book review

Music For A Wedding by Lauren Clark

music

By Lynette G. Esposito

Lauren Clark’s Music for a Wedding published by the University of Pittsburgh Press presents 82 pages of reminiscent poetry with visual images and interpretations of every day occurrences and locations..

Vijay Seshardi, Judge says Clark’s poems take the reader into “a relationship with the invisible and the ineffable, bringing image and language (as if by magic) to the page and to the reader.” Take for example on page one in an untitled poem:

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       There is a sorrow being outside your body
         even when I am in the places where it has been.
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This generalization brings this sorrow to the heart my naming a place, the kitchen, in the next stanza and the bedroom thereafter where the narrator measures her lover with the palm of her hand so that when he is gone, she can remake him.  He does not awaken.

In Aubade on page 32, she takes the reader to the bathroom and we all know what goes on in there.  Yet, she graphically shows the act of recreation with our panties down and in the washing of hands…reproducing the life it has known.  She visualizes a common act with judgment and appraisal about how life works.

On page 63, the narrator takes us into the bathroom again in the poem Afterfeast.

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         There is no absolute aloneness on this island
         and so it is for me to understand there is none
         on any island, and so it is or me
         in the white bathroom light.
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It is not the bathroom but the commonness of the room where there should be privacy for all things and where one should be alone.  As presented, the reader finds the illumination of the white bathroom light and the realization about interpreting absolute aloneness.

She ends this poetry tome with Illinois in Spring, outside and thinking of endings.

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            ….The place that is big enough to hold every
            absence. That things grow here, pale and small from enormous land,

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            inspires abject panic. The wonder of watching a flying bird land
            on water.  The end of the line will always give you that feeling.
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The natural elements of air and water and reaching a conclusion for this narrator is panic. A reader cannot help but react to this image because it happens so often and to so many beside lake, and rivers and oceans.

Clark is an effective writer juxtaposing the common with the uncommon and twisting the images to fit a fluid form. She leaves the window open for the lace curtains to fiddle in the breeze to form a  shadowed pattern on the mind of the reader. This is a good read for lovers of poetry.

Lauren Clark holds a B.A. in classics from Oberlin College and an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan.  Music for a Wedding is the winner of the 2016 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry.

It is available at www.upress.pitt.edu

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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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

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Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Border

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By Larissa Shmailo

Like a Chinese-Polish American cross between Rod Serling and Emily Dickinson, Thaddeus Rutkowski invites you to the portals of mind and matter in Border Crossings. In this first collection of poems, the fiction writer and performance artist presents carefully sculpted, deceptively simple verses of immediate interest to the reader, typically with an understated but potent twist.

 Whether at the boundaries between cultures, the edges of human interiority, or the trespasses of racism, trapdoors usually closed shut are pried open in Border Crossings. “Light and Shadow,” among the poems opening the book, describes the poet’s initial conflict moving in and out of hidden places:

My father opens a trapdoor
and leads me down concrete stairs
. . .

I don’t want to stay.
Spiders scrunch in the corners,
and pieces of copper tubing—
. . .
litter the floor
. . .

Spiders notwithstanding, the poet finds himself liking the smell of horsehair cement in the cellar and wanting to stay there. The rest of the volume’s poems proceed to traverse borders to the secret and unknown.

As Rutkowski comes to love cellars, so he comes to love spiders. The collection reveals the rurally reared poet’s childlike fascination with spiders, bees, flies, rodents, raptors, tree frogs, and other animalia of crevices and corners. There is both a love for the honest presence of nature’s smallest and a vampire’s interest in “little lives”:

 I can see and hear it now,
the crazy path of flight at blinding speed,
the inevitable, the unavoidable, hitting,
when the crazy fly comes into contact
with the eye, with the bed,
buzzing around upside down,
for the crazy fly has no great sense of equilibrium.

And:

. . .

