review: cicada song by ryan norman
Review written by nat raum
From its deeply kinetic opening account of a literal leap of faith, Cicada Song by Ryan Norman delivers a full experience. It’s not simply the chapbook’s profoundly tactile, sensory settings, though the journey from “[c]areening around hairpin turns, / trestles quaking” to “the cratered face / of the moon” spans a universe printed in vivid color. Cicada Song also delivers on an intimate emotional level, showing us sometimes so little as fragments of moments—take “Stars Fall,” a stunningly sparse poem so tender, its words nearly wedge themselves between the “two crescents waxing full.”
The flesh of Norman’s organic landscapes is bruised and scraped at times, but the beating heart of the collection continues to push onward. Although the reader is reminded of inner torment in scenes like “Paint” and “Waterlogged,” we also watch singular quiet triumphs become proud victories, weaved through pieces of memory that are “delicate / despite their strength.” The tug of war with adversity feels almost unwinnable at one point, as Norman sinks into the “glimmering darkness” of a lake and holds me underwater in startling detail through piece after piece. “No matter the successes, the connections, truth always leaked in my lungs,” Norman explains in “Baby Breath.” The smell of decay is present throughout the collection, but hits its peak at this point in the chapbook, where each piece feels cloaked in an overcast autumn sky on the kind of day where you don’t want to leave your house.
But as I’ve mentioned, Norman’s voice brings a clear resolve to the narrative—a deep aching to grow, to evolve. “Have you ever stood next to a tree, boxed / in with cement, and cried for its strength?” Norman asks in “Breaking Ground,” as he prepares to close the collection with the swoop of a flying phoenix. As much as I feel each of his emotional fractures in their exact moment of happening, Norman makes it known again and again that he sees something else in the distance—something better—and continues to reach for it.
Healing is not a linear process, which this collection depicts both realistically and beautifully. But ebb and flow of Cicada Song still leaves me on an upswing of hope—and a reminder that while the future may be uncertain, positive change in the name of healing and rebirth is possible.
Purchase Cicada Song through Finishing Line Press: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/cicada-song-by-ryan-norman/
Keep up with Ryan Norman on Twitter @RyanMGNorman and at ryanmgnorman.com.
nat raum (b. 1996) is a disabled artist, writer, and genderless disaster from Baltimore, MD. They’re a current MFA candidate and also the editor-in-chief of fifth wheel press. Past and upcoming publishers of their writing include Olney Magazine, perhappened, CLOVES, and trampset. Find them online: natraum.com/links.
Find them online: natraum.com/links.
Tip them: @natraum (Paypal) / @moshpitdaria (Venmo) / $moshpitdaria (Cashapp)
Review written by Alyssa Cokinis
Content Warnings: graphic violence which include vigilantism; kidnapping; assault; on-page physical restraint and torture; ongoing othering and the use of a negative epithet by a MC; bi-erasure (off-page); and discussion of childhood cancer and past trauma (off-page)
“Still, the allure–though Bertie’s–is real and strong. As are the memories. I know how it feels to kiss Gary’s lips, to be held in his arms. I even know about the spot on his back that makes him tremble when stroked. Every tiny, intimate detail is only a thought away…”
Is Elora Cussons more human or machine? This question is at the heart of Kristin L. Stamper’s science fiction romance Ternary, published by NineStar Press one year ago. LGBTQIA+ sci-fi and romance fans, look no further: Ternary brings readers on an emotional roller coaster.
Elora desperately tries to prove that–despite being a cyborg–she is still human to a court of law. Unfortunately, it seems the world sees her more as an object than anything, living in fear after the Great Human-AI War. Thus, her lawyer volun-tells her that as part of building her defense for her humanity, she must complete a mission to rescue lost Aidos crewmembers on the alien vessel the Great Compass, which is seemingly lethal to humans.
However, this is the chance snarky, guarded Elora to prove herself human. The problem comes when–while in the Great Compass–Elora finds Aidos Lieutenant Gareth (“Gary”)’s thought-to-be-deceased husband, Commander Bertie Fuentes, now downloaded into her consciousness, sharing her headspace and body… not to mention the constant threats from anti-robot groups who want her dead. Ternary remains fast-paced and gripping throughout every facet of its plot.
“It’s better this way.” I try to convince myself as much as him, my voice crumpled by the cold. “You can have my body; the two of you can be together and not have to worry about me.”
Stamper brings Elora to life through her snarky comebacks and her desire not just to survive but thrive in a life that is of her own choosing. When conversing with Bertie inside her head, Elora finally opens up to someone (who is perhaps her first friend ever). We learn why she became a cyborg in the first place and experience her try and fail at facilitating dates between Bertie and Gary while also developing her own feelings for the latter. What results is a heartwrenching, fun, and slowburn polyamorous romance. Memorable supporting characters like Della, Captain Hamasaki, and lawyer Paul flesh out Elora’s wider plot beyond romance, through space, and into the courtroom to help her prove her humanity.
