Helen of Troy and Aphrodite: two classical paragons of beauty and love. These two figures have served as the inspiration for innumerable works of art in the Western cannon. In the twenty-first century, however, what do their stories provide but a reminder of the predictable roles which sexism has assigned women throughout history and literature?
In this fresh new take on the two women’s stories, Jennifer Pullen takes us away from the familiar and deeper into their experiences. Rewriting Homer, Pullen revitalizes these two figures for the contemporary era. In A Bead of Amber on Her Tongue, Aphrodite maintains autonomy through her experience of her own body, even when forced into marriage. Helen of Troy, meanwhile, harbors a love for her maid, Esme, that no conquering hero can vanquish. Revisiting these classic stories with an inventive twist, Pullen shows that, with a little imagination, the classics may yet bear new insights.
Myung Mi Kim Omnidawn, 2019 Library of Congress PS3561.I414A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
In Civil Bound, Myung Mi Kim turns a keen ear to language as the mechanism by which society operates. The poems engage multiple methods to make sense of this pervasive tool, its powers, nuances, and influences over the structure of our civilizations. Through investigations of ecology, capitalism, military powers, colonialization, and supremacy, the book uncovers patterns in the ways that language is active in perpetuating inequality and binding its subjects to the will of those in positions of authority. In questioning systems of oppression, the poems also offer the hope of forging new paths through the connecting power of language. Examining our participation in social contracts, communal goals, and human desires, Kim’s poems encourage us to salvage language as a means of connection that binds us in respect and commitment to our fellow human beings.
Harpo Before the Opus
Logan Fry Omnidawn, 2019 Library of Congress PS3606.R925H38 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
The poems begin where language fails, where speech becomes disembodied, and syntax skids to a stop that dissolves into gesture. Where its form reaches an end, formlessness offers a space ripe with possibility. Here we find Harpo, reaching into the frustrated endpoint of language to find a method for its resurrection. Fry sees that language becomes a tool for alienation and uses the poems in Harpo Before the Opus to excavate paths back to tenderness. These are poems from the edge, pulling language out from its failure and into a fervent interrogation of its possibilities. What was once a tool of capitalistic alienation now serves as material for building connections.
In spiraling explorations of rhetoric, these poems allow language to break from its prescribed structures, and instead, it becomes a gestural embrace of feeling and being. Fry utilizes a Marxist lens to scrutinize and reinvent the use of language. In Fry’s hands, language is rendered a visceral and sensual material, forming poems that are both deeply felt philosophical inquiries and wildly playful exercises of wit.
In henceforce, Kamden Ishmael Hilliard’s poems take us on unimaginable voyages within and beyond the contours of our quotidian experience. This is not simply geographic travel, however: though Hilliard’s poems explore air travel, transcontinental locations, and even intergalactic scenes, their travel poetic asks us to move through and beyond deeply entrenched social boundaries. The movement depicted and encouraged here brings the reader into contact with figures that destabilize our notions of race, gender, and nation. Hilliard’s language, too, transgresses boundaries. For any reader who loves strange encounters with the familiar and the thrill of disorientation, these poems will prove challenging in a deeply exhilarating way, asking the reader to question the limits of their gaze, their language, their sense of place, and ultimately to reaffirm their personhood.
Myung Mi Kim Omnidawn, 2009 Library of Congress PS3561.I414P46 2009 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
In Penury, Myung Mi Kim probes sanctioned norms of cognition by breaking communication into its most discrete components. With these irruptions and suspensions, she writes into extremes of forced loss, violence, and impoverishment. Exposing latent relations in sound and sense, Kim proposes how new ethical awareness can be encountered where the word and its meaning/s are formed. Here, language is not offered as transparent communication of ideas, but as testament to and disruption of oppressive dominant concepts and cultural practices. "Penury" means poverty, but in this text's radical relation to lack, we hear the most elemental and active forms of change.
Running to Stand Still
Kimberly Reyes Omnidawn, 2019 Library of Congress PS3618.E9386A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Histories, stories, lyrics, aspirations, dreams, pressures, and images are spun into a musical tale through a site of convergence: the Black female body. Swarmed by external gazes and narratives, the inhabitant of this body uses her power to turn down this cacophony of noise and compose a symphonic space for herself. By breaching boundaries of racism, sexism, sizeism, colorism, and colonialism, these poems investigate the memories and realities of existing as Black in America. Building from poetic, journalistic, and musical histories, poet and essayist Kimberly Reyes constructs a complex and fantastic narrative in which she negotiates a path to claim her own power.
These poems teem with life, a life rich with many selves and many histories that populate in the voice of Reyes’s poetic narrator. They sway between negotiations of hypervisibility and erasure, the inevitable and the chosen, and the perceived and the constructed. Reyes’s poems offer sharp observations and lyrical movement to guide us in a ballad of reconciliation and becoming.
Martha Ronk Omnidawn, 2019 Library of Congress PS3568.O574A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Within the visual arts of painting and photography, Martha Ronk finds an undeniable presence lurking: silence. This character slips into pauses, hides between images, and expertly evades the grasp of language. Ronk shows us that what is hidden just off screen in these images might just be the force that gives them power. The poems in Silences seek possibilities of how to form language from a phenomenon that so earnestly resists it. Rather than coax silence out of hiding, Ronk’s poems respond to its mysterious presence through questions and conjecture.
