Obit: Poems by Victoria Chang – A Review

Obit Victoria Chang

Obit: Poems by Victoria Chang
Poetry | Contemporary | Memoir
Published by Copper Canyon Press
Released April 7th, 2020
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

This was not an easy book to read.

Obit is a deeply personal collection of poems written by Victoria Chang about her grief over her mother’s illness and subsequent death along with her father’s stroke and dementia. It’s moving and somber. I had planned on reading this in a single sitting, but had to put it down and walk away a few times before I could read further.

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Victoria Chang

Told in the form of short obituaries, she tackles the way grief makes you feel, the struggle of taking care of aging and sick parents, explaining grief to your children, and so much more.

One of the reasons I struggled so much with this collection is due to the death of my own mother back in 2010. Even a decade later (which honestly feels unreal), the grief is still a raw wound. These poems opened that wound and made me feel some of the same pain I felt all those years ago.

“Subject Matter” is one of my favorite poems:

Subject Matter – always dies, what
we are left with is architecture, form,
sound, all in a room, darkened, a few
chairs unarranged. The door is locked
from the inside. But still, subject
matter breaks in and all the others rise.
My mother’s death is not her story. My
father’s stroke is not his story. I am
not my mother’s story, not my father’s
story. But there is a meeting place that
is hidden, one that holds all the maps
toward indifference. Can pain be
separated from subject matter? Can
subject matter take flight and lose its
way, peck on another tree? How do
you walk heavily with subject matter
on your back, without trampling all the
meadows?

Thanks to the publisher for the permission to reprint this poem. 

There were a few poems in this collection that didn’t speak to me, but that’s true of any collection. It’s hard for me to recommend this collection to everyone because it is difficult. If you can handle it though, it’s a beautifully crafted and honest collection.




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Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert – A Review

Shame Is an Ocean I swim across mary lambert

Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert
Poetry | LGBTQ | Mental Health
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Released October 23rd, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars
Read via Audiobook

“I want to watch the fat lady win
I want her to stop apologizing for being fat
I wish I could say: Hey, perfect angel cutie pie:
You don’t owe anyone shit.
Stop apologizing for who you are.
Go eat a fucking sandwich and throw your scale away
Work out if you want to, lay on the couch if you want to
No one else lives in your body
You are enough, as you are, today”

I chose to listen to the audiobook for Mary Lambert’s Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across almost on a whim, and it touched me in a way that I was not expecting. Her words are expressive and passionate. I found myself identifying with Lambert’s words on such a deep level that I’m currently listening to it again. What started out as a collection of poetry I’d never heard of has become one of my favorite books and what I expect will become one of my top reads of 2020.

Mary Lambert
Mary Lambert

Mary Lambert is a poet, spoken word artist, musician, song-writer, and LGBTQ activist. Her work deals with difficult topics, such as rape, sexual abuse, trauma, bipolar disorder, and body image.

Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across made me feel a wide spectrum of emotions. Some of the poems brought tears to my eyes, and others made me feel proud of the struggles I’ve been through to become who I am. I identified personally with so many of these poems, particularly those about mental health (including bipolar disorder) and body image.

The audiobook version of Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across was gorgeously produced and I can’t recommend it enough. Lambert’s emotional and strong voice was placed over simple piano pieces, which served to heighten the emotional impact.

Mary Lambert’s collection is powerful, emotional, and intensely personal. It’s one that I will keep near me for years to come, especially when I’m feeling lonely in my experiences. There are a number of triggering topics in Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across, so be sure to check out the book’s Goodreads page if you’re worried about that before diving in.

Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across was so beautiful and it’s hard to describe just how much I loved it. I’m looking forward to everything Lambert does, what with my new massive crush on her. I’ll leave you with this video of her song “Secrets,” because, again, Mary Lambert is amazing. I just don’t understand how it took me so long to learn of her!




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Live Oak, with Moss by Walt Whitman – A Review

Live Oak with Moss Walt Whitman

Live Oak, with Moss by Walt Whitman
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Poetry | Graphic Novel | LGBTQ+
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Released April 9th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

I’ve always been a bit intimidated by classic poetry. When we read it in high school and college, I never really got them and found myself frequently frustrated with the flowery language, as well as the teacher making us pull apart each line of the poem until I found myself hating it.

