A hybrid collection comprised of short stories, flash fiction, and prose poems, the works in 57 Octaves Below Middle C enact the dilemma of self-forgetting. This book is for any reader who hears the states of dissonance that are disturbing and natural aspects of the human comedy.
A novel told in short stories, The Affliction is an astounding fiction debut by an award-winning poet full of memorable characters across America and the Caribbean. Young beautifully weaves together the elaborate stories of many while holding together a clear focus: people are not always as they seem.
David Dodd Lee Four Way Books, 2014 Library of Congress PS3562.E3383A6 2014 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Reading Animalities is like inhaling and exhaling innumerable versions of life—and like life, these poems embrace “carnage and joy”: “the sun on the horizon bleeding…/ where the loons swim in it by moonlight still laughing.” The curious juxtaposition of the familiar with the surreal—“the flaming peonies,” “black lemons floating on white water.”—contemplates the question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” PRAISE FOR DAVID DODD LEE “Highly dynamic, irreverent, subversive, and driven by a kinetic music that often breaks into riot…”–Nick Sturm, The Laurel Review “Obsessively, elegantly, poignantly, David Dodd Lee immerses himself in the mysterious intercourse of self and place.”—Franz Wright
Daniel Simko Four Way Books, 2009 Library of Congress PR9170.S563S56 2009 | Dewey Decimal 821.92
Poet and translator Daniel Simko emigrated with his parents to the U.S.A. and lived here until his death, aged 45, in 2004. Steeped in the traditions of European art, Simko remained reticent about publishing. Thanks to his literary executor, Carolyn Forché, this first collection, in the language Simko grew up into, showcases his gift for the unexpected, exact phrase. The Arrival maps a haunting choreography of travel, memory, and the body so gently you will feel you have been carrying this book around with you all along.
The Art of Fiction
Kevin Prufer Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3566.R814A89 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
An investigation, performed through storytelling, of the constructed beliefs of society and individuals
In this his eighth collection of poetry (and fifth with Four Way Books), Prufer’s career-spanning talent for estranging the familiar—and also for recording the unthinkable with eerie directness—recurs, enhanced and transformed by the collection’s meta-level attention to the role of fiction in our civic lives. Prufer describes, often through personae, a near future, tracing there the political gambit of Fake News and the role of the imagination in our self-understanding (whether it’s cogent or delusional). Via both satire and direct address (to the point of reader-squeamishness), Prufer aims to understand the ugly-casual atmosphere of our often racialized, pervasive distrust. The Art of Fiction fundamentally understands that fictions are deployed to divide us, and they work: they get under our skin. Prufer powerfully explores the roles of imagination and art in how we explain ourselves to ourselves.
Bastards of the Reagan Era
Reginald Dwayne Betts Four Way Books, 2015 Library of Congress PS3602.E8249B37 2015 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Bastards of the Reagan Era is a challenge, confronting realities that frame an America often made invisible. Within these poems, we see the city as distant lover, we hear “the sound that comes from all / the hurt & want that leads a man to turn his back to the world.” We see that and we see each reason why we return to what pains us.
Begging for It
Alex Dimitrov Four Way Books, 2013 Library of Congress PS3604.I4648B44 2013 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
In his debut collection of poems, Begging for It, Alex Dimitrov leads us through the streets, bridges, and bedrooms of New York City, sometimes as far away as Buenos Aires and Iceland, and as close as our own darkest corners. A Bulgarian immigrant, Dimitrov writes as both observer of and fervent participant in this “American Youth,” as his speakers navigate both the physical and emotional landscapes of desire, intimacy, and longing—whether for a friend, a lover, or a self, “Saint or stranger, I still recklessly seek you.”
Jeffrey Harrison Four Way Books, 2020 Library of Congress PS3558.A67133B48 2020 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
How does consciousness inhabit liminal spaces? In Jeffrey Harrison’s Between Lakes, the death of the speaker’s father places him in the ever-shifting zone between the living and the dead while also sending him back into his journey to manhood. Old arguments are reimagined: What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a participant in one’s life as well as a witness and recorder of the lives of others? The exploration of these questions leads to new discoveries, including the way time reshapes the vision of one’s life and alters relationships, remaking a shared history. Harrison refrains from explanation, instead offering detail after trustworthy detail—less to prove a case than to imagine a life true to the original. Whether observing nature with steadfast precision or sensing the presence of his absent father while doing chores, Harrison sings the songs of experience in late middle life.
The Bible of Dirty Jokes
Eileen Pollack Four Way Books, 2018 Library of Congress PS3566.O4795B53 2018 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
When Ketzel Weinrach’s beloved brother Potsie goes missing in Las Vegas, she not only must try to find him, she must confront her family’s shady history and their ties to the legendary Jewish mob, Murder, Inc., as well as her troubling relationship to her cousin Perry (who runs a strip club on the outskirts of Vegas), her long and apparently not-so-loving marriage to her recently departed husband Morty Tittelman (a self-styled professor of dirty jokes and erotic folklore), and her own failed career as a stand-up comic.
