Book Reviews from Issue #46

Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America, Edited by Dante Di Stefano and Maria Isabel Alvarez

NYQ Books, 2018, ISBN:  978-1-63045-051-9, Pages: 324

Reviewed by Jen DeGregorio

In her classic The Life of Poetry, Muriel Rukeyser wrote: “If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.” Would it be an exaggeration to say that there was no poetry on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2016? Would it be an exaggeration to say that poetry was invented that day? Born out of an intolerable hunger for kindness, for openness, for an America that, even if it did exist only in dreams, died the moment Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency? In the last year, we’ve seen Trump transform his divisive campaign rhetoric into terrifying policies: attempted Muslim bans, mass deportations, barring trans people from the military, removing the United States from international agreements to combat climate change, and much more.

Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America, which is dedicated to Rukeyser and other progressive poets who have died, offers a lyric response to the hatred emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue like malodorous gas. Drawing from the work of dozens of poets diverse in every sense of the word — hailing from different races, religions, classes, genders, walks of life, and stages of poetic career — Misrepresented People also puts its money where its mouth is: All proceeds from the collection will be donated to the National Immigration Law Center. Organized alphabetically by last name, with each writer contributing one to five poems, the anthology is a no-nonsense encyclopedia of some of the 21st Century’s most powerful poetic voices. Kaveh Akbar, Natalie Diaz, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Dana Levin, Gregory Pardlo, Alberto Ríos, sam sax, Patricia Smith, Javier Zamora, and many others register their rage, grief, and protest against not only Trump himself but the troubling cultural climate that ushered him into national politics.

Many of the poems in this collection are time stamped, serving as historic souvenirs from  Election Day 2016 and its surreal aftermath. In “Elegy,” dated Nov. 9, 2016, Eloisa Amezcua reveals her fear and pessimism: “I woke up wanting / to have children / less than I wanted / them when I went / to bed.” Yet she can’t help but find humor in our predicament, the absurdity that our President is an ex-reality TV star who appeared on the cover of Playboy: “I want to laugh / until my womb / falls out,” Amezcua writes. If this is levity, it is short-lived: “I know now / how this world / can turn a body / into an urn.” Amezcua reminds us that particular bodies — especially non-white bodies — face greater danger after Trump’s election, which was championed by Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and other white supremacists. In Chaun Ballard’s “Pantoum on the Presidential Election (from Saudi Arabia),” an American teacher in Jeddah watches in disbelief as Trump pulls ahead of Clinton in the polls. “My wife tells me everyone is offering condolences. / I want to say I don’t get the joke. / I want to ask: Who died?” In “Inauguration Day, 2017,” Nickole Brown registers her pain as the “same obscene / grief” she recalls on the day she and a friend had to bury a beloved horse: “Know how she was forced to stay calm / so the horse would not die / afraid.” Maria Gillan, in “The Day After the Election,” becomes “one of the old Italian ladies at funerals, / the ones who tore at their hair, / the ones who threw themselves into the coffins.”          

The work of other poets critique Trump sidewise, tying his emergence to the nation’s longer history of racism and violence. In “For Which It Stands,” Gregory Pardlo writes, “Who wants a speckled / drape that folds as easy over smirch as fallen soldier? / This is rhetorical. Like, ‘What to the Negro / is the fourth of July?’ A flag should be stitched with a fuse.” Poems from Patricia Smith juxtapose the desperation of immigrants who came through Ellis Island in the early 20th Century with the contemporary desperation of black bodies contending with the threat of police brutality. In “Practice Standing Unleashed and Clean,” Smith writes “All I can be is here, stretched / between solace and surrender, terrified of the dusty mark / that identifies me as poison in every one of the wrong ways. / I could perish here on the edge of everything.” In “that’s my,” Smith’s subjects do perish, and she gives voice to the grieving parents who cannot fathom the wrongful deaths of their children: “”that’s my son shot to look thuggish that’s my daughter shot to look more animal shot as kill shot as prey.” This plague of police shootings also gets treatment from Cortney Lamar Charleston in “Feeling Fucked Up,” in which he comments incredulously on the fact that murderous police officers rarely receive punishment: “they caught them / bastards on tape      planting the Taser     next to a body / handcuffed to its own color    to lifelessness itself    motherfucker.”

