The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House by Nick Lantz

“I wish I could forgive the uglier potatoes on my plate,/like the wedding dancer so drunk/he doesn’t notice/when he loses one partner and grabs hold of another.” Print

So begins “The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House” by the poet Nick Lantz.  It may seem a little kooky or downright nonsensical, and he quickly gets darker:

“The reed warbler goes on feeding/the cuckoo long after/its own chicks have starved to death.”

And then it gets weird again: “Some days I almost believe I could live the life of a bowl of plastic fruit.”

This book is not for those unwilling to dive into absurdity; this book is not for the faint of heart. Continue reading

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Esch is surrounded by men. Salvage the Bones

She’s in love with Manny who doesn’t care.  Her oldest brother, Randall, wants to make it to basketball camp, so he can maybe, maybe go to college.  Skeetah, the next oldest, has a pregnant pit bull whom he tends to like a wife.  Junior is eight years younger than her and just wants to play with the puppies and roll in the dirt. Her alcoholic daddy is convinced a big hurricane is coming, but no one believes him.  It’s late summer, and she’s reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology for 11th grade English. They all live in Bois Sauvage, near the Mississippi gulf coast. It is 2005.

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The Music of Tennessee by the Oxford American

Reminiscence and reflection are complicated matters.  Over winter break, I picked up the Oxford American’s annual music issue.  The featured state is Tennessee, and the issue comes with a double disc music compilation of Tennessee music.  I was in Tennessee – where I’m from – and I was missing the hell out of it.photo

Like I said, looking at the past is complicated. In order to accurately represent the music of the South, one cannot simply discuss the musicians, their style and influences.  Music in the South, music in Tennessee, all of it is directly tied up with segregation and civil rights.  It is a matter of a few very poor, very talented folks who happened to make it big in Memphis or Nashville.  But it’s also a matter of how they made it big, who was there pushing them through, who was tripping them up, who was buying their records and who was not. Continue reading

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just kids

These are the wonderful things about this book: it jumps between the past and the present, it is episodic, it is tangential, and it is poetry.  Patti Smith is a poet and a punk rocker and an artist.  Just Kids documents her 1967 move to New York and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.  The two meet and move in together.  She works at a bookstore and begins writing poetry; he creates art: mostly altars and jewelry, until he discovers photography.  Smith recounts these years between ’67 and ’73 with a level of detail and specificity that is almost unbelievable.

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Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

“What kind of fool wanted it only one way?” the adulterous Fielding asks himself in the short story “The Children.” As he decides whether or not to reveal his affair to his wife, Fielding recalls the A.R. Ammons poem:

“One can’tBoth-Ways-Is-the-Only-Way-I-Want-It-Meloy-Maile-9781594484650

have it

both ways,

and both

ways is

the only

way I

want it.”

In this moment, he does momentarily have it both ways: the security of staying with the possibility of leaving. Continue reading

My People’s Waltz by Dale Ray Phillips

Richard just can’t get things right, and Phillips keeps telling us how.  Dale Ray Phillips opens My People’s Waltz with two lines from Theodore Roethke’s, “My Papa’s Waltz:”photo

“But I hung on like death:

Such waltzing was not easy.”

The waltzing boy in Roethke’s poem could easily be Phillips’ Richard.  In ten short stories, Richard narrates the story of his life from his (chosen) mute boyhood in a tumultuous home to the (reluctant) home birth of his first child to the (slow) decline of his parents.  Through every major life event, the characters waltz together: literally, when it seems the only option, and figuratively, as they hang on for their lives. Continue reading