Book Review: Three New Chapbooks

Marrowbone (Beetnik Press)
Relic (Appaloosa Press)
Unbridaled (Valium Vixen Press)

Several new chapbooks and independent literary presses have made their way into the world this week, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading three of them in particular. All three have been penned by women and all three relate to the natural world in mysterious ways. The first is Hannah Kreitzer’s Marrowbone, which has been described as a collection of “myths and fables” by the publisher: “These three stories will whisk the reader to arcane and mysterious lands, but the darkest journeys take place within the human heart.”

Indeed, Marrowbone delivers to the reader a strange world filled with unusual characters, including one of the most intriguing characters in this slim volume, a bony animal-like figure who befriends a fellow traveler:

That night the sun gave swift surrender to the butter-pale half moon. I fell asleep with ground squirrel and cold water in my stomach, the bonebuck’s ribs bracing my spine, and I dreamed a sky full of crows layered dozens-thick between the clouds and earth. Bones were strewn all through the field around me—ribs and limbs cast askew like forgotten omens. Snow came down through the crows’ wings, stacking up around the bones and settling on my boots…

The stories in this book lead the reader to some fascinating and unexpected places, and we never lose our confidence in Ms. Kreitzer’s vision and skill as we journey along with her characters. Chelsea Ardle, one of the publishers of Marrowbone and co-founder of Beetnik Press, shared with me her impressions of Ms. Kreitzer’s take on the natural world and of the chapbook itself:

Marrowbone takes the reader to places unknown, and yet, emotionally familiar—a woman going through her time of the month, trying to find some comfort; a girl trying to find her rhythm on a path unknown; a love lost. In her fictional tales, Kreitzer uses subtle symbolism to tell old stories through new eyes. In her descriptions of place, I think it is easy to recognize the author’s own ties to land.

On a more personal note, the publisher continues: “I will tell you here that Kreitzer is a strong supporter of being barefoot for as long as it is possible during the year. Her feet are calloused and knowledgeable of the places she has walked, the land she lives on. This fact, shows through in the chapbooks stories to me, especially ‘Threefold.’”
As I read this volume, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way Ms. Kreitzer distills the mysterious into concrete terms. A native of Maine, she cites as one of her writerly influences John Prine, “who is a quiet master of earth-stained truth and humor,” and has said of her own connection to place: “I love the woods and the dirt and the shared heritage of stoicism. Being from Maine means knowing something about space and silence. I’m grateful for that.” Ms. Kreitzer has proven herself an expert in those very topics via the earthy yet elusive stories in this collection.

After hearing Lorena Williams read from her new nonfiction chapbook Relic last week in Braddock, PA, I quickly became enamored with the honest resilience of her prose. While she is currently a writing teacher at two universities, the bio on the back of the book also tells me that she has played the roles of “Wilderness Ranger… wildland firefighter…and…whitewater guide,” so by the time I open her chapbook to the first page, her well-wrought descriptions of place don’t surprise so much as thrill the restless wanderer buried somewhere within me. Her descriptions of the natural environment are shot through with a quiet kind of beauty:

My jog takes me along the ditch road past rolling hills of sagebrush, the windswept Oregon desert silent but for the tee-dee, tee-dee of pygmy nuthatches huddled together in the morning sun. The crunch of my shoes through crusty snow disturbs the tiny blue-gray birds into a chattering departure, only for them to alight on the very same branches moments after I pass.

Ms. Williams displays a finely tuned sense of place in these tales, as befits her biography on the back cover. I find myself intrigued with this description of the author’s roots: “A native of the American West, Lorena Williams has long preferred rock to brick, sage to streets.” Released by Appaloosa Press, Relic displays the tension between the Oregon landscape of Ms. Williams’ roots and the Pittsburgh cityscape that is her more recent home:

Content with the reasonably unchanged vista—the cows, the distant tractor making its way up Graham Boulevard—I turn toward home and prepare to lie.
“No—I actually really like living in a city,” I say through a mouthful of scrambled egg. “It’s great being so close to everything, you know? I ride my bike pretty much everywhere.”

Throughout Relic, Ms. Williams confides in the reader as she explores a kind of longing for the land of her childhood, and we can only respond with appreciation for the beauty of both her landscapes, real and longed-for, and her words themselves.

Shannon Hozinec’s chapbook Unbridaled, a book of poems, also makes its debut this week. According to her bio, Ms. Hozinec is a Pittsburgh poet who “is powered by an oft-lethal combination of whiskey and hairspray!” I appreciate the humor in this description, though the majority of poems featured in the book are of a far more serious nature than this brief description.

According to the publisher, this intriguing collection of poems “examines what happens in a post-apocalyptic society after a pseudo-human creature corrals a horde of lostlings under his wing. It engages with bloodlust and dominance, sacrifice and self-preservation, gender relegation and destruction—with what is earth, what is meat, and what is unalienable within us all.” An earthy kind of premise, indeed! While this description sounds terrifying to me, the poetry itself is a gifted mixture of surprising images and juxtapositions like this:

The sky ate and ate, clutching
the open spaces in our jaws where
it flashed through and became the world.

and this one from later in the same poem:

Past the hungry days, gathered,
a collective–

shudder as we remember how it felt to eat our least favorite dogs.

On the whole, I found Ms. Hozinec’s use of language to be thought-provoking and often astonishing. Witness for yourself in an excerpt from “The Melting Town”:

Besmeared with mud as we were–
as we walked, we created the ground. And oh,
we are such a wooden bunch,

wearing gristle-grain proudly on our chests–
each step turned old beasts to ash.
Her images resound and linger, long after the book has been set down.


Filed under: Book Review, Prose