BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
1. Sing the Song by Meredith Alling (Future Tense Books, 2016)
Alling’s book of short stories is both powerful and funny—it’s that perfect blend of short mundane moments mixed with absurdity. The brevity of the pieces illustrate Alling’s capability to use persona and voice to her advantage, all while drawing the reader into each piece’s emotional vulnerability. Favorite stories: “The Drug,” “Go Quiet,” and “Lady Legs.”
2. Reconsolidation by Janice Lee (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015)
Reconsolidation is an absolutely beautiful exploration of grief and loss, focusing on the death of Lee’s own mother. What I love most is the fact that it uses memory—and how we choose to remember and recall someone—as a point of observation. The constant use of interviews, with the speaker interviewing oneself, is also another device Lee used remarkably well within the framework. So often, lines tear me apart, like: “My mother is the only family member I have ever said “I love you” to” (61).
3. Everything Neon by Bud Smith (Marginalia, 2014)
If poetry were Bruce Springsteen lyrics mixed with the lyric narrative quality of James Wright, you have Bud Smith. His poetry is conversational, using NYC as a landscape—like a sort of love story to the city and the people in it, only as if Larry David wrote it. The speaker is casual, but also deeply aware of the world around them, weaving together pop culture and sage introspection. For instance, in the poem “A Crushed Pepsi Can Floats Down,” Smith writes: “I get to thinking about dying/and coming back as a fish… /I’m building a raft from a neon sign/and will be there soon/made of bells” (7).
4. The Shaky Phase by Jessie Janeshek (Stalking Horse Press, forthcoming 2017)
Janeshek is a master at creating seductive yet somewhat foreboding world in which everything is beautiful and nothing is safe. She uses the Hollywood landscape to comment on gender dynamics, our fears, our insecurities, our loneliness, and use these persona as a way to cast light on what draws all humans together. In particular, Janeshek uses the second person POV to draw reader and speaker together as one: “You shove my head in the lake./I let the dry algae dry on my face./… then I crawl in the treehole/cheeping to bleed” (26).
5. The Messenger Is Already Dead by Jennifer Macbain-Stephens (Stalking Horse Press, forthcoming 2017)
It’s impossible for me to dislike a book whose central figure is Joan of Arc. As someone who went to Catholic school for 14 years, I am automatically drawn to retellings and explorations on saints, especially such a strong female figure as Joan. The collection is like a puzzle both to Joan’s life and intentions, but to how own political time of unrest and turmoil. The link is unmistakable, making it a must-read.
6. Pizza & Warfare by Nikki Wallschlaeger (Garden-Door Press, 2016)
Wallschlaeger’s chapbook is packed full of gorgeously dense prose poems that give us detailed snapshots of the speaker’s life through the consumption and distinctly American obsess with pizza. This focus is a powerful link between personal and global violence—also putting on display systemic racism and gender inequalities that often get glazed over by mainstream media and institutions. The first-person perspective is harrowing and heartbreaking in its vulnerability and honesty—but also its brevity:
“She said when she was pregnant with me she craved it they went to Pizza Hut constantly hot August & ruthless September I hear them talking I hear him but not as frequently after he leaves I heard crying he sends a few care packages in the mail toys and clothes but no money no money ever Ronald Reagan is the first president I ever saw on television he was a very important old white man with dark hair who didnt think about people like us the war being dug around and gaining ground in the Big Cities he talked a lot about crack on the battlefields in black poor neighborhoods as I grow up it will spread to marijuana and will ruin the lives of many people I know who live in small cities and who live in big cities as children we develop in the bunkers we’ve been planted in different bunkers for different classes and castes mine is of the white trash black mutt variety perennials whitehead pus parts of myself black effervescence buried deep in that layered death volcano the smell of pizza baking invades through my hometown proud gas mask I snatch it up the combo of processed nightshade & the fruits of sad assimilated animals if you are what you eat I am angry black heffer harvested from the amniotic seabeds of illegitimate plum trees with a barely traceable yet hypervisible African legacy the places we could afford to go to Pizza Hut slime ale glasses filled with domestic tap beer are more frequent than the memories I have of my father she cried when she found out she was pregnant with the child of a black man the extended family sent letters of disapproval and scorn and shame to these two women i lived with an elderly mother and her fallen daughter I call sometimes when I’m drunk to fulfill an obligation discussing safe topics like children, holiday plans, the weather, new job prospects, pets, health ailments, etc” (4).
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (2016, Agape Editions). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in Prelude, BUST, The Atlas Review, The Feminist Wire, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets.