Poets routinely mine childhood for their books―especially debut poets. Kevin Spenst’s first book, Jabbering With Bing Bong (Anvil Press, 2015), contained some of that kind of material without being a full-scale operation. Yet Jabbering was the second book Spenst wrote that was lucky enough to find publication first. I know this because I read a chapbook-sized version of Ignite many years ago and rejected it for publication at Frog Hollow Press because I did not think it worked hard enough as a poetic (as opposed to biographical) text.
Mountains and museums. Rivers and suburban roadways. Water bottles, wheelbarrows, sunflowers and salmon. In Jeff Steudel’s Foreign Park, cityscapes become landscapes become environmental wastelands become personal metaphors, leaping from page to page and moment to moment with a calm, intense thoughtfulness like the morning after a hard night’s drunk. Careful and poised, yet possessed of a certain self-effacing charm and a genuine warmth, Foreign Park is surprisingly complete and mature for a first book.
If you visualize the prose poem as a canvas, given its rectangular shape on the page, then reading Melissa Bull’s debut collection, Rue, is like experiencing an installation in an underground gallery with all your senses brought to high alert. The lighting is demanding (think strobe), subjects raw and frisson-inducing, landscapes more urban than not, accompanied by the “perpetual groan of engines from the highways behind the traintracks.” Dispersed among the canvasses, you encounter collage-like poems in stanzas tight with edgy precision: “Last spring his limbs bent on a folding chair / heron in the Green Room / I shot him down.”