Book Report: Haunted (Poets) House
Poets House book report: What contemporary poetry books are haunting us now.
Kristie Shoemaker’s Do Graves Get Wifi—from the appropriately spooky Ghost City Press—examines the problems of city living, existential uncertainty, and the strangeness of the body through tweet-aphorisms and images of the eerie, icky mundane. It’s a stew of sex and sadness loaded with mic drops like “we are sleeping together in two separate beds / we are sleeping together on two separate planets.”
—Amanda Glassman, Librarian and Archivist
Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl offers a loose “translation” of the Austrian poet Georg Trakl’s works; however, the author himself suggests that this text is a mere “ghost” of the former created through various generative, degenerative, and associative processes—a movement in response and relation to its predecessor. Hawkey’s “translation,” in constant conversation with Trakl’s poems, spans generations, nations, and languages, weaving together aspects of both authors’ writing lives.
C. D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining recounts, at face value, the story of an author’s road trip through various Southern landscapes, charting the transformation of both inherent and built environments through memory and association. As the book-length lyric unfolds, rather unlike a narrative, faceless characters recur—including “the host” and the “Bone Man,” among others—passing like ghosts through the pages. Eventually, the reader comes to understand that it’s not these faceless entities, but herself passing—immaterial—through the text.
—Valentine Conaty, Literary Partners and Volunteer Coordinator
Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen grapples with presence and absence and the thin membrane between. Before Nguyen’s brother passed away, he cut his image out of the family pictures. Nguyen replicates this with visual poetic elements, giving the white space a haunting physicality, which pushes aside the surrounding words that attempt to make sense of the tragedy and contextualize it with intergenerational trauma.
Schizophrene by Bhanu Kapil depicts the manifestation of trauma as a higher incidence of schizophrenia and mental illness in post-Partition diasporic communities. The book is deeply anxious about its own existence as it laments the difficulty of capturing a pervasive collective trauma within its pages. Kapil’s writing inhabits the body at a visceral level, staying with the reader long after the book is over. As Kapil writes, “But what if the ghost is empty because it’s making a space for you?”
—Kinsey Cantrell, Intern
Injun by Jordan Abel, a Nisga’a writer from Vancouver, enacts a haunting paradox by depicting the presence of erasure—inserting white space between letters of words, upending type, and collaging lines from public-domain western novels that have used the term “injun.” In this way, Abel takes a detour around the western epic frontier narrative, making the genocide of Indigenous peoples of the Americas visible.
—Paolo Javier, Program Director
Kamau Brathwaite’s Elegguas bears a title that fuses “elegy” and “Eleggua,” the Yoruba deity that rules thresholds and crossroads. In this volume, the acclaimed Barbadian poet takes inspiration from the Jamaican Kumina practice of inviting spirits to briefly inhabit the bodies of the living to provide spiritual guidance. Talking to and through the dead, these odes mourn and commune with a wide range of departed beloveds—including family members, musicians, murdered leftist heroes like Jamaican dub poet Mikey Smith and Guyanese intellectual Walter Rodney, victims of genocide worldwide, and the once-untrammeled natural world. Known for his typographical experiments—varying sizes and types of font (including his own Sycorax), alternative spellings, and innovative uses of punctuation—Brathwaite brings those and other strategies to bear in plumbing loss: poems appear in narrow obituary-style columns, periods are unmoored from sentences, a silhouette of broken scissors floats near the bottom of a page, and tenses shift such that our reading flickers between a ghostly now and then: “…i hear(d) the rush of the white sea horses / till the air pulled tight as drums / over the ragged man and the sudden silence tall as stilts.”
—Suzanne Wise, Content Editor and Staff Writer