During May and June, No Tells is featuring "Recommended Summer Reading" selections by No Tell contributors.
Martha Silano's recommendations:
What Sound Does It Make by Erin Malone (Concrete Wolf Poetry Chapbook Series)
Malone does motherhood like no one else. These are poems you don’t read just once. Even if you finish this book and put it on your shelf, Malone’s words will stay in your head: “He was thirteen moons. Beetles’ shells cracked / under his feet”; “We left Rome burning/ Paris buried in the snow”; “I’m not a traitor. / I want you there/ & here . . . I made you. Go.” Musical, with daring images, Malone presents, word by crafted word, all the complexity and nuance of what it means to be a mother in the 21st century.
Memory and Heaven by Christopher Howell (Eastern Washington University Press)
If you don’t know Howell’s work, no time like right now. Ghosts float in and out of these poems—not to mention werewolves and Jesus. Here, Howell is at his water spider, long-division-bride best—asking questions seven lines long, rooting around in the world like some alien scientist . His poems are weird/surreal, yet his down-to-earth exclamations of terror and hopelessness keep these poems firmly rooted in human experience. His voice is humble, unassuming, and miraculous. It’s no surprise that when Jesus shows up, he won’t say how he parted water. Instead, he just sits there at the bar sipping “wine then water then wine.”
The Tunnel: Selected Poems by Russell Edson (Field Poetry Series)
Every poet worth his or her pet ape should know Edson’s poems. Why? Because he is the father of James Tate. If you’re not acquainted with Edson’s “test tube full of sheep,” in which the speaker “wonders if they could be used as a substitute for rice, sort of wooly rice . . .” you are in for a treat. I thought I’d grow tired of his absurdity and wackiness, his subtle profundities, but I haven’t yet.
Lip by Kathy Fagan (Eastern Washington University Press)
Fagan’s got a finely tuned ear and a nose for images. At a recent reading, she told her audience she thinks of herself as the most formal of free verse poets. She started writing pantoums, she said, because she liked the word pantoum and all the words it rhymes with. She’s got pantoum fever, this woman. Between the two covers of this book you’ll find “Pantoon Pantoum,” “Go to Your Room Pantoum,” and “Womb to Tomb Pantoum.” She finishes the book with a stunning homage to the roadside crucifix, reminding “The highway is a public place and we, // a people dying for a sign . . . This crap from Wal-Mart could outlast us all, / which in our grief is no small com- / fort, since death lasts so much longer, and has no form.”
Big American Trip by Christian Peet (Shearsman Books)
Having tried and failed to write a postcard poem a day last August, I especially admire Peet’s ability to not only fill a book with them, but to take the postcard epistolary form to a refreshing incantatory level. One of my favorites, is addressed (literally, of course, as is each poem is handwritten, stamped, and written on a printed postcard) to the Recreation Vehicle Association in Fairfax, Virginia: “The drive is steel & tar & oil & gas & coffee / The drive is under the weather as under the law / The drive is beyond me / The drive is heartland into stone.” I envy you, Christian.
teahouse of the almighty by Patricia Smith (Coffee House Press) National Poetry Series Winner
I know most of you probably already are familiar with Smith’s work, know why Tom Lux calls her “a buzz saw of a poet,” but in case you haven’t come across her poems, let me share my reaction to the first poem of this book, “Building Nicole’s Mama.” I was at the hairdresser’s, and while my salon-ist went to “mix color,” I starting crying and couldn’t stop. Funny, now that I look back at the poem to find the words “Angry, jubilant, weeping poets—we are all / saviors, reluctant hosannas in the limelight.” It was as if Smith had given me permission to cry for the last twenty years—for every drive-by shooting, every crack-mom or dad who succumbed a little too much, for every kid left without a mom or dad. And to cry, too, for the dogged spirit of those like Smith, who keep on keeping, helping little Nicole, who has asked the speaker “for the words to build her mother again.”
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Martha Silano is the author of Blue Positive and What the Truth Tastes Like. Her as-yet unpublished collection, The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, was a 2008 finalist for the New Issues Poetry Prize. Her work is just out (or soon to be out) in AGNI, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, and The Best American Poetry 2009. Martha has been published in over a dozen anthologies, including Not for Mother’s Only (Fence Books), American Poetry: the Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon) and The Working Poet: Seventy-Five Exercises in Poetry Writing, forthcoming from Autumn House Press. She teaches at Bellevue College, near her home in Seattle, WA. She blogs at http://bluepositive.blogspot.com.