If audiobooks more of your thing, then definitely check out Anthea Greco’s incredible narration in Ternary’s audiobook. Greco absolutely brings Elora and the other characters to life with crisp, varied, and engaging narration.
Ternary is an excellent, accessible stand-alone novel to add to your summer reading list. Who couldn’t say yes to this queer polyamorous dynamic with a scifi twist:
“Bertie, can’t you do anything about this?”
Bertie guffaws. “Me? Do something about Elora? Are you kidding?” He shakes my head. “Besides, I don’t have a leg to stand on. If she’s going to let me date you, I have to be open to her dating other people.”
“Even if he is all wrong for you,” he adds silently.
“Please tell me you’re not doing this because of me,” Gary grumbles.
“Yes,” I snarl. “Everything I do is actually a passive-aggressive statement meant for you.”
Keep up with Kristin L. Stamper’s writing on Twitter @klsmopit or via Stamper’s website: https://kristinlstamper.com/
The Ternary audiobook is available anywhere audiobooks are sold, but for the month of June as part of a Pride Promo, it is only $2.99 on:
Ternary in book/ebook form is available from most major retailers, including the publisher NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/ternary/
Alyssa Cokinis is an LGBTQ+ theatre artist/writer and also the founder/EIC of some scripts literary magazine, an online publication dedicated to the dramatic form. Find more at abyssoflyss.carrd.co
Tip them on Venmo @scandalyssac or on PayPal paypal.me/alyssaco95
Review written by Ashia Ajani
Aerik Francis’s BODYELECTRONIC Unravels the Ethernet Cable of Connection
“Same new.” This phrase cycles through the mind long after finishing Aerik Francis’s debut chapbook, BODYELECTRONIC (Trouble Department Press, 2022). “Same new.” Repetition, cycles of violence, continuous surveillance are all a part of our daily lives. Upon opening the laptop or turning on the screen, we are bombarded with images and figures that haunt briefly, cause a frenzy, then disappear from the archive only to return again in another form. At the same time, a flat tummy tea gummy floods our feed and news of another racially motivated bombing begs us to split our attention. Same new.
As the digital era continues to shape human relation, Francis extracts both whimsical and messy entanglements from our reliance on technology– and its reliance on our continued engagement. Can we extract ourselves from the screen? Do we even want to? What expressions can be materialized from an immaterial form? Francis, a poet and teaching artist hailing from Denver, CO, is no stranger to multimedia expression. Prior to the publication of their debut chapbook, Francis has created both audio and video projects, showcasing their ability to weave different artistic mediums together. The digital is of course, a reflection of the human, of the personal, of sensual longing and desire. Through BODYELECTRONIC, the body becomes digitized, the digital becomes embodied, the accumulation of our many selves laid bare on the screen — and on the page.
Navigating the terrain between flesh and screen, BODYELECTRONIC cheekily narrows that divide. Under Francis’s careful guidance, the boundary between human and nonhuman blurs: a frog, a mouse, our own self portraits are simultaneously life-like and inextricably tethered to the screen, a delicious commentary on how far humanity has come in its pursuit for information and connection. In the poem _GPOY As Rainbowfrog.gif_ , Francis writes: “will iEver be a person [again]?/must iAlways only be neck-up?/am iHead, stoic, or am iNeck/eternally on a swivel?” Playfully poignant, Francis’s poems read like code, like digital spellwork, once again revealing the messy overlaps between the corporeal and the artificial life giving gigabytes that drive connection forward.
Ambitious in its form, BODYELECTRONIC borrows from computer jargon and poetic invention, exploring the overwhelming sensorial richness of every day and artificial living. Can the internet be a garden? What can fruit from its critical relevance? Or is it an invasive species itself? Francis doesn’t offer answers to these questions, but provides scenarios, multitudes that can inform our relationship (or estrangement) from this medium. Everything is a reflection of everything else: “iOpen a new window, hurl everything out/into the portal void of space. precious/gems, early morning stimuli/to the new news grief.”
But even in moments of intense emotion, the collection is delightfully crass, mixing the sacrament with the ecrement, the erotic with the quixotic (and who’s to say they aren’t one in the same) and Francis’s command of language is increasingly tender as one moves throughout the chapbook. In poems like “_Syzygy (Arse Poetica)_”, the poet seeks to humble ourselves to recall our meek origins. Before we were tethered to screens, before we had even exited the womb, we were…assholes. Sites of both creation, expulsion and pleasure. What would it mean to reclaim that messiness? Francis vacillates between distant observer and intimate participant throughout their own words. BODYELECTRONIC closes with two necessary questions: what does it mean, truly, to be obsolete in both virtual and physical cycles, and what capacity does each of us hold to carry the weight of those revolutions?
