A distress call that’s worth reading and heeding.

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SAVE OUR SHIP

A collection of 57 poems that sound alarms about current ecological, political, and cultural trends.

Ungar (English/Coll. of Saint Rose; Immortal Medusa, 2015, etc.) provides helpful notes to explain her inspirations for this impressive volume of free verse, which includes transgressive female voices of the past and present; Cassandra, Emily Dickinson, and Audre Lorde make appearances. Alphabetical order is a recurring theme, as is Morse code. The title poem makes reference to rising, polluted seas; the placement of seven lines of “SOS” in Morse code seems to form waves. Environmental disasters are another urgent concern, as seen in “Endnotes to Coral Reefs” and “Naming the Animals,” a partial list of extinct species that ends with a gut punch: “Four species an hour.” Language is also under attack, as revealed in “Elegy,” which alphabetically lists words eliminated from the Oxford Junior Dictionary (“bluebell,” “buttercup”) and arrays them as if they’re drifting away. In contrast, newly included words (“blog,” “broadband”) are clustered in a solid block of text. Clever manipulation of language, space, and punctuation abounds. “Quoth the Queane” riffs on the letter Q, while “To You, U” explores the personal and linguistic history of Ungar’s initial. “Après Moi” offers 21 variations on the phrase “Let them eat cake”—with “cake” replaced by evocative signifiers, such as “bump stocks,” “the lying press,” “tax returns,” “opiates,” and “paper towels.” Dystopian poems will resonate with many readers, such as “The Woman With a Live Cockroach in her Skull” and its slippery preposition: “She wakes screaming / each morning at the news.” “Man Bun Ken” is a humorous meditation on the fate of the latest iteration of Barbie’s companion: “Future archaeologists / may stumble upon his simulacra / & mistake him for a shape-shifting god.” The book is full of keen insights regarding the passage of time, whether one is attending a wedding with one’s first boyfriend, taking a nostalgic walk through the West Village, or observing a spider and her web. Overall, Ungar suggests that language and memory are futile attempts to impose order on the chaos that surrounds us. 

A distress call that’s worth reading and heeding.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-912592-74-9

Page Count: 71

Publisher: The Ashland Poetry Press

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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