April being National Poetry Month, I thought it would be a good time for the Spring Poetry Roundup, highlighting four spectacular releases from four extremely talented writers. I try to do two roundups a year, in the spring and fall, though I don’t always have enough material to make that happen. If you have suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. And now, on to our poets:
The Pressure of All That Light – Holly Painter (Rebel Satori Press)
Holly Painter’s third collection of poetry is separated into three sections, each a different locale and stage of her life–Michigan, California, and New Zealand, each part charting a path of discover. The poems comprising Michigan are uncertain and searching, many of them characterized by her reactions to the italicized speech of others: the gym teacher in “Assembly” or the woman who finds her boyish-looking and insists she’s in the wrong restroom in “Please don’t hurt me,” one of my favorites here. The California pieces are far more assured. speaking to a clarity and cleverness only possible from someone who thinks they’ve figured out what things are all about, such as the then-and-now rhythm of her “Apologetics of a College Freshman” and the summation of a life so-far-lived in “San Francisco Self-Examiner,” the title of which still makes me smile. But the surety of these poems is totally undercut by the disconnects of the New Zealand poems, characterized by jarring images such as the “asterisk-headed dandelions” and “metal trees” of “Dandelion,” and the dead man’s suit in “Shipwrecked, I Arrive.” Painter finds grace in disarray but no comfort in travel in this thoughtful and accessible collection.
Saints of the Republic – Chip Livingston (Spuyten Duyvil)
Unlike Painter, queer/two-spirit, mixed blood Cree writer Chip Livingston, author of two previous collections of poetry and a number of other works, is not only comfortable in travel but rhapsodic about settling in his newfound home of Uruguay, well-represented in his latest release, Saints of the Republic. Like Painter, the collection is split into three parts: “Santos de La Republica,” “Home Catechism,” and the titular “Saints of the Republic.” Livingston delights in removing the worship of convention from his saints, transmogrifying them to a more visceral level, as in “San Vitalis of Fetishes,” which name-checks Mapplethorpe’s Piss Christ, or providing choices in the path a poem is read, such as “San Timotheos’ Line” or “San Judas Tadeo, Apostle of God’s Image.” The longest poem in the first section, “Alphabet of the Republic,” proclaims the reasons for Livingston’s joy in his adopted country, and is so convincing you might find yourself checking airfare prices. But there are interesting pieces anywhere you look here: the backward thrust of “The Heat Run,” the freewheeling tilt of “52 Hawks,” and the possibilities of “Could Be You.” But above all, this is a very earthy, elemental compendium of pieces. Body parts and images abound. culminating in pieces like “War Pornography,” Finding Love in Chelsea,” and especially the intimate “I Remember Joe Brainard’s Cock Pics,” a piece as thoughtful as it is delightfully pornographic. A rumination on the body as well as the spirit, Saints of the Republic paints a frank portrait of both sides of that dichotomy as well as all points between.
limerance – Octavio R. Gonzalez (Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press)
As visceral as Chip Livingston, yet in a different way, Octavio Gonzalez’s limerance has its roots in the body but concerns itself more with the buildup and aftermath than the moment itself. Not that he never explores the right-now, but even the pieces which do so don’t linger there. Although all the pieces are interesting, my particular favorites are the prose poems “when i was little (ii)” and “begging for quarters,” which seem to have a sense of place you don’t often find in poetry. But Gonzalez also works well with transcience–the fleeting encounters in “shrink (i)” and “shrink (ii),” the reminiscence of “rooftop (i)” and “rooftop (ii),” the inherent longing of “love cycle,” the freedom and movement in “glide with you”–all of these are both enjoyable on their own but also as part of an indelible whole. limerance is a study in contrasts: ethereal yet earthy, static but in motion. It’s much like the cover–sharp focus in front of a hazy background.
The Old Ambassador and Other Poems – Wayne Courtois (Spartan Press)
It’s been too long since we heard anything from Wayne Courtois. His fiction and memoir always has a fresh point of view and impeccable follow-through, and his poetry is no exception, so I was anxious to dive into his latest, The Old Ambassador and Other Poems, which did not disappoint. As he’s primarily a fiction writer, Courtois’s work is often rooted in reality rather than imagery. His images are certainly telling, but he approaches them from a more grounded perspective, telling the reader what’s on his mind. And what’s on Courtois’s mind lately seems to be mortality, evident from the first piece, “When It Comes,” about the moment of death. He does approach other subjects such as the normalcy of gay couples, as in one of my favorites here, “Heteronormative Bar-B-Q Sandwich,” which illustrates the difference between a straight couple and a gay couple waiting in line for food, but the long centerpiece of the book, “The Old Ambassador” reeks of age, must, and death. A piece about the demise and refurbishment of an old hotel in Kansas City, Courtois’s current home base, it leaves plenty of room for thinking about finality as well as renewal and how to embrace both with equal fervor. It’s solemn yet hopeful, focusing on transition–as you can tell from the cover. Skilled and assured, The Old Ambassador and Other Poems is a welcome return from one of our finest writers.
And there we have the Spring Poetry Roundup–four great volumes that are sure to keep you thinking until the fall. We’re always looking for titles, so if you have something coming out this summer, please let us know at email@example.com.
© 2023 Jerry L. Wheeler