BODYELECTRONIC is one of those books the reader must return to time and time again. It is self reflective, emotive, complex. New meaning is articulated upon each read. Each poem title is a file, part of a rich archive of being that we are blessed to bear witness to their unearthing. With another chapbook, MISEDUCATION, winner of the 2022 New Delta Review chapbook contest, on the horizon, Francis is sure to delight once again with innovative form and complex portals. Welcome to Francis’s multiverse.
Ashia Ajani (they/she) is a Black storyteller hailing from Denver, CO, Queen City of the Plains and the unceded territory of the Cheyenne, Ute, Comanche and Arapahoe peoples. They are an environmental justice educator with Mycelium Youth Network and co-poetry editor of the Hopper Literary Magazine. They are a freelance book reviewer and selective plant parent. She has been published in Sierra Magazine, Them., Lumiere Review & EcoTheo Review, among others. Their debut poetry collection, Heirloom, is forthcoming spring 2023 with Write Bloody Publishing.
Tip them on cashapp, $Ashiainbloom, or venmo, @ashiainbloom
TW/CW: trauma, loss, grief, death
A Review of Something Kindred, by Nicole Tallman
By Ami/@HotWraithBones (April/May 2022)
“The death of a mother is the first sorrow wept without her.”
Something Kindred is a rawness devoid of capitalistic intention. Rather, it stands unapologetically relentless, secure in its entirety as a capsule of life, death, space, time, immortalization, tribute, and most overarching of all, the elusive, perpetual, ever-changing nature of grief.
A vital study not on grief alone, but more specifically on the agonizingly mortal experience of grieving the mother lost to death, Nicole Tallman’s Something Kindred delves fearlessly into the complex, intangible manifestation of grief as sentiment, entity, burden, marvel, reality, and most importantly, inevitability. This is a book about mothers, especially those who have already departed. Simultaneously, this is a book for the children of mothers who have already departed—the children who are left grieving them “not… in a rushed sense, but in a timeless sense” (as Tallman so eloquently puts it to her readers).
Tallman continues, “This is a chapbook of poems and prose for the grieving—not grieving in a rushed sense, but in a timeless sense. Because there is no real timeline that I’ve experienced. Grief is a messy, personal process.”
As Jack B. Bedell, the 2017-2019 Poet Laureate of Louisiana, and author of Color All Maps New, writes in a foreword, grief is “[s]ometimes complicated as memory… blunt as a single note from a song.” Further, Bedell adds how Tallman’s Something Kindred is “Fluid. Varied. Strong. Courageous… [and u]ltimately … a testament to the living, not the dying.”
One of the most harrowing and magnificent things about grief is how there is no one, perfect, even universal formula for writing about it. Rather, it is an experience unique to each mourning individual. Of course, there is a certain amount of common ground most of us seem to embrace. For example, the facts that:
1) eventual loss is rooted in absolute certainty;
2) life, as a concept, is elusive (and intentionally designed as such); and finally,
3) death is very much like life in that way, but abandons temporality for permanence instead.
And perhaps that’s what makes death so incredibly difficult to digest—its absolute and necessary permanence in a world where everything else is always changing, provisional, and perpetually ending. Even the present is terrible, and fleeting—claimed by the past in an instant, hence even less time than it takes to administer the swiftest blink of an eye. Like Time, Death is sublime—a reality indicative of something overwhelmingly larger than not only us, but also existence as we know it. It’s this intangible thing we cannot physically touch, yet touches each and every one of us. Death takes all we know, and propels it into something unknown—unobtainable to us until we ourselves have already departed.
Everything about Death is something kindred — and concurrently, not.
Regarding grief as an ever-varying formula unique to each individual, Something Kindred places Tallman in a canon of contemporary authors in exploration of grief in the wake of familial demise—all of which differ in their respective systems and methodologies, yet significantly contribute to our modern-day archive of collective knowledge, musings, and perspectives on the topic. As a result, Tallman’s peers include Prageeta Sharma (Grief Sequence), Joy Harjo (An American Sunrise), Fred Moten (B Jenkins), Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida), and of course, Alice Notley (Disobedience, etc.) —all authors whose work is deeply innovative. Now, upon its recent release, the same can be said for Tallman’s Something Kindred.
The variety of poems and styles Tallman applies here—spread across multiple pages, heavily utilizing the white space, and often without any justification or title provided—is extremely indicative of grief (at least as I’ve experienced it). Whether the titles included were that of individual pieces, stretched across several pages, or else sections of pieces that chose to speak for themselves as excerpts from time and space as Tallman perceives/perceived and experiences/experienced them, were not clarified. And truthfully, that made each body of text far more realistic in the context of trauma, loss, death, and grief both separately (by section), and in the scope of the broader book (as a whole).
