2nd Wednesdays Poetry at Northeast Regional Library- Philadelphia- February 8th

February 8th

6pm to 7:30pm

Northeast Philadelphia Regional Library

2228 Cottman Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19149

John Timpane and Charles Carr

Followed by an Open Reading

john tim

John Timpane is former Commentary Page Editor (1997-2008) and Books Editor (2014-2020) for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com. His work has appeared in Sequoia, The Fox Chase Review, Apiary, Cleaver, Painted Bride QuarterlyThe Rathalla ReviewPer ContraSchuylkill Valley JournalVocabula ReviewWild River Review, and elsewhere. Among his books is a chapbook, Burning Bush (Judith Fitzgerald/Cranberry Tree, 2010). He is the spouse of Maria-Christina Keller. They live in New Jersey.

charles photo

Charles Carr is a native Philadelphian. Charles was educated at LaSalle and Bryn Mawr College, where he earned a Masters in American History.   Charles has two published books of poems “paradise pennsylvania, (Cradle Press, St Louis,2009)), and “Haitian Mudpies And Other Poems” (Moonstone Arts 2012).  Charles’ poems have been published in various print and on-line local and national poetry journals. Charles is host of Philly Loves Poetry, a collaborative live broadcast on the first Tuesday of the month. For five years hosted a Moonstone Poetry series at Fergie’s Pub on the second Wednesday of each month.    On September 26th, 2013, Charles read poems in honor of the international 100,000 Poets For Peace at The Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, Ireland.

On street parking and parking in Giant/ TD Bank  parking lot available. SEPTA Bus Service available

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Three Poems by T. J. Masluk

porch
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Black Spring
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When the kilns closed,
they sat like Roman ruins,
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nothing’s the same,
.
here, in America,
small towns folding,
.
spiritual malaise.
.
Kids dying of fentanyl,
narcotized in cyberspace.
.
Porches – no one there;
I see ghosts in rocking chairs.
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Pigeons coo in the dark and dank
near what was once
a Tru-Blu brewery.
.
In rainy streets,
bells ring half-muffled,
lifelong friends gathered in black.
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Big rigs careen
past gated swathes of greenery
and shrinking fields
of corn.
.
Past the churchyard’s
chemical stream,
no sprightly bluebells
reappear,
.
just horrid blocks
of glass and steel,
crows pecking
the bloodied deer.
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The Bake Shop
for Richard,
who lived and worked
by the tracks
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On a typical day,
Norfolk Southern could be heard
thumping over wooden ties
like a steel heartbeat,
tall weeds bending in the wind.
.
Entering the tiny shop,
ninety-year-old legs come shuffling
from behind a curtain.
“Hello,” he says
in a faint frail voice.
“What’ll it be?”
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He’d been in the dough business
for decades,
relieving his mom of duties
when she turned 99.
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He made the prosphora
for church,
with the hands of a true artist.
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He speaks of your dad and him
taking the stage in elementary school
at St. John’s,
learning their lines in Ukrainian
while memorizing poems
from the Kobzar.
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Times were different back then,
no one leaving home
without a rosary,
only phones available
being the rotary kind,
in the only color available – black.
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Looking around, you spot
several gold-blue icons
gracing the walls,
a glass-enclosed display
containing poppy seed roll
and pampushky.
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All the while
a quaint sadness fills the air,
knowing the days are numbered,
his hands would work
no more.
.
Or is more
at stake?
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“Strudel, please,”
you finally hear yourself saying,
glancing out the window
at the cracked sidewalks
of Newport Avenue.
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Father’s Couture
for Dad
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Father’s tools bide
in place,
as if awaiting his return.
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The silent Singer
hints otherwise.
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An oversized table
neath a flickering, fluorescent hum
fills the room,
.
grand like the Queen Mary,
scarred like an old war horse,
made of doors.
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Shelves brim with oddities:
linen, cotton, silk materials,
pushpins and scissors,
magazine clippings,
.
buttons of all stripe
and color;
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samples of linoleum,
cans of petroleum,
an “incorrupt” nut roll.
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Among the orphaned,
like pillars of salt –
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mannequins,
trapped in time.
.
How difficult the hour,
how difficult it is
.
moving on.
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T. J. Masluk, poet and writer, has work appearing in The Columbia Review, Wisconsin Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Ekstasis, Writer’s Block Magazine, New Contrast, The Hong Kong Review, The Seventh Quarry, The Galway Review, in the anthology Without a Doubt (NYQ Books), and elsewhere. He’s from Northampton, Pennsylvania, has master’s degrees from Columbia University, a Ph.D. from Sofia University, and studied creative nonfiction at the University of Oxford. Further information about him may be found at: NYQ Poets – T. J. Masluk
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Two Poems by Cameron Morse

