NEW BOOK FOR SPRING 2017
Krakatoa Picnic by James Heflin
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“The unlikeliest thing keeps on happening so often you think it’s normal.” So states a line from the title poem of Krakatoa Picnic, James Heflin’s original, searching, and wide-reaching debut volume, which tweezes perceptions from the collective subconscious of our times. From a man who fashions a telescope, only to look through the lens and see himself at an earlier time, to an unknown rider who dumps the bones of St. Thomas Aquinas into the Rhone; from a person who finds a tiny snake with jeweled eyelids under his tongue, to a night walk through a village of accordionists, Heflin’s world is both bizarre and recognizably our own, with dark and humorous underpinnings–one step in a kitchen puddle, one step ahead of apocalypse. It is whimsy with meaningful intent, no more so than “Exit into Sunlight,” a standalone book within a book accompanied by scratchboard drawings, a twelve-step manual, an occultist’s guide, with imperatives like, “Carve a heart for yourself. This seems maudlin. But it is essential. We do not mean some metaphorical stand-in; we are not being fancy. We mean to encourage a degree of realism.” Heflin senses existence keenly, so that these poems, which constantly keep us off balance in a surreal dance, are never out of touch, never un-followable; they wring the heart with un-pinpointable truth.
James Heflin’s poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Ireland Review, Conduit, and other journals, and his fiction has appeared in Cafe Irreal, The Golden Key, and others. He is a two-time Massachusetts Cultural Council grant recipient, and holds an MA from Hollins University and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He lives in Western Massachusetts.
Little Terrarium by Hannah Fries
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Little Terrarium, the title of this debut volume by former Orion poetry editor Hannah Fries, refers to the body that holds the soul and the world that holds all creatures, from the complexity of human consciousness to the five pulsing hearts of night crawlers. Depicting a world on the brink, our spiritual history, and very human love, Fries’ poems evoke sincere wonder through lyricism, freshness and the ability to surprise. Where else might we find a woman provocatively stripping from a lobster suit; the voice of Mary, refusing her pedestal in her most human voice; a houseplant speaking for itself from a dark closet; Noah’s wife salvaging burrs from the ark’s bears; or the mustard seed, hushed and waiting in its cold vault for Doomsday. Whether writing about a midnight baker, or a species of spiders harnessed to spin steely gold thread, Fries holds the whole world, her little terrarium, in her hands.
Hannah Fries graduated from Dartmouth College and received an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College. From 2005 to 2014 she worked at Orion magazine in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Her poetry and prose have appeared in such places as American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, Drunken Boat, Water~Stone Review, and Southern Humanities Review. She is the recipient of a Bread Loaf scholarship and a Colorado Art Ranch residency. She currently works as a project editor at Storey Publishing in North Adams, Massachusetts, and is a contributing editor for Terrain.org.
Praise for Little Terrarium
“Hannah Fries’ poems are acutely alive to the physical world in all its varied, gorgeous, and vulnerable incarnations from rain to moon snail, moosewood to worm, fox to orchid. With rich imagery and fresh detail, Little Terrarium wakes us up to all the layers of ‘glimmer and decay.'” —Ellen Bass
“Hannah Fries writes with passionate urgency and perspicacious care about love for the planet and its struggle. Most arresting is her deep engagement with the plant world, for which Noah’s wife finds a task here that her husband has neglected in seeking to save the richness of life. This is a book to savor for its beautiful language and greatness of spirit.” —Alison Hawthorne Deming
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When Stewart begins this collection with the title “Born In The USA,” invoking Springsteen, we think we know where he’s headed. We don’t. Time and time again, from mints in a bowl made out of a buffalo skull, to a dead cat found on the side of the road in a brown grocery bag, Stewart surprises, then moves us. In poems dogged by letters from a childhood left behind and not escaped, he can well make the claim, “I have never been abandoned by art.” Liking to look at the back’s of people’s heads–how he senses innocence–Stewart’s collection is character-rich, from an old woman dying of gangrene who remembers falling through pond ice in her girlhood, saved by the strange boy who lived in a trailer, to a brother who failed at life, but no matter what happened, took care of the painting for which he’d been awarded the Governor’s Prize when he was young and full of promise. This rich collection is for double and triple dipping, and so far, it seems, there is no bottom to the bowl.
