Posts Tagged With: poetry

“Natural Selections” by Joseph Campana

Over the past couple months, I’ve mentioned that I wanted to start a monthly poetry spotlight in order to increase my knowledge of contemporary poetry.  I’m finally doing it!

I received a copy of the collection “Natural Selections” by Joseph Campana through NetGalley.  I read the book a few weeks ago, but I haven’t been satisfied with my review.  Poetry is a bit of a challenge to write about, as it depends a lot on the reader’s perspective and tastes.  The type of style that may work for one person might leave another confused or depressed.  I’m hoping that I’ll get better at reviewing poetry as I read more of it…

The poems in “Natural Selections” have a very solemn tone remniscent of Native American mythology.  They tell the story of a man’s introspection during a nocturnal drive through Ohio.

Here’s a brief sample of one of the poems in the collection entitled “Jay”:

Don’t be blue, said the sky, but the world wouldn’t

listen.  Each night tasted like drowning, each day

choked on its own bloom.  There were darker things

than the eye of sky, there were smaller things too.

Don’t be said the blue so the light stole away.

As for the twisted leaves?  As for the idols of morning?

Nothing left to be.  Nothing left to know.

Some of my favorite poems in the collection were “Homer, Ohio,” which ties modern America to Greek legends, “Democracy in Ohio,” which describes a feeling of powerlessness with regard to government, and “Rural Evening,” which focuses on economic tensions and the harsh reality of life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, as the roadside observations of small-towns and countryside reminded me of my own childhood in Western Pennsylvania.  However, these poems might not be your thing if the motif of a dead deer hanging from a tree is something that bothers you.  Overall, I liked Campana’s tone, which at once contained both a sense of loss and a celebration of nature’s haunting beauty.


Edit:  I’m including this post in the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event.  This monthly poetry event fits perfectly with my goal to read more poetry this year!

Categories: Poems/Ballads | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

“The Swing Girl” by Katherine Soniat

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

“The Swing Girl” is a collection of poems by Katherine Soniat.  As a whole, the poems have a Mediterranean feel and call to mind the frailty of life and the abrupt effect of war on daily life.  Not all of the poems are violent; many call to mind snippets of day-to-day life or recollect mythology.

One of the issues that I always have with collections of poems or short stories is that the individual pieces tend to be hit or miss.  This collection was no different.  Many of the poems didn’t strike me as being particularly memorable, but at the same time, others were spectacular.

I particularly liked Day Spool, which recollected the sound of wind chimes.  I was also a fan of The Cathedral of Chartres, which describes a wedding from a gargoyle’s perspective.  Brocade gave me new perspectives on tornadoes with its vivid imagery of items picked up along it’s path.  Garden Smiles, which describes sitting in a museum cafe, reminded me of afternoons spent at the Hermitage or the Russian Museum when I studied abroad.  The Forest describes the narrator selling her car (somewhat sarcastically).

As a whole, I enjoyed this collection.  I don’t read nearly enough poetry, but I’m hoping to make reviews of poetry collections a more regular part of my blog.

Categories: Poems/Ballads | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

“War Dances” by Sherman Alexie, Part 1

I decided to break up this book into a couple posts, as it is a collection of short stories and poems.  I picked up this book at the National Book Festival back in September.  Alexie’s novels are often challenged in schools because his writing addresses the problems faced by Native Americans in the modern US.  It doesn’t try to lightly tiptoe around issues such as alcoholism, homophobia, or rape, but rather confronts those issues head-on with a sense of irreverence and humor.  His writing is funny and touching at the same time.  So, without further ado…

The Limited

This poem serves as an introduction to the collection.  It uses the story of a bystander watching a man hit a dog to describe the limitations and power of the poet in society.

Breaking and Entering

The narrator’s home is burglarized, and he confronts the burglar with a bat and kills him.  He then struggles with the results of his action as he watches the media present the case as the violence of a white man against a black youth.  However, the narrator is actually a member of the Spokane tribe and has faced much discrimination of his own life.  This story confronts problems such as inner city crime, racism, and regret in a poignant manner in which one feels that there really is no right answer.

Go, Ghost, Go

This poem describes a Native American student who is taking a university course where the professor has idealized Native Americans to the extreme.

Bird-Watching at Night

This one made me smile.  It is a poem about a young man on a date with his girlfriend who decides to play chicken with an owl while driving.

After Building the Lego Star Wars Ultimate Death Star

This poem explores the idea of children playing war.