blue
.Cold Clouds
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Blue armada of cold clouds
carrying the false report
of my death, please, turn around
and paddle out of the bay
of my sky here. Same to the cricket.
But let’s be real. Its threnody
is really a mating call. The louder
I am I rub my legs I strum
my comb the more you want me
is how that works because I don’t care
how cold the clouds are anymore
I have sailed through them
in my origami spaceship I have melted
the faces of my family of origin
a house fire on the mantle
piece above the wood-burning stove.
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Casting on the Campus Lawn
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There is an order
for labs to be drawn
.
downstream
I am so down
.
these days I forget
what day it is
.
I miss my appointment.
Wade into
.
my stream of blood
and flick the rod, flyfishing
.
above the campus lawn.
Every timeline more
.
vivid to me now than my own
lifting over the cold
.
water’s hug, my son’s blue
weighted blanket
.
I am so blue these days
I feel so weighted.
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Cameron Morse (he, him) is Senior Reviews editor at Harbor Review and the author of eight collections of poetry. His first collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press’s 2018 Best Book Award. His book of unrhymed sonnets, Sonnetizer, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. He holds an MFA from the University of Kansas City-Missouri and lives in Independence, Missouri, with his wife and three children. For more information, check out his Facebook page or website.

September in the Meadow by Robert Milby

oak
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September in the Meadow
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The sky is a rough, grey frock—
nimbus insulated for October mists and frosts.
Libra breezes—less visceral than Virgo’s harvest bushel,
But her hair is a nest of red Oak and orange Maple leaves.
Virgo’s cowlicks are blonde hay the girth of her bale,
Ruled by September’s flirtatious weather.
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The stone wall’s tenant farmers are relieved as are the meadow seed gatherers—
Summer has reached retirement.
Equinox apples blush in cool dew, amidst copper-tinged eyelids
Fluttering in hope for Autumn Sun.
Barn spider does not prefer fog,
Yet hangs moon kissed water droplets on gossamer tapestries.
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But the sky is a rough, grey frock, nimbus insulated,
Worn by a lonely goose, shouting omens of Winter.
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milby
Robert Milby, of Florida, NY, has been reading his poetry in public since March, 1995. He has hosted 32 poetry readings series since Sept. 1995. Milby is the author of several chapbooks and books of poetry. He served as Orange County, NY Poet Laureate, 2017-2019.  www.robertmilbypoetry.com
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Purple Flowering Grief by Brian Builta

purple
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Purple Flowering Grief 
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We are so sad to hear about your loss,
the way it reminds us of the salt in the pie
and also because it’s Friday. Your husband
was a good man despite his dark pit.
That tranquilizer dart to the hindquarters,
cherished memories electrocuted
like Thomas Merton turning on a fan to dry off.
So many damp suicides to wade through.
How did we get here?
Thinking of you, your many mousetraps,
the derelict way you stare out the window
at all the sagging structures you used to know.
A glitch in the Godhead, love filched from clean hands,
the sprinklers ch-ch-ch all night
in the cricket sizzle as get well wishes
whirl in the wind. Your heart has sung
so many arias, so much music
wafting over mussels and candlelight
as the drawn back nature of the waiter’s hair
makes you want to draw back your defenses,
welcome the pain like a party favor,
a parting gift for so many bullseyes.
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Brian Builta author photo
Brian Builta lives in Arlington, Texas, and works at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. His work has been recently published or is forthcoming in Jabberwock Review, Juke Joint Magazine, South Florida Poetry Journal, New Ohio Review and TriQuarterly.
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North of Oxford – Open for Submissions

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North of Oxford is always open for submissions of reviews/essays and poetry. Please follow the guidelines located here: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

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2nd Wednesday’s Poetry @ Northeast Regional Library

