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  • THE BEST POETRY BOOK BLURBS OF 2013
     
    Each year, the editors of The California Journal climb Blurb Mountain to bring you the freshest,
    tastiest blurbs Nature had to offer during the previous year. We hope you enjoy this sampling!
  • BEST USE OF A BUTCHERED PIG AS A METAPHOR FOR SEX
    “In Dexter Booth’s Scratching the Ghost, a cracked egg means the universe is splitting, the slap of a double-dutch rope is a broken-throated hymn, and splitting a squealing hog is akin to love-making. These are poems loyal to their own intrepid logic and reckless plausibility. Yet, lest the reader get too giddy in a fun house of mirrors, here, too, are the melodic laments and remarkable lyric passages of a poet who acknowledges the infinite current of melancholy that underlines his journey.”
    Major Jackson on Dexter L. Booth's Scratching the Ghost from Graywolf Press
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  • BEST REVIEW OF A NOVELIZATION OF A MOVIE ABOUT THE PRODUCTION OF A PLAY BASED ON ABU GHRAIB, THOUGH WITH WAY LESS STARLETS AND COCAINE AND SEMEN
    “[A] feverish and explicit set of images and ideas revolving around power, fetish, porn, media, violence, translation, punishment, performance, and aesthetics. Taking its title from a Jean Genet play of the same name, it’s kind of like a novelization of a movie about the production of a play based on Abu Ghraib, though with way more starlets and cocaine and semen.”
    Phil Cordelli on Haute Surveillance by Johannes Goransson from Tarpaulin Sky Press
  • MOST LIKELY TO SURVIVE A TORNADO
    "This is the book you want with you in the cellar when the tornado is upstairs taking your house and your farm. It's the book you want in the bomb shelter, and in the stalled car, in the kitchen waiting for the kids to come home, in the library when the library books are burned. Its instructions are clear and urgent. Rebecca Gayle Howell has pressed her face to the face of the actual animal world. She remembers everything we have forgotten. Read this! It's not too late. We can start over from right here and right now."
    Marie Howe on Render / An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell from Cleveland State University Poetry Center
  • BEST MACAW AVATAR
    “Pointing us to new and deeply lyrical frontiers of feeling, like the power of entering into the body of a virtual macaw, Strickland shows how the ‘world of no attachment’ floats always nearby, with its ‘probe-less pen-less visionless light.’ ‘There is a zombie at the wheel,’ she writes, ‘who finds acceptable all risk (his flesh looks like mine).’ This is a book devoted painfully and beautifully to what is inside us—to how small, delicate, and ghostly we are.”
    Joanna Klink on Dragon Logic by Stephanie Strickland from Ahsahta Press
  • MOST LIKELY TO FEEL GHOSTS IN HER BODY
    “Roxane Beth Johnson reminds us the poet’s inscrutable work is to listen. Her abiding presence creates a lamplit space to commune with the ghosts of her enslaved ancestors and to breathe them onto the contemporary page. The result is startling: narratives tender and haunting, of an unforgettable intimacy. These voices were in the room with me; I felt them in my body.”
    Jennifer K. Sweeney on Roxane Beth Johnson’s Black Crow Dress from Alice James Books
  • LEAST LIKELY TO GET LOST IN A FOREST OF HEARTS
    "William Waltz will take me through 'the buzz and clamor in a forest of hearts.' Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America is an adventure, I will go on this adventure with Waltz as a skillful, faithful, compass-true guide. I love this book."
    James Tate on Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America by William Waltz from Cleveland State University Poetry Center
  • MOST LIKELY TO LICK A 9-VOLT BATTERY
    "O Holy Insurgency, o hymn to sacred transgressions, to Eros’ transubstantiations, to the beloved as doppelganger, as double-dog dare, as flaming conflagration of holy spirit that both purifies and destroys, and will not be quenched or exorcised.  These poems, with their crisp pivots and dove-tail joints, rise from the dingy quotidian of the American rust belt like the electric glitter of a welder’s torch.  They spark and tingle like a 9-volt battery placed upon the tongue."
