Category Archives: graywolf press

Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.

 

 

 

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Rapture: Poems by Sjohnna McCray

41I2Iqf5gvL Title: Rapture: Poems
Author: Sjohnna McCray
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977375
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 72
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

There comes a time while reading poetry that you realize the poem/s is/are speaking with you. And that is the time you know that poet is for you. The same happened to me as I finished reading “Rapture” by Sjohnna McCray. This collection of poems is about desire, identity and memory. I say it with such ease but it is not an easy read at all – there is something so discomforting about these poems that they will make you think about your life in a whole new way – for those who face these issues and also for ones who don’t face them at all.

“Rapture” charts the growth of a person from childhood to adulthood and that too through poems – various poems that sometimes feel disjointed and then most of the time make perfect sense when put together. The histories of his parents (Korean mother and an American father who served during the Vietnam War) and that of his own are raw, pulsating throughout the book in the garb of poetry that will burn and break your heart. There is grief and celebration. There is also grace and redemption and might I add also a lot of guilt in its pages.

“Rapture” also asks a lot of difficult questions about identity – relationships between mothers and sons and in turn learns how to perceive oneself. McCray takes a third person view and his personal view (these poems are after all his story) and in doing so he maps the human body, relationships and how we skim through things and never say what we truly feel.

What forces love to become this difficult? Why does the body fail us when we so don’t want it to? How does a child realize love? He asks these questions through his poems and at times I was extremely uncomfortable reading this collection, till it grew on me and became second-skin.

All That Man Is by David Szalay

51PSst0HidL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: All That Man Is
Author: David Szalay
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977535
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“All that Man Is” is classified as a novel, however to me it was just a wonderful collection of short stories that represent man at a pivotal time in his life. Each story advances age to age and gives us a glimpse of man and his complexities – the way he functions, thinks, and conducts himself. The stories at the same time are also interwoven but by very small details – details that you might even not recognize as you go along and somehow comes full-circle at the end of the book. I would call the book dark but not depressing. It just manages to show you men’s lives and how they are. At the same time, it doesn’t make motherhood statements in any story nor does it endorse the concept of “all men”, which to me was very refreshing.

Szalay’s style of writing is brooding. I like the fact that he spends a lot of time on each story and more than that on each character – giving it the full body and flesh as it should be. Also, might I add that these men are away from home, so that adds another layer altogether to the narrative – which is delightful, fearsome and thrilling at the same time. Also, the locales in which these stories are set are quite edgy in the sense of being melancholic – whether it is a suburb in Prague or a dingy hotel in Cyprus to an Alpine village, the drama of life and death unfolds beautifully through the prose.

The book relies heavily on its characters, more than the locales, which is how it should be, however at some point I thought that the detailing was a bit much sometimes and could have been avoided a little. Having said that, the nine lives could not have been put in any other way than what Szalay has done. “All That Man Is” is a tribute to the contemporary urban life and how we are all a part of this gigantic mosaic that doesn’t fail to amaze us with its simplicity, complexity and zest for life, no matter what.

So Much for That Winter by Dorthe Nors

so-much-for-that-winter-by-dorthe-nors Title: So Much for That Winter
Author: Dorthe Nors
Translator: Misha Hoekstra
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977429
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love it when authors break boundaries of traditional storytelling and present ideas in a new way. Dorthe Nors, a Danish writer does just that. She breaks the norms of telling a tale and how. Her new book (second one) titled “So Much for That Winter” consists of two novellas, of two women sifting through the fallout of respective breakups.

In the first novella, “Minna Needs a Rehearsal Space” – Nors writes the novella in the form of sparse headlines. Minna gets dumped on a text and the novella is about her being consoled by everyone around her – Minna’s mission though is to escape them all, especially her sister. I loved the way it was written. It is raw, brutal and funny – all at the same time. Nors could have very well written her own story. She could be Minna you know.

The second novella “Days” is about another breakup in the form of lists – of how a writer fills her time post break-up. Through both these novellas, I got a very uncanny sense of how nothing might be relevant in our endless age of tweets, updates and Instagram posts. Even heartbreak for that matter. I finished both these novellas in one go and honestly, I have not felt this disoriented in a long time after reading a book. Nors’ writing speaks to you and you can sense it crawling up your back and somehow you enjoy it. You are perhaps also taken in with all the reality but also somehow make peace with it.

Also, let me not forget that this experience would not have been possible without Misha Hoekstra’s wondrous translation of these novellas. “So Much for That Winter” deals in being human above everything else. These two novellas complement each other superbly and one cannot be read without the other. Nors has created a strewn about, lush, hurtful, real and beautiful love-letter of our times.

365 Stories: Day 14: Maureen by Sara Majka

cities-ive-never-lived-in-by-sara-majka

Maureen is a heartbreaking story of a mother, a dead child and how some losses can never be overcome from. Grief that then exists, never leaves. I was shivering while reading it and still reeling from it. Majka knows how to string minimum words with maximum imapct. Maureen’s imagery and loss has been described so well, that you would want to reread it. I know I will.

Read the story here