I stand back
while a hyper bird perches on a jumbo stalk
so another can feed on the multi seeds
next to the mad mud hole.

Perhaps these innocent animals offer a kind of escape from other, more malevolent creatures. From “Party Animals”:

I throw a party

 . . .

Another guest says

he killed people

who looked like me

when he was in Vietnam.

The kindness of nature juxtaposes vividly with the descriptions of rednecks and racists literally at the poet’s door; the conjunction is reminiscent of Viktor Frankl seeing hope and life in a sparrow perched outside his Auschwitz barracks window. The violent racists cross borders in threatening trespass and are held back spiritually by the poet’s integrity and wit, with the help of small loving lives.

As a veteran performance poet and ranter, Rutkowski routinely crosses audience boundaries with épater-le-bourgeoisie material. A common edgy theme is sex, delivered with deadpan. From “Nine Rules for No Sex”:

No kissing with a cold sore.
No kissing with a sore throat.
No thoughtless pressing, rubbing or brushing.
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No fingering with long nails.
No fingering with hangnails.
No foolish fingering . . . .
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The motion is sometimes toward stand-up comedy, as in “Anarchist Manifesto” ( “I believe in anarchy, / but not if everybody goes wild.”) The same wry humor obtains as the poet finds his Asian roots in food and found poems; “Found Poem, Hong Kong Museum”:

When you are finished tilling the soil,
spading seedlings, weeding, winnowing,

hulling, grinding and pounding,

you may enjoy
the silky yellow rice,
the dry sticky rice,
the rat’s tooth rice,
the little flowery waist rice,
and the yellow husk full brow rice.

The poet encourages forays into the unknown, but with realism and caveats. Despite the “disappointing” toilet facilities of foreign places, and the shock of strange invertebrate foods, Rutkowski reminds us in the poem, “Border Crossing,” that “it’s the people we want to see.” And cautions his reader:
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So let’s think twice before we cross
the twenty yards of no-man’s-land.
I know you want to get there
as fast as we can.

You can find the book here:  https://sensitiveskinmagazine.com/books/border-crossings/

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Larissa Shmailo is an American poet, novelist, translator, and critic.  Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country#specialcharactersIn Paran, the chapbook A Cure for Suicide, and the e-book Fib Sequence;  her latest novel is Patient Women. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, Words for the Wedding, Contemporary Russian Poetry, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural, and many others. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world’s first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Please see more about Shmailo at her website at http://www.larissashmailo.com  and Wikipedia athttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larissa_Shmailo.

Weather by Kelly Cherry

weather

By g emil reutter

Cherry is a narrative poet in this slim collection of poems. Within its pages she captures turbulence, calm, defines the seasons. Cherry captures the wind in the poem, Birds on the Patio Feeders, No. 1:

The big wind scours the sky as if the sky is a giant kitchen sink/ Trees bend, hanging their heads, sorrowful/ Such drama. Yet we are captivated to see.

Yet the collection is just not about weather, it is about much more such as these lines from the poem, This Should be Winter, reflecting what the future may hold:

Thrity or forty years from now, we may be heading north in search of water, in search of air that can be breathed, in search of food that’s not been wrecked before it’s harvested.

Cherry captures the essence of a storm in both its quietness and violence in the poem, Rain:

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It falls. Sometimes quietly, sometime loudly
as bullets hitting targets, or soldiers in war

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A sprinkle doesn’t even seem like rain.
It does an almost silent dance, then stops.

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demure as a virgin. The breaking thunderstorm
rails at everyone, but the daylong soak

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that rescues trees, flowers, and failing farms
sings a song both simple and everlasting.

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In the poem, The Start of Spring, she writes of the young in comparison to the old:

Spring is for the young, and the young/ put smiles on the old. Maybe rueful smiles. maybe sagacious smiles, maybe fond smiles/ as the old remember their checkered youth…The young are always foolish/ the old, always reminiscent.

