The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo | Review

Pages: 370

Genre: Poetry, young adult, lgbt characters

Synopsis


A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. 

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
 

The audiobook

The narrator was fantastic, some of the best I’ve ever heard. And of course she was, I thought as I realized towards the end it was the author and slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo narrating the audiobook as well. I fully recommend listening to it! As the book is written in verse/poems (hard to say having only listened to it), it’s “only” three and a half hours as well, completely worth it.

My thoughts

Rating out of five: four

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It’s a strong and beautiful story of a quiet girl finding her voice, letting out all the thoughts she’s not been allowed to tell and finding good friends, through slam poetry. She’s growing and finding her way to deal with romance, family, religion and need for a bit of freedom. 

It’s obvious reading/listening to the book that the author knows what she’s writing. She’s a slam poet, she’s seen people find their voice through it most likely. The way she tells the story is stunning, from the first page I was sold. This is the way to tell that story. 

There’s not much else for me to say about this book, which is rare. It’s more young adult novel than I realized going into it, and I would absolutely recommend giving it to young girls. I became a bit frustrated in the middle part of the book, when Xiomara wasn’t doing poetry out of fear, and nothing moved along. Had to realize the story isn’t something unexpected – the plot is only going one way – but it’s still important and told great. What really brought me in again was Xiomara and the mom coming to the height of their conflict, and how impactful the writing was in that moment. The ending was very wholesome, setting the tone of the whole book’s message. It’s so tough being a kid with little control over your own life, trying to find it as you’re becoming older, with opinions of your own. This book conveyed that.   

The Universe of Us by Lang Leav | Review

Pages: 240

Genre: poetry

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My thoughts

Rating out of five: three

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This is the first time I’m reading Lang Leav’s poetry and my first impression was that she seemed like a good writer, I really liked the way the first poems flowed. The subjects of her poems in this collection, love and heartbreak, are so universal and relatable to many. But so many of the love poems seemed like a writer going through drafts trying to find the best description of love and then just throwing them all in here. Many were so similiar, and nothing very new at that, it was the same with the heartbreak poems.

I don’t think it helped that I disagreed with some of the opinions of the poems, like how we only get max a handful of firsts. I wouldn’t want to live my life like that, never experiencing new things as I’m becoming and living as an adult. In this minimal-type poetry, it’s easy that some poems become too … dark without explanation? As if it’s not taken the time to explain the depth of the feeling, to keep it relatable to many perhaps, but I’ve found I more often like poems to be specific. Without some more personal connection these poems describe these big concepts in life superficially.

 

The Future by Neil Hilborn | Review

Genre: poetry

Pages: 100

Rating out of five stars:

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I’ve long wanted to read Neil Hilborn’s first collection of poems “Our Numbered Days” after first watching his slam poems or spoken word pieces a few years ago. I was taken with how honest and passionate he seemed like, often talking about mental illness, being diagnosed with OCD and bipolar disorder. This second collection of poems contains much of the same subjects, as Neil draws from his everyday life.

From the first poem “How do you sleep with an IV in?” I was completely here for it. I started reading this book while I was in the hospital with a lot of pain, perhaps not on accident as I knew Neil would talk about his own struggles and I needed something to connect with. I’ve read this book again afterwards, to be sure I liked it and was surprised by how much I marked and highlighted passages. Here’s the first sentences of “How do you sleep with an IV in?”:

It’s just for dehydration, the nurse

says. She hangs up this alien bladder

full of fluid so clear that it couldn’t

possibly be from anywhere but space.

The poems are often looking forward, as the title “The Future” might give away. But it looks forward by talking about the past. It wonders what would happen if this one thing was different. It’s about people, about journeys, about love (of course), about being on the road. Overall I find myself really liking Neil’s voice, how he thinks and his phrasing and that’s overall what holds on to me more than the subject of the poems.

Now I tried to pick out a part of a poem, to give examples of how good they are. But my favourites are a couple pages long and you need to read the whole thing to fully get it, so just trust me and get the book, thanks. 

Favourite poems (for now): “How do you sleep with an IV in?”, “LAKE”, “I’m back, not for good”, “Blood in my sock”, “As much wind as possible”, “psalm 12, in which the author alienate his audience”, “The Future” – this one deserves an extra note as I was highlighting whole pages, Neil talks about his brain and suicide, about why he haven’t killed himself yet. He describes killing himself as a “glowing exit sign at a show that’s never been quite bad enough to make me want to leave”. There’s lots of reasons and ways people are suicidal, so many I don’t yet know and of course poems like this doesn’t give you that complete understanding, but they’re an important step in seeing other’s experiences. It feels good to see thoughts like these expressed so well on a page.

Did I forgot to mention I love the poem titles? For those who feel like poems are difficult or lack self-irony, Neil Hilborn’s poems are the oposite of that. I would completely recommend this collection and I wish him all the best. I’m going to read “Our Numbered Days” soon.

