Top 5 Feminist Books You Haven’t Yet Read But Definitely Should


Here are five awesome titles to add to your own personal back-to-school reading list:
1. Enlightened Sexism by Susan Douglas
In this great pop-academic read, Douglas traces the “girl power” movement of 1990s media (as seen in figures like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Janet Reno) and how it ended up creating a subtle but dangerous message that the work of feminists has all been fully achieved already. If you’ve ever been frustrated by a conversation with someone who claims that “we don’t need feminism anymore” because “women are already fully equal to men,” then you’ll want to read Douglas’s argument about where this idea came from.
2. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
OK, so you’ve done your feminist historical homework. You’ve read The Feminine Mystique, The Second Sex–you’ve even gone all the way back to Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 A Vindication on the Rights of Woman. But why not go even farther back–back to 1405, when Christine de Pizan made a feminist argument nearly 600 years before feminism ever existed? In this landmark text, Pizan builds an allegory city where women are safe from gendered violence, oppression, and inequality, all with the help of her feminist fairy godmothers Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. Bonus points if you teach this text to your students–here are some ideas on how to do this.
3. The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack
While you’re on that history kick, settle in with Jack’s book for a deliciously thorough history of women’s literacy. Starting with prehistoric times and continuing all the way to the present, Jack documents struggles for women’s literacy, including censorship and education battles, and the daring acts of countless women who stood on the forefront as advocates for women readers.
4. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Gay’s Bad Feminist got tons of great attention, and for good reason–but don’t overlook her novel, An Untamed State. This gripping narrative of a woman kidnapped in Haiti and held hostage by a gang of men also contains an unexpected love story. It’s a tale of survival, courage, trauma, and recovery that also delves into issues of class and immigration. Once you start, you really won’t be able to put it down, so block off a day for this suspenseful read.
5. Plot by Claudia Rankine
You read Rankine’s fierce, ground-breaking Citizen. But what about Plot? The innovative, experimental forms of this book of poems explore pregnancy and childbirth in ways that will demand your full emotional and intellectual engagement. Check out this lively text for a cutting-edge, avant-garde approach to an age-old topic.

Contest Winners Announcement

Gazing Grain Press is delighted to announce the results of the 2015 feminist poetry and prose chapbook contests. Judge Natalie Diaz has selected Marisa Crawford as the winner of our 2015 poetry/hybrid contest, and her chapbook Big Brown Bag will be published in September. We’ll have a launch and celebratory reading during Fall for the Book. Judge Amber Sparks has chosen Heidi Czerwiec’s Sweet/Crude as the winner of the 2015 prose/hybrid contest, and her chapbook will be published in spring 2016.

We are also happy to announce that Denise Leto’s manuscript Until the Greed of Pronoun’s Salvage is the poetry contest runner-up, and How to Boil an Egg by Nora Brooks is the prose contest runner-up. We will publish excerpts from both manuscripts as miniatures this year.

Natalie Diaz’s comments on Marisa Crawford’s Big Brown Bag:

“This collection is about obsessions and how we are always building them, surrendering to them, or evading them. In the opening poem we learn that Bloomingdale’s, its “brown bag” held like a bomb, are the objects of the speaker’s side-eye, tell-it-slant gaze: I saw the Bloomingdale’s out of the corner of my eye / & with the way the light was hitting it, it looked like a mirage. / Like a temple… What is really being wrestled with is love, its losses, despair, denial of that despair, learning to love one’s own body and self, and all the ways we trick ourselves into making it through the hours and days and shifts of this grinding blue world. The last couplet of the book: There was that big sign on Route Nine that said, “Free Air.” Somebody told me, memory is a tire. Change it. Go from there.”

Marisa author photoMarisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collection The Haunted House (Switchback, 2010), and the chapbook 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples, 2013). Her writing has appeared in Bitch, Hyperallergic, The Hairpin, and The &NOW Awards 3: Best Innovative Writing (&NOW, 2015), and is forthcoming in the second edition of Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics (Saturnalia, 2016). Marisa is founding editor of the feminist website WEIRD SISTER, and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Denise LetoDenise Leto is a poet who explores different forms of media and performance. She was recently awarded the Orlando Prize in Poetry from the A Room of Her Own Foundation and a Fellowship in Poetry by the Breadloaf Residency Program in Sicily. She was an Honorary Fellow and Artist in Residence at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Denise wrote the book of poems for the collaborative and multigenre feminist performance piece entitled Your Body is Not a Shark with music, sound art, dance and text. Her chapbook with Amber DiPietra, Waveform, was published by Kenning Editions. (Photo credit: Julie Sartwell)

Amber Sparks’ comments on Heidi Czerwiec’s Sweet/Crude:

“This lush, language-driven meditation on the North Dakota oil boom is as perfect a jagged juxtaposition as the title implies. Part history, part geology lesson, part survey, part indictment of corporate greed – it’s also something much more: a song about the stubborn, sorry, beautiful mess we humans have become.”

HauthorpicHeidi Czerwiec is a poet, essayist, translator, and critic who teaches at the University of North Dakota, where she is poetry editor of North Dakota Quarterly. She is the author of two recent collections, Self-Portrait as Bettie Page (2013) and A Is For A-ké, The Chinese Monster (2015), and the editor of North Dakota Is Everywhere: An Anthology of Contemporary North Dakota Poets (2015).



Photo on 2012-03-23 at 13.51Nora Brooks is a writer whose poetry, cultural coverage and fiction has appeared in RedactionsAlimentumMonkeybicycle, H.O.W. Journal, PopMattersPoets & Writers online, The Best American Poetry blog and is forthcoming from EOAGH: A Journal of the Arts. A poem from How to Boil an Egg and Other Recipes was chosen by Short anthologist Alan Ziegler for a selection on The Best American Poetry blog. She holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School, where she was a research assistant for The Best American Poetry series editor David Lehman and a teaching assistant for rock critic Greil Marcus. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and a lot of puppets.

We are also pleased to recognize the following outstanding manuscripts:

Poetry/Hybrid Finalists

Repka, Denise Bickford

Notes on the post-body, Sarah Cook

Darling Girl, Amber Edmondson

Medicatrix Naturae, Lizi Gilad

inter:burial places, Billie Tadros 

Poetry/Hybrid Semi-finalists

here is how I lived in my body on this day, Aimee Herman

Bone Loss, Kate Hovey

Speech Rinse, Vanessa Couto Johnson

Searching for a Flag, H. Melt

The Next Time Art Seduces You, Carolyn Moore

Cold Garden, Lisa Moore

Dirt, Root, Silk, Susan Azar Porterfield

The Walking Dead–A Lyric, Dawn Tefft

Prose/Hybrid Finalists:

A Rose for [], Caren Beilin

Weight, Elise D’Haene

This Green Country, Kelly Lynn Thomas

A Registry of Survival, Ann Tweedy

Prose/Hybrid Semi-finalists:

Triptychs on a White Belt, Yu-Han Chao

from The Architecture of Water, Rebecca Woolston

Arisa White Talks Emotional Mapping, Comprehending Trauma, Inclusivity, Intersectionality, & More

Sarah Marcus: You are one of the founding editors for HER KIND, an online literary community powered by VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts. The New York Times has said that “since it began several years ago, the VIDA count has been a reliable conversation-starter about gender disparity in the literary world.” How did you get involved with VIDA, and how did this initial blog come to be? Is there overlap in purpose and message with your work as a Kore Biters’ columnist at Kore Press?

Arisa White: I was recruited by VIDA founder Cate Marvin to come on board to help conceptualize and edit HER KIND. Rosebud Ben-Oni was my co-editor and it was because of our well-clicked relationship as editors, as writers, as woman of color, as creatives, as so many things, we were able to make HER KIND into a community that welcomed and promoted emergent and established literary voices. Mostly, Rosebud and I shared a vision to value each woman as a living library. Here is the mission we came up with, and it came from the heart:

HER KIND is VIDA’s next big step. It will serve as a forum to create lively conversation about issues that are often dismissed or overlooked by the mainstream media. We wish to honor the experiences of women writers and hope HER KIND will be an agent for positive social change, encouraging women to define their own terms regarding the importance and value of women’s voices. Funny, thorny, contemplative, savvy—HER KIND will provide a myriad of voices and aesthetic approaches for the blog.

