Gorgeous poems, rich with allusions to music, art, and history from Ancient Greece to the Korean War.

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INTO THE CYCLORAMA

This debut poetry collection offers a resonant meditation on personal and collective identity.

Kim, the assistant dean for public service at the University of Virginia School of Law, won the University of Southern Indiana’s 2015 Michael Waters Poetry Prize for this book. Her poems are elegant and intricate, with forms ranging from prose paragraphs to the three spare lines of the sijo, a traditional Korean lyric with a set number of syllables and pauses. Sometimes the configuration varies within the same poem: “The Bronze Helmet (A Retrospective)” and “Post-Colonial Album: 1980” are made up of particularly impressive, multipart verses that frequently transform from one structure, or point of view, to another. In the former poem, the points of reference include archaeology, the Olympics, and Korean-Japanese relations—all linked via the titular helmet, which was gifted to the first Korean gold medalist (from 1936’s Berlin Games), Sohn Kee-chung, on the eve of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. The relic becomes a potent symbol of cultural-compromise-as-survival-strategy: later generations have “endured not happily perhaps / but strong which is the gift of bronze / the life of alloy.” Complicated feelings toward family members infuse multiple poems, such as “Prelude and Fugue,” about a grandfather’s disappearance, and “A Rag for My Father,” with its somber variations on the refrain, “A father is a kind of trap / you could easily fall for.” The opening poem, “Thin Gold String,” sets up a picture of life as a series of accidents and losses, and much of what follows lives up to that melancholy vision. “Cyclorama” effectively maps out the repetitive nature of violence on the page, with personal concerns and headlines about mass shootings left-aligned, and the Civil War battles of the Gettysburg Cyclorama aligned on the right. Instead of rhyme, Kim relies on wordplay, such as “fugere” versus “fugue,” and alliteration, such as “flicking water on the flames” and “drop into a deep, delicious sleep” from “New World (III).” Dreams and journeys are additional recurring themes, while familiar buildings serve as metaphors for the self.

Gorgeous poems, rich with allusions to music, art, and history from Ancient Greece to the Korean War.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-930508-37-8

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Southern Indiana Review Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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An exciting poetic work that lives up to its emotional and linguistic potential.

THE BETTER MONSTERS

A complex work of poetry about seeking one’s rightful place in the world.

Poets have long used the topics of arrival and departure to explore feelings of belonging. In this debut book, Dutt gives us a glimpse into what a foreigner’s arrival to the United States looks like: “how to then shed this skin / wrapped since youth / how to speak American / when we arrive / without our imagination / to bring down bodies.” This sense of displacement festers in this book, which effectively presents a portrait of a family lost between two cultures and two generations: “We can’t talk / about what we did how sometimes it’s different / from the way it’s shown but they think they know / and we can’t tell them we can’t even tell each / other.” The family systematically struggles with preconceived notions that some Americans have about the Indian population. This subject matter is nothing new, especially in the modern era, but thankfully, Dutt’s collection is a productive contribution to a conversation about inclusion and tolerance and not a rehashing of stereotypical attitudes. Despite the tumult of arrival in a new place, daily life is shown to function as prosaically as it did before. In “Over Cider and Whiskey in Hotel Rooms,” the speaker compares the generational gap that exists between her and a figure who appears to be her son. The poem builds as the stakes get higher, though it ends on a small instance of everyday life: “we’d be so annoyed / when someone would slap the car / to pass and cross // we’d all have to get out / and check.” It’s these moments, when the poems seep through the speaker’s humanism, that make the collection so gripping. And at times, Dutt takes readers by surprise with tragically poetic stanzas: “all those stones / go home to your country / my country? / where we are on any map.”

An exciting poetic work that lives up to its emotional and linguistic potential.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77126-156-2

Page Count: 66

Publisher: Mansfield Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A tender and clever look at a writer’s life.

WORDS IN ROWS

POETRY AND PROSE

Callen (Running Out of Footprints, 2013) offers a quaint, playful collection of poetry and prose that spans nearly 50 years of her life.

The creation of “I Love You, Sun,” the first poem in this book, dates back to 1967; the closing poem, “Galaxy Girls,” was written last year. In between are 39 other pieces about nature, love, and the absurdities of Callen’s long life. Her descriptions of nature are filled with wonder and delight: “On a clear night…the stars hung rich and heavy over us, and it felt like we could reach out and touch heaven,” she writes about the Alaskan sky; in “Come Into Life With Me,” she urges readers to “Stand wild in the pulsing rain / and know the strength of its wetness.” Love is also a major theme, both romantic and platonic. In “Puzzle,” she’s intrigued by an unnamed someone, “And, fan that I am of wholeness / I grab you up in little gifted pieces / and turn you around and around / against the straight edges of my brain.” Callen is a talented storyteller who recounts many different scenes with wit and humor. In “Blue Moon Baby,” for example, an acquaintance details his daughter’s birth and the burying of the placenta: “He finally ran out of words, like a tightly spun top that finally came to rest,” Callen writes. In “A Wonderful Fantasy,” the author works herself into a tizzy anticipating an old boyfriend’s overnight stay, which ends in disappointment. “Never Enough” tells of Callen’s family as they struggle to calculate how big a batch of mashed potatoes will be required to satiate holiday guests. Only two pieces seem out of place in this collection: the grim “Time Twister,” which details the 1966 Tower killings at the University of Texas at Austin, and “Mom Visits,” an imagined reunion between the author and her late mother.

A tender and clever look at a writer’s life. 

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9884716-1-0

Page Count: 142

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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