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Audre Lorde’s “The Black Unicorn”

Audre Lorde’s “The Black Unicorn” addresses major themes of race, gender, sexuality, and politics. Her honest and compelling poems are often heartbreaking and speak strongly against racism and sexism in America. Much of her work incorporates African spiritual imagery and allusion which emphasize her sense of cultural and ethnic pride. However, despite the fact that her poetry deals with these larger themes, she does not abandon the personal. Many of her poems deal with failed romantic relationships as well as her interactions with her family, and more particularly with her mother.

The opening poem, which is the collection’s namesake, closes with “The black unicorn is restless / the black unicorn is unrelenting / the black unicorn is not / free.” This poem is a great beginning to the collection as it builds expectations for what the rest of the poetry will be about. The poem not only addresses race, but also confronts the fiery spirit of something uniquely beautiful which refuses to be held down despite its imprisonment – in essence, it addresses Lorde herself. It speaks against prejudice and stands for all of those who struggle against the mandates of a societal norm – women, African Americans, homosexuals – particularly as those mandates were enforced in the seventies, when Lorde wrote and published this book.

“The Black Unicorn” deals fairly prominently with Lorde’s search for identity in the midst of an oppressive environment. Her personal relationships as well as societal expectations confuse as well as push her to search for a peace of mind and a comfortable place in the world. Those of the poems which address her more personal emotions and experiences merge her relationships into the overall scope of other major issues. For instance, throughout many of the poems, she addresses or refers to her mother in a way that suggests longing and a need for direction. For example, in “From the House of Yemanjá,” Lorde says, “Mother I need / mother I need / mother I need your blackness now / as the august earth needs rain.” Here, she begs her mother to grant her some guidance in a world where she struggles to find strength in her own sense of blackness.

The final poem of the collection, “Solstice” concludes the collection as appropriately as “The Black Unicorn” opens it. Lorde writes:

May I never remember reasons

for my spirit’s safety

may I never forget

the warning of my woman’s flesh

weeping at the new moon

may I never lose

that terror

that keeps me brave

May I owe nothing

that I cannot repay.

In these final words, she brings many of the issues she has confronted throughout the poems to a poignant and self-determined resolution. She reconstructs the difficulties she has struggled against and instead seems to assert that her experiences have only made her stronger. With this as the closing poem, Lorde suggests optimism in the face of opposition and strength instead of weakness.

“The Black Unicorn” is an interesting and passionate read that I would suggest to anyone, but particularly to those who are interested in African or African American culture or in minority struggle and unification. Lorde’s address of sisterhood and feminine power is also particularly interesting (especially to my feminist-light soul) and empowering in the face of a patriarchal society.

– Chelsea

The Lyrics – Fanny Howe

The Lyrics is Fanny Howe’s 14th book of poetry.  She’s also a novelist, which comes across in her poetry; some of her poems appear to almost be incredibly condensed short stories.  The Lyrics is both culturally and politically conscious, without being transparent, or motivated by agenda.  The poems in general just seem to be seeking significance- in landscape, history, nature, the everyday…

As the title suggests, the book is a collection of sequence poems.  Some are religious in that they derive meaning from religious concepts or imagery and some are in communion with religion as history.

That gas lamp provides a silhouette.

History, there are no surprises coming from you.

From bodies, less than none.

She’s a moving poet with a genuine enthusiasm for the possibilities poetry offers to us.  Her subject matter varies, which refreshingly presents some of the poetic concerns mentioned above.

If you love lyric poetry, or experimented with sequential poetry, it would be safe to say that you will greatly appreciate Fanny Howe’s “The Lyrics.”

Blinking With Fists by Billy Corgan

Blinking With Fists- Billy Corgan.

A friend gave me a copy of Blinking with Fists after I graduated from high school. He was a staunch Pumpkins fan and I’ve scanned through it now and again finding some poems worthwhile and some poems that aren’t as worthwhile. Corgan has knack for ignoring our conventions of punctuation which doesn’t deter me but might deter others.

Corgan gets a lot of flak for trying his hand in poetry, my contemporaries make the argument that if he hadn’t been the Smashing Pumpkin’s front-man, this poetry book wouldn’t have ever been published and that’s true to an extent but it’s my opinion as far first poetry books go, this one isn’t that much worse than other first books. Corgan has been praised as a very intellectually methodic musician, and that comes through in his poetry. While he doesn’t focus on music, he does come back to it quite frequently;

his poetry’s subjects include: Greek mythology, music history, his personal trials growing up as a musician and his relationships with family members. Here’s an excert from one of his poems.