She writes of a beach party and the aftermath in the poem, The Fourth of July:

…men and woman burn logs on a beach and hope to get lucky/ Sex is such a driving force, and then?/ Its not. It leaves us high and dry/ as if our bodies were nothing but old clothes/ hanging on a weathered, worn-out laundry line. 

The poet writes of an elderly woman who keeps bits of the season in Autumn LeavesThe deaths of the living, even leaves/ sadden an elderly woman once a child/ dragging her feet through fallen leaves or pressing/ the pretty leaves into a scrapbook.

Cherry is a forecaster as she writes in the poem, Mayday:

It strikes terror in our hearts/ like a fire alarm…Is it the end of our world?/ Of course it is. Earth’s dying./ Our world is ill, regurgitating/ its insides.  

Weather by Kelly Cherry is not for those who enjoy the disconnect. This collection of narrative poems connects with the reader through plain speaking combined with excellent imagery. Cherry writes of the seasons but also utilizes weather as a metaphor for lives lived and more directly the condition of the earth.

You can buy the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780998187204/weather.aspx

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g emil reutter is a writer of stories and poems:

https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

Summer Reading Recommendations 2018

The following books were reviewed at North of Oxford between January and June 2018. They are listed according to total views by the readers of North of Oxford. A link to the review appears below each title and links to where to purchase the book appears in the review.

 

Gessner

 

The Conduit and other Visionary Tales of Morphing Whimsy by Richard Gessner

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/the-conduit-and-other-visionary-tales-of-morphing-whimsy-by-richard-gessner/

appearances

Appearances by Michael Collins

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/appearances-by-michael-collins/

fire-without-light-copy

A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree Demaree

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/a-fire-without-light-by-darren-demarre/

SRP.MCD.cover.qxp

Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/monte-carlo-days-nights-by-susan-tepper/

Layout 1

The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/the-gates-of-pearl-by-jill-hoffman/

journey

Journey to the Beloved by nur alima schieBeare

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/journey-to-the-beloved-by-nur-alima-schiebeare/

 

ornaments

Ornaments by David Daniel

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/ornaments-by-david-daniel/

hap

Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/hap-hazard-and-the-end-of-the-world-by-diane-desanders/

cover 1

the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county – Vol. 3 by Jennifer Hetrick

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/the-labors-of-our-fingertips-poems-from-manufacturing-history-in-berks-county-vol-3-by-jennifer-hetrick/

attic

A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/a-look-back-antic-hay-by-aldous-huxley/

Follow the Sun by Edward J. Delaney

sun

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon says Follow the Sun by Edward J, Delaney is just plain fantastic.  I agree.

The seven-part, 287 page dramatic story explores a family’s trials, tribulations and daily life experiences in its quest to find both answers and resolutions in its search for its missing parts. This search leads the reader to a deeper understanding of family and what family represents.

The lead character, Quinn Boyle, has “bugs” in his head from the first line of part one. While the author clarifies the bugs are lobster and the location is on the lobster docks and boats, the relationship of psychological issues is crystal clear. His brother, Robert, who takes time off to visit the local bar, again gives a clear relationship for the need of psychological relief even if it comes from a bottle. Daily life is depicted in a realistic way  for these fictional characters who live on the edge of poverty.

The story line addresses contemporary issues of not being able to make a living and still have to pay child support; problems with drug addiction, and despair when few options are left in making life choices. The locations in which these decisions are made do not take place in upscale homes and fancy places but on lobster boats, in prison, newspaper offices and  local bars.  The despair of the human journey for the hard working but  poverty-stricken brothers leads one to his supposed demise and the other on a quest for truth.  The family legacy becomes an analysis of the burdensome past, the acceptance of the present, and a questioning of the future.  For example, Robbie muses:

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There’s too much in the space between then and now, an entire

continent worth of unanswered questions.