Lee Briccetti Four Way Books, 2018 Library of Congress PS3602.R49A6 2018 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
In Blue Guide, Lee Briccetti is as much archeologist as tour guide as she excavates the layers of her life and reassembles the shards into poems that are stunning in their lyric wisdom. She moves easily, albeit restlessly, between past and present and here and there, from the streets of ancient Rome to post-9/11 lower Manhattan, ultimately concluding that “The dead / always tell us live.” Through this journey, she constructs a new architecture of the soul that realizes “In this happiness we build each other—”
The Book of Ruin
Rigoberto González Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3557.O4695A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
These poems consider the history of the Americas and their uncertain future, particularly regarding the danger of climate change, and suggest a line from colonialism toward a shattering “Apocalipsixtlán.”
Can I Finish, Please?
Catherine Bowman Four Way Books, 2016 Library of Congress PS3552.O87555A6 2016 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Not-quite-woman, not-quite-man, not-quite-animal, not-quite-flower: the poems in Can I Finish, Please? are shape-shifting acts, lyric interruptions that crave and resist completion, where the mutable self and the world are made and unmade over and over. These poems explore hungers, from appetite to hedonistic consumption, from prayer to a yearning for generative resolution. An exiled couple remakes a ruined world out of buttons and string; tools give advice on love; a magic walking stick guides a speaker through haunted stone quarries; beds turn into musical instruments; a great antlered deer lives inside a locket; flowers transform into frogs, dogs, hobos in a lecherous garden that howls and laments on the violence we do to each other and the world. Pain and loss are recognized as necessary elements in the making of a self.
Days of Our Lives
Joan Aleshire Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3551.L34779A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Day of Our Lives is equal parts social history and memoir documenting the unraveling of a marriage against the backdrop of the shifting social mores of 1960s and ’70s America. Joan Aleshire’s speaker, a young wife, enters marriage gratefully, even eagerly, believing it to be “a long table / with friends crowding in, red wine / in tumblers.” Motherhood follows, but so do infidelities and reconciliation and ultimately divorce. With each hard knock, the speaker sheds a little more of her innocence as she gains awareness of her power as both a woman and a writer: “Coming home / late from a festival for women / where I’d said all the things / the audience liked, I slipped / into bed so flush with triumph / my husband recoiled from the heat.”
Jonathan Wells Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3623.E4695D43 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
In Debris Jonathan Wells is concerned by the tension between the internal world of the lyric and an external world of violence and intrusion. Following this conflict through poems of rumination, imagination and increasing threat, the book resolves in a eulogy that is simple and touching. In one of the opening poems, “Notes from the Invasion”, the speaker asserts, “The worst has happened. There is nothing/to imagine,”. The collection as a whole asks us to consider the questions: without imagination, what is left of the poem and the mind in a time of catastrophe? How are we to find peace? Experience love? Wells invites us to join him in the lyric’s journey, to shelter in reading, and to travel in the imagination in order to protect the self from danger and risk without denial.
Gregory Pardlo Four Way Books, 2014 Library of Congress PS3616.A737A6 2014 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
From Epicurus to Sam Cooke, the Daily News to Roots, Digest draws from the present and the past to form an intellectual, American identity. In poems that forge their own styles and strategies, we experience dialogues between the written word and other art forms. Within this dialogue we hear Ben Jonson, we meet police K-9s, and we find children negotiating a sense of the world through a father’s eyes and through their own.
Maya Phillips Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3616.H4626A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Maya Phillips’ stunning debut collection Erou borrows the framework of the traditional Greek epic to interrogate the inner workings of a present-day nuclear family and the role of a patriarch whose life, marriage, and death are imagined as a sort of hero’s journey. Her poems move seamlessly between the worlds of the living and the dead, between myth and reality in a journey that raises its own Homeric question: What is home and how do we locate our place within that home? These are poems of passion and compassion in their reconciliation with what cannot be changed—but can be understood—by those who have been left behind.
Andrea Cohen Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3603.O3415E94 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The poems in Everything, Andrea Cohen’s seventh collection, traffic in wonder and woe, in dialogue and interior speculation. Humor and gravity go hand in hand here. Cohen’s poems have the rueful irony of a stand-up comic playing to an empty room. But look around: there are wrecking balls, zebras, lovers, milk money. It’s a room to hang around in.
The Exit Coach
Megan Staffel Four Way Books, 2016 Library of Congress PS3569.T16A6 2016 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
How do we find the courage to change? In The Exit Coach, a collection of six stories and a novella, the characters arrive at an impasse that requires them to step out of the wreckage of their habituated lives. It is the entrance of an unexpected voice—a visitor from France, a retired talent scout, an invisible friend, a midnight phone call, or even a wild animal—that disrupts their patterns of behavior and illuminates the possibilities they’ve been blind to, pointing the way to an exit they’ve dreamt of, but lacked the courage to enter.
In his debut collection Fantasia for the Man in Blue, Tommye Blount orchestrates a chorus of distinct, unforgettable voices that speak to the experience of the black, queer body as a site of desire and violence. A black man’s late-night encounter with a police officer—the titular “man in blue”—becomes an extended meditation on a dangerous erotic fantasy. The late Luther Vandross, resurrected here in a suite of poems, addresses the contradiction between his public persona and a life spent largely in the closet: “It’s a calling, this hunger / to sing for a love I’m too ashamed to want for myself.” In “Aaron McKinney Cleans His Magnum,” the convicted killer imagines the barrel of the gun he used to bludgeon Matthew Shepard as an “infant’s small mouth” as well as the “sad calculator” that was “built to subtract from and divide a town.” In these and other poems, Blount viscerally captures the experience of the “other” and locates us squarely within these personae.
