lefaquin’s #CBR5 Review #10: Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation : Poems by Amal Al-Jubouri

Before the womb expelled me
you were my cord to the placenta
I was your creation
No—your goddess

I, your heiress
You, my slave
You, my god

You came from Paradise
and so did I

My cheating lover
A number, a zero-sum

–          Poetry Before the Occupation


As to be expected in a book of poetry about war, most of the poems are heartbreaking, lonely, melancholy. But they are exquisitely beautiful, and each word feels so perfectly chosen in Arabic and in English, that I couldn’t stop reading. For an extremely well written analysis of Al-Jubouri’s poetry, one that I feel adds so much that I want to say, this article has some excellent insights. This is a book I want to dwell on, and one I’ve recommended to several friends. To read the rest of my review, look here.

pyrajane’s review #32: Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse by Anne Carson

RedGeryon is Red.  He’s a monster.  He hides his wings and tries to follow his older brother.  He’s an odd child, monster or not.  He speaks little but is always learning.  His mother is his solace and her unconditional love and guidance helps him find art.  He’s able to create a space for himself while being abused by his brother.  He grows, discovers photography and “somehow Geryon made it to adolescence.”

We know from Stesichoros that Geryon will be killed by Herakles.  He is the tenth labor and has fate is sealed when both are born.

But in this version of Geryon’s life, how will this death happen?  He and Herakles meet as teenagers.  He’s fourteen, Herakles is sixteen and Geryon  is doomed.  He spends as much time with Herakles as he can, wanting to love him completely, but at a complete loss when it comes to approaching the unnamed and unknown.  Herakles is all confidence and sexuality, and yet he seems to wait for Geryon to stumble into admitting something, or waiting for him to simply give up and give in.  Geryon’s longing and frustration is tangible and Herakles’ refusal to help soon starts to feel cruel.

But eventually Herakles possess him completely.  He is charming and only wants to journey and discover and find fun.  When Geryon amuses him, it as if they are the only two in the world.  Geryon feels unworthy and knows this attention is fleeting.  He’s desperate to keep Herakles interested.  He withdraws from his mother, both of them unsure how to approach each other now.

And then Herakles leaves Geryon behind.  He’s bored, or Geryon is boring.  Broken and sick, Geryon peers into his camera and waits.  Perhaps he’ll find something interesting, or become interesting.

Are you interested?  Read the rest over on my blog.

reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #44 The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March


This book length poem almost has to be read out loud to get the full effect. Written in 1928, it is a fun jazz-age piece. The character’s are straight out of  a gangster’s speakeasy: Queenie “was a blond, and her age stood still” and her lover Burrs was “A clown, Of renown: Three-sheeted all over town.” The plot is predicted by the title of the book, Queenie decides to throw a party and as the alcohol flows things get out of hand. Continue reading

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #35: Proxy by R Erica Doyle

proxy-poems-r-erica-doyle(Forgot to post this one awhile back!)

My review of R Erica Doyle’s very good poetry collection, Proxy, appeared at The Rumpus.

“A change of position, a change of time — R. Erica Doyle’s Proxy moves through the heady, consuming stages of desire, explosion, depression, and peace within the life-cycle of a relationship. Her prose poems are unafraid of the body, of queerness, and the messiness into which one can willingly dive.”

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #14: Looking For The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco

Looking-For-The-Gulf-Motel-BlancoMy review of Looking For The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco recently appeared on The Rumpus. Here’s an excerpt:

Look, perhaps we should have more open lusting for poets, yeah? If that is someone’s gateway into a poet’s work, then so be it. We all need more poetry in our lives.

All right, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, can I also tell you that I really enjoy Looking for The Gulf Motel? Yes, I do. Truly. It hits all my thematic hot spots — love, lust, and loneliness. Blanco revels in memory and intimacy, and much like Tracy K. Smith’s poetry, his work makes me want to bed down and stay.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #19: Black Venus by James MacManus


Black Venus is a fictionalized account of the relationship between French poet Charles Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval. Baudelaire is recognized as the greatest poet of the French language whose classic work Les Fleurs du Mal was banned shortly after publication in France in 1857 due to its “obscene” content. Jeanne Duval, an immigrant from Haiti whose mother was a slave and whose father was a French plantation owner, was his lover for 20 years and the inspiration for Baudelaire’s best known work.

As the novel begins, Baudelaire is a 21-year-old “dandy” living off of his mother’s money. Baudelaire wears the latest fashions and haunts the trendy cafes with his friends, accruing debt while expressing disdain for the bourgeoisie and support for revolution. While drinking at a working class dive, he catches cabaret singer Duval’s act and is immediately attracted to her. Duval was tall, shapely, olive-skinned and had long dark hair. She was also quite independent for her time, having escaped Haiti at the age of 14 and making her way to France. A 20-year dysfunctional relationship ensued, involving  alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, debt and an obscenity trial. Baudelaire’s mother and friends blamed Duval for Baudelaire’s downward spiral, but MacManus shows Baudelaire as someone who willingly went down that path. His dark side is evident throughout the novel — vain, selfish, drawn to many vices and unrepentant about it. It is the dark side of man that is the focus of his verse and what set him apart from the romantic poets of his age.

Little is actually known about Jeanne Duval. She did not write, and accounts of her from Baudelaire’s contemporaries are unflattering (she was the whore who supplied him with opium). Duval, as depicted by MacManus, was an independent minded woman restricted by her sex, race and class. She used her talents as a singer, her own intelligence and her looks to support herself and her predilection for fine dining, gowns and jewelry. Baudelaire’s mother offered her money to stay away from him, while his publisher Poulet-Malassis offered her money to get back with him so that he would write again.