War Dances

This is a somewhat longer short story about a man who begins to go deaf in one ear.  His experiences with doctors remind him of a time that his alcoholic father was hospitalized years before.  Normally stories about illness tend to be depressing, but this one is told with a sense of humor, especially in the flashback about the narrator’s father.  I thought that this was extremely well-done, as normally the father would be a statistic–an alcoholic who drank himself to death.  This humorous tribute shows another side of the same story, and reveals the father’s humanity.

The Theology of Reptiles

Two boys find a dead snake in the wood.  This story was spot on on the description of kids playing.  It also made me smile.


This was another personal favorite.  Told in a question-answer format, it explores religion in a Native American family, and the way that many people have stereotypical views of what Native Americans should believe.  It’s irreverent tone is used to make a point on the importance of family.

Ode to Small-Town Sweethearts

A teenager braves driving in a dangerous snowstorm to see a girl.  This story reminded me of growing up in Western Pennsylvania, where white-out blizzards were just a part of winter, but never to be taken lightly.

The Senator’s Son

This was one of the more painful stories in the collection to read, but also incredibly touching.  The narrator is the privileged son of a Republican senator.  He respects his father for his morality.  One day in college, the narrator is involved in an act of violence against a homosexual couple, coming to the realization that one of the men being attacked, Jeremy, was his childhood best friend.  Jeremy recognizes the narrator, but doesn’t report him because he doesn’t want to destroy his father’s political career.  However, Jeremy asks to meet with his former friend, and confronts him with a powerful lesson in forgiveness.  I found myself despising the narrator for what he did, while at the same time recognizing how very lost and confused he is when trying to face the world.  Meanwhile, Jeremy is portrayed almost as a Christ figure, remaining silent because of his own beliefs and ideals.  I think that the primary lesson in this story lies in the power of forgiveness and the need for understanding.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m loving this collection far more than I thought I would.  When I picked up the book, I did so because it was Sherman Alexie’s newest, and I had hoped to include it in a project for my multiculturalism class.  I haven’t read anything quite like it before.  Alexie manages to take very difficult issues and approach them without being depressing, and uses humor to create a greater sense of respect than I think would have been possible if he had written in a more traditional tone.  Stay tuned for Part II!

Categories: Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Way to Rainy Mountain” by N. Scott Momaday

I read this book as a part of a class I’m taking this semester on multiculturalism and librarianship.

The book is about Native American culture, specifically the Kiowa.  It tells the story of the author’s journey to visit his grandmother’s grave near Rainy Mountain.  Each page is split into three segments.  Momaday opens each section with a Kiowa myth, then follows up with a segment of historic fact.  He then ties everything together by relating those things to his own experiences and childhood memories, most of which are universal in nature.  He writes in a very straightforward poetic prose, which is easy to read but full of meaning.

There were always dogs about my grandmother’s house.  Some of them were nameless and lived a life of their own.  They belonged there in a sense that the word “ownership” does not include.  The old people paid them scarcely any attention, but they should have been sad, I think, to see them go.

“The Way to Rainy Mountain” is beautifully written and carries profound messages, despite its short length.  The stories of Tai-me, the Sun Dance, and buffalo hunts captivated my imagination, and were told with a great deal of reverence.

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in Native American literature.

Categories: History, Nonfiction, Poems/Ballads | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Broetry” by Brian McGackin

Everybody needs at least one good coffee-table book.  As a grad student whose life has been impacted by the somewhat shitty economy, I found this book of poems to be hilarious.

The collection, entitled “Broetry,” is written by a guy who actually has an advanced degree in poetry.  The subject matter lies along the lines of frat-house humor and the plight of the newly unemployed/underemployed generation.  Poems cover subjects ranging from booze and sex to Mama Celeste pizzas and Captain America.  “Broetry” is strewn with pop-culture references and is good for a laugh.

This book is not for the easily offended, of course.  Many might deem the poems “dumb” or “misogynistic.”  I, however, found this book to be quite enjoyable.  I also realize that humor is not meant to be taken entirely seriously, but rather exists for amusement and as a form of social commentary.  I particularly enjoyed the poems Final Final Fantasy, Do You Believe in Magic?, and Why You Should Listen to Classical Music (and yes, the lightsaber duel in Star Wars Episode I is one of those reasons).

I’m going to post one of the poems in the book, just as an example of McGackin’s style.  It’s the shortest in the collection, in the form of a haiku.

“Why Do Buses Smell?”

The young girl asks her
mother. I listen, because
I want to know, too.

I recommend this to anyone looking for some good tasteless humor about college, job-hunting, and life in general.

Categories: Humor, Poems/Ballads | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

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