Book Review: Lace & Pyrite by Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Lace & Pyrite:  Letters from Two GardensLace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A short chapbook of beautiful epistolary poems between Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Ross Gay. Ostensibly about their individual gardens, the scope of these poets’ poems frequently expands in breathtaking ways.

Nezhukamatathil is reading at the University of Arizona Poetry Center next week and I wanted to sample some of her work before then. Pleased to discover in the process a new favorite poet. I also read her Lucky Fish collection tonight and it was equally as wonderful.

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Book Review: Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Lucky FishLucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s most recent collection of poems (I think) concerns itself with autobiography, genealogy, geography, relationships, motherhood, and nature, among other topics. I love her sense of humor; poems like “Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill” and “The Mascot of Beavercreek High Breaks Her Silence” include unexpected humor along with more serious, lonely, and heartbreaking observations and revelations. I know when poems are working for me when the images suddenly erupt in vivid virtual reality in my mind and I gasp; several poems in this collection had those effects on me. It took a few readings of the first stanza in “A Globe is Just an Asterisk and Every Home Should Have an Asterisk” before the asterisk-shape of a flat cut-out of a globe in manufacture that would later be “pressed into a sphere” arrived in my mind’s eye, and I immediately loved that image. I was also really impressed by how she taught me to read with early poems poems later in the collection. For example, there’s a description of witches as wearers of eel-skin in an early poem that I recalled when a woman in a later poem was described as wearing eel-skin.

Nezhukamatathil is reading at the University of Arizona Poetry Center next week and I wanted to sample some of her work before then. Pleased to discover in the process a new favorite poet. I also read her collaboration with Ross Gay, Lace & Pyrite, which was also fantastic.

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Review: The Machinery Second Edition

The Machinery Second EditionThe Machinery Second Edition by Himanshu Goel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the previous issue, I love the art that illustrates each poem and prose piece. Standouts include Mawia Hunter illustrations for the poems “Clarity” by Jason Alford and “Pathetic Fallacy” by Maximilian Heinegg, illustrations in which figures emerges out of colorful and vibrant splatters and drippings of paint. The artists and the writers are from various parts of the world and part of the charm and enjoyment of The Machinery is how writer and artist from different backgrounds are paired together.

I also really enjoy the writing this time. Even poems I found somewhat opaque in meaning were gorgeous in imagery and language. Several made good use of repeating phrases (anaphora), such as “I don’t” in “Reasons to Skip Breakfast” by Larissa Wirstuik, and repeating lines, such as the wishes in “Wish” by Chris Stewart. I particularly love poems that end with a final line or two that takes the poem in a new direction or toward a philosophical moment or a surprise, and several of the poems do so here, such as the surprising use of “penultimate” in the last line of “We Wanted to Write the Poem” by Corey Mesler, the heartbreaking and hopeful possibility at the end of “I Blush for Erza” by Amanda Besserer, and the unexpected recent memory at the end of “Earthbound Words on a Flight of Fancy. ETA Uncertain.” by Sangeetha Balakrishnan. I want my black socks to fly away and return with a gift, too!

My favorite of the short stories is “For Better and Worse” by Yi Han, a wonderful and inventive fairy tale that subverts the cliches of the genre with a magical corner of a room, inclusive characters, and acute longing. This is the second time I’ve read “For Better and Worse” (The Machinery also publishes each piece on their WordPress website and I had read this particular story a few weeks ago) and I think I understood this time how the characters know each other, an understanding that makes the story even better and more poignant.

Some of the stories also have surprises in their last few sentences. The twist at the end of “Gone Riding” by Sue Ann Porter is humorous, but also a little shocking; just why has the character been feeling so intensely throughout the piece!? The funny ending at the end of “The First Plague” by Phil Temples contrasts with the revelation of what is going on.

I think The Machinery improved greatly between the first and second editions, and now I’m really looking forward to the third!

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Review: The Machinery First Edition

The MachineryThe Machinery by The Machinery
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A young group of artists from India has organized a new literary magazine of poetry, prose, and art and photography. I liked the poetry and prose, but none of the pieces really stood out, in my opinion. I was most captivated by the lovely photographs and drawings that illustrate each piece. For example, in “Home Cooking” by John Grey, a soldier home from Iraq reflects on how a domestic setting is different from the war front; the illustration is of an empty egg shell in black and white set against a black background, which helps illustrate the meal preparation and kitchen setting of the poem.

I was a little worried at first about the diversity of writers in the issue: the first several poems all seem to be written by white men from western countries (based on included bio images.) Later in the issue, however, there are a few writers from other backgrounds. The illustrators are all young men and women from India, I think, and I’m eager to see more of their work in future issues. The art really is stunning.

I like this first issue and it was strong enough for me to want to seek out the second issue.

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