Poetry Review Retrospective in Honor of National Poetry Month

Fourth & Sycamore launched six months ago today, and we’ve had a fantastic time since then bringing you reviews, author interviews, and book recommendations from the shelves of our historic public library. The site has grown nicely, and we hope to continue to provide this content for years to come.

One of our specialties since we launched has been reviewing new poetry volumes, an area of literature that often doesn’t receive enough attention (or readership). In honor of April being National Poetry Month, we thought we’d look back at the books of poetry we’ve reviewed in the last six months and give you the opportunity to catch up. Read through these reviews and then come on in to GPL (or your closest public library – we’re teammates, not rivals) and check out the ones that sound the most interesting to you. Feel free to share your favorites below on social media. Enjoy!

Poetry DealThe Immortality We Carry with Us: The Poetry Deal by Diane di Prima (811.54 Di Prima). Published 2014 from City Lights. Review published December, 2014.

“‘So, a San Francisco where all sexual preferences are good, all pleasure and delight is wonder-full as long as there is joy and communication and no one cares about marriage and no one by the way wants to join the Army, any Army! Why would you do that?’ This bohemian, anarchic vision is dominated by a formless idealism, but a deeply beautiful one.”

TabloidsMermaids and Glass Prisons: Matthea Harvey’s If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? (811.6 Harvey). Published 2014 from Graywolf Press. Review published December, 2014.

Tabloids carries an overarching feminist angst refracted and chopped and reordered through an abstract lens. … Harvey expresses her fascination with the mermaid as a being that is highly sexualized but cannot have sex. One can easily see how this serves as a commentary on the way our patriarchal society continues to maintain a virgin/whore dichotomy that limits female expressions of sexuality while simultaneously projecting/demanding sexual allure from women.”

chaserslightTypewriter Sentiments: Tyler Knott Gregson’s Chasers of the Light (811 Gregson). Published 2014 from Penguin. Review published December, 2014.

“Which leaves me trying to figure out what to do with a book like this. The thoughts are not profound, and the word-to-word writing is not stunning. The heart of it is touching and true however, and reflects a raw, broken earnestness not usually found from certain more ‘serious’ poets. Tyler sells all of his poems as prints available from his site, and this is perhaps the best outlet for them; I could see these framed and hanging in the hallway of a cool apartment, or given as gifts between dear, long-distance friends. I don’t think they work nearly so well between the covers of a book.”

Blood LyricsGutted and Rising: A Review of Blood Lyrics: Poems by Katie Ford (811 Ford). Published 2014 from Graywolf Press. Review published December, 2014.

“Herein lies the subtextual theme of the first half of Blood Lyrics: do not take my child. The following poems carry this plea onward, weaved into the variety of feelings expressed; outrage, desperation, exhaustion, and so many more. And to be sure, this is a book of feelings. There is no abstract remove in which the writer looks objectively at her emotions, dips them in bleach, and presents them to the world, reasonable and sanitary. She lives in them on the page, breathes them in and out.”

GabrielGabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch (811.54 Hirsch). Published 2014 from Alfred A. Knopf. Review published January, 2015.

“The book begins and ends at the funeral, but the extended middle section is somewhat formless, bouncing between the terrible specificity of Gabriel’s death and struggles in life and Hirsch’s broader reflective memories of his son. It feels like an imprint of the long process of grief itself, the way grief taunts with its lack of form or definite end. Grief is the anti-GPS of a modern life that can be so carefully plotted otherwise – it has landmarks, but no road signs, maps, or time estimates. It will be done when it is done, and you are along for the duration. Hirsch takes us along on that ride, and it is terribly honest and raw.”

20150110_103431_001What Can Make This Matter: Down by Sarah Dowling (811.6 Dowling). Published 2014 from Coach House Books. Review published January, 2015.

“Dowling’s book resonates with this feeling for me. It is unrelenting in its failure to sing along, to keep the beat. We get the point pretty quickly, but the book has a lot of pages left. We keep getting the point. We get frustrated by the point, numb to the point, then frustrated by the point again. The persistence of alienation is unrelenting. Socially trying but tripping is not an affectation that can be surrendered at will. It carries with it an ongoing cycle of frustration, numbness, and acceptance.”

RomeTunneling Towards a Ferocity: A Review of Rome by Dorothea Lasky (811.6 Lasky). Published 2014 from Liveright Publishing. Review published January, 2015.

“Here Lasky draws the two extremes of her book together to cast them into sharp contrast. In the process she skewers the patriarchal ownership of this epic language and puts it to work carrying her most private inner longings before the masses. It’s a clever and successful gambit, and an obliquely feminist one that doesn’t have to announce or even acknowledge its politics. It achieves them, and laughs a bit while it does so.”

MotherlandPerfect Little Mouthfuls: A Review of Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood (811.6 Lockwood). Published 2014 from Penguin. Review published February, 2015.

“Between her absurdist, ironically prurient poetry, her riveting live readings, and her popular and hilariously perverse Twitter feed, Patricia Lockwood reads like what would happen if David Lynch and Sarah Silverman had a love child who grew up reading Sylvia Plath and watching Kids in the Hall. Her poems, a potent mix of sex jokes and cutting social observation, read like pornography for the world’s (or Portland’s) lonely literary dreamers. Lockwood’s poetry is the deleted search history of the lovelorn MFA student.”

Final GirlFrom the Stacks: Final Girl by Daphne Gottlieb (811.54 G). Published 2003 from Softskull Press. Review published February, 2015.

“In Final Girl, Gottlieb weaves the imagery and interrogatives of this film trope into the fabric of a young adult life on the fringe. What does it mean to be female, to be queer, to be other? What does it mean to be promiscuous, to be strong, to be vulnerable? How do we reconcile our rational minds and tender spirits with our bleeding, eating, breathing bodies and the violence that gets done to and by them?”

CitizenCitizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (811.5 Rankine). Published 2014 from Graywolf Press. Review published February, 2015.

Citizen is a testament to how far we have to go as a nation to move past the racism that still shapes too much of our culture. The book is a series of brief anecdotes from Rankine’s daily life, offered with little or no preamble, each of which expresses the casual and at times flagrant racism a person of color regularly faces. “

last twoTick-tick In the Drifting Dark: A Review of The Last Two Seconds by Mary Jo Bang (811.54 Bang). Published 2015 from Graywolf Press. Review published April, 2015.

“Within this theme, however, the collection is not impersonal. There is private reflection here as well, a look at the way the self’s insistence upon isolated selfness scales upward concentrically to create the isolation of families, civilizations, to create the essential tension of empire that produces the larger conflicts ushering us toward the end.”


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