My struggle with minimalist poetry…

Two weeks ago I participated in a readathon during which time I picked up a couple of books of poetry. I’ll admit I find it difficult to understand it completely as an art form, so please take the reviews that follow in the coming weeks with a grain of salt.Both minimalist.Minimalism as a form , I feel, is extremely difficult to pull off well. It requires precise language.

Unfortunately, The Princess Saves Herself in This One, a book of poetry by Amanda Lovelace, fell short.. A lot of people recommended it on the basis of its feminist themes, but I didn’t feel the author presented new ideas. Her method of delivery didn’t excite me either. I struggled to understand some of the choices she made– what did she edit and why? What was her creative process? What skill was involved? I understand the difficulty of expressing ideas concisely, but I’ve often found part of the artistry of poetry involves complexity of language (diction and syntax, rhythm and rhyme), presentation of new ideas or viewpoint.  Poetry should help me change my frame of reference or transport me in some way. The Princess Saves Herself in This One just…didn’t. I really wish it did.

The imagery was underwhelming at best. Of course, Lovelace intended many of the images to be recognizable– women have often been referred to as princesses or damsels– to allow for easier digestion of the ideas she conveyed, and to make the poems more culturally relevant. Some have noted Lovelace’s poetry is reminiscent of Tumblr posts. As an active Tumblr user, I’d agree. Portraying women as mermaids and magical creatures and poems like this:

“the love
some girls
have for
other girls
is
so gentle
& so soft
& so fucking
beautiful…”

are very reminiscent of Tumblr language. I believe the author herself was a prodigious Tumblr  user prior to publishing this book, so it shouldn’t be surprising the community influenced her.

Too often the poems felt like a generic statement– they lacked voice.They lacked depth.

“repeat after me:
you owe
no one
your
forgiveness.

– except maybe yourself.”

Okay? That might be true, but it’s also just platitude. These are littered throughout the book. I hope someone finds them empowering;it’s clear the author did but, again, I  really struggled. No doubt the author displayed vulnerability in this  book . I appreciate her bravery.  Issues like abuse, sexism and feminism should be discussed in art; but, sadly, I do not think this is enough to make art good.

There were a few moments where the poems were memorable. I particularly enjoyed the comparison of puberty with mermaids changing between legs to a tail. It fit with the overall theme of women being magical (one poem says women have “stardust” in their veins) and, though it was placed in the well-tread ground transformation during puberty, I liked it.

Opinions on this collection in terms of its artistry, execution, themes, have been extremely divided, so I’d encourage you to read a positive review before you write it off.
Personally, this book didn’t impress. If you are planning on picking up a minimalist poetry book and the themes of The Princess Saves Herself in This One intrigue you,  I’d recommend Milk and Honey.

Juliet Takes a Breath

Juliet likes to fantasize while she’s on the metro, about a book. A book by white feminist icon Harlow Brisbane. Even as she’s learning how to tap into Brisbane’s ideas of feminine power, she’s struggling with admitting to her parents she identifies as a lesbian and, not just that, but she’s in love with another girl. After she lands an internship with Brisbane in Portland, she decides to come out to her family.

Now states away, Juliet must maneuver between new responsibilities, a long-distance relationship and a newly complicated relationship with her Puerto Rican family back in the Bronx. In many ways, Juliet Takes a Breath functions as an introduction to the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. As Juliet confronts the harsh  unreliability of heroes, and impermanence of love; as she reconciles her understanding of how the world sees her with the reality, she must learn to cherish her own space, develop her voice and choose which relationships are worthwhile. Juliet’s journey to self-acceptance and understanding of the complexities of the world is not meant for the character alone. I suspect many young women will find Rivera’s book inspiring and self-affirming.

Roxane Gay said, in her review, she could have done without as much social science 101, and I agree. Adding to this, Rivera  relegated secondary characters to plot devices, another stepping stone in Juliet’s growth. These problems, combined with the dreaded telling instead of showing misstep, weighed the plot down. I recognize, however, that I am not the intended audience. Juliet Takes a Breath introduces various ideas and theories for young adults which they likely have not been exposed to– at least not in the way this book does. In that respect, the author’s choice makes sense and I think younger generations may see themselves in this book.

Everything Everything

I’ll admit it. I picked up Everything , Everything after watching the trailer with Amandla Stenberg. I am not ashamed.I listened to the full audiobook in about a day. This meant I missed some of the graphics and added art, but I console myself with the amazing reading by Bahni Turpin.

Being someone who does not read contemporary often, I had no expectations but, in spite of some of its problems, I enjoyed it.

Madeline, Maddy really, owes her life to HEPA filters, decontamination rooms, her nurse and her mother, the doctor, who helped diagnose her with Severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID. For much of her life she is content with her books, architecture classes and games of honor pictionary with her mother. Then a boy moves across the street.

Nicola Yoon penned some memorable moments and charmed me with her main character. Maddy’s voice is so pleasant to read  listen to that I didn’t even mind when her and the boy’s, Olly, relationship teetered toward the border of instalove.

Everything Everything has been heralded by some as one of the best reads for representation of biracial characters (Madeline).  Madeline’s race is neither ignored/tokenized nor is it made her most defining feature. On the other hand, Yoon’s plot choices and those choices effects have been sharply criticized by some who face similar health challenges (spoilers on this site).

Yoon tried to tackle some pretty big themes in Everything Everything, and how these themes are handled are usually front and center of the criticisms. The book after Olly revolves around Maddy’s internal conflict, namely the choice between risking her life and living a life full of wanting to do things she cannot. The post-Olly part of the book is scattered with quotes like:  “Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything.”  and You’re not living if you’re not regretting.” and “I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.”  or even “There’s more to life than being alive.” Yoon wrote so many lines like that I felt as if she reached her hand out and pasted “grow and live” across my forehead. It is fortunate, for most of the book, that these are only scattered and Yoon has a number of other strong lines and quirky moments that are classic contemporary YA. What is unfortunate is the message she spent so long constructing, the internal struggle Maddy spends most of the book struggling with, is perhaps a little cheapened by the end.

 

 

.