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Inga Gaile – 30 Questions People Don’t Ask & Allison Benis White – Please bury me in this

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Published in spring this year by Pleiades Press, 30 Questions People Don’t Ask: Selected Poems is by Latvian poet Inga Gaile and translated by Ieva Lešinska. Gaile has four collections of poetry and is also a writer, playwright and theatre producer. Her poetry explores the role of women in society, her inner landscape and members of society who are stigmatised.

“Inga Gaile’s poems re-center subjects of feminism and gender. The collection is a haunting of Zirgu Pasts, myths of half-child bears, voices of buried daughters in relentless lines of heart-beating rhythm and no-nonsense questions digging into protest. Repetition becomes the site of trauma and recovery. The poems perform tragedy on stages of forest churches and icy tongues. Between daughters and mothers and grandmothers, the poems show life as it exists, as both miracle and fog. It is with mathematical precision that she unfurls wounds of history, criticizes emotional sincerity, and complicates witness and testimony.” -E. J. Koh

In her stage work she illuminates injustices and promoting equal rights. Her first staged work Our Sylvia, who art in Heaven/ Mūsu Silvija debesīs focuses on the fate of Sylvia Plath. She uses the genre of confessional poem as a means of self-identification. Gaile is active in the feminist movement in Latvia and founder of stand-up comedy group Sieviešu stendaps/Woman Stand-up Comedy.

In this collection Gaile draws on each area of her life and strips it down; she also explores German and Soviet oppression of Latvia, something deep within the psyche of every Latvian. Some of these poems are the most chilling and incredibly moving in the collection; her use of repetition to reinforce the point is masterly and you can’t help but be deeply affected by her writing. There is great hope in this poetry too as Latvia, as a country, rebuilds itself. One of my favourites is Rebirth of a City and I will put the full poem up in another post.

Rebirth of the City

On that day, the entire city went down on its knees:
On Maskavas, Jersikas, Ebreju, Līksnas, Kijevas, Jēkabpils, Lāčplēša Streets,
Virsaišu, Lauvas, Lielā and Mazā kalna Streets, and heads were bent in Rumbula Forest.
On that day, the entire city went down on its knees,
both those who had been guards and those who could not pronounce “g” or draw a yellow star

The clip below (although in Lativian and about the novel Stikli gives a little bit of footage that’s worth watching)

Allison Benis White’s  Please bury me in this is her third collection which came out last year from Four Way Books. It won the UNT Rilke Prize and a Foreword INDIE Book of the Year Award. Her previous collections, Small Porcelain Head was selected by Claudia Rankine for the Levis Prize in Poetry, and named a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the California Book Award. Her first book, Self-Portrait with Crayon, received the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Book Prize.

Please bury me in this has as it epigraph to the collection this single powerful line:

for the four women I knew who took their lives within a year

In Electric Literature a reviewer states “I’m inclined to call them elegies of a sort, if, as Mary Jo Bang suggests, we understand that the objective of an elegy is ‘to rebreathe life into what the gone once was.’ But the elegy that extends throughout PLEASE BURY ME IN THIS is as much about the haunting insufficiency of language as it is about the cruelty and greed of time and the disunity with which it can frame one’s life. . .The beauty and the power of these poems, then, lies in the acknowledgment of this and the persistence to search anyhow; a gesturing, a reaching toward, that constitutes its own species of expression; its own grammar of grief.”

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One of my favourite descriptions of this book is by Lynn Emanuel who calls it “the softest howl”. Here are fragments worth collecting.

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