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Review Archives - Red Hen Press

Phuong T. Vuong’s A PLUCKED ZITHER featured in Soapberry Review

In this work of poetry, Vuong unbinds what gets lost while carrying the aftermath from Vietnamese voices that have been longing to breathe after the disruption from wars, migration, and silence. In other words, through the trajectory of these poems, Vuong’s speaker processes and dwells on the migrant’s emotional experience.

PACIFIC LIGHT by David Mason featured in Review 31

A strong poetic sensibility is combined with a successful conversational style in several insightful accounts of familiar situations, like seeing people in airports that one thinks one knows (‘Long Haul’), the art of learning ‘to do almost nothing’ after an incapacitation (‘Letter to my Right Foot’), and the way a holiday can open one’s eyes to the relative stressfulness of one’s everyday life (‘Barra de Potosi’). 

The Seattle Times recommends Amber Flame’s APOCRIFA among ‘5 new books from LGBTQ+ authors to read this Pride month’!

As we enter another Pride month, it feels as though 2023 has been one of the toughest legislative years for LGBTQ+ folks in a long time. As we witness and experience our rights being stripped in cruel and politically charged ways in many states across the country, it can be easy to despair. But one thing has always been clear, since before Stonewall and the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot and every crisis and victory and mundane day since the history of time: queer and trans and gender-expansive people have always been here, will always be here, and our lives are important and beautiful. In the spirit of Pride — which is the spirit of queer joy and queer rage together — let’s celebrate this month and every month with, among other things, some great new books in a variety of genres by LGBTQ+ authors. 

Peninsula Clarion’s Off the Shelf recommends H Warren’s BINDED!

I’ve always found poetry a bit intimidating. Sometimes I think I know where one is going, then out of nowhere I’m thrown for a loop and left puzzled with a ring of SAT prep words circling my head like cartoon birds. Some are confusing from the get-go.

I was determined this week, however, to dive into “Binded,” a collection of poetry by Fairbanks poet and musician H Warren, that arrived in the Clarion’s mailbox earlier this year. An insert from the publishing company that caught my eye teased a debut collection that interrogates “the courage it takes to heal and exist in the world today” as a nonbinary person living in rural Alaska.

“Binded” was exactly as advertised.

Across roughly 75 pages, Warren presents 50 poems that vary in length and focus. There are many that outline the various emotions and experiences of being nonbinary, some that directly nod to things happening in Alaska, and others that offer a tender look into the author’s life.

Kirkus Reviews features Laila Halaby’s THE WEIGHT OF GHOSTS!

The illegitimate daughter of a white mother and a Jordanian father, Halaby, author of two novels and two collections of poetry, felt that she was a “fiction…squished between other people’s tall tales.” Many years later, when her son Raad was killed in a car accident, the author was forced to redefine the true and singular nature of her “borders” with the world.

Ann Poore reviews Katharine Coles’ GHOST APPLES for 15 Bytes!

Ghost Apples, the ninth collection of poems by Katharine Coles – who might be a witch (IMHO) given the ready way she connects with animals (including her parrot Henri, pronounced in the American fashion) and who surely has a magical way with words and their readers – kept me sitting in a hot car for more than two hours devouring the very-well-composed new work. (Right beside the monster air-conditioning unit that, maddeningly, kept switching on and off. But I kept reading.)

The book’s cover art, “Ivory-billed Woodpeckers” by Joseph Bartholomew Kidd, designed by Jessica Perkins, had me absorbed for entirely too long, given the heat. A trio of woodpeckers, two of them perched in a well-pecked tree limb, is spooky and endearing, too.

VerseCurious reviews Phuong T. Vuong’s A PLUCKED ZITHER!

Francesca Bell’s WHAT SMALL SOUND receives a Starred Review from Shelf Awareness!

Francesca Bell (Bright Stain) writes poems that chime like the bell of her own name: bright but resonant, sharp but still familiar, lush and likely to echo long after its initial strike. What Small Sound is Bell’s second collection, and it brings together a haunting yet beautiful set of poems centered on the losses–or potential for them–that encircle her: the loss of her hearing; the mental health concerns that threaten the loss of her daughter; and the loss, too, of a general sense of safety, wrought by Covid-19, parenting, and aging. Despite these losses, and the fear and heaviness that accompany them, Bell writes poems that insist pain is only one part of every story.

Lake County Examiner features Kim Dower’s collection, SLICE OF MOON!

Did you read “Slice of Moon,” our poetry book for May? If you didn’t, I don’t blame you; many people shy away from poetry, and I am one of them. However, I picked this offering for a reason. Dower’s work is accessible. It isn’t full of flowery language that you must spend minutes ruminating on her meanings. She says what she means, and you can either agree, be entertained, or even wonder is this really poetry?

