Lord of the Butterflies

Rating: ⭐
Author: Andrea Gibson
Genres: Poetry
Pub. date: Nov. 2018 (read Nov. 2019)

Poetry can be a bit tricky to review sometimes, so more often than not I don’t write a full review for it. But I was so impressed with Andrea Gibson’s anthology, Lord of the Butterflies, that I have to make an attempt at a review.

Poetry is definitely not for everyone and it’s something I’ve only recently started reading. I’d read the occasional novel written in prose and started easing into poetry a few years ago with Rupi Kaur’s anthologies, which are pretty easy reading if you’re new to poetry (which I am). Then I discovered Robert Service when I read The Great Alone last year and I am totally obsessed with his style of poetry. I’m still working my way through a few of Service’s anthologies, but I haven’t been able to find any other works of similar style or subject, so if anyone knows of any poetry that centres around a love and reverence for the outdoors, please let me know!

Anyways, Gibson’s poetry is a whole different kind of beast than Robert Service of course, but equally as enjoyable (for me) in a whole different way. I dabbled in some other poetry this year, reading Danez Smith’s, Don’t Call us Dead, and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, but to be honest, both were a bit over my head. I really liked Gibson’s poetry because it had an incredible amount of depth, but wasn’t filled with so many metaphors that it was a slog to wade through.

Gibson’s poems focus on our sorts of topics, from gender and sexuality, to mental health and depression, to politics and reform. They’re not afraid to be honest and vulnerable and even though me and Andrea are so different, their poetry was so relatable. Apparently Gibson is a pretty well known poet in the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond and they won the very first World Slam Poetry competition in 2008. They have published 4 anthologies as well as a ton of spoken word albums, all of which I am definitely planning to check out. I went through a brief obsession with slam poetry last year after I heard Zariya Allen’s “Somewhere in America” poem, but I didn’t really know where to look for more slam poetry, so I’m thrilled to have discovered Gibson.

It’s hard to pinpoint specific poems that stood out from this anthology because they are all fantastic, but a few memorable ones for me were Orlando, which is about the club shooting in Florida, Black and White Angel, which is about Gibson’s sister awaiting trial in jail for petty crimes she committed while suffering from substance addiction, and America Reloading, which is about America’s lack of gun control and its impact. But what’s make’s all of these poems so powerful is Gibson’s vulnerability and their courage in holding nothing back. They’re not afraid to go to some very dark places, but are so perceptive of how closely entwined everything is in our society and how the system continues to oppress and work against those who do not fit the status quo.

If you’re looking to dabble in poetry and are at all interested in gender politics, I would definitely recommend this anthology!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Ocean Vuong
Genres: Poetry, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Jun. 2019 (read July 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Ocean Vuong

I was intrigued by this book, but it wasn’t super high up my TBR. However, I loved listening to the author’s voice in the audiobook sample, so I decided to read it. I’m so glad they got the author to narrate this one because I’m not sure anyone else could really have done it justice.

Initially I really liked it. The writing is poetic and it flowed really nicely. The author’s reading is emotional and I enjoyed listening to it, but I must admit, parts of the book were over my head and left me wondering how I should feel about it.

The book is crafted as a letter to the protagonist’s mother. It’s unclear to me whether this book is fiction or non-fiction, so I’d love some insight from other readers if you have it. It certainly read like non-fiction and I internalized it as such, but it could have been fiction.

Initially I liked that it was a letter from son to mother, Little Dog talks about the relationship he had with his mother and how it impacted him emotionally as he grew up. How their Vietnamese past influenced his childhood in America and shaped all of his relationships with his family members.

From there, Vuong moves on to the relationship Little Dog had with his friend Trevor and the struggle of being not only an immigrant, but a confused gay teenager. I found many parts of the story upsetting, but really appreciated their inclusion in the book and thought it brought a great depth to Vuong’s story. However, it did affect my reading of the book as a letter from son to mother. This format worked really well when confronting his childhood demons and the relationship with his family, but I thought the format had less meaning when it got into Little Dog’s exploration of coming to terms with his homosexuality. I don’t have the lived experience to really comment on its effectiveness, but personally I just found the ‘letter to mother’ format lost some of its potency in this part of the book. Just a comment on format, not content.

Mostly I’m left confused on how to rate the book though because parts of it were definitely over my head. I’ve been reading a lot more poetry lately (I used to never read it), but I definitely still struggle with the accessibility of poetry. I want to love it, but I think I just haven’t spent enough time reading poetry to really understand the nuance of it. I really enjoyed the writing, it was flowery, but not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it’s just so overloaded with metaphors that I kind of missed out on the point. I really liked a lot of this book, but there were definitely some sections where I found myself tuning out.

Overall though, a very thoughtful book and debut for this young author, so well done! I would not be deterred from reading his stuff in the future.