These poems endeavor to give a much-deserved voice to silence, addressing the power of what is not seen. While silence remains perpetually out of reach, Ronk invites us to follow the language that creeps up to its edges. The poems in this collection form an inquiry that moves through the presence of silence and reveals insights into the character of the visual art in which it lives.
Brittany Tomaselli Omnidawn, 2019 Library of Congress PS3620.O4756A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
What happens when the faith and community we once held close sours into an experience of tragedy? In Since Sunday, we find a poet who is rebuilding a sense of faith after fleeing religious abuse. Doubt, shame, uncertainty, and the pains of loss create the ground from which these poems grow. After severance from her religion, established values, and sense of direction, Tomaselli embarks on recovery as an active and intentional pursuit. The poems reveal a resilience that must be lived as a daily effort to cope with trauma and to root oneself in the present.
Through wit, vulnerability, and rich lyrical language, Tomaselli invites us to walk with her through loss and on to a persistent process of discovery. The poems chronicle a cultivation of awe, unearthing a fresh faith rooted in the present realness of everyday experiences. Stripped of the orthodoxy that both grew and crushed her, she reconstructs a new core of trust for herself. Here we learn with the poet to seek celebration in daily life and to foster a sense of beauty from the mundane.
Lyn Hejinian Omnidawn, 2019 Library of Congress PS3558.E4735A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
The three works of poetry that constitute Tribunal were written in the current context of seemingly ubiquitous warfare and the specter of unabashed neo-fascism, ethno-nationalism, and—especially in the United States—reassertions of white supremacy. As renowned poet Lyn Hejinian recounts, the inspiration for Tribunal gradually took shape over the course of almost a decade in the collaborative work she has done to fight neoliberal policies that dismantle the public sphere through actions that include privatizing the commons, busting unions, and imposing a corporate, profiteering model on a range of institutions including public higher education. Hejinian explores a broad range of responses to our deeply troubling historical period in Tribunal’s three collections. These poems express an emotional scope that includes fury, sadness, and even, at times, something very close to pity for our humanity, perpetually unable to avoid its own penchant for cruelty. Hejinian is the rare poet who can bring to the page a rich, complex rendering of how mutually exclusive emotions can exist simultaneously. We lose safety and surety, but we gain a wider lens on contemporary crises from her sometimes lacerating, sometimes intensely beautiful lyric verse. It’s only in such an artistic and emotional landscape that readers, thinkers, artists, workers, and all comrades against injustice can manage to keep inventing, imagining, and hoping. Throughout these crises, the poet returns to language as a meaningful space in which to grapple with a seemingly endless cycle of conflict. While the works can be read as expressions of protest or dissent, they powerfully convey an argument for artmaking itself—and a turn to its affirmation of life.
Acting as poetic records of light, the poems in Variations on Dawn and Dusk follow the sun as it warms, cools, colors, and shifts the space of Robert Irwin’s untitled (dawn to dusk) in the desert of Marfa, TX. Built on the footprint of the town’s old hospital, Irwin’s permanent installation is a remarkable structure with walls, windows, and screens that both capture and are taken over by the sun’s changing light. Through this deeply engaged ekphrasis, Dan Beachy-Quick uses language to participate in the overpowering elegance of Irwin’s structure. The poet’s fervent observations lead us in cycles of meditation, moving with the light that slides through the surfaces of the installation. Here, the very foundation of our vision—light—forms the vocabulary from which these poems are built.
Building from Irwin’s use of rhythm and structure, the poems in this collection are constructed with an architectural framework. Rhythmic procedures inversely link the first and last words of the first and last lines of each poem and tie the number of lines to the number of syllables in the first line. These structures form a pattern, a thoughtful consistency through which we are invited to move and meditate with each variation of light.
mai c. doan Omnidawn, 2019 Library of Congress PS3604.O175A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
Grappling with the shock of her grandmother’s suicide, mai c. doan undertook a writing project that might give voice to her loss as well as to grapple with memory, and the challenge of articulation and of documentation, in all of their contradictions and (im)possibilities. In the poems that comprise water/tongue, doan conjures visceral and intuitive elements of experience to articulate the gendered and intergenerational effects of violence, colonialism, and American empire. Breaking the silence surrounding these experiences, doan conjures a host of voices dispersed across time and space to better understand the pain that haunted her family—made tragically manifest in her grandmother’s death. Looking not only to elements of Vietnamese history and culture, but to the experience of migration and racism in the United States, this book charts a path for both understanding and resistance. Indeed, doan does not merely wish to unearth the past, but also to change the future. If we want to do so, she shows, we must commune with the voices of sufferers both past and present. doan demonstrates how even the form of a work of poetry can act as a subversion of what a reader expects from the motion of the act of reading a line of type or a page of text. doan disarms and unsettles the ways a reader is led to levels of comprehension, and thus disrupts what “comprehension” might mean, as the reader follows the flow of a work, providing an opportunity to sense, and to confront hierarchies that structure ordinary reading and writing. doan brings a reader to conscious appraisal of the hierarchies that affect us, and how these hierarchies can constrain our insights and our mobility. water/tongue is a critical read for anyone interested in the long effects of gendered and cultural violence, and the power of speech to forge new and empowering directions.