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The lead character makes some of his own problems as he struggles to survive and yet Delaney represents Quinn as a man who believes he can leave his problems behind and start a new.  Quinn believes he can make himself  “not remember.” The dialogue is realistic and the characters are believable.  Delaney uses contemporary language as if he  has listened to real people conversing and transformed their conversations  into this piece of fiction. Quinn says

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“I guess people can make themselves see what they want to see.”

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While this phrase fits well into the story, one hears it in real life all the time and the reader understands the truth of it.

The book is a good read with its clear language and characters who try to make their lives  work but cannot always reach their goals just like most of us.

Delaney is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker. Besides Follow the Sun, he has published Broken Irish and Warp and Weft as well as a short story collection, The Drowning and Other Short Stories.  He has also directed and produced documentary films including The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus and Library of the Early Mind.  He edits the literary journal Mount Hope.

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Follow the Sun is available fromwww.cbsd.com and published by Turtle Point Press: www.turtlepointpress.com

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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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

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By Karen Corinne Herceg

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There are two voices in Jill Hoffman’s latest book The Gates of Pearl. In many ways these voices both coalesce and duel with one another simultaneously. They alternate between Hoffman’s poetry and her mother Pearl’s poems and journal entries. Pearl passed away in 1979, but her voice rings through as if we were on the other end of the line in one of her “Telephone Poems.” The gates of Pearl open and close to a daughter whose love prompts her to explore and expose the depths of her own emotions by examining those of her mother. The book is somewhat of a call and response between two people who ponder relationships, the vagaries of life, and the frequently cruel circumstances of a shifting world. It employs dialog and monologue, inner reflection, plaintive outbursts and genuine moments of painful humor. Stark and brutally honest, we see that the umbilical cord stretches out infinitely while still binding us so very tightly to that maternal bond and source of a perpetually complicated symbiosis. It is fraught with the desire of connection and the need to separate. This conflict is evident in “Portrait,” a poem that aptly captures the dichotomy of the mother/daughter relationship, when Hoffman states, “Our one soul/haggles for hours/on the phone…” (P. 20, ll. 1-3), and in “Venus” observes: “…my small feet are your hands” (P. 33, l. 4). In “Mama Pyjama” Hoffman observes, “A pearl was set each year in my tail” (P. 38, l. 9), evincing a very tangible image and a play on words that endows “Pearl” with multiple implications.

Revealingly, Hoffman refers to herself as “Daughter of Pearl.” While it casts a shadow upon her own identity, somewhat sublimating it to her mother’s, it also reinforces the omnipresent legacy of deference we feel for that person who brought us into the world. Having come before us, we mistakenly believe they have resolved so many of life’s puzzles. We believe that, having brought us into this life, they have already conquered it to some degree and will impart their wisdom to us and guide us. We are certain to be disappointed in our expectations, for our mothers are human after all. We believe they will assist us in navigating the world, while they believe their child will be a new hope for overcoming their own obstacles and failures. Hence there is misunderstanding from the very start.  Compounding this for both Pearl and Hoffman are distant, complicated paternal figures and husbands. Pearl’s narcissistic, absent husband, leaves her somewhat destitute in the wake of divorce and Hoffman feels the loss, too, but also the burden of her mother’s sadness. These stories are intricately intertwined, as seen when Pearl states of her father “…and you were writing my/story…” (P. 4, ll. 4-5) and when she pleads with her father to see her: “Look at me Daddy/Look at me” (P. 74, ll. 15-16. In trying to rein in her self-worth, Pearl cries out, “You are not the center of the universe!” (P. 27, l. 1). But while the mind comprehends, often emotions do not comply, and there’s an ongoing counterpoint in dialog of supplication and pleading and a desire for freedom and selfhood.

