PositiveThe New YorkerTo give a full account of Stan Lee, as Abraham Riesman sets out to do in a new biography, True Believer, is to contend not just with his presence in popular culture (the smiling oldster in sunglasses, with a cameo in each Marvel film) but with the fluid nature of artistic collaboration, and so with endless debates over which parts of the comics are his ... True Believer isn’t the first serious biography of Lee, though it is the first completed since his death, in 2018. It cannot settle every question about what, exactly, Lee did. What it does best is unfurl a Künstlerroman, a story about the growth of an art form and an artist who was also a director and a leading man, unable to admit that the show could go on without him.
Justin Phillip Reed
RavePoets.org... achieves a saturated, sensuous beauty along with its high tensions and apprehensions ... Alive to all the risks of staying alive—those that accrue to us all, and those on bodies like his—Reed seeks better solutions than \'hotter showers, / tighter sonnets on which to practice / arguments\' ... If these new poems receive the attention they merit, critics may group Reed with D. A. Powell, Jericho Brown, and Derrick Austin, all poets who combine lyric description with demotic force.
PositiveThe Atlantic... capacious, generous ... Holladay devotes perhaps too many pages to Rich’s star turn at the 1974 National Book Awards, where she, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker together accepted her prize on behalf of \'all the women.\' But the fame was real: For decades, her readings filled auditoriums ... Rich’s first lesbian partners included the activist poet June Jordan and Susan Sontag. A light sense of unaddressed controversies, of material withheld, lingers over Holladay’s treatment of those years. Yet she resolves the greatest mystery in Rich’s career, the identity of the lover in Twenty-One Love Poems ... Holladay asserts, a bit defensively, that the poet was no dogmatic separatist.
RaveThe Georgia Review...ambitious ... as Som draws the cloverleaves and paths and garden-diagrams and high-tech interiors that constitute their imagined city—it’s the refuge and utopia and future that stressed-out trans people today may want, the sort of science-fictional place that lets us imagine how to improve the real one. Imagined places, after all, exist in our heads, doubly so when we write and draw and share them ... Som’s architectural background finds magnificent use in the cityscapes, bicycle paths, and engineered chambers ... This kind of imaginative exploration, where we can dial up and then dial down the sense of wonder, the distance from real life, seems peculiarly suited, as well, to lives that were fantasies before they were lived ... these books are strongest when most enchanting, most able to swoop and leap and draw new maps and get far off the ground ... I want Som to draw—because I want to see—what they see.
RaveThe BafflerIt offers what we’ve come to expect from Anne Carson: non sequiturs, crisp single lines, sharp generalizations...classical references in modern dress ... This version of Euripides, and of Marilyn, ends up neither feminist nor anti-feminist, neither anti-war nor martial: it’s a big shrug, a sense that all is illusion, and we have no choice but to play along. And yet Carson’s Norma Jeane, like Euripides’s Helen, is also a serious play about war and about postwar mourning ... If the play, or the poem, seems to flail, to fall between the stools of savage farce and heroic rescue, deconstruction and redemption, stage drama and see-through illusion, there are reasons to think the original does too. And if the play doesn’t know what to do with itself by the end, Marilyn didn’t know either. Nor did Persephone ... Carson excels when she animates the mixed feelings around a conventionally heterosexual, monogamous, strongly felt erotic bond.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksDispatch (whose title means haste, and finality, and news) is a tough book, a book that rarely says life will get better, for Awkward-Rich or for people like him. It is, perhaps, a book of Afro-pessimism ... This strong book’s weakest moments seem to imitate, rather than build on, earlier black writers ... The strongest moments, though, involve solidarity—with other black writers and readers, other radical millennials, other trans people ... Awkward-Rich doesn’t just speak to other mutants; he speaks for them as well ... The tersely wrought leadoff poem makes almost comically literal the dangers that come with not being seen ... Awkward-Rich finds a way to sound stark but never bare ... Longer lines, more detail, would say less than these curt figures do. The poems stop short, cut themselves off, speak slowly and deliberately, because they know they, like him, will be misunderstood[.]
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe fast-rising Ohio music journalist’s second book of poems imports characters from, and jokes about, pop, rap, rock and soul...to animate his corrosively serious, hard-to-forget, lines about love, sex, hypocrisy, self-discovery, power, grief and violence ... Very short and very long lines resound equally well in Abdurraqib’s expert hands: In the course of this volume — the kind to which readers return and return — he downshifts from scary memories into widely useful syncopated advice.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSentences, scenes, visions fall apart in shreds, and readers follow, immersing ourselves in the maelstrom of Pico’s mind, almost as we might immerse ourselves in earlier book-length masterpieces of broad-gauge anti-narrative poetry by Walt Whitman, or Allen Ginsberg, or Bernadette Mayer ... What sets him apart? For one thing—as with all genuine poets—his style: Pico is always breaking off, beginning again, weaving rhymes into prose with few other patterns. This agitated irregularity lets Pico portray hungers both spiritual and physical, along with his attempts to remedy them by cruising, by writing, by cooking ... almost never feels depressive or despairing or stuck in place: Instead it’s exhilarating, permissive, intimate. Even more than his earlier books—because it’s more varied, jumpier, less consistent—Feed lets sympathetic readers pretend to live, for almost 80 pages, inside Pico’s charismatic, uneasy mind ... We are, at least, together for a moment with this poet in his eclectic and restless confidence, and maybe that togetherness will feed our hearts, though it will not heal our earth.
PositiveHarper\'sAt his best, [Skeets] relies less on the shape of the page than on the sounds of words, the evocations, noun by noun, of these difficult spaces, where some of us feel at home even in distress, where many of us will never be ... These poets do not just write about a place: they tune their language to it, making its sounds and its tones reflect the feeling of living there ... Skeets, writing far from the centers of book publishing, about people with few advantages, sometimes seems to revel in the way his poems will not explain themselves to every outsider ... he has not only reflected a place but have invented sounds that fits [his] life there.
Andrea Long Chu
MixedThe AtlanticHow did Chu come to such views? What is it like for her to live with them? You won’t find clear answers in her first book...a short, exasperating volume that is nothing like a memoir and not much like a manifesto. It’s more like a provocation, thick with what Chu herself labels \'indefensible claims.\'
Cyrus Grace Dunham
PositiveThe Atlantic... can come off as recovery literature...But we have other memoirs that work that terrain. This one’s much better read as an account of generational and intellectual good fortune. Dunham can build on terms they have inherited from earlier trans people, and can also talk and write about the vicissitudes of erotic desire, about how desire affects what gender means.
PositiveHarpersThe speedy prose poems and long, wiry lines of The Twenty-Ninth Year link Alyan’s Palestinian heritage, her peripatetic family history, her travels across the United States, and her own emotional ups and downs: in and out of a marriage, out of alcoholism, into recovery ... her poems do not put down roots...they stay in motion, zipping between the many regions that have shaped her life. That’s not just a matter of proper nouns (though it is that too) but a matter of jump cuts and curtailed sentences, of poems whose grammar, also, will not stay put ... In prose poems, in long-lined couplets, the lines spark and zap and speed up as they go on: these forms have no built-in stopping points, nor do they require lengthy sentences—they can just stop and go, stop and go, overshoot, spiral, return ... Alyan and her mercurial phrases seem to belong nowhere, at least for now: they show how it feels to keep on going, to identify with people, or peoples, who cannot stay in one place. That migratory restlessness, now, as in centuries past, is a source of style: it, too, can take us lands away. And it puts the lie to factitious complaints about how some poetry is universal, while other poets depend on identity: everybody has multiple identities...just as everyone has a place of origin, and everyone who isn’t homeless has a home.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHelal’s first and often stellar book belongs to many categories, and to none ... The volume shows her powers — and her amply justified anger ... Helal’s essay on her departure and her return takes up most of her book ... That essay’s sad, or shocking, moments build to a muted, perhaps optimistic conclusion ... Other, shorter segments of the volume show just as much fire, and more variety. The more-than-clever opening piece introduces a form that Helal dubs \'the Arabic,\' whose lines must be read (like Arabic) right to left as well as left to right ... Helal’s title puns on the ecological concept of invasive species (like Asian carp in United States lakes) and on the notion that immigrants cannot belong here. The poet may be safe in Brooklyn now, but how many others — how many other Arabic speakers, how many Arab-Americans, how many African-Americans — are not? ... Such questions generate Helal’s best work ... It is a push that could, and should, open doors.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"Smith does not often (or not for an entire poem’s length) adopt pre-modern meters or forms, but his careful sonic patterns suggest an immersion in them ... Weldon Kees, Donald Justice and, behind them, Robert Frost constitute the tradition in which Smith works, and in his hands it is political, even topical, not so much in the few poems that address headlines (\'Drone\') as everywhere else, in allegories, character sketches, vignettes...\
RaveThe New Yorker\"... magnificent ... As with [Walden\'s previous project,]Spinning, [On a Sunbeam] can be hard to equal in prose the comic’s inviting, spare line work, use of black-and-white, and expressive qualities. (Walden can make one pen stroke on one character’s face equal two pages of dialogue.) ... On a Sunbeam is less like any other American comic, page by page, than it is like a film by Hayao Miyazaki. For Walden, faces and bodies are not types or dummies for action scenes but ways to convey emotion and expression, even as the backdrops—speleological, astronomical, aquatic, or forested—flourish and shine. Walden’s dialogue—never talky, but never too sparse to follow—complements her characters’ body language; it also brings out the feeling of ninth and tenth grade, when every impediment seems like an apocalypse, and every kind word like an angel’s violin ... Like all science-fictional utopias, On a Sunbeam feels imperfect, even (to quote Ursula K. Le Guin) \'ambiguous.\' But it also feels magnificent: it’s a world in which many readers would want to live, and a way to envision solutions to real-life problems that seem intractable now.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"From [her] experience [Asghar] has made a book that deserves broad attention. If They Come for Us encompasses clear, compact free verse, ghazals... a crown of sonnets and poems that imitate Mad Libs, glossaries, floor plans and crosswords, all set against the kinds of frustration and injustice, existential and political, that Asghar has seen or known ... Some pages seem designed to inspire teenagers (by no means a weakness); others, like Asghar’s wonderfully mordant \'Microaggression Bingo,\' suggest the inventions of Terrance Hayes.\
Hieu Minh Nguyen
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"That sense of oneself as a monster, as a problem nobody can solve, governs these pages, and gives them their bitter, terse power ... The poems in Not Here feel inevitable as well as painful, full of sentences that Nguyen had no choice but to write. That said, he has made the right choices about how to write them. They feel at once raw and ruthlessly condensed ... Nguyen’s stripped-down style also makes available pithy, saddened advice, almost along the lines of Philip Larkin, whose poems about hating parties, and attending parties anyway, stand behind Nguyen’s decision to show his face at one more wintry gathering ... In an ideal world no one would grow up with the life that Hieu Minh Nguyen has had, and many thousands would have his talents, his compression, his way with figures, his talent for turning harsh memories into elegant verse. In this world, many people have similar troubles, and try to describe them, in prose poems and in verse. But very few could do what Nguyen has done.\