Joshua Michael Stewart was born in Sandusky, Ohio and moved to Massachusetts to live with his father and stepmother when he was thirteen years old. He received his BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and lives in Ware, Massachusetts. He’s employed as Teacher/Counselor, working with individuals with special needs.
Tony Hoagland praises Break Every String. There’s a fearlessness in Joshua Michael Stewart’s collection Break Every String–tough, tightly written narratives and monologues about living poor with broken people (some of whom are your closest relatives) in hard times. This heartfelt gritty work reminds me of the hardscrabble accounts of humanity in some of our best poets– the work of Ai, Bruce Weigel, and Linda McCarriston’s landmark book, Eva-Marie. Stewart exercises the courage of truth telling and takes the revenge of real poetic craft. As Bruce Weigel says, “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what.” Or as Stewart says, “Poets are the battered spouses of hope.” You can’t help but respect the maker of these streamlined vehicles, for his guts and his unsentimental, vivid poems.
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Crime or Crazy? AMERICAN SPELLING is genre bending, a short story in a long poem of spare chapters. Language rich, it switches between a mother’s dark psyche and her wordplay, and the every day struggles of her adult child, a victim once; innocence and guilt, restitution and revelation. A troubled woman drops her toddler from a bridge and flees. The daughter survives. Years later, the mother writes, “A secret swells like a broken toe/Makes you realize just how important/that little stub is for balance/Quell the yelps and baby it.” The mother stalks her adult child with that secret, a tangled mission of guilt and reparation. “…each telling/ each untelling //substance/ under stance/ understanding.”
Andrea Stone is an Assistant Professor of literature at Smith College. She is the author of Black Well-Being: Health and Selfhood in Antebellum Black Literature. Born in Toronto and raised in Dunnville, Ontario, she received a B.A. from the University of Western Ontario, a B.Ed., M.A., and PhD from the University of Toronto. She lives in Western Massachusetts.
Praise for American Spelling from George Elliott Clarke, Poet Laureate of CanadaAmazing, splendid! Andrea Stone’s anonymous protagonist—a mom who drops her tot (accidentally or murderously) from a bridge—displays the desperate sentiments of Plath, but also the frustration and alienation of Eliot’s Prufrock. So, Stone’s story must out as poetry, “the work of verse and belief,” as a disturbed stream-of-consciousness. The work exudes generic originality, organic genius: A “dropped” baby signals a mom who’s dropped out of maternity, opted out of “family negotiations … a lot like federal politics,” and becomes the “u” dropped out of Americanese (words like “color” and “neighbor”). Although American Spelling muses on the unspeakable crime of infanticide, its unceasing lyricism and urbane imagery render it a beautiful, newborn twin to William Carlos Williams’s verse-novel, Paterson. Like that work, American Spelling is a quirky, engrossing melange of “syllables [that] involve the whole mouth” and language whose simplicity is drop-dead scenic.
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Fred Pelka’s poems occupy poetry’s narrow window, where words say what they mean and surprise at the same time. A Different Blaze takes on love, the fragility of being, war, and time, sidestepping sentimentality—but not heart, mixing darkness with humor. Pelka’s voice is both direct and lyrical. “It is forbidden to walk on stilts in the snow-filled rooms of your imagination.” Characters come alive; laughing Michael, in his souped-up power wheel chair; a German WWII soldier, awarded the Order of the Frozen Meat; a grandmother on her 100th birthday; a speech therapy student; a bank robber. These poems aren’t afraid to address love, which might need “a wheelchair to waltz,” or “a service dog to fetch the credit card receipt,” but which serves to send us into “another ecstatically exuberant form of life.”
Fred Pelka is a 2004 Guggenheim Fellow. His nonfiction has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, The Disability Edge, the Humanist, Mainstream, Poets and Writers, and elsewhere. He is the author of The ABC-CLIO Companion to the Disability Rights Movement (ABC-CLIO, 1997), The Civil War Letters of Charles F. Johnson, Invalid Corps (University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), and What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). A Different Blaze is his first published poetry.
