Category Archives: Poetry

Review: You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, by Arisa White

youre-the-most-beautiful-thing-that-happened

You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened
by Arisa White

Augury Books
2016
100 pages 

Language is at the heart of poetry, with each word carefully considered for its meaning, cadence and place. In You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, the third poetry collection from Arisa White, language is elevated and emphasized in an innovative way.

As per the publisher’s description, “Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding.” Because many of the titles are common words that may not be readily apparent as offensive in English (but are derogatory in other countries and cultures), White includes a glossary of the words’ disparaging connotations.

(“…how sexist the language was, the fear of the feminine, how domestic, how patriarchal, how imaginative, and the beauty I discovered when I paused to wonder about the humanity inside these words and phrases,” White writes in an Introduction to You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. While reading these poems, beauty might not be the first descriptor readers conjure up.  Arisa White’s work is raw and searing, delving into topics many find difficult and perhaps even ugly.

And that’s exactly what makes You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened a touchstone collection, especially in these unprecedented times when our societal discourse, national rhetoric and political exchanges from the likes of the Republican candidate for President of the United States (and his entourage) divulge into demeaning and crass language about women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, immigrants, and everyone who is perceived as different, flawed, “other” or “less than.”

If words could stick on people,
if spoken, they would become
a different creature.

Blinded and you’re turned
five times around. Nothing
in you knows what it knew.

It’s the best part of the game:
Prick the girls you like best
while pinning on the donkey’s tail.
(“Tail”) 

Arisa White’s poems are rooted in words that demean and belittle  — but their transformation is a product of the inherent beauty of humanity and love for each other.  We may feel your words but we are greater than them, Arisa White seems to be saying. We are more than your hurled venom, larger than your overpowering prejudice and stronger than strangers’ stigma.

We’re queer and you look too much boy good thinking
taking the rainbow off the plates in Maryland —
no one looked at us longer than was needed.
(“Strangers”)

As humans, as a people, we are encompassed by memory; we are love, we are our losses and life combined. (“I realized that the labels we use to name present us with a loss,” White explains in her introduction. “To name a person, an experience, or an object means we see it for that purpose, that utility, and gone to us is the ‘what else’ — the possibilities of everything the label can’t encompass.”)

Together since the year of my birth,
yet you are pantomime in the wings of our family’s speech
Why do you arch in shadows, 

accept the shade eclipsing her face? 
The holidays would be more gay 
if we didn’t ghost in dead air, 
in wooden boxes, letters folded over and over again, in locked rooms
where shames are secretly arranged— 
(“Auntie”)

Nestled within You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is an elegiac suite of poems titled “Effluvium.” (I needed to look up the definition; if you need a vocabulary lesson, too, dictionary.com tells us that it is “a slight or invisible exhalation or vapor, especially one that is disagreeable or noxious.”)  These poems, a remembrance “for Karen, 1963-2000,” focus on a loved one who died of AIDS. While several other offerings in this collection are slightly vague and indirect, this suite doesn’t need backstory.  The heartbreaking loss of a young mother in her late 30s is all we need to know.

For some, these will be difficult poems for their subject matter and the rawness of the language. It’s not a collection for everyone. But at the same time, it is for everyone because all of us have known pain and all of us have seen the ugly side that life can bring. And we’ve emerged through that experience changed by the way darkness can transform into light, and ugliness into beauty.

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About Arisa White
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.

poetic-book-toursMany thanks to Augury Books for providing a free copy of You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened and to Poetic Book Tours for including me among the bloggers on this tour. No monetary compensation was exchanged for this review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read-a-thon 2016: Update Post

Readathon - Day and Night

Hour 15 update: Still going strong. Mind you, I started the Readathon at Hour 7 and have had several interruptions (grocery shopping, making dinner) along the way but I’m pleased with how this is going. Almost halfway through Love Warrior, which is a great Readathon book — it’s a fast read.

Currently Reading:

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Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Books Read: 1

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You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, by Arisa White. It’s a poetry collection that I’ll be reviewing on the blog this Monday.

Short Stories: 2
“To the Moon and Back” by Etgar Keret
“Two Men Arrive in a Village” by Zadie Smith

Both of these were from The New Yorker podcast “The Author’s Voice” which features authors reading their short stories from that week’s issue.

