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Tiana Coven’s Review of RECLAIM: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry

Reclaim is an anthology of poetry that aims to “address the need for reclamation of women’s autonomy over their bodies, as a response to their endured oppression as members of a society tainted with capitalist-patriarchal standards.” This anthology includes so many talented women in the poetry community and the content covers so many different experiences. Each individual poem comes together beautifully to create an anthology that feels so authentically intersectional.

It’s one thing to identify as an intersectional feminist and it’s another thing to actually put action into the identity and create a space where we can have open conversations about how the systems in power negatively affect women. This is what Elizabeth has done when she curated this anthology that is so open and honest about womanhood. Each poem is a knock out, but for the purpose of this review I’m going to share some of my favorites and what they meant to me.

            The first poem in the collection, “Decolonising the Body” by Umang Kalra, sets the precedent for the anthology. This poem to me puts into words the violence of colonization both in large and smaller forms. In her lines-

 

“they sunk their knives into our beings asking

why we wouldn’t grow forests on our tongues,

they want to pluck from the folds of our skin the fruit

that only grows in these parts

of us”

 

she gives such a profound image of colonizers literally plucking what grows naturally on the marginalized body, or in other words what comes natural to their culture. It’s difficult to put into words the anger that stems from marginalized cultures being stolen from and poorly reproduced by the “majority,” but Umang does this so eloquently.

Moving on to the second poem featured, “Training Bras” by Wanda Deglane sends me back to my middle school days as she paints the scene of how young girl’s bodies are put on display as they grow. Her lines-

 

“there are girls among us whose

bodies are already rose gardens

– bras already filled by fifth

grade and curves flowing in and out like drunken roads.

we watch them with jealousy and pity interweaving in our

chests-”

 

are particularly memorable to me. I think back to my eighth-grade year and the constant torment that puberty was putting us all through. There was a particular girl who roamed the halls with confidence that I now know must have been built through the trauma of having such a developed body at a young age. The kids in my grade all gossiped openly about her and speculated about what she must be getting up to with the boys, all because of her breast size. We were only thirteen. Wanda brings these emotions back to me as I remember how I felt looking at her as she walked the halls with her head held high- jealous that all eyes were on her, but also sad that she would never be able to escape the body that caused so many snickers and whistles.

Not only do the words hit hard in this anthology, but there is a visual aspect to three of the poems in particular that left an impact on me. The first being “Fat Girls On Trains” by Djamilla Mercurio. In her poem, Djamilla gives me, a skinny woman, a glimpse as to what it feels like to be stigmatized because of her weight through the visual aspect of her poem. She writes about feeling like she’s taking up too much space and as the poem closes, she gradually spaces out the words as if to physically take up the space that others have made her feel like her body is doing too much of. This aspect fits so perfectly with the theme of the poem and is a perfect example of how spacing can be used to convey an emotion to the reader.

“In the Flicker: A Fable” by Alison Rumfitt is the second poem that impressed me through the pacing style, and my personal favorite poem in the entire anthology. Alison’s piece reads like a story in verse and tells such a captivating tale of a trans woman in a world that feels somehow worldly and fantastical at the same time. I literally couldn’t look away from the page, afraid I would miss an important part of the story. The unique story-telling method allowed me just a glimpse into the fear that trans women face every day-

 

“MEN: What a beautiful night

SHE scrambles up. The people in the kebab shop look at her

limping with a half hearted curiosity,

if you’re out this late, then you’re ready

to die , really, the MEN move behind her, the streetlamp

is up ahead—

SHE: Moths! Please help me! Please!

But they do not answer.”

 

As a cis woman, this poem is like seeing the fear of being murdered or mistreated because of transphobia/transmisogyny through a squint. The image is blurry since I can never truly know this feeling, but Alison’s narrative chills me to the bone as the poem allows me to catch a peek into the horror of the line: “if you’re out this late, then you’re ready/to die.”

The third poem that impressed me with its pacing style was “For Reyna Marroquín” by Eloise Birtwhistle. This poem tells a story in three simple parts, each section following a year. In the simplicity of its layout, I learn of the story of Reyna from her journey to America to her body being discovered years after her murder. Its simplicity devastates me- as the short poem separates Reyna’s life, and death, into the three parts that we would most likely read in a newspaper about her murder. But by using the separation of each section through dates, Eloise allows for the reader to fill in the blanks on the heartbreaking story of a Salvadorian woman who left the comfort of her home and family for presumably a better future through economic means. But when she arrived in a land that was marketed as a way to kickstart her future, she was met by the indifference of a country that never thought to look for a Salvadorian woman who went missing. The simple poem pays tribute to a story that represents how women of color can be so easily discarded and forgotten, especially when they have been labeled as immigrants. The poem leaves off in 1999, when Reyna’s body was found. But what’s changed?

I want to give an honorable shout out to Marisa Crane’s “We Get to Talking About Dating Apps & I Remember How.” She writes in depth about experiences that are so common for lesbians as they navigate womanhood. As a lesbian, I often notice that our experiences are most often not mentioned in anthologies that focus on women’s oppression- an implication that we are not fully woman at all. Marisa’s unyielding recollection on her experience as a gay woman was one I was so grateful to read. Plus, her lines-

 

“The only difference between

the men & our flag is the expectation

of kneeling before one & not

the other.”

put a smirk on my face.

 

The last poem I want to talk a bit about is “Untitled” by Jean-Marie Bub. This poem is a statement as to what so many of those whose reproductive rights are being stripped away in the United States right now are feeling. Jean-Marie writes, “she who harbors humanity/ should control her own fate.” Such a simple statement, but the point of the poem strikes deep- those who wield the power to reproduce should always be in charge of the choice to use that power or not. Period. This poem feels like a call-out to anyone who can’t wrap their head around why anyone would choose to have an abortion. In her poem, Jean-Marie basically says that if you can’t understand the why- then mind your own business. I love this sentiment.

Like I said in the beginning of this review, every single poem in this collection is so refreshingly honest and deserves all the praise. Overall, this anthology is a must read- hearing women’s experiences through their own words is so important to every one of us, especially in our current sociopolitical climate. Well done.

Musings on Patti Smith’s M Train

Review by Chad W. Lutz

M Train

In War and Peace, a book I’ve never read, Leo Tolstoy is quoted as saying, “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

In a dream to open M Train, a cowboy tells Patti Smith, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” But both were lengthy volumes and both have sold millions of copies; are quoted and reread and studied and held tenderly; in bed, at the library, at the local café, or while riding the bus. The words in their pages have been lauded. Both about nothing. Both wiping the eternal slate clean.

Reading M Train was my first introduction to Patti Smith. Opening the book to find the first line a quote from a cowboy in a dream made me curious. I instantly assumed the rest of the book would turn out to be as much of a surreal dreamscape. I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t affirmed either. And that’s the beauty of Patti Smith’s writing.

M Train is a piece of non-fiction that reads like a detective story. In the book, Patti Smith is the sleuth that’s hot on the trail of the world’s greatest mysteries and most timeless treasures. She goes to Japan to seek out a well she ends up forgetting about. She visits Greenland in search of chess legend Bobby Fischer, but doesn’t get to talk about chess. They sing Buddy Holly songs and then part ways forever. She searches for Roberto Balaño’s chair, to not sit in it, but to also sit in it, knowing it won’t give her any magical writing powers, but also that it might. The book talks about the love between her and her partner, Fred, that doesn’t last (cancer), a friend (Zak), whose business fails, a confederation of scientists that folds unexpectedly, and a ramshackle bungalow bought on a whim she endearingly dubs The Alamo after it survives the fury of the strongest storm to ever hit the Jersey Shore and nothing else does.

