Category Archives: Book Review

My struggle with minimalist poetry…

Two weeks ago I participated in a readathon during which time I picked up a couple of books of poetry. I’ll admit I find it difficult to understand it completely as an art form, so please take the reviews that follow in the coming weeks with a grain of salt.Both minimalist.Minimalism as a form , I feel, is extremely difficult to pull off well. It requires precise language.

Unfortunately, The Princess Saves Herself in This One, a book of poetry by Amanda Lovelace, fell short.. A lot of people recommended it on the basis of its feminist themes, but I didn’t feel the author presented new ideas. Her method of delivery didn’t excite me either. I struggled to understand some of the choices she made– what did she edit and why? What was her creative process? What skill was involved? I understand the difficulty of expressing ideas concisely, but I’ve often found part of the artistry of poetry involves complexity of language (diction and syntax, rhythm and rhyme), presentation of new ideas or viewpoint.  Poetry should help me change my frame of reference or transport me in some way. The Princess Saves Herself in This One just…didn’t. I really wish it did.

The imagery was underwhelming at best. Of course, Lovelace intended many of the images to be recognizable– women have often been referred to as princesses or damsels– to allow for easier digestion of the ideas she conveyed, and to make the poems more culturally relevant. Some have noted Lovelace’s poetry is reminiscent of Tumblr posts. As an active Tumblr user, I’d agree. Portraying women as mermaids and magical creatures and poems like this:

“the love
some girls
have for
other girls
is
so gentle
& so soft
& so fucking
beautiful…”

are very reminiscent of Tumblr language. I believe the author herself was a prodigious Tumblr  user prior to publishing this book, so it shouldn’t be surprising the community influenced her.

Too often the poems felt like a generic statement– they lacked voice.They lacked depth.

“repeat after me:
you owe
no one
your
forgiveness.

– except maybe yourself.”

Okay? That might be true, but it’s also just platitude. These are littered throughout the book. I hope someone finds them empowering;it’s clear the author did but, again, I  really struggled. No doubt the author displayed vulnerability in this  book . I appreciate her bravery.  Issues like abuse, sexism and feminism should be discussed in art; but, sadly, I do not think this is enough to make art good.

There were a few moments where the poems were memorable. I particularly enjoyed the comparison of puberty with mermaids changing between legs to a tail. It fit with the overall theme of women being magical (one poem says women have “stardust” in their veins) and, though it was placed in the well-tread ground transformation during puberty, I liked it.

Opinions on this collection in terms of its artistry, execution, themes, have been extremely divided, so I’d encourage you to read a positive review before you write it off.
Personally, this book didn’t impress. If you are planning on picking up a minimalist poetry book and the themes of The Princess Saves Herself in This One intrigue you,  I’d recommend Milk and Honey.

The Warmth of Other Suns

I was leaving the South.. To fling myself into the unknown… To see if [I] could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.” – Richard Wright

During the 20th century, some of the most impactful moments in our history stemmed from World War I, the Great Depression, World War II,  and the Civil Rights Movement. All of us have at least some basic understanding of how these events shaped our lives today, but during that sixty year period another phenomenon happened that has shaped the North and the South, has outlined popular thought and has defined many of our biggest cities. Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns, is dedicated to studying this phenomenon, a movement now known as the Great Migration.

Through this sixty year period, hundred of thousands of black people fled the South in search of greater freedom, opportunity and stability. They left the south as fugitives, forced to become both emigrant and immigrant in their own country– orange pickers driving down back roads, sharecroppers concealing their plans from farmers, those condemned for activism smuggling themselves in coffins,  others still driving days without sleep. Now in the new world,  a world which Northerners had advertised and led them to, they could walk on the same street as white people, talk to them without honorific titles, and work for a wage, but the North erected its own set of obstacles. The racism of the north disguised itself in higher rent, and lower wages. It made itself evident in the white flight from a neighborhood as soon as a black family moved in. “The hierarchy in the North called for blacks to remain in their station…while immigrants [from other nations] were rewarded for their ability to leave their old world traits”.

The Warmth of Other Suns
not only inspects how migrants made their way from South to North, but how they navigated the injustices they faced once there, how they realized the North was not the oasis they dreamed of. Wilkerson is a masterful story teller, interweaving smaller vignettes into the longer arcs of three primary “characters”– each of whom followed a very different path North. Ida Mae Brandon Gladey, a sharcropper from Mississippi, leaves the South on the verge of the Great Depression. She settles in Chicago where her resilience and affectionate practicality helps her make a home in a swiftly changing city. George Starling Swanson, a passionate, willful orange picker from Flordia, flees the state  to Harlem, New York after the owner of the groves decides to kill him for organizing an ersatz union to fight for workers’ rights. Robert Pershing Foster, an ambitious surgeon hemmed in my limitations of Louisiana, drives to California where he hopes to prove himself to his family, his race and his oppressors.

I’ll admit, some of Wilkerson’s  reminders  of information in previous chapters felt repetitive,  and I do wish she had included some of the images on her website in the book itself, I still learned a great deal from this book, and appreciated the stories it told. In fact, I have not been able to stop thinking about it since I put it down.  For anyone who wishes to understand how  false myths surrounding welfare, inner cities and crime first took root, or who for those just wishing for a good story pick up The Warmth of Other Suns.