Without a doubt, poetry is one of the most mangled and misunderstood forms of written expression. Whether with great intent or lack of thought, we are taught from a young age that poetry is rhyme. But in truth, poetry is a complex jumble of imagery, syntax, diction, rhythm, sound, metaphor, and theme. Even with its signature compressed and condensed form, poetry manages to convey a wide range of emotions and ideas to each and every reader. The use of devices such as assonance and repetition even allow some poems to achieve a near musical cadence. Regardless of what is and isn’t in any given poem, the careful layering of some-to-all of these effects generates what effectively becomes that poem’s meaning.
Super! Great! Fantastic!
But how does the average reader determine whether a poem is good, bad, or ugly? Heck, how does the above average reader determine whether a poem is strong and successful, or weak, clichéd, and broken? And perhaps most pressing of all, how does a twitchy little reviewer determine if a book of poems reaches near mythical levels of greatness, or plummets into the darkest depths of seriously major suckage?
That, my friends, is the hundred thousand dollar question . . . .
Book: Attar: A Bouquet for You
Author: Rrrose Carbinela
Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises
Poet Rrrose Carbinela’s collection, Attar: A Bouquet for You takes the reader on a thirty-year journey through one woman’s life, full-to-brimming with ecstasy, agony, life, death, and a few fleeting moments of whimsy. The poems that form this collection each take on a different emotion, and tell stories that form a well-lived life. The reader is offered small bites of first love and heartbreak, thunderstorms and desert skies, rants and meditations, Goddesses and vulnerability. A few poems are sweet and sensuous, while others are dark and edgy—a small handful even trickle slowly into the murky waters of anger, fear, war, and the loss of one nation’s collective innocence.
From a technical perspective, Ms. Carbinela’s descriptions are active and original, showing far more than they tell. And, while there was an abundance of end rhyme throughout the collection, several of the poems used unexpected and interesting rhyme schemes and clever line breaks to great effect. The simplicity of presentation in many of the poems is appealing because it allows the statements to speak for themselves. For example, in “Initiation” the author’s solemn vow is offered up to any higher power that will listen:
And I am ready, I think.
And I am able, I know,
with your help,
and your guidance,
and your blessings,
To follow the path you will lead me on,
to bring good to those around me.
Beyond the collection of poetry, two special elements stand out in Attar: A Bouquet for You: First, while not unique, the author includes “Poet’s Notes” after the final poem. These charming little explanations offer a peek inside the poet’s mind, and allow for further insight and understanding into the inspiration and inner workings of each poem. And, since poetry is not an exact science, it was interesting to read the notes, and then compare the backstory to the imagery presented within each poem. And, second, while the cover design is quite lovely and apropos to the content, the publisher’s choice to go with a matte cover versus a glossy cover was truly inspired—the muted colors soften the brightness of the red roses, and the matte texture simulates the feel of rose petals, both giving the reader a surprising and enhanced sensory experience.
Some lovers of poetry are drawn to the saccharin of sonnets, and others to the edge of rhythmic despair, and this collection manages to cover most of the real estate in between—sometimes offering direct experience, sometimes not, drawing on love, life, loss, history, and myth, Attar: A Bouquet for You is clearly a product distilled from the author’s most essential emotions and experiences.
Zine: The Queer Quartets and Other Poems
Author: Helena Kaminski
Publisher: House Hippo Press
Canadian author Helena Kaminski is largely unknown to traditional readers of lesbian genre poetry. While she writes on a broad range of feminist matters, her works have been accepted by the Gay and Lesbian Review, Worldwide, and the Gramsci Monument, a public arts project in NYC. She has been published in The Paris Review, New Directions, and AGNI, and studied with renowned poet, Thom Gunn of The Movement.
The West End. Bitterly cold out.
Everyone stamping their so-called boots.
Clockwise, it’s the fag end of Saturday.
Counter-clockwise it’s Sunday.
All the clubbers are screaming something from the B side of
When the brain cannot quite manage words.
Three women (good guess they’re gay),
Are taking the air, and it’s taking them ages.
For every breath they take in, they need a breather.
It’s that cold.
And so begins “I” from her most recent release, The Queer Quartets and Other Poems, a chapbook-style zine of queer feminist poetry published by the upstart House Hippo Press. This edgy and erotic collection features the “Queer Quartets, I-V,” and three other poems.
Kaminski’s poetry is raw and passionate, full of rhythm, imagery, and metaphor. Her voice is not just active, but aggressive, and her poems feature variable sentence structures, lively line breaks, and original rhyme. For example, in “III”, she uses her poetic style to balance the edge with the erotic, the cool with the contentious, and the stark with the sensuous.
They might have shared some weed, a drink and dance,
Topped up with a no-frills fuck.
What they haven’t done is click.
Standing there nursing her full-fat coke, super-sober
Where everyone’s high, drunk and
Off-duty, Ms Tall’s on patrol.
The cheesy great strobe light
Parceling out its diffused used psychedelics
To every last inch of a dance-floor and
Stage that flit unafraid between retro and techno
Tonight they all work for Ms Tall, on the house.
Slave accessories helping her play
I am an enigma
You’ll never break
But, heh, you go ahead, try.
Feminist writers come in many sizes, shapes, and packages, and Ms. Kaminski’s cadence, funk, verve, and experimental style bring to mind Post-Beat writer Anne Waldman, whose technique highlights the intersection of poetry, performance, activism, and feminism. The Queer Quartets and Other Poems isn’t traditional lesbian genre poetry, but it tells a familiar tale in a way that is not just compelling but enticing. These poems are loaded with heavy rhythm, improvisation, free association, rich poetic phrases, clever word play, and their own special slang—they border on the aggressive and “in your face,” and they make you want just a little more. I appreciate the look, the sound, and the vibe of Helena Kaminski’s poetry, and if there is one complaint of the collection, it’s simply that it wasn’t longer.
William Carlos Williams of The Red Wheelbarrow fame once said, “But all art is sensual and poetry particularly so. It is directly, that is, of the senses, and since the senses do not exist without an object for their employment all art is necessarily objective. It doesn’t declaim or explain, it presents.”
I love two things about his statement: First, it proves that he was a better poet than he was a philosopher. And, second, that appreciation of poetry—all poetry—good, bad, or ugly, belongs only to the reader.
It’s true with any form of writing, but never more so than with poetry.