Parental disappointments carry over into adult relationships. Instead of cultivating self-worth, early wounds create romantic notions and unrealistic expectations of marital bliss. Pearl observes of Dostoevsky’s character Anna Karenina, “She gave up everything for love—even her life/I think I did the same” (P. 23, ll. 1-2). She dreams of movie stars from the past where she is the heroine in the stories, her ideas of love confused with fanciful, sexual encounters that only promote unreal expectations, being “…lifted up caressed and placed lasciviously on the petals” (P. 43, l. 7), of a literal bed of roses. The promises of a happily ever after life diminish in the wake of harsh realities we encounter in the unhealed wounds of our chosen partners. We sacrifice much of our goals and passions in exchange for illusory pursuits that only bring us back to confronting ourselves. Pearl vacillates between regret and acceptance of her decision to divorce, weaving the father/daughter relationship through her own experience as well as Hoffman’s. She declares:

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I left Daddy I had been
divorced but I was
already crying sobbing
because it had been a
mistake… (P. 35, ll. 14-18)

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She believes this because she already has her own child, Hoffman, and in yoking the two of them together states, “…you—or me—I was a child/who needed a father” (P. 35, ll. 21-22). And later in another journal entry she states outright, “…I met and married my Father” (P. 70, l. 18). The legacy of repeating the proverbial sins of the father threads through these words with biting veracity, although Pearl does have many moments of seeing through the veil of her whimsical hopes. In another journal entry she concludes, “My glass slipper shattered—so are my great expectations” (P. 46, l. 9). Hoffman combats this fate of magical thinking in “The Girl Who Laid Golden Eggs” stating, “This girl didn’t want to be told fairy tales; nobody, she said,/knew her life” (P. 66, ll. 1-2).

Pearl resorts to food addictions as a result of the many frustrations she experiences, eventually leading her to join Overeaters Anonymous. She struggles with this in her own thoughts, her journals and her support group. In a “Book of Pearl” entry she catalogs a litany of supposed transgressions much like in a confessional, listing all those she has “short changed,” including her husband, and adds parenthetically, “(even though he deserved it)” (P. 7, l. 5), and concludes, “I did not live up to my potential” (P. 6, l. 5). There is a bittersweet humor that seems to sustain her yet is mitigated by harsh circumstances she cannot seem to overcome emotionally or physically. Pearl pursues an unattainable impulse toward perfection that creates shame when she inevitably falls short of the impossible causing her to observe, “…my defects cause my secrets” (P. 15, l. 8). She also refers to secrets as “toxic” and wishes to share them in order to purge through truth.

Pearl explores familial connections among generations, her grandson seeming to morph into her own persona in a dream she recounts, and then into a desire to take back her husband as she asks God: “…is this your licking or saving me from it?” There is a nostalgic yearning for the familiarity of the past that is more hopeful than emblematic of truth. What is lost was never actually present. Pearl wants her “mate” to return, “Not as he was but could have been” (P. 32, l. 12), once again yoking her desires to an untenable reality. Pearl loses herself in unrealistic notions of the people in her life that extend from her parents to her children. In giving birth we relinquish much of the self. There is tremendous sacrifice involved in the proper care of a child that necessitates so much denial of one’s own dreams and passions. She states, “Another woman would offer her/breast—but I’m trying to cope” (PP. 13-14, ll. 26-27). Pearl wants to know when there will be time to take care of her own life, and as she moves forward asks, “Is this the beginning of a little self-love” (P. 11, l. 14). She sought comfort through food with obsessive swings between desire and deprivation. Frequently Hoffman defines their relationship through the prism of this omnipresent obsession and attempts to free herself from its oppressive presence. In “Pearl” she states, “…I have no shopping list” (P. 60, l. 2). Food references morph into various aspects of these women’s lives, deftly represented in their emotions as a coping mechanism and a nemesis. In referencing a cancelled appointment she is “…left in such a turmoil/you wouldn’t want a meatloaf made in/such a way” (P. 26, ll. 16-18). After another dream of her ex-husband, food mutates into sexual images, is served, but there’s nothing she can eat, concluding, “I go towards the icy box – holding out its frozen breasts and erect Penis to me/I go/towards its pleasures and oblivion” (P. 28, ll. 7-9).  She concedes to a defeat of desires instead of any resolution to conquer the demons. The sense of loss overwhelms an impetus to move forward. In the final analysis, Pearl sees herself as not even worthy of crumbs stating, “…and even this was not permitted me” (P. 31, l. 8).

