Unpregnant Offers a Radical Normalization of Abortion and Reproductive Health. Currently, we’re in a terrifying moment in history for reproductive health in America, which makes abortion no laughing matter—and that’s exactly why Unpregnant, the debut YA novel by Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan, is such a breath of fresh air. Unpregnant tells the tale of an overachieving 17-year-old named Veronica Clarke who discovers that she is pregnant a month before her high-school graduation. Seeing her college education (she’s been accepted to Brown University) and future slipping away, she enlists her former best friend—and current school outcast—Bailey Butler to drive her to an abortion clinic that doesn’t require a parental signature. The only catch? The clinic is more than 900 miles away... Read full review at BitchMedia here.
Do you ever find yourself feeling out of sorts, unable to tell if you’re still human? Jessy Randall has considered this feeling and helps readers handle it with an instructional manual of sorts in How to Tell If You Are Human: Diagram Poems, part of the Pleaides Press Visual Poetry Series.
Repurposing graphs and images to create visual poems, Randall’s works are minimal in style as they capture the complexity of human emotions. Although most of poems are just one sentence or phrase long, they manage to make connections with readers, leaving space to insert themselves as the speaker, to figure out whether or not they’re human.
Review by Katy Haas
Jeanann Verlee digs into the culture of violence against women in Prey. Published last August, the collection of poems is broken into five parts. The speaker details her own story of an abusive ex-husband and the horrors he put her through, as well as a broader focus: “The New Crucible” speaks on the ways men have used religion to justify their violence against women, and multiple pieces called “His Version” are made of quotes from men like Brock Turner and the men involved in the Steubenville rape trial. The latter set of poems are presented without comment, without words from Verlee, speaking volumes on their own. Verlee writes with unflinching honesty, recording a history of violence that leaves one breathless and bent defensively over the pages.
Review by Katy Haas
Take some time to check out award-winning books published this September.
Refugia by Kyce Bello brought home the inaugural Interim 2018 Test Site Poetry Series Winner. Bello’s debut poetry collection, a dedication to resilience, offers a bright and hopeful voice in the current conversation about climate change.
Winner of the 2018 Autumn House Poetry Prize, debut collection Cage of Lit Glass by Charles Kell engages themes of death, incarceration, and family—a tense and insightful read.
Al Ortolani’s Hansel and Gretel Get the Word on the Street, Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner, was shipped out to subscribers of Rattle literary magazine earlier in the month. The chapbook’s poems represent connections to others, sometimes dark, sometimes light, often quirky.Sharon Olds selected Vantage by Taneum Bambrick as the winner of the 2019 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Award. A fictional account of Bambrick’s experience working as the only woman on a six-person garbage crew around the reservoirs of two dams, the poems document the violence she witnessed toward the people and the environment along the Columbia River.
You are now part of The Chain.
Adrian McKinty, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, now a New Yorker, is an award-winning crime novelist who has written a stunning work of twisted psychology, domination, and contest of wills. The plan in The Chain seems foolproof, insidious as it is. A child is kidnapped, the parent gets a phone call, and a ransom demand is made. The parent is told to select another child and kidnap the target in order to get his or her child returned. A two-step process. The horrifying aspect of the demand is that the parent gets 24 hours to pay the ransom and kidnap the next child. No such thing as planning, considering, discussing, contemplating, rationalizing, justifying. The Chain makes an action demand, and the demand for fast action and tangible results. Or the kidnapped child is no more. The Chain has no tolerance for mistakes, for police involvement, for extensions of time to pay the ransom, for attempts to outwit. The entire process will be completed in 24 hours, or else.Read more...
Carla Rachel Sameth’s One Day on the Gold Line offers a gut-wrenching account of Sameth’s life from young adulthood through middle-age, spinning around maternal desire and loss, and probing the critical distinctions between an imaginary motherhood and the lived reality of mothering her son through young-adulthood. Structured through a series of twenty-nine short chapters that refuse easy chronology, the book is both thematically and formally interested in questions of time and identity.
Beginning with the essay “The Burning Boat,” the book charts Sameth’s insatiable desire to build a family, whether partnered or solo, and the obstacles that stand in her way. Conception comes easily to Sameth; carrying to term does not. Only after undergoing experimental treatments for recurrent miscarriage does she give birth to her son, Raphael. Significantly, Sameth chooses not to offer a developed account of gestation—the ground that most mother memoirs traverse; rather, there’s a temporal gap between the chapters that explore maternal desire and those that present difficulties of mothering, both single and as lesbian co-parent to her stepdaughter. In this way, the book provocatively explores what it means to create and sustain family outside heterosexual marriage.