Government violence enters the lives of individuals as well here, trickling down to intimate relationships. Natalie Diaz writes of the erotic love that tries to make space for itself in the midst of unending war: “Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds— / the belled bruises fingers ring / against the skin are another way to bloom. / The war never ended and somehow begins again.” Dante Di Stefano, one of the anthology’s editors, traces domestic violence — “my mother / remains locked in the basement, a barbell- / shaped bruise throbbed tuberous under her blouse” —  to national pathology: “Here in America, trauma and rage / dovetail, become birthright, counterclaim us.” Other poems spit the President’s own violent words back at him, reminding him that the racist characterizations of his campaign are false, such as those he voiced against Mexicans. Amezcua starkly chants: “my father is not a rapist / or a drug trafficker or a criminal or a killer or a rapist / or a drug trafficker or a criminal or a killer or a rapist / or a drug trafficker or a criminal or a killer or a rapist /or a drug trafficker or a criminal or a killer or a rapist.”

This is a must-read collection, one that offers not only a defiant answer to the Trump administration but a context to help understand — and find our way through — this troubling political moment. With its breadth of subject matter and contributors, it’s a reminder that America is a multivalent, multivocal landscape that, if it has to go down, will go down singing.

 

Jen DeGregorio’s writing has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Collagist, PANK, The Rumpus, Third Coast, Spoon River Poetry Review, Women's Studies Quarterly and elsewhere. She has taught writing at colleges in New Jersey and New York and is currently a PhD student in English at Binghamton University. 

María Isabel Alvarez’s fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, Sonora Review, Puerto del Sol, Arts & Letters, and elsewhere. The recipient of an MFA in fiction from Arizona State University, she holds grants and fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, Sundress Academy for the Arts, and the Whiting Foundation in partnership with Hedgebrook.

Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He lives in Endwell, NY.

 

 

 

The Best Lover by Laura Boss

New York Quarterly Books, 2017, ISBN: 978-1630450441, 80 Pages

Reviewed by Adele Kenny 


A new poetry collection from Laura Boss is always a cause for celebration—and this is especially true of her newest book, The Best Lover. The poems in this collection are pure Laura Boss and deal with content that entirely agrees with what Emily Dickinson defined as the subjects of poetry: love and death. In Boss’s poems, love is expansive and includes familial love, love of freedom, love for friends, and romantic love; death includes the loss of youthful dreams, choices, and relationships, along with the physical losses of loved ones. 

Laura Boss is remarkable in the way that she never loses the plot of experience, and does not allow grief to surround or scar her poems. She has an uncanny ability to translate personal occurrences into clear-eyed, written language in such a way that she seemingly stands outside herself and speaks to the woman she observes. In “Instead of Temple,” Boss looks at spiritual experience and identifies it in terms of her poetry.

            I go to poetry readings instead of temple
I sit there and often as I listen to the featured reader
as if transported, as if in a trance or meditative state—
I forget all the worries I carried in with me

… And that is a part of writing poetry as holy
as most parishioners feel sitting in temple
listening to a sermon or even perhaps praying

Boss’ voice is sincere and compelling and, if you’ve ever spoken to her personally, you’ll find in her poems the same almost-breathless quality that characterizes the way she talks. The poems, then, read not only like authentic conversations between Laura and herself but, importantly, between Laura and her readers.  

In the arc between the first and last poems in this collection, Laura Boss makes the connection between her best lover and her best book (her observation in both cases—always the most recent). There is humor in these poems, as in Boss’s previous work but, while some of the poems are playful, none wriggles out of the painful processes of self-scrutiny and self-evaluation. From the “Best Lover”:

I tell every man I’m with
   that he’s the best lover
   I’ve ever had. …

Maybe it’s not so different
   from when someone asks you
   which of your books
   do you think is your best

And you almost always answer
   it’s my most recent

Few poets are more reflective and pithier. Infused by an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning, a signature quality of Boss’s poems is her ability to work through impact rather than image, a strength that distinguishes her work. Essentially a narrative poet, Boss’s work includes nods to memoir and lyric forms. 

Boss makes each poem do something new. As she sees into, explores, and situates what it means to be human, there are always layers—conveyable parts—beneath the apparent surface of line and content. In writing about her Aunt Rose (“Snapshot”), it is with more than simple simile that she says,

            She is like America at that moment
            caught in dazzling, peaceful sunlight—
no indication of the world shipwreck awaiting
in nearby harbors

Two of the most poignant poems are “The Mahogany Bed” and  “My Bichon Nelly Talks to Me.” In the first of these poems, Boss tells of her parents’ bed and the feeling of safety she felt in it as a child. When she was sixteen, her father died in that bed; and her mother, unable to sleep in it herself, gave both the bedroom and the bed to Laura.