Blinking with Fists
(and other caterpillar tales)

I mix up unions in the offering

The hushed-up voices are here

But they are sated full

Waiting for the stumble

That must surely come

“this time,” he declares loudly

(anonymous town square)

“this time there will be no stumble”

Personally, I enjoyed his poems although his style leaves something to be desired, this is still an interesting departure from his music (which I like) this is just different. He gets a bum rap for getting a publishing deal just because he’s Billy Corgan. A lot of critics and writers are ready to condemn him off the bat. I’d say give him a shot, read some of his poems before you cast stones. The poems are pretty short for the most part so it wouldn’t take long and some of his images are very vivid in their originality. Give it a shot.

The River Runs Foul

The river runs foul

from the gates where my father once stood

down to the apple trees

from mirror to the gutter

we run streaks of stardust

and funny dumb dreams of shattered warmth

happiness is nothing but a smile

I detect her here in the warm night air

The river runs south

Thru ghettos and starched neighborhood squares

And everywhere the dogs howl

I don’t even trust the hum of my own voice here

My own impermanence haunts me

But this thought alone relieves the pressure

From the mirrors to the gutters done

Gutter tongued, my heart speaks to the silence in me

Let me walk alone, home

As the dead stoplights wave good night

—Sam

Ginsberg lovers will appreciate Jim Carroll’s “Life at the Movies”

           

             Jim Carroll’s “Life at the Movies” is a raw though excellently eloquent recount and embodiment of life in the city. In his poetry, he draws upon strong themes of love, sex, friendship, and drugs, as well as incorporates into it specifically urban elements such as city transportation and work in order to create an exciting and unique atmosphere for the reader.  His style is somewhat reminiscent of the Beat poets in its honesty and fervor, though his form alters from poem to poem.   

            Some of his most vibrant and interesting work comes through Carroll’s description of drug use and abuse.  In “Heroin,” he paints erratic and almost impulsive scenes to convey the effects of heroin on its user.  Further, he confuses the literality of the imagery in order to continue the feeling of disorientation with lines like, “I’m beginning to see those sounds / that I never even thought / I would hear” (19). 

            He also deals heavily with relationships in his work.  One of my favorite poems in the collection is called, “The Narrows”.  It discusses a sexual and otherwise intimate relationship that seems to be coming to a close, or at the very least seems to be suggesting the fear of an end.  Carroll’s beautiful imagery and metaphor paints the scene of two lovers who seem to be wary of an end.  The poem closes with:

 

I’d like to watch myself holding you

above the cool shore of something really vast

like a vast sea, or ocean.

and when I was through watching

I’d become someone else, seducing the heavy

waters, allowing nothing to change.

as the sands are changing and night comes

and we’re not aware of all this endlessness,

which is springing up like The Moonlight Sonata

ascending from the glare of a thousand frightened moans.  (4)

 

            As previously mentioned, Carroll’s style is often inconsistent.  His poems vary from free verse to couplets to prose poem to the innovative use of indentation, in order to convey meaning.  Often he employs ellipses and parentheses to suggest possible asides or to encourage the continuation of thought on a subject.  The poem that ends the collection, “An Apple at Dawn” uses all of these irregular rhetorical and grammatical and structural devices.  This poem also seems to tie together many of the themes that have been explored throughout the other pieces in the book.  Unfortunately, its conclusion leaves readers with a pessimistic sense of what life in the city can be like.  It ends:

 

            …these stringy clouds               look out Manhattan

 

                                    your prince’s sorrow

                       

                        might be back       again      tomorrow. (100)

 

            Jim Carroll’s collection, “Living at the Movies” is menacing, passionate, and often very true to life.  His view of the city dances between wild and exciting urban Holy Grail and desolate and bleak wasteland.  He explores both sides of the coin, so to speak, to allow the reader to catch a glimpse into his world of sex, drugs, and violence.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys edgy (and moderately controversial poetry), particularly anyone who enjoys Kerouac and Ginsberg.

 

Oh, as a side note – Jim Carroll also wrote “The Basketball Diaries,” which was made into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio if anyone is familiar with that.

