Orion Blog, page 4

Poetry for Pride: Ten Essential Collections

ORION‘S poetry editor Camille Dungy returns for Pride Month to recommend five essential voices from the LBGTQIA+ community for Orion readers. In addition, a handful of established poets offer some of their favorite collections. Enjoy and share, because the ecology of love is deep and wide.


Camille Dungy’s Five Recommended Poetry Collections:



Advantages of Being Evergreen by Oliver Baez Bendorf

The landscape of these poems is beautiful and treacherous. These pages are filled with catalogs of what it means to breathe deeply in your own living body, even if that body has yet to be lovingly recognized. Poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi (see her work also for more quality reading) calls Advantages of Being Evergreen (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) “Equal parts prayer and potion and survival guide.” Swollen rivers, congregating burs, and common spiders spin spells. There are mountain trails in these pages, and badlands, and precarious passage through hunters’ terrain. There is also hope, and hollering (and hollowing), and prophecy, and praise.



Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going by Jessica Jacobs

So much to love about the love Jessica Jacobs writes into this book. The grown-up love—in which the speaker at the center of these poems finds the woman with whom she intends to spend her whole life—but also love for the child who would become the love-full speaker one day. Love for the Florida brine and bracken and alligator ponds and turtles and all their many instructions. Sometimes we caution writers against using the greater-than-human world as an example of what it means to be human. The dead turtle on the road is just a turtle. Not a rune to turn to for the meaning of life. And, yet, sometimes the world does seem to speak to us, to speak through us, in deeply charged ways. That’s part of how metaphor works. A poet takes an example from the real world, lays it against a story from her own life, and lets the marriage of the two create a new reality that, rather than erasing previous realities, magnifies what has been there all along. Page after page, Jessica Jacobs does just that in Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books). What a delight it is to read the world through her eyes.



The Essential June Jordan by June Jordan

June Jordan once wrote that “Poetry means taking control of the language of your life.” And, my goodness, it would be difficult to count all the ways Jordan takes control of the language of her life in this collection (Copper Canyon Press). Jordan’s work could easily, and properly, be categorized as capital-P Political Poetry. And yet. And yet. Her whole life is in these pages. I think of her nearly comical poem, “Letter to the Local Police,” which seems to be in the voice of a frustrated and ridiculously officious neighbor who simply wants the landscaping in the area tidy and trimmed. And yet, there is much menace in the poem. Much memory. Much cautionary comment on complicity. It is impossible to read this poem, or most any poem by June Jordan, and not understand the dangerous undertow at work in such a request of uniformity. Equally, poems like “Sunflower Sonnet Number Two” remind us of the beautiful undercurrents of communion and care that build revolutionary resilience in this world.



Toward Antarctica by Elizabeth Bradfield

So many of us hunger for Antarctica. For its promise of something notably new to our experience. Its promise of something pristine. Though very little is wholly pristine on this planet. Very little is free of our “fantastic, greasy hope.” It seems fitting that in her deep and thoughtful journey to the site of so many voyagers’ ambitions, Elizabeth Bradfield would turn to the form Bashö found useful for his own Narrow Road to the Interior. Bradfield’s gorgeous collection of photographs and poems—part cultural criticism, part journalism, part art portfolio, part memoir, part lyric splendor—could grace either your bedside or coffee table because it is as wonderful to look at as it is to read. A naturalist, poet, and photographer, Bradfield is as keen-eyed about the continent and its surrounding islands as she is about the souls counted present on the ships that take them there. This balance between expansive views and focused clarity make reading Toward Antarctica (Boreal Books) almost as good as sailing there ourselves.



The Book of Ruin by Rigoberto González

How many ways can you imagine the end of the world? Rigoberto González’s remarkable recent collection reminds us that the world has ended over and over and over again. That its endings continue, and still we carry on. We must carry on. These poems look backward and forward and reveal the changing same. They place bodies where we might not expect to find them—Chinese immigrants fighting in the Mexican Revolution, children in the middle of a violent dispute between miners and militia, legendarily wicked women showing their soft, sad, hearts—and in doing so they also reveal the changing same. All the while, the land has a voice as loud as any human’s. The mountains speak here, as does the dry expanse on the border between two overlapping worlds. These poems remind us that (and sometimes how and why) we kill so much and so many. Why we mourn so much and so many as well. The Book of Ruin (Four Way Books) gathers stories from the changing landscapes of our lives and sets them before us like stones on a path.