Praise for A Different Blaze
“These poems remind us that the world as we know it did not just arrive of itself. With his poet/miner’s light he takes us into the tunnels on either side of the good life, those of war, the choreography of the body in the wheelchair, all the way up into death where he shines his beam with most excellent ferocity. These are metaphysical poems made of flesh and grace.”
–Doug Anderson author of The Moon Reflected Fire and Blues for Unemployed Secret Police
“The poems, as they rummage through a late and languishing America for some evidence of a god, a soul, or simply a meaning, are possessed by an intensity of language that has clearly been earned. Whatever they happen to examine—poverty, war, disability, amour—one has the sense that the events within or behind them have been profoundly lived. There is no self-pity here, but empathy, humor, and a metaphysical wit capable of conjoining the most unlikely elements in vivid, deep-going metaphor.”
–Henry Lyman, editor of Robert Francis’s Late Fire, Late Snow
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Weaving the “Fourth World” of snails, ravens, and sloths with imagined worlds of our human fragility, our power to destroy and to love, D M Gordon’s poems bring us face to face with the divine. Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible is often allegorical, language-rich, and always illuminating. “In these sensuous, tough-minded and sophisticated poems, the possible extends its range to the clairvoyant. Like nature’s slow transformation of gleam to a rich patina of green brocade, the work of time and decay turns rich and strange in these poems of an original mind and an irrepressible spirit.” -Eleanor Wilner
D M Gordon’s poems and stories have been published widely. Prizes include The Betsy Colquitt Award from descant, The Editor’s Choice Award from the Beacon Street Review, and First Prize from Glimmer Train. Phi Beta Kappa, Masters in Music from Boston University, she’s the recipient of a 2008 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in fiction, having been a finalist in poetry in 2004. She currently works as an editor and facilitates a weekly public discussion of contemporary poetry for Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is the author of Fourth World (Adastra Press, 2010) and is at work on a novel set in the Gulf Islands.
The Massachusetts Center of the Book named Nightly at the Institute of the Possible a Must Read book for 2012. Here’s what they had to say: “Exploring everyday objects and incidents with an eye and ear for the fanciful, the fantastic, and the dreamily real, D.M. Gordon’s Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible (Hedgerow) is testament to the poet’s imagination and true command of her craft. These poems demand to be read again and again.” Click here to read the newsletter.
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High Lonesome is a pasture on a West Texas ranch, a state of being, an affecting personal mythology. Poet Patricia Lee Lewis writes, “Think how brambles catch her petticoats, hold them ‘til they tear, feed on blood….Say the old woman can find her way, can feel the thorns of walls,” and “From her kneeling place between two great stones, she sends her voice.” These are poems of landscape and family, heart and perspective.“High Lonesome pulls you into the momentum of its sounds with urgency, shock, serenity and arrival. The language of Patricia Lee Lewis is devoted to noticing. Her poems digest the howling, look at what comforts, what invades to do harm, what remains.” —Anne Love Woodhull
Patricia Lee Lewis was born and raised in Texas where her three children were also born. For over 30 years she has lived and worked at Patchwork Farm Retreat in Western Massachusetts. She holds an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College, and a BA from Smith College, Phi Beta Kappa. Beloved mentor of many writers, leader of frequent writing retreats both nationally and internationally, she has also been the publisher of The Patchwork Journal. A grant in 2011, from the Massachusetts Cultural Council enabled her to help establish a writing program at her local library. Trained to teach English to speakers of other languages, Patricia and friends volunteer in Guatemala. Her first book of poems, A Kind of Yellow, was awarded first place by Writers Digest International.
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Like photogravures, the images of Murmur & Crush etch memory and landscape into indelible emotional content. The road, once, the fields, now, a boy, an afternoon, wings, horses, orchards, and ladders appear and disappear, woven into reoccurring motifs, always unexpected and elemental. These poems implicate the world broadly but depict it intimately. They exist in the past and present at once. Here, Janson writes, “Truth’s got a murky taste.” As poet Carol Potter says of this collection, “The joy we find… is an earned joy; rapture ‘in spite of the demise of everything.’ “We’re all/ pilgrims,” Janson writes, “Sometimes we’re incandescent.”
