Light Poetry Magazine features review of William Trowbridge’s CALL ME FOOL!

William Trowbridge has stopped by the pages of Light before in the guise of Oldguy (Reviews, Summer/Fall 2020). Now he’s back with a collection recounting the exploits of a classic persona, The Fool, traced through world history from Creation to the Not Yet, in Trowbridge’s crafted and crafty style.

A quote from The Fool: His Social and Literary History, by Enid Welsford, sets the stage: “… It is all very well to laugh at the buffeted simpleton: we too are subject to the blows of fate, and of people stronger and wiser than ourselves, in fact we are the silly Clown, the helpless Fool….” With this introduction, the seriousness ends and the sendup of the human predicament begins:

Call Him Mr. Lucky

Fool recalls his demotion from archangel
to something called an archetype after he
was flimflammed by Lucifer and his buddies,

who seemed to have a viable way out of
a place where everyone’s locked in orbit
around The Almighty, who likes his hallelujahs

chorused non-stop, like on a cracked LP.
But making Hell a heaven didn’t fly,
and now he’s on earth, buying Florida

swampland, phony Rolexes, and weekend
ski trips to Uganda…

Subsequent irreverent accounts describe the Fool’s presence in Bible stories, European history, miscellaneous legends, literature, and culture. The poems reveal the well-furnished mind and often slapstick spirit Trowbridge brings to the project. Sample titles: “Robin Fool and His Disconsolate Men;” “In 1823, after Inventing a Flush Toilet, Fool Discovers Penicillin, X-Rays, Plastic, and Super Glue;” and one of my favorites:

LA Times recommends Jennifer Brice’s ANOTHER NORTH among “20 new books you need to read this summer”!

Brice previously chronicled her Alaska youth in “Unlearning to Fly.” In “Another North,” she returns to Fairbanks as a divorced woman longing for a sense of home. The new collection takes readers from her life as a professor in New York’s Leatherstocking Country to her days piloting small planes in the Alaska bush. Brice is a beautiful prose stylist, and her book navigates the turbulence of middle age with a steady — and elegant — hand.

Publishers Weekly features review of Percival Everett’s SONNETS FOR A MISSING KEY!

Everett’s formally virtuosic latest collection (after The Book of Training by Colonel Hap Thompson of Roanoke) interrogates the sonnet form as both a mode for thought and a vehicle for sonic inquiry and play. These sonnets resist pure logic or narrative, twisting and turning back on themselves to question their progression and temporality, as in such lines as “The thrill of it all, setting sail,/ years away, might as well deliver/ the letters ourselves upon return, icy letters/ soaked with, overwhelmed with blood.” In the first half of the collection, Everett structures his sonnets around the Italian model, seeming to relish the diagrammatic strictness of the 4-4-3-3 line stanza structure even as internal rhyme, caesura, and enjambment challenge the neatness of the form: “Tweedle Dee did what Tweedle did done,/ a dumb thing to do, it was agreed. Build a house/ of straw on Paradise Street for a pretty/ young damsel chanced for to meet.”

Randall Freisinger reviews William Trowbridge’s CALL ME FOOL for The Birmingham Poetry Review!

This review appears in the Spring, 2024 issue, no. 51, pp. 223-7.

To Move Wild Laughter

                           Near the end Shakespeare’s  Love’s Labours Lost, the

heroine, Rosaline, tells her suitor Berowne that, to win her hand, his task for a year, is

  With all the fierce endeavor of [his] wit, To enforce the painèd impotent to smile.

Berowne, incredulous, replies:

To move wild laughter in the throat of death?
It cannot be, it is impossible.
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony

William Trowbridge has no such doubts about the powers of mirth. With finely stropped wit, this is exactly the goal he sets for himself in Call Me Fool, his latest and profoundly mirth-filled collection.

                  There may have been a time in poetry circles when readers new to Trowbridge may have thought he was one of the “World’s Best Kept Secret [s],” the title of the book’s closing poem. But certainly not so in recent years, as a steady output of edgy and hilarious books have proven him to be a worthy rival of such comic fixtures as Albert Goldbarth, Denise Duhamel, Stephen Dobyns, Tony Hoagland, and Billy Collins.

                  In this follow-up to his well-received 2011 collection Ship of Fool, Trowbridge returns to the archetypal Fool figure, a classic schlemiel, who, with his hapless bumbling,  indeed moves us to laughter. In this follow-up, we are provided with another encyclopedic gallop through time, space, and  place, from the Biblical creation to the present, from Heaven to Hell and back.

Review continued in the Spring, 2024 issue, no. 51, pp. 223-7.

William Trowbridge’s CALL ME FOOL reviewed by Richard Simpson for Tar River Poetry!

This review appears in vol. 63, no. 1, fall, 2023, pp. 54-6.

FOOLISH VIRTUOSITY

William Trowbridge. Call Me Fool. Pasadena, CA: Red Hen Press, 2022. $17.95, paper.

            William Trowbridge has demonstrated virtuosic invention and a mastery of form and content across eight previous collections and a tonal palette ranging from the piercingly serious to the wildly humorous. In the process he has garnered much applause and many honors.

            He is one of this country’s finest poetic realists, bringing superb observational skills to vernacular American life: its unrelenting commercialism, multiform pop culture, and tumultuous speech. He can shiver a reader’s timbers unerringly, as in his unforgettable earlier poems about his father being in combat in World War II or his own work as a teenager in a Cudahy meatpacking plant.

            Yet he can turn as unerringly to mythopoeic invention, as he does in Call Me Fool, his taut, electric, deliciously funny new book, where he reveals again a trademark ability to work unflinchingly in front of massive backdrops (the Bible, Milton, Shakespeare, Melville, etc.), an unwavering humanity, and an ability to puncture cubic miles of vanity and pomposity. In this mode his work can remind one of what Twain and Byron achieved in similar territory, or, for that matter, what Blake explored and realized in his own capacious mythmaking about heaven and hell. These qualities leap freshly from the title of the new volume to its closing words. Trowbridge has written brilliantly about Fool before: see Ship of Fool (Red Hen Press, 2011). Let him do it again? Why not just walk out to the mound and hand Satchel Paige another baseball? 

            In the earlier Ship of Fool the title character was given the first and third sections of a three-part book, so that the interval of the second section, which consisted of more realistic and tonally varied work, set up a kind of interlude which, to a degree, drew temporary attention (beautifully) away from the Fool poems. Now, Call Me Fool has no sectional divisions, and the forty-two poems that follow its introductory proem are third-person ultra-brief narratives about Fool, none reaching two full pages and more than half ending on a single page. Given Trowbridge’s unflagging invention, intensity, and precision, the reader is invited to a feast…

Continued in vol. 63, no. 1, fall, 2023, pp. 54-6.

Poetry Foundation Reviews BLUE ATLAS by Susan Rich

Blue Atlas by Susan Rich takes its title from the Blue Atlas Cedar found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. As the book’s epigraph explains: “It is the hardiest species and can reproduce spontaneously from seeds.”The tree serves as a metaphor for resilience and resourcefulness in poems that center on a woman’s unplanned pregnancy and the subsequent abortion that has left deep emotional scars. Click the link below to read the full review.

Pioneer Press Celebrates Minnesota Authors, Naming ANNIKA ROSE by Cheri Johnson on Their List

Pioneer Press has names ANNIKA ROSE by Cheri Johnson as one of their three fiction works from Minnesota authors. The full review is in the link below!

The Shore features review of Susan Rich’s BLUE ATLAS!

Susan Rich’s newest collection, Blue Atlas, is a complicated work that artfully blends the personal and the political, avoiding didacticism to create a timely narrative that explores the themes of choice and liberation. Where many poets wax romantic or end up preaching, Rich has instead crafted a speaker who leaves room for reader interpretation and who also asserts herself. Rich adeptly transitions between experimental and structured forms, highlighting the speaker’s evolving and solidifying self-conception. When Rich’s speaker declares, “I’ve always desired a different life than the one I am living,” the reader is compelled to believe her. Yet, this same woman can also assert she is “the proud ‘I’ that does not apologize, / the ‘I’ that no one holds by the throat” (“From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows”; “Single, Taken, Not Interested”). Accepting these two contrasting ideas simultaneously is challenging, but Rich makes it feasible. This is the power of Blue Atlas and the genius of the work.

            Blue Atlas invites dialogue and asks readers to confront the reality of choice or lack of choice from the initial poems on. Rich’s speaker fearlessly addresses taboo topics, notably naming abortion, and uses universal reverences, particularly through nature imagery, to connect with personal experiences. This approach guides the speaker through trauma toward self-realization, and the reader journeys alongside her. We see this operate effectively on the micro-level throughout the collection, but a prime example comes early in the collection through “Post-Abortion Questionnaire Powered by Survey Monkey,” one of the more experimental poems of the collection. The speaker responds to questions about her experience with abortion, using the language of nature, especially in cultivation (flowers, gardening, etc.), and her personal experience to engage with a subject often shied away from:

1.     Do you feel reluctant to talk about the subject of abortion?

In the center of the ceiling a marigold weeps

or perhaps it’s an old chandelier.

Look. Inside there is an otherworldly glow,

shards illuminated in violet-pink

and layers of peeling gold leaf.

Such minds at night unfold.

 

2.     Do you feel guilt or sorrow when discussing your own abortion?

The cabbage is a blue rose,

an alchemical strip show. They scream

when dragged from the earth,

only to find themselves plunged into boiling water.

The narrative unscrolls from cells

of what-ifs and hourglass hopes.

Soapberry Review features article on “Loss and surrealism in E.P. Tuazon’s Professional Lola”!

I’m one of three children of immigrants from the Philippines. My mother and father came to the United States with their respective families in the ’60s and ’70s and met in Southern California shortly after. Growing up, we lived a bit further away from my grandparents and aunties and uncles, but my parents would take me and my brothers on long drives to attend family parties for any and all occasions—birthdays, baptisms, graduations, weddings. 

