Posts Categorized: What We’re Reading

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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

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:

                        11.
              I keep thinking of the thorn as
a marker, scrawler, what shapes the places both excused
              and forbidden
in his body’s swamp.

                             12.
          Violence thou shalt want. Violence thou shalt steal
and store inside.

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

                        28.
          This was his body, his body
finally his.

                        29.
          He shut the thorn up in his foot, and told his foot
Walk.

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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IR Staff Tells All: Short Story Collections We’re Thankful For!

This year IR is excited to partner with IU Press to award our first annual Blue Light Book Prize to an outstanding short story collection! Submissions open December 1, 2015. Check out our guidelines for more details.

In preparation for Blue Light Book submissions, our senior IR staff reflected on the short story collections they’re most thankful for this holiday season. Read more…

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IR Staff Tells All: Our Favorite Laura van den Berg Stories!

We’re proud to have Laura van den Berg judge our 2015 Fiction Prize. Her story in IR, “Where We Must Be,” is oneLauraAuthorPhoto(1) of our favorites and was recently republished in the always-excellent Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading. Here, some of our staff weighs in on only a few of van den Berg’s many exquisite and unforgettable short stories. Read more…

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The New Testament, Citizen, and Forgiveness Forgiveness: Contemporary Poetry on the Politics of Race

In light of the recent epidemic of racially charged violence and two grand jury decisions not to indict the policemen responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I would like to draw attention to three newly published poetry collections that deserve consideration within the current dialogue on blackness: The New Testament by Jericho Brown, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae. These three books have garnered much attention on their individual merit, but deserve consideration in terms of the conversation we should be having about race relations in America.

A poetry book is a kind of rumination. For the average poetry collection to go from the seed of an idea to an ISBN number takes at least 2-3 years—even for relatively established poets like Rankine, Brown and McCrae. All three books were released within a month of each other and, based on their overlapping subject matter, one might suppose these varying depictions of the expendability of black lives result from the July 13, 2013 Trayvon Martin case verdict. But, assuming a typical publication schedule, these books would have been in the editing stages by the time George Zimmerman’s acquittal made headlines.

I say this because The New Testament, Citizen, and Forgiveness Forgiveness all bear testimony to the importance of poets amidst the voices that respond to today’s atrocities. The fact that these books focus our attention of varying views of blackness, of black masculinity, of disappearance, of youth—while our newsfeeds fill with the loss of one black life, after another black life, after another—is more strategic than anomalous.

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Microreview: Language Lessons

Review of Language Lessons, Vol. 1 (Poetry, Third Man Books, 2014)

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Last summer at the Newport Folk Festival, Jack White was joined on stage by actor John C. Reilly. Together they covered Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene”—and Jack White wept. The magic of a music festival sparks in the friction, the weird juxtaposition of singular voices for one weekend only! The best moments of literary anthology Language Lessons, Vol. 1, occur at just such junctions—curated carefully enough to allow for the haphazard transcendent. Headliner Jake Adam York opens the show. Adrian Matejka steps back and lets the ones-and-twos speak for themselves. Nicky Beer ruminates on the panda, while a few stages over, the mythic Frank Stanford returns from the dead for one more set. (Like the Tupac hologram at Coachella, but with more blood.)

 

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