Pages Read183

Time Spent Reading: 4.5 hours

Social Media: Twitter. That’s where most of my cheerleading seems to be happening. As usual, I’m going to need several days to go back and discover the new-to-me blogs and add them to my Feedly.

Food Consumption:
Breakfast – Toast, Strawberry/Banana Yogurt
Lunch – Hummus, tortilla chips and cheese stick
Dinner – Tomato Lentil Soup
Snacks – Dark Chocolate Square; Trail Mix
Beverages – Water, Coffee

Are you participating in the Readathon? How’s it going for you?

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … October Surprises

Sunday Salon banner

So much to tell you this week.  First and foremost, though, my thoughts are with all who are being affected by Hurricane Matthew and his aftermath. I know several of our friends and family had some stressful days this week and others are still dealing with the storms. And Haiti–my God, what a heartbreaking situation.

Speaking of storms, I can’t even with the political storm surrounding Donald Trump’s 2005 commentary about being able to grope any woman he pleases because he’s “a star.” Why anyone is shocked by this is beyond me, because all one needs to do is reference any of his rants on women (or anyone else, frankly) to know this is the Republican nominee’s true colors. I’d considered writing a post about such, but you probably have a pretty good idea of my thoughts on the matter. If not, they’re summed up pretty succinctly by the “You’re So Vain” video by the Patriotic Artists and Creatives PAC, which marks the first time ever that the incomparable Carly Simon allowed “You’re So Vain” to be used for political purposes. It’s perfect.

And in the poetry realm, Pittsburgh poet Jeff Oaks (who I was honored to read with at Acquired Taste) pens “The God Abandons Donald Trump: a dream”.  (“Now the smoke of sharpening scythes clings to your ties; the voices of the women you thought you’d smothered in gold are rematerializing.“) A great poem.

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YA author panel of Caleb Roehrig, Emma Mills, Anna Banks and Marissa Meyer being interviewed by Julie Hakim Azzam. October 4, 2016, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by me.

We missed most of the Vice Presidential debates this week (Good God, was that just this week?) because we were at the Fall 2016 Fierce Reads Tour featuring YA authors Marissa Meyer, Anna Banks, Caleb Roehrig, and Emma Mills.  The Girl loves Marissa Meyer’s books, so she was the main attraction for us, but all of the authors were incredibly funny and entertaining. We especially enjoyed Caleb Roehrig, who we talked with after the event. His first novel Last Seen Leaving was published that same day and I started reading it while in line to get our books signed. I can already tell it is one I’m likely to enjoy.

the-literary-others-an-lgbt-reading-event-oct-2016There’s an LGBTQ storyline in Last Seen Leaving, which makes it a fitting edition to The Literary Others.  I’m participating in this LGBT Reading Event which is being hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader in honor of LGBT History Month. This week I read I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, a novella by Jennifer Finney Boylan about a family on a road trip trying to find their place in each other’s lives and the world. I loved this story, just as I loved her memoir I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted about living in a haunted house (on Philadelphia’s Main Line!) and her journey as a transgendered person.

I’m currently reading Just Kids by Patti Smith (we’re doing an event at work with Patti tomorrow night, and I’m really hoping to finish this in time) and in the car, I’m listening to The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman.

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Writing … 
So grateful to my friend Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, also a Pittsburgh blogger, who mentions my very short Halloween story “Extractions” in her post “Writers in Pittsburgh Are Going to Be Busy.”  This came as quite the surprise, especially since the Google Alert I have on every version of my name didn’t pick it up. Thank you, Elizabeth!

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Another surprise was discovering that my review of Judy Blume’s In the Likely Event was blurbed (with my name!) in the paperback edition!  I can’t believe it. This was a review I’d published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2015, and I had no idea about this until The Girl showed me last night. Crazy!

 

OK, time for a little reading before making the popcorn for tonight’s presidential debate and whatever surprises await us then.

 

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zombies

Halloween Parade (19)

Front row to Halloween. Taken by me, October 2008, somewhere in central Delaware.

“All You Zombies” shuffles onto my Spotify playlist
as I pull into the parking garage
late for work on a Thursday
but because The Hooters are a track
on The Soundtrack to My Life
available on 45, cassette tape, compact disc
I remain seated in my car
(my paper-laden desk can wait)
because me and Jen and Seunah are singing
on a cold January night in an overheated gym
where we paid five bucks to see Philly’s hottest band
because someday they would be really, really big,
someday in our big scary future.

