What So Cal Poets are Reading

Edited by liz gonzález

 

TAOS POETRY CIRCUS: The Nineties

Written & Edited by Anne MacNaughton

Reviewed by Bill Mohr

 

Passing

By Eloise Klein Healy

Reviewed by Terry Wolverton

 

Leaves of Spilled Spirit from an Untamed Poet

By Conney D. Williams

Reviewed by Jack Bowman


TAOS POETRY CIRCUS: The Nineties

Written & Edited by Anne MacNaughton

(with Peter Rabbit, Amalio Madueno, and Terry Jacobus)

Santa Fe: Pennywhistle Press, 2002

 

Excerpt of review by Bill Mohr

 

This anthology of ten years worth of poetic showdowns in northwest New Mexico documents the recent evolution of an ongoing alternative to mainstream tedium, dullness and tokenism.

 

The anthology is organized year by year, though the cut-off date of 1999 effaces the festival's most startling run of success, four consecutive championships by Sherman Alexie in the period 1998-2001. While many of the champions have repeated in succeeding years, an accomplishment that would seem to indicate their first victory was more than the whimsy of one year's set of judges, some of the very best poetry in this anthology is by a one-time champ, Simon Ortiz. His poems run completely against the expectations one might bring to this kind of event regarding the manic level of exhibitionism possibly required in order to win over an audience. Ortiz’s poems are scored for subtle renditions, and any reader with a susceptible ear can almost replicate an inspired approximation of Ortiz's voice in his cadences on the page.

 

Reigning champions have included Andrei Codrescu, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Victor Hernandez Cruz, but “losers” such as Ed Sanders, Wanda Coleman, and Bobbie Louise Hawkins have no reason to worry about any diminishment in respect for the ultimate quality of their work. Like judging ice-skating or gymnastics in the Olympics, these kinds of contests involve a process of experienced guesswork and occasionally dubious preferences. Alexie has a poem called “Split Decisions.” I suspect the favorites of the audiences were often different from the judges’ decisions.

 

Although former champions such as Ann Waldman, Lewis MacAdams, or Quincy Troupe are genuine "heavyweights" in reputation, some of the best poems in this anthology are by relatively unknown people, weighing in with as much grace as anyone could hope for. In particular, editors of future anthologies should look for the writing of Joan Logghe, represented by her exquisite “Famous Kisses,” and Renee Gregorio, whose “X: The Space Between” could easily hold its own next to work of the late Ed Dorn and Bob Holman.

 

A special commendation needs to be given to the book's designer, who arranged poems, commentary, and photographs with an understated exactitude and respect for everyone's writing. The pleasure and protest that generated each poem's first assemblage on the page radiate off the page with enthusiasm and delight. Bill Mohr Easter Sunday, 2003

 

Bill Mohr’s COLLECTED POEMS will be published this coming October by Cahuenga Press.

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Passing

by Eloise Klein Healy

Red Hen Press, 2002

 

Reviewed by Terry Wolverton

 

In Eloise Klein Healy's fifth book of poetry, PASSING, poems for the dead bump up against the stuff of everyday life: starlings, opossums, constellations, working in a diner, favorite pair of shoes, her dogs, a powder blue MG.  It is right that interspersed between these poems are mourning songs: for a father, a student, photographer Francesca Woodman, poets Lynda Hull and Gil Cuadros.  PASSING's construction mirrors the way we stubbornly live on in the face of immeasurable loss.

 

Although many of the poems in passing are deeply personal, Healy also explores political themes with nuance and personal investment.  She tackles working class issues (“I come from having a job…” in “Where I Come From”), race (“I react like a white girl sometimes and don’t cop to my longing to touch the darkest dark” in “Torn Open”), or lesbian invisibility:

 

            “My maestra says about “morir,”

            Spanish speaking people use it a lot—

            As in “he would die for her.”

 

            I live a foreign language.  I’d have to translate it

            “she would die for her.”

                        -- from “Studying Spanish” 

           

One of Healy's great gifts as a poet is the ability to employ utmost craft while remaining down-to-earth.  One needn't have a degree in poetry to appreciate the vivid language and images within her work, but if you do, you'll admire the consummate skill with which she makes it all sound so natural.

 

            "Nothing is enough

            lately.

            I'm the one asking

            for more spice,

            more hot oil.

            I'm the one chewing

            the dried red chilies,

            a season's worth of fire."

                        -- from “More”

 

Terry Wolverton is the author of Insurgent Muse, a memoir, Bailey Beads, a novel, and two collections of poetry, Black Slip and Mystery Bruise.  A novel-in-poems, Embers, will be published in fall 2003.

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Leaves of Spilled Spirit from an Untamed Poet

by Conney D. Williams

Passage Publishing, 2002

 

Reviewed by Jack Bowman

 

I met Conney at the World Stage and enjoyed his work, so I purchased a copy of Leaves of Spilled Spirit. The word powerful is over used, so perhaps potent would be better to describe the poems in this collection. The work is filled with vivid images so real you can smell and taste them. He has followed “the Stage” rule about “no BS” to the nth degree. Honesty, compassion, and naked to the world sensuality is consistent in each work.

 

There are poems I liked better than others, but none I disliked. My favorite was "Formanesque" done in an ebonic jazz style: “going down on the thought of her/ feel I'm drowning in the same whirlpool/ must remember to breathe...”

 

Not all of the poems have regular titles, but it doesn't matter, this guy's energy will throw out a net and capture the reader. This is from "untitled #1."

...writing you love letters on ocean floors

I stroll barefoot Saturn's rings

balance myself in hopeless desperation

losing grip on this unconnectedness

my hold on selfish autonomy

for I have fallen...heart first into you...

 

If I had one criticism, it would be that he uses "like" too much, which works as kind of a condom on the rawness. Maybe the poem needs that distance, but I don't think so. I hope he writes another (dozen). I highly recommend this book.

 

Jack Bowman is Poetix News Editor, a published poet and co-host of Thursday Night Poetry in Pasadena.

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So Cal poets, please email  me your reviews of a recently published poetry book or chapbook in the body of your e-mail, along with your one-sentence bio (250-word limit; please refer to the other reviews for format).

Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach