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Slaves to Do These Things (2009): Selling One’s Soul to God Is to Betray the Other

Slaves to Do These Things (2009): Selling One’s Soul to God Is to Betray the Other

Amy King, Slaves to Do These Things (BlazeVOX Books, 2009)

slaves

Carpentry is a dirty business. photo credit: Amazon

Every once in a while, I run across a poet—the last one was Timothy Donnelly, over a decade ago—whose work feels like it’s introducing me to a new language, one that is parallel to ours, but lying just beneath the surface, a language where quotidian words are used in new, unfamiliar, and exciting ways. Slaves to Do These Things is steeped in this kind of language, but still oddly grounded; it feels kind of like an unholy union between Donnelly and, say, Matthea Harvey. And since I basically worship both those poets, you probably know what I’m going to say here.

By the way, if you’re reading this on the day I post it, head on over to Folder Magazine. King is the featured poet this month. (The timing of the posting of this review is, of course, not a coincidence at all. Both King and Folder deserve far, far more exposure than they have gotten to date.)

I come for you on the people’s chariot
interpreted in nightgown,
sidelined, and smoking,
breakfast huevos in hand,
for we are poorer figures with lust,
and poorer still, talking this city
from block into block into
that which sells
a plastic surprise
in the snake oil’s morning,
a unisex of truth bearing.”

…begins “Stimulus Package”, and you see what I mean? “The people’s chariot interpreted in nightgown.” That feels like something that would make perfect sense if you just looked at it a slightly different way. And it works. Some of the language in here just blew me away. (I singled out the line “Leaning into backdrafts just to glow”, from “The Fear of Hope Is Also Beautiful”, in a social media post the other day.)

I’m stunned, and kind of in love, and need to get my hands on everything this woman has ever written. *****

Book of Poetry: Romantic Poems (XXXX): Least Accurate Title of the Year

James K. Moore, Book of Poetry: Romantic Poems (MooreSuccess, no date listed)

romantic

The cover is the most romantic thing about it. photo credit: pinterest

I have to admit that I’m impressed, in a grudging sort of way, by the poem “You and I” in this collection. It is possible to advance the hypothesis that every major error it is possible to make in the crafting of poetry exists in this single piece.

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Carpet (2012): Monkey Brains and Donkey Doos

Andrew Olah, Carpet (CreateSpace, 2012)

carpet

With a color scheme like that, it’s a carpet straight out of the seventies. photo credit: createspace.com

Seventy dollars. As I write this review, the list price on the print edition of Andrew Olah’s Carpet—the Kindle version seems to have (thankfully) disappeared—is $69.99. And in case that’s not ridiculous enough on its face when the majority of single-author collections published by major and academic presses run about $16-18 these days for 72-108pp. of poetry, I’ll echo the admonitions of another reviewer who was unlucky enough to pick up a few of Olah’s books free in Kindle form:

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Love Is Not Because (1998):…You Read This Book

Ruth F. Boorstin, Love Is Not Because (Lone Oak Press, 1998)

The title of the book is all that is found on the otherwise painfully-red cover.

Love Is Not Because This Book Has a Fire-Engine Red Cover.
photo credit: Amazon

Ruth F. Boorstin, the About the Author blurb tells us, was the wife—and longtime editor—of Daniel J. Boorstin, a Pulitzer Prize winner, Library of Congress librarian, seller of many, many books. You have likely heard of Daniel Boorstin. Unless you aware aware of the minutiae of his life, you have probably never heard of Ruth. Having now read the horrifying Love Is Not Because, I know why all too well.

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Affections (2012): Objections

Warren L. G. DeMills, Affections (No press listed, 2012)

Had I been planning on giving this any stars, it would have lost them for incomplete information.

A tree-lined path adorns the cover of the book.

I thought I took the road less travelled, but then I realized that wouldn’t be the case with this much landscaping.
photo credit: Amazon

Vanity-, POD-, and Self-published poetry comes in two flavors, with no middle ground: it’s either really, really good or really, really bad. If you are familiar with vanity-published work at all, you are probably not surprised by the idea that 90% of the vanity-published books you will pick up are of the latter flavor. When it comes to poetry—and I will admit right up from that my criteria for what makes a great poem is far, far stricter than it is for prose—that number tends to be closer to 99%. Now, why am I telling you all this? Well, there’s the kicker. As I write these words at the end of September 2014, Affections has eight reviews at Amazon. One of them is a three-star review (which to me means “lightly recommended”, since 2.5 is the average). All the rest are either four or five stars. So this has got to be one of the one percent, right?

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Selected Poems (1957): The Cutting Room Floor

Kenneth Patchen, Selected Poems (New Directions, 1957)

[originally posted 22Nov2002]

A collection of line drawings of very strange creatures adorns the cover.

All the best freaks are here, please stop staring at me.
photo credit: ndbooks.com

Selected by the New Directions staff after Patchen’s death, Selected Poems was meant to introduce a new generation to the poet and novelist the back cover calls “the most compelling force in American poetry since Whitman.” (One wonders what Allen Ginsberg, whose “Howl” had been published by New Directions two years previous, had to say about that.) The collection does a good job at introduction, and does an even better job at showing the inconsistency of Patchen’s poetic work.

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Paterson (1963): New Jersey Has Never Looked So Good

William Carlos Williams, Paterson (New Directions, 1963)

[originally posted 4Nov2002]

A river's small waterfall graces the book's cover.

I was going to put a joke here about plums and falls, but it broke behind the hospital.
photo credit: ginsbergblog.blogspot.com

To hear the staff at New Directions tell it, Paterson is the be-all and end-all of the American long poem; there is no work being done today that is not influenced in some way by Williams’ milestone of American verse. And there may be some truth in that statement, but it neglects to address the question of whether Paterson is, in fact, a good poem; after all, the album title tells us ten million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. Well, guess what, folks? Ten million Elvis fans ARE wrong.

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