In this issue of Poetry Magazine, the collection works to create a tapestry of events both relevant and powerful. This issue focuses on featuring poets from Alabama in which the themes of the poems centered mainly around race, the pandemic, and the spots of joy around them. Because of this however, there were some poems of happiness/joy that didn’t feel like they met the moment of what the rest of the issue was working towards.
I’d like to highlight a few poems that had a strong impact. First, was the poem ‘I Just Want to Live Long Enough to See Allen Iverson Live Long Enough to Get His Reebok Check’, which both acknowledges and challenges the idea that progress happens in the small moments. To me, the second stanza particularly felt significant. Other poems to keep an eye out for are ‘Irish Goodbye’ by Kimberly Casey, ‘Burden Hill Apothecary & Babalú-Ayé Prepare Stinging Nettle Tea’ by L. Lamar Wilson, and ‘The Beach is Host to Small Things’ by Kwoya Fagin Maples.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
In How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee strings together a collection of essays detailing the way he understands himself, his trauma, and his writing. There is a vulnerability in the collection that pulled me into moments that were truly personal and inspirational. I read the essay, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, in my last semester of college, and only now, a year later, I have come back to read the rest. In reading it a second time, what I think gave me another layer of appreciation was the parallel feelings I have of doing the same (of writing a novel).
The moment that reverberated with me was in the essay, 100 Things about Writing a Novel. Where he writes, “You write the novel because you have to write it. You do it because it is easier to do than not do. You can’t write a novel you don’t have to write.” What I took from the essay, and the collection as a whole, was the urgency that he felt when creating.
He also tries to both contextualize, understand, and deal with the trauma that has lived with him since his childhood. He talks both about his therapy sessions, and the adjacent lives it had pulled from and affected. But he mentions that after therapy, after a book, and after time, he hints at the way it still is there. And I feel that it is also implied that those moments, whether brought on by flashback or faces, may stick with him even after writing this novel.
Final Rating: 4/5
Little Climates by L.A. Johnson is a chapbook detailing the eerie moments of nature and the echoes of a father’s death. Many of the moments that Johnson creates are either tangentially or are directly tied to driving, deer, and weather. All these bits coalesce in ‘Vanish Point’ where the events of what led to the death are alluded to.
There are two poems I found myself reading over again, which were ‘Forecast’ and ‘Evaporation’. Each poem seems to bookend the narrative in a unique and compelling way. For me, in ‘Forecast’, I found the lines “I dreamt tonight of a glass-bottomed boat/floating through a pine forest, needles pierced/above and below my reflection in the lake surface.” to hold a powerful image that encapsulates the fragility of the speaker. And on the tail end, ‘Evaporation’ describes a collection of items that start off derelict, but soon build to the sadness of the metal tools.
Little Climates looks to process and find meaning in the deeply dissonant moments with a ping of bitterness that makes me want to come back for more.
Final Rating: 4/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.