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My Review of Angela Voras-Hills’ LOUDER BIRDS is Now Live at Green Mountains Review!

Hi everyone! I’m happy to announce my latest review, Angela Voras-Hills’ Louder Birds from Pleiades Press, 2020, is now live at Green Mountains Review!

You can read it here!

Elizabeth Powell at GMR recommended this book to me and was a true joy to work with. I greatly hope to have the opportunity to review for them again in the future.

This book is absolutely gorgeous: imagistic, lyrical, eerie, dreamlike, rural, violent, sexual… It reminded me how important it is to take risks in our work—and also how OKAY it is to sacrifice a little of our poetry’s accessibility in the name of beauty, language, and truth.

Because of this, it also challenged me to revisit my own work, to question where I’ve turned complacent, and where I’ve become too comfortable.

Constantly wrestling with new terrain and images, Voras-Hills’ collection is anything but safe, anything but complacent. Her work challenges what is beautiful, what is normal, even what promotes happiness in poem after poem—if not line after line.

I found myself particularly identifying with Angela Voras-Hills’ work because of her lyric and subtlety, as well as several of her core themes and rooting in Midwestern living. Reading this also repeatedly took me back to the work I did with Shaindel Beers‘ latest collection, Secure Your Own Mask, from White Pine Press, which wrestles with similar themes.

I hope you will find the time to visit Angela Voras-Hills’ collection. I cannot stress enough how lovely, complex, and memorable it is.

Before I go, here’s a poem I particularly love from Louder Birds. I hope you enjoy it, too.

MAPS OF PLACES DRAWN TO SCALE

Ten minutes from a two-week vacation,
a van flips on an exit ramp. In a small town,
the van is bigger. On the highway,
it’s just a van, heading toward a hotel. This
is global positioning: a man is ejected and the van
lands on top of him. In a small town, a priest
knows the man’s name, but Death does not
concern itself with formalities. It also does not take
the man whole: only his legs and anything else
it can grab below the waist. At a Chinese buffet,
Death is stuffing her cheeks
with crab rangoons, while a family
stands behind her with empty plates. Nobody stuck
to the vinyl booth finds “You will suffer”
inside their cookie, but it’s implied
in the parking lot. A child breaks free
from her mother’s arms and runs head-first
into traffic. In the city, there are always
detours. But in a small town, there’s one
name for each baby born, and eventually
it’s on the lips of everyone in the street.

—from Louder Birds and previously featured on The Adroit Journal

If you’d like to see more, I have one other poem by Voras-Hills posted on my website already. You can read it here.

ANGELA VORAS-HILLS is a poet, community organizer, and instructor living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She spends a great deal of time running around city and watching birds in the backyard with her children. Her first collection of poems, Louder Birds, was chosen by Traci Brimhall for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon Review Online, New Ohio Review, Memorious, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, and Best New Poets, among other journals and anthologies. She has been awarded grants from The Sustainable Arts Foundation and Key West Literary Seminar, as well as a fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston. Before moving to Milwaukee, she also co-founded a literary arts organization, The Watershed: A Place for Writers, which evolved into Arts + Literature Laboratory in Madison.

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Poem of the Day: Justin Phillip Reed

Happy Tuesday, friends! As I mentioned yesterday, I’m throwing myself back into doing the things I love—and I LOVE celebrating my fellow writers. If you’d like to have one of your works featured, or do a mini-interview with me about your process or one of your successes, I’d love to hear from you. Check out how to submit here.

In the meantime, here is today’s incredible Poem of the Day, coming to you late Tuesday evening:

WHAT’S LEFT BEHIND AFTER A HAWK HAS SEIZED A SMALLER BIRD MIDAIR

I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.

poem previously featured by Poem-A-Day

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(BIPOC Writers to the front!)

If you’ve been following my website for a while, you KNOW I love to celebrate my fellow writers. I’d really love to get a series going: poetry, fiction, etc., AND a weekly writer’s spotlight. If you’d like to submit a piece to be featured, or if you’d like to do a mini-interview with me, check out the Series page and how to submit!

