This is post #4. Every day for the entire duration of the National Poetry Month, I will try to post short write-ups about poetry books that I like.
Today, I talk briefly about James Valvis' How To Say Goodbye.
How To Say Goodbye
Publisher: Aortic Books
To buy from Amazon
How to Say Goodbye, James Valvis’ first collection of poetry, nourishes the reader without the use of stylized language calisthenics. These poems are told in a voice that’s sincere, darkly humorous, and graceful.
His poems will hit a nerve. Take for example this enchanting piece entitled “City Kid.” It is worth quoting in full:
Late one fall
as we pass
a small field
in the dirt
wants to know
outside to rot
What I love best about this book is not the recurring themes of alienation and hope, but the candor, the down-to-earth-yet-ethereal vibe. For me, the poems are refreshingly beautiful because I don’t feel that they have been tweaked to perfection to impress via wordplay. The poems are cut out, dried, and splayed with their muddied and muscular faces intact. I recoiled after reading “Revolution,” a bizarre case of domestic abuse. I smiled at the candid portrayal of a military funeral in “Burial Detachment.” The titular piece, “How to Say Goodbye,” introduces us to “a husband about to help his wife flee her lover.”
And here is my favorite which I bookmarked for rereading: from “Crossing the Street, My Daughter Reaches for My Hand”
The hand you now want, daughter,
the hand you reach for as we come
to the curbside is not clean.
It has stolen things, shoving want
deep into pockets so that later
all that could be withdrawn was shame.
Family of Marsupial Centaurs and other birthday poems
Author: J.P. Dancing Bear
Publisher: Iris Press
To buy from Amazon
If I describe this book as good, then I dismiss its true merits. If I describe it as very good, then I describe roughly half of its contents. Family of Marsupial Centaurs and other birthday poems is excruciatingly ambitious in its scope. I shook my head with disbelief upon reading J.P. Dancing Bear’s introduction. He explained his motivations to write a poem on the birthday of a friend. The poem was not a simple dedication; it would repurpose the “elements in his friend’s life.” It was exciting to see poets like Ada Limon, Arlene Ang, and many others having what Bear labeled as “birthday poems” personalized and written just for them.
The prose poems are not of the Hallmark-card variety. They seethe. They breathe. They make noise. Take for example the opening of “The Lost Boy.”
Somewhere inside the yellowing maps of your heart is a boy: he is a compass of patience:
And here’s another one from “Bunnyman,” a piece I reread three times because of the stunning imagery.
already the night has gone on too long and it makes some of us break: he’d seen the rabbit of the moon: heard the coyotes growling along the back fences: the night kept rolling on: the wee hours were everywhere: he could hear the cops backfiring: the streetcleaners’ futility: rats chittering out their new world orders: old alarms sounding: he was not a happy bunny: too many predators: he didn’t like pressing his face to the sliding glass windows of forgotten neighbors:...
I imagined that the level of skill, vision, and discipline that was necessary to write something as exquisite as this book would have been daunting. But I also imagined it to be an enjoyable experience for Bear.
The form is deliberately unnatural. The use of colons to replace punctuation marks gives the blocks of prose poems a compact appearance. Page after page of fine prose poems. If you are the type of reader who highlights with a yellow marker all your favorite lines in a book, then do not do that in this book. You will end up marking all the pages except for the list of contents and acknowledgements.
From “City of Utensils,” sometimes you think this city just eats itself:
You should buy this book.
Meditations of a Beast
Age of Blight
A Roomful of Machines
We Bury the Landscape