I wanted to start off my reading responses with Kiki Petrosino, who is the editor for the Mineral Point Poetry Series from Brain Mill Press and the woman who chose my book A Wife Is a Hope Chest as the first full length book in the Series.
Before submitting my manuscript I had read some of her work online to get a feel for her. The primary appeal was the strength of her voice, which remains my favorite element now that I’ve read all four of her books. You can really hear her; it felt like a magic trick when I then watched her reading some of the poems and the voice I’d heard in my head matched her actual voice so gloriously. The specific details flow so easily that when you finish and look up to see your own room, you feel like you’ve traveled somewhere else, the stunning last lines floating in the air like the scent of the place you’ve just left.
Fort Red Border (Sarabande Books, 2009)
Structure: The book is in three sections. The first, Fort Red Border, are poems about an imagined relationship with an imagined Robert Redford (the title is an anagram of his name). The second is Otolaryngology, which is a surgical specialty dealing with the ear, nose, and throat. The final section, Valentine, contains ten poems (all called Valentine).
Feelings while reading: Swept away. To romantic places as well as the more mundane (and familiar). Without leaving my blue chair, I’d gone elsewhere, to other people’s worlds.
Favorite titles: This Will Darken The Cabin, You Have Made a Career of Not Listening
Favorite poems: Wash, Dread, China Clipper, Letter
Favorite lines: “His mouth tastes warmly of night mail & belted / trenchcoats.” (China Clipper)
Hymn for the Black Terrific (Sarabande Books, 2013)
Structure: The book is in three sections. Oiseau Rebelle is the first and includes the title poem. The second, Mullatress, is a series of numbered poems which repeat words at the end of each line (the repeated words come from Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia). The final section is Turn Back Your Head & There Is the Shore — many of the titles in this section are riffs on dishes Petrosino ate on a trip to mainland China.
Feelings while reading: Admiration. With a little (I’ll admit it) jealousy. These poems are so carefully and perfectly constructed.
Favorite titles: A Sister Is a Thought Curving Back on Herself, Eating House, I Shall Absorb Whatever Comes My Way
Favorite poems: This Woman’s Face Is Your Future, Allergenesis, Hymn for the Black Terrific, Advisory Protocol
“Bite down, if you want. It’s full dark.
A little smoke twists through the swamp.
I feel your old jaws snag on the stem of a grin.
Soon, you say. Teeth plated with weeds.” (Hymn for the Black Terrific)
Favorite lines: Too many really — the final section’s poems are filled with brilliant images so read those, okay? However, I’ll go with “I boiled up from bed / in my enormous nightdress, with my lungs full of burning / chrysanthemums.” (At the Teahouse)
Black Genealogy (Brain Mill Press, 2017)
Structure: The book is in two sections — along with poetry, it has illustrations by Lauren Haldeman throughout. The first section is in the voice of a seeker, and the second in the voices of the ancestors she seeks.
Feelings while reading: Engaged and then shame really (again I’m trying to be honest). I was so pulled into the story of the speaker trying to find her ancestors, because it’s beautifully told (the pictures are wonderful additions). I went inside the story, but when I emerged, I had to acknowledge that I am outside of it. Because this is not a story, it’s history; it is the past and the present. My white skin means I can trace my lines, and when I find a grinning Confederate General in my past, he’d likely embrace me.
Favorite poems: Section One’s 1. and 6.
Favorite lines: “You wore a suit of woven water & learned to speak in rippling syllables. You, or someone like you.” (Section One, 6.)
Witch Wife (Sarabande Books, 2017)
Structure: The book is divided into four sections.
Feelings while reading: Wisdom. As a woman, I felt connected to the speaker and could recognize some experiences, but there was also a sense that she’s learned life lessons I haven’t (yet?).
Favorite poems: Self-Portrait, Young, Contagion, Little Gals, Pastoral, Nocturne, Afterlife, Ghost, Jantar Mantar (dastardly good last lines in some of these)
Favorite lines: “You must’ve felt a sword / of light draw down your spine, & then–you left us/honeycombed here. No words for the slur / of days that have wept through the world since you left us.” (Elegy)
Final Thought: Read these books.