There was no unnatural bending by Tallman present anywhere from start to finish, nor was there that needless obligation on her part to squeeze the words into any customary, traditional, and/or industrial constraints. She does not serve the industry or pay heed to its grating mandates—nor does she really seem to want to. Rather, Tallman is answerable only to the literary arts, grief, and the lingering, loving memory of her dearly departed mother.
Something Kindred is extraordinary. Moreover, it, like Tallman’s presence throughout its pages, is timeless.
Ami (they/them) is a HOT ALIEN WRAITH BABE, MySpace himbo, proud feline parent, and the co-founder of Gutslut Press. They have a Leo sun and rising; further, they are the Chaos. Their vibe can be both best and worst described as "hyperpop deathcore meets Gossip Girl meets John Milton meets Jon Moxley meets Yami Bakura." In conclusion, HOT ALIEN WRAITH BABE is glampunk, ethereal, and the semi-corporeal embodiment of all things fabulous.
Tip them on Venmo (@AmiJS) or PayPal (@AmiJSanghvi).
TW/CW: grief, loss, marginalized identity
Review written by Vaishnavi
Beast At Every Threshold implores you to take a dip in the fragility of identity. It leads you to the exploration of belongingness and the intimacy of personal histories.
This, for me, was one of those few collections of poetry that sat just right at the juncture of poetic beauty and depth. The collection holds you down as it bathes you in buckets after buckets of grief, longing, and generational trauma. The poems tread across the themes of queerness, racial oppression, and diaspora, among others. "Threshold" is used as a nuanced metaphor for marginalised identities, personal capacity, boundaries, and even existing around the edges of acceptance as immigrants. The book speaks to you from the collective experiences of the communities that find themselves “boxed” and “othered”.
I found Natalie Wee’s voice to be familiar. The poems had an uncanny resemblance. They reminded me of how remaining at the intersection of many identities subjected me to similar experiences. The poems Wee wrote were hers, but the experiences told through them were ours.
Wee has experimented with the form and structure of poetry and infused her poems with splendid metaphors. The book begins with ‘In Defense of My Roommate’s Dog’, a hard-hitting and almost tenacious onset that walked me through the relationship of the poet with love and longing.
With lines like “I don’t know if I’m real when I’m not being touched”, and “We imagine a funeral each time we peel back fresh need: wait for me, it’s cold, I’m scared,” the poem paves the way for the progression of the book into its kaleidoscopic navigation of loss.
Poems like “Can You Speak English?” and Self-Portrait As Pop Culture Reference told the tale of identity and the indulgent presence of racism and othering that so many from the diaspora are still subjected to.
“Another urban legend: animals will abandon offspring touched by human beings. This, too, has been disproven / by wildlife experts, although / it is easy to believe our hands are capable of so much hurt.”
“I want these facts to mean something to each other / the way a room is just a room until love or its inverse”
And you cannot help but laud her as she chooses her words, pirouettes across grief, navigates loss and identity, and delivers you with poems that will haunt your heart for days.
‘Phoning Home To Tell My Grandmother I Survived A Hate Crime’ made me weep as Wee said “the body is the sound / hurt makes / that we were born / a prelude to cleave”. While Asami Watches Korra In The Rearview filled me with nostalgia and a fuzzy feeling in my stomach. Wee wrote “Praise the miracle of glass that allowed me to touch you before I ever touched you,” and I felt like the tip of the pen that just finished a love letter.
‘Sayang,’ ‘Self-Portrait As Beast Index,’ ‘When I Say I Want To Learn Your Mother’s Recipe, I mean,’ etc. play with the structure of poetry and add freshness to the book. Although the collection ended with ‘I Am My Dreaming Self Getting Better At This,’ a spectacular and fulfilling end, I found myself going back to ‘When My Grandmother Begins To Forget’ which somehow earned the top spot in my favourites from the book. With lines like: “This sentence begins where her memory ends: my grandmother / at dusk, calf-deep in water,” and “What she knows of loyalty is the unchanging horizon. / Of keeping something safe in the throat without breathing.” the poem brings out an intimate emotion of gentle grief in my heart, the softest ache of dissipation.
Vaishnavi (she/her) is a college student from New Delhi, India. She loves poetry, coding, writing, and (often unnecessarily) organising things into systems of productivity. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @vaishandart.
Tip her on Paypal: https://www.paypal.me/umvaishnavi
TW/CW: Sadism, Suicidal Ideation, Alcoholism, Cannibalism, Violence
Review Written by Dominic Pierre
In Palaces collection, Folktales for the Diseased Individual, readers are picked-up and laid to bed in a series of 8 personal essays.
Folktales open with "They Are Very, Very Sick People", an essay where Palaces works with sentences and paints vivid images of violence and sadism in readers' heads as she delivers haunting sentences one after the other.