 “In “Demeter” Hoffman describes the way Pearl prepared foods, almost as a work of art. Yet she sees she and her mother as “…each in our separate pomegranate chamber” (P. 25, l. 12). She vacillates between appreciation and resentment. In “Stranger,” Hoffman is clear about her own disillusionment with Pearl, despite her deep love and connection to her. She refers to her as a “stranger” and states:

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            Mid-journey, I turned around
to tell you my joy
at some trivial thing or other
and saw an old woman
talking to God on the phone
about the raw foods for her last
supper. (P. 47, ll. 7-13)

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As the journal entries and poems progress through the book, we see Pearl slowly sinking while Hoffman struggles and ultimately rises. She has capability beyond her mother to express herself creatively and successfully. It leads her away from deference to Pearl into a realm of compassion and acceptance. Pearl says, “I desert myself” (P. 55, l. 9) and Hoffman struggles to avoid repeating this fate. In “Anonymous” she strives to move beyond seeing herself as an extension of Pearl, surrendering her “unguarded words” to her mother’s ear and concluding, “Ever have I been the jewel hung there” (P. 58, l. 13). And in the poem titled “Pearl” Hoffman has “Pearls in my ear and on my/cheeks” (P. 60. ll. 1-2). Pearl is never able to separate herself from her parental tethering even in death: “Home is where the cemetery is—where Mother and Dad are” (P. 64, l. 8). Of course we all carry our inheritance with us, but the self must strive to separate and stand in its own truth. Pearl descends into guilt and regrets, still craving her father’s approval even toward the end of her life: “Daddy’s gone now but I still feel the cry in my throat—Look at/me Daddy Look at me” (P. 74, ll. 15-16). She pleads to be released from the haunting thoughts that bind her to the past and keep her mired in destructive forces as she cries, “Leave me alone feelings of indecision, perfections, and no/compassion for myself” (P. 81, ll. 17-18).  She also asks to leave her “feelings of rage,” but that is exactly what she needed to express in order to release her feelings and excavate her own life. Hoffman realizes this. In “My Mother Dreams She Is A Head Of Cabbage,” she speaks of her “…smiling/in her Elizabethan/collar” (P. 82, ll. 2-3) but she also sees her as “…planted/eyeless outside a window” (P. 82, ll. 7-8) and “…peed on/by a German soldier” (P. 82. ll. 9-10). Hoffman has her own justified rage at her mother’s inability to overcome her inner demons. They consume her in her inability to live up to untenable ideals that are, ultimately, cries to the parent asking if they will finally love us once we reach perfection. Pearl recognizes this but is unable to sustain it, noting how love was always a “bother” to her father. She writes to herself, “…You are loved  Put down roots  The tree will stand firm with roots/it might even send forth flowers” (P. 87, ll. 12-14). But she cannot absorb and sustain this in her psyche.

Hoffman works toward independence and integrity, and learns these lessons from watching her mother suffer while retaining a compassionate heart toward Pearl’s struggles. She misses her mother but misses more of the person Pearl could have been and says sadly, “People miss you” (P. 91, l. 14). In “Sorrow” Hoffman speaks of “…our penitential/rags/that we never change” (P. 95, ll. 3-5) but concludes:

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And yet the light
comes in a way
we like
and just the unfractured
mind
with its dish of words
can get up when it wants to
and dance. (P. 95, ll. 7-14)