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Poem of the Day: Brigit Pegeen Kelly

DOING LAUNDRY ON SUNDAY

So this is the Sabbath, the stillness
in the garden, magnolias
drying damp bells, petticoats,

over the porch rail, while bicycle
wheels thrum and the full-breasted tulips
open their pink blouses

for the hands that pressed them first
as bulbs into the earth.
Bread, too, cools on the sill,

and finches scatter bees
by the Shell Station where a boy
in blue denim watches oil

spread in phosphorescent scarves
over the cement. He dips
his brush into a bucket and begins

to scrub, makng slow circles
and stopping to splash water on the children
who, hours before it opens,

juggle bean bags outside Gantsy’s
Ice Cream Parlor,
while they wait for color to drench their tongues,

as I wait for water to bloom
behind me—white foam, as of magnolias,
as of green and yellow

birds bathing in leaves—wait,
as always, for the day, like bread, to rise,
and, with movement

imperceptible, accomplish everything.

—appears on Poetry Foundation here

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Poem of the Day: Sylvia Plath

WINTER LANDSCAPE, WITH ROOKS

Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone,
plunges headlong into that black pond
where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan
floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind
which hungers to haul the white reflection down.

The austere sun descends above the fen,
an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look
longer on this landscape of chagrin;
feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook,
brooding as the winter night comes on.

Last summer’s reeds are all engraved in ice
as is your image in my eye; dry frost
glazes the window of my hurt; what solace
can be stuck from rock to make heart’s waste
grow green again? Who’d walk in this bleak place?

—from Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1981)

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New Poem: In The Morning, Where I Walk (after Sylvia Plath)

Where Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying” and social distancing meet . . .

IN THE MORNING, WHERE I WALK

Out to the street where
cars have been parked for days, I know little

of what brings the birds
out of their hiding, what has come

of the neighbors who leave their trash cans
out long past the pickup, even the cat

we used to feed. Most blinds
are drawn, white walls against

the light, where I know there must still be
life inside. Hope, less so, less food

or supplies than what may
have previously lined the pantry, but

we find a way to survive. I line
the entry wall, hanging over the path

that leads up to our house
with more pine cones stuck thick

with peanut butter and birdseed, take
the dimensions of the hollow gap

along the path to build raised flower beds
in the spring, so we can go through

the summer with our bellies full
of heirlooms and greens.

Before I go back inside, I look
off in the distance, to the corner

of my street and the next, and see
the wild bushes. Crisp, brown leaves hang

after a mild winter, and I hope they will
be filled with blood-red vine in spring.

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Happy National Poetry Month! Poem of the Day: Angela Voras-Hills

Happy Wednesday, friends! I hope you’re all enjoying your week. For those of you who may not be aware, and for those who are too overwhelmed with other things right now to be focused on this (know that I feel you and am here for you), April is National Poetry Month.

For the entire month of April, I’m going to do my best to post a poem every single day by an amazing poet—weekends included. I think, especially right now, we need as much art in our lives as we can get, and I like knowing I’m contributing in some very small way to the resourcing of that.

In my own work, I’m also aiming to write a poem each day, and to write a minimum of one new article per week. I’ll either share them here, or provide links to where you can find them. I’m not so worried about actually pitching and submitting right now; I only have so much energy, and I’d rather put it into creation, rather than pushing for publication, for just a little while.

Though, I want to mention, for those of you who are using this time to focus on larger goals, I have a writing group that is focused on getting your writing done, seeking publication, marketing and growing your readership. Whether you’re a poet, a playwright, a freelancer, a novelist, or anywhere in-between, I’m confident there is useful information in that group for you. If you’d like to check it out (it’s totally free), make sure to keep scrolling after the poem, and join the free Facebook group. I’d love to see you there.

Okay, enough of the logistics for tonight! Here is our Poem of the Day:

ON MY WAY HOME

A great horned owl sits in the window
of a silo along the highway. The foundation

of the barn is now rubble, its boards salvaged.
My mother has scraped and painted the wood

into plant stands. On the other side
of the highway, flames chew clean

to the steel skeleton of a sedan, its body
barely identifiable. Firemen stand close

with the hose, but no water comes through.
There’s no ambulance. The lake

has recently frozen over. Yesterday,
firemen gathered on it, jumped hard

to collapse the shell and fell through.
Each body tall in a black dry-suit, then,

only a watery hole where they’d stood.
The mother of one of the men watched

in the snow beside me. Just then,
my son was in biology class.

But what he was learning about the body,
I don’t know.