Spring 2023

2nd Wednesday’s Poetry @ Northeast Regional Library

Featured Poets + Open Mic

Curated By North of Oxford Literary Journal

6pm to 7:30pm

2228 Cottman Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19149

February 8th

John Timpane and Charles Carr

john tim

John Timpane is former Commentary Page Editor (1997-2008) and Books Editor (2014-2020) for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com. His work has appeared in Sequoia, The Fox Chase Review, Apiary, Cleaver, Painted Bride QuarterlyThe Rathalla ReviewPer ContraSchuylkill Valley JournalVocabula ReviewWild River Review, and elsewhere. Among his books is a chapbook, Burning Bush (Judith Fitzgerald/Cranberry Tree, 2010). He is the spouse of Maria-Christina Keller. They live in New Jersey.

charles photo

Charles Carr is a native Philadelphian. Charles was educated at LaSalle and Bryn Mawr College, where he earned a Masters in American History.   Charles has two published books of poems “paradise pennsylvania, (Cradle Press, St Louis,2009)), and “Haitian Mudpies And Other Poems” (Moonstone Arts 2012).  Charles’ poems have been published in various print and on-line local and national poetry journals. Charles is host of Philly Loves Poetry, a collaborative live broadcast on the first Tuesday of the month. For five years hosted a Moonstone Poetry series at Fergie’s Pub on the second Wednesday of each month.    On September 26th, 2013, Charles read poems in honor of the international 100,000 Poets For Peace at The Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, Ireland.

March 8th 

Naila Francis and  TBA

Naila Francis_headshotNaila Francis is a writer/poet, grief doula and wedding officiant based in Philadelphia. She is also a founding member of Salt Trails, an interdisciplinary collective honoring grief through community rituals. Her poetry has previously been published in “North of Oxford,” “Scribbler,” “Voicemail Poems” and the Healing Verse Phone Line. www.NailaFrancis.com

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Head Shot

Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, PhD (Cultural Anthropology), M.A. (Anthropology), MFA (Theater), Graduate Certificate) Women’s Studies, B.A. (Journalism); is an Associate Professor of Urban Theater and Community Engagement in the Theater Department in the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts in the Center for the Performing and Cinematic Arts and is currently serving as President of the Faculty Senate at Temple University. Williams-Witherspoon is the author of Through Smiles and Tears: The History of African American Theater (From Kemet to the Americas) (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011); The Secret Messages in African American Theater: Hidden Meaning Embedded in Public Discourse” (Edwin Mellen Publishing, 2006)

April 12th

Diane Sahms and g emil reutter 

diane b

Diane Sahms a native Philadelphian, is the author of  six poetry collections: Images of Being (Stone Garden Publishing, 2011), Lights Battered Edge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2015), and Night Sweat (Red Dashboard Press, 2016), Handheld Mirror of the Mind, (Kelsay Books, 2018); Covid 19 2020 – A Poetic Journal (Moonstone Press, 2021); and most recently City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) – Alien Buddha Press. Her poems have appeared in a number of online and print publications.   Diane is the Poetry Editor at North of Oxford and works as a purchasing agent. You can visit her at http://dianesahmsguarnieri.wordpress.com/   and http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/

selected poems photo

g emil reutter lives and writes in Philadelphia. Seventeen collections of his poetry and fiction have been published, most recently Thunder, Lightning and Urban Cowboys a poetry collection and Selected Stories 1990-2022 both from Alien Buddha Press.  He is the book review editor and site manager for North of Oxford.  His work has been published widely in the small and electronic press. You can visit him at   http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

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May 10th

TS Hawkins and Emari DiGiorgio 

HawkinsTS_Headshot8x10TS HAWKINS is an international author, performance poet, art activist, playwright, and member of the Dramatists Guild. Plays, short works, and books include Seeking Silence, sweet bread peaches (formerly, Cartons of Ultrasounds), Too Late to Apologize, In Their Silence (formerly, They’ll Neglect to Tell You), #RM2B, The Secret Life of Wonder: a prologue in G, AGAIN, #SuiteReality, “don’t wanna dance with ghosts…”, Sugar Lumps & Black Eye Blues, Confectionately Yours, Mahogany Nectar, Lil Blaek Book: all the long stories short, and The Hotel Haikus. Ongoing projects: TrailOff and Community Capital: an Afrofuturism South Philly Walking Experience. TS HAWKINS

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Emari DiGiorgio is the author of Girl Torpedo, winner of the Numinous Orison, Luminous Origin Literary Award, and The Things a Body Might Become. Her poetry has received numerous awards, including the Auburn Witness Poetry Prize, RHINO’s Founder’s Prize and a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. At Stockton, Emari teaches first-year writing and poetry, is Faculty Director of Murphy Writing, and serves as President of the Stockton Federation of Teachers.

