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TERMINAL LEAVE

A raw, insightful collection that evokes the detritus of war.

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Blake reflects on the cost of war in this debut collection of poems.

War is a famously difficult subject to capture. As Blake notes in one early poem, “I didn’t keep a diary because it was too late to start / So much had already happened.” Blake examines the ways war discombobulates the soldier, taking the familiar and making it unfamiliar or shifting the expectations of object or place. In “New Bullets,” for example, the narrator describes how important keeping track of bullets and their casings had been during training; even one unaccounted for round could shut down a shooting range. In war, this punctiliousness went out the window: “with careless speed and gluttonous greed / we stuffed our pockets and filled stiff pouches / more than could be missed or counted.” Likewise, in the poem “Shrapnel,” the soldier muses on the ways a metal object is transfigured by an explosion, fragmenting into bits that suddenly have neither a recognizable shape nor a purpose. “I feel like you now,” confesses the soldier, “Because since we met / In the hot Arabic dry space between two ancient emerald rivers / I’m changed in a way I can’t explain.” Up close, war is all fragments. The notions of precisely executed strategies and maneuvers are a product of distance, but the poet reveals how different things look on the ground: “to observe war is like a pair of scissors cutting a paper clean / to those in the spot the image is magnified / not a clean cut / but actually tiny fibrous strands being ripped apart / they see and live each decision.” It is an affecting, destabilizing lesson that lingers long after the soldier has returned from battle. Blake’s writing continually toggles between muddled and sharp. The lines are sometimes choked with too many monosyllabic words (though even these seem to mimic the unwieldy, dispassionate euphemisms of military language): “Hours of restless convoy daydreams / Anticipations voltage a constant power source / Whirring into motion the minds ability to escape / Transcending mechanized journeys through ancient orchards.” More successful are the moments when Blake allows himself to slip into the short, tight pattern of vernacular speech, adept as it is in expressing anger, fear, and boredom: “There were loud explosions in a nearby distance / So I grabbed some war things and opened a door.” Blake captures, in both the book and its title, the sneaky way that the war ends (or doesn’t end), lingering long after the flight home. The last few poems are set along the American coast, where beaches and surf no longer offer the relaxation they once did. A late poem, “Footing,” describes the inability to acclimate to life after war: “I didn’t move / no desire to wade deeper or retreat to the dry grainy beach / but the world paid no respect to my position and made me move / by removing every fleck beneath my heavy feet.”

A raw, insightful collection that evokes the detritus of war.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 409

Publisher: Finishing Line Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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ONCE UPON A GIRL

Therapeutic, moving verse from a promising new talent.

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Keridan’s poetry testifies to the pain of love and loss—and to the possibility of healing in the aftermath.

The literary critic Geoffrey Hartman once wrote that literature—and poetry, in particular—can help us “read the wound” of trauma. That is, it can allow one to express and explain one’s deepest hurts when everyday language fails. Keridan appears to have a similar understanding of poetry. She writes in “Foreword,” the opening work of her debut collection, that “pain frequently uses words as an escape route / (oh, how I know).” Many words—and a great deal of pain—escape in this volume, but the result is healing: “the ending is happy / the beginning was horrific / so let’s start there.” The book, then, tracks the process of recovery in the wake of suffering, and often, this suffering is brought on by romantic relationships gone wrong. An early untitled poem opens, “I die a little / taking pieces of me to feed the fire / that keeps him warm / you don’t notice that it’s a slow death / when you’re disappearing little by little.” The author’s imagery here—of the self fueling the dying fire of love—is simultaneously subtle and wrenching. But the poem’s message, amplified elsewhere in the book, is clear: We go wrong if we destructively give ourselves over to others, and healing comes only when we turn our energies back to our own good. Later poems, therefore, reveal that self-definition often equals strength. The process is painful but salutary; when “you’re left unprotected / surrounded by chaos with nothing you / can depend on / except yourself / and that’s when you gather the pieces / of the life you lost / and use them to build the life you want.” The “life you want” is an elusive goal, and the author knows that the path to self-definition is fraught with peril—but her collection may give strength to those who walk it.

Therapeutic, moving verse from a promising new talent.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72770-538-6

Page Count: 196

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

Endings

POETRY AND PROSE

Downbeat but often engaging poems and stories.

A slim volume of largely gay-themed writings with pessimistic overtones.

Poe (Simple Simon, 2013, etc.) divides this collection of six short stories and 34 poems into five sections: “Art,” “Death,” “Relationship,” “Being,” and “Reflection.” Significantly, a figurative death at the age of 7 appears in two different poems, in which the author uses the phrase “a pretended life” to refer to the idea of hiding one’s true nature and performing socially enforced gender roles. This is a well-worn trope, but it will be powerful and resonant for many who have struggled with a stigmatized identity. In a similar vein, “Imaginary Tom” presents the remnants of a faded relationship: “Now we are imaginary friends, different in each other’s thoughts, / I the burden you seek to discard, / you the lover I created from the mist of longing.” Once in a while, short story passages practically leap off of the page, such as this evocative description of a seedy establishment in Lincoln, Nebraska: “It was a dimly lit bar that smelled of rodent piss, with barstools that danced on uneven legs and made the patrons wonder if they were drunker than they thought.” In “Valéry’s Ride,” Poe examines the familial duties that often fall to unmarried and childless people, keeping them from forming meaningful bonds with others. In this story, after the double whammy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hits Louisiana, Valéry’s extended family needs him more than ever; readers will likely root for the gay protagonist as he makes the difficult decision to strike out on his own. Not all of Poe’s main characters are gay; the heterosexual title character in “Mrs. Calumet’s Workspace,” for instance, pursues employment in order to escape the confines of her home and a passionless marriage. Working as a bookkeeper, she attempts to carve out a space for herself, symbolized by changes in her work area. Still, this story echoes the recurring theme of lives unlived due to forces often beyond one’s control.

Downbeat but often engaging poems and stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5168-3693-2

Page Count: 120

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2016

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