Reviews

A quiver of chapbooks

A review of 'New-Generation African Poets'

This chapbook box set is the third in an annual series, first published in 2014 by Slapering Hol Press and taken on by Akashic Books as of 2015. The box sets are a project of the African Book Poetry Fund, which also supports an impressive constellation of poetry prizes, poetry libraries in African cities, and book publishing — full-length collections by new poets, as well as collected or new and selected works by such major African poets as Ama Ata Aidoo, the late Kofi Awoonor, and Gabriel Okara. Having titled the first two sets Seven New Generation African Poets and Eight New-Generation African Poets, coeditors Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani were forced by the fact that this third iteration also features eight poets to settle the issue of naming. As Dawes puts it, “By tagging on to our new title the word tatu, a Swahili word denoting the number three, we are codifying our faith and confidence that this is truly a series.”[1] Indeed, the most recent set — Nne or four — was released this past April with ten more chapbooks, although they will have to await a future review. Each chapbook in the Tatu set bears a preface by an established poet, and each bears cover art by Victor Ehikhamenor, a Nigerian artist and writer who is currently exhibiting at the Venice Biennale and is increasingly in demand as a cover artist. While the box set is thus a quiver of gorgeous physical objects, the poetry itself is just as arresting as Ehikhamenor’s designs.

This chapbook box set is the third in an annual series, first published in 2014 by Slapering Hol Press and taken on by Akashic Books as of 2015. The box sets are a project of the African Book Poetry Fund, which also supports an impressive constellation of poetry prizes, poetry libraries in African cities, and book publishing — full-length collections by new poets, as well as collected or new and selected works by such major African poets as Ama Ata Aidoo, the late Kofi Awoonor, and Gabriel Okara.

Gleam and darkness

A review of John Hollander's 'The Substance of Shadow'

Right: Ferdinand Olivier and Heinrich Olivier, 'The Invention of the Art of Drawing (the daughter of Butades of Sicyon and her Lover),' 1804, pen and ink, watercolor. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In Pliny’s Natural History,the original act of aesthetic representation is said to be the tracing of a lover’s shadow on a wall, an outline that would remain after that body takes its sorrowful leave.

From legalese into nothingness

A review of Hugo García Manríquez's 'Anti-Humboldt'

Photo of Hugo García Manríquez (right) courtesy of García Manríquez.

As a bilingual and bicultural individual, I have learned that the vectors that constitute my identity pull me sometimes in different directions depending on which side of the border I’m standing. I embody the challenging experience of engaging in conversation and producing works of literature in my second language. This perspective is always present in my writing; the effects of the binational polarization coming from the imminence of the border are unescapable. When it comes to literature that is written precisely at or in tension with the US/Mexico border, how far do the ripples go?

As a bilingual and bicultural individual, I have learned that the vectors that constitute my identity pull me sometimes in different directions depending on which side of the border I’m standing. I embody the challenging experience of engaging in conversation and producing works of literature in my second language. This perspective is always present in my writing; the effects of the binational polarization coming from the imminence of the border are unescapable.

Giving way to a knot

A review of 'Anemal Uter Meck'

Photo of Mg Roberts (right) by Smeeta Mahanti.

Anemal Uter Meck begins with an amnesiac transformation, the “anemal”/animal of the title seen immediately in the dedication “for raptors everywhere,” and in the first lines of the book: “you forget you were someone/something / else. you forget your beak. your.”[1] We may start there, but we certainly do not rest there. Mg Roberts moves quickly between a fistful of strands and conversations, never showing the whole of them.

Anemal Uter Meck begins with an amnesiac transformation, the “anemal”/animal of the title seen immediately in the dedication “for raptors everywhere,” and in the first lines of the book: “you forget you were someone/something / else. you forget your beak. your.”[1] We may start there, but we certainly do not rest there. Mg Roberts moves quickly between a fistful of strands and conversations, never showing the whole of them.

'The heart's vast and cratered purpose'

'In June the Labyrinth'

Photo of Hogue (left) © Sylvain Gallais.

Cynthia Hogue’s In June the Labyrinth turns from the meditations on grief and loss Revenance illuminated with tact and grace to the dimensions of mortality itself. The book’s protagonist, Elle, at once a distinct personality and a compilation of formidable women, suffers, recovers, and dies by the series’ end.