 

-Chelsea

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

I recommend Mary Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems” to everyone. This book of poetry is absolutely amazing! I found myself completely absorbed in it and was unable to rip myself away. Her word choice, imagery, use of form, are only some of the things I have come to love about this poet. Her poems are so inviting and pleasurable to read, partly because of her unique way of expressing life and partly because of you wonderful use of form.

I was completely in awe of her use of form. Here are some of her poems that really impressed me:

“Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York, 1957”

Once, in summer,

in the blueberries,

I feel asleep, and woke

when a deer stumbled against me.

I guess

she was so busy with her own happiness

she had grown careless

and was just wandering along

listening

to the wind as she leaned down

to lip up the sweetness.

So, there we were

with nothing between us

but a few leaves, and the wind’s

glossy voice

shouting instructions.

The deer

backed away finally

and flung up her white tail

and went floating off toward the tress-

But the moment before she did that

was so wide and so deep

it has lasted to this day;

I have only to think of her-

the flower of her amazement

and the stalled breath of her curiosity,

and even the damp touch of her solicitude

before she took flight-

to be absent again from this world

and alive, again, in another,

for thirty years

sleepy and amazed,

rising out of the rough weeds,

listening and looking.

Beautiful girl,

where are you?

I love this poem. The form is so intriguing, but not only that, Oliver’s word choice is masterful! She describes this scene in such an amazing way. I was blown away by the simplistic beauty of this poem. It is so wonderful!! She surrounds this poem with such a layer of beauty and I could not take myself away from this experience. It was as if I way there meeting this deer also.

“Egrets”

Where the path closed

down and over,

through the scumbled leaves,

fallen branches,

through the knotted catbrier,

I kept going. Finally

I could not

save my arms

from the thorns; soon

the mosquitoes

smelled me, hot

and wounded, and came

wheeling and whining.

And that’s how I came

to the edge of the pond:

black and empty

except for a spindle

of bleached reeds

at the far shore

which, as I looked

wrinkled suddenly

into three egrets-

a shower

of white fire!

Even half-asleep they had

such faith in the world

that had made them-

tilting though the water,

unruffled, sure,

by the laws

of their faith not logic,

they opened their wings

softly and stepped

over every dark thing.

This poem is fabulous! The sound and word choice is beautiful, and the form adds so much to it.  Another poem that has great word choice is her poem August, in which she creates an amazing picture with her words:

(second stanza)

all day among the high

branches, reaching

my ripped arms, thinking

Her enjambment is terrific! I am constantly rereading these poems and finding myself more and more in love

with them. In her poem ” Robert Schumann,”New and Selected Poems Oliver’s enjambment is particularly stunning:

Hardly a day passes I don’t think of him

in the asylum: younger

than I am now, trudging the long road down

through madness toward death.

Everywhere in this world his music

explodes out of itself, as he

could not. And now I understand

something so frightening, and wonderful-

how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing

through crossroads, sticking

like lint to the familiar. So!

Hardly a day passes I don’t

think of him: nineteen, say, and it is

spring in Germany

and he has just met a girl named Clara.

He turns the corner,

he scrapes the dirt from his soles,

he runs up the dark staircase, humming.

There is so much voice and life in Oliver’s poems. I loved reading these poems out loud, and found myself stopping co-workings in order to read her poems to them and share the beauty of her work.  The rhythm of the poems are intoxicating. I found that after reading her works, I really wanted to challenge myself as a poet to use more voice, sound, and form. Each page of this book is overflowing with vividness and life. I have grown so much within my own poetry by following her example. If you are looking for a poet to read that you can really learn and grow from, Oliver is it!

~Jessica

Stanley Plumly

Stanley Plumly

Stanley Plumly

I recommend Stanley Plumley’s book of Poetry entitled “Old Hearts” to everyone. “Old Hearts” is a series of poems that deal with the relationships that build, and impact, our hearts. The poems are not arranged as if they go from childhood to adulthood, but as you read this book you will find that there are indeed one poem for each stage of maturity.  His poems play with the idea of how, at these different stages in our lives, our hearts perceive the events. He intertwines within these poems the beauty of nature, the ocean, and the mortality of life.  This book won an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in 2002, and they stated, ” This is Plumly’s finest book of poetry-sustained meditation on ‘old memory, old worry, old matter from the softest tissue deep.'” His poem “When He Fell Backwards into His Coffin” really shows this well:

The rumor, because we all want to die happy,

is that he was in the bath listening to Verdi.

Probably singing, too, or mouthing with the masters.

