Posts Categorized: Microreviews

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Microreview: Sara Majka’s Cities I’ve Never Lived In

Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka (A Public Space/Graywolf Press, 2016)

Early in Sara Majka’s short story collection, Cities I’ve Never Lived In, the protagonist, Anne, gets the sudden urge to tell a former lover about a high school friend of hers: “I wanted to tell him how I had cared for his person, Eli, who had shown me a painting but had disappeared. About how lonely I had been in Jonesport. Saying it simply so he would understand.” “Saying it simply so we understand” is the best phrase I can find to describe the consciousness of these fourteen linked stories, where “simply” doesn’t mean “easily,” or “lacking in complexity,” but, rather, a letting go of posturing and pretense. There’s no caginess, no strain toward profundity. No sarcasm or show-offy wit. Read more…

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Microreview: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press, 2015)


Set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, this debut novel poses as a confession by the unnamed “sympathizer” of the title, an American-educated Viet Cong spy whose misadventures as a mole in the service of a Republican Army general he records for an unidentified “Commandant.” Ordered to maintain his cover at war’s end, the sympathizer follows the general and his cohort as they flee besieged Saigon for the seedy streets of Los Angeles, where he monitors the general’s efforts to rebuild, from among his fellow refugees, an army to retake the South.

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Micro-Review: Fred Moten’s The Little Edges

The Little Edges by Fred Moten (Wesleyan University Press, 2014)

Reviewed by Emily Corwin

Fred Moten once sat in my car. The roads were bad, first snowfall of the year in small town Ohio. I was nervous, feeling all this responsibility: young poet driving famed poet to campus for a workshop. Yet despite the snow, and my neurotic driving, Moten was at ease, hands folded in his lap across his winter coat. There was a warmth in his voice, an openness that made you glad to be in his presence. Read more…

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Microreview: Rickey Laurentiis’s Boy With Thorn

Boy with Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)
Review by Yael Massen

バイアグラとは何か、男性なら誰でも例外なく知っている、この効力増強剤はまさに効能のある治療薬である。現在に至るまで、バイアグラの需要は膨大であるが、これは配合成分の効率の高さ、製品の原理が単純であること、 服用後すぐに効果が現れることなどが理由である。

Rickey Laurentiis’ debut poetry collection, Boy with Thorn, arrives at a crucial time in American literary discourse, engaging the oppressive and harmful legacies of our nation with clarity and intelligent critique. Laurentiis’ collection as a whole is honest in recognition of a life lived through violence. The reader must praise the landscapes in this collection, in the midst of its terror and destruction, for also producing Laurentiis’ lyric beauty and wisdom. His relentless recognition of personal truths and reclamation of narratives formerly silenced is an example of poetry at its highest form.

Introduced by Terrance Hayes, who selected the collection for the prestigious 2014 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, Boy with Thorn deliberately engages with crises and politics few contemporary poets discuss with self-reflection. In “I Saw I Dreamt Two Men,” the speaker addresses Anti-Homosexuality bills proposed in Nigeria and Uganda with the support of conservative American Christian organizations, as well as recognition of his own inaction: “I stayed with southern silence.”

The silence of the American South is the landscape that haunts this collection. A Louisiana native, Laurentiis returns to the environmental destruction and social dispossession in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in “No Ararat”: “I didn’t dream this. There was a storm. Then there wasn’t. The day after came like a hammer through glass. The sky shook off his clothes and it was brilliant. I tell you it was necessary: Violence had to preface such beauty.” Religion, like the south, is embedded into the geography of the collection. Laurentiis’ speaker is in constant conversation with an ideology that brought him to live “the way a problem lives, openly, so much / earth wanted [him] closed” (“Epitaph on a Stone”).

I was most moved by Laurentiis’ poems that directly engage rape culture, particularly “Black Iris,” a poem that transforms Georgia O’Keeffe’s eponymous painting. Here, Laurentiis crafts narratives and representations of sexuality complicated by violence and trauma formerly silenced and denied by the “Old Masters” (to quote “Vanitas with Negro Boy”) of art and white supremacy.

and when the iris shakes in it,
the lips of the flower shaping
to the thing that invades it, that will be
me, there, shaking, my voice shaking.
like the legs of the calf, who—out of fear?
out of duty? —is sitting by his dead
mother because what else will he do, what else has he?
Because a voice outside him makes him.

The title poem of the collection, “Boy with Thorn,” exemplifies Laurentiis’ technical mastery, social consciousness, fearsome imagination, and self-awareness. The ekphrastic poem transforms a first century B.C.E. bronze sculpture into a meditation on violence and a reclamation of the self in the aftermath of trauma:

              I keep thinking of the thorn as
a marker, scrawler, what shapes the places both excused
              and forbidden
in his body’s swamp.

          Violence thou shalt want. Violence thou shalt steal
and store inside.

The poem concludes on the speaker’s negotiation of these internalized, external voices.

          This was his body, his body
finally his.

          He shut the thorn up in his foot, and told his foot

Laurentiis’ speaker pronounces a final resolve to inhabit his body as is, with an understanding of the pain that must be managed as a part of its existence.

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Micro-Review: Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s The Verging Cities

The Verging Cities by Natalie Scenters-Zapico (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2015)

Reviewed by Willy Palomo


I have never been to the border, yet the border has maintained its presence in my life, mostly through the barriers it has erected against my friends and family. What I know of it I have learned either from the confusing and crazed worlds of media and academia or from late night stories half-spoken by my parents, both of whom migrated to the United States from El Salvador during the 1980s and hardly speak of it. Given all the violence, divisive politics, and silence surrounding the border and its issues, it is difficult to find a voice discerning and trustworthy enough to share its stories with the scope and passion Natalie Scenters-Zapico faces the subject in The Verging Cities, her debut collection of poetry about the sister cities, El Paso and Juarez.


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