and outstanding poems in this collection that it’s difficult to choose which ones to highlight and which ones to neglect. I had a similar reaction or experience a couple years ago when I read “Dreaming with Mariposas,” Gutiérrez’ debut novel from Flowersong Press. Made up of vignettes (mostly 1-3 pages), we follow the coming-of-age of two sisters, butterflies in a family of dreamers in So-Cal during the late 70s and 80s. For most of the book, I honestly thought I was reading her memoir because the details were so rich and real and accurate.

I asked Gutiérrez if she had a goal or objective when writing poetry. “When my poem is in front of someone and they’re reading it,” she said, “my goal is that they’re moved, that they’re looking at the world through a lens or a perspective they had never contemplated before.”

She also said there was a quote in the letters of Emily Dickinson that really summed up her objective when it comes to writing poetry:

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me,
I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken
off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any
other way?”

In English, Spanish, or even Spanglish, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Paper Birds: Feather by Feather / Pájaros de papel: Pluma por pluma is available now from El Martillo Press.  

Frank Mundo is a poet from Los Angeles. His latest chapbooks are Touched by an Anglo (Kattywompus Press) and Eleven Sundry Flowers (Antrim House).

Music Poetry

Violet isn’t Blue by Timothy Nolan

by on June 5, 2024

You told me it was your favorite Billie Holiday song. I was already hooked but silently swooned. Mine’s been You’ve Changed since the waitress I worked with at the Waldorf Astoria told me it was hers. She was a chanteuse who sang it at clubs I’d never heard of. WNEW’s Make-Believe Ballroom broadcast from the lobby by Peacock Alley once a month as she served tea and I bussed lilac teapots and cups to music from the 30s and 40s. She’d always ask them to play it but they were more of a Glenn Miller and Sinatra affair. One day they let her sing it after the show and I understood. Maybe I could feel a You’ve Changed moment coming for me. But then you came along with the Lady in Satin CD, Billie’s bare shoulder and pulled back hair in quarter-view before a smokey plum seamless. You hit track 6 and handed me the headphones. And all I wanted was your April in that December, the day you brought me Violets for Your Furs.

_

Timothy Nolan (he/him/his) is a writer and visual artist living in Palm Springs, California with his husband and their rescue dog, Scout. He has exhibited extensively for three decades and his work is in the collections of the DeYoung Museum of Art in San Francisco, and the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. He’s been a fellow at Yaddo, Ucross, and Djerassi. His poems appear in The Hudson Review, Fourteen Hills, Puerto del Sol, and Roanoke Review, among others.

Book Review

I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom

by on May 1, 2024

 

I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom by Kim Dower

Review by Brian Sonia-Wallace

There are few things more classically Freudian than autobiographical poems about a poet’s relationship with their mother, and this new collection by prolific former West Hollywood City Poet Laureate Kim Dower takes up the challenge deftly: will she become her mother? Is she already her? What continues after death? (Mail, memories, junk). What is broken by death? (Rituals, memories — junk).

 

The poems in I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom are casual and conversational in tone, laugh-out-loud funny or tearjerking at their best. A mix of new pieces and motherhood poems from Dower’s former collections, they paint a portrait of urban motherhood rarely seen in verse, a Southern California freeway pastoral blended with a 5th Avenue childhood in New York. Writes Dower:

 

…My mother

 

didn’t know about soil or earth worms.

City mothers, we know about bus routes, restaurants,

Broadway, the people on the eighth floor.

Mine taught me to accessorize…”

 

Tellingly, this poem is entitled, “Different Mothers,” and the whole collection is nuanced by a consistent self-awareness of other possibilities, the “might have beens,” from Dower’s reflections on an imagined daughter to her fear of following in her mother’s footsteps in suffering from dementia. Dower’s mother, a socialite in her day, succumbs to memory loss and helplessness, and many of these poems grapple with the slipperiness of memory, both in childhood and old age.

 

In her poem “Letter to My Son,” Dower imagines herself in her mother’s shoes, and writes instructively to her son: “Tell me everything’s okay / and I will believe you. Tell me there’s a bird on a branch outside my window, even if there is no window, and I will imagine he’s singing to me.” Dower’s poems inhabit a world self-conscious of its own aging and eventual, inevitable collapse, with the thin narrative of what’s passed down in a family holding the discordant pieces together. Through the examination of motherhood from both ends, as a daughter and as a mother, Dower raises questions about the legacy of learned values and behavior, asking the question: what happens when, with time and distance, the memories we inherit decay?

