Skip to content

What We’re Reading: The Wish Book

2014 June 12
Comments Off on What We’re Reading: The Wish Book

What We're Readingthe wish bookThe Wish Book by Alex Lemon (Milkweed Editions 2014)

“Panty-clad gods,” birthday cake in the same poem as butchering, ghosts, graceful bearded ladies, and Beyonce’s thighs. These are all images from Alex Lemon’s fourth book of poetry, The Wish Book.

Written leading up to and shortly after the birth of Lemon’s son, fatherhood is one of the main themes of the book. In this interview with Lemon, he says, “I’m positive that the life and self-altering fact of fatherhood backdropped and shaped each poem in the book, even the ones that don’t speak directly to it.”

Secondary themes are death/mortality and pervasive effects of pop-culture. He explores these themes with an array of objects and explosive imagery, taking objects from everyday life and shedding a surreal light on them. In that same interview, Lemon talks about how the themes in this book “are rooted in the ordinary—the stuff of the world that clumps around us—the nails and nail polish and sugar maples and dogwood and guitar strings—and our relationships and memories.”

The poems featuring his son, or his contemplations of fatherhood thrum with a physical emotional reaction, such as in the poem “After The World Did Not End”:

My ribs don’t cradle

Me right & maybe
I like feeling as if

I’m slipping out
Of the enormous hand

That’s puppeting me.
But when the baby

Cries & tears jewel
His cheek’s fat

Ledges, I fit into
Myself with the burn

Of a dislocated
Elbow being reset.

Watching him
Sleep today I’m on

Fire. I want to
Rip deep holes

In my body & umbrella
Over him—welcome

His shallow breaths
Into me as he rocks

Lemon can turn an emotion into physical sensation that we feel in our own bones.

His writing flits along a razor edge, one moment showing us grisly images, the next moment, a chaotic collision of emotional heft, then shifts into a line that makes you laugh out loud. Short lines stumble into the next with abrupt enjambment, free of excess flesh and unnecessary verbiage. Rather, each word is a taut muscle, ready to prick, attack, and dissolve the reader while culminating in a lip-licking satisfying ending. Lemon is an expert of the last turn of phrase, the a-ha moment, that brings each poem to it’s full potential.

Perhaps best to describe this collection are these lines from the poem “Trick Bag”:

I am a ramshackle palace.

The brightness, the din,
Like a car crash. Around me,

It’s beautiful stuff—the little
Oblivions smearing as I go.

Four sections long, this book isn’t afraid to switch up the pace. It starts with a one-poem section, a beautiful poem that echoes after you turn the page to the second section. The second and fourth sections contain a handful of shorter poems that gain momentum. Lemon stretches his dexterity in section three with “Real-Live Bleeding”, a long, formally inventive poem that includes pornography, “razzle dazzle,” alligator, neon, and French kissers.

The vulnerability of the body, hospitals, and illness all crop up in this collection, too, creating a cocktail of bodily and medical curiosities, such as in the poem “Falling Asleep In A Stranger’s Bathtub”:

[…] Each day

A sunset of painkillers
& at midnight you feel

As if your sleeping cap’s
Been nailed to your head

With lightning. Just
Like you, I’m afraid

To close my eyes—
Surer than shit that

If I’m lucky enough to wake
My limbs will all be gone.

Lemon brought awareness and sensation to my own body with his pointed images pulling at different limbs or appendages. If you haven’t already picked up on it, this is a very physical book, both in the way it was written, and the way it is experienced.

I discovered Lemon when I was an intern at Milkweed Editions, and found myself devouring two of his previous books: Fancy Beasts and Hallelujah Blackout. They’re all full of action, muscle, and glittering imagery, although they express that in different forms and themes. I encourage you to pick up any of these books, to exercise your brain as he exercises his pen.

What other poets pack a punch with their work? Are there other collections of poetry that talk about the theme of fatherhood in a surprising or refreshing way?


What We’re Reading: Summer Preview Round-Up

2014 May 29
Comments Off on What We’re Reading: Summer Preview Round-Up

What We're ReadingWith summer waving its lilac blossoms and punchy-green budding branches at us, we’re getting ready for a summer of reading. The local Minnesota presses have enough to offer without me even needing to look further; but please, add to this list. If you have a book you’re looking forward to, tell us about it! To start this off, here’s a list of books I’m excited to read by the side of a lake, on the sun porch, or while enjoying a brewski.

the wish bookThe Wish Book by Alex Lemon (Poetry, Milkweed Editions)

I was floored by Lemon’s poetry collection Fancy Beasts, so can’t wait to dig into this romp of a book. If the cover art is indicative at all of the interior, this is going to be an absolute pleasure of the senses, and will be rife with his pop culture observations and striking approach.


The Search by Geoff Dyer (Novel, Graywolf Press)

You may have noticed my recent obsession with excellent literary crime fiction, which is why it’s no surprise that The Search has been added to my list. Publisher’s Weekly described the book as “A take on the detective / noir genre in the vein of Auster, Calvino, and Borges. . . . Dyer creates a series of puzzles, which are sure to send some back for a second read”. A fan of Calvino, I’m looking forward to getting lost in Dyer’s puzzling display of mystery and storytelling.

faces in the crowdFaces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli (Novel, Coffee House Press)

Layered novels captivate me with their patient story arches, the weaving of characters and time. I expect Faces in the Crowd to be no different. With three narrators struggling with voices and memories of the past, I’m excited to see how Luiselli brings their individual voices together for the overarching thread.


Thirty Rooms to Hide In by Luke Longstreet Sullivan (Memoir, U of M Press)

Six sons of a prominent Mayo Clinic surgeon watch their father go insane and turn to abuse in this dramatic family history. Families and their inner factions fascinate me, and hearing Sullivan’s account of his childhood is sure to capture my attention.

What are you looking forward to reading? Are you trying to catch up on things you’ve started, or are you ready to start something new?