    Lee Ann Roripaugh on Mary Biddinger’s O Holy Insurgency! from Black Lawrence Press
  • MOST RECEPTIVE TO HYPNOTIC ONSLAUGHT
    “Paquin’s insatiability, for language on all of its registers, and his commitment to encyclopedic specificity, also stand out. The onslaught becomes hypnotic, and I tend to like that. I’ll conduct a little experiment, turn to ten random pages: ‘parlance’ (49), ‘traicere’ (7), ‘jib’ (20), ‘catalpas’ (39), ‘douaire’ (44), ‘unwowed’ (58), ‘frocks’ (29), ‘blippers’ (60), ‘spinets’ (88), ‘widowatch agonizery’ (108). See? Now imagine 113 pages of this word wizardry.”
    Andrea K. Francis on Cloud Vs. Cloud by Ethan Paquin from Ahsahta Press
  • MOST LIKELY TO BE DARK INSIDE AND HAVE HIS SHELL SCRATCHED
    “For twenty years Robinson has been making language do new things, and for a wonder she’s never afraid of that shadow of words we call affect. In this new collection her precise ear and sense of line sustain a poignant austerity of gesture. She knows that the real dark is the one we keep inside, and her lines scratch at the shell. Her exuberant imagery is chastened here, focused—image names meaning. She probes macabre spaces, golems and hells and devils, but not the ones our culture knows—these are the proper monsters of her self-encounters. The book is exciting in its silverpoint tracing of the complexity of our ‘dubious desires.’”
    Robert Kelly on Elizabeth Robinson's Counterpart from Ahsahta Press
  • MOST CEREBRAL COTTON CANDY
    “...Nutter’s poems are fun. They’re fun like Dean Young made all of us think poems could be fun. Should I compare The Rose of January with Dean Young? Dean Young wrote poems that said, ‘My brain is like cotton candy!’ Geoffrey Nutter wrote The Rose of January and said, ‘William Butler Yeats is like cotton candy!’”
    Kent Shaw on The Rose of January by Geoffrey Nutter from Wave Books
  • MOST GRACEFUL BALANCING ON THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS
    “I’ve seldom read a book so attuned to the abysmal profundity of the inchoate world, so sure we live in what we cannot fully describe, so sensible of the definitions as they diminish, but who also knows, that infinite darkness is lit by the smallest presences, and that abyss’s fearful scale is balanced by nothing more than a sparrow landing on a branch. These poems, and this poet, leave me thankful for visions of such difficult grace.”
    Dan Beachy-Quick on Beyond the Chainlink by Rusty Morrison from Ahsahta Press
  • BADDEST MAMAJAMA
    “When I step inside Jan Beatty’s poetry, I know I’m entering a place that is inhabited. I feel her presence in every space—whether it’s the ghostly train yard (‘the brokenness of a highway dream’) or a maximum-security prison. Beatty is a poet who speaks with courage and experience. Her poems are electrifyingly candid. Remember the scene in Mommie Dearest when Faye Dunaway stares down the stuffed shirts of the corporate boardroom? ‘This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.’ Jan Beatty could have snapped that entire table in half with the raw energy of her words. In the words of R&B vocalist Carl Carlton, ‘she’s a bad mamajama.’”
    DA Powell on Jan Beatty’s The Switching/Yard from Univ. of Pittsburgh Press
  • MOST BESIEGED, GRAINIEST GLAMOUR
    “Reading Laura McCullough’s new book I feel the way I once felt after seeing Scorcese’s Mean Streets for the first time—like someone had taken the bits and pieces of my life and made them whole for a moment, a besieged glamour cast like a spell over barroom and bedroom and kitchen alike. And I do mean glamour. Grainy, sweaty, sly, pissed-off, sweet-smelling, headstrong, sad-eyed, immensely loyal glamour.”