Furs Not Mine
Andrea Cohen Four Way Books, 2015 Library of Congress PS3603.O3415F88 2015 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The poems in Furs Not Mine display Andrea Cohen’s masterful craft and lyricism and her keen wit. In Cohen’s elegiac shoals, we see how “Great griefs are antidotes / for lesser sorrows,” and in her strange, surprising narratives, we glimpse a man darting into traffic for a hubcap, “meaning to build his dream / vehicle from scrap.” These poems, too, have the feel of dreamy constructions, in which bliss “from a distance, can look like pain.” That’s the magic of this collection: it holds loss and promise in the same image—sometimes even the same word.
The Glimmering Room
Cynthia Cruz Four Way Books, 2012 Library of Congress PS3603.R893G58 2012 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Fierce and fearless, The Glimmering Room beckons readers down into the young speaker’s dark underworld, and because we are seduced by Cruz’s startling imagery and language rich with “Death’s outrageous music,” we follow willingly. Peopled with “ambassadors from the Netherworld”—the orphaned and abused, the lost and addicted—Cruz leads us through this “traveling minstrel show / Called girlhood—” which is at once tragic and magical.
Guidebooks for the Dead
Cynthia Cruz Four Way Books, 2020 Library of Congress PS3603.R893A6 2020 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
In Guidebooks for the Dead, Cynthia Cruz returns to a familiar literary landscape in which a cast of extraordinary women struggle to create amidst violence, addiction and poverty. For Marguerite Duras, evoked here in a collage of poems, the process of renaming herself is a “Quiet death,” a renewal she envisions as vital to her evolution. In “Duras (The Flock),” she is “high priestess” to an imagined assemblage of women writers for whom the word is sustenance and weapon, “tiny pills or bullets, each one packed with memory, packed with a multitude of meaning.” Joining them is the book’s speaker, an “I” who steps forward to declare her rightful place among “these ladies with smeared lipstick and torn hosiery. . . this parade of wrong voices.” Guidebooks for the Dead is both homage to these women and a manifesto for how to survive in a world that seeks to silence those who resist.
Tina Chang Four Way Books, 2004 Library of Congress PS3603.H3574H35 2004 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Tina Chang’s poems address the problems of family and heritage, initially inhabiting formally patterned stanzas that mimic the boundaries and bonds that are her subject, and then opening into free(-er) verse as the collection progresses and tries to break out of what has been imposed--both narratively and technically. These are passionate and accessible poems, simple in diction and declaration, elegant in image and syntax.
Sydney Lea Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3562.E16A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
In his thirteenth book of poetry, Sydney Lea gives voice to the deep connection between human life and the natural world as well as their fragility and transience. Here, nature is as much a muse as a trigger for sense memory—as a schoolboy on a playground “breathing in autumn mud, / that cherished aroma” or as witness to a redtail hawk’s attack and the aftermath during which “That poor doomed duckling’s wisps of down / Floated in air like snowflakes, /Diaphanous.” Death is a constant presence in these poems, too, arising from the bittersweet awareness of what eventually will be lost. While there is reckoning, there are few regrets in a life well-lived and closely observed. Here is a title, but it’s also a statement, an incantation and affirmation: “Let’s chant it throughout the year,” Lea writes, “like so much birdsong: we’re here we’re here we’re here.”
How the End Begins
Cynthia Cruz Four Way Books, 2016 Library of Congress PS3603.R893A6 2016 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
How the End Begins juxtaposes the world’s seductions and incessant clamoring for more with the invisible world: the quiet, the call of the desert, and the pull to faith. The book chronicles this move toward faith and away from the “dingen” (things or stuff). Within the worlds of these poems are Orthodox monks, Emily Dickinson, anorexic patients inside a hospital ward, Larry Levis, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, Captain Beefheart, Henry Darger, Jean Genet, Goya, Karen Carpenter, Joan of Arc, and, of course, God. How the End Begins is a burning down, a kind of end of the world while, at the same time, a new, triumphant beginning.
In a bizarre love triangle, a man becomes increasingly desperate for the attention of a woman obsessed with her little dog. A hapless unromantic develops an algorithm to help him succeed at dating. And a divorcee becomes consumed with jealousy when a man she likes begins to date her 60 year old mother. In these tales of love pursued, yet rarely caught, characters find themselves tripping, sometimes painfully, sometimes hilariously, toward self-revelation. Here is life in all of its clumsiness, humor, and beauty.
Arielle Greenberg’s I Live in the Country & other dirty poems exploits and undoes the stereotype of the “wholesome country life.” Here, the speaker moves to the country (“where the animals are”) in order to live a whole life, one in which she can live honestly and openly in a nonmonogamous marriage. Her book is a visceral, erotic celebration of the cornucopia of sexual pleasures to be had in that rural life—in the muck of a pasture in spring or behind the bins of whole-wheat pastry flour at the local co-op. Greenberg hauls out what has previously been stored under dark counters and labeled deviant—kink, fetish, and bondage—and moves it into the sunshine of sex-positivity and mutual consent. In doing so, she forges new literary territory—a feminist re-visioning of the Romantic pastoral poems of seduction. “I am trying to turn my eye toward joy,” she writes. “My heart toward bliss.”
