Book Reviews

Published on July 7th, 2022 | by Conor Hultman

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Book Reviews by Conor Hultman: “The Witches of Lila Springs,” by Sabrina Ito

The Witches of Lila Springs
by Sabrina Ito
Plan B Press ($10)

Twenty-four pages. Twenty-four pages! For the range of style, of forms, of register; for the scale of experience, the breadth of emotion, the description, the sounds; for the amount of time I spent first reading it, maybe thirty minutes, about a minute per page, but with mounting excitement as I began to realize what I was witnessing, with expansive interest, the poems that broke themselves down into word-units I was processing them so quickly, zero latency, the terrible and awesome fervor you get when you realize This is it, and I sped through the whole chapbook like that, and then started again with the meticulousness of the scientist in an enemy country, trying to figure out How does this work? with reverse engineering, until I gave up trying to understand the singular music of it and just listened again, at normal speed, scanning and saving the shape of the whole thing altogether to map out my favorite parts. This is how you will read The Witches of Lila Springs by Sabrina Ito, if you are anything like me.

“Jackson Square,” to talk about one poem, starts off with the beautifully concrete and self-aware line, “At night, it lights up like a poem.”  Ito measures out rhymes, “green absinthe steaming” before “backdrop of evening,” and “teaming / with cracks,” then goes off on a descriptive, full-bodied ABCDEADBFG solo, formally representative of the jazz setting of the poem, executed with the acuity of a master player, “peat-covered cobble stones” and “booze-breathing taverns.” The rest of the poem continues with the seamlessly unorthodox schematics and sensuous down-to-earth objects, my favorite being “Bruised lips take quick sips / from thick, chicory coffee / filled to the brim, / quivering with cream.”

Other poems are sparer, with the suggestive shadowplay of a haiku. “Sunday” is short enough to print here:

Sunday
Drinking cold beer in the sun is better than weeding
because a patch of exploding flowers is better watched, than tamed.
(Today’s task is this: try to strike a poem.)
But first, get your mind off things drink warm beer in the sun
and kick dry dirt over buttercups before they go to seed.

The evocative commonplace of “Drinking cold beer in the sun” touches off a feeling in the reader, a ghost limb of shared experience, while the format and the spacing centers and draws the eye around and inward, all for “before they go to seed” to close the circle with dread finality.  Some of my other favorites in The Witches of Lila Springs are the prose poems, like “another cielo drive,” a metaphorical poem inspired by the Manson murders, or “Red Barn,” a wish fulfillment as charming as it is natural. The title poem is a crown jewel, and rightfully sits at the end of the book, anointing the next reading. I cannot recommend The Witches of Lila Springs highly enough– it has sounds and images and movements that will not leave me for a long time coming.

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Book Reviews by Conor Hultman: “We Fight: Three Decades of Rebellion Against the Police” from Detritus Books

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