    David Rivard on Rigger Death & Hoist Another by Laura McCullough from Black Lawrence Press
  • LEAST LIKELY TO BE LET DOWN BY A POLYPHONIC THREE-BONE TIME
    “Twelve years ago when I first plucked Webb’s Liver from the crush it pinned me to the carpet of the bookstore aisle. Books later, here I am on his planet of What Things Are Made Of, spelunking the Dickeyville Grotto, ‘Bimbo Limbo,’ and Andy’s Texaco. Webb’s Things—crafted  from a recombinant cynical romanticism that dreams with one eye open—groan and growl out of the ‘cracked crankcase’ of his wildness. Dare, dear reader, to harness yourself to this bungee jump that—anguished, masterful, and still deeply funny on the hundredth reading—will dangle you over the precipice, where you will get an eyeful, an earful, and have a polyphonic three-bone time. Webb’s gift won’t let you down.”
    Roger Weingarten on Charles Harper Webb’s What Things Are Made Of from Univ. of Pittsburgh Press
  • MOST LIKELY TO OBLITERATE EVERYTHING ELSE YOU’VE "BEEN POOPING THROUGH THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS"
    "Pulled over here at the El Matador Lounge in Socorro, New Mexico; having just driven past the White Sands missile range, and the site of the Trinity atomic bomb test. Feeling giddy about sniffing the fallout, staring down the outrageously vast tracts of ash-green shrubs and wash-outs. We stopped for some chili and fries, and to drain the miles out of us; left Tucson this morning at 6:30, to beat the heat —we're heading for Santa Fe tonight. Your poems are the current company, and feeling pretty drowsy, they SNAPPED me to attention, and somehow —miraculously— brought the last 300 miles into radiant focus, despite nodding at the window, as if your plant indwelling enforces (or inspires) a policy of acute vision, and memory. There is nothing short of an autobiographical atlas here, and again, these poems —well, fuck 'poems' … these are monuments, in sweating, unwieldy, grizzled, crystalline miniature —are easily obliterating whatever else I've been pooping through the last couple of weeks. Perfect with fries, also.”
    Brandon Shimoda on Manual of Woody Plants by Phil Cordelli from UDP
  • BEST ARGUMENT TO STOP THINKING TOO HARD
    “Lyrical, idiosyncratic, electrically gifted, no one writes quite like Daisy Fried, perhaps not even Daisy Fried. The poems come at you with flailing elbows, blurted youthspeak mashed-up with Italianate parlor musings, a unique conjury of angles, rhythms, and rhetorical postures, aswerve, aslant, aflutter, akimbo. This third book extends her range to the long sequence, the epistolary pseudo-poem, and heaven knows what else: don’t think too hard, buy it.”
    Campbell McGrath on Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice by Daisy Fried from Univ. of Pittsburgh Press
  • BEST ALTERNATIVE TO A SUGAR-DRIVEN, DRUG-INDUCED READING OF WALT WHITMAN
    "Reading Shippy’s A Spell of Songs is better than channeling Walt Whitman while ingesting psilocybin and purple gumdrops. For one thing, you can’t go wrong."
    John Yau on A Spell of Songs by Peter J Shippy from Saturnalia Books
  • BEST BREAKFAST INNOVATION
    “OK, New Yorkers, OK, world! Finally, and at last! Ellen Lytle has unleashed the full dynamo of her decades in the poetry salt mines. I could never have thought of death is the soggy toast, nor could you. But she did. Now you can read her, and eat death, if you dare!”
    Bob Holman on Homefront by Ellen “Windy” Lytle from NYQ Books
  • MOST LIKELY TO USE POETRY TO STORM A CASTLE
    "You can sing along to Michael Ruby's delirious new poems, your voice echoing down (to mis-quote Fred Neil) 'the canyons of your mind,' until you can't sing any more and the poem goes off on its own. This book is like a blueprint for storming the castle—all the little guys in the tower shooting arrows as we cross the moat. Ruby's re-orchestrated and unfiltered versions of some of the greatest hits translates into a new way of reading—sure to drive you crazy in the best way."
    Lewis Warsh on American Songbook by Michael Ruby from UDP
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