Recently, however, I’ve been getting into modern poetry and really loving it. When I was at my local library browsing their poetry collection, I came across this beautiful edition of Walt Whitman’s Live Oak, with Moss.

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I’d never heard of this poem, but I was intrigued by its format – the poem is told through Brian Selznick’s wonderful art. Of course, the actual poem is included as well!

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I will say that if you’re unfamiliar with the poem, the art isn’t going to make a lot of sense. At least, it didn’t for me. However, once I read the poem and went back through the art, I got it, and loved it.

Live Oak, with Moss is one of Whitman’s more obscure poetry collections. Written in a small book that he made himself, sewing the pages together, he wrote about his attraction to, and relationships with, men. At the time that Whitman wrote these poems, in 1859, “homosexual” wasn’t a word yet. There was a burgeoning homosexual subculture emerging in New York City during this time, of which Whitman was a part.

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Walt Whitman

The poems are passionate and personal and touch on lust, desire, love, and loss. They’re beautiful to read, and I’m glad that these poems were discovered and published in this manner.

Along with Walt Whitman’s words and Brian Selznick’s art, scholar Karen Karbiener’s essay about the poems and the author’s sexuality shed a lot of light on his life, the evolution of these poems, and their discovery.

Overall, I’m so glad that I picked this book up from my library’s shelf. It was an absolute pleasure to read, and I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in classic or LGBTQ-positive poetry.




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The Truro Bear and Other Adventures by Mary Oliver – A Review

The Truro Bear Mary Oliver

The Truro Bear and Other Adventures by Mary Oliver
Poetry | Nature
Published by Beacon Press
Released 2008
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

As a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, Mary Oliver was a prominent figure in the poetry world until her death in January 2019. It wasn’t until her death, however, that I heard of her. Through the many articles I casually read through in the weeks following her passing, I learned that she was well-known for her poetry regarding nature.

This intrigued me and I added a few of her collections to my TBR. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I started to discover an interest in poetry. I went to my library last week in order to grab several poetry collections, primarily because I’m still learning which poets speak to me the most and which topics I gravitate toward. They had several of Mary Oliver’s collections, and from amongst them, I chose The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. 

Published in 2008, The Truro Bear is a collection made up of forty-five poems, both new and classic, as well as two essays. Nature, and more specifically the life found in nature, is the theme throughout this collection.

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Some of my fondest memories involve being deep in the woods, surrounded by nature and wildlife, whether it was while hiking, backpacking, camping, or just relaxing somewhere beautiful. Mary Oliver clearly shows the reader how much she appreciates and loves the world around her, and it resonated with me. Anyone that loves spending time outside will find something to love in this collection.

Taken as a whole, The Truro Bear underwhelmed me, despite my strong feelings about nature. Many of the poems were well-crafted but for whatever reason didn’t move me or inspire me in any way. I want to make clear that I enjoyed the collection, it just didn’t change my life in any way.

There are a lot of poems about Mary’s dog Percy, whom she very clearly adored. The poems are adorable and relatable to dog owners all over the world. She weaves memories of the smallest moments with Percy to create a love letter to his companionship and the joy he brought her.

Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver

The part of this collection that I loved the most was not one of her poems, but an essay called “Swoon” about the life of a spider over the course of a week or so. In it, Oliver details the smallest parts of this spider’s doings, from spinning a cricket into her web and draining it of its life, to bursting egg sacks full of spiders. I’m not going to act tough and say that spiders don’t freak me the heck out, because they do, but even with my pre-existing squeamishness toward arachnids, I loved every word of this essay. It’s so easy to overlook tiny details like the type of web made by the spider forgotten in a corner, but learning to appreciate moments like this allows us to really notice the world around us and see it in the way it was intended.

There were also two quotes that spoke to me:

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

from “The Summer Day”

 

“We must laugh a little at this rich and unequal world, so they say, so they say.
And let them keep saying it. 

from “News of Percy (Five)”

Reading Oliver’s collection makes me realize that I often fail to notice the tiny elements of life that surround me and constitute the wider world. I need to make more of an effort to notice the birds in the trees or to watch the squirrel hiding away nuts for the winter. It’s not difficult, it just takes noticing.

