The Forgotten World by Nick Courtright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
*3.5 rounded up to 4*
The Forgotten World is not one journey, but two. The first is an international excursion, seen through the eyes of the poet; the second is a voyage through the mind of the poet himself. I will admit that at first, I wasn't feeling the travelogue style of the collection, not because I don't appreciate traveling to foreign places, but because I found myself wrestling with the lens through which these places were being presented.
It felt, at first, like Courtright was dancing precariously close to the fine line between self-awareness and navel-gazing. As a woman whose family hails from a nation that is treated like a playground for the white and wealthy, I've developed something of a low tolerance for the "punish me, I'm a white colonizer" trope. To quote the poet, "... I looked through the screen to see the screen I was seen through", and having lived my life on the objectified end of what is often referred to as the "white gaze", even the most compassionate of voyeurs is still a voyeur.
However, I am also a firm believer in allowing people to speak their truth, and there was a vulnerability in the fact that this is Courtright's own truth. How he feels about it isn't for me to judge, and there is a marked sincerity in his poetry that cannot be denied. Courtright is indeed very much so aware of himself as an individual and sees himself as a continuation of a heritage that has wrought much destruction across the world. He alludes to atrocities that span centuries and continents, and I have an appreciation for using art as a tool for expanding awareness.
What redeems Courtright and this collection of poetry is the fact that he doesn't stew indulgently in white guilt (thankfully), and instead makes peace with simply trying to be a better person and raise better people. He also contends with a number of other themes such as mental health, the tumultuous state of America, and his complicated relationship with religion. I particularly enjoyed Courtright's poems about love - love that is nearing its end, love that has gone up in flames, and the enduring kind of love that one pours into their children. In the end, these are the poems that won me over.
Thanks to Nick Courtright and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Don't Call Us Dead is a hauntingly beautiful collection of poetry that wrestles with themes of Blackness, police brutality, love, sexuality and HIV/AIDS. Danez Smith has curated a brilliant collection that boldly confronts what it means to be alive, what it means to die (or be killed), and what it means to exist in a perpetual state of being face-to-face with one's own mortality.
This is the kind of poetry that shakes you to your core, takes up residence in your bones and refuses to release its grip. You can't fake the kind of power that bursts forth from those pages. After almost every poem I had to pause, reflect, and remind myself to exhale the breath that'd found itself caught in my chest.
Let it be known; Danez Smith has RANGE. The poetry in this collection utilizes a variety of techniques that prove that Smith isn't simply a poet but also an ardent and astute student of poetry. Smith possesses and employs an arsenal of tools to hook you and carry you through a range of emotions, all the while laying bare the raw complexities of a particular, marginalized human existence.
This collection is a breathtaking, heartbreaking, soul-stirring experience. The poems were so riveting that I returned my library copy and purchased a copy to keep before I'd even gotten halfway through. The passion and vulnerability is raw and gripping; I knew almost instantly that this is a collection that I'll be coming back to again and again. I also quickly made sure to get my hands on some of Smith's other work. I am now an absolute fan, and I can only hope to one day be able to produce a collection as beautiful as this.
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The Craft of Poetry: A Primer in Verse by Lucy Newlyn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Who would've thought that this city girl would so deeply enjoy a book of pastoral poetry? This collection of poems is a clever work of art that also doubles as an educational tool for poets. Each poem illustrates a particular poetic foundation, figure, technique, form or concept. Rather than boring us with instructional explanations, Newlyn lets her poetry do the talking.
Bursting with vivid imagery, Newlyn's crafty poems serve as a hospitable guide, gently leading the reader through the landscape of her hometown village of Appersett. Newlyn shows us how one place can be seen and then re-seen and then seen all over again from a totally different perspective. Newlyn gave a grandiose life to a place that at first glance would seem small and mundane. There are many lessons between these pages, and they aren't all about how to craft a poem.
Even when I wasn't particularly too fond of a particular poem itself, I appreciated the poem's purpose, which forced me to give it a deeper look than I would've otherwise. I wanted to pick apart exactly what Newlyn was trying to illustrate. I enjoyed the many little "Ahh, I see what you did there!" moments.
Newlyn presents herself not just as teacher but also as mentor. I appreciated the not-so-subtle urgings to the reader to try their hand at certain techniques, to resist hesitation, and to just go ahead and write. By the end of this collection, I wanted to begin taking on the challenge of taking the new tools and techniques that I'd learned to create my own world, to tell my own story.
While I did appreciate the lead-by-example style of the book, I think I might have preferred if there were also brief descriptions for each particular tool. I think it would increase the accessibility of the book as it may not always be convenient to have to look up anything that isn't understood through the poem alone. There were definitely a few concepts that I had to google to better understand.
This collection was quite an undertaking, and it was beautifully, brilliantly done. I can absolutely see myself using it as a reference and a source of inspiration again and again.
Thanks to NetGalley and Lucy Newlyn for the ARC
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Vulnerable AF by Tarriona Ball
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Tarriona "Tank" Ball's debut poetry collection is a reflection on the heartbreak wrought by a past relationship. As the title suggests, Ball's writing is vulnerable; when she speaks to the former object of her affection, there are palpable flashes of anger, confusion, and pure resentment. She also paints a vivid picture of her former lover, presenting us with the bits and pieces of him that drew him to her in the first place, and which inevitably ended up breaking her heart.
The book's poetry is interspersed with "Tank's Story Time", short stories that seemed intended to give some context to the poems surrounding them. However, I could've done without them. I didn't find myself connecting with any of them in any meaningful way. The book also includes some cool illustrations, all of which I absolutely adored. I found myself spending time picking these images apart as if they were poems themselves.
Given her slam poetry background, it was also no surprise that some of the poems possessed rhythm that needed to be taken into account to get the full effect of the piece. One of them is "Adam", which I have to say is my personal favorite. I honestly would love the opportunity to see this one performed live.
Overall, there were a lot of good poems, many of which I feel would resonate quite a bit with someone who is still in the throes of their own painful heartbreak. Personally, I just didn't feel emotionally drawn into enough of the poems, and maybe I'm just not the intended audience. However, I do feel that this poetry collection would speak most deeply to those in the midst of a breakup or anyone still holding a flame for someone who refuses to love them back.
Thanks to NetGalley and Tarriona Ball for an advance copy of this book.
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