Gabby Rivera. Juliet Takes a Breath. Dial Books, Penguin Random House, 2019. 320 Pages. From $14.42
Reviewed by Jason Méndez
Gabby Rivera’s debut novel, Juliet Takes A Breath, introduces readers to Juliet Palante, a nineteen-year-old Bronxite who, for the first-time, is leaving home for an internship in Portland, Oregon with Harlowe Brisbane, renowned feminist author of Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. What Juliet thinks will be a summer of research instead becomes a summer of awakening as she begins to explore her sexuality, femininity and racialized identity. Juliet is learning how to claim the ways in which she, a brown-skinned Boricua from the Bronx, New York, shows up not only to the world but to her family–to a mother who believes her being gay is just a phase, a father who does not say much, a titi who’s been ride-or-die since birth, and her Twix-loving little brother who wants Juliet to let out her “Lesbionic truths.”
Rivera’s work critically examines the nuances in feminism; particularly, how some “woke” white women, despite their activism toward dismantling patriarchy, still other black and brown women and femmes by recentering whiteness. This novel is an exemplary example of challenging the deficit and monolithic perspectives that continually shape narratives of urban life as impoverished spaces with people determined to escape. Rivera not only pays homage to the Bronx in setting, but in language–the cadence and rhythm of the Bronx dialect Rivera captures on the page is free and flowing, unbothered by the white gaze that demands footnotes and definitions for those outside of the cultural lived experience. Although categorized as Teen and Young Adult, Juliet Takes A Breath provides openings to engage multiple audiences from LBGTQ+ communities, to Puerto Rican and other Latinx communities to white folks interested in understanding the distinction between being an ally and a coconspirator.
For readers interested in Juliet Takes A Breath, Rivera has also collaborated with illustrator, Celia Moscote, to create the illustrated adaption, Juliet Takes A Breath: Graphic Novel.
Jason Méndez is a Boricua interdisciplinary artist from the South Bronx, New York. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Randolph College. He is the cofounder of Sons of the Boogie, a Bronx-based arts collective as well as cofounder of Block Chronicles, a national web-series and online magazine profiling the work of Latinx educators and artists. Currently, he lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he is working on a memoir. See more at jasoncmendez.com.
Michael Garrigan. Robbing the Pillars. Homebound Publications, 2020. 116 Pages. From $16.95
Reviewed by Angela Dribben
In Robbing the Pillars, Michael Garrigan becomes poet and cartographer, crafting a map of relationships between elements—himself and the campfire, the water, the mountain, “pixelated sky;” the steel town family he’s from. While most maps are static, this poet offers us one of change and choice.
Garrigan reaches through time and cultures, interweaving the ways which water is known—to raftsman, to mills, to furnaces, to canals, and to trains. Then settles in ethereal, “It is this, the water that runs…, rippled meniscus named many things, that allows us to breathe sounds into song.”
He organically oscillates between geology, poetics, and love “of moving water / that’s hewed rock in a way that / reminds me of my father and the cleft lip he was born with…mirrored the landscape / of his childhood…coal country torn, stripped / of its muscle and scarred.” Leaving us to hold the complexity of kin and home.
A disciple of ecology, diligent with accuracy, as though to name is to accept responsibility for it: he identifies not just what he loves at first sight, but also what he has grown to love.
Garrigan culminates with questions of “god.” Holy Trinity ends, “water is water / fish is fish / rock is rock.” Where Is This God You Speak Of? opens with “It was the word ‘god’ that tore me apart.” I felt that dry-catch-in-throat feeling of discovery. Perhaps all along Garrigan’s compulsive christening is to rename what “god” is, who he is in relation to “god” and the natural world, and to put that wounded part of himself back together.
While Robbing the Pillars is perennial in its gravitas, I can hardly think of a time more deeply in need of the “all-encompassing sound of the river” than as we begin to come back together.
Angie Dribben’s poetry, essays, and reviews can be found or are forthcoming in Deep South, San Pedro River Review, Crab Creek Review, Crack the Spine, New Southern Fugitive, and others. Recently she joined Cider Press Review as Contributing Reviews Editor. EVERYGIRL, a finalist for the Dogfish Head Prize, is due out in 2021 with Main Street Rag.
Annette Covrigaru. Reality in Bloom. Ursus Americanus Press, 2020. Chapbook. From $12.00
Reviewed by Celina McManus
The way this book fits perfectly in one hand—a welcome reckoning—is a gift of movement and color. This chap left me sated; it is a rapture of full human experience within image and language. Covrigaru writes from within their experiences of trauma in a way that brought a welcome knot to my throat, not one that constricts, but blossoms, as in volta-rich lines of the four-part poem “Revival:” “There’s a freedom to / suicidality that goes away once you’ve been stabilized, / once you realize that it was never freedom to die.” There is permission in these poems for the space of reflection and self-awareness as writer and poet, and for exploration as a person within the bounds of binaries. Covirgaru twists expectations with the flick of the wrist, as with the second poem, “haifu, 93,” which asks to be read flipped and within a black and white photograph. Words whiten with the first lines, “her wedding ring for strawberry jelly.” They taste of their own sustainability and freedom. The only image in color in this chapbook lies within the fourteenth page with “kotel, 93:” “the absent portrait echoes.” What power and craft in evocation of juxtaposition, of erasure, of retelling. This chapbook reminds me that a new world is in fact possible. The strikethrough in the title poem, “reality, in bloom.” exists as an invitation to themself and to us. The couplets of “reality, in bloom.” leave us with, “i am tired of extracting parts of / myself to stay sane, but would / pluck every rib to see / myself whole.” How whole-making, how wholesome, how holy.
Celina McManus writes poetry and children’s literature. She received her MFA from Randolph College. Her work is featured or forthcoming in journals such as Hooligan Magazine, Peach Mag, Cobra Milk, and Rabid Oak, where she was nominated for Best of the Net. She is from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.