The Baudelaire/Duval relationship, as depicted by MacManus, was a train wreck and reminded me of some of the celebrity relationship disasters that you might find in today’s tabloids. They go from lust to hatred and back again. They do drugs and drink to excess and spend extravagantly. Baudelaire calls her a whore and his “black Venus,” a term that Duval detested since her skin was light. She also resented the way Baudelaire portrayed her physical body in verse and sketches — all big breasts and buttocks, with the inscription “Quaerens quem devoret” (seeking whom to devour).

Duval Baud

Neither one seems to understand what attraction it is that they have for each other, but it is undeniable and similar to their other addictions.

Duval seems to have been able to weather their break-ups better than Baudelaire. She continued to take lovers (as she had even while with Baudelaire), including Manet, who painted her portrait.

Duval Manet

MacManus’ Duval does not admire Baudelaire’s poems or understand his fascination with the slums and seamy side of Parisian city life. Given her early life as a slave in Haiti and the violence of the revolution there, plus her personal experience of poverty in Paris, this makes sense. For MacManus, Duval’s dream was to leave Paris and start life anew in the American West, where she imagined her father living. Unfortunately, her dreams were thwarted but MacManus allows her one great act of selflessness and compassion before her death from tuberculosis.

This was a pretty good book. The history is solid and the story behind the banning of Baudelaire’s verses is interesting if you are unfamiliar with it. Overall, the creation of a story for Jeanne Duval and her relationship with Baudelaire was satisfactory.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #25: Finding My Elegy by Ursula K. Le Guin

When the pure act turns to drygoods Finding My Elegy
and the endless yearning
to an earned sum,
when payday comes:

the silly sniveling soul
had better run
stark naked to the woods
and dance to the beating drums (first two stanzas of Middle, p. 15)

Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems (2012) by Ursula K. Le Guin was both a book and author I’d never heard of before I spotted this book in the library. The cover picture and title caught my eye, and I grabbed it on a whim. I like poetry when I understand it, and if it means something to me it can be incredibly powerful. However, I don’t have a lot of experience with it. I don’t really know the right way to attack a book of poetry and probably even less about reviewing a book of poetry.

Ursula K. Le Guin is a renowned author of over sixty books of fiction, fantasy, science fiction, children’s literature, poetry, drama, and more. She’s won a bunch of literary prizes and one of her young adult books is now on my to-read list. I think it was partly Le Guin’s breadth of work that convinced me to try her poems. I figured someone with an interest in so many different things would have interesting things to say. 

Click here for my full review.

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Body’s Question by Tracy K. Smith

The Body's Question by Tracy K. Smith (cover)After reading Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer-winning Life on Mars, I wondered if I would love her other work just as much. The answer? Yes, ecstatically so. Her first collection of poetry,The Body’s Question, published in 2003, is gorgeous. Smith writes poems I want to bed down into and stay. While Mars had a space and alienation theme, Question revels in the close-to-home and the sensation of lying beside one another. “The body is memory,” she writes in “Joy.”

(My full review appears on Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #2: 100 Love Sonnets/Cien Sonetos de Amor by Pablo Neruda

100 Love Sonnets/Cien Sonetos de Amor
by Pablo Neruda
(translated from the Spanish by Stephen Tapscott)

I don’t remember how I stumbled across it, but Pablo Neruda’s soneto XVII is what made me want to read him. I’d heard of the Chilean poet, of course, but he was yet another gap in my literary reading history. Perhaps it’s more suiting for my personality to first approach him from a place of love, rather than his political work. I don’t know. What I do know is that soneto XVII is the one for me:

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de clavelas que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,

sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.

In English:

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off,
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Each poem is laid out en face, Spanish and English. My rusty Spanish skills suddenly became more functional from being able to read both versions and by training my mind to once again get the gist of what I read en español before reading the translation. These poems, dedicated to his wife Maltilde, are often meditative and lovely, but also quite grounded. He is in love with all of her, especially her skin and her demeanor. “No one can reckon what I owe you, Love,” he writes in LXIV.

I like that this is a very simple collection. Very little attempt is made at dissecting the meaning behind each poem, apart from a few notes at the back that have mainly to do with geography. We are left to interpret for ourselves.

The only strange thing about this edition is that each sonnet has a drop cap letter of a different font, as though whoever was responsible for the layout wanted one example of each type of lettering. Drop caps that are a different font from the main piece are fine, but they should be consistent. If nothing else, Futura has no business being involved with a Neruda soneto.

Reading the whole book at once, I started to notice Neruda’s pet expressions. References to earth and bread and wood appear frequently, and while they are effective images in the poems themselves, seeing them repeated one after the other can start to feel stale. Maybe that’s unfair, but sometimes I found myself studying the Spanish-to-English translation less intently as the book went on. I didn’t slow down, which perhaps I would have done more completely had I dipped in and out of the book over time.

Though there are many great lines and a handful of true favorites I could continue to quote, instead I’ll leave you with XCVII en inglés. It reminds me of a certain madman in a blue box.

These days, one must fly — but where to?
Without wings, without an airplane, fly — without a doubt:
the footsteps have passed on, to no avail;
they didn’t move the feet of the traveler along.
At every instant, one must fly — like
eagles, like houseflies, like days:
must conquer the rings of Saturn
and build new carillons there.
Shoes and pathways are no longer enough,
the earth is no use anymore to the wanderer:
the roots have already crossed through the night,
and you will appear on another planet,
stubbornly transient,
transformed in the end into poppies.

(This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)