"He and I were left alone, and he showed me what he'd been doing on his computer. It looked like a video game in which he was punching a blonde celebrity, widely disliked. He was turning her purple."
The two essays follow: "Drinking Me" and "Prettiest." Capitalizes off Palaces observations giving readers an insight into her world― introducing us to people she's encountered, the way she perceived herself, and how others did as well, that works in concert with her fascinations while in a state of reflection.
From Drinking Me: "Yet I let him write a new story because of all the ways, he described my face and the deadly things that should be done to it. To my eyelashes, to my hourglass shape. They inspired him."
In "Prettiest," Palaces closes out the first paragraph, writing, "Forgive my young traumas" before breaking the essay wide-open into an exploration of image, sexuality, and suicidal ideation.
Throughout the essay, I admired how Palaces spoke about herself in relation to an object.
"In the end, I had the potential to be just an arrangement, another styrofoam apple on the table."
Before delivering my favorite line in this piece.
"Instead, I made him brownies―a metaphor for wanting my heart to be at least edible, if not eaten, maybe. Or maybe he'd noticed how much I'd been shaking, too, because he took them happily before a long-armed, finger-intertwined goodbye."
Senses of panic and paranoia in the essay, "Home From School, Searching For The Man Who Will Kill Me." where Palaces continues to feed us insights by writing, "I was a twelve-year-old who recorded Camp Rock songs on her MP3 player then worried she'd axe her best friend to death." Were immediately felt and harbored
Shortly followed by the three-bullet points:
As I read over this piece, it made me reminiscent of thoughts I had surrounding both my place in the world and religion at one point in time. Specifically, in the next paragraph, Palaces continues to tug at a relatable fear many of us who grew up with a religious structure had.
"Whenever the cross on my nightstand wasn't straight, it'd mean I might be the devil. If I did something my parents told me not to do, I also might be the devil."
"Home From School, Searching For The Man Who Will Kill Me", provided an odd sense of comfort. From a reader standpoint, I couldn't resist giving Palaces all of her flowers simply by the sheer vulnerability and display of existential fears that she emptied onto the page. In addition, the journal entries that she provides (one from December 21st and July 20th, 2020) within the essay exemplify a more exclusive look into her world at two distinct parts of her life and how it carried over.
Another thing that I found to be fascinating was the closing cover. It's a photo of Young Palaces holding a bag next to a Young boy with a photoshopped slip over his head, reading: "Even though you feel down sometimes, here are some positive words that describe you—and I'm checking all that apply."
Funny, attractive, kind, and nice hair checked all the boxes.
Overall, I greatly admired Folktales for The Diseased Individual. However, my favorite thing is how Palaces tugs at her memory in the act of healing and leaves everything on the page for our reading pleasure. The use of text bubbles, Tumblr conversations, and diary entries tugged at the strings of nostalgia that I thought were long gone. In a sense, each essay felt like taking an intimate look through the diary of a woman making sense of her world by looking back on distinct memories that had a lingering effect.
Palaces created a collection containing complete sets of teeth, and one should proceed with caution before reading. The rotating themes of obsession, suicidal ideation, cannibalism, alcohol addiction, intrusive thoughts, and sexual content will chew you up and spit you out, leaving nothing but bare-bones on the bedroom floor. However, Palaces' attention to detail and ability to work with a sentence, drawing out a series of emotions for readers as she recalls these moments in her life, made Folktales for the Diseased Individual nothing short of fascinating.
Dominic Pierre (He/Him) is a writer and editor based in New York City. His work has appeared in Near Window Magazine, CP Quarterly, the winnow, Dreams Walking Magazine, and Moonchild Magazine.
Tip him on cashapp: $Unclepierree
TW/CW: Disability, Medical Trauma, Allusions to Sexual Situations
Review written by Rachael Crosbie
If you are seeking out a book that details what it’s like to live with disability, then Handbook for the Newly Disabled, A Lyric Memoir is an absolute must read. The book’s hybrid nature stems from necessity—as a generally sick and disabled person, I find it necessary to use any/all methods to describe my pain and experience. Sometimes words aren’t enough, and sometimes the manner in which the words are expected to come out aren’t enough.
When I read Blevin’s book, I felt so in-tune to the overall conceit of the book. The chapter structuring of a typical work of prose or memoir is familiar, but the poetry and visual aspects are transformative devices, inviting readers to best experience a similar, if not same, pain and longing that shifts between each page, each chapter. They also subvert readers’ expectations of a typical memoir. Here, the language is pointed and poetic, even the accessibility notes for the visual elements are, too. Here, the hybrid nature exists to best paint an image of disability—what’s true for the reader’s experience as well as Blevin's experience.
