Staff Picks: Favorite Reads from 2013

It’s that time again! It’s become a tradition, at the end of every calendar year, for the staff to post a list of favorite reads from among the books that we’ve read in the past 365 days. Without further ado, here are our picks for this year.

Recommended by Iris



by Matthew Olzmann
Alice James, 2013

Iris’s comments: I’ve been a fan of Matthew Olzmann’s work since I first met him and heard him read during an AWP panel in 2009, and Mezzanines did not disappoint. Quirky, humorous, and at times profane, but always grounded by dint of its razor-sharp observations about human nature and an underlying sense of deep empathy, the voice of his poems fills up the space of the imagination with a childlike wonder that is at once riotously absurd and insanely beautiful. Few poets could successfully mix tender intimacy with wry, self-conscious humor (such as the “product placement” in the poem “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem,” which apparently prompted PepsiCo to send the poet a letter of thanks in real life!), and yet Olzmann does so effortlessly and always with great aplomb.


The Saints of Streets
by Luisa A. Igloria
U of Santo Tomas, 2013

Iris’s comments: Luisa A. Igloria’s new collection, The Saints of Streets left me breathless. As is par for the course in her work, Igloria writes with beauty, strength, and piercing intimacy, precisely interleaving light and shade like a master of shadow puppets. I am told that the poet has several other collections’ worth of poems brewing (thanks to her poem-a-day project over at Via Negativa), and I cannot wait for the next installment.

LifeOnMarsSMLife on Mars
by Tracy K. Smith
Graywolf, 2011

Iris’s comments: Last, but not least, on my list is an older title, Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars—winner of the 2012 Pulitzer. I’d heard Smith read at the 2011 Page Turner Festival and had been captivated by the empathy inherent in the persona poems that she’d shared. It was no surprise to me, then, that I fell headlong for Life on Mars, a haunting collection that explores science and the domestic/private life of the scientist and the poet. Life on Mars won the Pulitzer for a reason: it is simultaneously tender and steely, masterfully integrating the infinite scale of the particulate cosmos with the particular stuff of the everyday. Smith’s poems about her father, a retired NASA scientist, are especially moving. I began the book while home sick from work one day, read it all in one sitting, and when I finished, I closed its pages and wept.

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Recommended by Wendy



The Palace of Contemplating Departure
by Brynn Saito
Red Hen, 2013

Wendy’s comments: Brynn Saito’s The Palace of Contemplating Departure is a sublime meditation on arrivals and departures, childhood, sisterhood, lost love, and freedom. From cityscape to dreamscape, these poems are deeply felt and fully realized.

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Recommended by Henry


The Proxy Eros

by Mookie Katigbak
Anvil, 2008

Burning Houses
by Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
University of Santo Tomas, 2013

Henry’s comments:
 I first encountered Mookie Katigbak’s “As Far As Cho-Fu-Sa,” a variation on Pound’s adaptation of the Li Po poem, when I was just starting to take poetry seriously. I remember actually getting upset that she had nothing more published at the time. So imagine my joy when I rediscovered Katigbak just this month, whose name has since expanded, and who now has two books of poems which contend with myth and canons in gorgeously clarifying visions. These lines from that early poem (which you can find in The Proxy Eros) have echoed with me for years: “What I am, ever, is this: composure of stones. . . . / /But nothing moves. Somewhere / You are actual. Happen to me there.”

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Recommended by Jai


Islands Linked By Ocean

by Lisa Linn Kanae
Bamboo Ridge Press, 2009

Jai’s comments: I was blown away by Kanae’s experimental text written in (and about) Hawaiian Creole English and pidgin, “Sista Tongue.” This collection of her short stories is deeply moving, flat-out hilarious, and strengthened by the sharp vulnerability in each character’s voice.


by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs
Belladonna, 2013

Jai’s comments: This book is sonic genius . . . Diggs is sonic genius. A multilingual text written in Cherokee, Japanese, Spanish, Quechua, Yoruba and more, it is a (re)sounding “werk” of kinesthetic/kine-sonic delight.


M. NourbeSe Philip
Wesleyan University Press, 2008

Jai’s comments: In 1781 on the slave ship Zong, over 150 slaves were thrown overboard in order for the ship’s owners to collect insurance money. Philip grasps at these submerged voices, a drowned language. Reading this book is disorienting and chaotic—letters are jettisoned from words, phrases are cast and broken. In this horror, in this violence done unto language/bodies, the dead arise from the sea.