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Thoughts on The Art of Description: World into Word, by Mark Doty (66/99)

The Art of Description

Taking a writing class with Mark Doty is high up on my list of literary wishes. I’m a fangirl of his work — poetry, memoir, anything that the guy writes. Even his Facebook posts are poetry. (Because of course I follow him on Facebook).

Who knows if I’ll ever be lucky enough to be in his company, but until then, there’s The Art of Description: World into Word.

Simply put, this small book is a must for any writer.

“It sounds like a simple thing, to say what you see. But try to find words for the shades of a mottled sassafras leaf, or the reflectivity of a bay on an August morning, or the very beginnings of desire stirring in the gaze of someone looking right into your eyes and it immediately becomes clear that all we see is slippery, nuanced, elusive.”

Sigh …

This is the type of book where I could have highlighted every sentence on every page, and I can tell you I’ll be consulting this one often, as description is not always my strongest writing tool.

A wonderful addition to every writer’s library.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #66 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

 

 

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currently … wrapping up christmas

Christmas Eve - presents

Christmas Eve, 2015

Currently
It’s our last night of our Christmas vacation in Philly. We’ve been here just shy of a week, enjoying a nice balance of seeing family and friends (usually over brunch or dinner) while also having some downtime (usually spent reading or writing).  It’s always impossible to fit in everyone who we’d like to see and all we’d like to do, but I think it worked out well this time.

Tomorrow’s a travel day back to the “Burgh, then I’m off on Tuesday. Whenever possible, I try to give myself a “re-entry day” on the tail end of these trips. It’s back to work on Wednesday — along with one final dentist appointment this year to use up some insurance dollars — before another few remaining vacation days segue into a long weekend.

Christmas Reading

Like FamilyRDear Mr. You

I admit, I’m scrambling to meet my goal of 52 books read in 2015.  Right now, my tally is 47 (much lower than previous years).  This may be attainable if I stick to shorter books, but I’m not sure.

Reading short books was my strategy for this trip.  So far on this vacation, I’ve read one —Like Family by Paolo Giordano. I was so excited to see this one at the library because I loved (but, sadly, didn’t review) his previous novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers.  I really liked this new one, which I breezed through in a few hours (if that). Told in flashback and set in Italy, it’s about a couple who hire a housekeeper, Mrs. A., to help out during a difficult pregnancy and who stays on as a nanny for several years. After Mrs. A. is diagnosed with cancer, she decides to leave the household abruptly. The book, then, is about how she has changed the course of the couple’s marriage and their lives.

Right now I’m reading Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, which is incredibly well-written and very likely to be on my favorites list. This exactly the reason why I usually don’t post my best-of lists before year’s end; this time of year often brings more opportunities than usual to read and more often than not, something I read while we finish up this trip around the sun surprises and delights me.  Dear Mr. You is going to be that book. The concept is fantastic: it’s structured as a collection of letters that Ms. Parker has written to each of the significant men in her life.

Christmas Not Reading …
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed spending part of Christmas week with a holiday-themed story. The timing of this needs to be carefully considered and calibrated; I don’t like to start this particular book much before Christmas Eve and I like to be finished by the day after Christmas. This started in 2011 when I reviewed A Clockwork Christmas, a collection of four steampunk tales.

A Christmas Carol was my 2012 selection, followed by The Chimes last year. (I’m not sure what happened in 2013. Maybe A Christmas Carol again, I don’t know.)  I wasn’t impressed with The Chimes, and I was even less enamored with this year’s selection, The Cricket on the Hearth. Slightly less than halfway through this one, there was still no sign of Christmas in Dickens’ long-winded and discombobulated narrative.  This happened to be one of my Classics Club selections, too (although not the one for this most recent spin), so I’ll probably replace it with something.

Christmas Listening …
Between wrapping gifts and a few bouts of insomnia, I’ve been listening to more podcasts than usual. Here are some of the best:

The Writer’s Almanac: “The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (12/25/2015)
Such a perfect poem for Christmas when you’re missing someone special.

Burnt Toast: “Someone Put a Diaper on the Turkey” (12/17/2015)
Listeners’ stories of hilarious holiday disasters involving food.