—from Angela Voras-Hills’ Louder Birds (Pleiades Press, 2020)

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Poem of the Day: Sylvia Plath

BLACKBERRYING

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,   
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.   
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,   
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me   
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock   
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space   
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths   
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

—from Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1981)

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Poems of the Day: Allan Peterson

THIS LUMINOUS

Turn off the light
The hemming begins at once
You hear the engine of the sewing heart
stitching into sleep so you won’t come loose
Out the window light is still moving
that sees through your bones
I hold a flashlight to the fire in my hands
How can I see into my skin’s little blue rivers
and not out from my eyelids
How can the water that holds up everything
slip through my fingers
How can we be this luminous
and people go right on talking

BOTANY

I started a garden just flowers and watched
the cotyledons turn recognizable coming up
like pictures on the box warning of glycosides
in ranunculas water crowfoot and lesser celandine
They were poison in the book but that was once
said about tomatoes so I ate another nightshade
just to see

HOW IT WORKS

A book is saved memory
A tree is memory saved as a book of leaves
This is not news
The leaves say themselves again and again
The pages remember the tree
and the leaves that have fallen onto its own
We saved each of them
to make others out of paper and wire
With each one we said
I remember—There was the elm
the rope swing was in it and the yellow bird

—all from Allan Peterson’s This Luminous: New and Selected Poems (Panhandler Books, 2019)

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Poem of the Day: Vievee Francis

ANOTHER ANTIPASTORAL

I want to put down what the mountain has awakened.

My mouthful of grass.
My curious tale. I want to stand still but find myself moved patch by patch.
There’s a bleat in my throat. Words fail me here. Can you understand? I sink to
my knees tired or not. I now know the ragweed from the goldenrod, and the blinding
beauty of green. Don’t you see? I am shedding my skins. I am a paper hive, a wolf spider,
the creeping ivy, the ache of a birch, a heifer, a doe. I have fallen from my dream
of progress: the clear-cut glass, the potted and balconied tree, the lemon-waxed
wood over a marbled pillar, into my own nocturne. The lullabies I had forgotten.
How could I know what slept inside? What would rend my fantasies to cud and up
from this belly’s wet straw-strewn field—
these soundings.

—from Vievee Francis’s Forest Primeval (Triquarterly Books, 2016)

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Poem of the Day: Rebecca Pelky

RADIUM GIRL

Once the boys were goldfish and all the girls
were rings, tossed and bouncing from bowl to bowl.

If not for the clink of plastic on glass,
we’d never have known the frenzy,

how it sorted itself to tinny song. The funhouse
mirrors tripped us up, caught our bottled necks,

each turn in the murky neon telling a truth
in thighs and teeth, telling us what we already knew

we were. So I filled my arms with rubber snakes
and phosphor. I dragged my stranger limbs

beyond the tilt-a-whirl lights. One by one,
I tied tails to incisors and held tight to the chain link.

One by one they tugged free, newborn
rattlers trailing my mouthblood from their tails.

—from Horizon of the Dog Woman (Saint Julian Press, Inc., 2020)

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Reading Louise Glück: 4 Days until Halloween

Happy Sunday, friends! I hope you’re having a relaxing weekend.

Today, we’re going trick-or-treating in a neighborhood nearby with friends, and we’re also planning to go to Chicago’s Botanical Gardens to see their annual 1000 glowing Jack-o-lanterns display.

What are you doing to celebrate Halloween and enjoy fall?

To continue our countdown—only four days to go!—here’s a poem by Louise Glück:

ALL HALLOWS

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

poem previously featured by the Poetry Foundation, here

Happy Sunday, friends, and Happy Fall!

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Reading Rae Armantrout: 5 Days until Halloween

Apple cider, fall leaves & crisp air, jack-o-lanterns a’glow—These are a few of my favorite, spookiest things…

Happy Saturday, friends! If you’ve been here for a while, you know how much I love Halloween. And I also love countdowns. So—

To showcase the five days we have left until Halloween, here’s a lovely, spooky poem by Rae Armantrout:

DJINN

Haunted, they say, believing
the soft, shifty
dunes are made up
of false promises.

Many believe
whatever happens
is the other half
of a conversation.

Many whisper
white lies
to the dead.

“The boys are doing really well.”

Some think
nothing is so
until it has been witnessed.

They believe
the bits are iffy;

the forces that bind them,
absolute.

poem originally featured by the Poetry Foundation, here

Happy Saturday, friends! I’ll see you again tomorrow for our next poem.

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