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A Magician Among the Spirits by Charles Rammelkamp

houchar
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By Stewart Florsheim
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When I think about contemporary poetry books that focus on one story, I think about Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate. It’s a novel in verse comprised of 590 Onegin stanzas (sonnets written in iambic pentameter with a specific rhyme scheme). The novel, set in San Francisco in the 1980’s, is about the relationships within a group of young friends. The story is engaging, and the formal style underlies the humor in Seth’s descriptions of San Francisco, as well as his insights.
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Although Charles Rammelkamp’s book, A Magician Among the Spirits, is not written in a formal poetic style, it tells an equally compelling story. It’s about Harry Houdini, the well-known Hungarian-American escape artist who was born to a Jewish family in Budapest in 1874, and died in the US in 1926. In 55 poems—all written in the first person–Rammelkamp captures the highlights of Houdini’s life and achievements.
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From the start, Rammelkamp brings his own magic into the book. In the first poem, Alternative Facts, when Houdini describes his immigration experience, he invokes Whitman:
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I am an American!As Walt Whitman once asked,
Do I contradict myself ?Very well then,
I contradict myself.
I contain multitudes!
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As the book unfolds, the reader will begin to see just how complex Houdini is. He’s a refugee who will save himself again and again—his escape acts a metaphor for his own survival.
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Rammelkamp does a very good job capturing the historical context of the times. In My Father Flees, Houdini explains why his father lost his job as a Reform rabbi:
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But he fell out of favor with the machers 
too old-fashioned, didn’t speak English,
resisted assimilation, too attached
to his Old World ways.
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In the early twentieth century, the Reform movement in the US was still in its early stages. One of the hallmarks of the movement was to promote Judaism, but in an American context. As a result, for example, many of the prayers were recited in English instead of Hebrew.
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When Houdini’s father leaves Appleton, Wisconsin, he tries to make his living as a mohel (a rabbi who performs the rites of circumcision) and a shochet (a rabbi who supervises the koshering process). He can’t make a living, and finally moves to New York, where he finds employment cutting linings for a necktie manufacturer:
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So Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss,
now with seven kids to care for,
out of a job, moved us to Milwaukee,
where he offered his services
as a mohel and a shochet 
various cuts of meat
that never added up to rent.
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The story of Houdini and his family’s refugee experience is engaging, but the poems that follow capture what makes Houdini unique: his journey from joining a circus to becoming a world-renowned escape artist. Throughout the story, Houdini refers back to the importance of his family. He is close to his father (“A failure? No, he was an inspiration.”), his siblings, and, especially, to his mother. In Mama, Houdini writes:
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It was my sainted mother
to whom I was most devoted,
all my life, even married to Bess.
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Houdini takes us on a journey through his acts, from performing magic to donning handcuffs and straitjackets. Although he has some setbacks, he eventually gets noticed in the Midwest by the theatre owner, Martin Beck, and is invited to open a show in Omaha. The breakthrough is described in Jailbreak!:
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Beck sent several pairs of handcuffs backstage.
I escaped without breaking a sweat.
A few weeks later, he sent me a telegram.
“You can open Omaha March twenty-sixth,
sixty dollars. Will make a proposition
for all next season.”
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No more dime museums or beer halls
for Bess and me!
