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Prior by James Berger reviewed in the New Haven Review

 

Priorities



James Berger’s first book, Prior(BlazeVOX, 2013), is not so much a collection as it is a condensed career. Drawing on decades of poems, Berger compresses his past into a book. We don’t read for a dominant theme but rather to see the different threads revealed. And yet this is also not a “selected,” where the volumes drawn from would be clearly marked. Berger has compiled his poems, we might say, and chosen an arrangement for them. And that’s what we read.

That said, we can isolate different versions of Berger the poet, and different interests over time. The book is divided into four sections, linked by recurring short poems entitled, severally, “Prior to Earth,” “Prior to Air,” “Prior to Water,” but the sections seem to blend the kinds of manner to which Berger is prone. There is the abstract poet, pursuing a more disembodied style, where a sense of language is the key pursuit; there is the family man poet, who reacts to a death, to the birth and growth of his children, who reflects on his sisters, and explores the imaginative dimensions of marriage; there is the discontented commentator on culture and, to use the Onion’s phrase, “our dumb century,” a poet who finds little enough to praise and chafes at his status quo; then there is the more profound poet, who sees that the purpose of poetry, after all, is its ability to contain life and thought, the actual existence and the virtual existence. Poetry may be cloying if it tries to be wisdom literature, and Berger is too ironic toward language to endorse gestures too large, but moments of careful reflection surface due to the poet’s willingness to attend to the implications in a turn of phrase, a new shade of the mind.

Read the whole review here 

Check out more about Prior here

 

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Romance With Small-Time Crooks by Alexis Ivy reviewed in Prick of the Spindle

 Romance with Small-Time Crooks
By Alexis Ivy
Review by Karen Weyant



BlazeVOX [books], 2013
ISBN: 978-1609641054
Paperback, 100 pp., $16

 

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a pool hall girl—one of those teenage girls who hung out at the local dives in town. Pool hall girls were all tight jeans and tank tops and tattoos. They wore red lipstick and teased their hair high (this was the 1980s). Trails of cigarette smoke always lingered behind them. They were, in one word, cool. And as a young girl, I wanted to be cool. 
            
Somehow, I was reminded of those pool hall girls when I read Alexis Ivy’s Romance with Small-Time Crooks. Ivy’s first full-length poetry collection details a young woman’s life from youth to adulthood through booze and drugs, sex and violence, loss, and eventually, hope. Essentially, this book is the coming-of-age story of a heroine who is resilient, if not a bit rough around the edges, but always a fighter and survivor. 

Read the whole review here 

Check out Alexis's book here 

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The Electric Affinities by Wade Stevenson reviewed by Kirkus Reviews!!!

The Electric Affinities by Wade Stevenson reviewed by Kirkus Reviews!!!

The Electric Affinities by Wade Stevenson reviewed by Kirkus Reviews!!!


A free-love opus set in a bygone era. Ben Steinberg, a successful architect, hosts a collective of artists and free-spirits in his Sag Harbor, N.Y., house in 1969. Among the damaged but earnest people that move through his home are Andre, a director; Robert, a Vietnam War veteran; Carolina, a spiritual youth endeavoring to live without restraint; and Maya, the apex of a romantic triangle that consumes her suitors. The plot follows a fairly straightforward design: As the year progresses, each character wrestles with their own particular demons. Robert’s disenchantment with the world is reified in his aversion to visiting his wealthy grandmother, the woman who raised him; for Carolina, it’s an evolving quest to live as freely as possible that, eventually, takes her away from Sag Harbor. But the plot, as it is, feels secondary here. The real tension comes from within. Working with a true ensemble cast, Stevenson explores the radical aspirations of each of his characters while balancing them against the dramatic irony of a world that didn’t turn out quite the way it was supposed to. Perhaps the best stand-in for the contemporary reader is Robert. He may have been disillusioned by his experience overseas (as readers may have been by the course of history), but he yearns for some kind of meaning in his life, something true to aspire toward. The same goes for everybody in the novel; amid pain and loneliness, they look for some kind of purpose in a world that doesn’t seem prepared to accept them. It’s a familiar enough theme for books set in the late 1960s, but Stevenson’s effortless prose brings a freshness to what could otherwise have easily been a trite tale of hippie naïveté. He laces the story with insightful mantras throughout: “It’s not like cooking—there’s no measuring cup. Freedom has to be unconditional or not at all.” The narrative movements here are subtle, often more interested in providing a full picture of the characters’ struggles than in building a propulsive plot. At times, the pace may feel sluggish for some, but readers willing to stick with it will be rewarded with a stunning resolution. An atmospheric, evocative tale of youth endeavoring to live free.

—Kirkus Reviews


Read more about The Electric Affinities by Wade Stevenson here

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Music for another life by Kristina Marie Darling and Max Avi Kaplan reviewed at Pank by Anne Champion

 

[REVIEW] Music for another life, by Kristina Marie Darling and Max Avi Kaplan

music

BlazeVOX Books
77 pages, $18.00

Review by Anne Champion

Kristina Marie Darling, already an accomplished poet in her own right (she’s published sixteen poetry collections), has begun paving a new trail with her foray into collaborative writing. Her previous collaborations work alongside poet Carol Guess, but her newest work, Music for another life, collaborates with the accomplished visual artist and scholar, Max Avi Kaplan, and the finished product is a brilliant and moving piece of art. The cover, featuring a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like donned in Jacqueline Kennedy inspired attire, chillingly depicts a woman laying in grass in a corpse pose, and this image foreshadows what’s to come: stunning, delicate beauty that adheres to societal standards juxtaposed with hauntingly devastating realities.

The narrative, composed solely of short prose poems, follows a speaker named Adelle as she traverses her lavish landscape in heels, swanky sunglasses, and pencil skirts. Each page features a different picture of Adelle—either standing outside of her domestic sphere or lounging in nature. The work of light and shadow in these photographs speaks volumes to the Adelle’s search for self and inability to find it, either from being blinded, outshined, or blurred into unrecognizablity. Some of the poses only vary slightly, so you can flip through the pictures quickly and watch Adelle move as if she were an animation. Regardless of the various ways you can look at and interpret the images, the most important thing they do is immerse the reader in a very real and detailed world: paired with the poetry, it’s hard not to empathize with the character while also feeling as trapped and suffocated as she does, despite the fact that she clearly frolics in an upper class status. Maybe even because of it.

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Leah Umansky reviewed in Best American Poetry

Posted by Kristina Marie Darling

February 25, 2014

I'm intrigued by Umansky's treatment of the poem as a space in which intervention into literary tradition becomes possible.  Just as she re-imagines Wuthering Heights from a fragmented, postmodern stylistic standpoint, Umansky presents each poem as a theoretical act, an active engagement with the work that came before her own.  Domestic Uncertainties is filled with poems like this one, which read as both conversation with and revision of received wisdom. 

Read the whole review here   

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