If you're like me, life is more scary now than it was this time last year, even though then we wouldn't have thought this was possible. Between the Great Recession, wars, tabloid hacking scandals, earth quakes, nuclear power meltdowns and budget cuts looming like vultures over the vulnerable, it's hard to summon holiday cheer. What purpose does art serve in the face of disaster? Who can afford gifts, and how could presents, however suave or sexy, in our commercialized and blinkered culture, ease our dread? Is there a poet among us, no matter how talented, who could write a moving, yet unsappy poem, to send us into the New Year?
Yet, as human beings and artists, we keep making wishes, finding joy and laughter, creating art and giving gifts. It's what we instinctively do to transform tragedy and death into beauty and art. Even when we'd like nothing better than to go to bed, crawl under the covers and stuff ourselves with bonbons or a boozy libation during the holiday season.
In this spirit, we at Heffalumps offer recommendations for five wonderful, affordable gifts for the starving poets and other lesser mortals in your life.
Animal Magnetism by Kim Roberts. $14. 95. 77 pages. Pearl Editions. 2011
One of the stereotypes about poetry is that it's a disembodied art. Yet, as anyone who's struggled to write a good poem knows, few things are less ethereal than poetry. Poems that are moving, skillfully crafted and engaging inevitably spring from the body. Few poets write more movingly or skillfully about the body in all of its mysteries, vexations, oddities and surprises than Kim Roberts. Roberts received the 2009 Pearl Poetry Prize for Animal Magnetism. As Debra Marquart, who was the judge of the 2009 Poetry Prize said, Roberts "investigates, in language as rich, complex, and nuanced as the body itself, the unlit interiors of physical and emotional anatomy."
Animal Magnetism grew out of Roberts' own experience of having cancer and of caring for a friend who was terminally ill. The poems in this engaging collection make seances, museum exhibits on medicine, and conjoined twins up close and personal without being maudlin or patronizing.
"The body is a mysterious housing;/it brings us pleasure, fails us daily, encloses a fragile sense of self," Roberts writes, "it is where we live."
Animal Magnetism is a collection that you'll want to live with.
Immersion by Michele Wolf $15. 84 pages. Hilary Tham Capital Collection. The Word Works. 2011.
The poems in this moving collection take place in the matrix of redemption, love, adoption, parenting, family, commitment, loss and identity in a world that's both joyful and violent. Michele Wolf, a highly talented and insightful poet, takes us on an inward and outward journey from China (to adopt a daughter) to New York to Washington, D.C. Using her insight and skill as a poet, and with the observant eye of a journalist, Wolf immerses us in intimacy, relationships, history and the search for identity.
Who else but Wolf would write a poem as poignant, yet witty as "Barbie Slits Open Her Direct-Mail Offer to Join AARP"? Barbie is the speaker of the poem. "I am a metaphor. I am/My owner's vessel for dreams. I can be almost/Anything," Wolf writes, "...Imagination/Starts as soft clay but becomes a polished thing."
Immersion is so engaging that once you've started reading, you won't want to put it down.
Slouching Toward Guantanamo. By Jim Ferris. $14. 87 pages. Main Street Rag.
In this beguiling, provocative, Whitmanesque poetry collection Jim Ferris uses charm, irony, tenderness, wit, satire and rage to upend our cultural assumptions about people with disabilities-about bodies that are different. "This is my body/Look if you like," Ferris dares the reader.
"I'm sorry–this space is reserved/for poems with disabilities," Ferris writes with a mixture of wit and insight, "I know/it's one of the best spaces in the book,/but the Poems with Disabilities Act/requires us to make all reasonable/accommodations for poems that aren't/normal."
Ferris' poetry is by turns musical, elegiac and wistful. Like Roberts' work, his poems are placed firmly in the body. Slouching Toward Guantanamo not only breaks through our culture's fear and discomfort with people with disabilities–it celebrates bodily differences. "Glory be to God for crippled things–/...Growths that thrive and work left incomplete;/All legs get tired, all clocks get their hands stuck," Ferris writes.
If you want to hear a poet sing the body electric in a new and original way, check out Slouching Toward Guantanamo.
A Sea of Alone: Poems for Alfred Hitchcock. Edited by Christopher Conlon. $14. 107 pages. Dark Scribe Press. 2011.
What filmmaker has ever served up such a delicious stew of dread, fascination, spine-tingling terror, sex, and guilty pleasure as Alfred Hitchcock? From "Rear Window" to "Strangers on a Train" to "Vertigo" to "Psycho," his films maintain their allure and popularity today.
In the splendid anthology A Sea of Alone, 50 poets celebrate Hitchcock.
Conlon has done a masterful job of selecting the talented contributors to A Sea of Alone. The poems in the collection are touching, macabre, scary and witty. "There is no Cut-A-Throat Week. No strangulation Day," Craig D. B. Patton writes in the poem "Rope Tricks," "We murder/only in season now. But the season never ends."
There's no better antidote to the "cheerful" light of the "holiday season," than the engaging darkness of A Sea of Alone .
Broetry. By Brian McGackin. $12.95. 128 pages. Quirk Books. 2011.
Sometimes we poets don't come down from Mount Olympus often enough. With all due respect to nature and to death, eternal love and other biggies of the natural world and the human condition, sometimes you just wanna read a poem about pizza, beer, Star Wars conventions or video games. Especially if you're a guy. I don't mean here an M.F.A. poetry guy. We're talking about a dude.
Broetry offers poetry that speaks not only to dudes but even to us Mount Olympus bards. You don't have to be a dude to delight in poems with titles such as "Ode to That Girl I Dated for, Like, a Month Sophomore Year."
"Broetryis poetry for the 21st century. Broetry speaks to every man, woman and dude-child who understands that reading shouldn't have to be a chore," Brian McGackin, told NPR, "...Broetry is poetry that's right for you. Broetry is a literary cheeseburger."
"Classical music. It makes you smarter," McGackin writes in the poem "Why You Should Listen to Classical Music," "And admit it, you could be more cultured; you just picked up a book called Broetry."
Despite its seeming simplicity, writing entertaining, but not sophomoric, poetry that speaks to the "every" man (or woman) is far from easy. It takes talent.
Broetry may not make you more cultured, but it will make you enjoy reading poetry.