We’d made the big time!
An escape into success!
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Houdini’s success continues, from making $400 week in the US, to $1000 a week after he hits London. All along, he never forgets his roots as a refugee. From Houdini Amazes Detectives:
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After a year I was making $400 a week,
more than half Papa’s annual salary at the Appleton shul.
I’d escaped the shackles of poverty.
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Houdini eventually comes back home (“I especially liked London/but America was my home”), and buys a brownstone in Harlem and a family burial plot in a Jewish cemetery. The large brownstone has enough room for his mother, mother-in-law, and “various siblings”.
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Houdini continues to explore new acts, from the underwater escape, to the Chinese Water Torture Cell, to the jailbreaks. He also tries his hand at being a pilot and movie actor. In an interesting twist, he takes on the Spiritualist movement, explaining that “Professional magicians have always been at war/with Spiritualists.” Clearly not one for seances, in Spiritualism, he says:
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I hated the way these dimestore frauds
played on the vulnerabilities of their followers.
I yearned so much to speak with Mama,
knowing it was impossible in this life,
infuriated by the cruelty, taking advantage of grief.
Fakery demeans mourning, and mourning is sacred.
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The focus of his disdain becomes Lady Conan Doyle, the wife of the famous writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes. Houdini writes a book called A Magician Among the Spirits (no coincidence with the title of this collection!), where he exposes the movement. Some of the people he attacks try discrediting him as a Jew. From Margery at the Charlesgate:
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Bird tried discrediting me by “revealing”
that I was a Jew. Conan Doyle did the same,
calling me “as Oriental as our own Disraeli.”
Even Margery’d sing-songed in Walter’s voice, “
Harry Houdini, he sure is a sheeny.”
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But who got the last laugh?
After my lecture at the New York Police Academy
on “How to Catch Fake Spiritualists,”
Edmund Wilson praised me in the New Republic,
a highbrow intellectual journal.
Sweet vindication!
Take that, you anti-Semitic frauds!
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At the end of the collection, his wife, Bess, talks about his untimely death, most likely from an acute appendicitis. She tries—insincerely at best—to reach her husband through a séance. In The Great Escape she writes:
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Would we ever meet? I wondered, remembering
the letter I wrote to Sir Arthur.
“It was Houdini himself that was the secret,”
I’d explained, no need for “psychic help”
to perform his escapes.
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Rammelkamp does an excellent job describing the highlights of Houdini’s life in the first person. He does it with grace and humor. His writing is clear and direct, allowing Houdini to simply tell his amazing story. By the end of the collection, we still don’t know how Houdini pulled off his acts, but I’m not sure anyone knows. It’s part of the magic of his life. Says Bess at the end of the poem:
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Ah, escape!
Every escape is a success story, no?
Now you see me,
now you don’t.
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You can find the book here:A Magician Among the Spirits
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 Stewart Florsheim’s poetry has been widely published in magazines and anthologies. He was the editor of Ghosts of the Holocaust, an anthology of poetry by children of Holocaust survivors (Wayne State University Press, 1989). He wrote the poetry chapbook, The Girl Eating Oysters (2River, 2004). In 2005, Stewart won the Blue Light Book Award for The Short Fall From Grace (Blue Light Press, 2006). His collection, A Split Second of Light, was published by Blue Light Press in 2011 and received an Honorable Mention in the San Francisco Book Festival, honoring the best books published in the Spring of 2011. Stewart’s new collection, Amusing the Angels, won the Blue Light Book Award in 2022.
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Transparency Notice: Charles Rammelkamp is a regular contributor to North of Oxford