 

The physical world comes into play as a doorway into memory. The materiality of sweaters, jewelry, chairs, and the dress of the collection’s title act as an artifact of human presence (“we bought this together” or “these were your things”) and agency (“you liked this, you chose this”). Part of what is stripped away, alongside memory, with dementia is the ability to make choices, and in an odd and very American way, the ability of Dower’s mother to make conscious choices as a consumer become a stand-in for her wellness. The poetry of illness and of kitsch are intertwined here, as the mass-produced material world interacts with and enacts ensouled human existence. In “The Salvation Army Won’t Take the Futon,” what happens to our stuff as we make the move into nursing care echoes what happens to us. In the “I Lost My Mother at Bloomingdales,” we see shopping as a bond:

 

…what if she vanishes into a refurbished brownstone

stairwell her dress on backwards label showing lost forever after

her last outing shopping with me it’s what we did what we loved until

 

—the poem finishes, achingly, here, with no punctuation, no resolution. Just the terror of losing your mind.

 

The title of the collection becomes a reassurance, in this context. “I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom” a reminder of who the “I” is, who the “you” is, what day we’re on, and the relationship between the speaker and subject (“Mom”), with the dress serving as an anchor to what was once important in that relationship, even if it has long since stopped mattering. The title poem drips with longing, and the speaker, who we get the sense resented the high society New York life her mother so prized, now mother-less and in Los Angeles, finds herself with “a closet filled / with dresses I need to show you.”

 

These themes of motherhood, framed in an urban pastoral and humanistic materialism, run through these poems, with their attendant anxiety which might also be interpreted as a longing or nostalgia. This is a collection of imagined nature and of the unreliability of memory, pretzels at baseball games and “boiled secrets.” A strong gender commentary pervades the work as well, a through line from women’s’ roles in the 1950’s balanced with writing and bringing up kids, to a visceral set of poems which inhabit and explore Dower’s C-section and her son’s birth as an older woman. Dower returns to earlier themes and motifs from her work as well, in particular the moon, which even here is fragmented, diminished, hanging on too long.

 

The theme of anxiety around memory extends to Dower’s son, who, as he grows up, becomes someone alienated from her memories of him. Even if memory doesn’t fail us, she seems to say, the world will come to fail our memories of it. But it works the other way too — in “After the Rain,” she says, “although the dead / are gone, the way we think of them / can change.” These everyday poems, with titles like “Scrambling Eggs” and “While Washing the Dinner Dishes,” are a testament to how that change occurs, unobtrusively, in everyday life, as our brains make sense of loss through the continual process of living.

 

Southern California is a major player in this collection, situating the poems in geographic and mental space, from a poem entitled “The Things I Do In My Car” to one about earthquakes, “Minor Tremors,” where the shifting, uncertain landscape of California mirrors the mental landscape of a child coping with the loss of a parent. Perhaps my favorite in the collection is the laugh-out-loud funny piece “Bottled Water,” which contains such lines as ‘If I drink smartwater / will I raise my IQ but be less authentic?”

 

Dower is on form in this collection — both smart and authentic, with enough snark and humor to keep things from getting too, well, dour. Don’t let the serious themes fool you, there’s plenty of irrelevance at play here, too. Dower ends the poem “My Mother Bakes Sugar Cookies” with the lines:

 

The people in charge of Heaven

sound so thoughtful, I tell her.

Well, they’re angels,

she says,

 

but not like you’d imagine.

Sure, they wear white,

have wings,

smile sweetly

 

but they all talk way too much

and their asses

are huge.

 

Dower is a master of tonal shifts and irony, and uses dialogue to great effect. In the next poem, “Why We Dream,” her mother tells her, “I’m not dead…/ I’m going to the Opera!” It’s the mark of a great poet that, in speaking about the dead, Dower gives us such a vivid sense of life.

 

I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom is available now through Red Hen Press

 

Brian Sonia-Wallace is the author of The Poetry of Strangers (Harper Collins), winner of the 2020-23 West Hollywood City Poet Laureateship, and a national 2021 Laureate Fellow for the Academy of American Poets. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Poets.org, Rattle, and more. He teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and Get Lit – Words Ignite. More at briansoniawallace.com and @rentpoet.

Music Poetry

Bizarre Love Triangle by Daniel Healy

by on April 25, 2024

Piano Photo by Steve Johnson

Block chords before block chords
after block chords, I could write about
the way the infrastructure
carries the light inside itself,
carries it
hands on its hips,        half-hidden polyphony.
I could write about Scarlatti dueling Handel.
Scarlatti by himself,    reaching
substituting forward,   upward,
pulling the dough of substance with
his
hooked hands. I could write about
Debussy on the dancefloor.    Hands hooked
around hips. It’s there half hidden inside.
But I write about this.
I write about falling.
And then? You don’t. I fall on my knees.
It’s not about me but it is.