These images are pieced together in a kind of chronology; not one happening directly after the other, but close to it. The action picks up in 2007 and takes us through the beginning of 2013. We spend time with Patti on vacations, holidays, business trips, and emergency evacuations. We find her eating, and drinking a hell of a lot of black coffee. We find cafes that were meant to stay open forever closed, and we find passions and pursuits one never saw coming blossom right before our very eyes. This is the kind of divulging done in private to no one, for no reason, and yet we see them on the page, one after the other. There’s a kind of floating mysticism you can almost see steaming off each and every word; evaporated water. Air. Nothing.

But the way each chapter is told is rich and detailed. Lots of somethings. Very particular somethings. Whole grab bags of them. You know where, when, why, how, and to what extent Patti does everything in the book, but there’s always some pullback, some admission of insignificance to each journey.

On pg. 86, she writes, “Not all dreams need to be realized,” in reference to an idea she and her partner come up with at a café for a TV talk show. “We accomplished things that no one would ever know,” she says, two lines later. Ideas that never take real shape. Life unrealized, or maybe more realized than we could ever act them out. Either way, nothing into something, and vice versa.

Patti Smith also does this odd thing where she omits commas from lists. The first instance of this occurs on pg. 47, and the trend continues throughout the book. In some places, she uses commas to differentiate items in lists. In others, she doesn’t. I tracked her use of commas in lists and found the frequency completely arbitrary. In other words, a whole lot of nothing doing. Perhaps saying something about the idea of formality in text, showing the stuffy big wigs in academia a thing or two about phenomenology and the ability of the human brain to organize and still understand skewed data. Like writing h8. In no way adhering to the Owl at Purdue or the Chicago Style Guidelines, but you know what that word means and you know why I wrote it. And does it matter either way?

“I looked up at her, somewhat surprised. I had absolutely no idea.”

‘What are you writing?’ was the original question.

Reading this book, I don’t feel as though I learned a lot about any one subject, but a little about a lot of subjects. Specifics, like the experience of living. You take in what you come in contact with and glean only what you’re exposed to, what you’re perceptive of, what you care to remember. It makes me think about putting the pencil to paper or my fingers to the keys and trying to shape or form anything. There might be something you’re trying to get at, but like many, many things in life, there’s no guarantee that when you get there you’ll know, or that such a place, thing, or idea even exists.

It’s like the well in Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” Patti Smith brings up repeatedly. It’s a well that lies beneath a house that exists inside of a fictitious world created by the author. She feels compelled to seek the house out, anyways, but never gets around to it. Like laundry, only if your laundry was never laundry but a fleeting dream.

Maybe fiction is like that? Maybe non-fiction is like that; all words? Maybe they’re just hinting at something, and piecing things together still gives us this unclear, bastard version of whatever we’re trying to express, no matter how glistening the images or playful the prose. Maybe writing is more of a pick it up, put it down ritual, a habit we sometimes think we have more or less of depending on where we’re sitting, who we’re with, or the way the light trickles in through the living room window in the fall when the clouds finally part.

***

Chad W. Lutz was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1986, and raised in the neighboring suburb of Stow. Alumna of Kent State University’s English program, Chad earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Mills College and currently serves as an associate editor for Pretty Owl Poetry. Their writing has been featured in KYSO Flash, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Gold Man Review, and Haunted Waters Press, was awarded the 2017 prize in literary fiction by Bacopa Review, and was a nominee for the 2017 Pushcart in poetry.

Tiana’s Book Spotlight for the Thirteenth

by Tiana Coven

shout

Review: 5/5

“untreated pain/ is a cancer of the soul/ that can kill you”

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (TW- sexual assault)

This book is the memoir told in verse of the author of Speak– an amazing novel that has been so important in educating teens about sexual assault. In her memoir, Laurie speaks about her own experience as a survivor, how she coped/ refused to cope, her father’s physical and emotional abuse, what she has learned as an advocate for sexual assault prevention, and so much more about her incredible life. Laurie has been such an active voice in the fight against sexual violence and is obviously such an inspiration in many different fields. I first read Speak when I was in eighth grade and I have never forgotten the story of Melinda. That book has done so much for so many survivors worldwide and I definitely foresee this memoir achieving the same! Any poetry lover should pick this one up.


