Poetry Month, Day 21*: Marci Rae Johnson Recommends Accents Publishing

April 21, 2013

Accents Publishing, launched in 2010, has already published an impressive list of twenty-seven poetry books. Their mission, as stated on the website, is to “promote brilliant voices in an affordable publication format, and to foster an exchange of literature among different world cultures and languages.” A look around the website confirms their success in meeting both of these goals. Poets span a variety of countries and cultures, from Jeremy Paden, born in Italy, raised in Central America and the Carribean, to George Borissov who has published a number of books in Bulgarian, and Affrilachian poet Bianca Spriggs. And books start at just $5 (for chapbooks) and don’t exceed $15 (an anthology). Full length collections range from $10-$15.

At the recent AWP Conference in Boston, I bought two Accents chapbooks. Pictures of the book covers on the website imply Accents’ books are well designed, and I when I saw the books in real life I was not disappointed. Like most book lovers, I almost always judge a book by its cover. (Admit it! You do it too!) Animal Time, by Greg Pape and Reliquary, by Matthew Minicucci have a similar design: gold, slightly shimmery covers with a black and white photo or drawing on the front. Simple, yet pleasing, and they feel good in the hand.

Pape and Minicucci’s books are great examples of the range and quality of work that Accents publishes. While the style and subject matter of these two books differs widely, the quality of the poems remains steady. Reliquary explores Catholic themes (reliquary: a container for relics). Each poem is titled after a station of the cross (“Jesus Is Condemned to Death,” “Jesus Takes Up His Cross,” etc. ) and focuses on a Catholic school boy’s experience of the stations and thus of Catholic theology and culture. And while we see these experiences through the eyes of the young boy, through his voice and through the images of the poem we also hear the reflections of the grown man. Minicucci weaves this double reflection deftly throughout the book, in a way that doesn’t distract or take us out of the focus of the moment: the boy in front of the cross.

Here at the first station I was taught
                 to watch how Jesus’ index and middle finger separate
                                from the thumb, point to the sky as Pilate reads.

It is in this way we are blessed.

Caiaphas stands with his hands outstretched
                fingers splayed and downward.

I was taught to see jackals here,
                more than any other creature, the wine and weep
                                of packs, how a tongue laps the deep cut
                                                exposed bone.

(from Figure 1: “Jesus is Condemned to Death”)

Here, images such as the shape and direction of the hands, and the “wine and weep” of the jackals do much more than provide a simple description of Figure 1: they indicate not only the theology behind this moment of Jesus’ condemnation, but also the grown narrator’s reflections on his Catholic school upbringing. Hints of violence, pain, judgment.

Greg Pape’s Animal Time features a variety of poems either directly about animals, or in which an animal appears as a minor character. Pape is a nature poet of the highest order, and this chapbook shows him at the height of his powers. In this book, Pape explores the grandeur and beauty of nature, and our humble, human place in it, which often pales in comparison to the place of animals and birds.

We have just arrived.
We are standing on the south rim
looking down, feeling our bodies slip

and fall away from us past the cliff face
into that deep space below. We feel light
and small now, our equilibrium shaken as we watch

the raven riding thermals

(From “Moment: Grand Canyon”)

Here, while we shrink at the edge and imagine our demise, the raven, completely at ease, “glides just above the rim/then drops down again.” In Animal Time, Pape constantly pushes us to remember, question, and readjust our relationship with nature and thus with ourselves and the spiritual world, as in “Bird House:” “What can I do now, but adjust my hold, re-imagine/the temple,/accept the starling as totem…”

Marci Johnson

*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems will use this space to praise presses, journals, and readings series that bring poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.

Marci Rae Johnson currently teaches at Valparaiso University, where she serves as poetry editor for The Cresset and on the English department reading series committee (Wordfest). She is also the poetry editor for WordFarm press. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Valparaiso Poetry Review, PerihelionThe Louisville Review, Phoebe, The Christian Century, Strange Horizons, and 32 Poems, among others. Her first collection of poetry won the Powder Horn Prize and will be published by Sage Hill Press later this year.

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