… at sixteen, trying to get to sleep
in that bed was difficult and somehow I never felt safe
in that mahogany bed again

In “My Bichon Nelly Talks to Me” (a poem about the poet’s guilt and sadness told through her dog) Boss uses personification to express her beloved dog’s feelings when the poet remarried.

            You say your new husband’s condo
   doesn’t allow dogs.

But you made a choice
You chose him over me
And though your eyes tear up when you see me
You left me abandoned—
And yes, heartbroken

Still I sit by the door each morning
   waiting to hear
   your infrequent footsteps

Many of these poems contain a sense of requiem, but there is an even stronger suggestion of hope as in “Birdbaths”:

Perhaps even if one doesn’t get the precise
measurements, that doesn’t stop
delight—like years ago
my grandmother never remembering the
exact amounts of flour, butter,
or walnuts for her brittle Mandel Bread
though I always thought I’d never tasted
anything so sumptuous when she placed
them in front of me on her “good” porcelain plates—
perhaps not so different from every
spontaneous measure of love we receive—
never exact or precise but
somehow still just right.

The poems in this collection contain a percussive quality that sends out acutely felt resonances. There is a strong sense of living in the moment, of embracing the “here” of “right now.” With that underlying consciousness, Boss reflects upon the ways in which chance affects our lives. She stresses not leaving anything to chance, and not missing chances to reach out to those who matter. From “Birthday Greetings”:

I planned to call him four weeks later on his birthday
   but when I finally find my address book
   it is two days after his birthday
Saint John’s Church a woman answers
I ask for Gary—Who are you? she asks
An old friend who wants to wish him a Happy Birthday
   even if I’m two days late
She answers in a hesitating voice
I don’t know how to tell you this but Gary died
   a week ago in Hackensack Hospital.
   His memorial was two days ago on his birthday


The lovers in these poems—Beat poet Gregory Corso, an Italian Beatnik, a lawyer who told her no man ever loved her enough, her 23-year lover Michael, the man who told her she needed get her windows washed, and the lover she married the day after his wife’s funeral—highlight how Boss never recuses herself from looking back as she moves forward. In “Getting to Sleep,” she inventories her loves and reflects on how, instead of counting cousins (as her mother did), she counts the men she’s loved to help her fall asleep. 


Roddy, my kindergarten boyfriend,
though he was so smart, they
skipped him ahead a year after that—
He invited me years later to visit him
at his boarding school Lawrenceville
where I fell in love with his roommate …

And Donny, my boyfriend
who lived on the second floor of my
two family house on McClellan Street …

And years later, Michael, my love of 23
years, gone from complications of
prostate and emphysema …

And before him, Gregory,
who I loved and hated
still alive through his poems …

And the long list of men from my past
who passed on …

Whether riding a speeding train toward Moscow or attending a high school reunion, Laura Boss (forever a granddaughter, daughter, sister, wife, mother, niece, and lover) is a quintessential poet of the heart. One comes away from this book feeling that, for Laura Boss, the best lover is life itself; and the best love is the kind that wakes the soul, reminds us of life’s goodness, and brings us close to one another. I suspect that Laura Boss would agree with Leo Tolstoy who wrote,  “All, everything that I understand, I only understand because I love.” 

 

Adele Kenny directs the Carriage House Poetry Series and is Tiferet’s poetry editor. Among other awards, she has received poetry fellowships from the NJ State Arts Council and Kean University’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Her book A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All was a 2016 Paterson Prize Finalist.

Laura Boss is a first prize winner of PSA's Gordon Barber Poetry Contest. She is a recipient of three NJSCA Fellowships. Founder and editor of Lips, her own most recent book is The Best Lover (NY Quarterly, 2017).  Her poems have appeared in The New York Times.

 

 

 

Other Nations: An Animal Journal by Maria Famà 

Pearlsong PR Inc. 2017,  ISBN 978-1-59719-087-9,  83 Pages 

Reviewed by Al Tacconelli

 

Great Art is born of great insight. Written with penetrating insight, the poetry in Other Nations; An Animal Journal, reveals Maria Famà’s uncanny kinship with sentient creatures. 

Maria Famà’s feminine spiritual awareness is at one with the Southwest’s Canyon de Chelly, and Spider Grandfather’s colored sandstone, shell-embedded spires reflecting history in the sun; a circling eagle; scent of juniper and sage; accompanying spirit friends––including Skeeter, feline companion with whom Maria Famà took daily walks for twenty-one years. 