 

Thanks for receiving this copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Leave This Song Behind | Review

Pages: 220

Genre: poetry

 

Synopsis

“Leave this song behind” features the best poetry from many teen writers that has contributed to Teen Ink. The topics and styles varies widely, and all the poems are divided into seven sections based on techniques and theme. In this collection is all from simple, thought-provoking poems to longer ones that paint vivid images with their carefully selected words.

My thoughts

Rating out of five:

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I think there’s something a lot of “adult” poets can learn from these teenagers in that not every poem in a collection needs to be about the same thing described over and over. This collection had a lot of variation, surely because the poets behind it are so different personalities and it was nice to read through the different styles and themes. It also seemed to have made the collection especially difficult to fit together, as the subject of a poem can range from death and hospital visits to more light-hearted humor in a few pages.

It wasn’t always obvious that the writers were teenagers in the writing itself, most of them did a much better job than I could’ve and my (untrained) eyes see a lot of talent in here. But inexperience was more obvious in the subjects that were written about and, even though I’m sure I’m the same age as a lot of them, that decreased my interest some while reading.

There were some poems in here that almost made me tear up, or that communicated something to me, among a lot that didn’t. All in all, this seem like a fantastic project and I’m glad it exists to encourage young poets and creativity!

Here’s a couple example poems:

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Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems Vol. 2 | Review

Genre: poetry

 

My thoughts

Rating out of five:

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I like the individual collections I’ve read more (A thousand mornings, Upstream and even volume one of this one), because they are a better mix of varied subjects, so it doesn’t become too much nature all at once (I didn’t know that was even possible before this). These new and selected poems still gives a good direction in which to continue reading Mary Oliver’s poetry, as my favourite poems here seems to have been published around the same time and I will certainly look up those collection.

It’s still brilliant poems, with Mary Oliver’s usual focus on nature, landscape, animals, people, writing and love. I’ve collected my favourite ones in a document and there’s fifteen, which was way more than I expected. Oliver’s words just speak true, the observations are lovely to read and gradually thought-provoking at the same time.

 

THE FACES OF DEER

 

When for too long I don’t go deep enough 

into the woods to see them, they begin to 

enter my dreams. Yes, there they are, in the 

pinewoods of my inner life. I want to live a life 

full of modesty and praise. Each hoof of each 

animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches 

then lifts away from the ground. Unless you 

believe that heaven is very near, how will you 

find it? Their eyes are pools in which one 

would be content, on any summer afternoon, 

to swim away through the door of the world. 

Then, love and its blessing. Then: heaven.

– Mary Oliver

 

WORK, SOMETIMES

I was sad all day, and why not.  There I was, books piled

on both sides of the table, paper stacked up, words

falling off my tongue.

The robins had been a long time singing, and now it

was beginning to rain.

What are we sure of?  Happiness isn’t a town on a map,

or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work

ongoing.  Which is not likely to be the trifling around

with a poem.

Then it began raining hard, and the flowers in the yard

were full of lively fragrance.

You have had days like this, no doubt.  And wasn’t it

wonderful, finally, to leave the room?  Ah, what a

moment!

As for myself, I swung the door open.  And there was

the wordless, singing world.  And I ran for my life.

— Mary Oliver

My Favourite Podcasts: Books and mythology

Could I have a book blog and not post my book podcast recommendations? I’ve already given my favourite general two-dudes-talking type here and science and productivity podcasts here.

– books and mythology –

The Legendarium

  • They read and discuss fantasy series. The biggest book series they’ve covered is Brandon Sanderson’s books, Wheel of Time, Lord of the Rings and they’ve recently started Narnia. In between there’s discussions on movies and tv series, like Black Panther.

Unattended Consequences

  • Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles) and Max Temkin from the podcast Do By Friday and the game Cards Against Humanity.
  • Currently inactive, but it’s perfect for fans and book lovers

Reading Glasses

  • Discusses books, book items and interview authors

Spirits

  • Mythology, legends and lore from all cultures told by two hosts with a drink in hand. The themes varies widly, which I appreciate and along with the discussions it keeps it interesting. Personal favourites are nr. 55 Yuki-Onna, nr 43 Javanese Mermaid Queen, nr 40 Laumes and nr 32 The Butterfly Lovers.

Poetry Off the Shelf

  • About poetry, obviously. Each episode seems to have a theme, The Wilderness is the first episode of series called A Change of World, and was amazing as it included women’s place in poetry from the 1800th century to now. They read poems out loud, and it’s wonderful, thought-provoking and calming.

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver | Review

Genre: poetry

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A collection of contemporary poems, the first one I read by Mary Oliver. And it’s fantastic, bringing out the magic in everyday things and small moments.

I’ve seen reviews saying that they wish this was how they lived their life, noticing details and the world this way. But you can? Take this for a normally stressed, pessimistic (I call it realistic) person who, while reading the poem about the white heron, remembered the grey heron I was chasing down a danish river in a canoe the week before. Everytime I gave up, the damn heron flew out from the bushes and the chase was on again. It was probably not the intention of the poem, which probably has some hidden symbolism, but a nice coincidence.