Recommended Collections from Established Poets: 



Elizabeth Bradfield recommends Bestiary by Donika Kelly

Donika Kelly’s powerful first book, Bestiary, just knocked my socks off. Nikky Finney, in her introduction, writes, “the beasts that push us to write our modern migration stories are found everywhere we dare deeply look,” a keen-eyed framing that honors the intimate and historic nature of Kelly’s poems. In Bestiary (Graywolf Press), queerness, Blackness, love, home sense and more shift and flicker, fin and gallop; raw, wrought poems of childhood trauma sing alongside poems that dance artfully with identity and desire through wild personification––self as hermit thrush, centaur, secretary bird, mermaid, fish––creating an expansive and expanding sense of self in world. So many writers ask us to examine our distance from the nonhuman, our alienation in this Anthropocene. Kelly does the opposite, delving into the factually accurate and wildly imagined lives of creatures as a way of finding both the self and the connections we have with all sorts of beasts: “Nothing approaches a field like me. Hard / gallop, hard chest––hooves and mane and flicking / tail. My love: I apprehend each flower.”



Rigoberto González recommends Broken Mesas by Joseph Delgado

Broken Mesas (Kórima Press), Joseph Delgado’s dazzling new collection, is divided into three sections: Clay, Sand, and Stone. Each section employs a dominant feature: couplets, white space, and the prose paragraph. Yet all three move through the strenuous landscape of the low desert in Mojave Valley where, despite its apparent isolation and hardship, life continues to thrive: “and the rains, here, they come and go only a few / times, rotting hot, this husk of // river cut land. stones. acacia. cactus / plump on the unshaven tongue.” As does love. Delgado amplifies not only familial relationships that preserve story and memory, but also the homoerotic encounters—“the smell of men breaking”—that electrify the spirit wearing down with time and heat: “my body glazed with starlight, I wait here, while you fumble with the zipper in your jeans, the good boots smeared with midnight.” Delgado’s language is imbued with the startling imagery of nature and the elements, highlighting the intimate relationship between people, their everyday experiences, and the land they inhabit: “I fumbled with the bones, out back, storm wet, watching as rain splinters across mesa, across corn husk. I tried to remember the old prayers, those words like spears of wild apple, in the mouth, sour, bruised.”

The affection expressed for this way of life, in this setting, is unshakable, even when the tensions gesture toward what is lacking and what is missing. What is present is always treasured: “I watch for moon, sliced, slivered, eastern sky./ and momma says yucca blooms for moths to eat./ blooms, petals loosened in a bright light.// a night steaming, sweating, leant against old fences.”



D.A. Powell recommends As Burning Leaves by Gabriel Jesiolowski

I so admire the way Jesiolowski resides in the world inside these lean, smart gorgeous poems—“where the sea circles around the island in a star pattern––where in the center of grieving we are disoriented, skinless.” The geography of the body changes, its landmarks temporary, its border shifting, in Gabriel Jesiolowski’s As Burning Leaves (Red Hen Press), a cartography of new forms, new ways of being. These poems constitute a healing atlas, a journey of utmost compassion, marked by both formal elegance and artful eloquence.



Ellen Bass recommends Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

Postcolonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press) is gorgeous, devastating, and necessary. Central to these poems is the body––the body of the beloved, the body of rivers, of the land, of Indigenous people, of language. As Natalie Diaz writes, “The water we drink, like the air we breathe, is not a part of our body but is our body. What we do to the one––to the body, to the water––we do to the other.” These poems lay bare the inextricable union of violence and desire, grief, and the bedrock of love. In a world that is so broken, Postcolonial Love Poem sings an exquisite song of repair. I don’t know when I’ve read a book of poetry more moving or more essential.



Joseph Legaspi recommends The Dream of Reason by Jenny George

Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason (Copper Canyon Press) is nature poetry as phantasm, paradox, evocation, assembly line, and hard-earned beauty. These poems collide the sublime with the earthly, the farm with the netherworld. Pig with humanly functional eyelashes wears a nightgown. An uneasy field hosts a wake. The orchard is carved with the names of girls. In all its surreal and organic wandering, the book poses many questions, but the most imposing perhaps is: Who is the animal in this bestiary?


More Resources:



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Six Articles to Celebrate PRIDE Month

Here some of our favorite Orion features, interviews, and web exclusive essays from the past ten years that celebrate love in all of its forms. Pride, this month and every month.