Here is poetry riding ocean waves whale watching; swimming in a pool where a dolphin dies from loneliness; living with a Luisiana turtle in a little plastic bowl; circus lions, elephants and their captive trainers; listening in the kingdom of rats to pleas of creatures,”you can not hear us, you do not know us.” Poetry of a small fish no longer able to compete and win with giant sharks, and La Lupa, ancient Rome’s she-wolf admonishing those of Italian blood to be brave and find their destiny in the sacred loop. I feel in these poems as if I am reading about myself. 

Maria Famà mourns her partner, Anita, protector of spiders and ants, who did not protect herself. 

Maria Famà prays to feral Roman cats, meowing domestic felines, and to a litany of departed sainted pets for blessings, guidance, calming fears in a world insensitive to creatures who still share our mysterious journey through the millennia. 

Creatures have a rightful place––hidden behind Maria Famà’s kitchen stove the good luck cricket is safe, a gray feathered bird sings Neapolitan songs in the September fig tree, a pigeon tracks the outline of a horse and a pigeon in unspoiled snow. 

Other Nations challenges the reader to respect the dignity of animals, especially animals abused–– comprehend creatures as our equals; to protest against suffering horses dreaming meadows and freedom while pulling tourists packed carts through hot city streets; remember the bluish gray breaks of whales and circling gulls can bring blessings. 

All peoples, all the creatures of other nations, every dimension is sacred in Maria Famà’s universe. We, “so tiny, so humbled, so exalted” have disowned the humanity inherent in Other Nations. Maria Famà’s feminine wisdom appeals through Other Nations to reverence, and reflect upon the Cosmic Unity which preserves and sustains our precious, threatened world. We must learn to leap with breaching whales––living giants carefree as waves, beautiful as the oceans, as the earth, as love.

 

Albert Tacconelli’s poetry appears in journals and anthologies. Bordighera Press (2014) published Perhaps Fly, a collection of poems. Several Tacconelli art works are included in the Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art at Passaic County Community College.

Maria Famà is an award winning author of seven books of poetry.  She has been featured in films reading her poetry.  Her poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in numerous publications. Her latest books, Other Nations: an animal journal by Pealsong Press (2017) and Mystics in the Family by Bordighera Press (2013).   Famà lives and works in Philadelphia. 

 

 

 

Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight ­­: Poems by Dante Di Stefano

Brighthorse Books, 2016,  ISBN-13: 978-1944467029  

Reviewed by Eniko Vaghy

When a poet attempts to write about a deceased loved-one, they are sometimes met with a paralyzing bout of apprehension. It is not that the poet’s literary abilities suddenly flee them – instead, they become overly aware that they are crafting a legacy for someone who has passed and who is incapable of denying the legacy if it proves inaccurate or unflattering. Through my discussions with other writers on this matter, I have heard that some fear disrespecting the memories of the deceased so much that they refrain from writing about them at all and instead refer to them in a round-about, oblique way. I have always struggled with this decision, finding it akin to a second death for the already deceased. This is the reason I so enjoyed reading Dante Di Stefano’s first collection Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight, as it is not only a testament to a beloved father but a prime representation of a poet who has the maturity and courage to continue an individual’s legacy through poetry. Before I delve deeper into my review and further expose my admiration for Dante Di Stefano’s Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight, I must say that his collection is not fixated on death. No, it is a vast collage paying homage to the music of Nina Simone, John Coltrane, and Muddy Waters (among others), Spaghetti Westerns, and the hopelessly dilapidated yet seductive aura of Binghamton, New York. However, it is Di Stefano’s poems on death – specifically the death of his father – that have shaken me and caused certain verses to become imprinted in my memory.

In Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight, we, the readers, are allowed to bear witness to the tragic decline of Di Stefano’s father during poems such as “Chemotherapy Epithalamion,” in which Di Stefano’s father hallucinates, and “Field Trip” where a panicked cab ride to a hospital is described with a tone steeped in cinematic slow-motion and surrounded by a languid yet strikingly clear beauty that makes me marvel at the capacity of Di Stefano’s recollection. It is the eponymous poem of this collection, “Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight,” that I feel captures the sorrow and bitter-sweet gratitude that comes from having cared for and stood by a loved-one during their last days.

The title originates from a section of a William Carlos Williams poem and Di Stefano includes this fragment as an epigraph at the very beginning of the book: “Love that is a stone endlessly in flight / so long as stone shall last bearing / the chisel’s stroke…” Such a prelude to a collection establishes the usual, expected conditionality of love. It can be so, as long as everything else is in place and as long as love decides to endure. However, in Di Stefano’s own poem “Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight,” Di Stefano does away with this conditionality and seems more content to say love simply is.