Hunger

Review 5/5

“No one wants to be infected by obesity, largely because people know how they see and treat and think about fat people and don’t want such a fate to befall them.”

Hunger by Roxane Gay (TW sexual assault, fatphobia)

This is the first memoir I’ve read as an adult and it was so insightful. I actually listened to the audiobook for this one and hearing Roxane’s words about her experience with sexual assault, weight gain, family and societal pressure to lose weight, and her thoughts on how society equates being thin with being healthy were so important for me to hear. It’s easy to fall in line with society and abide by the fatphobia that runs rampant within it. As someone who is not overweight, it’s easy for me to forget how systematic fatphobia is. In the memoir, Roxane dedicates a whole chapter on weight loss commercials and what they tell the viewer. The intelligent way she picked apart the subject truly resonated with me and I would recommend every person who isn’t overweight give this book a read.


The Commitment

Review: 5/5

“The Bible is only as good and decent as the person reading it.”

The Commitment by Dan Savage

I listened to this book on audio and I loved it so much. The Commitment is a non-fiction book about Dan’s life, though it’s not quite a memoir as it’s not necessarily about his entire life, or memorializing it. In the book, he speaks about his family- his husband and son mostly and their experiences as a family unit. He talks in depth about raising his son, gender roles, marriage, and true to much of his writing- sex. He really explores what it means to be married and how exploring his relationship with an open mind and a willingness to change has strengthened his relationship with his husband and enhanced their intimacy. I really loved this book and definitely subscribed to Dan Savage’s podcast, Savage Lovecast, right after finishing it because I wanted more of Dan’s thoughts! I will definitely listen to his other books as soon as I can!

Welcome Peter Ramos and Desmond White to the masthead!

Coffin Bell is beyond excited to announce that we have added two more editors to the masthead! Dr. Peter Ramos joins us as our new Poetry Editor, and Desmond White joins us as an Assistant Editor. We look forward to working with them both!


PeterHeadshot

Peter Ramos’s poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, Puerto del Sol, Painted Bride Quarterly, Verse, Fugue, Indiana Review, Poet Lore, Mississippi Review (online), and other journals.  Nominated five times for a Pushcart Prize, Peter is the author of one book of poetry, Please Do Not Feed the Ghost (BlazeVox Books, 2008), and three shorter collections: Television Snow (Back Pages Books 2015), Watching Late-Night Hitchcock & Other Poems (handwritten press 2004), and Short Waves (White Eagle Coffee Store Press 2003). Peter has also published criticism on Kate Chopin, William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda and Langston Hughes, James Wright and César Vallejo, modern and contemporary Latin American poetry, and William Carlos Williams.  He has been invited as a poetry fellow to the following artist colonies: the CoLab Residency at St. Mary’s College of Maryland; the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation.  He holds graduate degrees from George Mason University and the State University of New York at Buffalo. An associate professor of English at Buffalo State College, Peter teaches courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature.

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desmondheadshot1

Desmond White teaches rhetoric and writes when his students aren’t looking. His speculative fiction has appeared in HeartWood, Kasma, The Tishman Review, Literally Stories, Rue Scribe, Ghost Parachute, and Z Publishing’s America’s Emerging Writers. Be wary of his blog www.desmondwrite.com and steer away from mindless tweets @desmondwrite.

New Feedback Option coming 4/1

Starting on April 1, 2019, there will be a new paid feedback option for submitters. Each submitter in this category will receive feedback from three Coffin Bell editors for each piece submitted, whether or not it is chosen for publication.

We have had a lot of requests for feedback, and plan to use the revenue created by this new option to fund the printing and production of our second print anthology, Coffin Bell TWO. We look forward to sharing our feedback with you!