Wolf Rock: On Safety in Art and Science by Callum Angus
March 2021

Queer artists as land artists and the interrogation of “safety” when creating art and conducting experiments.



9 Reflections on the Hunt by Anne Haven McDonnell
Autumn 2020

The fact that you are queer, that you’ve never fired a gun, are facts that lay quiet,
hidden under your orange vest and cap.



The Land Has Memory by Priscilla Solis Ybarra
Winter 2019

A conversation on identity and environmentalism with playwright, poet, and essayist Cherríe Moraga



A Private Wild by Laurel Nakanishi
July | August 2016

Out beyond male and female, gay and straight, there are mountains.



Metamorphic by Jill Sisson Quinn
May | June 2013

Geology meets sexual fluidity on the shores of Lake Superior.



How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time by Alex Carr Johnson
March | April 2011

Even nature—defined impossibly as the nonhuman—becomes unnatural when it does not fit the desired norm.


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Jane Goodall Is Here to Remind You: “We Are Nature”

“I hope we emerge from this pandemic . . .
with a new respect for nature, the natural world, and animals.”

Dame Jane Goodall

THE LOCKDOWNS around the world kept us in our homes, at a distance from one another, and yet, paradoxically, somehow the distance brought the rest of nature closer. The pandemic has magnified our relationship to the living world.

Nobody knows the origins of the pandemic, but we do know that there has been an increase in emerging infectious diseases over the past century, and that the risks are increasing through human actions, especially deforestation and the ways we treat other animals.



To prevent further pandemics, we don’t just need to examine these kinds of causes. We need to understand that our actions are enabled by the value frameworks that justify what we do to other species, and to the environment.

It was a challenge making a film entirely across zoom during a pandemic, but the film aims to capture that reality as it was happening, and use it as part of the storytelling.


Learn More:


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Ten Essential Voices for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


LAST MONTH, we posted a list of poetry recommendations for National Poetry Month, and the response was so positive we’ve decided to offer up more recommendations, this time in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Orion’s poetry editor Camille Dungy and her community of writers are back with essential collections for your nightstand.


Camille Dungy’s Five Recommended Poetry Collections:



DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi

A bricolage of poetry, prose, real and imagined translations, photographs, memories, and hand-drawn overlapping circles, Don Mee Choi’s excavation of the lasting legacy of decades of war and occupation on the Korean peninsula is shot through with birds. I write of the landmass rather than the countries’ political designations because the line that differentiates the experiences of the people of North and South Korea is often muddy in Choi’s DMZ Colony (Wave Books). While she is walking in Missouri, a migration of snow geese passing overhead sets off the author’s vertigo and triggers her return to Seoul. We learn the circumstances that caused her family to have to flee—to have to, as her mother says, live “like birds”—and we read about people who could not escape, those who “had no place to land.” Choi’s 2020 National Book Award-winning DMZ Colony might not be the most obvious choice of books to recommend to Orion readers, given the fact that so much of the book is focused on very human concerns, but questions of migration, safety, and the impossibility of return are universal. Choi dedicates this book to “all the birds and children in flight,” and her work is a stirring and necessary witness to the realities of this inextricably connected world.



Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi

Tishani Doshi’s Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods (Copper Canyon Press) is a haunted and haunting collection full of richly woven narratives of loss and grief and beauty and yearning. The landscapes of Doshi’s poems are so brightly imagined that I can smell their trees and see their flowers. I can hear birds calling, though I wonder, always, whether her birds are leading me to safety or to danger. These poems’ waves spit up Styrofoam and fishing lines and “orphaned slippers” as frequently as food. Their parties offer “rustling table clothes” and wine glasses and puppies and crowds of dead girls. There is humor here, a great deal of it, and horror, too. The poems are packed with the things of this world—and, I will add, they are set in many places. They can’t ignore the realities of the peril so many on this planet face, but these poems are charged by the planet’s life force. They insist on survival. (Note: Read Doshi’s Spring 2021 Orion essay, “Out of Breath.”



Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijner

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated twenty-three nuclear weapons on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, including a hydrogen bomb called Bravo that was 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. (Did you know that’s how the swimsuit got its name? When the two-piece style made its initial appearance, one fashion designer hoped the style would explode onto the scene and linked its name to the recent explosions on Bikini.) And Bikini wasn’t the only atoll used for weapons testing. During that time, sixty-seven nuclear bombs were detonated in the area, and other munitions testing was conducted as well. A 3,000-year-old culture, the Marshallese now have some of the highest rates of cancer, miscarriage, thyroid conditions, and other acute and chronic health concerns in the world. The Marshall Islands are a sovereign state, but many Marshallese, including poet and activist Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijner, live in U.S. states like Oregon, Arkansas, and Hawaii. Jetn̄il-Kijner’s Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter (University of Arizona Press) tells of growing up Marshallese in the United States and her eventual return to the islands of her lineage. The book details the ways the fallout from military occupations, mid-century weapons testing, and modern-day climate change have shaped the lives and the landscapes of the Marshallese people. The breadfruit trees and the coconuts and the reefs and the fish and the reeds and the language and songs of the Marshall Islands are at the center of these poems. Even the stones are gods.



West: A Translation by Paisley Rekdal

West: A Translation is a multimedia wonder—poetry, translations, music, video, archival photographs, history lessons, facts about redwood trees, letters about the soil, and the story of building the transcontinental railroad are all here. Paisley Rekdal centers this monumental project on a poem that was written on the walls of Angel Island Immigration Station. The project links the history of the 150-year-old railroad and stories of the Central Pacific Railroad president Leland Stanford to the Chinese, Mormon, Black, and European immigrants who built it, as well as the Native people whose lives were irreparably altered by the access the railroad granted settlers who stormed the West, as Brigham Young says, “like locusts.” You can enter the website via the introductory video and hear a reading of the Angel Island elegy in Cantonese. Then click on each character in the original poem to discover a “translation” that will take you to a fresh page and experience. With each new poem, written and often read by Rekdal, discover more and more about the railroad, landscapes, and people who made the American West.



The Last Thing: New & Selected Poems by Patrick Rosal

You’ll have to wait a bit for this one, but you can always place your preorder now. Poet Patrick Rosal’s The Last Thing: New & Selected Poems (Persea Books) will be published in September 2021. I had a sneak peek at this phenomenal collection, and I can promise you it’s everything I’ve been waiting for. Collecting work from Rosal’s previous four books, including the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize-winning Brooklyn Antediluvian, this new collection contains page after page of heart-hitting (pun intended), syntax-bending, break-open poems. These pages have in them English and Spanish and Tagalog and the language of math and gardening and cooking and loving and losing and dreaming and more. Rosal’s poems are rich with the produce of hard toil and care for the land and its people. There are fields and canebreaks, hatchets and hope. These poems flood their pages with typhoons and levee breaks and, at the same time, they build bridges to help carry us safely across rough waters. It is as much of a delight to revisit the old work as it is to read the new. I hope this won’t be the last thing from Patrick.



Recommended Collections from Established Poets: 



Arthur Sze recommends Underworld Lit by Srikanth Reddy

Framed as notes for a fictitious course in the humanities, Underworld Lit (Wave Books) presents a remarkable journey into the underworld that draws on Chinese, Egyptian, and Maya sources to confront issues of corruption, colonialism, justice, and redemption in our contemporary world above.



Rajiv Mohabir recommends Shahr-E-Jaanaan: The City of the Beloved by Adeeba Shahid Talukder

When I have questions about association, influence, and how to write poems that ask after the divine, I find myself returning to Shahr-E-Jaanaan: The City of the Beloved by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (Tupelo Press). The poems spiral between music and translation, rewriting a holy play between divine and human that, although rooted in Urdu literary traditions—poets like Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz feature heavily, as do stories of Laila and Majnoon—what emerges is a new environment for the speaker, haunted by the profundity of the sacred in the mundane. Translation and transformation “gleam like wine” in these poems-turned-map to “where the Beloved waits.” While grappling with traditions of two continents, these poems erupt with a new, hard-won intricacy. With each complication of identity and couplet, the speaker poses a new question: What is the distance between original and response? How can we be transformed by those who have gone before when we are looking for simple answers? “Who holds this sky today, / then tomorrow?”



Jennifer Chang recommends Cleave by Tiana Nobile

Cleave is not only the story of a transnational adoption. Because of Tiana Nobile’s compassionate imagination and lucid discernment, Cleave (Hub City Press) becomes the story of all our lost selves, of the mothers we long for and the languages we struggle to speak. Writing with what Audre Lorde calls the “intimacy of scrutiny,” Nobile uncovers in the mysteries of her origins our most difficult truths, observing “How we feed on each other for ourselves. / How we keep ourselves alive through each other.” This is an accomplished debut by a powerfully precise poet. 



