Etching the Ghost by Cathleen Cohen

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Etching the Ghost by Cathleen Cohen, published by Atmosphere Press, is an interesting collection of poems about the art of painting and other subjects.  The voice in the poems Is honest and direct and the poetry illustrates skillfully how closely related the literary and visual arts are.
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The tome is divided into four sections:  If Released, Magnificent, The Weight of the Press, No Mistakes in Art, and As Witness, As Echo. Each section has a particular focus.  The volume spans sixty-five pages and covers topics relating to relationships, art, landscapes and personal experiences.
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In the first section, If Released, Magnificent, the poem Possibly wind on page nine uses visual metaphors to show situation and place in dealing with a daughter’s relationship to her parents.
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            fans us out past dark.
           Fathers shout our names from doorways.
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            In hedges we crouch,
           plan forays and small rebellions.
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           I tear my yellow dress
          in a dirt fight, then lie
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          to my mother’s shocked face.
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The way the poem is set up suggests the fragmented steps a young person would take when doing something they know they shouldn’t do.  It is clear the parents care but children will be children.  The closure is direct and clear as the daughter faces her mother with a lie.  The poem is effective in presenting a common situation between parents and their kids.  It is interesting that the narrator is wearing the color yellow and a dress.  Her mother would not expect her daughter to be in a dirt fight let alone wearing a dress or, perhaps, lie.   The suggested conflict is clear and the poem works well.
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The poem, No Mistakes in Art on page thirty-nine, has some of the same rebellious traits as Possibly wind.  The school tries to restrain and control the children but they are so of full life, they jostle and proclaim.
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                 A quince breaks into bloom
                 outside the school
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                where I sketch
               (between classes)
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               trying to capture the tangle of citrus
               in rooted stance
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               against brick walls
               that can’t contain children
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                from chanting, jostling
               down stairwells, proclaiming
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              poems,
                       vivid and delicious.
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Cohen cleverly inserts her artistic self into the observation of school children as if they are not only visual art but semi out of control poems that are not only vivid—a sight—but delicious poems connecting the literary to the visual art form.  The poem is strong in its setting and situation.  It makes the readers feel as if they are observing along with the narrator just to the corner of the poem’s edge.  I also like the way the stanzas are set up as if implying the stair steps the children are coming down.
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Some of the poems in this book seem almost interactive like the poem No Mistakes in Art.  This volume has many strengths but I find it is uneven in tone and perhaps tries too hard to link art forms.  I wonder if the book had sketches next to the poems how this would affect the reader.  I bet it would be a positive.
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You can find the book here: Etching the Ghost

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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