A Review of Valerie Bandura's Human Interest

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Human Interest by Valerie Bandura

Black Lawrence Press April 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62557-974-4

Review by Joel Salcido

Valerie Bandura’s second collection of poetry, Human Interest, is all Americana: a gun-toting, unapologetically surly, bombardment of sardonic imagery. Bandura conjures the Grateful Dead line—what a long, strange trip it’s been—if that lyric had been laced in sarcasm. The poems have unmistakable breadth: with topics ranging from immigration, to mental illness, to the vapidity of social media, and while the critiques can be scathing, the poems try a little tenderness, too.

Bandura initiates the collection with a romping scene of a carnival-like BDSM bar where the imagery unfurls like a whip, “a red-lit bar and a vampire bartendress / who pointed to a man in a harness / licking the boot of a woman, dog collared.” This scene wets our toes, sure, but more so it feels intended to contextualize the “Ka-boom” epiphany that underlies the collection.

In the introductory poem’s denouement there’s a moment of clarity and we are slipped vulnerability like a mysterious pill, “I mean / to release me from what secrets / and lies I tell the people I trust / never to lie to me, compulsions, obsessions, / perversions, all that pent up inertia / erupting in a cataclysmic cloud.” Readers can breathe in this cloud and to feel its effects as they move through the poems.

Understanding this moment of unmitigated honesty allows for the irony and sarcasm that runs through most of the book to feel less like a shotgun blast of surliness but rather to become a profound meditation on the brokenness of humanity. These meditations hold no pretense or artifice. They are direct, pop-culture idiosyncratic punches to the mouth of the ears. No one is safe or sacred in these poems, America becomes “The Biggest Baby Ever” a Bandura writes, “hurray / for being the least loved celebrity / on channel you can’t pronounce / in places you won’t dare go, famous / for being the freakishly loud.”

Where the tonality calms itself is where the book finds its tenderness in the middle section subtitled: “Nobody’s Crazy. And Everyone Is.” Here, the speaker shifts focus to family; as mother, wife, and sister delve into the inanity of roles and the emotional turmoil of having a sister living with mental illness.

In stark contrast to the heavily detailed and unfurling imagery of most of the collection “Between Me and Crazy” is more lyrical, the voice of the poem contemplates a communication breakdown between sisters. Its tone is one of longing, culminating in the final couplet’s admission, “you’re about to say something, / I can almost hear it.” This hearkens back to the secrets and lies that can only be told to the most trusted—in this case, the page and even beyond that, to the reader. This confession functions as therapy for the speaker because the readers are strangers who, even if they pass judgment, simply listen. Readers should feel the catharsis, and in turn, commiserate with the speaker. It is through this mutual consolation that readers may come to realize that the searing tongue of the collection’s voice is imploring them to laugh, to forget they are mourning at the wake of a broken world.

 

 

Valerie Bandura: Born in the former Soviet Union, Valerie Bandura's first book, Freak Show, was a 2014 Patterson Poetry Prize Finalist. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, ZYZZYVA, Alaska Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Mid-Atlantic Review, Third Coast, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Beloit Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and many others. She was the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center and Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. She teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

Joel Salcido: Joel Salcido is managing editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and an MFA candidate in poetry at Arizona State University. His work has been featured in Write On, Downtown, Public Pool, The Decolonizer, and Four Chambers Press among others.

 

 

 

 

A Review of Nicole Walker's Egg

Egg by Nicole Walker Bloomsbury Academic Press March 9, 2017 978-1501322877

Egg by Nicole Walker

Bloomsbury Academic Press

March 9, 2017

978-1501322877


Review by Cheyenne L. Black

 

Nicole Walker’s Egg, released in March as part of the “Object Lessons” series out of Bloomsbury, assembles a diverse company: reproduction and breakfast, Utah and Bosch, mess-making and light. Lightly whipped, light on a shell, light through the fog of desire. That's right, eggs are desire. And, “Desire isn’t easy,” she writes, “it’s a vacuum, a black hole—an empty egg in which someone has poked a hole and let the mucousy dreams drip out.” In Walker’s hands, eggs are a manifestation of whatever we’ve always wanted, the fertile space for possibility.

Walker describes not so much the egg itself, though she does that, too, and with great humor and charity, but at her most poignant the egg is a carrier for both whimsy and pain. The egg embodies and emulates; the egg is a metaphoric bombshell and the original causal factor—the means by which we can hold sine qua non in our hands.

“If one of the ways one tries to understand the world,” Walker writes, “is through the things of the world, then my messy frittata is my messy story.” She then reassures, “Eggs like their fragility.” And Walker, suddenly, is the egg. A certain probity exists in these disclosures. There is a vulnerability in Walker’s stories of her own life around which all of these eggy parts coalesce, but any fragility is either imagined or brief as she rolls on and reframes the egg again, calling on myth, on anecdote, and on symbolic verve to advance the theory that the egg enjoys a level of primacy which has been overlooked and taken for granted.

There are “recipes” for eggs in various forms but also a recipe for the planet, for turtle extinction, for funeral potatoes, and an apocalyptic novel. The egg is an environment. Walker evinces the world in an egg. Our world. Every world one can think of.

In these pages, there is a witness who invites the eggs of culture to the game. In fact, she promises, “I want to make this story more than my own. So I bug people for their egg stories. […] Egg strata by petition or coercion.” Walker is inclusive, drawing from multiple cultures, time frames, and perspectives. The egg is an origin story. Reddit is an egg. The egg is a mantra, “Don't stomp on the ground outside the oven. Let the soufflé rise,” Walker writes. And isn’t that a life’s motto?