Each read begs for the dissection of each chapter. Its five page/poem structure has a specific focus, all of which highlights Blevin’s command of surrealism and color-infused imagery. Here is a brief and non-exhaustive look into each chapter:
Chapter 1: After Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait,” Damaged by Acid in 1997
This chapter starts on an intense and dreamy note. There’s a strong relationship between the speaker and the body. The non-circular narrative running throughout emphasizes how the passage of time can be experienced, especially by a disabled person. This chapter also sets up the main themes running throughout the book, such as disability, sexuality, queerness, and motherhood.
Chapter 2: Disability if the Crescendo of a Bette Midler Song [with Photo Illustrations]
Here, Blevins introduces visual elements, as well as their accessibility notes. The writing in this chapter pushes forth a song and dance of pure desperation and power: “Her face a porcelain mirror, her voice a hammer.”
Chapter 3: Brain Fog
This chapter presents a memory or a multitude of them and their ever-consuming command they have on the mind and body. Toward the end, Blevins describes medication and labels as prisons instead of what they’re “supposed” to offer, such as a form of healing and understanding, respectively.
Chapter 4: Five by Five
Here, each page is an erasure. It’s an incredible way to visualize pain and the experience of being chronically ill, as in, there is always so much going on every single day. There is so much noise. It can be filtered out, distilled to something specific, but there is only so much to be contained and so much to process throughout every single day.
Chapter 5: How to Read My/Our/Their/Your Future Scattered Bird Bones [with Photo Illustrations]
There is nothing I can say that will effectively illustrate the beautiful and blunt power of this chapter, so I will leave it on a quote: “How will I ever stop / writing about illness?”
Chapter 6: Signs
Here, Blevins dives into different signs of death and dying, and how when we know it will happen, when we live to prepare for it, we will find it anywhere: past, present, and future.
Chapter 7: My Neurologist (Who Doesn’t Have MS) Explains Pain is Not a Symptom of MS
This chapter presents the bleak reality disabled people face: 1) doctors don’t always listen, 2) “Disability isn’t always like the child born blue and still— / some is simply a dream of rewind, how a person can never go back to their warm bloody shell.”, and 3) the hospital trips are incredibly nauseating. It also offers another: “pain must become aphorism”. However, both of these realities coexist.
Chapter 8: How to Fuck a Disabled Body
Here, Blevins sets up a chapter of sexuality and reclamation.
Chapter 9: Cubist Self-Portrait of Woman and Anger
This chapter rings true of the quiet and composed anger disabled people are forced to have when they experience daily chronic pain. It also contains one of the most powerful lines I’ve ever read about disability: “Do you ever feel so sure you’ve died and the road might drone on endless / like a treadmill?”
Chapter 10: White
This is another chapter where I do not have the words to adequately explain its importance. It needs to be read. So, I will leave it on another quote: “When you read / your handbook for the newly disabled, you’ll want someone to hold you.”
And it’s true, when reading this book, you’ll want someone with you. When you experience daily pain and worse, you’ll want someone there for you. It’s hard to go through this all alone, and this book is a friend—it understands and sees you.
Handbook for the Newly Disabled, A Lyric Memoir by Allison Blevins is forthcoming with BlazeVOX Books on April 15th, 2022.
Rachael Crosbie (they/them) is writing poems about their cat, Peanut. Rachael has four poetry chapbooks: Trick Mirror or Your Computer Screen, self-portrait as poems about bad poetry, swerve, and MIXTAPES. Their fifth poetry chapbook, Peanut [the cat] auditions as Courage […from Courage the Cowardly Dog], is forthcoming in the summer of 2022. You can find them on Twitter @rachaelapoet posting about squishmallows, She-Ra and The Princesses of Power, and Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Tip them on Venmo: @Rachael-Crosbie-7
TW/CW: Transphobia, Anti-Black Violence, Misogynoir, Family Violence
Review written by Ashia S. Ajani
How to Identify Yourself with a Wound (by KB Brookins) Ushers Memory and Trans Materiality to the Forefront
Like many love letters, How to Identify Yourself with a Wound begins with longing. Longing for a home that is no longer recognizable, and no longer recognizes the speaker. Cities, like bodies, are constantly evolving, and the wounds that emerge from growing pains have long memories. Wounds themselves, as reflected in the namesake, are contentious spaces of remembrance and retribution. Just as concrete fragments and skin cracks to expose a deeper suffering, this collection explores the many ways in which both hurt and healing appears in our queer, expansive lives. In a collection steeped with memory, poet, essayist and cultural worker KB Brookins challenges us to identify with our wounds, not as a space of arrested development, but as a space that informs our interactions, desires and aspirations.