Maya Janson’s poetry has appeared widely in journals including Harvard Review, Lyric, Alaska Quarterly Review, Jubilat, and Rattle, and has been included in Best American Poetry. She received her BA from Smith College, her MFA from Warren Wilson College, and has been a recipient of an artist fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She lives in Florence, MA and is employed as a community health nurse and a lecturer in poetry at Smith College.
Praise for Murmur & Crush
“Wide-open love of the world and its mad inhabitants is one of the holiest of the heart’s affections. And that’s what you get in Maya Janson’s Murmur & Crush—total acceptance of the as-is world, seduced into being by that beautiful tag team, Bemusement and Sorrow.” —David Rivard
“Maya Janson’s richly evocative poems embody through visible things the turbulent cross-currents of the interior world where one thing spawns another in a wild tumult of images, producing an exuberant vision of beauty outlasting what destroys it.” —Eleanor Wilner
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This Caravaggio is best described by one of its early readers, Eleanor Wilner, author of Tourist in Hell: “Here everything is lit with the sensual. As in Caravaggio’s paintings, the light in these poems burns with a cold blue intensity, catching— in nuanced language that invites us into his mind and world—this strange amalgam of sexuality and remove, violence and delicacy, ugliness and beauty. With an incandescent clarity and a compassionate composure, Boutelle’s historical imagination—sophisticated, informed, free of judgment—opens us to possession by this seductive art and its defiant maker.”
Born and raised in Scotland, Annie Boutelle graduated from the University of St. Andrews (M.A.), and New York University (Ph.D.). She has taught at Purnell School, Suffolk University, Mount Holyoke College, and for the last 28 years at Smith College, where she founded The Poetry Center. She currently serves as the Grace Hazard Conkling Poet in Residence. The author of Becoming Bone: Poems on the Life of Celia Thaxter and Nest of Thistles, which focuses on her Scottish childhood, she lives with her husband Will in Western Massachusetts.
From Paul Oppenheimer’s review, “Painting with Poetry,” in The American Book Review, “Boutelle’s poems about Caravaggio’s paintings present arrested moments snapped into dazzling clarity, but not so much for the sake of interpreting his paintings as repainting them in words.” Click here to read the full article.
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Tuned to the instruments of dark… the gods in pieces around her, Woodhull has given us a book to embrace when our own hours become uncertain. These poems pierce. Woodhull desires conflagration, not ceremony, wants more than reflection, an exploration of the interior dark, of how challenge is lived, of where fear fits. A moth walks along a neck. Locusts chew leaves into skeletons. What is unknown is as important as what is known. Whether summoning the memory of a newborn calf in a freezing barn, ghosts, or burning boats, caught in the unbearable in between, Woodhull is unblinking and brave. These poems allow us to be brave with her.
Anne Love Woodhull has co-authored three children’s books and is the author of This Is What We Have (March Street Press, 2001,) a poetry chapbook. Working with children and adults, she is a therapist and teacher. For the last thirty years, she and her husband, Gordon Thorne, have provided an open working space for the development of creative work on Main Street in Northampton, Massachusetts. They also preserve open land in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts to encourage the collaboration of organic farming, creative exploration and community.
Praise for Night With Its Owl
“These poems take the pain and terror and joy and everyday pocket change of life, and quietly hammer them into beauty. Again and again a line or a phrase brought me up short with delight. The mainspring of Anne Woodhull’s work is bravery, I think—it carries her through experience head-on to perceptions no one has come up with before. This is a powerful and moving collection by a poet of dazzling maturity.”
“Anne Love Woodhull’s Night With Its Owl, won’t change your life, it will confirm it –– the nature of nature – ‘familiar with ice’– warmed back toward life not by conflagration, but the winter rose under snow – all in the fewest – of elegant words – strong as ligaments – binocular too, she sees to the bottom of the well ‘eyes open to the night with its owl’ – night night and night cold- owl owl- but beautiful and succeeded – so far – by morning”
– Sam Ogden
“This lovely collection of new poems, so incandescent and brimming with truth, is wonderful to behold. Anne Woodhull moves with ease and grace from the turbulence of domesticity to the turbulence of nature, inside and outside, imperceptibly and we are left consoled with the feeling of the world being one true and real place.”