Beyond Repair by J.C. Todd

beyon repair

By Michael Collins 

“In Whom the Dying Does Not End,” the opening poem in J. C. Todd’s Beyond Repair, initiates several interwoven themes in the collection, including the roles and perspectives of various mothers and women experiencing different aspects of conflict and displacement, the complicated psychological plights of survivors of such mass traumas, and the roles of imagination and empathy in attempts at healing. The poem opens with the juxtaposition of “cells / churning toward brain / just as a vacuole / opened to become a mouth” while “Hafez, father of Bashar” (3) orders a precursor of recent headlines: “the troops of Hafez attacked / the people that Hafez ruled. Twenty thousand dead” (4). Between these two worlds, speaker subtly invokes awakening to these complexities:

It happened in Hama
while I gestated, TV off,
newspapers unread,
in Harrisburg, my thinking
sludgy, speech cut back,
consumed by what I fed. (3)
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The speaker’s reflective stance juxtaposes an authoritarian, patriarchal lineage of violence with a cellular-level imagining of maternity: “Loved, she grew, singular / anarchic, safe in the province /of my body, and Hama was razed” (4). The two perspectives differ, crucially, in how they imagine their role in others’ lives, or life, over which they have a degree of control, the speaker focusing on a self-image as a haven for the inchoate life and self-determination of her child, the dictator creating a public image of obliterating all life that opposes his rule.
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Engagement with images – journalistic, artistic, and psychological – will become a theme of the collection’s larger meditation. Several poems focus on women who are prevented by political circumstances from keeping their own children and themselves safe – as well as a moral exploration of the role and limits of media in presenting their stories. “The Girl in the Square” recalls a woman who was beaten and partially exposed in public during the protests in Egypt, highlighting along with the assault itself, her ephemeral appearance within media coverage and viewers’ awareness

among flotsam, snagged
in the stream of a video
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that holds her up
to memory
although the torrent
has swept her away” (10-11)
 
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The portrayal in “Cover Shot” of refugees welcomed by a meal in safety shares an acute awareness of the boundaries of the image, in this case spatial rather than temporal:
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mother and child
buoyed on a current of mercy
beyond the cropped shot
into the open field
of a good story
that reseeds in each of us
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as a perennial hope or wish
but the background resists
insists
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and we too
feel the world
askew (14)

These poems’ dual awareness of the scarred and endangered lives presented in the reporting that reaches us and these presentations’ mere representation of thousands or millions of other lives certainly has elements of social critique. However, within the context of the opening poem they also have a quality of self-reflective practice: The speaker’s awareness of suffering is linked with awareness of the mind’s own inability to quantify it. Therefore, yes, the reports are cropped, edited, and insubstantial, but there are also qualifying understandings. For one, the idea of whole story is really just an abstraction. Further, even more comprehensive storytelling, such as the wide lens the poem itself offers, is far more complex and daunting than the “perennial hope” we also require.

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What the collection offers in the absence of mythical objectivity is flexibility of perspective; its meditation on war and its aftereffects continues by exploring a plurality of experiences in forms and expressions appropriate to the distances at which they are encountered. The sonnet crown “FUBAR’d” employs a close third person of a female American medic, and its tone and diction reflect the mental and emotional fatigue of seeing one after another “soldier who didn’t come through” (27), often due to circumstances beyond her control. Her gallows humor reflects the need to remain unsentimentally resilient against threats both foreign and domestic: “A stiff prick, / how’s it like an IED? Makes you meat” (30). The shift to formal poems itself adds range to the collection; however, the leaping recurrences from final to opening lines in the sequence also grow to seem expressively necessary in their quiet evocation of the paradoxical comorbidity of feeling constantly on alert for new danger while at the same time experiencing the crises’ permutations as interminable. This seems a quite appropriate presentation of a perspective of one near in proximity to the effects of war yet distanced by necessity on a psychic level by the nature of her own suffering as a witnessing participant and her need to maintain daily equilibrium.
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This sequence segues into poems that focus on experiences of surviving war that are both common and, cruelly, trapped within. “Debriding” is one such treatment of the inability to release traumatic experiences: “you’ve survived, but your will will not release / the scream, your wound will not heal / in the mind that daily eats it raw” (40). The run-on sentence and rephrasing line breaks formally mirror the circular and disjointing psychological effects of trauma. Notably, the speaker also shifts to second person here, allowing the sufferer and the reader to be concurrently and interchangeably addressed, perhaps the beginning of fostering potential bridges of understanding and healing. “In Late Summer the Sea Comes to the City” presents another such opening, arising from the common experience of looking down into a puddle: “You are a reflection in / the gutter’s standing water, and the flat-you, / swept up in traffic, an image looking back.” This passage recalls the earlier pictures found in reports of foreign affairs, yet the fleeting image we encounter here is our own. In response, the speaker asks,

Imagine – what is it like to be left
with a solitary thought, uprooted,
.
pulled out from beneath you
by unfathomed undertow?
Every last cell lost. In this way
you learn to distance from your memory. (48)
 