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Hoffman gives Pearl the last word in the book, more resilient and hopeful, albeit from beyond the grave. She seems to be commanding herself as well as her daughter to “Get up out of your coffin and move your feet!” (P. 104, l. 1). Hoffman has offered us stark, courageous insights into an intricate, complicated and difficult relationship. She triumphs with her own “pearls” of wisdom and leaves us with an impetus for reflection upon our own parental ties and self-worth. This book is a true labor of love, fearless in its self-examination. Ultimately, Pearl’s gift is to show us the pain of life’s struggles despite her inability to overcome most of them. Hoffman’s gift is her authentic, intrepid voice showing us the way to reclaim the self through fierce inventory of our lives and an ability to triumph by walking that tough road.

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You can find the book here: The Gates of Pearl

About the reviewer: Karen Corinne Herceg graduated Columbia University where she studied with David Ignatow and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Schultz.  She has featured at major venues with such renowned poets as John Ashbery and William Packard. Nirala Publications released her new book of poems, Out From Calaboose, in November 2016 with edits by Linda Gray Sexton, bestselling author and daughter of two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton.  Her website is www.karencorinneherceg.com

Kiss Kiss by Paul Beckman

kiss-kiss-cover-

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By Francine Witte

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When you pick up Kiss Kiss, Paul Beckman’s just-released collection of flash fiction stories, get comfortable. Sit down in your easy chair, maybe bring a cup of joe, because once you start reading, you aren’t going anywhere.

            These tiny stories, (I believe the number is 78,) are so sharp and so entertaining you will find yourself saying “one more, just one more.”

            That’s because of just how readable they are. Beckman’s style is straightforward. Perhaps it’s his background as an air traffic controller that comes into play here. His stories are carefully guided and very easy to follow and then wham! he hits you with an ending that seems both surprising and inevitable all at the same time. The perfect landing.

            Beckman’s world is full of odd things made entirely plausible — a picnic in Italy where only the dead are on the guest list, a dentist with his eyebrows tattooed on, a grandmother’s diary revealing her risqué past. There are brief encounters like that in “Helen and Ellen” where a twin sister passes by her dead sibling’s stalker on an airport conveyor belt. One tiny moment, exploding.

            This is what flash fiction does, it takes a few well-chosen words, surgical details, and blends them into a beautiful synergy. And while Beckman’s language is straight-talking and no- nonsense, he evokes some very touching emotion. His stories about a childhood in the projects come to mind here. Most notable in this category are “The Only Hope of the Jews” and “Father Panik Village.”

            The stories vary in length, the longer being 3 pages and the shortest being one tiny paragraph. Here is an example of what Beckman can do in four lines:

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            The Blame Game

            Every morning, when I leave my house for work, I have to
            run to my car as my neighbors shoot rock salt at me with
            shotguns.
                        Why me and not their wives, who took turns bringin
            warm casseroles and hot bodies when my wife left me?

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In a mere 49 words (and that includes the title) we are given place, character, situation, conflict and backstory with the author mentioning  none of these specifically. This is what separates flash fiction from merely an anecdote. And Beckman shows his mastery of the form in little gem stories such as this one throughout the book.

             There are also more fully-drawn, recurring characters such as the aforementioned grandmother, or the man who is a product of the housing projects, and, my favorite, the Woody-Allen-esque Mirsky, who has trouble making small talk at parties. In “Wallflower Solution,” Mirsky’s wife worries about how he currently handles chit chat in social situations, warning him “there are other things besides weather and cleavage, you know?” (Probably my single favorite line in the entire book.) She goes on to make him a crib sheet which becomes wildly successful, but not for the reason she thinks.

            Get  yourself a copy of Paul Beckman’s Kiss Kiss. Relax. Kick off your shoes. Sip your coffee like you sip these stories, which are fun and poignant and make up a beautiful collection of characters and adventures.
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You can get the book here: Kiss Kiss
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Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, has recently been published by Kelsay Books. She is reviewer, blogger, and photographer. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.
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