Although The Truro Bear turned out a little less incredible than I was expecting, I still loved it and can easily see myself going back to this collection repeatedly. A few of the poems will stay with me, and I hope others can find some more appreciation for nature, and the lives of the animals within, through Mary Oliver’s words and legacy.


Have you read any of Mary Oliver’s poetry collections? Share your recommendations for your favorites down in the comments!




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Break Your Glass Slippers by Amanda Lovelace – A Review

break your glass slippers amanda lovelace

Break Your Glass Slippers by Amanda Lovelace
Poetry | Feminist | Retellings
Published by Andrews McNeel Publishing
Release Date: March 17th, 2020
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Note: I received an electronic arc of this collection from NetGalley. This in no way affects my opinions.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of poetry, despite often trying to love it. Classic poetry tends to either go right over my head or it’s so flowery that I struggle to enjoy it, and modern poetry’s “edginess” tends to annoy me.

Browsing Netgalley this morning, I came across Amanda Lovelace’s newest poetry collection, Break Your Glass Slippers, and thought I’d give it a shot. I’d heard from friends and the online book community that Lovelace’s works are really good.

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Amanda Lovelace

Break Your Glass Slippers is a modern, feminist collection of poetry inspired by the classic fairytale, Cinderella. Lovelace uses the classic story to show the reader that changing who you are in order to please your “prince” is not a requirement of deserving love. Learning how to love yourself first, being supportive of other women rather than feeling jealousy at what they have and you don’t, going after your own dreams… all are topics that Lovelace touches upon, as well as many others.

The layout of this collection was beautiful. Since I read an ARC of the collection rather than the finished copy, which is scheduled to be released mid-March, I’m not sure how much things will stay the same. In between sections in the collection, there were pages of a beautiful, illustrated moonscape, and some of the poems had cute illustrations. I hope these features will remain in the final version.

A lot of the poems resonated with me on a personal level, and I feel that many women will feel the same. I can see myself gifting Break Your Glass Slippers to my female friends. When it’s finally released, I hope so many other people will pick it up and fall in love with it just as I did.


Have you read any of Amanda Lovelace’s other collections? What did you think of them?




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Different Dances by Shel Silverstein – A Review

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Different Dances by Shel Silverstein
Humor | Poetry | Social Commentary
Published by HarperCollins
Released 1979
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Aside from J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the first authors that come to mind when I think about my childhood is Shel Silverstein. My brother and I had a couple of his children’s poetry books, and I consumed them. To this day I still love them, and I will definitely be sharing his children’s books with my future children.

Different Dances is not a children’s book.

When I requested this book from the library, I did so simply because it was a Shel Silverstein book I hadn’t heard of before. I requested two of my favorite books of his, Where the Sidewalk Ends and Falling Up at the same time because I’m working on a childhood favorites post.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the book to a random page and saw genitalia and a man hanging himself with his own penis. Again, this is most definitely not a children’s book.

Once I got over my initial shock, I was actually pretty excited. I’ve always wanted to read Shel Silverstein’s adult writings but had never found them. Fun fact before we get into the review: Shel Silverstein is the writer of the famous Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue.

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Different Dances has all of the qualities you’d expect from a Shel Silverstein book, including his drawings (see picture above), poetry, and wit. It’s an incredibly easy book to read – I finished it in roughly twenty minutes, as it’s mostly art rather than words.

There’s actually quite a bit of social commentary in this book, which isn’t surprising. This is a book that you need to read to appreciate, so here are a few of the topics Silverstein writes and draws about in Different Dances:

  • aging
  • self-expression
  • relationships (bad and good)
  • unfulfilled dreams
  • possession
  • censorship
  • body image
  • religion
  • suicide

There’s so much more, but those were just some of the most important topics to me. I really appreciated Different Dances, and there are very few people who I would not recommend it to (except children). Go ahead and pick it up – you won’t regret it.


What is your favorite Shel Silverstein book? Let me know in the comments!




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The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur – A Review

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The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
Poetry
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Released October 3, 2017
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

At the end of April, I read Rupi Kaur’s first poetry collection, Milk and Honey, which I gave 3.5 stars. While I wasn’t super impressed by it, I understood the hype around it. At times, though, I felt like it was trying too much to be edgy.