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For additional reading, we also recommend any of the following titles that we featured here on the blog during 2013:

What were your favorite reads in 2013? Tell us in the comments, or share a link with us on Facebook or Twitter! Have a safe and wonderful new year, and we’ll see you in 2014.

Review: Luisa A. Igloria’s THE SAINTS OF STREETS

The Saints of Streets by Luisa A. Igloria | University of Santo Tomas 2013 | $17


“Hokusai believed in the slow / perfectibility of forms” (3), begins Luisa A. Igloria’s newest book of poems, The Saints of Streets. She has been writing a poem a day since 2010, a project archived online and from which this collection was born. Given how prolific she is, I could not help but find in these opening lines a reassurance that the poems collected here are not merely practice but are a practice. For perfectibility, the poem goes on to say, is “the way, // after seventy-five years or more, the eye / might finally begin to understand / the quality of a singular filament—” Indeed, this is a book of single filaments, and in these poems are so much delight and wisdom, often beginning in the mundane but nearly always spiraling inward to the sacred.

We see this spiraling quality first of all in the poems about place, which is one of what I’ll call three clotheslines bending with this collection’s poems: clotheslines, I say, because of the quality the poet gives to everyday activity, weighted with meditations even as it flutters in the wind. The place poems nod most pronouncedly to the collection’s title. In “Repair,” for instance, we begin in the present moment: “Almost at the alley’s elbow, I know the gate . . .” (9). Shortly after that, we move to the wistful past tense, each sentence beginning “There used to be” as a litany. Just as we first graze the alley as a kind of body, so does the speaker name the ghosts of objects as though in mortal lament, counting down structural losses, strippings, and repairs along with the absences of people. But the magic of this poem is in its concluding grammatical shift. See how, in the last three lines, the past tense makes way for something closer to the timeless:

across the south wall, even on the night the child
ran out the side door with bare feet, crying after the figure
disappearing halfway up the rise, beyond the street.

Line by line we move from a definite point in time (“on the night”), to an ongoing and simultaneous action (“ran out . . . crying”), and finally to an image marked by its remove from the rest of the action (“disappearing . . . beyond”). The medial caesura of each line helps us rhythmically, step by step, as do the definite articles. The final “disappearing” is a present participle, non-finite: not quite past and not quite present. And that last image of what is “beyond the street,” in its ghostly way, takes us through the longing into something even greater than the object of the longing, greater than the body of the street.

Continue reading “Review: Luisa A. Igloria’s THE SAINTS OF STREETS”

Curated Prompt: Luisa A. Igloria – “Poetry as Speculum”

Luisa A. Igloria
Luisa A. Igloria

This May, in celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we have asked several respected teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share writing exercises with us in lieu of our regular Friday Prompts. This week’s installment was contributed by Luisa A. Igloria.

Writing poetry is always a little archaeological—we dig and sift not only through our fund of experiences and memories, but also through a variety of textual fragments. As a writer in the diaspora, I am always reminded that the past, history, is a hallucinatory presence right here with us; that our life in the contemporary moment is marked by the displacements that time is eternally enacting.

In the news, we encounter stories about all sorts of anniversaries and commemorations: recently, so many articles on Bin Laden’s capture and killing last year; but also, I read the reminder that my high school friend and classmate, James Balao (whose 51st birthday was April 19), has been missing for nearly four years now since his political abduction by state forces on September 17, 2008. And then, I learn that a former student and friend, and one of my daughter’s grade school teachers who has made a life in Japan these last ten years, walked out of her home and marriage a month ago, with three very small children in tow—and has not been seen or heard of since. How is it possible? I am disturbed. I am disturbed by these unexplained rifts in time, by the unforgivable absences of explanations. And because facts alone, even when they are available, cannot assuage the terrible depths of these displacements, I turn to poetry for some kind of response, if not relief.

Because we are all involved in the drift of time, displacement is a function of contemporary experience—it is not something reserved only for us in the diaspora or for those of us who live with the legacies of colonization. History is a field at once very large and very intimate. But I like to think of the past as not completely done, of history’s archives as not static; we can enter the archive, we can reconstruct and re-imagine events, we can insert ourselves as figures or characters into its landscapes.

