J2 reviews editor Orchid Tierney reads three collections interrogating the poetic forms of the everyday.
Thousand Star Hotel, Bao Phi (Coffee House Press, 2017)
Bao Phi’s collection unabashedly tackles the politics of racism and erasure that pervades everyday life for Asian Americans. Poetic lines haunt the genealogy of trauma that trickles down familial lines: “My daughter is not yet five when she learns to be scared of racists, / yet smiles at every playground”; “To say the past is past is bloodless privilege”; and “We argue on the internet while our kids beg us to lock the windows / and doors.” Throughout, Bao Phi’s poetry navigates this mix of relentless racial violence and vulnerability, whilst reminding the reader of the intimacy possible in the fractures.
Days and Works, Rachel Blau DuPlessis (Ahsahta Press, 2017)
Collage for Rachel Blau DuPlessis is another form of waste management. Days and Works stitches together an archive of newspaper clippings and prose to interrogate the complexities of modern life, the materiality of the book, and the “mystery of writing” through an ecocritical feminist gaze. “We are living in late catapultism,” DuPlessis writes, “The trade in waste, the wasted lives. Scattered everywhere, illegal dumps”; and “I dreamed of fundamentalists cutting off all my hair as a sign of their power to impose their will upon my head.” At times witty and humorous, this interstitial work confronts the extremities of form and language.
Abandoned Angel, Burt Kimmelman (Marsh Hawk Press, 2016)
Terse and deliberate, Burt Kimmelman’s new collection inhabits the climes and transient spaces of the modern city. Urban worlds are rendered material and vivid with concise language that mimics the built environment of the poems: “Horn’s sounds fill the room, drums, / voices I used to hear”; “Petals opened to our gaze — a kind of music, / the wings of Keats’s bird / flutters in the autumn / dusk all in a moment.” Throughout, the simple architecture of each poem lulls the reader with astute observations that populate a world with dancing couples, jazz, and sea gulls on a Miami beach.