If you don't know what a blog tour is, it's a great way for someone who has published a book (or even has a new item to promote) to gain some attention for what they've done by being featured by different bloggers. It was organized by Read. Write. Poem. & you can see the other bloggers who are taking part in it here.
I signed up to be part of January's blog tour because I love her book and her poems in general. I believe I might be the first to kick off this blog tour for her, so let's get to her new collection of poems--
I've written about Underlife before at Book Harvest and the next issue of Crab Creek Review, but since I've written January's book has become a finalist for the 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize! I am excited to see the kind of recognition this book will receive this next year because it is an incredible collection of new poems.
When I asked on a previous blog post, what makes a good poem, Maya Ganesan responded, "Good poems" are vivid and honest. I've always thought that if you restrain yourself in a poem, you're not going to end up with a good piece."
I thought of Maya's quote when I was thinking about Underlife, yes, this is why January's poems are so fulfilling to me. She doesn't pretend everything is perfect, yet, this book is not at all poetry to slit your wrists to. It's a balance of history and present, happiness and struggle, "What the Housewife Might Say" and a "Poem About Nuts" (you must read to the book to determine if this is the edible kind, or the other...)
As a reader, poet, and editor, there is only so much I can say about the poems and in the end, the poems will speak for themselves. So let me end here with a poem (or two) and some final thoughts--
Here we are now, the wasp trapped between the window and me.
He feels the cool breeze of freedom like a secret lament.
This is the last time I’ll see him alive. But he’s moving on
and so am I. Today I am speaking in the mother tongue
in which living and dying is the same language. Today
I want to hurt something, smash something between glass and hand.
The wasp in his black muscle T and striped pants so tight
his ass looks like a bubble. I tap the pane. Watch his antenna move.
He must feel grounded. Or cornered. Misses his mother.
God Save the Queen. God’s mercy is missing.
Maybe he’s lost hope. Maybe he wants to jump.
Or wait for the wasp rescue squad that’s just not coming.
And after his passing, I’ll speak fondly of him
as if he never made the wrong choices. Never climbed
around my neck to sting me. I will never forget the redness,
the swelling—the gift that keeps on giving.
But you must move on and so must I. Does he believe in posterity?
Decorum implies that I stop but retaliation seems the only way.
I am the horrifying other who can’t be located or identified. I am
God’s missing mercy. Today we’ll gather our incomplete information,
our faint knowledge of each other, and plot each other’s destruction.
He cannot find his way back to the cool breeze of freedom.
This is the last time he’ll see me alive. Today I struggled. He struggled.
The universal you struggled. Without sentiment. It happened.
Here we are now.
My son asks me how to write a poem
I tell him the story about the woman
who feeds her son oatmeal, he doesn’t want it
but she doesn’t see that—or maybe she does,
jamming the spoon into his clenched mouth
until she hears it clang against his
chipped teeth. He cries, says he’s sorry.
She puts him in Time Out where
he sits facing the wall for hours,
days, years, threatens to throw him
into the middle of next week if he turns around.
He sits there until he faces her as a man. She asks,
Do you remember the color of the oatmeal bowl?
Now you’re ready to write a poem.
~ From Underlife (New Voices) by January Gill O'Neil published by CavanKerry Press, 2009
"Contrition" may be one of all-time favorite poems.
Here's a photo from January's blog where she is perfectly seated next to Rita Dove, Duriel Harris, Tayari Jones, and Natasha Trethewey (that's January on the far right). She wrote on her blog: "I have no business in this photos yet here I am..." But we know better. She fits in perfectly!
I will not be surprised if we'll be hearing much fanfare for January's work in the future. If her next books are anything like this one, she has a future of all good things.