Forgive my extreme turtleness! It has taken me too-too long to get these reviews up & out of my shell– & apologies to those authors who have given me their books who I have yet to review. Within the area of book review, I struggle with what I could possibly add to the discussion– poetry book reviews seem quite intelligently covered & I have no intelligence other than emotional. So reviews on Poetry Crush will basically ask the question – did this poet make me feel anything? – j. hope stein
Dear Jenny, We Are All Find by Jenny Zhang (Octopus Books)
There is such energy in Jenny Zhang’s debut, DEAR JENNY, WE ARE ALL FIND – from start to finish it just goes. There is just no containing such energy. From the first poem titled, “Relish this moment. Hope it will comfort on this raining day” — to the last poem titled “My mother leaves a message where she pronounces all Romance languages in a deep voice” –- which ends with this line – “I nearly faint from the love I nearly was capable of.”
The book itself is confessional in nature with a very intimately personal feel, as the title would suggest. Jenny Zhang was born in Shanghai and raised in New York and so there is much about embracement and dislocation of family and culture (also very much in the title). The book is arranged in 3 sections — “Motherlands,” “New York” and “La France” –Which suggests our environment brings out certain aspects of our inner monologue and experience– Jenny expresses this through a shift in language and storytelling in the poems. There is also much to be admired in the language (again, reflected in the nifty title.) – there is craft in these poems and word play, but it feels natural and effortless—doesn’t call attention to itself. There is rhythm and breath and passion, but she never lets poetics get in the way of the poem, which spills onto the page– Jenny feels private and necessary.
This is all very wonderful. But for me personally what is so profound about “DEAR JENNY” is how she handles the profane. Where there is profanity there is nudity in the realest sense of the word. Jenny Zhang is an exciting and refreshingly honest new voice in American poetry. Dear Jenny, thank you for writing this poem, it is quite moving:COMEFARTS I show you my virtue when I come farting and fiscal responsibility has the same verdure as some ventures you play like a donkey with six legs each leg clasped to a tree and we drag a forest through the forest finally you are farting compare the time I shat my pants at the library because I could not be bothered to stop reading I was wet from the non-solids I excreted I was wet from the rain that followed me into caves I was wet because I was wet I was wet and you asked to touch it I was wet and you didn’t notice it on your leg I was wet and I sat on fine china I was wet and I was born in China I was wet and a horse kicked me in the face I was wet and in my dreams I was wet I was wet and asked a stranger to jerk off onto my face I was wet and I hurt my back trying to reach I was wet and I farted dead sperm from a butthole that doesn’t want to poop Except in libraries Except in bus shelters Except on my neighbor’s lawn Except in rooms where everyone is standing Except in underwater with my grandmother whose nipples I found when rubbing her stomach “You must know everything!” I comefart in secret and feel truly as if I do.
Nick Trail’s Thumb: A novella by Rena J. Mosteirin (Kore Press)
“Nick Trail is explaining how to make jailhouse acid to the boys who wash dishes in the back of the steakhouse. Talking loudly, he waves his right hand in the air for emphasis—four fingers and a stump where the thumb once was.”
This is the first line of Rena Mosteirin’s novella Nick Trail’s Thumb described by Lydia Davis as “A fresh and engaging story….With its unusual setting, interesting form, arresting specifics, captivating insights, strong dialogue, and rhythmic prose.”
The backdrop of Nick Trail’s Thumb is Hawaii and like Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, the impossible beauty of the island combined with tragedy make for some colorful irony. The story follows a group of 20-somethings friends who are backroom staff at a steakhouse. You get the sense, as in life, some of these characters will move on and be alright- for instance, our narrator, and some will not. We find out Nick Trail, a shady character that the group of friends tolerate, lost his thumb working on a construction job but didn’t have the health insurance to reattach it so he keeps it (the thumb) in a mason jar.
The thumb in the mason jar, and the absence of the thumb on his hand, is a symbol for loss in Nick Trail’s Thumb which is full of loss—In a touching scene we find out one of the main characters lost his father (suicide)— There is also a girl who is missing a leg (shark). And most significantly, in a tragic scene, one of the friends is killed by a shark.
When reading Nick Trails Thumb, I was reminded of the way TC Boyle’s short stories unfold and the way his characters navigate life. Mosteirin also breaks form and uses “post cards” which read like lyric poems.Postcard 3 The morning birds do not sing as they rise across the ocean And the pill on your tongue is not my name. I am big as the sky and twice as silent, I am four fingers and a stump where a thumb once was.