How to Identify Yourself with a Wound, winner of the 2021 Saguaro Poetry Prize, has already received praise from Cyrus Cassells, the 2021 Texas Poet Laureate, poet Ariana Brown, and many others. At the same time dolorous, revelatory and whimsical, Brookins weaves language and lyricism together as they lead the reader through their life. How to Identify Yourself with a Wound is a collection brimming with color: the epithets put two different generations of queer women in conversation with one another, and through this invocation seeks to make sense of the alienation felt by Black queer and trans peoples. In “Self portrait of pangea” Brookins uses queer ecology to reveal the inherent naturalness of fracture and expansions towards finding a more authentic version of the self: “here I am, breaking again. Not fitting/the simulation is what ~I am~ we are plagued to do best.” In “Here4Now_cjrun.mp3” Brookins recalls the intimacy and heartbreak of losing trans kin and the burden of memory: “...We thought/ die synonymous for disappear. To be us/ was to be a mirror you can’t see the other side to.”
But Brookins really shows off what they can do with the poem “Do you know what they did to Mulayshia” as they explore how this world makes Black people fragile, requiring us to soften the parts of ourselves the rest of the world finds too loud. But it is in this mourning that peoples stories get rewritten, their memories become sanitized in order to be “presentable” to the rest of the world. To this, Brookins demands their flowers while they are still alive.
Brookins’ tone shift throughout How to Identify with a Wound is both a disruption and strong suit of the collection. This dexterity reveals Brookins’ love affair with language, highlighting their chameleon-like ability to bring together multiple self-presentations into one body.
Above all else, any prospective reader will be absolutely floored with Brookins’ gut wrenching honesty. Where some poetry seeks to conceal, Brookins reveals both personal and societal truths through sharp observations, sensual materiality and anecdotal storytelling. Even as our personal worlds collapse, and the greater world at large continues to unravel, we still find time to dance, to make love, to have a quick cup of coffee with our neighbor, to marvel at all of the magic and chaos that wounds the world. This collection is about the wounds of love: what it means to love something that is constantly disappearing, constantly shifting, and itself, is wounded, as you are working through your own wounds. At times, Brookins extends grace as they unpack generational trauma, venerating family both chosen and blood. Other times, Brookins’ laments heavy memories, and the compromises trans people are forced to make in pursuit of our truest selves. More than anything, Brookins exalts the necessity of queer kinship, togetherness and intimacy in order to weather the burdens of anti-Black homophobia and capitalism. Speaking to a vulnerable trans-masculinity that Black masculine folks are seldom afforded, Brookins shines most when they are excavating the multiplicities of being, when they are experimenting with language and sound and form. In the face of widespread grief, ignoring our wounds and their legacies is probably the quickest way to ensure the continuation of such grief. Through identifying with our wounds, we become uncontainable. In recognition of our own various wounds, buy this chapbook and let these poems offer you a salve. To quote the incomparable Lucille Clifton, allow this collection to reveal to you “the bond of living things everywhere.”
Ashia Ajani (they/she) is a Black storyteller hailing from Denver, CO, Queen City of the Plains and the unceded territory of the Cheyenne, Ute, Comanche and Arapahoe peoples. They are an environmental justice educator with Mycelium Youth Network and co-poetry editor of the Hopper Literary Magazine. They are a freelance book reviewer and selective plant parent. She has been published in Sierra Magazine, Them., Lumiere Review & EcoTheo Review, among others.
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REVIEW: ManEater - Jean Marie bub
TW/CW: Sexual Assault, Trauma, Rape, Self-Harm
Review written by Dominic Pierre
When I first held ManEater by Jean Marie Bub, I couldn’t help but trace over every line, meditate over the narrative, and felt destroyed but rebuilt from start to finish. In the beginning, she pulls open the curtain and reveals a disclaimer titled: “I have some explaining to do before you read this,” and underneath one of the section breaks, she writes,
“MANEATER is about shedding that person. Shedding the shame. The guilt. Letting go of the blame I falsely placed upon myself, and realizing that in order to move on, I must become the right kind of monster. The kind that confronts the demon before it crosses threshold.”
Composed of artwork, photography, and poetry, ManEater details Jean’s personal experience with sexual assault, rape, traumas, self-love, self-harm, and pain; while also bringing attention to the reality that it’s a shared experience of womanhood.
One of the many magnifying images throughout ManEater comes from “More Real Headlines.” In this gut-wrenching picture, there are ten cutouts of news headlines detailing 10-atrocities.
1) “Men are killing thousands of women a year for saying no.”
2) “NYC Woman decapitated by estranged husband, who also slit 5-year old daughter’s throat and hanged himself–on day she planned to file for order of protection.”
3) “In small Alaska city, Native women say police ignored rapes.”
4) “Harlem mom fatally shot after confronting man who groped her on street.”
5) “50,000 women around the world were killed by someone they knew in 2017—and women in the US are at risk.”
As the book progresses, I remain shocked, though not surprised. The swelling of atrocity in the hands and brains of men is disgusting and alarming. The way society continues to ignore and perpetuate this problem is abhorrent and alarming. But, more than all else, it all contributes to and continues the cycle of abuse.