For those of us brought up on Kilmer’s “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree”… Yes, Dower’s “My Mother Wants Extra Crisp Bacon” is poetry too. Anyone who has taken care of a parent who is declining and is a bit difficult will relate to that poem. There are no metaphors, no elaborate language where you wonder if the writer is talking about her mother or a sea creature, yet with spare and relatable words you know exactly what is going on and how the writer feels about it. That is what I mean by accessible.

Recovering Words features Francesca Bell’s WHAT SMALL SOUND!

Manifest Image

The man keeps telling me I am beautiful.
I still look young.

He says it like I’ve asked for it,
but I don’t care.

For him or beauty.

I am content to slip into old,
wrinkled plainness,

to walk on unimpeded.

I was young once.
My body stunned.
My breasts were really something,

but I was something else entirely.

Something no one one could see
until now.

Francesca Bell from What Small Sound, Red Hen Press, 2023

The poem above comes from Francesca Bell’s latest book, only her second collection, but her poems have been making waves in recent years appearing in many journals, notably Rattle, where she has been featured in the Poets Respond series and where she won the Neil Postman Prize for metaphor.

Like wildfire smoke, loss hangs over the poems of  of What Small Sound  (loss of innocence, of bodily and mental health, to name a few) but like smoke, sometimes these losses can retreat leaving the landscape still there, fully revealed, still holding on.

WHAT SMALL SOUND by Francesca Bell Reviewed in Caesura Literary!

This collection immediately thrusts us into scenes of relative comfort and privilege that are all too often interrupted by the violent horrors plaguing this current time. Mind you, the terms comfort and privilege are used loosely here, as the speaker and characters will not be delivered complete relief or freedom from these trials. However, the speaker does at once give thanks “for this world of green grass and suffering,” while also conveying that prayers will not grant liberation from this plight. The speaker walks through this life as an empath deflecting, yet absorbing, digesting, and transforming news headlines, in order to reveal the layers of connection between the personal and political. 

Brenda Cárdenas’ TRACE featured in ‘La Treintena 2023: 30 (Something) Books of Latinx Poetry’!

Over the past year, Latina/o/x poets spanning vast aesthetics, experiences, and geographies have dazzled me with collections that reveal the complexity and beauty of our communities in all their irreducible differences. A few books by Latina/o/x poets have garnered significant mainstream attention, including Cynthia Cruz’s darkly beautiful Hotel Oblivion, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Javier Zamora’s unforgettable memoir Solito. Still, Latina/o/x poets remain frustratingly marginal to the critical conversation even in the realm of literary studies, to say nothing of our broader field or beyond it. This time around, I was excited to come across a wide range of powerful new work from Central and South American poets, further challenging and complicating the entrenched canons of Latinidad. I was also inspired by established poets such as Virgil Suárez and Jennif(f)er Tamayo opting to self-publish books and challenge literary and political conventions, and conversely by a previously self-published poet, Mercy Tullis-Bukhari, now published by the indefatigable Roberto Carlos García and his Get Fresh Books, already an essential venue for New York City Latina/o/x writing. 2022-2023 witnessed the return of foundational poets (Victor Hernández Cruz, Juan Felipe Herrera, and others), noteworthy collections by Afro-Latina voices (Tullis-Bukhari, Jasminne Mendez, Yesenia Montilla, Kimberly Reyes, etc.), and a continued flourishing of queer writing, including a volume of new and selected poems from the irreplaceable Rigoberto González, and ambitious collections by Tamayo, Christina Olivares, Lucas de Lima, Aldo Amparán, Christopher Soto, Kenneth Reveiz, and others. Below are 21 microreviews along with an additional 11 titles at the end. A special shoutout goes to the editors, publishers, and poets of the groundbreaking La piel del arrecife: Antología de poesía trans puertorriqueña, which reminds me that the work we do can imagine and build new worlds, challenging me while modeling an embodied counter-practice of creativity, criticality, and mutual care.  

REFUGEE by Pamela Uschuk reviewed in Compulsive Reader!

How can we take refuge amid the pains of this world? In this collection, Pamela Uschuk, winner of an American Book Award in 2010, faces the realities of recent social history. A longtime activist for peoples’ and nature’s rights, Uschuk offers precise and unsparing poems. Yet she also ensures that moments of loveliness temper the harsh truths she has observed. This book is an exacting journey of wisdom and resilience.

THE SKIN OF MEANING by Keith Flynn Reviewed in North of Oxford!

The Skin of Meaning by Keith Flynn is an interesting mixture of contemporary reactions to issues that affect us in the twenty-first century.  Keith presents one hundred and eighty-one pages of poetry divided in three sections entitled Etymologies, Dichotomies and Necrologies. Flynn uses a variety of poetic forms in each section and presents his messages in fresh imagery, clear logic and almost genius linguistic control.

YA Books Central Reviewed AQUEOUS by Jade Shyback!

Aqueous is a debut novel set in a world where life on land is dangerous and harsh. To save humanity, an underwater paradise is built in the ocean.