Not Flowers by Noreen Ocampo, Variant Literature, 2022
Gentle and innocent, Ocampo’s poems hold friendship and young love as if they were in the petal of a flower—their uncertainty and fragility—which are eternal and dear no matter how small or fleeting their moments. Ultimately these poems are a way of being—not of beginning or ending, not of reminiscing or predicting the future, not even of regret or hope—but that to simply be with all of love’s assurances is the point.
Portrait of a Deputy Public Defender or, how I became a punk rock lawyer by Juanita E. Mantz, Esq., Bamboo Dart Press, 2021
In gentle and compassionate prose, Juanita E. Mantz pulls back the curtain on the criminal justice system in a way the general public does not ordinarily see, and places us squarely into the shoes of her clients whose humanity is above anything else. Revealing her own personal history as a high school dropout and her enduring love for punk rock, Mantz reveals her strength to rise as an attorney who does not give up on her clients, especially in our society which has normalized the “criminal” as someone to be discarded and forgotten. Mantz reveals an egregiously broken system where economic structures can doom the most economically vulnerable to criminality. Mantz’s memoir as a Deputy Public Defender is a must-read for every American who cares about our justice system and the individuals who endure within it.
All Things Beautiful Are Bent by James Diaz, Alien Buddha Press, 2021
How do two souls love one another amidst brokenness where the giving of the whole self is already fractured? So lies at the heart of James Diaz’s All Things Beautiful Are Bent where two lovers attempt to save the self by loving the other—grasping what used to be, what still can be, and maybe in this reaching for wholeness, wholeness was there all along inside the tiny broken pieces. For those who have ever loved with injured wings, or whose wings themselves were injured, Diaz reveals to us the longing to be loved unconditionally, where the bent do not need to be reshaped nor are they irreparable. Rather, it’s in the bending that lays bare what we surrender in order to love, be loved, and most importantly, be understood.