A close look at the rigors of our current cultural moment, In an Invisible Glass Case Which Is Also a Frame offers readers a way to navigate vital questions: what does it mean to be “secure”? How do we make art amid complexity? In Guez’s debut, readers will witness realities of income inequality, climate change, and the opioid epidemic alongside a series of reliable antidotes: art, music, humor, and love. “Have we made it across the vast plain of night?” asks one poem. No, not quite. There is more night, but there is singing, too. Rich in its sophisticated engagement of a “still life” series, dilemmas large and small, political and personal, are treated with generosity, curiosity, and a precise investigation of the heart.
This collection consists at its core of a sequence of poems that speak to the loss of the writer’s brother to suicide. These poems stun us by their restraint and simplicity, and by their astonishment that this life, so important to so many, could be extinguished in such a manner. Harrison’s poems are impeccably crafted and move through narrative seamlessly—dry, naive, vulnerable, always accessible.
John Murillo’s second book is a reflective look at the legacy of institutional, accepted violence against Blacks and Latinos and the personal and societal wreckage wrought by long histories of subjugation. A sparrow trapped in a car window evokes a mother battered by a father’s fists; a workout at an iron gym recalls a long-ago mentor who pushed the speaker “to become something unbreakable.” The presence of these and poetic forbears—Gil Scott-Heron, Yusef Komunyakaa—provide a context for strength in the face of danger and anger. At the heart of the book is a sonnet crown triggered by the shooting deaths of three Brooklyn men that becomes an extended meditation on the history of racial injustice and the notion of payback as a form of justice.
The Land of the Dead Is Open for Business is an extended elegy for Jacob Strautmann’s home state of West Virginia and its generations of inhabitants sold out by the false promise of the American Dream. Throughout the book, voices rise up from the page to describe a landscape eroded and plundered by runaway capitalism—its mountain tops leveled by the extractive industries, its waters polluted by runoff from mines—and the fallout from that waste. Those who remain are consigned to life in a ravaged land denuded of nature where birds die and “Sheep / birth limp two-headed things and some / that speak like men if they speak at all.”
Let It Be Broke
Ed Pavlic Four Way Books, 2020 Library of Congress PS3616.A9575A6 2020 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The poems in Ed Pavlić’s Let It Be Broke are ignited by sonic memories—from Chaka Khan on the radio to his teenaged daughter singing “Stay” at a local café—that spark a journey into personal and ontological questions. Pavlić’s lyric lines are equal parts introspection and inter-spection, a term he coins for the shared rumination that encourages some collective deep thinking about the arbitrary boundaries that perpetuate racial and geographic segregation and the power of words to transcend those differences. In an epiphanic moment, Pavlić recalls a quote shared by a former teacher as “a hammer made of written words,” and how he held “onto those words / as if they were steel bars and I was dangling over some bright black deepness.”
Paul Otremba Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3615.T74A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The poems in Paul Otremba’s Levee explore the intersection between the ecological, the political, and the personal in a world built on oil and greed. The city of Houston is at once backdrop and metaphor for the ways in which violence—both natural and manmade—have become part and parcel of twenty-first century life. “It’s a luxury to be this calm,” Otremba writes in the opening poem, a held-breath between the disastrous effects of hurricanes and cancer. Yet Otremba’s exquisite lines manage to wrest meaning from the devastation wrought by both global warming and a terminal illness: “If there is a lesson / on how not to worry, it’s that you’re not stuck only being one thing, /the multitudes in me and the multitudes in you.”
The Life Assignment
Ricardo Alberto Maldonado Four Way Books, 2020 Library of Congress PS3613.A435223L54 2020 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The speaker of the poems in The Life Assignment is reviewing his history. As if sorting through a box of photographs, the speaker sorts through relationships, trying to discern what was healthy from what was exploitative. Concepts of love are turned over and over in these poems: romantic love, love of family, love of country, self-love (or lack thereof). Often the speaker finds that what at first appeared to be caring, was insincere all along. When tenderness is in short supply, how can one protect himself? How can one find home? In his debut collection, Ricardo Alberto Maldonado bends poems through bilingual lyrics that present spartan observation as evidence for its exacting verdict: “We never leave when life is elsewhere. The clemency of men disappears / as does the light, tarring the roofs.” An electric debut collection.
Lighting the Shadow
Rachel Eliza Griffiths Four Way Books, 2015 Library of Congress PS3607.R5494A6 2015 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Lighting the Shadow is about a woman’s evolving journey through desire, grief, trauma, and the peculiar historical American psyche of desire and violence. These poems explore the international and psychological wars women survive—wars inflicted through various mediums that employ art, race, and literature. Furthermore, the collection is about a woman’s transformation and acceptance of her complicated attempts to balance her spirit’s own spectrum. Pulling the poet away from death, these poems insist that she open her life to her own powers and the powers of a greater world—a world that is both bright and dark.
