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Briefly Noted

Monthly book reviews in brief from the staff of Prairie Schooner and associates.
Imperial Nostalgias by Joshua Edwards

Briefly Noted

Monthly book reviews in brief from the staff of Prairie Schooner and associates.

Vol. 2 Issue 3. June 2013. Ed. James Madison Redd.

Imperial Nostalgias by Joshua Edwards | Reviewed by Jeff Alessandrelli

Syzygy, A Beauty by T Fleischmann | Reviewed by Jericho Parms

The Days are Gods by Liz Stephens | Reviewed by Jacqueline H. Harris

Joshua Edwards. Imperial Nostalgias. Ugly Duckling Press, 2013.

Reviewed by Jeff Alessandrelli

Joshua Edwards’ second collection of poetry, Imperial Nostalgias, grapples with the uneasy nature of language and art in a world seemingly devoted to death. This circumstance, Edwards makes clear, has always been the case, but he himself has not always been around to witness and comment on it. In the longest poem in the collection, a travelogue in verse entitled “Departures,” Edwards writes, “To create actual violence out / of diplomatic anger requires an / indulgence to the spirit of pity / and the monument of pain. Intercourse / between governments is trash talk in which / the trash is memos about ballistics.” Western culture resides in the narrow interstice between “the spirit of pity / and the monument of pain”; that Americans feel pity when they read about the relentless ravages and skirmishes in a third-world country (whose name they might not even be able to accurately pronounce) speaks to their sense of humanity and, perhaps unconsciously, privilege. And that they often elect to do nothing about such third-world misfortunes simultaneously speaks to the American government’s “monument of pain,” one it often inflicts on other countries for some vague ultimate good-type idealization—an ultimate good always approachable and yet never, seemingly, attainable. “My political engagement consists / of questionable associations,” Edwards asserts in “Departures.” And it’s to his credit that Imperial Nostalgias identifies and discusses concrete, in-the-news-today type issues that so many other contemporary American poets seem unwilling to. In “Cromwell or the King,” a later poem in the volume, the point is made that “You want to paint the world / you were born into, but when you try // you’re only able to portray this one / that will kill you.” To romanticize is to exist in a world of one’s own fragmented, disingenuous creation, and Edwards seeks to refute such modes of thinking. This endeavor is, of course, risky, but with Imperial Nostalgias Edwards roundly succeeds in it; after finishing the book, one rethinks her or his position in—and conception of— the world. 


T Fleischmann. Syzygy, A Beauty. Sarabande, 2012.

Reviewed by Jericho Parms

Even in title, T Fleischmann’s Syzygy, A Beauty invites sensation. Its language makes a whisper in the mouth, a slow dance between the tongue and teeth. Syzygy: an alignment of bodies occurring under unique circumstances; the yoking of opposites—sun and moon, male and female, any joining of things alike, or dissimilar.

Fleischmann’s intricate configuration of characters and obsessions, revealed in short pieces that compose an essay, asks of us a simple courage: to disrupt our preoccupation with stale definitions—genre, or gender—made overwrought and irrelevant by time. Fleischmann’s paragraphs lead into and from one another, mingle and mesh, in an intimate choreography that subverts definitive boundaries of style, content, and form. Are these prose poems? A fragmented essay?

“By describing something we place it at a distance,” Fleischmann writes. And this is a book to lasso and pull near as it honors love and language, suggestion and impulse—a syzygy of desires: an address to an unnamed lover, new construction on a house, critical reflections on art and influence. These influences are Meret Oppenheim, Man Ray, and Louise Bourgeois, whose piece Cell offers a sounding board for Fleischmann’s meditations on identity, how it divides and multiplies, how it can appear like a glass orb through which we might see one another gesture, beckon, and forbid us to touch.

Perhaps what is most forbidden is the ever-present “you” in Fleischmann’s sequence, which at times is both all encompassing and hardly significant. And isn’t that the nature of so many things that, like atoms, contain and split into synonymous or opposing ideas?

“I’ve yet to know an absence that wasn’t also a relief,” Fleischmann offers. “Dropping a lover off at the train station, a date at the Guggenheim, ending.” Even “the geometric equation to discover the true alignment of the moon had to be revised several times,” he writes, suggesting there are infinite ways to go about the same thing. Fleischmann’s aligning circumstances are indeed unique—playful, lyric, heartbreaking. Syzygy is indeed a beauty—sexy, seductive, transcending.

Liz Stephens. The Days Are Gods. Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

Reviewed by Jacqueline H. Harris

Tired from working in craft service in Los Angeles, Liz Stephens leaves the routine, faces, and setting she has known and loved for a decade to set out on an adventure of self-discovery in the rural Midwest. Marrying, moving, enrolling in a graduate program, and buying a house in Wellsville, Utah, within the space of just three weeks, Stephens’ memoir narrates her geographical journey; Stephens must not only adjust to life among the cowboys, farmers, and rodeos of Cache Valley, but must also consider her relationship to the land itself as she contemplates the meaning of the places we claim as “home.” As Stephens writes, “I’m looking for proof that I may reach into a time longer than my own blip on the radar, further into meaning something about all of us, yet in a way that selfishly extends the meaning of me. Putting what will be the memory of me in tandem with a larger story, a stronger tide, the better to leave a deeper—unsightly, selfish, and still ultimately temporary—mark on the land.” Perhaps more so than her conflicted associations with people, it is Stephens’ reflections of the landscape and her relationships to the animals with whom she surrounds herself that shine brightest in her memoir: loping horses, raising prize-winning chickens, adopting a stray three-legged cat, saving the lives of an unexpectedly pregnant goat and her kid, and loving and burying beloved dogs while contemplating the meaning of life in death. In The Days Are Gods, Stephens proposes home isn’t a place, but rather a fabric of feeling, peace, and silence that “starts somewhere deep and comes forth to hover just under my skin.”

Jeff Alessandrelli lives in Portland, Oregon, with his dog, Beckett Long Snout. This Last Time Will Be The First, his first full-length collection of poetry, is forthcoming from Burnside Review Press in 2014. Jericho Parms received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her essays and reviews have recently appeared in Bellingham Review, South Loop Review, and The Rumpus. Jacqueline H. Harris is a PhD candidate in nineteenth-century British literature at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She specializes in children’s and coming-of-age literature and has earned certifications in Women’s & Gender Studies and Nineteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Studies.

Submission Guidelines: The editors of Briefly Noted welcome submissions of short reviews from our readers. The series features short reviews of books published in 2012 or 2013; however, we occasionally publish short-shrifted reviews of significant older works under the radar. We're looking for reviews that are punchy and to the point, around 100 to 300 words. Send all submissions to pswebed@unl.edu with “Briefly Noted" in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you in brief!