At the start of the poem, Di Stefano regards the “…rivers of the world” (17). While watching the Great Falls crash upon the stones below, Di Stefano discusses his father’s past. He notes how his father was “called” by the Chenango and that his father’s “…people made their way through trades, / as dishwashers and factory workers… / they, and he, were always / skipping stones in elsewhere rushing eddies…” (17). Here, taking inspiration from Carlos Williams and turning it into his own, Di Stefano offers one of the best and most eloquent images I have ever come across in poetry – that of the stone. After describing how his father died in his arms and how honored he felt to hold him, Di Stefano states “…the stone lives, the flesh dies, and we / know nothing of death or its mills that churn / into a place that is not home” (18). Whereas the image of a stone, especially in conjunction with the image of a river, can initially convey a sense of anonymity and an inevitable sinking and disappearance, Di Stefano resurrects the stone – what is more, he allows it to skip across waters that would otherwise consume it. The image of a stone represents many things, in my opinion. As denoted by the title, it represents love and its infinite power – however, I also find it represents the solidification and continuation of a legacy as well as the survival of a memory.

Dante Di Stefano is as genuine in his poems about death and gratitude as he is with his word choice, metaphors, and imagery. There is not one work in this collection that seems insincere nor a single word that I would hope to see edited and replaced. I am in awe of Di Stefano’s images such as “…the nipples of dew that linger on the tips / of grass…” (29) and the way his father’s “…face assumed the sheen / of a red delicious, whose sorrow / the worm only knows” (19). There is philosophy and the purest form of religion in these poems. Moreover, this collection reveals that if a poet decides to write about a loved one, this does not automatically mean that the loved one’s memory will fall victim to artifice or bias. I never felt that Di Stefano “owned” or “used” his father – in fact, I find that he bestowed him with the utmost respect by immortalizing him in Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight. Had it not been for this collection, I would not have been aware of the strength of Di Stefano’s father, the sustenance of Di Stefano himself, or the length a stone can reach. I would not be able to find the sacredness in the moments that are so often forgotten or trivialized – in short, not reading this collection would have resulted in a great deficiency in my emotional understanding. I hardly say this about a book, as I do not like extremes, but Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight is a necessary collection. I insist that people purchase it and burrow themselves in the beauty of its poems. The work of Dante Di Stefano lingers like a gentle press upon the shoulder which reminds one to stop moving for a moment and make an effort to acknowledge the holiness around them.  

 

Eniko Vaghy is currently a senior at SUNY Binghamton majoring in English Literature with concentrations in Creative Writing and Global Culture. When she is not writing poetry or reviews, you can find her exploring the beauty of her hometown of Binghamton with all the zeal of a first-time tourist.

Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He lives in Endwell, NY.

 

 

Queen Kong by Amanda J. Bradley

NYQ Books, 2017, ISBN: 978-1630450380; 88 pages

Reviewed by Eniko Vaghy

Amanda J. Bradley is the person I have always wanted to be and will never have enough time to become. Her latest collection Queen Kong published by NYQ Books is a deeply personal, intelligent, and feminist work of art that I will be shamelessly shoving into the hands of my friends if they feel they are losing their way or just want to know what it would be like to call Anne Sexton the embodiment of sex. 

Bradley’s collection is divided into three sections: the autobiographical first part titled “Belonging,” which comprises Bradley’s formative years as well as her time in college, “Outpourings,” which is a testament to the trip-wires of life that one catches unexpectedly and causes to emit a deluge of sensations that only the better artist knows how to translate through poetry, and  “Revolting,” which is a remarkable final act that pairs the most apt of epigraphs from works written by feminist icons such as Virginia Woolf, Mina Loy, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Plath, and Toni Morrison with equally exquisite poems by Bradley.

