Valerie Bandura’s clean, crafted, headlong-into-the-breach poems are scary in their intensity. They are full of the violence of history, and Europe, and family, and motherhood, and bodies, and fate. Reader, there is a little of hell in them, and a ferocious desire for truth, which is to say, their speaker is engaged
is the brave, sometimes appalling struggle to turn into a human being. Freak Show is a terrific book.
Staged in the space between utterance and mother tongue, Valerie Bandura's poems recognize the limits of language while embracing it as recourse, offering us a boy "burning the hunger out of his mouth" and a girl "tasting each syllable with her spit." Bandura's Freak Show is a book of power and a book of movement.
Valerie Bandura’s Freak Show is an investigation of alienation and resilience; social against personal history as a Russian family contends with a daughter’s schizophrenia and the speaker refuses to let cruelty crush her. The costs of prejudice and the impotence of family love are central preoccupations in poems that speak in conversational tones charged with song and descend into further terror even as they sing. And there’s little consolation despite beauty; even the birth of a son is recorded with equal parts suspicion and love, fear and devotion. Bandura’s poems open out and out, their belief in the power of speech that would silence both the speaker and her beloveds. Pain and pleasure are in mortal combat, and “it’s hard now to tell / in the ecstatic hysteria between the two.”
Valerie Bandura’s Freak Show is a remarkably cohesive book, considering that the poems travel from Russia to the United States, from childhood to adulthood, and from loneliness to schizophrenia.
--Daniel Heffner, American Microreviews
In Human Interest, Valerie Finn hurls us through a landscape of birds falling from the sky, game shows and Kardashians. She shows us “a parched landscape / of strip malls, asphalt, and extended cab pickups / with wrap around decals.” Here is a place where “Nobody’s crazy. / And everyone is.” With a searing eye toward contemporary culture, Finn gives us a glimpse of America at its strangest. This is a wild and harrowing book for a wild and harrowing time.
-- Matthew Olzmann
Valerie Bandura’s poem make me cry. They reach into my pithy little heart and rip it out of my chest. She writes about Black Sabbath and guns and children and bad fathers and nutty sisters and Facebook and beautiful husbands and none of the language wants to pretend. She’s saying, "Come here. Come closer. I want to whisper something in your ear." But, it’s the ear of the world, of humanity.
-- Matthew Lippman
Bandura’s poems are not removed from the daily experience of most people, rather they are our experience, whether we’re wondering in traffic about the life of the driver who proudly displays his “Take the Migrant out of Immigrant” bumper sticker, are irritated that our latest Facebook post didn’t attract more “Likes,” or are concerned about our family and their woes.
--Zack Ravas, ZYZZYVA
Valerie Bandura’s second collection of poetry, Human Interest, is all Americana: a gun-toting, unapologetically surly, bombardment of sardonic imagery. Bandura conjures the Grateful Dead line—what a long, strange trip it’s been—if that lyric had been laced in sarcasm. The poems have unmistakable breadth: with topics ranging from immigration, to mental illness, to the vapidity of social media, and while the critiques can be scathing, the poems try a little tenderness, too.
--Joel Salcido, Hayden's Ferry
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