Sunday Review: The Sobbing School
a poetry collection from Joshua Bennett
[ Penguin Books / 2016 / 96 pp ]
The Sobbing School is a book of poetry and permission by Joshua Bennett, titled after Zora Neale Hurston’s quote, “I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are hurt about it…No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” This “oyster knife,” honed by the will of Hurston and Bennett, is knowledge.
The provocative nature of Bennett’s first manuscript lies in its unwavering commitment to unsettling education, and the way it has been estranged from emotional knowledge. Toting long titles, keywords, and abstracts, the most ceremonial illustrations of this live in the poems that emulate the form of an academic essay.
Bennett’s new iteration of the abstract, which serves as the textual body of the poem, pedestals intuit knowledge. In the abstract the metaphysics of a poem overtake the execution. How often are we allowed to say exactly what we want to?
The first abstract poem titled ‘Didn’t Old Pharaoh Get Lost in The Red Sea: theorizing amnesia in Afro-diasporic maritime literature,’ utilizes the keywords: absence, being-for-another, undertow, thalassophobia, and phantom limb. In the abstract the plot holes of western academia, the phantom limbs of our inherited fear and memory come to the page, subverting the idea of knowledge existing in a neutral state outside of the body.
Thus, this poem is interested in using the moment the speaker looks into the sea for the first time on a family trip to the Bahamas, thousands of miles away from the unknowable depth of his block, which is its own kind of benthos, as a springboard for thinking about what it means to never be able to retract what is lost (even a name or less heavy tongue) and what that sort of truancy can make of a seven-year-old who, even then, could not shake the feeling that his legs did not belong to him.
How refreshing to consider the poem itself wanting to share its speaker’s most interior and antiquated yearnings. The poem’s announced interest affirms these bones. This re-purposed form highlights structure, opportunity, intuition, the word yes, and the way so many of us search for these things within institutions that are unwilling to support us.
Not a soul will tell you how to feel in The Sobbing School, but there is a sense of being granted access to familiar and unfamiliar truths. Familiar in that I too “liked my blood very much & wanted to keep it inside of my body;” unfamiliar in that I have never known a father who “showed up to school that day dressed up as a man with a son with a rage problem.”
Here is a book obsessive in its scooping up and displaying of the improbabilities our survival has hinged upon, and at times, “a little legend to sweeten the frame.”
Visit Penguin Books to purchase the book.
Reviewer / Xandria Phillips
Five Things with Eloisa Amezcua
1. The last thing that made you smile.
A mink sighting! I’m currently at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, and have been looking out of my window every day in the hopes of seeing a mink dive into the freezing river to look for food. Today was my lucky day! And to top it off, when they come back out onto the riverbank, they roll around in the snow—it’s absolutely the cutest.
2. A secret.
I don’t drink coffee. I’m a horrible speller. I can only tie my shoes using the bunny-ear method.
3. The last thing you wrote.
He’s addicted to the stench
of sweat-stained wraps
to the ground.
(I’m working on a collection of boxing poems.)
4. Favourite city.
Marfa, Texas is a wonderland but the food in Florence, Italy makes it a tie.
5. What you’d place in a time capsule.
The Legitimate Dangers poetry anthology with an alternative cover that says “Bible.” Fritos Flavor Twists Honey BBQ chips. A recording of Raúl Zurita reading from Canto a su amor desaparecido. A picture of my family. A mixed CD that includes Solange, Elton John, Pusha T, Jeff Bluckey, and Selena.
Eloisa Amezcua is an Arizona native. Her poetry and translations are published or forthcoming from Poetry Magazine>, TYPO, Cherry Tree, and others. She is the author of the chapbooks On Not Screaming (Horse Less Press), Symptoms of Teething, winner of the 2016 Vella Chapbook Prize from Paper Nautilus Press, and Mexicamericana, forthcoming from Porkbelly Press. Eloisa is the founder and editor of The Shallow Ends.
poetry from Jenn Givhan
“I was young & slipping / into splatter”
I first fell in love with Jenn’s poetry when I read her beautiful chapbook Lifeline, and this new poem is a testament to her ability as a poet living in this uncertain and tumultuous time. The setting—Mexicali itself, a city of clashing modernity and agriculture, a city full of “tequila / & holy water”. You can taste the truth and thirst of each line, how every word grows a kind of hunger within. The speaker takes the forms of god Quetzalcóatl, a woman, a “border crosser, / rosary holder”. Here, border becomes more than its geographical definition: it is a sense of being and identity.