I find that Queen Kong is a collection defined by and enamored with distance. Throughout her poems, Bradley demonstrates a serious fixation with the distances one travels, the immeasurable yet unassailable distances that amass between friends, goals, and lovers, and the glorious distances that have yet to be charted. In “Belonging,” Bradley initially regards distance as a force that always results in loss, disassociation, and estrangement. During the first prose piece of “Part One: Childhood” an eight-year old Bradley prepares to move to Marietta, Georgia and considers the boxes strewn about her bedroom. Bradley states, “I…wonder at how strange to be leaving, how strange my friends should go on without me in the thick of it with them, how strange to…be sitting atop empty shelves, surveying and wondering what comes next” (16). However, though Bradley reveals the dismal aspects of distance, she also demonstrates how it can give one an excuse to rebuild themselves. In one of my favorite moments of this collection, fourteen-year-old Bradley learns she must move yet again and escapes to a park where she attempts to extinguish lit matches on her tongue. Bradley relates:

I strike them one by one, attempting to put them out on my wet, pink tongue, terrifying myself, waiting for cars to pass, till I am alone, before trying again. At last, I succeed. I settle fire in my mouth. I swing upside down from a bar on the playground. I am a fire-eating acrobat with no fear. I can do, I can be anything (18).

It is Bradley’s courage, this act of her consuming flame and chaos, that carries Bradley and her readers onward to the second act of her collection, “Outpourings.” Here, Bradley appears concerned with a distance placed in context. Prior to the first poem of this section, Bradley has concluded her autobiographical works on a note of bereavement and confusion. A once promising and passionate love affair has been cruelly terminated and the narrator struggles to “..forge a new way of being in the world” (34). The beauty of this transition is that one is not told what occurs within the page turn that transcends the endeavors of “Belonging” to the grounded, eloquent musings of “Outpourings.”

During the first poem, eponymously titled “Outpourings,” Bradley seems to spread time, sensation, and understanding like a vast cloth upon a table. Marvelous, non-melodramatic chest-beating statements abound such as, “I feel I have lived forever / and can go on living,” (37) “I am volatile / and dismiss myself. I burgeon / with sobering energy. I understand / why romance matters,” (37) and “I am old enough now to know / how ancient I am. I stare at today’s / sadness over my pile of tissues / and force it to slip away like a lover” (38). The assuredness Bradley deploys in the poems contained in “Outpourings” is not devoid of sadness, longing, or even the occasional existentialist cry – however, it never quivers before a new feat. The confident voice with which Bradley writes is a complete person. It characterizes not only the second act to a series of remarkable prose poems but the second act of a life. Bradley is showing her audience how she is learning to live and interact with distance. 

In the third section of Queen Kong, distance takes on an entirely different function. During “Revolting,” it is used to set up a field for feminist discourse. The poems contained in “Revolting” appear the most interactive to me. In poems such as “Anne’s Death” and even “Creep Out,” Bradley does not simply react to fragments from works written by women. Instead, she communicates with them; allows them to permeate her consciousness and invade the psyches of her poems. Moreover, what I love about Bradley’s poetry is that it is not simply an addition to feminist theory and writing, but a continuation of this glorious tradition. During the poem, “My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” which takes inspiration from Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, Bradley acknowledges the strictly gendered tenets of religion and ruefully addresses the fact that “To believe in the Father and the Son, / a woman must self immolate. / She must starve the bad out of herself, / cut her skin in secret places beneath / her skirts” (65). In another poem that responds to Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, Bradley’s verse almost cries out through the page to the reader:

I want to teach women not to mutilate / their daughters. I want to teach women / to wear whatever they want. I want to teach / women to stand in circles and throw stones back // because men have their backs against the walls. / History is not over (63).

The distance portrayed in the poems of “Revolting” is of little consequence to the ever-growing sisterhood of women writers to which Bradley pays exquisite homage. Bradley has succeeded in revealing that feminism is a stream composed of many currents. Distinct in their origins, they eventually accumulate to ensure that the ascension of women and women’s voices is achieved. Here, Bradley reveals that to be a female writer is no solitary endeavor, for a female writer is inextricably linked with the literary women of the past, immediate present, and future.

Bradley’s Queen Kong has the power to embolden the struggling feminists of Trump-era America. She is the balm found in Gilead. I know that I shall read and reread her poetry and never be want for a newfound fragment of brilliance. Bradley’s work is a thrill, and I am pleased to recommend this wonderful collection which I have discovered to be a testament to the life of a remarkable thinker, poet, and (with a smile on my face, I add) woman.

 

Eniko Vaghy is currently a senior at SUNY Binghamton majoring in English Literature with concentrations in Creative Writing and Global Culture. When she is not writing poetry or reviews, you can find her exploring the beauty of her hometown of Binghamton with all the zeal of a first-time tourist. 

Amanda J. Bradley is the author of three poetry books from NYQ Books: Queen Kong, Oz at Night, and Hints and Allegations. A graduate of the MFA program at The New School, Amanda holds a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis. She teaches at Keystone College outside Scranton, Pennsylvania.