So whenever or wherever Rosebud and I combine our powers, we will bring it. Now at Kore Press, we are interviewing women writers who we see as literary activists, who are bold and speaking truth in distinctive and provocative ways. We have Airea D. Matthews, Rachel McKibbens, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, and Lorna Dee Cervantes, to name a few, as Kore Biters.

SM: Your gorgeous debut poetry collection, Hurrah’s Nest, won the 2012 San Francisco Book Festival Award for poetry and was nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Award, the 82nd California Book Awards, and the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards! Can you tell us about this project? What poems do you feel the most connected to in this book? I especially enjoyed the exploration of identity through dialogue, sound, and language. How long did it take you to complete this work?

AW: It took me about 12 years to complete Hurrah’s Nest. I left my MFA program at UMass, Amherst, with a version of it that I continued to work on until it became the version we see today. Like most debut collections, I explore my childhood and family dynamics and was interested in feeling through, more deeply, the moments of intimate violence, the abusive relationships my mother found herself in, and to hold it all with the love that was present. I wanted to know what was the formative ground that held us up. It is a book that interrogates the memories that stick with you, asking to be massaged down, those knots in your narrative, in your sense of self, and poems were the healing attention I could give. Because I enjoy what each poem and prose piece, is doing, what each taught me about what I’m capable of aesthetically, I connect to all the poems in Hurrah’s Nest.

SM: As a writer and BFA Creative Writing faculty member at Goddard College what role does inclusive feminism and intersectionality play in your curriculum and in your larger literary community?

AW: Goddard is low-residency, so the students create their study plans—their “syllabus” for the semester. As an advisor, I share my knowledge with them, guide them to read beyond their cultural influences, explore other eras, and this philosophy is also supported by the pedagogical practices and the educational mission of the BFA Creative Writing Program and Goddard as a whole. I do my best to model a life of inclusivity and honor the intersectionalities that inform the lives around me. It’s not so much a role as it is a way of life. A way of being that I am sure to nurture and evolve and to encourage myself to step beyond what is comfortable, to create encounters that will open me to understanding who is around and before me. Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about in her TedTalk, we have to move beyond the single story, because who we are as people is far more rich and layered and complex that we are taught to consider. This is the failure of our consciousness—it is individual, dualistic, and lacks a cosmological approach. Within my community of family, friends, students, and bystanders, I ask us to question and to think about our narrow expectations, to hold the contradictions, and not regard the other as an object for their personal use—and they do that too for me.

SM: We learn in your dear Gerald author statement that these epistolary poems and prose are addressed to your father who was deported to his homeland several years prior and that the last time you saw him you were three years old. What was your experience of giving him a copy of this manuscript like after 30 plus years of abandonment? What was it like to create a cross-genre manuscript? How did you make decisions about ordering the pieces?

AW: Giving him the book, I felt resolved. I got to meet the man that created the absence, and to understand what was that “thing” I carried around that is connected to his abandonment. I got to return to the site of the trauma and better comprehend its presence, and then chart within myself how it’s been functioning in my dynamics. And the book is arranged to mark those moments along that emotional map. After reading the collection, Gerald told me in a phone conversation that I could have written a better book if I talked to him first. There are many conditionals that we can apply to our lives to make a different outcome—but that’s all in the imagination. It is not real, not now, not here. And the point of the poems was to make sense of my life without him, to wrestle with the mythology of him, to give him an account of who I am. I took his response as a complete assholish remark—he couldn’t be with my point of view, with me. This has been a part of the journey too, recognizing that loss comes in all these different ways, these degrees of hereness, and I’ve had to make peace with that. With the people who are no longer in my life, because they fade out, because I let them go, because I wasn’t the best at showing up or I didn’t allow them to be here for me, and then there are folks who I am psychically connected to, people who resurface and then swim away, and I’m learning and relearning how to be OK with that, and how to not think that I could better if, I could be more loved if, I could write better if, and to accept myself as complete, whole, and no missing parts.

