Poetry Book Reviews: Goodwin and Swartwout

I’ve been doing some more reading again lately. Here are two poetry books that I swooned over.

In Caroline Goodwin’s new poetry collection, the elegiac The Paper Tree, language seeks to locate and identify. This is where and what, the poems seem to say. The mood can be mournful, commemorative, meditative.

Images from nature are seeds blown into the wind by the poet in an act of claiming. The urgent need of the poems, intense as it is, ebbs for a moment when hope soars for “a new kingdom . . . where the need to name the shape / does not even exist.” For now, the kingdom itself does not exist, but the glimpse of it has been noted.

Ultimately, the outward gestures of naming and sowing images lead to a necessary inwardness: “hold out your hands / open your heart / here’s where the world slides in.” The Paper Tree will present you the world if you open yourself to its wonders.


Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit, Susan Swartwout’s latest poetry collection, finds the beauty and pathos in the oddities of life. Family history, carnival performance, time spent in Honduras—the subjects are varied, which further emphasizes that our lens can be adjusted to spot the strange and wonderful—or the pitiful—anywhere we look. The language is gutsy, the images sometimes grotesque and sometimes mystical. I found this collection impossible to put down, and poems like “Five Deceits of the Hand” where “we” are betrayed into aging and death thrilled me with jealousy.

Friends vanish like misplaced directions

into skies you used to claim. Age begins

sucking your bones until you lean shriveled

into the mouth of harvest.

In case you’re worried that the book ends on a dark or depressing note, the last word is salvation. I guess you’ll have to read the book to see if that means things work out ok or not.


Maybe I finished my diamond poem (the one I mentioned in Typical Tuesday). Letting it rest right now.

I used #amwriting as a tag this week because I started looking through my memoir manuscript with an idea to restructuring it AGAIN. This is so insane. But look at it this way, what happens over many decades has to be structured in a way that is easy for the reader to follow and stay engaged. Most memoirs take place over a much briefer period of time (is briefer a word?), but the story I want to tell begins at least when I was 11, but truly long before I was born, and doesn’t end until this past decade. PULLING MY HAIR OUT.

Which reminds me that I wanted to share that Perry is in absolute love with his hairbrush. Yup. He hugs it.


Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Poetry reading, Writing Talk

18 responses to “Poetry Book Reviews: Goodwin and Swartwout

  1. Your reviews are poetic in themselves Luanne – the Paper Tree sounds particularly up my street!

  2. Dear Luanne,
    I’m currently caught up in fiction, but these books of poetry do sound fascinating. Also fascinating: how you’ve transformed Perry into the playful pet he’s become.
    Write on!

    • Ah, thanks, Elaine. Enjoy the fiction! Perry has the most adorable personality of any of my cats. He is content to just lie in my arms and give me the occasional lick, but when he’s out with the other cats he so badly wants someone to play with him!

  3. I hope you’ll show us a picture of Perry hugging his brush, Luanne. xo

    • Hah, you don’t know how hard I tried. He is fascinated with my iPhone and how it has pictures and videos on it. He watches himself when we take a selfie. So when he’s with his brush as soon as he sees me pull out the phone he comes toward the phone and away from the brush.

  4. Ah, I know I must read more poetry. And as Andrea says, your reviews are like poetry. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “must” like I’d be reading against my will but I approach poetry so gingerly. Always afraid I won’t “get it.” And then I remind myself I don’t have to “get it.” I just have to “feel it” 🙂
    And, goodness, Perry sounds like such a wonder. He obviously feels very safe and happy with you 🙂

    • I love that you call Perry a wonder. He really is. What a sweetie pie. He was out for well over 3 hours today and then went back into the bedroom, all tuckered out haha.
      You are so right about just feeling poetry!!! That has to be our first reaction to any poem. How does it makes me feel?! 🙂

  5. I admire your tenacity in going at the memoir again. I bet you’ll get it done this time!

  6. The books sound interesting–good luck with yours.
    Perry–the image of him with his brush in my mind! Thank you for that. 🙂

  7. Hey, Luanne, I am so excited to hear you are reviewing your memoir story again. I particularly enjoy your blog posts with memory woven into – the story of your father’s building a house comes to mind. Captivating. – And, on a selfish note, I am also reviewing this manuscript – and of course, having mixed feelings, so I can relate. Someone mentioned to me yesterday that looking over old work can be more frustrating than generating new work. It is the things I have learned in the intervening months that make the old work look less gleaming than it did before. Sigh!

    • I know what you mean about that. One of the problems with my memoir is that the draft was written over many years, and the writing quality changed, so it takes a really objective eye to catch all the “old writing.” So I really sympathize. I think that might be right that looking over old work can be frustrating and really time-consuming.

      • I get that, wow. Still, I love your courage and boldness in tackling it! Something in there needs to be expressed (in the memoir). Have you considered the new so-called “flash memoir” or even “collage memoir”? You mentioned rethinking the structure, that’s why I wondered. And being a poet, your language will be awesome, I know…!

  8. So hoping Perry cheers you up when you feel overwhelmed, Luanne. This new habit sounds cute! xo

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