Continue reading “Curated Prompt: Luisa A. Igloria – “Poetry as Speculum””

LR News: LR Contributors Selected as Winner, and Finalists, for BEST OF THE NET 2010

Asterio Enrico Gutierrez

We are delighted to announce that LR Contributor Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrez’s poem, “Death poem exercise 64,” which originally appeared in Issue 1, has been selected for the 2010 Best of the Net Anthology.  Asterio’s poem was one of only twelve selected by guest judge Erin Belieu for this year’s Anthology (it appears alongside contributions from such luminaries as B.H. Fairchild and Claudia Emerson), and we are absolutely ecstatic to see his work honored in this way.

(To read Asterio’s poem in Best of the Net 2010, click here).

(To read Asterio’s poem as it originally appeared in Issue 1 of Lantern Review, click here).

Luisa A. Igloria
Subhashini Kaligotla

Congratulations are also in store for LR contributors Luisa A. Igloria and  Subhashini Kaligotla, whose respective poems  “Contingency” and “Sydney Notebook” (which were also originally published in LR Issue 1), were selected as finalists.

Many, many congratulations to Asterio, Luisa, and Subhashini, and as many thanks to the Best of the Net editors for this wonderful honor!

Be sure to check out all of the poems that appear in this year’s Best of the Net Anthology here.



LR News: Best of the Net 2010 Nominations

We are pleased to announce our nominations for Sundress Publications’ 2010 Best of the Net Anthology.  They are, in order of their appearance in our magazine:

The Newlyweds,” translated by Hsiao-Shih (Raechel) Lee

Sydney Notebook” by Subhashini Kaligotla

Death poem exercise 64” by Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrez

Contingency” by Luisa A. Igloria

All four poems were first published in Issue One of Lantern Review.

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About the Nominated Poets

Hsiao-Shih (Raechel) Lee

Hsiao-Shih (Raechel) Lee is from Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She received her MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is currently a PhD candidate in Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Stanford University.

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Subhashini Kaligotla

Subhashini Kaligotla’s poems have appeared in such journals as Crab Orchard Review, The Literary Review, New England Review, and Western Humanities Review, and in poetry collections in India, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  She is a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in poetry and the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship to India for literary translation.  Kaligotla lives in New York City, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art.

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Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrez

Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrezs fiction and poetry have appeared in Lantern Review, Asia Writes, TAYO, Philippines Free Press, Philippines Graphic, and the Sunday Times Magazine, among others. He lives in Manila, Philippines.

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Luisa A. Igloria

Originally from Baguio City, Luisa A. Igloria is the author of Juan Luna’s Revolver (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), which received the Ernest Sandeen Prize; Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. She currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at  Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, hand-binds books, and keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings.

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Congratulations to all four nominees.  We are proud to be represented by such a fine selection of work and wish each of you the best of luck during the judging process!

The Page Transformed: Luisa Igloria on Ekphrasis in JUAN LUNA’S REVOLVER

Juan Luna's "Spolarium"
Juan Luna's "Spoliarium"

As part of our exploration of ekphrastic poetry, poet Luisa Igloria (who was featured in our November 2009 interview) very graciously agreed to answer some questions about the role that ekphrasis plays in her most recent book, the Ernest Sandeen Prizewinning Juan Luna’s Revolver [UND Press 2009].


LR: In what ways did visual art inform your process in developing Juan Luna as a project?

LI: Visual art provided both a means to stimulate individual poems, as well as provide points of thematic unity between the different parts of the book.  I looked at photographs, old lithographic representations, postcards, and more.  Juan Luna’s Revolver could not have evolved without calling to poems that make some reference to art — after all, Juan Luna was a painter, one of several Filipino artists and intellectuals who left the Philippine colony for Spain and other European destinations in the mid to late 1800s to study and to travel. Juan Luna was perhaps most famous for his mural “Spoliarium” which depicted two defeated gladiators being dragged into a chamber where they would be stripped of their armor and prepared for burning. The painting won one of two gold medals at a Barcelona exposition and took the art world there by surprise.  In truth, however, I came to the Juan Luna poems in the book more gradually — the book perhaps really began with my long-standing fascination with stories about the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, and how 1100+ indigenous Filipinos were transported to serve as live exhibits there (many of them were taken from the northern Cordillera region in the Philippines, which is where I grew up). I’d done considerable research on this and looked at archival material, and it became clearer to me as the poems came that one of the central themes in this project was colonial spectatorship. Fair-goers at St. Louis in 1904 came to see the Philippine reservation and its half-clothed savages, and protested that they had paid to see “the authentic native” when well-meaning persons out of concern for their health, wondered if they should be given warm clothing to wear. While traveling in Europe, Juan Luna and his contemporaries were similarly gawked at. But through the powerful art and literature they produced (Juan Luna’s compatriot Jose Rizal wrote the two novels that further inflamed a grassroots-led revolution which finally overthrew the Spanish colonial regime) they had found a way to return the gaze of the Other.

