Until I met Amie Whittemore (director of the Middle Tennessee State University creative writing certificate program called MTSU Write), I didn’t know that feminist sci-fi and fantasy poetry even existed. In fact, as a lover of prose, I hadn’t given poetry much thought for years. But in the end, who could resist a summons to delve into extraordinary, offbeat worlds wrapped in the perfect phrase?
As a writer and educator, Amie is so much more than her prestigious academic credits, awards, and countless literary publications. Her website simply can’t capture the warmth of her personality or the light in her eyes when speaking of teaching English and mentoring students at MTSU. In a poem published by Hobart, September 9, 2019, which might appeal to readers of The West Trestle Review, she addressed a student in response to an evaluation for one of her science fiction classes:
Student, it’s true—I prefer women
to lentils, to crossfit classes,
to retirement plan selection,
leaf blowers, plastic bags
and roller coasters; it’s also true
I’ll take a female protagonist
over a ham sandwich any day
and that women befriending
robot spiders, sexing up aliens,
and becoming fierce mermaids
congregate on my syllabus…
Those of us lucky enough to be touched by Amie’s work, cherish her energy, grace, and candor as rare gifts indeed. Her sensual debut poetry collection, Glass Harvest (Autumn House Press) which was published in 2016, resonates with secrets, explorations of nature, and dissonance within families. The lyricism of the language may draw you to tears. Many of Amie’s poetry and prose pieces are available online, but I’ll definitely be watching for both of her forthcoming collections, Star-Tent: A Triptych (Tolsun Books, 2023) and Nest of Matches (Autumn House Press, 2024).
I guarantee it, you won’t regret RSVPing yes to any invitation to set sail in Amie Whittemore’s world.
I first fell in love with Mónica Gomery’s work when her collection Here is the Night and the Night on the Road was released in 2018. Mid-hike, I sat cross-legged under a tree and wept over her book, in awe of what she had captured and conjured in its pages. In her rich and lyric new collection, Might Kindred, Gomery’s manipulation of language is striking. I am continually impressed by her ability to appropriate words and usage in new ways, evoking the unexpected.
In her poem, “Now We Live Together,” she describes her lover making cabbage soup, saying:
…we knife it apart
and delight at its ruffled density.
The cut open crossfolds
look like outlines of bodies
with v’s nested between legs.
Reading these lines, I’m captivated by the intimacy and the disjunctive nature of her description, and taken with the unifying musicality of “knife,” “delight,” and “like outlines.” In the same stanza, “density,” “bodies” “v’s” and “between” echo a different soundscape. Gomery’s lush work surprises, evoking tenderness and weaving a rich tapestry of sound and image. Might Kindred radiates with power, celebrating and interrogating queerness, ancestry, and home.
I think, what a bright day
god has given, what a way to live
without a knee on your throat.
Reading Rage Hezekiah’s Yearn (Diode, 2022) I gasp audibly again and again. I ask myself—how did the author give herself the permission to say what these poems say? It’s hard to extract yourself from the book’s energy once you begin. Propelled breathlessly from poem to poem, I traveled Hezekiah’s wide-ranging forms and razor-sharp language.
The book begins and ends in the body, in the rawness of desire—first, a youthful and robust sexuality, and by the end, the labor of wanting and creating a child. In the words of Evie Shockley, these poems show “a woman making her desires known to herself, so she can step out to meet the life she wants to live.” The speaker’s voice grows ever more rooted and earthbound, experiencing wonder and grief in the same tight line, able to both pierce the world with her looking, and turn inward to reflect on the self.
There’s so much to admire about Hezekiah’s use of language. She has a knack for brevity. I can feel the intentionality of each word, charged and carefully chosen, playing its role in a concise, measured amount of space. Her poems say only what needs to be said. They sparkle with clarity and precision. I love how the short, economical poems in this book work in harmony with other sweeping, spacious poems. This collection is full of breath, longing, and revelation.
This is Hezekiah’s second collection, following her debut Stray Harbor. Each of her books has moved me deeply. In landscapes of community gardens, orchards, grasslands, and so many glittering bodies of water, she names and renames the divine, a God who “planted/ kinesthetic stars/within the bay, bright/ sparks flowering.” Reading her books, I connect to my own ancient longings, part of a larger body that weaves all bodies together. Her language brings me home.
Art: Studying Dandelion, mushroom spores on cyanotype by Madge Evers
Eugenia Leigh is the Korean American author of the poetry collection Blood,
Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014), winner of the Debut-litzer
Prize in Poetry and finalist for Yale’s Series of Younger Poets. I first
read Eugenia’s book in 2017, the year that I lost both my sister and her
11-year-old son (my nephew) to suicide. In the midst of acute grief and
PTSD, her poetry was one of the few things I could hear inside what felt
like a rubber bubble, keeping me safely apart from the world. As a
biracial, Korean American woman, I longed for poems that could reach me,
and I found them. In spite of the fact that South Korea has one of the
highest suicide rates in the world, the Korean American community as a
whole has long insisted on silence when it comes to suicide, abuse, and
violence. I have turned to Eugenia’s poetry in my own writing process, when
I’ve needed courage and inspiration. Her poetry sings, wails, and
whispers. Eugenia’s latest poem to be published, “Gold,” can
be found in the Summer, 2020, issue of Pleaides, as part of a folio of Korean
American poets, edited by E.J. Koh. “Gold” brings us full circle, back to
“Deciding Not to Drown Today” by exploring the reasons why we should step
back from those rocks, and stay.
~Joan Kwon Glass
I call shinbones of water skinnying down into sluice boxes.
Brackish water, sulfur-smelling water, sludge.
Rain in rain barrels,
clear water spilling over dams
and clear water that has never been dammed.
I confront the brink
even though I’m part of the brink.
from "We Have the Power to Pull Back from the Brink"
Ellery Akers is the author of three poetry books, most recently, Swerve: Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance. She’s won thirteen national writing awards, including an IPPY Award and the Poetry International Prize. Her poetry has been featured on National Public Radio and in Poetry and The New York Times Magazine.
I was introduced to Ellery over email by our mutual friend, the poet Ruth Schwartz. At our first meeting, Ellery and I took a walk around a small pond. I quickly realized that Ellery was an extraordinary ecologist, who knew so much about the flora and fauna of West Marin, as well as a woman brimming with love for good poetry. Not only would she recite lines from Hopkins or Dickinson by heart to me as we walked and talked, but she and I would engage in delightful conversations about newer work from modern poets that we’d just read.
We have been friends for several years now, and workshop together regularly in a wonderful group that Ellery invited me to join. But I love Ellery for more than all of this. Ellery is also one of the most dedicated environmentalists I know, and through her incredible new book, Swerve, has inspired me to feel less hopeless and more willing to take action to save our planet. I feel such admiration, respect, and deep gratitude to Ellery; consider reading her work, as you will too!
~Julia B. Levine, July 2020
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