Reading E.P. Tuazon’s new short story collection, A Professional Lola, felt like being welcomed into the same family party I’ve attended hundreds of times. I know the trays of lumpia and the spoonfuls of halo-halo, the strings of Tagalog of which I can only understand a few words. I know the wacky uncle, the gentle lola, that friend of lolo’s who isn’t related but is always there, the cousin who feels more like a sibling than your own—these characters shine especially brightly in each of Tuazon’s stories. In combination with speculative elements that delighted and shocked me, I found the stories in Professional Lola to be a poignant reflection on the playful highs and somber lows of modern Filipino American culture.

One very clear theme woven throughout the stories in A Professional Lola is loss. The collection is bookended with two stories that include the loss of a grandparent. In “Professional Lola,” the narrator’s mother hires an actress to impersonate a beloved, deceased lola at a party, and in “Carabao,” the narrator has to come to terms with their lolo’s transition to a lola. As someone who is lucky enough to know my lolos and lolas, the different types of “transformation” in both stories—the magic of a near-perfect lola impersonator knowing the exact right thing to say in contrast with the comforting similarities between a now-dead lolo and a new lola—were especially impactful.

There are also other kinds of “deaths” woven through some stories—the death of a marriage, of a dream, of a connection to home. There is grief and bitterness in these losses, but Tuazon infuses a certain type of wonder into these particularly melancholy episodes by introducing  elements of surrealism. A Filipina wife brews a magic spell in order for her husband to fall back in love with her in “Blood Magic;” estranged siblings bond over their deceased father’s obsession with what we come to learn is a real-life Bigfoot in “After Bigfoot;” the child of a disappeared arcade owner visits their ancestral village in the Philippines to discover fish people in “Far From Home.” I wouldn’t call the collection “optimistic” by any means, but there is something optimistic and also humorous about the strange occurrences in the stories—rather than falling into despair, characters are free to dream, play, and hope within the frame of the surreal. 

I WORE THIS DRESS TODAY FOR YOU, MOM by Kim Dower Reviewed by Angel City Review

There are few things more classically Freudian than autobiographical poems about a poet’s relationship with their mother, and this new collection by prolific former West Hollywood City Poet Laureate Kim Dower takes up the challenge deftly: will she become her mother? Is she already her? What continues after death? (Mail, memories, junk). What is broken by death? (Rituals, memories — junk).

The poems in I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom are casual and conversational in tone, laugh-out-loud funny or tearjerking at their best. A mix of new pieces and motherhood poems from Dower’s former collections, they paint a portrait of urban motherhood rarely seen in verse, a Southern California freeway pastoral blended with a 5th Avenue childhood in New York.

Southern Review of Books names DEER BLACK OUT by Ulrich Jesse K. Baer in their April 2024 lineup

New West Indian Guide features review of Juliana Lamy’s YOU WERE WATCHING FROM THE SAND

You Were Watching from the Sand (Pasadena CA: Red Hen, 2023, paper US$16.95), the debut short story collection by Haitian-born, South Florida-raised Harvard graduate Juliana Lamy, vividly portrays adolescent life and dreams in Miami’s Haitian community. Gritty, bizarre, and poetic, the stories speak from each narrator’s often-unexpected viewpoint, bringing to life what are usually grim, challenging personal situations. In one, boys steal from rich whitefolks’ homes. In another, after a girl molds a clay figure, “they” comes alive and becomes her close friend. And in another a boy is kidnapped for ransom by other Haitians … Throughout, we see a talented young writer beginning to strut her stuff and promising more to come.

Léon Pradeau reviews Ulrich Jesse K. Baer’s DEER BLACK OUT on Verse of April

I was driven, & I was moved. Your book travels through identities at night, like deer eyes I saw glowing over a road in upstate Wisconsin, arresting. Your words keep coupling, two-headed four-eyed figures, awefright of these deer eyes, transpitched, everpresent, like your mother in these lines:

my mother was a

birdsilence asked me

to revisit pastures

Staying with you in mourning birdsilence: combinations of words over syntax—I remember another poem of yours, another word, “evilbeautiful”, I’m sure you didn’t just use it once, you hopeless romantic, watching the words and their mating rituals.

Washington Independent Review of Books reviews Helen Benedict’s THE GOOD DEED

Helen Benedict’s The Good Deed is an ambitious, gorgeously written novel about the lives of refugees and the failure of systems to care for these vulnerable survivors of wars and brutal regimes. It also delves deep into universal themes like anguish, redemption, and motherhood. Set on Samos — a Greek island that seems like paradise — the story centers on an American tourist and three refugees from the Middle East and Africa whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

Library Journal Review of A Professional Lola

Southern California-based Filipino American writer Tuazon (The Cussing Cat Clock) brings to readers a collection of 13 short stories, 11 of which have been previously published in slightly different forms.

Click here to read more.