Daniel John Healy is a PhD student at UConn. His academic work has appeared in Style. His short fiction and poetry have appeared in New Haven Review and Long River Review. He was a 2023 finalist for the Iowa Review Award in poetry.

News

Submissions open and new addition to the team.

by on August 6, 2018

We are excited to announce that Janice Lobo Sapigao will be joining us as the new poetry editor for Angel City Review. We have been a big fan of her work for some time now, not just in writing but in the community as well, and  we are overjoyed to be able to work with her and are looking forward to seeing her mold the poetry section into her vision.

In addition to this great news submissions are now open and we are ready to start reading your work for issue 8. Read guidelines here Issue 7 was slightly delayed but will be coming out shortly.

Janice Lobo Sapigao is a daughter of immigrants from the Philippines. She was named one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s 2017 Bay Brilliant artists (formerly known as Women to Watch) by KQED Arts. She is the author of two books of poetry: Like a Solid to a Shadow (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2017) and microchips for millions (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2016) and three other chapbooks, one of which is forthcoming in 2019 from dancing girl press. She is a VONA/Voices and Kundiman Fellow, and the Associate Editor of TAYO Literary Magazine. She co-founded Sunday Jump open mic in Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown. She earned her M.F.A. in Writing from CalArts, and she has a B.A. in Ethnic Studies with Honors from UC San Diego. She teaches English full-time at San José City College.

Book Review

When People Die

by on May 15, 2018

When People Die by Thomas Moore

 

Review by Michael Browne

 

 

Exciting indie imprint Kiddiepunk have long been a purveyor of fringe / esoteric media and literature. Home to Dennis Cooper’s .gif novels, collage-like short films, and a bizarre reverb-drenched remix of Hanson’s debut album, Kiddiepunk’s multi-modal output is as hard to grasp as it is transgressive. The imprint’s latest release, a poetry collection titled When People Die by UK-based poet Thomas Moore, sees Moore retreading all the familiar melancholic beats of his previous works, while flirting with a disquieting brevity.

 

When People Die is a collection of confessional and fractured poems that spans three formal sections. Over these sections we are witness to more of the writer’s Genet-like fascination with the devious and emotionally void underbelly of human sexuality. In Moore’s world, sexual depravity reigns above all else, and his speaker is often left emotionally maimed or disoriented by his experiences. These stark and austere poems see the speaker blurring the lines of comprehension between love, lust, sex, and violence, and often all within the space of a line. Unlike similar writers that seem to take a certain kind of masochistic pleasure in writing from the gutter, one gets the sense that Moore truly writes from a place of sincere pain, emotional distress, and a graphically rendered despair.

 

Many of Moore’s poems find him striving to understand and compartmentalize his nebulous feelings of love, lust, and sexuality. The people that inhabit Moore’s world are often strung out and suicide prone, others float in and out, ambiguous and shadowy—barely existing on the page.

 

Your suicide keeps on getting postponed

Your friends say that it’s because you’re lazy

 

They want to talk about entitlement

 

Your friends are talking like you are not there

The sunglasses at night complement that

 

The inability to find tactile, lasting connections that go beyond a landscape of sadistic sexual rendezvous is something “When People Die”—and much of Moore’s work—seems to be preoccupied with. Lovers nihilistically connect over cruising apps and watch their connection ultimately drift, friends casually contemplate suicide, and regrets run deep.

The sound of the skateboarders
Outside the Palais de Tokyo
Sets my mind on a certain track


It’s these memories of teenage
Lives that I pretended were mine
While I lived one that was much less

 

The second section of the collection is devoted to what Moore has called his “Instagram Haikus.” These pieces work exceptionally hard and do well to convey the bleak nature of the collection—and because of their concision—offer up a heavy dose of claustrophobia. What Moore has done is craft eerily condensed and almost crystallized versions of the despair in the longer form poems, cutting them down to their void-like essence, creating a series of little deaths—Les petites morts.

 

The walls are pulsing

Haunting desires of strangers

Bodies start to merge

 

—-

 

Desperate for rope
I’m swinging from the ceiling
Death is hypnotic

 

Many of the Instagram Haikus appear like notes left behind on a lover’s nightstand, or cryptic DM’s sent in the middle of the night. All tinged with measured doses of ennui, regret, fleeting hope, and captured in a style that is more than apt for the 21st century.

