Posts Categorized: Microreviews

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Review by Anni Liu



In Ordinary Beast, Nicole Sealey’s first full-length collection of poetry, she questions how to make something that will last. While it would be easy to say that with these impeccably crafted poems Sealey has answered the question, I believe this poet is less interested in the act of simple preservation than in dancing within the limits of our “brief animation.” One thing that makes this book of myriad forms and ideas feel fresh is its ambivalence about the questions most central to it. Sealey writes:

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MICROREVIEW: David B. Goldstein’s Object Permanence

Review by Hannah Thompson

On the last numbered page of Object Permanence, David B. Goldstein reveals the occasion for this chapbook—while staying at Casa da Confraria in Sinatra Portugal, he wrote poems from the perspective of dolls and animals he encountered in the house. Goldstein names the dolls by identifying their anachronistic, and often unsettling, features. Here are just a few of the titles: “Large Head Under Glass,” “Handless and Legless Doll,” “Burning Doll,” and “Big-Handed Doll.” Regardless of our cultural fear of dolls (their fixed expressions, their hollow bodies, their uncanny-valleyness), these titles are scary. Who removed the Large Head from the doll’s body and put it under the glass? Who tore the hands and legs from the Handless and Legless Doll? Why is the Burning Doll burning? And, furthermore, who does the Big-Handed Doll address when it says, “Each of you must decide / how I will hurt you,” (1-2)? I won’t answer these questions for you. Instead, I ask you hold onto your uneasiness as you approach the two most difficult poems in this piece.

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Microreview: Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties

Review by Tessa Yang

In the opening story of Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection, the narrator, stealing into the woods to have sex with her boyfriend, offers the following reflection: “I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.” “Unafraid” is an apt descriptor of Her Body and Other Parties, released yesterday from Graywolf Press. It is a book that pushes back: against literary conventions, against the stigma and silence surrounding queer sensuality. In these eight stories, Machado bulldozes the barriers between sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction, horror, and erotica, and makes us wonder how we ever could have dreamed of separating them. Read more…

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Microreview: Stephanie Han’s Swimming in Hong Kong

Swimming in Hong Kong by Stephanie Han (Willow Springs Books, 2016)

In Stephanie Han’s debut short story collection Swimming in Hong Kong, her protagonists dwell in liminal places, whether because of race, nationality, age, or location. Han’s exploration of these in-between states is distinguished by its complexity and unabashed embrace of the political, most notably what it means to both enact politics in one’s actions and to live in an inherently politicized body, particularly for women of color in the United States or majority-white expatriate circles abroad.

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Microreview: Rochelle Hurt’s In Which I Play the Runaway

In Which I Play the Runaway by Rochelle Hurt (Barrow Street Press, 2016)

Rochelle Hurt’s second poetry collection, In Which I Play the Runaway, does more than summon narratives of origin and growth—the poems command another language with a new alphabet of “boxcar beats,” of fluorescence, linoleum, of living inside “this hissing kettle of a house.” In impossibly small spaces, Hurt demands the creation of another sight, reckoning with the speaker’s unflinching desires.

The book layers itself with self-portraits in which the speaker imagines herself as something else. The images build upon one another until it almost becomes too much, yet the poems pace themselves accordingly. In “Poem in Which I Play the Cheat,” the speaker tells us about the origins of her love. She asks us to


“understand before it began before that—

Sun as first love: when I was small”

and eventually says

“What I mean is that I fall in love with surfaces.”


I am stunned by how these stories accumulate to form an expansive landscape of the self. I read this collection when I was traveling, and even though these poems spread across various locales, the central voice does not waver through its changes, growths, and revelations. Hurt’s poetry has the power to transform a constrained space into one of power. For example, “Halfhearted,” one of the collection’s prose breaks, ends with this:

“But here’s where I got a break: on the seventh day of each week I lived in the pit of myself. Houseless, husbandless, I slept outside, balanced on a rock—tough, whole, unable to be consumed by any desire. On those nights I was happy.”

In Which I Play the Runaway begins with a “last chance” and ends with “honesty” Through this journey, the self is made resilient, each time more complicated than before. Hurt converts the impossible into a real possibility and in so doing, makes the truth undeniable. This collection is a must for anyone thinking of transcendent landscapes and the intense making of the self.