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I got a bit sidetracket – Anyway, I love the sea and the quietness of mornings. So I was bound to love this collection, even though some poems was a better fit for me than others.

Here’s “I go down to the shore” which I’ve memorized by now. Lastly, let me say I’m not an usual poetry reader, but the simplicity of some of the poems (some are longer and more intricate, and I adore them as well) makes it makes it easier for someone new to pick this up. It’s similiar to “milk and honey” in how easy it is to read, but so many levels better.

Upstream by Mary Oliver | Book Review

Genre: essays, poetry

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“I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someoone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.”

 

I’ve only recently fallen in love with Mary Oliver’s writing and poems. Upstream is a collection of eighteen lovely essays about how Oliver fell in love with poetry as a child, drawing inspiration from nature and simply seeing things throught her eyes. She talks about the poets she likes; Whitman, Emerson, Poe and Wordsworth, and how they’ve contributed to her understanding of the world and of poetry as an art. It’s all incredibly fascinating, I especially loved the bit about Poe.

 

It’s a book for someone who is interested in poetry (you don’t even have to know a lot, just look at me) or have read and liked any of Mary Oliver’s poetry. There’s a few good lessons in here, but also a lot of beautiful writing. I still prefer her poems, but I would definitely say these essays gives more insight into her thoughtprocess and person. The cozy, calm feeling I got when I looked at the cover was the same feeling I got when I read the texts inside.

Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems vol. 1 | Book Review

Genre: poetry

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It was my birthday a while ago and I wished to read poetry on my daily hour-long busride, even with only a couple hours sleep. So I read this collection from my current favourite poet. Might be the lack of sleep, but I’m pretty certain it’s was literally magical. Like the sun was out for the first time in months. 

Short disclaimer: I haven’t read as much poetry as fantasy books, but still more than romance novels so here we go.

Mary Oliver’s poetry is nearly always connected with nature: animals, forest, bodies of water, plants. It creates this really lovely atmosphere as you read, and then you can go over again and try to catch the meaning and slowly dread sets in. Not really, it’s mostly light poems, soome with an darker or more serious undertone. Which fits me perfectly.

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The poems feels very tied to the author, and I can’t stop myself from trying to figure this person out. Mary Oliver is a bestselling poet and this collection contains poems from different times in her over eighty years of life. I liked to notice interests tied to specific periods as well as commonalities. It that threw me a bit off having read only her “recent” ones. She writes at one point that no one wants to hear about her childhood and I’m sitting there saying “NO IT’S WHAT I AM HERE FOR”. To be honest, I’m really here for the detailed descriptions of various flowers, but it’s a close second. I just needed stories about people who knows how horrible life can be, but still see beauty in it, just a little bit of hope. And this collection is that, along with weird descriptions of eating animals, but generally talks about how nice the sun is on her skin and various description of how the waves crashes against the shore.

If anyone has recommendations for poets who write a lot about nature/detailed descriptions of anything really or simply favourite poets, send them my way! I just need beautiful words in my life, and when they come with interesting, intelligent thoughts that’s a bonus. 

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Crush by Richard SIken

I don’t get it and I’m so confused.

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Synopsis

Richard Siken’s Crush, selected as the 2004 winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize, is a powerful collection of poems driven by obsession and love. Siken writes with ferocity, and his reader hurtles unstoppably with him. His poetry is confessional, gay, savage, and charged with violent eroticism. In the world of American poetry, Siken’s voice is striking. In her introduction to the book, competition judge Louise Glück hails the “cumulative, driving, apocalyptic power, [and] purgatorial recklessness” of Siken’s poems. She notes, “Books of this kind dream big. . . . They restore to poetry that sense of crucial moment and crucial utterance which may indeed be the great genius of the form.”

My thoughts

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Usually, when I don’t understand poetry or other fiction, I know there’s a deeper meaning and I’m simply missing some connection that I need to completely understand it. Not with this book. The great goodreads ratings (4.3 average) tilts towards me being the one left out in this scenario, but I’m not sure everyone else is not just playing along (jk).

I get that it’s good poetry, somehow. It has a nice flow, and some phrases that paints very endearing and engaging pictures. I even like and understand some poems. But suddenly I don’t get how one part of a poem connects to the next? Or what it’s about, always? heeelp. The poems are mostly about love and obsession, as the synopsis says, along with being gay and crushing on guys. There’s also a “burn it all or die” feeling to some, where the promised apocalyptic theme comes in.

So, besides the all over the place feeling, the rows of rewritten lines all saying the same thing, angsty images of everything ending in bodies, death and twisted love, besides all that it has some beautiful moments. And I have to say I enjoyed a bit of the angst and death as well, it just flowed too much together and was repetitive in a way I can’t say I prefer. Maybe I will like it better the third time I read through? Hmm. He’s undoubtedly a brilliant writer and I think I’ll rather check out other of his collections to see if they fit me better.

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My favourite poems of this collection: scheherazade, little beast, unfinished duet, wishbone and you are jeff. There’s something in all of them I don’t understand, in “wishbone” that part is almost everything.