Listen & Other Stories
Liam Callanan Four Way Books, 2015 Library of Congress PS3603.A445A6 2015 | Dewey Decimal 813.6
Listen is a book where characters ask readers to do just that: listen to their stories, especially because many aren’t the type of people who often get listened to—even though they should. These characters’ trials, missed connections, and sundry challenges are full of surprises—some good, some bad, some funny, some wise, and some all this at once. Perhaps most surprising of all, there’s tenderness here and a lot of heart—which often gets the collection’s characters into a lot of trouble.
The Little Book of Guesses takes place in a 21st-century world where we’ve “accustomed ourselves to our customized dogs” and “honed the idea of ideas there in the obstacle race / that’ll never catch up.” But while it’s a world we’re not unfamiliar with—“in the New Age tourism is the answer”—Gallaher’s turn of speech is at once unique and exact, making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. Serving as our escort through scenes including “The War President’s Afternoon Tea” and “A Moment in the Market of Moments,” Gallaher offers us several guidebooks: “to the Afterlife,” “to When Things Were Better,” and a “Pocket Guide to Some Foreign Country.” Even as these poems guess, they are confident in the form and lyricism. Abundant with comedy, they contain more than a dose of irony and cynicism, and still find room for the quiet anger of frustration, of knowing that what seems most surreal about this world often turns out to be reality itself.
Melanie S. Hatter Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3608.A8656M35 2019 | Dewey Decimal 813.6
Hatter’s artful, moving novel looks closely at the murder of a young black woman and her family’s devastation. Old—and new—questions about race and civil rights in 21st Century America arise alongside the unfolding story of Malawi and those who live in the wake of her loss.
The Meaning of If
Patrick Lawler Four Way Books, 2014 Library of Congress PS3562.A867M43 2014 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
“You just have to admire all the possibilities,” says one character in Patrick Lawler’s short story collection, The Meaning of If—a sentence that encapsulates the myriad of “if’s” explored in these pages. At times surreal and yet so realistic, we hear each “muffled whisper,” we see each “muddy photograph,” we know each “secret life,” as if it were our own. These are familial stories of transition and transformation—both mental and physical—that consider the question “What if?”
This is the “Age of the Bullet,” Matthew Lippman writes in Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful, days in which “bullets sprout other bullets in the bullet garden” and a caricature of a onesie-wearing president sucking on a pacifier appears on the cover of a national magazine. Lippman’s poems are wildly inventive yet grounded in the 21st-century dailyness of parenting and dinner parties and Dunkin Donuts, all of which serve as launch pads into perennial questions of mercy and trust. “I don’t care what you say about this city,” Lippman writes in the title poem whose images recall New York City in the days following 9/11: “We sit down together on the sidewalk / and we hold one another.” These are brash, beautiful poems, big-hearted in their tilt toward sentimentality and their yearning for something more, something better.
Karen Brennan Four Way Books, 2016 Library of Congress PS3552.R378A6 2016 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Literal as well as metaphorical monsters inhabit this book of 38 innovative fictions. Here the reader will encounter not only zombies and ghosts, but a lyrical dream braided into a brutal and sorrowful real world. Monsters’ vision embodies the heartbreakingly private and depressingly public—and the funny flipside of it all.
Daniel Tobin Four Way Books, 2005 Library of Congress PS3570.O289N37 2005 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Coming of age in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge, these poems explore what it is to be an Irish American Catholic; a dutiful son of hard drinking, sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic parents; a son of Brooklyn; and, too, deeply rooted to the country of his ancestors, Ireland. Dark, funny, and sometimes troubling, these poems, always accessible, track a life well lived and felt.
In The Newest Employee of the Museum of Ruin, poet Charlie Clark interrogates masculinity, the pastoral, the lasting inheritance of one’s lineage, and the mysterious every day. His speaker, ever aware of impending ruin, experiences a landscape colored by anxiety. But his speaker is also self-aware, curious and trying to refrain from too much self-judgement: “I am sorry / for this cruel wish, but I want my life to outlast / bitterness.” The speaker turns over and over the materials of culture, asking what pleasure it creates, replicates, diminishes, or destroys. When the tension runs too high, the poet creates moments of relief: “Suffering is not a philosophy any more than rain is.” Readers follow a speaker searching for ways to enjoy living within a damaged and declining world. Rich in image and wide-eyed, the beautiful, the plain, the ugly coexist in a debut collection 15 years in the making.
Andrea Cohen Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3603.O3415A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The poems in Andrea Cohen’s Nightshade, her sixth full-length collection, are constructed from the wisdom of loss—of lovers and loved ones and a world gone awry. Cohen builds a short poem the way a master carpenter does a tiny house, in lines that are both economic and precise, with room enough for sorrow and wit to exist comfortably in their spaces. The great pleasure in reading these poems is their surprise in the way the endings arrive again and again in startling truths: The bride whose dress is sewn “from a hundred/tattered flags/of surrender” and the ever-present reminder of the title poem that the things of this world are both “poison and . . . balms” that “We /call . . . bitter- / sweet––what / living isn’t?”
Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin reflects on the ways love and sex can ruin us—our bodies, our contentment, our sense of self—but can also grant us an almost spiritual knowledge of the human. Structured around the life of a central speaker born into a world where love is a fever, a sickness, Donnelly’s masterful volume moves through deserted New England mill towns, the sexual abandon of the 1980s gay demimonde, and (in several translations) medieval imperial Japan, searching out the spirit that survives ruin.