So it must have hit him hard, the surprise faster

than a fall on ice of the missed step off a sidewalk,

his mouth opened wide in order to talk

himself out of it. The truth is he was resting

on the edge of an empty tub, fully dressed,

every cell, body and soul, beginning to annul

every future cells. And whatever he was thinking, solo,

a cappella, he must have had a moment,

as memory voided him, that he remembered, as he’d told it,

how his mother held his head down in the bath

to tease or test him, or both.

Plumly is fascinating. He looks on the mortality of life and how our hearts change throughout the different patterns of life. He’s poems are a lot of fun to read as well. I really enjoyed reading his poems “Missing the Jays,” and “Still Missing The Jays.”

“Missing the Jays”

What’s missing, morning after morning,

are their shrill, swift barkings-down,

their shkrrring blue-flight strike alarms-

or later, from the thawing underbush,

the clicking metered phrases Emily

Dickinson calls civic in felicity.

Blue breaking the gray-white-black

of stillness, habits of silence-

what’s missing are their fierce

collective tempters.

And all of them,

not just one male militant inter-

changeable malcontent, one bluer

or louder, one stronger, one faster,

but all of them now missing as if they’d

dissappeared, their hectoring mob

predatory selves left to their cousins,

crows, their beauty to the cardinals,

brighter than blood in the veins

of red maples.

By spring the sky will darken

with all the usual birds lining the wires

and walls, driving theirs survival

(bird-in-the-hand-sized sparrows,

blackish English starlings, feral

mongrel doves), when what’ll be missing

in the corner of the eye the second

the head is turned is blue-jay blue-

and then the moment gone, and the jaaay

jaaay sound, like a jeer, gone with it.

This poem, and it’s companion poem (which you will have to read!) are beautifully written. I enjoyed them very much.

By Stanley Plumly

Old Heart: By Stanley Plumly

Once you start reading this book, you become enthralled with it and have a hard time putting it down.  He gives a wonderful voice to all of his poems.  Often it feels as if he is having a personal conversation with the reader, and he in spilling all of his deepest secrets. I hope you all enjoy this book and drink it up as much as I did!

~Jessica

Brad’s Poems

Sorry this post is late; I’m not quite satisfied with the revisions I made, but oh well.

“Graveyard”

She walks through the front gate silently,
shutting it with a loud click.
A flock of birds scatter.

A swing sags as it slowly rocks with the whistling wind,
causing the rusted chains to creak and break
along the interwoven links.

Hollow jewelry and action figures remain buried
beneath disparate mounds of pebbles.
She still can’t find the earring she lost.

The jack of hearts is stuck in a fence,
blurred from heavy rain showers.
The sole survivor of the fifty-two.

The cheap plastic slide strains
from prolonged exposure to the sun.
The bright yellow faded to brown.

She runs along the dirt track,
losing herself in the upheaved dust.
Her eyes water and burn.

The lush grass has given way to dry brown fields that
do not wave in the spring or glow in the summer.
Now only the weeds and gumballs remain.

“Ode to Calvin and Hobbes”

The aliens came
from a deep pocket of space
in a luminous ship
that never stood in one place.
It soared through the stars
and eclipsed the moon.
Earth knew they were near
and would come very soon.

They decided to land
out over the ocean
to no small amount
of earthling commotion.
A hatch slowly opened,
revealing their spy.
It was a glowing white orb
that blinked like an eye.

Immediately it began
an insane mission.
It flew through the sky
with wild ambition.
It silently traveled
to all inhabited places
in order to steal
everyone’s faces.

The earthlings were upset
at this bit of bad luck,
Every city and town
soon ran amuck.
Without any faces,
no one knew who was who.
They screamed, “Why us?”
No one knew what to do.

Another hatch opened up,
and the aliens said,
“You’re clearly upset,
but at least you aren’t dead.
We only traveled here
because we were bored.
Just be glad, for a moment,
you entertained our great lord.”

These are the only two I feel confident in putting up. Please cast your vote in the comment section.

Memoir of the Hawk, James Tate

If it is at all possible to be surreally realistic, then James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk is.  In “Beauty Prizes,” the speaker has a conversation with a parrot named Pascal he finds in his garden.  The bird then flies away and refuses to come back…

Was it something that I had said? I was

nibbling at the fruit salad and flapping my

arms and squawking. A tall, bony farmer in

overalls walked up my driveway and stared

at me. “That’s just what happened to my wife,”

he said. “You better stop that kind of be-

havior while you still can. Pascal’s too

pretty for this earth. That’s why I had to

let him go. Too damned pretty.”