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The imperative to imagine here is an even more direct outreach to the reader’s awareness of their own self-reflexive experience; correspondingly, the suggestion invokes more objective aspects of the psyche than any of the external stories encountered in the collection, in the sense that the self-reflective contents can be confirmed in the experience of each reader. All of our memories, identities, and daily realities are, on a deeper level, similarly insubstantial. In a counterintuitive corollary, though we may not comprehend individual trauma by direct external experience of each situation, we may, to a degree, have imaginative compassion for them due to the shared temporary and contingent nature of life itself, if we are open to our own awareness of it even – or especially, perhaps – on more existential levels. Here, we should note how “every last cell” is lost in our momentary experience of annihilation, recalling the earlier imagining of the autonomous self-arranging of cells that would grow into a person in the first place. The cell-level imagery here seems to point toward a healthy depersonalization that allows for holding of psychic phenomena as such, rather than carrying them as aspects of identity.
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Other poems reexamine and complicate this cell-level imagery through differing perspectives. In “Sonogram” the first-person speaker reconnects to empathetic pain from an article read in childhood, contrasting the objective, metaphorically medical perspective with the individual experience of empathetic consciousness, “echoing internals / image by image.” An aspect of such pain that has been implied throughout the collection emerges here explicitly: The “place” the speaker’s empathic suffering appears is in consciousness, presented in the poems themselves:
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Bursting in me, insurgent memory
walled off for thirty years.
Where is the sonogram,
CAT scan, MRI to locate
rogue cells that refuse to forget?
This is where the sorrow lodges.
Here. Where it hurts. (65)
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The wish to “locate” and see the “rogue cells” of the internal “insurgent” presents an alternative to the drive of Hafez in the opening poem to eradicate such experiences by projecting them onto political opposition. However, this personal tracking of such experiences allows the speaker to deal with them in their psychic reality. Perhaps such practice also allows the imagining of its pathological opposite, in which empathy is barred from the imagining of cellular life in “Herr Doktor Mengele Considers the Fetal Brain”:
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Why not colonize beginning with the brain?
Sort the neurons one by one to link
in clear-cut lines that radiate like spokes
of force. Iconic, like a painted state-
house dome: commander top and center, displayed
above lieutenants, lackeys, messengers.
Redesign the circuitry for worker,
each cell imprinted to obey. (80)
 
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The poem uses persona to characterize the way authoritarian mental illness remakes itself, trauma manifesting as idealized ideation and imagination of the world that, if allowed, organizes both the brain and the world in its image. The terrifying part, and one contribution of the poems to our understanding of the mind, is that all of the minds presented in these poems are our shared potentialities.
The later poems gravitate toward the humble potentials of art for the interrelated pursuits of survival, witnessing, and cultivation of consciousness. Artistic practice provides a measure of solace for those suffering under inhuman – or all too human – oppression in “What’s Left”:
root twigs broken from an unknown tree
braided into a box that holds nothing
discernible under its lid. Oils from
the hands that wone it stained the roots,
but DNA analysis did not reveal
the maker, who may have – who knows?
– entered the exhibit and spotted the box
whose weaving had kept her together
enough to stay alive, enough to say
she knows this box, here, is hers. (85)
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The vision of the maker sees itself in the work of the other – in an inverted way to that of the authoritarian, which seeks impossibly to mirror its illusion of power the world over. The making of the cared for object, whether the box in its most basic (though no less creative) form or in the poem with its intersubjective complexities, though it mounts no defense against external brutality, models a practice through which one hopes to survive it and supplant its internal moorings.
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Such practices, though noble, are not without limitation, as the collection’s coda, “In Bruges,” acknowledges: “The Old Masters called it still life. In Bruges, the phrase inverts to / life stilled, the burnish of a grieving too particulate to dissipate. / It darkens a lyric voice to contralto, a lullaby to requiem” (89). And, yet, the relative lasting of art, its refusal to “dissipate” like news stories, provides a measure of companionship for consciousness and compassion when they arise within us, just as the ordering consciousness of this collection operates from an understanding that the world’s shadows are our own mind’s, a connection which opens psychologically to some mitigation of its sufferings.
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You can find the book here: Beyond Repair: Poems
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Michael Collins’ poems have received Pushcart Prize nominations and appeared in more than 70 journals and magazines.  He is also the author of the chapbooks How to Sing when People Cut off your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water and Harbor Mandala, the full-length collections Psalmandala and Appearances , which was named one of the best indie poetry collections of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews . He teaches creative and expository writing at New York University and the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and is the Poet Laureate of Mamaroneck, NY.
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