6 Phoenix Poetry Collections to Read Right Now

Jen Reich during one of her trips.
Jen Reich during one of her trips. Courtesy of Jen Reich
click to enlarge Cynthia Hogue reading from her new book at Changing Hands Tempe. - OFELIA MONTELONGO
Cynthia Hogue reading from her new book at Changing Hands Tempe.
Ofelia Montelongo
The Phoenix literary scene is growing — and garnering some much-deserved attention. In recent months, it's seen the naming of the inaugural Poet Laureate for the City of Phoenix Rosemarie Dombrowski and Alberto Rios’ “The Border: A Double Sonnet” poem projected as part of U2’s 2017 Joshua Tree Tour.

Supporting the local literary development, six Valley poets have published their work to fill our bookshelves with awe-inspiring words. New Times talked with them about their new collections and inspirations.

In June the Labyrinth
By Cynthia Hogue
To call Cynthia Hogue a poet is an understatement. Hogue has been writing poems since she was 8 years old, and she's an award-winning translator, critic, and professor. She has written 14 books, directed the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University, and been a longtime supporter of Phoenix's literary community. Hogue is currently the Marshall Chair in Poetry at Arizona State University.

Her ninth and newest poetry collection In June the Labyrinth (Red Hen Press) took two years of research on labyrinths and intensive solitary writing, which she describes as a wisdom-quest for healing and understanding. “The book started in multiple losses of close friends, wise women I’d counted on over the years,” she says. In a state of grief, Hogue happened to visit the gothic Chartres Cathedral in France where she was inspired by the mythic labyrinth.

“I embarked on a postmodern pilgrimage of sorts,” the poet says. “I found myself lighting a candle and going through the rituals, praying for this or that ailing friend, and making journeys to Chartres each summer of the course of the two years in which this happened.”

The main character in her book, Elle, experiences a similar internal quest. “Labyrinth is maybe among my most personal books," the author says. "I tried to introduce some distance by making it mythopoetic, and developing 'Elle' as a composite character."

Her advice to aspiring writers is to have confidence and practice humility and detachment.

You can find more information about Cynthia Hogue on her website, where you'll find links to vendors selling her book.

click to enlarge Jack Evans at his reading at Practical Art. - OFELIA MONTELONGO
Jack Evans at his reading at Practical Art.
Ofelia Montelongo
Rain is the Hourglass of Memory
By Jack Evans
Jack Evans started writing in 1976 and since then his work has appeared in several publications and written six poetry chapbooks. The poet has performed at over 200 venues in the Valley and he is currently the co-director of Caffeine Corridor Poetry Series at {9} The Gallery.

Rain is the Hourglass of Memory
(Four Chambers Press) is Evans’ first full-length poetry collection. His 10-years-in-the-making book is an outstanding lyrical writing about time as a metaphor. Evans, who is also a musician, made sure his words are full of music symbolism mixed with some darkness. The poem "Chet Baker's Last Dream," which is his favorite, incorporates all of that. Here’s an excerpt of the poem:

"there is an hour you keep / tucked in your wallet/ on the odd chance / you will relive it someday / it is as dark as the inside of a snowflake / and folded tightly/ like a mistake"

You can buy Evans’ book through the Four Chambers website.

His advice for aspiring writers is to write what you feel and to work at the edges of your memory. He also recommends revision. “After letting a new work sit for a little while, go over it again and revise it,” he says. “It’s important to let it sit a few days or even weeks. Then repeat.”

click to enlarge Elizabeth McNeil reading from her newest book. - COURTESY OF ELIZABETH MCNEIL
Elizabeth McNeil reading from her newest book.
Courtesy of Elizabeth McNeil
Ms. X’s Ocean
By Elizabeth McNeil
Inspired by contemporary femininity and mythical elements, the Arizona State University professor Elizabeth McNeil released the poetry collection Ms. X’s Ocean, published by Four Chambers. The collection follows the memorable character Ms. X, who transforms herself through trauma and misfortune. The collection includes pieces from 25 years ago through to last year and it’s full of powerful imagery.

“Ms. X is tied to ocean imagery,” McNeil says. “Which includes the P. T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid [shown in the book cover], with her power and mythos, as well as Ms. X's feeling, from her difficult life, that her existence is tragi-comically tenuous or unreal.”