You can never be sure with Tate of what is fact and what is fiction in his poems.  You then realize that it also doesn’t matter at all. The truth he derives from a combination of the two makes up for his seemingly unreliable narration.

All of his poems have a similar form, and almost all of them easily read as prose pieces.  Intentional, directed and often self-deprecating, Tate is always present in his work, either as speaker or relator. The poems never get consumed in metaphor; he is firmly in control of the sparse metaphor he does choose to employ.

Memoir of the Hawk would definitely appeal to anyone who appreciates prose poetry; Tate’s work is a perfect marriage of two formats that have more to say to eachother than we realize.

-Johannah

Review – Shadow of Heaven by Ellen Bryant Voigt

When Professor Emerson handed me this book, she said something along the lines of “This is one of my favorite books, but don’t feel obligated to love it.”  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me a little nervous!  I loan out books kto roommates and friends all the time, and I’m terrified that someone will not be as in love with a book as I am.  When I started reading Shadow of Heaven, I began with this trepidation, but as I got further and further into the collection, I knew why it is so loved.  Voigt combines the natrual with the human in these poems, filled with stunning images.  It is hard to pin down exactly where Voigt is writing from, but she is writing about a variety of topics, from her mother’s battle with cancer to poems written for her sister, featuring house cats of all things.

In the series of poems dedicated to her sister, Voigt’s poem, simply titled “8” is a perfect blend of the natural and the human.

The slim successive cars like vertebrae
trailing the primitive skull, the train pulls forward,
past other trains and disconnected engines, Janus-faced;
negotiates the network of spurs and switches,
a thicket of poles and wires, sheer brick canyons,
signal-flags of laundry; passes the cotton mill’s windows’
blind blue grid, and picks up speed downhill

as the late-model coupe turns left at the edge of town.
Windows open.  Maps unpleated across the dash.
Something loud, popular and brisk, on the radio.

Now solve for x: how long, midday, they’ll travel
neck and neck beside the broadening river….

The poem is an example of some of the lighter poems Voigt has written.  It is a brief scene, but written beautifully (with just  a little math thrown in.)

Another poem that I was particularly intrigued by was the poem “Lesson.”  It’s such a fascinating glimpse into the relationship Voigt had with her mother.

Whenever my mother, who taught
small children forty years,
asked a question, she
already knew the answer.
“Would you like to” meant
you would.  “Shall we” was
another, and “Don’t you think.”
As in, “Don’t you think
it’s time you cut your hair.”

So when, in the bare room,
in the strict bed, she said
“You want to see?” her hands
were busy at her neckline,
untying the robe, not looking
down at it, stitches
bristling where the breast
had been, but straight at me.

I did what I always did:
not weep – she never wept –
and make my face a kindly
white-washed wall, so she
could write, again, whatever
she wanted there.

I think these two poems show the dichotomy that is present in Voigt’s book very well.  There is a wealth of topics and emotions covered here, and I would certainly recommend this book; it is a beautiful and moving collection.

Review – The Clearing by Philip White

The Clearing, the winner of the Walt McDonald First Book prize, is a collection of poetry by Philip White, the majority of which were written to and about his recently deceased wife covering many topics, from the life they shared to the life he finds himself living now.  The way Philip White writes about grief is haunting and beautiful.  It is also disturbingly accessible.  I would not call the majority of these poems sad or tragic, but rather a meditative look at the way grief consumes life.  In his introduction to the book, Robert A Fink says the collection is “about this letting go, about the afterlife – not the life of the dead raised… but the life of the spouse who did not die and now must somehow go on livng….  The Clearing is not a book about dying…. It is a book about living.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Philip White, when he began writing these poems, had recently lost his wife to breast cancer and also his mother and father.  The reader is offered glimpses into the life that White and his wife had and also the life he leads now.  The poems frequently ask questions that have no answer, that everyone confronts at some point.

I was completely sold by the first poem, titled “Cricket.”

…Whose life is this?
And was it the dead who left it, or we?  We close
our eyes and someone vanishes, open them
and another life is there to be seen.

In the poem “They Rise,” White begins with “All things die… all things but grief.”  Philip White writes about this grief beautifully and unforgettably.  I highly recommend this book.

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