SM: What are you working on now, and what can we get excited to see from you in the future?

AW: When you’re in it, it’s often hard to say what it is exactly you’re working on . . . I think it’s a poetic drama. I’m interested in exploring in this work the intersection of drama, poetry, and narrative—what is useful from each, what combinations are necessary for the spiritual journey of a queer black woman working to integrate her feminine aspect? Also, I’m continuing to work on Post Pardon: The Opera, with my collaborator Jessica Jones. Last night, I watched a documentary about the Japanese architect Tadao Ando and in it he said, “Do not abandon your work!” and Post Pardon, from chapbook to libretto has been a testament to remaining in a relationship with what you create. So after a season of applying for grants to put on a full production and being rejected, we decided to reassess our direction with this project, and Jessica suggested we do an album of songs. There is so much vitality in the songs, the message toward healing, to paying attention to what we fear, and where we are uncomfortable so that we celebrate life more deeply, with more integrity. And we need more of those sentiments communicated in our music. The work has heavy jazz, soulful influences, and the songs will be revised to include some hooks and more choruses and lyrics changed here and there so that the meaning is broadened beyond the world of the opera itself.


Arisa White received her MFA from UMass, Amherst. She’s a Cave Canem fellow, and the author of Post Pardon, Hurrah’s Nest, and A Penny Saved. Her debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, won the 2012 San Francisco Book Festival Award for poetry and was nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Award, the 82nd California Book Awards, and the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards. A 2013-14 recipient of an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation and an advisory board member for Flying Object, Arisa is a BFA faculty member at Goddard College.

Review: The Apocalyptic Visions of Natalie Diaz: When My Brother was an Aztec

AztecNatalie Diaz
When My Brother Was an Aztec
Copper Canyon Press, 2012
103 pages, $16.00

 “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers” – Ezekiel 25:17

What can you do when the world breaks apart? Turn to Natalie Diaz and her debut poetry collection When My Brother was an Aztec, perhaps the most anguished, eloquent, mournful document emerging from American poetry in the past quarter century. Within three parts, the poet presents an apocalyptic triptych of ruin, disaster, and collapse, and the crushing consequences of their interrelatedness. Turn and stand with Ms. Diaz, amazed while you both witness a complete communal demise as everyone disappears, screaming into that collapsing planet we once called home.

And it all begins in a small house on a Native American Reservation. Diaz’ speaker records the seismic rupture in the book’s opening, title piece. She relays the following: “[H]e lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents / every morning. It was awful.” (1) While a cursory reading might bring the reader to believe this story addresses a single family, Diaz’ speaker claims generational post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by the entire post-Columbus Native American culture, stating, “He thought he was / Huitzilopochtli, a god, half-man half-hummingbird.” (1) In microcosm, a 500-year holocaust occurs in the confines of the tiny dwelling, its occupants quartered or thrown off cliffs, again and again and again.

One of the first victims of generational trauma is faith and spirituality, and Diaz’ speaker monitors this loss immediately. Part I investigates the damage firsthand. In “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation,” she writes, “. . . death / eats angels, I guess, because I haven’t seen an angel / fly through this valley ever.” (5) Further on, “The Gospel of Guy No-Horse” presents a nihilistic mixture of rage and impotence coupled with alcohol-fueled lust and power. And the results can’t be good.

Repeatedly, Diaz’ speaker invokes Judeo-Christian images. “Reservation Mary,” “The Clouds are Buffalo Limping towards Jesus,” and “Prayers or Oubliettes” all employ these sentiments, but they turn them inside out. In “If Eve Side-Stealer and Mary Busted-Chest Ruled the World,” the speaker asks,

            What if Mary was an Indian

            & when Gabriel visited her wigwam

            she was away at a monthly WIC clinic

            receiving eggs, boxed cheese

            & peanut butter instead of Jesus? (25)

And while she portrays the effects of empty rhetoric and a foreign culture’s imposition on Native American life, Diaz’ speaker poignantly exposes, both literally and figuratively, the constant tug of ancestral history in “The Facts of Art,” when Hopi workers encounter a Native graveyard during their work on a highway with the Transportation Department.