New Yorker Poetry: Ellen Bass Reads Adam Zagajewski (12/16/2015)
Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with me.

On Being: Martin Sheen: Spirituality of Imagination (12/16/2015)
Fantastic interview with actor and activist Martin Sheen about his spirituality.

“Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. And we become enviable joyful. And then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them.” – Martin Sheen

The Moth Podcast: Eve Plumb and The Pittsburgh StorySLAM (12/15/2015) 
Eve Plumb (you know her as Jan Brady) is hilarious in this episode of The Moth where she shares stories about her childhood on and off the set of The Brady Bunch, and her relationship with her mother. In another story (not involving Eve Plumb or Jan Brady), a slideshow of photos intended for an audience of two winds up being shown at a family gathering.

Christmas Shopping …
The Husband, The Girl, and I all received some great books for Christmas — and The Girl and I went on a little bit of a shopping spree (thanks to her Christmas cash burning a hole in her pocket) at two local independent bookstores.  I need to wrap up this post, though, and get to bed, so I’ll plan on doing that recap separately.

Anticipating … 
I can’t believe this is the last Sunday Salon/Currently for 2015!  I really like doing these posts (even though they tend to take me forever) and in looking back over my blogging this year, oftentimes they’ve been the only posts I’ve written in a particular week.  I’m hoping to remedy that in 2016.

In addition to the book haul from this week, I have a few other fun posts planned.  Hope your holidays were good ones and that you have a great last week of 2015!

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a few things i’m doing

This thing called Life is kickin’ our collective asses around here lately. Maybe I’ll be able to write about it sometime, but for right now, in the midst of the muck, there are a few things I need to keep off the blog.  In between the hits, though, I’m finding myself in need of a few distractions … which, as we know, is the reason why we have The Internet.

Fortunately, all kinds of cool things are happening in the online world this fall.  Here’s what I’m doing to try and forget about Life for awhile.

Autumn-2015-Pin-it-and-Do-it-Challenge

My blogging friend Trish of Love, Laughter and (a touch of) Insanity is bringing back her fun Pin It and Do It Challenge for September and October. For whatever reason, I’ve recently re-discovered Pinterest, and this challenge will be a little kick in the pants for me to do some projects, try some new recipes, make some blog improvements and who knows what else.  Go to Trish’s blog for the official sign up, follow me on Pinterest, and have fun pinning and doing.

Bloggiesta-F15

Speaking of blog improvements and whatnot, look what starts today – besides the first day of the planet Mercury losing its collective shit AGAIN and spinning the hell out of control in retrograde, that is. (Because, you know, I really need THAT nonsense right now.)  Bloggiesta is back, baby, and the Fall 2015 edition is happening now.

I really like this multi-day Bloggiesta format. I’m hoping to use this go-around to take care of a few housekeeping duties here on the blog. Not quite sure what, exactly, as a lot depends on how the week goes. I’m supposed to write an official Bloggiesta to do list as part of my participation post (which I guess this is), so we’ll keep it the same as all the other Bloggiestas I’ve done:

1) catch up on book reviews (and other posts) and
2) update the Book Reviews page here on the blog.

RIP X - 2015

image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

It’s September, and that means the return of the book blogging community’s beloved R.I.P. Reading Challenge. Short for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, this annual challenge created by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is being hosted this year – the 10th! – by the wonderful Andi and Heather of The Estella Society. You can find all the R.I.P. details here.  I’m planning to participate in Peril the Second which means I’ll be reading two books of any length that fit within the R.I.P. categories (that includes mystery, suspense, horror, thriller, gothic, dark fantasy, supernatural types of reads and the like).

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I’m not sure what books I’ll be reading for this year’s R.I.P. This might be one of those years where I make it up as we go.  Right now, I’m in the midst of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which seems to qualify. It definitely has the suspenseful, creepy factor. And I haven’t ruled out doing Peril the Short Story either because I am all about the short stories, yo.

Finally, thanks to the magic of Coursera and FutureLearn, I’m enrolled in four MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) right now:

Plagues, Witches and War: The World of Historical Fiction through the University of Virginia;
William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place through Lancaster University, in the UK;
Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (known as ModPo, for short), with the University of Pennsylvania.
Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance (with Monash University and which started on Monday but I haven’t shown up for class yet).

Like everything else, I’ll find my way there, albeit with a few side trips en route.

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