 

The last section features the longest piece within the collection, and contains arguably the most compelling language and imagery. The narrator is woken from a dream to a phone call from an ex-lover or friend—the relationships between people are so vague and hallucinatory within Moore’s poetry that it’s hard to tell—and is recounted a nightmare featuring a dead young boy. What follows is a hazy chronicling of the emotional detritus of their relationship, and coupled with disturbing images of the boy that could easily be from a dream or reality.

 

…And my mouth
For a second looks
Like the fucked up
Mutilated kid’s corpse
And I’m screaming
At you
To put down this book
To stop reading these words…

 

Moore’s use of the dead boy’s mutilated body to describe the emotional turmoil of his relationship with his distressed friend works hauntingly well enough to avoid being heavy-handed or cliche. This falls in line perfectly with what Moore does so well throughout When People Die, which is his ability to describe such acute horror and apply it with such casual nihilistic flair to the unspoken emotions of his characters, rendering them mute and ineffective.

 

When People Die returns us to the literary transgressions of Genet, de Sade, Cooper, et al, but with a heightened sense of 21st century terror and ennui. Sexual nihilism and violence have been condensed into the spaces allotted for an Instagram caption, but the pain and emotional toll still loom large as ever. Moore has created another haunting collection, where suicide is always a viable option, sex is hell, and the void is perpetually gaping wide.

 

When People Die is available now from Kiddiepunk.

Book Review

A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed

by on July 18, 2017

A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed, by Anthony Seidman

 

I remember getting caught in a riptide off the beach in Rosarito, in Baja California. We’d been told from a young age to swim to the side to get out, but I was eleven and on my own and it’s rather difficult to be mindful of oft-repeated lessons when a column of water is dragging you out further than your pubescent courage has ever dared. I barely made it to the empty shore that afternoon, and I don’t remember much about the precious minutes I actually spent in the water. But I remember lying on the beach after. First on my side, dry heaving for a long time, then on my back, just beyond where the water could touch me. I laid there for a long time, realizing for the first time that almost dying wasn’t as cool as the movies made it seem. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t, and in my growing frustration (because how else does a young male mind process fear but through anger?), I sat up. Everything was the same as it had been a few minutes before: beautiful, inexorable, and enormous.

 

And now you have died. And the flow of grace along with you.

It is said God has never permitted what

burns brightly among mortals to sputter, and fade.

Because of that our hope endures.

 

Anthony Seidman’s A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed is a poetry collection unlike any I have encountered because of the physical impact and sheer power of the language. We writers should be reluctant to tap into clichés, but I feel no shame in describing this collection as beautifully and transcendently earthen. Reading “Field Trip” is like scraping fingertips against land shattered by drought. Reading “Urge” is like pressing your hands into the loose soil over a fresh grave. Reading “The Trilobite” reminds you of sand unevenly coating half your exhausted body. Most every line layers itself with weight, pressing down into the rest of the poem like sedimentary rock and calcifying its own significance. This is the kind of collection that truly lends itself to being read aloud, as each word and line fills the mouth with the sweetness of chocolate and the grit of long dried meat.

 

I cut all strings never attached, and say

goodbye to your gymnasiums and diners,

I foreclose on this scrap of light,

crumble your cathedral with a pinch of salt.

 

Part of the power at play here is that Seidman accomplishes what seems to be an increasingly difficult feat in contemporary literature – making poignant statements with subtlety, while not sacrificing impact. There is something here for anyone with a modicum of foresight or empathy, be you an environmentalist, a futuristic, a sociologist, or anything else. The poems comment on everything from immigration to religion to relationships to plate tectonics and they do so in ways that feel immediate and relatable. They do so in a manner that reminds you that our attempts to separate these allegedly unrelated ideas are ultimately arbitrary and futile. And yet each is treated with respect. Borders are not being torn down and spit on. They are acknowledged as the mental constructs they are. That said, the act of penetrating those borders is also acknowledged for its frightening power, without condoning or demonizing.

 

I step back & invite him in;

his fingers of vinegar stick thru

my chest, pickle this grisly heart so that

crows will caw at noon.

 

A Sleepless Man is a collection of poetry that you have to allow yourself to experience. I don’t mean that in the basic sense of simply reading. Anyone can do that. To experience this kind of poetry is to allow your mind to live the experience. You have to feel the centripetal force of swinging like a jug of water at the end of a rope so that you do not spill. You have to feel the ground envelope you as the red spider drags you down. This is perhaps the one way in which the collection is not traditionally accessible; it is a work that assumes you can and will wade into the water, that you will pick up the shovel and start to sweat. But to call this a flaw would be to suggest that the collection be something lesser than it is.

