Jenee Skinner

NIGHT ANGLER

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NIGHT ANGLER BY GEFFREY DAVIS

Geffrey Davis’s latest collection, Night Angler, explores the complexities of memory, landscape, and identity. From love letters and prayers surrounding youth, fatherhood, and family—to a river that holds the solace of fishing and life in the South—the book constantly evolves. His narrative poems comment on the mistreatment, the wonder, and the hope surrounding black lives, not only in the South, but in America as a whole: “. . . so why then, while / fishing shores of the Mississippi, do I feel and fear hooking a diaspora of / drowned faces?”

Davis also casts and reels in other themes to recall his experiences as a father, son, and person of color, including light, water, and music. The images he creates wade between the gloom of trauma against mind and body to the courage that faith brings, if not from earthly fathers, then from a heavenly one. “Let there be fight and faith / still in me / Lord / Let this man / teach another to move / through / the nothing / that begs / to be feared.” Night Angler journeys you through childhood to parenthood, through violence to peace, and through the wilderness to home, leaving you disarmed.

BOA.

—Review by Jenee Skinner

RIDDANCE

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RIDDANCE: OR: THE SYBIL JOINES VOCATIONAL SCHOOL FOR GHOST SPEAKERS & HEARING-MOUTH CHILDREN BY SHELLEY JACKSON

Shelley Jackson’s postmodern gothic novel, Riddance, covers the lives of headmistress Sybil Joines and her new pupil, turned stenographer, Jane Grandison at the Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children in late 19th century Boston. Each woman’s life is marked with travesty from childhood, largely due to their speech impediment, but Sybil is determined to use what society sees as a disability as a tool to communicate with the dead. Throughout the novel, Jackson builds a world of necrophysics where mouth objects and language are explored as avenues of existence and communion between the living and the dead: “Death is not departure but arrival. We are latchkeys kept by wanderers against a future homing. With our last strength, we fit our bodies into this locked world, and turn.”

Later, the loss of a student and murder of a school inspector cause speculation over the school’s competence, moral standards, and the headmistress’s mental health. And as Sybil and Jane become closer, their voices become less distinguishable from each other, as well as the dead they interact with more and more. Jackson’s experimental frame of poetic prose, documentation, and photographs, which describe the minutiae of how her characters experience the world around them, is carefully wrought, showing a deep love of language, both for herself and the world she’s created.

Catapult.

—Review by Jenee Skinner

THE ORPHAN OF SALT WINDS

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THE ORPHAN OF SALT WINDS BY ELIZABETH BROOKS

Elizabeth Brooks’ novel, The Orphan of Salt Winds, interweaves flashbacks and present-day reflections of the troubled soul, Virginia Wrathmell. In 1939 England, 10-year-old Virginia is adopted by Clem and Lorna, a couple who believes their marriage can be saved by a child. Clem instantly presents Virginia with a sense of belonging but Lorna, though alluring, remains emotionally distant and has a curious relationship with the overly involved neighbor and widower, Max Deering. When a German airplane crashes at the spark of World War II, Clem disappears in the isolated marshes on a search for the pilot. Virginia and Lorna’s lives take an unexpected turn, leading to a decision that Virginia will regret for the rest of her life.

The Orphan of Salt Winds simultaneously functions as a gothic, historical, psychological mystery and bildungsroman. Brooks vivid comparison of the beautiful and tumultuous landscape and Virginia’s life is artfully rendered: “The winds and tides remember, as do the birds, and the cockles, and the shrimps, and the sand worms, and the whispering reeds, and the grasses, and the lichens, and every single stone in the old seawall. I know they remember, because they passed the story on to me—a stranger—just as I passed it on to you.”

Tin House.

—Review by Jenee Skinner

IN COUNTRY

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IN COUNTRY BY HUGH MARTIN

Hugh Martin’s second poetry collection In Country delves into the war in Iraq from the American soldier’s perspective. The language and listing quality of his memories are plain and simple, but the stories they tell are not. Readers see the complicated relationship that the American militia, both as individuals and as a collective, have with Iraqi civilians. Poems move from tenderness—Thanksgiving dinners with the Iraqi soldiers and games with children in the streets—to the brutality of beating an Iraqi man until he’s the shade of plum: “As he lay there in his own piss, I saw his eyes shut, / sealed with swollen skin (this isn’t to say this incident—just one small evening event—is to showcase some soldiers / saving men / from beatings. We, / mostly, weren’t).”

Martin’s poems deal with the aftermath of war too—the resentful parents who mourn the sons they believe the US took from them, and then, the particular hardships felt by soldiers, chiefly, the combined monotony and isolation from American society. Still, In Country continues to return to the question of what is service? Poem to poem it is posed: “I served by opening each drawer, / each cabinet, looking for wires / & weapons while women screamed in a room / where we’d put them with the children / away from the men / we’d put in another room / to be watched while we searched. I served / by handing out peppermint candies / to children in villages / as fathers and mothers stood in doorways / not speaking, even though if they did / we’d never know what they were saying.”

BOA.

— Review by Jenee Skinner