Visit The Offing to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen
poetry from Stephanie Cawley
A poem about a novel, which could only exist as a poem. Stephanie Cawley’s poem is the most perfect example of how form is integral to content; form itself makes the content possible, for Cawley’s speculation, this recursive and linguistically idiosyncratic list of possible novel topics could not possibly exist as a novel; we might barely be willing to sit through a short story of ideas for a novel, but by keeping the concept bound in orderly couplets Crawley gives us an efficient lightning flash of wonder to evoke the full crack of thunder. We don’t need to read the novels of cheese sandwiches, death, of hunger love, and absence, we imagine all of it as we read the poem. She writes the poem, and in our mind, we write the novels.
Visit The Boiler to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby
Autopsy of an Arab
poetry from Hazem Fahmy
like a prayer book
by the wind.
No one notices.
The words that we see on the page are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to language, this complicated thing with years and centuries and even more behind it. Language holds a history of action and inaction, of privilege and power and violence, something that is juxtaposed vividly with Fahmy’s poetry, and in the imagery and words that both physically and metaphorically bisect the page. The poem works to re-contextualize language, to change the way we perceive it, underestimate or overlook it. Again, I’m drawn back to this idea of language and identity as two inextricable things. It sits tied and tangled inside this poem, runs a current underneath it without explicitly declaring itself. Mother tongue as tether. Language as erasure.
overwhelmed the body,
a bloodstream fighting itself.
The imagery is strong, evoking the idea of sepsis, infection, of a foreign feeding in your blood. How much can a body take before it forgets itself? Where does the self and the external end, and how do we come to terms with these unsteady bridges we walk on?
Visit Glass: A Journal of Poetry to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong
The Perfect Poem
poetry from Kaveh Akbar
If you follow poetry, odds are you’ve seen this poem by Kaveh Akbar, perhaps you’ve even read it, but you should see it again, even read it again. Breathe it in. Let it remake your whole self for a moment. And if you’re not a poet, this doesn’t have to be a poem about poetry. Poetry, after all, could be said to be forever incomplete—a testament to the impossibility of replicating on the page the alchemic process of experience and emotion. The “perfect poem” is a vessel for whatever you need it to be: it’s something ephemeral and colossal. “It is not a state of mind or a kind of doubt / or a good or bad habit or a flower of any / color.”
Sit with this poem. Then read Tracy K. Smith’s essay on duende and note:
“[O]ur poems are not things we create in order that a reader might be pleased or impressed (or, if you will, delighted or instructed); we write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely.”
Visit Poets.org to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein
Misplaced Love Note to All the Women in the Drake Songs
poetry from Martina “Mick” Powell
To my displeasure, Drake is the kind of cultural icon that’s hard to knock off his pedestal. We can all love a bottle pop in the club where the bubbly spills over onto the floor, as long as we don’t step in it. But Martina’s calling us to stand in the mess, to consider all the things we’ve glossed over in being too into the party, namely the women surrounding Champagne Papi™. The ever-present she is “the gold headed girl without a ride home // he the human with the high top fade / and ‘new phone, who this’ smile.” She’s stranded in her desire to be seen, and regardless of whether that hunger is fed, his humanity will continue to be recognized while she’s just the girl. All of this gives us reason to pause and reel ourselves back from the edge of that dance track.
Her voice is also a line pulling us back, simultaneously sweet and horrifying: “stick your fist(s) inside of me / starfish your fingers between my jaw and roof / to shatter hard palate, to make me million.” This is the kind of midnight dare that makes you blush in consideration. The sense of powerplay becomes heady when you consider that the rest of the poem is a straight detail of how she looks in the eyes of men, how she titillates without speaking. The girl is a siren, beckoning us closer with her voice for a moment, only to let us swim back out into Drake and company’s projections of her. We’re asked to choose our company wisely, to consider which mouth we’re willing to feed. Even though she wants another’s teeth wrapped around her neck, hers is the mouth I won’t forget.
Visit Winter Tangerine’s Sing That Like Dovesong anthology to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse