Gillian Conoley Reviews

Gillian Conoley Reviews


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 Some Gangster Pain

By Gillian Conoley



Poetry Collections by Gillian Conoley

Woman Speaking Inside Film Noir  /  Some Gangster Pain   / Tall Stranger  / Beckon  / Lovers in the Used World  /  Profane Halo

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Gillian Conoley — born in 1955 in Taylor, Texas, where she grew up, — has since lived in Massachusetts, Madrid, and New Orleans. Her poems have appeared in the The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The North American Review, and numerous other magazines around the country. Conoley taught at the University of New Orleans. Some Gangster Pain is her first full-length collection of poetry.

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 Some Gangster Pain

Panache, bravery, resilience: these are Gillian Conoley’s true colors. From the invention of Texas, her native native, to inventing a friend, she looks from a glass-bottomed boat at the fabulous underworld most of us overlook. If we go along there’s a chance we’ll learn to see through some gangster pain the particular lives, not so much distorted as transformed, made bearable, beautiful, and finally her own.—Madeline DeFrees


It is hard to give a sense, without quotin, of what these powerfully compressed poems are like. The words they are made of are our durable everyday ones, but so compacted, so impatient of syntax, that haloes of strangeness and mystery are generated around the short sentences, which are sometimes abrupt as gunfire. Emotions are coded in terms of what we experience physically: of rustling nylon and lipsticked cigarettes, of suicide kings and one-eyed jacks, of strawberry roan and appalousa, of the prickly wind of Texas–never such things for their own sake, but as keys to the secret meanings of a passionate existence.—John Frederick Nims


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Reviews of Other Conoley Poetry Collections

Tall Stranger: Poems

This is a tidy collection of twenty-five poems, all finely honed and rich with the slowness of a dead afternoon. The landscape is Texas, some farms, and a town or two in Arkansas. The music is country and western on a small dark radio. The time is often the 1960s, and if not the 1960s, then it’s the small town feel of the sixties, before the world got ugly. Conoley writes about family, place, and the everyday heartache of not getting enough. Her writing, in fact, is a lean version of The Last Picture Sbow, where a juke box is playing and Cokes are nursed. Loneliness begins on porchsteps and ends in seedy bars, where love is that man with his elbows on a rickety table. There is a deliberate attention to the odd graces of her characters. Conoley sums up her Aunt Alma and the homecoming queen with the three “runner-ups.” Her people wear jeans and aprons, and when they dance, dust is kicked up from floorboards and there is a delightfully honest twang in Conoley’s poetry.—Publisher


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Lovers in the Used World

While singularly up-to-date in their topics gas stations, stars, urban centers, “deep-fried… catfish,” “teenagers” who “xerox/ genitalia” the poems in Conoley’s fifth volume come dangerously close to their apparent model: Jorie Graham’s oeuvre. Beyond some high-low pastiche, Conoley’s real subjects are those Graham’s style, on constant display here, seems to involuntarily bring forth; the fragmentary phrases, double-spaced long lines and phrase-long self-questionings here result in abstract speculations (“the almost seen/ luminous circle breaking to parenthesis”) that raise problems about beauty, “system” and chaos, embodiment and relation, God and God’s absence from the phenomenal world. Alcibiades and Socrates each get a poem, or part of a poem, to themselves.

A few relatively compact poems (“The Masters,” “Flute Girl”) are unqualified successes, drawing out Conoley’s own uneasy sparkle and shine.

The rest of the book owes far too much to Graham, whose mannerisms though suited to Conoley’s big topics overwhelm what Conoley has to say. Graham’s method of interweaving everyday actions with empty philosophical queries (“What if there is not enough nothing?” writes Conoley), her attractively scattered sentence fragments, her stentorian openings (“That the transactions would end”), her domesticated jump-cuts and even distinctive props from Graham’s most famous poems (birds on a phone line, for example) pervade so many of Conoley’s new poems that this book is best read as respectful homage. (May) Forecast: Conoley’s previous books, including Beckon (1996) and Some Gangster Pain (1987), both from Carnegie-Mellon, are well-known and well-respected on the po-biz circuit, as is the magazine of which Conoley is founder and editor, Volt. Poet-in-residence and associate professor at Sonoma State University, Conoley should reach the school-based readership that has been waiting for this title.—Publishers Weekly

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 Profane Halo

Exuberant and challenging, the quick cuts and vibrant, freestanding images in Conoley’s fifth volume let her see America from many sides and in all sorts of scales, from the ground level of coastal suburbs to the grand cycles of political history. “Dear Sunset that was sun of now/ Near Greatness, dear tongue my Queen dear rock solid,” the title poem asks, “how could we know that we are forerunners?” There follows a series of verbally brilliant, sometimes strikingly fragmentary poems, some perhaps inspired by photographs; Conoley lights up American spaces and persons past and present, embedding quotes from poetic luminaries (Dickinson, Zukofsky) and showing a slant toward the Pacific coast, where “California floats its prisons in the sea.” Conoley (Beckon), who teaches at Sonoma State, also runs the hip poetry journal Volt; if her last book took much (perhaps too much) from Jorie Graham, this one recalls such peers as Brenda Hillman and Claudia Keelan. Though sometimes scattered, even chaotic, Conoley’s odes and dithyrambs convey remarkable emotion, from joy (“ecstatic the sparrows/ in bursts in trees/ above the Western American fence”) to whimsy to disorienting pain (“Night wounds, let me introduce you/ to the day wounds”). This is a strong mid-career book with plenty to recommend itself in terms of condensed macropolitics and felt regionalism. But coming so soon after superficially similar volumes from Keelan (The Devotion Field) and Eleni Sikelianos (The California Poem), Conoley’s project may not get the oxygen it needs.—Publishers Weekly


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Gillian Conoley—the recipient of several Pushcart Prizes and the Jerome J. Shestack Award from The American Poetry Review—is Poet-in-Residence and Associate Professor at Sonoma State University, where she is the founder and editor of Volt magazine. Conoley is the author of four poetry collections, including the highly praised Some Gangster Pain and Tall Stranger.

Conoley’s poetry has appeared in the American Poetry Review, the Kenyon Review, Ironwood, Zyzzyva, Ploughshares, the Denver Quarterly, the Missouri Review and other publications.

Her honors and awards include four Pushcart Prize publications, the Academy of American Poets Award, a fellowship from the Washington State Arts Commission, residency at the MacDowell Colony and a grant from Northwest Institute for Advanced Study.

Conoley’s work has been anthologized in “Best American Poetry,” “Poets of the Northwest,” “The Carnegie-Mellon Anthology of Poetry,” “American Poetry Annual” and “Jazz Poetry Anthology.”

Conoley has taught literature and poetry at several universities. She also has worked as a curator, a literary editor and a professional journalist.

The American Book Review says of Conoley’s poetry: “Even above the powerfully inventive language and clear, compressed style is a poetic vision that seems utterly transforming. These are poems born of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, with their oddball grace, their undeniable redemption. Combined with Gillian Conoley’s dark humor are an eye for detail and a sensibility that are mysteriously compelling. Her characters discover the power of the transforming image and in so doing create an inner life that is rich, surprising, transcendent. It is this odd hopefulness, this recourse to the imagination which transforms the landscape of ordinary lives and longing into something rare, mysterious, and dangerous that are Conoley’s special talent.”


Books by  Gillian Conoley

Woman Speaking Inside Film Noir (Lynx House Press, 1984) / Some Gangster Pain (Carnegie Mellon University, 1987

Tall Stranger (Carnegie Mellon University, 1991) / Beckon (Carnegie Mellon University, 1996)

Lovers in the Used World (Carnegie Mellon University, 2001) / Profane Halo (Wave Books, 2005)

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power–and the enormous risks–of the dollar’s worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 22 November 2011 




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Related files:   Gillian Conoley Reviews  Some Gangster Pain  Slave Quarter  Suddenly the Graves  Goat Without Horns 

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