Of Gods & Strangers
Tina Chang Four Way Books, 2011 Library of Congress PS3603.H3574O4 2011 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
A meditation on history and the imagination that bears witness to acts of genocide and to natural disasters in Ethiopia, Haiti, and Sri Lanka, Of Gods & Strangers interweaves lyrical, arresting accounts of our contemporary world with stories of “Empress Dowager” Tzu Hsi, last empress of China (1861-1908). An urgent reminder that poetry can offer us a social consciousness—“in my locked mouth an urge”—Of Gods & Strangers deftly traces the human dimensions of the “great modern machine,” looking to recover the present and its people through the past’s “faulty memory.”
Jen Levitt Four Way Books, 2016 Library of Congress PS3612.E9345A6 2016 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The poems in The Off-Season are populated with things—'90s TV shows, mixtapes, crosstown buses, winter beaches—signifiers that trace a trajectory from girlhood to adulthood and bring to the surface feelings and desires that ordinarily stay hidden. We witness the strangeness of modern life, relive our own adolescent awkwardness and listen in on conversations with dead poets, TV characters, family members and intimates. With humor, fierceness and generosity, The Off-Season grapples with the question of how to be in the world.
The Plath Cabinet
Catherine Bowman Four Way Books, 2009 Library of Congress PS3552.O87555P63 2009 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Part homage, part exploration, The Plath Cabinet offers a new window onto Sylvia Plath’s world, from her hand-made dolls and her passport to a preserved lock of her hair. The Plath Cabinet is not simply an unparalleled biography: it is a memoir in poems, telling the story of Bowman’s relationship to Plath and to poetry. The Plath Cabinet is a must-read for Plath-lovers, for anyone interested in memoir and biography, and for all readers of contemporary poetry.
Please Bury Me in This
Allison Benis White Four Way Books, 2017 Library of Congress PS3623.H569A6 2017 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The speaker in Please Bury Me in This grieves the death of her father and the loss of several women to suicide while contemplating her own death and the nature of language as a means of human connection that transcends our temporal lives. This book is also concerned with the intergenerational trauma of the children of Holocaust survivors.
C. Dale Young Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3625.O96P76 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
An unflinching reckoning with the traumas of one’s life and those inherited through a history of exacted injustices
“Some men find nothing, and others / find omens everywhere,” writes C. Dale Young in Prometeo, a collection whose speaker is a proverbial “child of fire.” In poems that thrive off of their distinct voice, the speaker confronts generational and lived trauma and their relationship to his multi-ethnicity. We are presented with the idea of the past’s burial in the body and its constellatory manifestations—both in the speaker and those around him—in disease and pain, but also in strength and a capacity for intimacy with others and nature. Grounded in precise language, Young’s examination of the past and its injuries turns into a celebration of the self. In stark, exuberant relief, the speaker proclaims “…I was splendidly blended, genetically engineered / for survival.” Resilient, Young’s poems find beauty in landscape, science, and meditation.
Abigail Wender Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3623.E533R45 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
An introspective lyric on how the opiate crisis alters families and futures
In her debut collection, Reliquary, Abigail Wender addresses losing a brother to prison and, ultimately, opiate addiction. The text also considers womanhood, motherhood, and marriage in lyric poems that confront the complicated nature of grief, the effects of illness on family, and how love—even bliss—figure into grief’s equation. The collection suspends time, as the speaker weaves between flashbacks and the present, assembling fragments and vignettes of her childhood and marriage. In the book’s moments of solace and interiority, such as in the poem, “Hiking,” Wender contemplates how to hold on and to what. In this particular poem’s reflection on forgiveness, the speaker asks “Are there words for us, / high on an uppermost branch?,” and the collection responds with a resounding yes.
Reginald Gibbons Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3557.I1392R46 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
An energetic exploration of the expanse of language translated and otherwise transformed
In Renditions Reginald Gibbons conducts an ensemble of poetic voices, using the works of a varied, international selection of writers as departure points for his translations and transformations. The collection poses the idea that all writing is, at least abstractly, an act of translation, whether said act “translates” observation into word or moves ideas from one language to another. Through these acts of transformation, Gibbons infuses the English language with stylistic aspects of other languages and poetic traditions. The resulting poems are imbued with a sense of homage that allows us to respectfully reimagine the borders of language and revel in the fellowship of idea sharing. In this tragicomedy of the human experience and investigation of humanity’s effects, Gibbons identifies the “shared underthoughts that we can (all) sense:” desire, love, pain, and fervor.
Brian Komei Dempster Four Way Books, 2020 Library of Congress PS3604.E4755S45 2020 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Seize, Brian Komei Dempster’s follow-up to Topaz, spares no one the highs and lows of fatherhood. The speaker struggles to care for his young and ailing child — a child whose many medical problems create an obstacle course of moral and emotional dilemmas. How does a father come to terms with the large and unknowable mysteries of a child who cannot communicate in a “normative” way? How does a parent — especially one who is dependent on language — guide a child without the use of speech? And how does one become the parent of another when their own uncertainties, their own wounds — intergenerationally from war, from strained race relations, from constantly being denied a place to belong — are still healing?