Kazim Ali recommends beholden: a poem as long as the river by Rita Wong and Fred Wah

In this epic collaboration from Talonnooks, water defender and activist Rita Wong teams up with the legendary Fred Wah to create a book-length text that engages with the endangered Columbia River watershed. Originally exhibited as a 114-foot banner of the entire Columbia River as part of the gallery exhibit River Relations: A Beholder’s Share of the Columbia River, Wong and Wah’s book reproduces both the textual and graphic elements in traditional codex format. The poets’ separate single lines of text run the length of the book (and the river) conversing with one another and the water, from source to spill. There is a concluding dialogue between the two poets. As they say, “Listen to the river and find ways to be a better relative to the river, to each other.”



Aimee Nezhukumatathil recommends Peach State by Adrienne Su

A book that crisscrosses the complicated terrains of growing up Chinese American in Atlanta, and the discovery and negotiations of what it means to find home in Asian grocery stores and restaurants. A dazzling array of forms: sestinas, ghazals, villanelles. I am teaching this one the first chance I get. No other poetry book in recent memory has made me more hungry than Peach State (University of Pittsburgh Press).


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My Five Favorite (Common) Birds

In April 2021, award-winning author and Orion contributor Jeff VanderMeer shared a personal essay on a formative childhood encounter with a pair of hummingbirds. The essay became one of the year’s most-read online features. Here, VanderMeer shares more about some of his favorite winged friends. All photography below is courtesy of the author. 


GIVEN THAT MY LATEST NOVEL is titled Hummingbird Salamander, I must like birds. This becomes perhaps monotonously obvious to anyone who follows my Twitter feed. I’ve even helped ornithologists out by championing the theory that birds can be divided into these basic groups: adorblers, flutterbutts, darkwings, noctuvians, diveflumers, leatherflappers, and the lesser & greater sonickers. I’m not a scientist, but this feels so right.

Let me celebrate five of my favorite birds. Are they common? Yes, but so are we.


1. Turkey Vulture


I’ve always had an appreciation for the role that vultures play in the world and been saddened by the fact that they’re misunderstood and sometimes demonized. On my book tour for Annihilation, I was fortunate enough to meet a turkey vulture in a rehab center and discovered just how sociable and friendly they are—very loving creatures. Ever since I saw a turkey vulture almost hit by a car going after some roadkill, I’ve kept a small shovel in the car trunk, so I can move roadkill off the side of the road and reduce the possibility of vultures and birds of prey being injured.


2. Blue Jay


I know these birds are common, and many folks don’t like their raucousness or aggressive ways, but in our yard in Tallahassee, Florida, they’re the early warning system both for other birds and for me. I can tell now when they’re sounding the alarm about a rat snake or a (rare) cat, an owl or a red-shouldered hawk. I’ve found over time that the blue jays seem to anticipate me coming out to investigate, so our home security system has become mighty.


3. Summer Tanager


I really have come to adore summer tanagers. They sit on the tree outside my office with wasps they’ve caught, blissed out while crunching down on their favorite snack. They’re also partial to some of the suet and fruit I put out. Each one has a distinct personality to go with their distinctive call. More and more come to our yard every year, and I’m absolutely delighted to welcome them.


4. Barred Owl


The goofs of the bird world, these sometimes ungainly birds just crack me up, in part because they have no fear of humans, and no real regard for us either. Once, one perched outside my wife’s office for several hours. At other times their ridiculous calls during mating season are the only welcome sound in the wee hours of the night. Another time our resident barred owl fought a red-shouldered hawk right above the ravine in the back yard. A third encounter epitomized why I love them: the owl, in the late afternoon, seeing a dove atop the bird feeder, decided on a lazy trajectory to try to get an easy meal, on their way to another branch. Of course, the dove escaped; the owl knew this was not its forte.


5. Yellow-Rumped Warbler


Has ever the world created a more plumptuous bird than what I have dubbed the “adorbler?” I think not. These plucky, mischievous, garrulous birds descend upon our little wooded ravine with the swagger of pirates and the fearlessness of those who know that their power lies in their great numbers. Every year, I put out bark butter suet for them and every year dozens and sometimes hundreds flit around the yard exploring, bathing in the bird baths, and, yes, eating me out of house and home. Do I mind, even if the sheer weight of adorblers in the yard sometimes presses down hard on the mind? No, I do not. It is blessing to see so many birds, so healthy, in one place during these uncertain times. Is the adorbler common? Oh, yes, and we should celebrate it for being so.


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