Sunday, December 29, 2013

Read This: Sibling Rivalry Press edition

There's probably an old rule set up by some curmudgeon about not reviewing poetry collections published by the press that published you, but since I don't follow rules or curmudgeons, here are three mini-reviews of books by fellow Sibling Rivalry Press poets that are most definitely worth your time.

Burnings by Ocean Vuong: This slim chapbook provides more emotional gut punches than a collection two or three times its size. Vuong writes with clear-eyed, lyrical precision about leaving Vietnam as a child, immigrating to America and the awakening of his sexuality. Photographs – of the poet in a refugee camp as a toddler and of the infamous execution of a Viet Cong guerrilla in 1968 – and examining dreams of a homeland that he cannot remember, but are hardwired into his being, are the first steps toward understanding his past and finding a foothold in his new country. Once in New York, the revelation of his desire for men is a "hymn" he must keep secret for the sake of tradition. There are candid poems about sex and masturbation, of finding the music inside ones own body. In the haunting final poem, a blind girl has her sight restored and the first thing she sees is one of the planes slamming into the World Trade Center. And there is a horrible beauty and music there, too.

The Talking Day by Michael Klein: I am admittedly biased toward Michael Klein's work because, like me, he also incorporates nuggets of pop culture into his poems. There is also a strong narrative here in the guise of prose poems: memories of going to the bathhouses in New York in the 70s, the realization of middle age in a bad knee, the way snow and rain transforms Manhattan into art and cinema before your eyes. There are ghosts and loss and the eventuality of death. But this collection is by no means a downer; in fact, it's humming with life, light and love. The last poem, "Image results for the sky," is a fevered dream so real that it took my breath away. The poet senses his lover in the dream, but cannot find him. Upon waking, his partner is there and promises to always look out for him. I'm not ashamed to admit that poem – and this collection – brought me to tears. The Talking Day is a must-read.

Less Fortunate Pirates by Bryan Borland: If you've lost a parent – especially a father – this collection of poems will be a difficult, yet cathartic read. Bryan chronicles how his life changed in the year after his father was killed in a car crash. With no witnesses or explanation, Bryan's father's SUV went off a bridge and into a lake. Was it suicide or an accident? These questions are mulled as grief and memories manifest in unlikely places (watching the movie Inception, for instance), visiting the site of the accident  and, ultimately, remembering his father's kindness rather than dwelling on his death. In the intervening months, there is also a stark and true account of how we privately deal with grief: hoping the approaching mourners won't ask if there is anything they can do to help (they can't), posting the news on Facebook (the social media obituary), indulging in inappropriate laughter, dealing with holidays (especially Father's Day) and reclaiming intimacy. I lost my own father in the spring, and I waited until summer to read this collection – to put some distance between my grief before delving into Bryan's. The collection has since become my bible as I begin to write about losing my dad. I know Bryan's father would be proud of all the things he has accomplished as publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, and I also know that his father would be honored by the moving, life-affirming tribute that is Less Fortunate Pirates.

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Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional

Welcome to Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional, the website for poet, novelist, playwright and journalist Collin Kelley.