Sarah Manguso Four Way Books, 2006 Library of Congress PS3613.A54S57 2006 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
“This book is for those of us who want to read more poetry but are frequently stopped by its--what is it? Its chilly self-seriousness? Its unwillingness to hold our hand every so often, while cracking an easy joke? Either way, Sarah Manguso, like her spiritual siblings David Berman and Tony Hoagland, is a friendly kind of savior and guide. Her writing is gorgeous and cerebral (imagine Anne Carson) but she doesn't skimp on the wit (imagine Anne Carson's ne'er-do-well niece). Poetry-fearers, don't back away from this beautiful book; these might be the pages that bring you back into the form.” --Dave Eggers
Small Porcelain Head
Allison Benis White Four Way Books, 2013 Library of Congress PS3623.H569S63 2013 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Out of an urgent need to grasp what it means to lose a loved one to suicide, these poems fixate on the physical as a means of exploring the intangible—though paradoxically palpable—emotion of grief. Small Porcelain Head metaphorically explores the stark stillness of loss through the inanimate quality of dolls and revisits lines from a suicide note as a means of final “conversation.”
Sweetgum & Lightning
Rodney Terich Leonard Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3612.E5744S94 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
An intersection of jazz and the written word: poems to be experienced and felt
Sweetgum & Lightning lets us into an extraordinary poetic universe, shaped by a vernacular rooted in the language of self, one’s origins, and music. In poems that are deeply sensual in nature, Rodney Terich Leonard considers gender and sexuality, art, poverty, and community. Imagery expands through unexpected lexical associations and rumination on the function of language; words take on new meaning and specificity, and the music of language becomes tantamount to the denotations of words themselves. Through extensive webs of connotation, Leonard’s narratives achieve a sense of accuracy and intimacy. The nuanced lens of these poems is indicative of the honesty of expression at work in the collection—one that affirms the essentiality of perception to living and memory.
The Taxidermist's Cut
Rajiv Mohabir Four Way Books, 2016 Library of Congress PS3613.O376A6 2016 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The Taxidermist’s Cut is a collection that centers the pressures of being a queer brown youth awakening sexually in a racist, anti-immigrant matrix. As an Indo-Caribbean, the queer-countried speaker is illegible as an “Indian” as well as an “American.” Haunted by his migration narrative, the speaker tries to make himself fit into his environment by sloughing off his skin and stretching new ones over his body. At stake here is surviving a palimpsest of violence: violences enacted upon the speaker and violences the speaker enacts upon himself through cutting. Mohabir engages with the body and the land as a series of incisions and overlays to cover the damage of memory of a South Asian brown body dealing with aggressions and joys. This is a collection of twisted love stories-as-slits that exposes the meat and bone of trauma and relief. Drawing from outside source texts such as animal tracking guides and taxidermy manuals, these poems attempt to show the process of how to survive being erased on all fronts.
Threat Come Close
Aaron Ross Coleman Four Way Books, 2018 Library of Congress PS3603.O4324A6 2018 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
In his debut collection, Aaron Coleman writes an American anthem for the 21st century, a full-throated lyric composed of pain, faith, lust and vulnerability. Coleman’s poems comment on and interrogate the meaning of home and identity for a black man in America, past and present. Guided by a belief system comprising an eclectic array of invented saints—Trigger, Seduction, Doubt and Who—Coleman’s quest finds answers in the natural world where “[t]he trees teach me how to break and keep on living.”
Paul Lisicky Four Way Books, 2012 Library of Congress PS3562.I773U53 2012 | Dewey Decimal 818.5403
The many subjects of the individual short fiction pieces within Unbuilt Projects intersect God, sex, family, childhood, and adulthood. Fluctuating between descriptions of the exterior world and the speaker’s interior world, these stories are at once lyric and narrative, funny and heartbreaking, beautifully rich and stark. Here the subjective collides with the objective. These short, compelling stories show Lisicky at the top of his form.
Up Jump the Boogie
John Murillo Four Way Books, 2020 Library of Congress PS3613.U6945A6 2020 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Poetry. African American Studies. Latino/Latina Studies. "Up jumps the boogie. That's almost all one needs to say. Murillo is headbreakingly brilliant. I didn't have a favorite poet for this year: Now I do. But with this kind of verve and intelligence and ferocity Murillo just might be a favorite for many years to come."—Junot Díaz
"The feel of now lives in John Murillo's UP JUMP THE BOOGIE, but it's tempered by bows to the tradition of soulful music and oral poetry. The lived dimensions embodied in this collection say that here's an earned street knowledge and a measured intellectual inquiry that dare to live side by side, in one unique voice. The pages of UP JUMP THE BOOGIE breathe and sing; the tributes and cultural nods are heartfelt, and in these honest poems no one gets off the hook."—Yusef Komunyakaa
Sara London Four Way Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3562.O48815A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
The poems in Sara London’s Upkeep offer a guidebook for both coping with and negotiating the difficult terrain of life after great personal loss. In the book’s opening section, the speaker explains to a Martian the ways we earthlings attempt to raise our dead—“you’ll find that with dreams // we exhume our dead without the mess /of upturned dirt”—and later finds comfort in objects that connect her to her late Mr. Fix-It father. These are elegies whose solemnity has been upended by humor and the nuanced interrogations of the daily rituals that heal us. “How do you / do it, start the experiment— / gas up, each day, anew?” she asks. Oatmeal and duct tape help, London suggests, but ultimately the heart decides: The “old tubes, they play on.”
