Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory by James Cagney

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Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory by James Cagney

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The poems in Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory interrogate identity, family, loneliness, and the expectations of masculinity. Using dreams, blues, and a chorus of voices, this collection of poems examines the complexities of intimacy for an adopted person trying to find balance between two families—one rattled by age and illness; the other, holding space for a son that doesn’t exist.

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Praise for Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory:

“I remember first hearing James Cagney read poems in a packed backroom in Oakland and being entirely shook by what this man can do with language. Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory makes good on that promise of strangeness, urgency, lyric prowess, and invention. Toggling between loss, therapy, the pastoral, illness, the humorously personable, and the darkly familial—at every turn this book surprises, aches, and delights. “what flower / cuts thru the bullshit / between people”—do yourself a favor and read it thrice.

Sam Sax, author of Madness

“The poems in Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory capture chaos in the palm of the hand, and then release meaning back into the world about the importance of our roots and history. This collection is a powerful journey into the search for bloodlines and meaning. The poet finds ways to speak to the crucial stories that tell us about our origins and how they can define us and redefine us throughout a lifetime. The details and metaphor are woven in an artful way. Anyone reading these poems will carry layers of elegies and explorations with them, long after closing the book. In stepping into this collection, one will find the alchemy of loss, and how the evolving stories of one family make for an exploration of mothers, fathers, stories, aunts, uncles, loneliness and a reconciliation of sorrow. In turning the pages, one will stand facing the ocean, discover how to grow orchids, how to be polite to birds, contemplate last rites, and a burial at sea.  There is much to behold in this masterful book and one will be compelled to examine “the endless equations calibrated on night’s chalkboard.

Connie Post, Poet Laureate Emerita of Livermore, California, 2005–2009, author of Floodwater, winner of the 2014 Lyrebird Award

“James Cagney's writing is the type where if you do not savor each word, you will miss something vital and beautiful. Each piece is a story-world with its own rules, but somehow (impossibly) connects to the overall project. Please read any and everything James Cagney writes. You will be better for it."

Shawn Taylor, author, Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity

“Here is the flora and fauna of a man searching and learning to understand family: blood, nurture, and the conjunctive experience that will bring him in relation. In these poems, I hear Cagney asking, where do I belong and who do I belong to? But most tenderly, held between Cagney’s satirical storytelling, passionate syntax, and exacting images, is the poet being undone and done again by love. Love in its varying degrees of presence and absence. Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory is a beautiful book, insofar as Cagney is using poetry as the ritualistic intermediary to transform (familial, personal, and cultural) shame into beauty, into something that is useful for the living.”

Arisa White, poet, author of You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, Hurrah’s Nest, and Black Pearl

Publication Details

All of our books are printed locally in Oakland, CA. We strongly believe in supporting local publishers and local printers.

October 2018 • 5.5 x 7.5 • 89 pp.

$15.00 (unsigned) / $17.00 (signed by author) • Trade Paper

ISBN: 978-1-7323340-3-8

Cover art by Kathranne Knight

Interior and cover design by Britta Fithian-Zurn

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