 

As a Mexican American, I do have to admit to some bias. Maybe I’m predisposed to enjoy hearing about the Desert Winds or the trees of the Yucatan from a poet who knows the land and knows what he is doing. But it’s hard to imagine a more “objective” perspective drawing a different conclusion. A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed is shaman’s invocation of the elements and the ancestors, seeking to commune with them to learn their wisdom and wield their power. It is a song that, despite fitting inside sixty pages, is part funeral dirge and part love ballad and part call to arms. I recommend it for anyone who feels as though the world can be aloof and uncaring. It will help you hear that your heartbeat, thundering after almost drowning, is in rhythm with everything else.

 

A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed is available through Eyewear Publishing

Book Review

Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems

by on August 23, 2016

diseno-de-tapa-kyn-taniya-print1Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems by Kyn Taniya

There is something to be said about the importance of translation in regards to literature. I would not have been able to experience the work of so many writers that I love and admire if it were not for the endeavor of translators. Sometimes, the translation is coupled with a work being re-issued after many years, shining light on authors that may not have had much exposure outside their language. Allowing the work to breathe new life and hopefully widen the reach of their powerful words. When I am handed a book of translation it is quite frequently an exciting moment. The gravity of the process that it took in order for the book to reach my hands does not fall lightly on me. This was especially true with the book Radio: Wireless Poem In Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems by Kyn Tania.

 

Originally published in Mexico in 1924, where it now considered a cult classic of the estridentista avant-garde movement, Radio has now been translated after 92 years for a new audience to experience. The first thing that strikes about this bi-lingual collection is the sheer modernity of the work. The poems in this short collection feel like they could have easily been composed today as they were in the early 1920’s.

 

Poems discussing wireless technology and celestial objects, making reference to radio waves, could be seamlessly interchanged to discussions of cell phones and Wi-Fi signals. An example of this is in the poem “Midnight Frolic”:

 

           Silence

Listen to the conversation of words

in the atmosphere.

 

There is an insupportable confusion of terrestrial voices

and of strange voices

faraway

 

The feeling of connection in these poems – that is hopeful in many ways – still bleed so beautifully into the feelings of unease that has only grown exponentially as technology has grown. Today the voices we hear are schizophrenic and never ending (unless you are lucky enough to pass through a data dead zone which is becoming more and more infrequent). The idea of broadcasting yourself out in the world is still such a novel idea today, one that I grapple with on frequent occasion. Because it is still so new, the rules and etiquette are ever changing, what may be socially acceptable one day may be strange another day. You just have to listen to the right voices.

 

The concepts and feelings in regards to technology are coupled with social unrest, political instability on a global level, and loss of loved ones to make poems whose words are cutting, sincere, and contemplative. In the poem “… IU IIIUUU IU …” (of which there is a great recording online of the poet reading it) we are presented with broadcasts of problems and occurrences around the world: Deaths in Chicago, unrest in Bagdad, sports heroes, and more all for sale to consumers at low prices. So quick and accessible it would be a shame not to take it all in.

 

When I read these poems I was given the realization of how much the world has really not changed. There have been advancements in technology that have pushed us closer together, closer to the stars, yet closer to oblivion; however the sentiment, the soul of what concerns us as human beings is still very much the same. The poems that live within this collection are fresh, and vibrant. Just as alive as when they were written.

 

Radio by Kyn Tania is available through Cardboard House Press

News

Issue One Preview: Poem by Keith Niles

by on February 26, 2015

All The Crap You Keep Inside Grows Sunflowers
By Keith Niles

All the crap you keep inside grows sunflowers and
bell peppers and opium poppies that brood in the
richest darkest loam for weeks and months in the
suppression of the sadness of your unfulfilled visions
before something gives way to the sun and the
heart blooms black and bursts forth with awful
truths. I’m afraid I may have a nervous breakdown
before long, the seeds are too strong and these
flowers are those no one wants to see, they bring
death to things and sadness to the land. I’m sad, I’m
sad, and I just really can’t say right now, you know,
the garden needs all the quiet it can get, the
garden has a need, it needs to grow.

News

by on January 31, 2015

There are many great literary events going on in and around LA if you know where to look. Our good friend D.M. Collins is hosting his literary salon “A Rrose in a Prose” at Stories bookstore in Echo Park on February 8th at 2pm. See the flyer below for more information and we hope to see you there.

Rose