By Lynette G, Esposito
Portable Light New and Selected Poems 1991-2021 by Mike James published by Redhawk Publications (The Catawba Valley Community College Press) Hickory, North Carolina features one hundred and twenty-three pages of poetry that interweaves common images with uncommon juxtapositions presenting old themes in new ways.
The volume is divided into two sections including New Poems and Selected Poems. In the New Poems section on page twenty- three, James presents sunlight and one’s expectation of it in his poem In This Place.
I expect the morning light to end
And it does.
The sun reminds me which way is west,
One less thing to guess about,
Take me away from my plowed down routine
I’m mostly lost.
His narrative voice brings the reader into his morning observations, drawing without unnecessary details, how quickly morning disappears. In choosing the word end, the impression is direct and stark. Something is over just as it begins. The final stanza of the three-stanza poem concludes:
The dreams I wake with don’t stay close.
Last night I dreamed about walking among flowers.
This morning, one window frames
The consolation of an empty field.
James skillfully guides the message with a light touch. Dreams are as fleeting as the morning sunlight. We have all been there.
His poem Sitting on the Back Porch, in Summer at Dusk in the Selected Poems Section on page forty-eight, works with juxtaposing an observation of nature and a human response. The poem is made up of mostly unrhymed couplets and feels as if one is having a conversation with oneself.
my children play in the neighbor’s field
games they make up themselves
my wife somewhere else
wherever that is
James has established the place through his title and the situation by putting his family away from where he is alone on the porch. The narrator observes the crow and suggests the crow observes him.
A crow lands and human and bird stare.
after a few minutes he makes his loud cry
then flies away
I can’t repeat the cry he makes
only the silence he leaves
This is a skillful poem that visualizes a quiet lonely moment on a back porch and shapes its message into a comment on the ability of nature compared to the silence of man.
James explores carnal knowledge in his poem Questions for Genesis. This is one of those long skinny poems that slides down the page like a string.
did eve’s lips
after the first
bite of the
apple did she
of her own
see if animals
before she chewed
In the series of questions, the focus is clearly on eve but the bigger question becomes obvious in the last lines. Is she perceived different now? Again, James is skillful in focus and in drawing the reader into the world he creates. He does not rely on capitalization or punctuation but on image and message.
This tome is well worth a read and reread. The themes are varied as well as the poetic forms. James has excellent control in his poetic works and is able to lead the reader to places they don’t realize they are going.
Portable Light is available here: https://redhawkpublications.com/Portable-Light-New-&-Selected-Poems-1991-2021-p414512514
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.