As with soldiers displaying PTSD when hearing or imagining gunshots, Diaz records sounds of warfare throughout the volume. From Hotchkiss rifles and Gatling guns to exploding bombs and rumbling tanks, the enemy is always engaging and destroying Native American people and culture. Even without the appearance of foreign cavalry, the effects of warfare, concentration camps, and loss of identity haunt the volume. The speaker provides a perfect example of this trauma in “Other Small Thunderings,” writing,

Our medicine bags are anchored with buffalo nickels –

sleek skulls etched by Gatlings.

How we plow and furrow the murky Styx, lovingly

digging with smooth dark oars –

like they are Grandmother’s missing legs – (31)

Then, however, in Part II, Diaz shifts focus violently from the communal to the individual in a series of eleven poems focusing on a meth-addicted brother, his descent into darkness, and the tragic effects of his loss. The pieces ostensibly chronicle the destruction of a nuclear family. In “My Brother at 3 A.M.,” the speaker states, “He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps / when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.” (43) However, the larger effects of this ruin are captured in “As a Consequence of My Brother Stealing All the Lightbulbs.” Diaz writes, “—we are always digging each other out from an intimate / sort of rubble.” (54) The brother builds with the tiny house a funeral pyre where he and his family somehow live. But its ignition is spectacular, as the speaker records in “No More Cake Here;” the family throws a huge wake marking the brother’s passing.

In Part III, Diaz’ apocalypse slowly unfolds, the brother’s death being its catalyst. In “I Watch Her Eat the Apple,” the speaker unveils a new, if temporary, planet. She writes, “This blue world has never needed a woman / to eat an apple so badly, to destroy an apple, / to make the apple bone – / and she does it.” (74) The accumulative effects of personal and generational traumatic stress emerge in “Self-Portrait as Chimera.” She asks, “I am. I am and am and am. What have I done?”

As the volume approaches its close, apocalyptic signs increase and intensify. “[D]reaming a mesquite forest I once stripped to fire / before the sky went ash, undid its dark ribbons, and bent to the ground,” (84) Diaz writes in “Monday Aubade.” Reality and fantasy intermingle in terrifying fashion in “When the Beloved Asks, ‘What Would You Do if You Woke Up and I Was a Shark?’” In “Lorca’s Red Dresses,” the tempo increases as the speaker claims, “My tongue’s a heretic, prostrated. My heart’s a red dress.” (87) In the piece, “Of Course She Looked Back,” the disaster rapidly approaches. “Love Potion 2012” chronicles the world’s undoing, as the sea and the sky turn upside down. “This is no sea     Clouds not reef not stone,” (99) she declares.

But Diaz is not finished. She narrates events to the very end. In the closing “A Wild Life Zoo,” the speaker observes a lion attack a man who has entered his cage, in itself a horrifying sight. But the poet recognizes this inevitability, as the man’s trespass leads to his gruesome demise. “. . . I believed the lion and rang my bowl / against the cage to let them know.” (102) The world has collapsed. Everyone has fled and disappeared. And still, Diaz beats her jagged metal song alone against a cage of rigid bars.


Paul David Adkins lives in New York and works as a counselor.

Lynn Melnick Talks Feminism, VIDA, Please Excuse This Poem, & If I Should Say I Have Hope with GGP

Sarah Marcus: You do incredible work on the executive board at VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, and you focus specifically on Social Media and Outreach. After my year as a VIDA Counter and two years as a Count Coordinator, I think our current literary landscape needs VIDA now more than ever! Can you tell us about how VIDA is changing the way they count? Why is counting so crucial, and how can writers help keep this conversation moving forward?