Page 74 contains a piece titled, For The Mother’s That Protect Their Rapist Sons, and is followed by “If you ignore abuse, you enable abuse."
In the pages that follow, Jean includes two pictures. One of a text message chain where the abuser’s cousin communicated they “would like to see proof of what you are saying,” and the other of a screenshot of a document in the Notes app where Jean writes at the end, “But how much of that is my fault."
Another one of my favorite moments throughout ManEater was the inclusion of pages where Jean embraces the reader after establishing a safe space. For example, at the start of Confronting the Monster, a blank page reads: “Name them here____,” and at the end of the chapter, she puts, “Use the space to vent below” at the top of the page; providing space for the reader’s gentle thoughts.
Jean begins to heal by way of vulnerability and reminds readers (as well as herself), “We must always return to our sisters in order to heal ourselves.” in the poem titled, After the Great Nia Mora (who is a Harlem based writer, big love coach, and healer).
Lesson #222 reads: “Do not rush to healing without first completely feeling all seasons of pain,”
And it serves as a beautiful affirmation as we all dive deep into our exploration into self-love and community at our most vulnerable moments. Jean includes a list of helpful resources for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line.
The emotion Jean evoked throughout this magnificent collection stripped me bare and left me in an incredibly meditative state. I strongly suggest this book to everyone, especially men who could benefit significantly from reflecting deeply about women’s daily lives and honestly ask themselves how they can become better men and understand someone in their life who has similar experiences.
Jean-Marie Bub did an incredibly fantastic job fully confronting the monster and slaying it; while simultaneously urging all readers to do the same. ManEater is about normalizing the discussions by telling your own story!
Dominic Pierre (He/Him) is a writer and editor based in New York City. His work has appeared in Near Window Magazine, CP Quarterly, the winnow, Dreams Walking Magazine, and Moonchild Magazine.
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TW/CW: addiction, mental illness, trauma
Review written by Rachael Crosbie
Are you hoping to relive the late 90s/early 2000s with an autumn breeze, the smell of Scholastic Book Fair catalogues, VHS tapes, AOL Messenger chat logs, Smashmouth's "All Star", and so much more? Then, these memories will be re-examined by the "there after" conceived youth and teenage years, by the landscape of your suburban gothic hometown that you couldn't wait to run from, even if that meant you end up in a new place that's equally suburban gothic. Or maybe you managed to escape to the city, but it doesn't matter because you will always dream in gothic suburbia.
Besides nostalgia, Wolf Girls Vs. Horse Girls by Catherine Weiss offers vulnerability in other ways, namely "desire, fatness, addiction, queerness, mental illness, family, [and] trauma" (Game Over Books). This full-length poetry collection examines two parts of an individual's life: girlhood and what comes after. The poems are uniquely written in a modern day confessional style, making it a must-read for those new to poetry and those who are seasoned readers. After all, Andrew McNeil Publishing could only wish they found this book before Game Over Books because Weiss manages to do exactly what the majority of McNeil's catalogue could only dream of: retelling hard truths and trauma through a poetic style that is both accessible and daring.
The most memorable and powerful poems are: "why i don't eat fruit", "fervor", "driving around my hometown", "the only time i'm not in love is when we play settlers of catan", "where i went, october 2012", "confinement", and "recovery instructions for people who never finish what they start". Every poem commands language and form in a way that demands the reader's full attention.
"why i don't eat fruit" is the opening poem of the entire book. It alludes to childhood trauma, specifically potential molestation, by likening the odd texture of fruit to skin and dissociation of living in that skin: "so it's a texture thing then / i will probably say probably / but i will be thinking of / the texture of porcelain / the texture of wet skin / the texture of all the times i have vanished". This poem contextualizes quite a few of the recurring themes in the chapbook, especially those that consider the body as a state of being and a state of setting (never settling).
Other poems that were listed dive into forms that feel like they were designed specifically for those poems, especially with how "fervor" is a golden shovel of "All Star" by Smash Mouth, "the only time i'm not in love is when we play settlers of catan" and "confinement" are contrapuntals, and "recovery instructions for people who never finish what they start" is a found poem constructed of first steps from random WikiHow articles.
Above all, this book handles distressing and vulnerable themes with the utmost care and understanding. Your inner child will heal, too, and feel heard when you read this book.
Rachael Crosbie (they/them) is writing poems about their cat, Peanut. Rachael has four poetry chapbooks: Trick Mirror or Your Computer Screen, self-portrait as poems about bad poetry, swerve, and MIXTAPES. Their fifth poetry chapbook, Peanut [the cat] auditions as Courage […from Courage the Cowardly Dog], is forthcoming late summer 2022. You can find them on Twitter @rachaelapoet posting about squishmallows, She-Ra and The Princesses of Power, and Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Tip them on Venmo: @Rachael-Crosbie-7