Many books talk about the impact of technology and media on our daily lives, but few give us new ways of finding human ground through technology and media. Manual Random Hill, Patrick Williams’ remarkable debut, delivers tight, nostalgia-free poems about an analog world slowly weaving itself into the digital fabric of our daily lives. Williams reveals intellectually sharp, intimate and deeply human shapes hidden in the seemingly mundane interactions of our screen-focused and off-screen lives. The poems work to deftly remediate the constant presence of data around us and remind us that “You & I are merely squatters/on the tiniest parcel of joint and muscle/pain.” Manual Random Hill is a remedy we sorely need. —Sean M. Conrey, author of The Book of Trees (Saint Julian Press, 2017)
In the searing poems of green girl, Jessie Sobey calls on the language of Shakespeare to help tell a story we are coming to know all too well: of how a young girl or woman suffers harm to her heart and mind, and body, at the hands of boys and men. Her aim, she writes, is “to change the green girl’s narrative: not to do the impossible & change what has happened, but to show the secret parts.” A poet’s work is to put us inside experience, to feel it as experience, to hold a complex mirror up to it, to name it. green girl does this with the bravery of candor.
Harrowing, vertiginous, haunted, the poems in green girl excavate the image of Ophelia, fracturing her into prismatic bits—sister, self, drowned, undrowned, resurrected, never-dead, survivor and ghost, the one who’s been silenced and the one who speaks. This fierce book interrogates the idea that “I am not what I am” in ways that linger, challenge, and disrupt.
Not long ago, hungry for Yeats, I spent some time with “Crazy Jane” who stands for all of Ireland—“mad Ireland” as Auden would have it—but who’s really the poet for whom the world is too much. By this Yeats means to show us the cruelties inflicted on women and the poor and the complacent pieties arrayed against them. Like Yeats’s Jane, poets who acknowledge illness, who’ve lived the stigmatized, sidelong dread of it are always lyric writers—claiming disability requires a transition from static language into momentum. With Sandra McPherson’s new poems we see the urgency, the awareness of blocked paths and closed languages. The poet who confronts disability reinvents the occasions of imprisonment much as a formal design in prosody will force a poet to achieve new effects in verse. Igor Stravinsky put it this way: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.” We are in a hurry. We must tell the truth about the catastrophe that is human consciousness.
And so the exigency and weight of Sandra McPherson’s remarkable collection. The 5150 poems reference California’s Section 5150 which allows the state to confine a person with a mental disorder. That this is arbitrary and belongs to the era of the lobotomy is entirely the case for anyone feeling a below scratch can be legally locked up and medicated and hence erased. So it was for one of our finest poets. At least they gave her a golf caddy’s stub pencil and a notebook. –from the Foreword by Stephen Kuusisto
Virtually all the poems in this aptly titled collection act first to vividly evoke some specific place or occasion in the material world—the one Dr. Johnson famously kicked—and proceed to keenly measure the anguish and/or the pleasures of being there. This is the world of real relationships, real children, real history, real joys and failures. Here there are also real owls and bats and cayotes, along with real stands of sugar maple and pine groves, snowy mountains and woodland ponds. Burtis’ sharp sensory evocations of this natural world can make you think of what it might be like to hike the wilderness with Gary Snyder. But always, at some point, these poems effectively ease you over that threshold beyond which looms the oneiric world of the imaginative, the speculative, the conjectural, and even the hallucinatory. The world of what-if and if-only, the realm of existential pondering and deep interrogation of the self, the territory of nightmares of regret and visions of resolution, of both poignant dread and soothing hope. Burtis’ poems always transport you to such a threshold, occasionally strand you there forlornly, but most often manage to make you feel you are about to learn to fly, and fill you with that rare joy that only real art can conjure.–Jim Crenner, author of Drinks at the Stand-Up Tragedy Club