The image on the cover of Nick Trail’s Thumb is a thumbprint, further suggesting something painful & true– we often identify ourselves more by what is absent than what is present.
Echo Park by Christine Hamm (BlazeVOX)
“Echo Park” sounded familiar. So I googled it and here’s what I got:
Echo Park is a hilly neighborhood in Los Angeles. Echo Park is an indoor pool & fitness complex in West Hempstead, NY. Echo Park is 1986 comedy-dram film, set in Echo Park, Los Angeles in which the plot follows several aspiring actors, musicians and models. Echo Park is a recording studio, which describes itself as “rich and deep analog tape recording with a huge collection of well-maintain vintage gear.” Echo Park is an urban oasis close to (or perhaps in?) Chicago. Echo Park is the 17th novel by American crime-writer Michael Connelly, and the twelfth featuring the Los Angeles detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. As I read the collection, I realized Christine Hamm’s Echo Park is all of these places and I intend to draw metaphorical comparisons to each …
What is so remarkable about Echo Park is that its essence which is captured cleverly in its title, is able to fulfill this broadness, yet the individual lines and poems use a mastery of language and the senses to evoke a specificity of experience. The collection is broken into 2 sections: “Horse Names” and “Swimming Lessons” — A benign and fun way to remind us that things learned in childhood, cannot be unlearned.Tristessa we gave each other horse names and galloped around the edges of the soccer field during recess I held strands of our long soft pelt behind you as if they were reins we clucked to each other when we wanted to move, the clicking of the tongue riders use along with their hells, a sound like stuttering cicadas, when the boys hit you and made you fall down I hit them back you were twelve and you used pills, not very many, the first time you tried to unravel.
Notice the rich sounds, images and sensations from childhood that seem to ricochet in the adult mind. In this sense “Echo Park” is another way to say “the mind”. There are also hints at death in this poem. In this sense, “Echo Park” is another way to say “graveyard.”
Hamm’s gift in illustrating this lays in her descriptions, which are alive with all the senses and varied in textures mixing searching dialogue, winding dream-like and child-like logic – The speaker in The Dad Parade describes the mystery of dads leaving for work in the morning — “How they disappeared each morning /In silver or blue cars smelling/ of old newspaper ” In Every Child, a Happy Child the speaker describes a conversation – an exchange between two young siblings “…He asks if I know/ where our parents have gone, and if I know how to make/ pancakes. I ask him how he got the scratch on his nose / and why he is still wearing the Bart Simpson t-shirt from last night.”
This poem has a wonderful ping pong quality of dialogue going back and forth and while the two children are not quite answering each other they are managing to find a communication the way a child does about the state of things. Here there is also the child’s curiosity about the parent. This is also present in the poems Territory and Pool.
From Territory: “On her right foot /where the tan / seemed erased drew./ my little girl kisses / because that part, that most naked pale skin,/ was on my own foot in the same frog-shape / and it was by that mark I knew / she was my mother.”
From Pool: “Our sun-whitened/ hair spreads across the stones, / green as new corn, fragrant / as beach trash, as your mother’s/ stolen perfume.”
Here I would argue is where Hamm’s Echo Park is the town in LA and the 1986 film about the pursuit of childhood dreams. It’s the town of Chicago and the pool and exercise complex in Hempstead, New York. It’s whatever town we grew up in. It’s the pool or swimming hole we swam in. It’s the horse names and swimming lessons from childhood—our individual and collective childhood memories– In this sense “Echo Park” feels like an attic of sorts reminding me the Echo Park recording studio where they have analog tape and vintage gear.
There are also poems which give clues to a disintegrating romantic relationship (Our last Big Fight, Watching Porn with my Boyfriend), which highlight the small crimes that are done to us that stay with us as we develop our sense of self. In that sense, Hamm’s Echo Park resembles the crime novel where we build a case from our memories and our experiences to inform and attempt to define the mystery of ourselves.
And that concludes my metaphorical parallels for today—Nah, wait, 1 more–
In Christine Hamm’s Echo Park, the “park” can be seen as the mind and what “echoes” for us all in the form of memory, child logic, voices, moments of rejection and imagistic dream— is time. This all reminds me of Eliot’s Four Quartets –Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility Only a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened into the rose-garden. My words echo Thus, in your mind.