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CJ Opperthauser on 3 Chapbooks

Emily Kendal Frey, The New Planet

Mindmade Books. http://mindmadebooks.com


Emily Frey’s The New Planet is choc full of short, surprising poems, most no longer than four or five lines. These little bites of poetry are humble and bizarre, often starting on a topic we can all connect with and then branching into seemingly unrelated statements that somehow get to the heart of the matter. My favorite example of this is in “Pity”:



I feel sorry for people who fall in love with other people.

We wait on the boat’s deck to see a whale.

Dead-hearted tomatoes bobbing up and down.

Ocean of hearts.



Most of the poems in the book follow approximately the same structure: introduction to an idea, some possibly relevant statements, and then sometimes there is a quip at the end that may or may not tie everything together. The language, though, is deceptive. The words are well-chosen and often seemingly irrelevant but they always feel right. With the determined and quick statements Frey uses, there’s music in the simplicity of it all. It’s like if Hemingway was on some sort of drug and conversing with a nephew about the deepest life considerations. These poems can leave you wondering but the wondering is enjoyable.




Chad Sweeney, The Lost Notebooks of Juan Sweeney de las Minas de Cobre

Forklift, Ohio


The beginning of this offbeat translation starts off with Chad Sweeney’s description of his late family relative’s life and loss of literature, as well as a bold statement of his own dislike for these poems. He claims, “the work of Juan Sweeney de las Minas de Cobre has branded me forever, and I cannot look away.” And it’s true, too, when reading these poems – their oddities and resounding images stick.


The poems are all numbered, and 15 might be the most powerful of the bunch:



In the end I’ll sleep through my own death.

I’ll be somewhere else


when my name is spoken

like the silent grain inside the wood.


I’ll refuse to sign the certificate.



Throughout the book, these bold statements and images thrive. On the left side of each page’s turn, there is the original, Spanish version of the poem. On the right, the English. This adds a stinging realization of the time difference between the two versions and the culture that separated the two languages. This is their marriage. The translations are pure yet creative. Sweeney de las Minas de Cobre claimed that he thought in English and wrote in Spanish. These poems, then, are his long-lost thoughts.





Sampson Starkweather, The Heart is Green from So Much Waiting

Immaculate Disciples. http://immaculatedisciples.blogspot.com/


The Heart is Green from So Much Waiting is Sampson Starkweather’s strange project, where each and every poem is described (by the publisher) as being “a ‘transcontemporation’ of a poem from Cesar Vallejo’s masterpiece Trilce.” The poems, truly, are strange and interesting, with an enormous variety of images in every stanza. The language is unforgiving and courageous, yielding the ability to be tender and honest on command. Language is absent in the titles, though, as each poem is only a roman numeral throughout the collection. The beginning of “LXXV” is a great example of interesting ideas with some hard-nosed language:



Bang, bang, you’re all alive.


God had a gun. It shot a flag with the word BANG! on it, which somehow

seems to support Intelligent Design and all that rigmarole.


How strange to be alive. Before I was dead, it was my favorite. Finally

we’ve found the perfect way not to describe something. Life is like a box,

with Tom Hanks inside it. You float nothingly behind that hoppocampus that

like a memory of letting go of lightning bugs into a mason jar, goes from

a glow to the nadir of cold glass, until pain is soothed away into the end

of a prosthetic limb.



The poem, and many others, include a reference to pop culture, probably in an effort to help connect these strange ideas with the modern world. In retrospect, after having read the entire collection, it would have been much more enjoyable if I had previously read the original poems by Cesar Vallejo. However, it’s still an enjoyable and different sort of read that can serve as a refreshing change of course for any avid poetry reader.

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