Lynn Melnick: Thank you so much, Sarah! I’m very proud of the work I do with VIDA, and of VIDA’s work in general. And, as much as I sometimes complain about the troll situation with social media, I love that I get to interact with our amazing followers every day and spread the word about VIDA and about bias issues in publishing in general.

I also want to thank you, Sarah, for the work you’ve done with VIDA as a Count Coordinator! Without that (likely often tedious) work, none of this would be possible. And I’m endlessly grateful to all the people who volunteer with us for the greater good, and not for their own personal gain. It gives me hope, and furthers my passion for this work.

I’m especially glad to be working with VIDA as we embark on a more intersectional approach to the VIDA Count. The next count will include numbers on race, disability, and the LGBTQ population. Counting is crucial because it often verifies what we suspect – that there is a bias in the literary world against women and other populations.

Counting moves the conversation forward away from speculation and into fact.

We’ve seen in the last two VIDA Counts especially that editors have begun to realize the importance of diversity. There are so many literary venues that are running their own internal counts now, which is wonderful. It is starting to really matter to the literary world that all voices are heard. And writers can help keep this conversation moving forward by holding editors and other gatekeepers accountable for whom they promote.

SM: You co-edited the beautifully fresh anthology Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation (Viking Penguin, 2015). This is a diverse collection of 100 poems from 100 poets that moves from war to race to gender to sexuality to lost childhoods and through open wounds. I loved using this book to teach my senior Creative Writers because these poems were so relatable and so right now. Tell us how this project started. Who do you see as this anthology’s intended audience? Why is it important to continue to teach and represent these specific voices?

LM: It makes me so happy to hear that you have read Please Excuse This Poem with your students! They are exactly the readers we (my co-editor Brett Fletcher Lauer and I) had in mind when we set out to make this anthology. The goal of the book is to make poetry relevant to teenagers the way songs are so relevant to teenagers. We wanted to make poetry cool! And so it thrills me that your class found the poems relatable and of the moment. We worked very hard to include a range of voices, backgrounds and experiences because this is a diverse world we live in and the literature our kids are taught should reflect that, I think – and yet it so rarely does.

The idea for Please Excuse This Poem started basically out of years of conversations Brett and I had about our own difficult adolescences and the poetry that rescued us. And then we were like, “hey, what if we edited an anthology specifically with teenagers and their concerns and worries and experiences in mind?” And then we did!

We were also very fortunate to find an agent and an editor who totally understood this project and were as passionate as we were, even though you can imagine that poetry anthologies are not exactly the thing keeping the YA book industry afloat…

SM: Your poetry book, If I Should Say I Have Hope (YesYes Books, 2012), was a  Coldfront Magazine Top 40 Poetry Book for 2012! This book seems to accomplish so very much connecting physical space to memory while addressing a consistent uneasiness and the sorting of feelings and stories. What is your favorite poem in this book and why? What do you want your reader to walk away with? 

LM: Ah, you say such nice things, Sarah!! Thank you.

You know, I’ve never been asked what’s my favorite poem in the book! I’m not sure, actually. I guess it would depend on my mood. I can be a little hard on myself (or a lot) so I don’t often sit back and think “fuck yeah this is awesome!” but let me give this a shot.


Well, the last poem in the book, “Wallflower” was written for my husband and is basically about me thinking “holy crap someone sees me and respects me and loves me and holy crap maybe I deserve that.” So that’s a nice one to be a favorite, right?

My favorite poem to read at readings might be “Superstar Hollywood Home Tours” which is just a catalog of my misspent youth but in a really light-hearted way for a change, plus there’s hot pants in there and I really wanted hot pants in a poem. But sometimes I feel self-conscious about reading so many dark, heavy poems when I give readings so I’m relieved to also have this somewhat more fun one.

But this week – I’m answering this question the week after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage – maybe “Town & Country” has been on my mind the most because I wrote it thinking about my friends who died of AIDS in the ‘90s and how they were so marginalized and things have changed so much and I wish they were all alive to experience it. So perhaps that’s my favorite poem at this particular moment.