Rooted in the physical and social landscapes of California, the last third of the book takes up the difficulties that Sameth experiences as adolescent Raphael undergoes treatment for drug use. Critically, the book offers addiction as a figure through which to understand all human desire. Sameth writes: “In my case, I desperately sought self-value; I thought that I could fix the hole by creating a family to love and nurture.” Writing against fantasies of ideal motherhood, Sameth’s book presents a brutally honest and much-needed account of family-building and parenting in the twenty-first century.
Review by Robin Silbergleid
Robin Silbergleid is a poet and nonfiction writer. Her most recent publication is In the Cubiculum Nocturnum (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She currently directs the Creative Writing Program and teaches at Michigan State University. You can also find her online at @rsilbergleid and robinsilbergleid.com.
Jillian Weise’s bio at the back of her latest collection, Cyborg Detective, boasts an impressive professional history, from books published to awards won to disability rights activism to starring in the tongue-in-cheek web series “Tips for Writers by Tipsy Tullivan.” In Cyborg Detective, Weise continues to show off her skills while holding the mirror up to the literary community.
Poems such as “Cattulus Tells Me Not to Write the Rant Against Maggie Smith’s ‘Good Bones,’” “10 Postcards to Marie Howe,” and “The Phantom Limbs of the Poets” cover the topic of ableism in the writing community and the ableist language and ideation that many writers and artists keep using in their craft. Using this language might not seem like a huge deal to writers without disabilities, but poems like “Attack List” (which is continued on Weise’s Twitter as a transcription informs [braille included]) show the danger of these microaggressions by making us face full-on, violent aggressions. In her list, Weise rethinks Josef Kaplan’s Kill List and Steven Trull’s “Fuck List” with the headlines or summaries of murders and rapes of disabled women. The words we choose matter.
A favorite part of Cyborg Detective for me is “Cathedral by Raymond Carver,” in which Weise reimagines the three characters of “Cathedral,” the blind man actually given a background, a personality, sexuality, agency, all things Carver did not provide.
As a nondisabled reader and writer, I find Weise’s work revealing and informative, a reminder to check my own vocabulary for ableist language and my own thoughts for ableist ideas, and to put an end to them. Weise never resorts to handholding as she does all this, but points out the bullshit with biting wit, dark humor, and a punk rock, cyborg attitude.
Review by Katy Haas
Created by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, each book of the collection focuses on a different aspect of writing: Writing Action, Writing Character, Writing Dialogue, and Writing Humor. Prompts, writing exercises, and words of advice make up each volume, with plenty of space for writers to scribble down their ideas.
In Writing Action, writers are asked to describe what a scared teen feels during their first driving class, and on the opposite page they're asked to write what a reckless teen might be feeling. In Writing Humor there are zany scenarios to explore, including "the silent type: You've fallen in love with your daughter's Ken doll and have decided to tell your husband." Page after page reveals a new and fun scenario to capture.
These four well-designed titles include around 100 pages of inspiration, a nice choice for writers looking for a little bit of guidance.
August is here and with it comes the third annual Sealey Challenge. Started by Nicole Sealey in 2017, the challenge is to read a poetry book or chapbook every day for the month of August.
I participated last year, and it felt like such a satisfying way to round out the summer months as I brushed off the cobwebs and dove into a new book each day.
I managed to end the 2018 challenge learning new things about myself, my reading habits, and my tastes in poetry. I practiced getting out of the house with a new book, the changes in setting feeling like a fresh new adventure. Where would I settle in to read that day, and where would the poet bring me after that?
After a few days, it became clear I simply wasn’t reading enough poetry throughout the other months of the year and there wasn’t a good excuse. If I could read thirty-one books in just as many days, I could carve out more time to read poetry the rest of the year. (Did I stick to this? Not as much as I’d like, but hey—baby steps!) This year, I’m stocked up on chapbooks for a more manageable approach to the challenge for myself. Somedays it is definitely difficult to make time, and chapbooks make the work load a little easier to handle.
Along with learning about my own reading habits, I was also introduced to new favorite poets and books, the magic my body becomes by Jess Rizkallah, Acadiana by Nancy Reddy, and WASP QUEEN by Claudia Cortese among these.
Give Nicole Sealey’s Twitter a scroll-through to learn more about the challenge and see what other readers are up to during the month. I’ll be back later this month with updates on how the challenge is treating me as I move through my picks, which you can see by clicking the “Read more” button below.Read more...
Perhaps it is because this was written in January, and in my part of the world, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees. Maybe it is the hours I had spent hibernating and devouring hours of classic movies from the 1940s and 50s aired on TCM. Or maybe it’s simply the idea of a ‘radio in the sand’ emitting static and faint music from another place in the universe—Hollywood.Read more...