Glen Pourciau Four Way Books, 2017 Library of Congress PS3616.O868A6 2017 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
These new stories from Iowa Short Fiction Award–winner Pourciau reveal the day-to-day drama of various characters through their interior monologues. As readers become engaged in a character’s viewpoint and voice, they may begin to see the story from a different perspective than the narrator’s. The ground shifts as the reader questions the reliability of the narrator’s single point of view.
The characters inhabiting Susan Buttenwieser’s debut story collection We Were Lucky with the Rain stand at the margin of society, often perched on the knife’s edge of economic disaster. Her characters cope with emotional and physical isolation as they try to build, keep, or renew family structures. An older brother drops out of college and tries to keep his youngest sister from ending up like the rest of the family. A father shields his daughters from their mother’s erratic behavior, while his daughters struggle to understand their anxiety and anger. An uncle copes with his helplessness to protect his nephew. No quick fixes, no miracle cures await the people within these stories. This is fiction devoted to realism. And Buttenwieser’s compassionate narrators refuses to look away during their most vulnerable trials. A remarkable debut collection.
Allison Benis White Four Way Books, 2020 Library of Congress PS3602.E66346A6 2020 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
“Because it is easier to miss a stranger / with your mother’s name,” Allison Benis White instead writes about five women named Wendy as a way into the complex grief that still lingers after the death of a sixth Wendy, the author’s long-absent mother. A series of epistolary poems addressed to Wendy O. Williams becomes an occasion for the speaker to eulogize as well as reflect on the singer’s life and eventual suicide: “What kind of love is death, I’m asking?” In the section devoted to Wendy Torrance, the fictional wife from The Shining who was bludgeoned by her husband, the speaker muses on the inadequacy of language to resolve or even contain grief in the wake of trauma: “A book is a coffin. Hoarsely. A white sheet draped over the cage of being.” Ultimately, The Wendys is a book of silences and space in which tenderness and violence exist in exquisite tension. “If to speak is to die,” White writes in “Ignis Fatuus,” “I will whisper.”
What Happens Is Neither
Angela Narciso Torres Four Way Books, 2021 Library of Congress PS3620.O5894W47 2021 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
A deeply-sensorial reflection on presence, absence, and the act of losing
“What Happens Is Neither / the end nor the beginning. / Yet we’re wired to look for signs,” offers the speaker of Angela Narciso Torres’s latest collection, which approaches motherhood, aging, and mourning through a series of careful meditations. In music, mantra, and prayer, Torres explores the spaces in and around grief—in varying proximity to it and from different vantage points. She writes both structurally formal poems that enfold the emotionality of loss and free verse that loosens the latch on memory and lets us into the sensory worlds of the speaker’s childhood and present. In poems set in two countries and homes, Torres considers what it means to leave a mark, vanish, and stay in one place. In a profound act of recollection and preservation, Torres shows us how to release part of ourselves but remain whole
Cynthia Cruz Four Way Books, 2014 Library of Congress PS3603.R893A6 2014 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Within the world of Wunderkammer, or “cabinet of curiosities,” Cynthia Cruz archives the ruinous, the sparkling, the traumatic, and the decadent. These poems, through sensuous impressions, mimic what it’s like to wake from a dream only to realize you are still inside the dream. We encounter gluttony pinned against starvation—“ceiling high cream cakes, / I ran twelve miles in my ballet leotard” — and the glamorous mixed with the grotesque —“I follow a sequin / Thread of dead things.” Through “brutal music,” Wunderkammer grips at the edges of memory and chaos; these poems have “found the kill / And entered it.”
You Darling Thing
Monica Ferrell Four Way Books, 2018 Library of Congress PS3606.E7535Y68 2018 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Guided by a poem assembled from “compliments” paid by a suitor to his girlfriend (which echo the endearments Anna Karenina’s Count Vronsky directs toward his racehorse, before she collapses under his weight and is shot), You Darling Thing investigates bridehood and the concept of the vow through the voices of a variety of brides, ex-brides, courtesans, and wives. The book is ultimately less about marriage than about potentiality and promise, an engagement with what seems possible before it stops being possible—anticipation at the outset of a hunt, embryos that stay unborn, youthful predictions for a life before it’s lived, and delight in the expressive possibilities afforded by language and art.
The poems of award-winning poet Yona Harvey’s much anticipated You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love follow an unnamed protagonist on her multidimensional, Afro-futuristic journey. Her story stretches the boundaries normally constraining a black, female body like hers. Half-superhero, half-secret-identity, she encounters side-slipping, speculative realities testing her in poems that appear like the panels of a comic book. Music directs readers through large and small emotional arcs, constantly retroubled by lyric experimentation. Harvey layers her poems with a chorus of women’s voices. Her artful use of refrain emphasizes the protagonist’s meaning making and doubling back: “Who am I to say? The eye is often mistaken. Or is it the mind? Always eager to interpret.” Our hero is captured, escapes, scuba dives, goes interstellar, and she emerges on the other end of her journey renewed, invoking the gods: “taunt the sharks. & when the glaciers get to melting, / all God’s River’s we shall haunt.”