This poetry collection is available through Four Chambers' website. It has connected with readers, especially those who have experienced abuse. “The book is dedicated to those who have suffered from all that goes with such [sexual] abuse,” she says. “Literature can help us to know we're not alone. That's what I want the book to give—especially to those who find themselves, and are loved in its pages.”

McNeil has been writing poetry for over 40 years and has been published in several literary journals. She is currently working on her next poetry collection titled Dear Monster.

Her advice to aspiring writers is to keep writing. “Go to readings for inspiration. Read. Go to the ocean. See the world. Talk to people. Hug a tree or a person or another sort of animal, or all of the above. Breathe,” she says. “Cry about whatever you need to cry about.”

click to enlarge Jen Reich during one of her trips. - COURTESY OF JEN REICH
Jen Reich during one of her trips.
Courtesy of Jen Reich
Across The Veil: Poems and Photographs For Times of Change
Poems by Jen Reich, Photographs by Gina Dazzo
Jen Reich’s newest collection has beautiful poetry along with photographs that complement her words. Across The Veil: Poems and Photographs For Times of Change is the second collaboration between the poet and photographer Gina Dazzo. The duo met in Flagstaff before moving to the Valley, where they inspired each other to co-create a book.

“It’s a natural fit,” Reich says. “Photographs, especially of nature, have a poetic quality, and poems may stay in our memory, like a photograph.”

Reich has been writing poetry as long as she remembers. “I often think in poetry,” she says. She usually performs with The Black Feather Poets group in the Valley. The poet finds inspiration in nature, people, and human experience.

To learn more about the writer, you can visit her blog Poetry Not Poverty. Her book is available at Changing Hands Bookstore, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Her advice to aspiring writers is to “write every day or most days. Be true to your style, don’t try to write what you think will be popular.”

click to enlarge Jenny Irish reading from his debut poetry book at Changing Hands Tempe. - OFELIA MONTELONGO
Jenny Irish reading from his debut poetry book at Changing Hands Tempe.
Ofelia Montelongo
Common Ancestor
By Jenny Irish
Assistant director of Arizona State University's creative writing program, Jenny Irish published her debut poetry collection Common Ancestor (Black Lawrence Press) earlier this year. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Catapult, Colorado Review, Epoch, and The Georgia Review. Irish has an masters of fine arts from ASU.

Irish, who actually considers herself a fiction writer, explores violence used as entertainment and female sexuality in her prose poetry. Her book is divided in two parts.

The first part, “Wreckage,” consists of 21 poems that follow the journey of Red Wreck, a girl who becomes a cannibal. Wreck’s path is brimful of dark passages, which reflect and symbolize what poverty and desperate times can make you do.

The second part, “Yeehaw Chainsaw,” is also integrated by 21 poems and inspired by the characters of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Irish makes a terrific work in humanizing characters like Leatherface and creating outstanding imagery that makes us gasp.

You can buy her book through Amazon.

click to enlarge Michael Cryer is the author of Channels, Frequencies & Sequences - COURTESY OF ELIZABETH HAMILTON
Michael Cryer is the author of Channels, Frequencies & Sequences
Courtesy of Elizabeth Hamilton
Channels, Frequencies & Sequences
By Michael Cryer
Arizona State University creative writing instructor Michael Cryer released his prose poetry collection Channels, Frequencies and Sequences (Four Chambers Press) after making radical lifestyle changes a few months back. “After those changes, I entered a kind of prolonged manic episode where I was doing all kinds of projects simultaneously," he says. "The poems came out of that productive period."

He describes this collection as he describes his personality, “Absurd, funny, strange, paranoid, and short.” The book, as its tittle suggests, explores the idea of channels, frequencies, and sequences in our lives and the absurdity of our identity mixed with technology. The book is available through the Four Chambers website.

When asked about his writing philosophy, the author says he enjoys being surprised by inventive shifts in tone and music. “Shifts that bend language in a way that asks the reader to see the world differently, a kind of serious play that creates its own poetic logic,” he says.

The poet won the Elixir Press’ 2016 Antivenom Poetry Award for his collection Selected Proverbs coming out later this year. His work has appeared in Quarterly West, Ecotone, DIAGRAM, Hayden's Ferry Review, Cortland Review. Cryer has an MFA in poetry from University of Arizona.

He advises aspiring writers that “when you’re on a hot streak, keep writing ‘cause it ain’t gonna last.'”
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Ofelia is originally from Mexico. She's writing her first novel, Almost a Pilgrim, and is a freelance writer and photographer.