Saturday, May 10, 2014

From the New World

This is a superb collection, both searingly personal and universal. Bound by immigrant experience, the poems go beyond it, into love, tenderness and forgiveness, the persistence of the past and the lyrical transformations of memory. Like the metal bridge in downtown Milwaukee, the lines sing “from the ores and depths.” Beauty redeems the homesickness, as in the lush, atmospheric “Wolf Train.” “At Horseshoe Lake” with its theme of forgiveness is my favorite here, along with “Why I Married Him,” an unusual love story. The title poem affirms the poet’s love for California even as it shows that in the end we are all immigrants; for future generations, we too will become “lights along the shore of night.” These prize-winning poems are a journey into a rich landscape, to be savored again and again.
- Sarah Chapdelaine

“Unreal city, / in the same instant of stone and breath / arriving and departing, / falling and rising from its ruins” is how Oriana Ivy describes not just Warsaw seen from a train, a city that has risen from its wartime destruction, but life itself, its ruins and splendor. Here is a feast of highly accomplished poetry, rich in paradoxes and multiple meanings. Ivy’s themes include home and exile, music, the absurdist humor of learning a new language (“Key to the World”), the bittersweet “forever” of “being from.” Here are the startling lyrical transmutations of love and death and memory. “So this is fate. / Holding hands, he and I /walk the blossoming boulevards,” she says in the unforgettable Gypsy poem. In these poems she walks hand in hand with fate and history, the past and the future. Walk with her.
- Janet Baker


Mother, Less Child

"In Mother, Less Child, McCall offers contemplative takes on young black lives taken too soon. This brief gathering of poems aligns them with archetypes of Memnon and Eos in Ethiopia, the Egyptian gods Isis and Horus, and the biblical figures Jesus and Mary. These pairings across time humanize in the face of increasingly epic losses that cannot and should not be normalized or treated like isolated incidents."
--Tara Betts, author of Arc & Hue

“I won’t hurt you, but you won’t hurt me; this is the double consciousness of black men and boys. The rhetorical questioning of homage and how to appropriately pay homage is questioned or answered in Jason McCall’s Mother, Less Child. Here, we find our ancestors in the form of brown boys who became cultural idols much too soon. From a found poem illustrating the loss of our Trayvon Martin to a mural of faces of which Emmett Till anchors, these lines interrogate us all. In “If I Had a Son,” the speaker professes, “I’d make him promise not to ‘f’/ around in Cullman County or Louisville, Ohio.” These voices are unafraid, and the line breaks are tight. McCall introduces himself as every young poet should: through an offering, pouring out for those who couldn’t be here.”
--Derrick Harriell, author of Cotton and Ropes