For Every One

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genres: Poetry
Pub date: Apr. 2018 (read Nov. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I got this as an audio CD from the library (BPL can I please say, NO ONE WANTS THIS, audio download straight to my phone PLEASE), and I spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to upload the disc on to my phone, before remembering that it was only going to be short anyways, so why not listen to it directly from the car (flashback to 2005, I know).

I knew this was going to be short, but it was like no more than 20 mins tops. I was so shocked when it ended. People are calling it motivational poetry, which is pretty accurate. It’s basically a letter Jason Reynolds wrote (to himself?) about dreams and being willing to take risks and not give up on those dreams, even if they don’t unfold the way you envision.

I wanted to like it and was pretty convinced that I would, but honestly it was just too short. I wanted more. I felt like Reynolds was just getting started and then it was over, so I was left feeling kind of meh. It is what it is though. His book, Long Way Down, has been on my TBR for a while and I am not deterred from reading it based on this short letter. 2.5 stars

Songs of a Sourdough

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Robert W. Service
Genres: Poetry
Pub date: 1907 (read June 2018)

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless;
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land – oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back – and I will.
– The Spell of the Yukon

Loved this! I was inspired to pick up this anthology after reading The Great Alone. It’s a mix of poetry by Robert Service about the Yukon and Alaska. It’s so wonderfully written and captures so beautifully what life in the North was like at the turn of the century. Similar to when I was reading The Great Alone, I could just picture the beautiful and barren landscape the whole time I was reading this. Robert Service has such a love and appreciation of the untamed wilderness – how rewarding and unforgiving the land can be to those who choose to make their living there. We must respect the land and the wilderness, because we are ultimately at it’s mercy.

As someone who loves to hike and camp and spend time in the great outdoors, I loved how vivid this writing was. Here’s a few of my favourite passages:

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gipsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.”
– The Men That Don’t Fit In

“Dreaming alone of a people, dreaming alone of a day,
When men shall not rape my riches, and curse me and go away;
Making a bawd of my bounty, fouling the hand that gave –
Till I rise in my wrath and I sweep on their path and I stamp them into a grave.
Dreaming of men who will bless me, of women esteeming me good,
Of children born in my borders, or radiant motherhood;
Of cities leaping to stature, of fame like a flag unfurled,
As I pour the tide of my riches in the eager lap of the world.”
– The Law of the Yukon

The Poet X

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (Read Apr. 2018)

“Burn it! Burn it.
This is where the poems are,” I say,
thumping a fist against my chest.
“Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too?”

Yes! I loved this!

Xiomara is the teenage daughter of Dominican Republican immigrants. Her mom is extremely religious and is adamant that Xiomara be confirmed in the catholic church. Xiomara has always been a little rough around the edges, getting in fights to protect her twin brother and against the lewd remarks men in her neighbourhood make about her body. She just wants to be a normal teenager and date boys like the other girls her age.

She feels repressed in her day to day life and turns to poetry to express herself, which she records in her private journal. She really enjoys writing her English assignments and when her English teacher, Ms. Galiano starts a slam poetry club, she is intrigued because it feels like the poetry is just bursting out of her. But the poetry club meets at the same time as her confirmation class, which Mami would never allow her to miss.

At the same time, Xiomara meets a boy, Aman. She just wants to spend time with him like any other teenager. But her mother is strictly opposed to dating and she is forced to hide her relationship with him. She questions everything in her life, from her mother’s strict rules to the religion that is being forced on her. It becomes increasingly difficult to hide what’s going on in her life and Xiomara becomes more and more at odds with her mother. Poetry becomes the only way she can expresses the conflict she feels building inside her.

I have read so many books lately about latinx teenagers and I have learned so much about latinx family culture (although most of the books were about Mexican culture). What has been hardest for me to understand is the relationship between these American-born daughters and their immigrant mothers. Every single book I’ve read has had the same conflict of strict latina mothers and their teenage daughters trying to break away from the confines of their mother’s perspective and rules. I grew up in a religious home as well, but I can’t imagine the frustration of mother and daughter not being able to relate to each other. My mom can have a pretty strong personality, but she was never anything but supportive and understanding of where I was coming from. I think the difference is that we both grew up in Canada and shared the same cultural perspective, whereas Xiomara and her mother grew up in very different circumstances and struggled to relate to one another.

I always talk about liking gritty books with gritty writing and this is another great example. I recently read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and The Authentics at the same time and loved the first and disliked the second because one book was so gritty and authentic while the other seemed to have this protective layer of film over the story, lacking any real emotional depth. I had the same experience with this book as I read it at the same time as I read Love, Hate & Other Filters, which I felt had that same disconnect between the emotional potential of the story and the actual depth the author achieved. I am here for the emotions and Acevedo was not afraid to go there in this book. It’s what makes one book great and another book sadly mediocre.

The poetry in this book was fantastic. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I really love books like this that are not a collection of poems, but a whole story told in poetry. I’ve already picked Brown Girl Dreaming as one of my reading challenge books for April, which I understand is written in a similar fashion, so I’m excited to pick that one up later this month! Definitely recommend this book!