Eggs expand in water but the world gets smaller every year. Eggs bear a lot of pressure. “The egg has several layers of defense from infiltration,” she says. And just like that, Walker reminds readers that it’s okay to be vulnerable, as she has been here. Because ultimately, she has protection, people (and eggs) can handle more than it may seem, and “a little salmonella won’t kill you.” Walker is vulnerable, it’s true, but more than that, she is careful in her connections, fearless in her composition, and confident in the poignancy of the egg and its metaphoric companions. Walker provides evidence that being cooked is good for character, that being vulnerable is valuable, and that the experiences through which we are made into soufflé, into omelets, into messy frittatas, are the best of our lives as she warns, “Beware the uncooked egg, but only in prodigious quantities.”

Egg is real, rounded, and robust. Egg is sweet and funny, loving, and honest. Walker is open and caring in this book in a way which is a genuine tribute to eggs and to the people who bear them, eat them, and love them. Walker makes you wonder why an egg could ever be, has ever been, controversial. In Egg there is a companionship with Walker as she invites the reader to see that dining and witnessing are the same language. That although we consume a meal, we also consume the world. In the language of connection and contrast, Walker invites attention to detail, and without saying so directly, offers the observation that we’re all a little scrambled.

 

 

Nicole Walker is the author of two forthcoming books Sustainability: A Love Story and Where the Tiny Things Are: Feathered Essays. Her previous books include Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. She also edited Bending Genre with Margot Singer. Walker is nonfiction editor at Diagram and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.

Cheyenne L. Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden's Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is an MFA candidate and Virginia G. Piper global fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

Chapbook Review: Chinatown Sonnets by Dorothy Chan

Chosen by Douglas Kearney as the winner of New Delta Review’s 6th annual chapbook contest, Dorothy Chan’s Chinatown Sonnets takes us on a whirlwind tour of Chinatowns from Philadelphia to Manhattan to Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown. On selecting Chan’s collection, Kearney claims his “senses blissed on a blitz of color and clamor, flavor and texture, all that pungent love…”

And it’s true: Chan’s sonnets invoke the distinct sights, sounds, smells, and unforgettable flavors of Chinatown. We are dazzled with the many renditions and manifestations that we encounter as we are effortlessly transported from one major city to another, to Chinatowns real, romanticized, and remembered. But the romanticizing depicted here belongs to that of the mainstream media and their reductive depictions of this ethnic enclave, which Chan seeks to subvert. In the very first line of the opening poem, a line that also reappears later in the collection, Chan writes “This isn’t Chinatown from the movies,” setting up the tone for the rest of the chapbook.

Reading further into the collection, we find that Hollywood’s whitewashed caricature is splintered, turned loose, turned on its head so that we get a more authentic and gritty glimpse of the Chinatowns of the speaker’s reality, which is closer to the truth than Hollywood film.

From there, we enter into Chinatowns neon-lit by Chan’s own experiences: it is a world of haggling at the market, paying ancestral respect with a stack of Florida’s Best oranges, picking out fake Tiffany or fake Louis. And, always, there is food: shrimp crackers, bubble tea, frog legs, fish heads and curried fish balls, “American” egg waffles, chicken feet, and lychee gelatin alongside coke-floats, mashed potatoes, TV dinners, Campbell’s soup, and the speaker’s first burger (how she “opened America on a bun”).

The wide-ranging mix of food in Chinatown Sonnets that the speaker views or consumes shows us how cultures can collide—how one culture’s cuisine can be influenced, appropriated, or adopted by another and how the desire for “authentic” food comes down to one’s own experiences.

And Chan describes food miraculously well: watching the dangling ducks from the windows: / the pig-heads hanging and coffee-brown bags / sucking duck fat the way club girls chug drinks.

In doing so, she offers us a tender glimpse of family through all of the neon and glut and further invites us into the complex, layered world of Chinatowns where food is used to honor customs, to look at, to admire and desire, consume and commune: I can’t even hear my grandfather speak. / He hands me a crab claw cut-open, / showing love. In the same poem, Chan later writes: Grandfather points to the spring rolls, tells / me to eat more. I know I’m his American potato.

This collection offers us many colorful details dished out by an observer with a powerful eye, unapologetic voice, and a smart attention to musicality. The form and prosody propel the reader forward, keeping them furiously enthralled. Chan’s collection succeeds, not despite the form her poems arrive in, but because of the pleasure that she derives from making the sonnet form her own—Chan has no fear of breaking and tweaking and, overall, embracing the sonnet’s necessary power to gut unwanted excess.

This is a fast-paced collection brimming with textures and flavors that will envelop you, draw you in like your grandmother extending a plate of warm food that you can’t turn away from. I myself finished the chapbook in one sitting during my first go-around. The next day, I came back for more, my eyes ready to devour, fearing I’d missed something during my initial read.

Chan ends the collection with this stunner of a line: “This is my Chinatown, technicolor and gone” and we can’t help but feel sad with her.

Chinatown Sonnets is published by New Delta Review.

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Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinatown Sonnets, which was selected by Douglas Kearney as the winner of New Delta Review’s 6th Annual Chapbook Contest. She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship and a 2017 finalist for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry from Pleiades Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, The Journal, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, The McNeese Review, and Salt Hall Journal. She is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.

Reviewed by Susan Nguyen, Poetry Editor, Hayden’s Ferry Review

Susan Nguyen hails from Virginia but currently lives in the desert where she is at work on her MFA in poetry at Arizona State University.