Top of the stack… by Shauna Osborn

Bedside Table Series: #2
by PQ Contributing Editor Shauna Osborn

Full discloser—I do not own a nightstand. What I have instead is a rather large stack of books that live on the floor next to my bed. They stay there until I read my way through them. The books in the stack change, but the stack never disappears completely. Despite my shortcoming on furniture, I am happy to share two items near the top:

The Roominghouse Madrigals: Early Selected Poems by Charles Bukowski was such a wonderful find at a local bookstore this month. Bukowski’s early work is definitely more lyrical than his later poems, but the color of his work is constant and present.

As with all Bukowski, you can smell the cheap liquor and stale cigarette smoke wafting from each page. “O, We Are the Outcasts,” “The Literary Life,” and “Interviewed by a Guggenheim Recipient” feature one of his favorite groups to beat upon in lyrical form—other poets. No one can claim he holds back while slashing through the hypocrisy he envisions amongst his peers, even in his early work. Poems such as these fit solidly with the texture one expects from Bukowski.

Yet, poems like “The Sun Wields Mercy,” “Singing Is Fire,” and “Counsel” wax almost hopeful. The lyrical effects within poems such as these are soft and startling—so much so that after reading certain poems, I had to check the cover of the book again.  I have a lot of affection for these poems—the ones that make me question what I had come to expect of Bukowski. The spots of unfamiliar light and surprising joy are all the stronger surrounded by what would be considered the quintessential grit of Bukowski’s later work.


While I have thoroughly enjoyed reading essay collections written by June Jordan in the past, I must admit I had not read any of her poetry until I found Passion: New Poems a short time ago.  Jordan’s poetic work mirrors the strength and political activism found in her essays without question.

Poems like “Case in Point” and “Rape is Not a Poem” focus on bringing voice to those women silenced by assault. Through her use of short lines and twists in conversation amongst the characters, Jordan pulls the reader into the scene to witness the violence still tormenting the persona.  There are many shocking moments in Jordan’s poems that draw attention to outrageous treatment of her characters or specific political moments.  Even the first poem of the collection “Poem for Nana,” which focuses on an oil spill and Native American issues, sets up the reader for these head jerking moments with its first stanza:

What will we do

when there is nobody left

to kill?

These moments of surprise occur throughout Jordan’s work and I never found myself fully prepared for them. Not a lighthearted collection, Passion serves up 100 pages of truly powerful zeal in poetic form.

Shauna Osborn is a Comanche/German mestiza who works as an instructor, wordsmith,and community organizer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received her Master of Fine Arts from New Mexico State University in 2005. Shauna has won various awards for her academic research, photography, and poetry. Her first collection of creative nonfiction is currently being considered for publication.