SM: How do you feel inclusive feminism informs your work today? How have your views been impacted by the literary community? What can we look forward to seeing from you next?

LM: Inclusive, intersectional feminism is crucial to the many kinds of work that I do and I’m terrifically grateful to be a part of such a passionate, engaged literary community. My work with VIDA depends on it, of course. And in terms of what I read and what I teach, it is very important for me to listen and learn from all feminists.

And even in term of being a mother to two girls! For example, there are a lot of books about women’s suffrage for tween readers and my older daughter has perhaps read them all but one huge thing they tend to leave out is that no, not all women were granted the right to vote in 1920, it’s a terribly white-woman-centric feminism these books teach. It’s that kind of thing I try to correct if/where I can.

What’s next is I’m finishing up my second poetry collection! It’s kind of intense, mostly about sex, violence, sex work, and the landscape of California – and of course how language and memory both fail and enable the conversation around these complicated things. My obsessions rarely change, and my history of course hasn’t, but this new book will be a lot more fearless.

LynnPhotoLynn Melnick is author of If I Should Say I Have Hope (YesYes Books, 2012) and co-editor, with Brett Fletcher Lauer, of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation (Viking, 2015).  She teaches at 92Y in NYC and is the social media & outreach director for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

Chapbook Review: Cecilia Woloch’s Earth

Cecilia Woloch
Two Sylvias Press, 2015
46 pages, $9.90

In Earth, winner of the 2014 Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize, Cecilia Woloch focuses on the major movements of life—across continents, between childhood and adulthood, and from life to death—in compelling poems that allow each transition its full measure of significance in a network of shifting pieces.

What I appreciate most about these poems is that they are not in a rush. Woloch develops each character, each family, and each natural setting to a fully-populated sense of self before reaching closure, and this strategy offers a particularly strong assertion of the pleasure of memory and meditation. In the elegiac “Harry and Pearl: A Villanelle,” for instance, the speaker entwines a couple in a dance-like repetition, attaching them to each other while tracing their habits of footwear into the afterlife. This surprising attention to the minute detail of family memory persists throughout the poems, which offer a balance of rich, symbolic imagery paired with rippling personal observation; trees, stones, and rivers serve as metaphors for transition and efforts at establishing a sense of home, while a mother bears “the wren’s / plain strength.”

These acts of noticing are often grounded in the position of the speaker within the family—often as a child, but always as a descendant examining the changing states of those around her. The connection and dissolution of the immigrant family predicates an interesting sense of being everywhere and not simultaneously; Woloch writes, “Once I was only a child in my sleep; then I awoke and was everywhere.” The interest in childhood also offers an optimism that feels simple and true, despite an atmosphere of persistent loss: “I walked around when I was small and spit my name into my hands. I wanted everything to shine.”

The poems are dense with the pleasures of alliteration and repetition—“streetcars slur” and the father appears a man “with his shadow in his shadow.” In many cases, these repetitions feel daring—their matter is often the imagery of the everyday, and yet the reader is challenged to allow each successive echo to be as joyful as the first (it is). In these poems, it is possible to exist and remain both within language and memory, yet to evade being transfixed by that location; one is able, also, to be present in a concrete location with a body and still not truly be present in the minds of others—“This is America, Teta. You’re dead,/ and our dying means nothing here.” Against the consistent struggle of location, the speaker turns again and again to the relative stability of her natural surroundings, both real and imagined—what if the role of grandmother is inhabited by a tree? Dreams prove an especially fertile ground for aligning the living and the dead.

The poems in Earth work to create a world that offers no particular resolution, but is at peace with the sense of movement, with the repetition of image, language, and character—where despite loss and upheaval, there is comfort in the act of narrative and the linked warmth of sound and image. Perhaps Woloch puts it best, in describing the final settlement within the narratives themselves: there is “no home but the story I’ve lived toward.”


Kate Partridge received her MFA in poetry from George Mason University, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Arts & Letters, Blackbird, and Pleiades. She lives in Anchorage, where she teaches at the University of Alaska Anchorage.