LR: What influenced your decisions in terms of where and how to place ekphrastic poems like “Letras y Figuras,” “Dolorosa,” and “Mrs. Wilkin Teaches an Igorot the Cakewalk” within the text of Juan Luna?  How do you envision their particular contributions to the arc and the rhythm of the text?

LI: When I’m beginning to work on the structure of a book, I also like being led by the tonal and emotional congruencies between parts. I try to see what kinds of “music” might be made by the decision to set one poem next to another, one section next to another. I don’t necessarily think a chronological approach is always the best one. And, I much prefer trying to set up relationships across poems so that it might be possible for an image or motif to jettison the reader back or toward another moment, in another poem…   For example, even if the 1904 / World’s Fair poems form the last section, I hope it eventually becomes clear to readers that I’ve been trying to talk about the implications of looking at something or someone, or being held in close scrutiny, really from the very outset (such as in a very early poem in the book like “Intimacy deserves a closer look” ).

LR: In the poem “Ekphrasis,” you write of the viewing of sculpture as a process of critical reading: “the bridle that is history’s wants it to stay / its previous course — At least that’s how // it might be read” (55).  In what ways can the exercise of “seeing” and subsequently interpreting a physical object of beauty prove useful to poets in our own crafting of imagery and perspective on the page?

LI: Poets frequently “see” and “interpret” — that is, find ways to move from a physically sensuous validation of the world (“seeing” is part of that) to finding in language the means, the shape, the form in which to express it. “Seeing” has never  equated to a “neutral” activity to me. Even when I’m people-watching, I quickly realize I’m making up stories, wondering about the hidden narratives: who’s that old couple in the parking lot? where are they going, what are they thinking, who will they meet? what did they have for breakfast? When the imagination exerts an influence on what’s given, we make art. That’s one of the things that still continually amazes and humbles me – that on the one hand historical reports might say of events in the past, “these things are over, they’re done” — but that on the other hand, poetry can say, let’s look at it again; and what if?  So yes there is critical reading, but there is also a sense that meaning can be remade or that a closed door is not necessarily what we think it is.  We might think we know everything there is to know about something. But poetry always reminds us of the mystery that remains.

To read more about Luisa Igloria and her work, please visit her web site and blogJuan Luna’s Revolver is available for purchase from the University of Notre Dame Press.

Friends & Neighbors: Barely South Review

Poet Luisa Igloria, whom we interviewed back in November, has recently brought a new call for submissions to our attention. 

According to an announcement on the Ning page of Old Dominion University’s MFA program, the brand new electronic journal Barely South Review  is looking for: “work of engaging and exceptional quality that excites and invites varied perspectives, from emerging as well as established writers in the genres of fiction, poetry and nonfiction” to feature in its debut issue.

Submissions will be accepted until February 15th, via email.  Click here and scroll down to read the full instructions and guidelines.

Staff Picks: Holiday Reading Recommendations

Whether you’ll be traveling or relaxing at home during the upcoming holidays, it’s a great time to polish off an old reading list or to start in on something new.  As our gift to you this season, and to help you get started on your own holiday reading list, we’ve asked members of the LR Staff to recommend some of their recent favorites.  Here are our suggestions.


Asylum | Quan Barry | University of Pittsburgh Press (2001)

Recommended by Mia: “My holiday reading pick . . . it’s her first collection.  Her engagement with the voices and subjects of the Vietnam War is beautifully executed, and though the scope of her work is much broader, I was most riveted by her ‘war’ poems.”

