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Featured Books and DVDs: National Poetry Month

Discover a new poet or reunite with an old favorite through our Featured Books and DVDs this month.

A stack of books and DVDs is wedged between the branches of a tree, with a building and blooming trees in the background. Some of the titles include books I Could Pee on This, Taught by Women, and Pulling the Chariot of the Sun, and DVDs All Eyez on Me and Beloved Sisters.

April is National Poetry Month, and the study and performance of poetry is alive and well at Penn. From the 30,000 students taking Professor Al Filreis’s Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (“ModPo”) on Coursera to the spoken word artists performing on campus and around the world as part of The Excelano Project, members of the Penn community are exploring and forging new paths in the art form. Join them by discovering a new poet or reuniting with an old favorite through our Featured Books and DVDs! You can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.

Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.


Books

American Chestnut by John Bargowski

In his latest volume of poems, John Bargowski returns to the farmscapes of his grandfather’s world. The familiar elegiac strain in his work is linked this time to the lost world of American chestnuts, where only the stubborn roots of the exposed trunk remain, buried under the butchered remains of cattle and the raucous cry of crows. Some of the modern post-impressionist's poems highlight his New Jersey connections, with titles like “Field Guide to the Bears of New Jersey”; “My Four-Year-Old Refuses to Enter the Shark Tunnel at Adventure Aquarium, Camden”; and “Standing in Line for the Staten Island Ferry, I See Emily Dickinson Fronting What She Describes as a Post-Modern-Neo-Punk-Ska Band Playing for Change in Terminal C.”

Negotiations by Destiny O. Birdsong 

In her debut collection of poems, Destiny O. Birdsong writes fearlessly towards the question: What makes a self? Negotiations is a series of love letters to Black women, who are often singled out for abuse and assault, silencing and tokenism, fetishization and cultural appropriation in ways that throw the rock, then hide the hand. It is a book about tenderness and an indictment of people and systems that attempt to narrow Black women’s lives, their power. But it is also an examination of complicity—both a narrative and a black box warning for a particular kind of self-healing that requires recognizing culpability when and where it exists.

Lyrics & Prose by Ric Ocasek

Emerging from the New Wave music scene of the late ‘70s, The Cars catapulted to success with the very first single — “Just What I Needed” — off of their debut album. Led by Ric Ocasek, the lead vocalist (along with Benjamin Orr), rhythm guitarist, and songwriter, The Cars became one of the most successful bands of the ‘80s—and their songs are just as beloved by fans today.

In Lyrics & Prose, Ocasek collects his lyrics together for the first time—and included throughout are Ocasek’s early handwritten notes and set lists, doodles and all. This is not merely a songbook for fans of The Cars, however: Ocasek is a versatile and affecting poet as well as songwriter, and his original verses—interspersed with album artwork and more than 25 beautiful black and white photographs—round out this beguiling book.

Falling Back in Love with Being Human: Letters to Lost Souls by Kai Cheng Thom

Kai Cheng Thom grew up a Chinese Canadian transgender girl in a hostile world. When she found herself in a crisis of faith, overwhelmed by the viciousness with which people treated one another, she gathered all her rage and grief and took one last leap of faith: she wrote. Whether prayers or spells or poems—and whether there’s a difference—she wrote to affirm the outcasts and runaways she calls her kin. She wrote to flawed but nonetheless lovable men, to people with good intentions who harm their own, to racists and transphobes seemingly beyond saving. What emerged was a blueprint for falling back in love with being human.

The Unfollowing by Lyn Hejinian

The Unfollowing is a sequence of elegies, mourning public as well as personal loss. The grief is not coherent. Though the poems are each 14 lines long, they are not sonnets but anti-sonnets. They are composed entirely of non-sequiturs, with the intention of demonstrating, if not achieving, a refusal to follow aesthetic proprieties, and a rejection of the logic of mortality and of capitalism. As the author sees it, outrage, hilarity, anxiety, and ribaldry are not easily separated in the play of human emotions. And they are all, and sometimes equally, the proper, anarchic medium for staying alive.

DVDs

The Edge of Love

The life of poet Dylan Thomas is told through the stories of two free-spirited women who loved him in this fiery romantic drama set in wartime London. When Thomas reconnects with his teenage sweetheart Vera, a romantic rivalry begins between her and his wife Caitlin. As the women begin to bond, an unusual trio is formed. The threesome live in bliss until Vera's husband, a handsome soldier, returns from abroad and sends their unbridled lives whirling out of control.

End of the Century (Fin de siglo)

During a holiday in Barcelona, Ocho spies a handsome local from the balcony of his Airbnb. As chance would have it, the two men later lock eyes while sunning themselves at the beach. Then, on their third fleeting encounter, Ocho musters the courage to invite Javi up to his apartment. And so begins a story spanning two decades, during which the truths of their past and hopes of their future slowly unravel. Enigmatically unfolding in non-linear fashion, Lucio Castro’s beautifully assured debut transforms a sexy meet-cute into a philosophical meditation on desire, regret and the limitless possibilities of hope. In Spanish with English subtitles.

All Eyez on Me

This biographical film chronicles the life and legacy of Tupac Shakur, including his rise to superstardom as a hip-hop artist, actor, poet and activist, as well as his imprisonment and prolific, controversial time at Death Row Records, where he was steeped in the East Coast/West Coast rap war. Against insurmountable odds, Shakur rose to become a cultural icon whose career and persona both continue to grow long after his untimely death at age 25.

Lost Illusions (Illusions perdues)

Lucien de Rubempré, an aspiring poet in 19th century France, leaves his provincial town for Paris. There, he meets another young writer, Etienne Lousteau, who introduces him to the business of journalism. Soon, he learns the dark side of the arts business as he tries to stay true to his dreams. In French with English subtitles.

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange

When poet and filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk first visits the Trofymchuk-Gladky family home on the front lines of the war-torn region of Eastern Ukraine, she is surprised by what she finds: while the outside world is riven by bombings and chaos, single mother Anna and her four children are managing to keep their home a safe haven, full of life and light. Every member of the family has a passion for cinema, so they begin to shoot a film inspired by their own lives during wartime. The Earth Is Blue as an Orange stands not only as a remarkable document of the Russo-Ukrainian War through the lens—literally—of this family’s creative process, but as an optimistic testament to the power of art and beauty in the face of destruction.