I loved The Sun and Her Flowers. In contrast to Milk and Honey, this collection felt so much more polished and real. I could feel the emotions more deeply and everything flowed better.

The Sun and Her Flowers is set up in the same way as Milk and Honey. It’s broken down into five chapters that deal with a variety of topics, such as immigration and feminism. While there were a few poems that were a little too cheesy for me, the majority of this collection I found myself really loving, which surprised me after finding Milk and Honey a wee bit disappointing.

Just like with Milk and Honey, I felt as though the drawings done by Kaur were pointless and made the collection seem a bit silly. Her drawings are not good by any means, and I found myself cringing a few times at them.

I’m hoping that any other collections that Rupi Kaur publishes in the future continue to feel more polished and together than the last, so I will definitely be reading her future collections. If you’re into modernist, minimalist poetry, this collection is worth your time.


Have you read The Sun and Her Flowers or Milk and Honey? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!




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Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – A Review

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milk and honey by Rupi Kaur
Poetry
Self Published
Released November 4, 2014
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_and_a_half_stars

I own very few poetry collections, but I purchased an ebook version of milk and honey due to the enormous amount of hype surrounding it. It’s been sitting in my Kindle for months and months, but since April is National Poetry Month, I thought now would be the perfect time to finally dive in and see if all that hype is deserved.

Even though I couldn’t give this collection five stars, I do understand the hype. Part of that hype is due to the fact that practically everyone can identify with at least one part of this collection, as it speaks to all parts of relationships, good and bad. There’s betrayal, falling in love, sex, and learning to love yourself. It’s very universal, which appeals to a broad audience.

The collection is told in four parts: The Hurting, the Loving, the Breaking, and the Healing. Part of the reason I’m not giving milk and honey five stars is that there’s nothing new or groundbreaking in the collection. None of it shocked me or provoked me.

I did not enjoy the format of the collection. It’s told in a series of broken sentences, one line poems, and minimalist drawings that feel more appropriate for an Instagram post than a physical poetry collection.

Despite not feeling as though this collection lives up to its hype, I still think it warrants a read, especially if you’re going through a tumultuous relationship. The part titled “The Healing” would be inspiring for someone learning how to love themselves after a rough relationship.

Part of me feels that it was the hype that tarnished my opinion of milk and honey, or maybe I just didn’t read it at that “perfect time” in my life. In the end, I found the collection overrated and unengaging.




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Dark Energy by Robert Morgan – A Review

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Dark Energy by Robert Morgan
Poetry
Published by Penguin Books
Released May 26, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_and_a_half_stars

Let me preface this review by saying that I’m not very knowledgeable about the poetry world. I’ve read very little of it (unless you count Shel Silverstein) and sometimes the meanings are simply lost on me.

April is National Poetry Month, however, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to experiment a little bit. Since I can name perhaps four poets off the top of my head, I walked to my libraries poetry section and randomly picked a collection that had a pretty cover. Robert Morgan’s Dark Energy is what I walked away with.

As I read through this collection, the main thing that struck me was that it made me homesick for the near decade I spent living in Asheville, NC. I’ve mentioned plenty of times on this blog that I spent most of my twenties living there, and now that I’ve moved away to flatter land I find myself longing for the mountain trails and forests of western North Carolina.

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As I read some of these poems, I was reminded of the many, many days I spent wandering trails deep in the woods, among the sounds and scents of the forest. We would go whole days without seeing another person or hearing the sound of a car. For those memories alone I found this collection enjoyable.

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Picture of 24-year-old me hiking in Western NC

 

After finishing the collection, I glanced at Robert Morgan’s Goodreads’s page, which states that he “was raised on his family’s farm in the North Carolina mountains.” So the feelings it gave me make a lot of sense.

Three of the poems really stood out to me:

  • “Ancient Talk,” which is about Thomas Wolfe and his appreciation for natural, mountainous areas
  • “Maple Gall,” a poem that starts out describing tree fungus but ends with the beauty of irregularity in nature
  • “Love Sleep,” focusing on the sounds and hush of nature at night

I really enjoyed reading through this collection, and many of the poems focusing on nature really resonated with me. That said, there were also many poems that I forgot as soon as I turned the page and that I couldn’t identify with at all. I suppose that’s true for most poetry collections. I can definitely see myself reading more of Robert Morgan’s poetry in the future.