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Behind My Eyes |
Li-Young Lee | W.W. Norton & Company (2008)

Recommended by Iris: “This is Lee’s most recent collection — and it is stunning, as always.  Figurations of the Virgin Mary intertwine with moving landscapes, conversations between the poet and his wife, the transitory spaces of travel, a chance vision of the poet’s father; all hang in a delicate, almost sacred, lumen, suspended somewhere between heaven and earth.  Each poem breathes with an expansiveness and a grave tenderness that only Lee knows how to render. Behind My Eyes is sold with a CD of the poet reading some the poems in the book, and I highly recommend listening to this, as well.  I had the privilege of hearing Lee read from his drafts for this book a few years before it came out, and loved the way that the intonation of his voice seamed through the lines of each poem, threading them together in a low, sonorous hum.  It’s a beautiful listening experience, and adds a new and lovely textural dimension to his already melodious poetics.”

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Call Me Ishmael Tonight |
Agha Shahid Ali | W.W. Norton & Company (2003)

Recommended by Supriya: “This collection of ghazals shows the versatile ways in which a poetic form can go beyond its history and language while staying true to its essence. Agha Shahid Ali demonstrates the intentionality with which he overcomes expectations and boundaries by using a traditional form that often evokes feelings of longing and melancholia but writing in a contemporary English that feels timeless. Although written entirely in form, the range and depth of this collection allows for a vast expanse of emotions and possibilities and is the perfect collection with which to curl up whatever your mood.”

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A Gesture Life |
Chang-rae Lee | Penguin USA (2000)

Recommended by Ada: “Told from the point of view of Dr. Hata, a Japanese WWII veteran, this fictional memoir weaves between his experiences in a crumbling outpost of a Japanese imperial outpost in the last days of the war and his later life in gated, suburban America. The protagonist in Lee’s second novel is so reasonable it’s eerie, and though I think that we are meant to feel sorry for Dr. Hata and the stiffly respectable, appropriately understated life he has bound himself into, the distance that separates him from all the other characters in this book translates into distance from the reader. Not that the whole book left me cold: the scenes describing Dr. Hata’s encounters with Korean comfort women during the war are eye-opening, gripping, and an interesting perspective on the terrors of war.”

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Holiday Reading Recommendations”

A Conversation with Luisa Igloria

Luisa A. Igloria and two of her most recent books
Luisa A. Igloria and two of her most recent books

LUISA A. IGLORIA is the author of Juan Luna’s Revolver, recipient of the 2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize (University of Notre Dame, 2009 ); Trill & Mordent, recipient of the 2006 Global Filipino Award for Poetry (WordTech Editions, 2005); and 8 other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines (B.A.), Ateneo de Manila University (M.A.), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (Ph.D.), where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. Other awards include Finalist in the 2009 Narrative Poetry Contest, the 2007 49th Parallel Prize from Bellingham Review, the 2007 James Hearst Poetry Prize (North American Review), the 2006 National Writers Union Poetry Prize, the 2006 Stephen Dunn Award for Poetry; and 11 Palanca Awards and the Palanca Hall of Fame Distinction in the Philippines. Originally from Baguio City, she lives in Norfolk, Virginia and is an associate professor on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. She keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings. Visit her online at her web site or at her blog The Lizard Meanders.

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LR: When did you first decide that you wanted to become a writer, or have you always known?

LI: I’ve always had a love for words, perhaps because my parents taught me to read early ( by age 3 ). I was also raised as an only child by parents who were twenty years apart in age (my dad was 20 years older than my mom)—perhaps this had some bearing on the way I was raised, perhaps not; in any case I remember that they took me with them a lot when they went out or to other friends’ homes to socialize, and would invariably bring a book or two for me so I could occupy myself safely in a corner and not be bored. They loved going to art events, concerts, the movies—we weren’t wealthy but my father would sometimes be able to get complimentary tickets because of work connections, and he would always be sure to include me. They took me to see a group from the Bolshoi ballet with Dame Margot Fonteyn dancing excerpts from “Swan Lake” when I was a second grader and let me stay up past bedtime to do so; but they were also just as excited by musicals like “Showboat” and in fact took me out of school early so we could watch the first run. I always knew that whatever it was I wanted to do, it would involve the work of the imagination. They’d wanted me to be a concert pianist (in fact, I’m named after a Filipina pianist popular back in their day), or a lawyer, like my father.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Luisa Igloria”