book review

Appearances by Michael Collins

appearances
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By Thaddeus Rutkowski
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The title of Michael Collins’ new poetry collection suggests more than one way of seeing things. “Appearances” could indicate things that come into view or into existence. It also could mean the superficial or surface look of things, the way things merely seem. Both of these ideas are at work in these poems of life among people and life lived next to nature.
Near the beginning of the book (published by Saddle Road Press in Hilo, Hawaii), I found this brief poem, titled “Creation”:

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The fleshy snowflakes
twisting blissfully down
through the faint breeze

seem to have been made
in the image of the paperweight
I would gaze at as a child,

a tiny half world upended
in beautiful flurry, set down at will
by a suddenly gigantic hand

to quiet and awe the eye.
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Each stanza, save for the last, is constructed almost like a haiku, and like the classical Japanese form the poem concerns nature, starting with a reference to snow. But the thought turns inward as it becomes a memory of a paperweight owned in childhood. Another shift occurs in the third stanza, with a reference to a “gigantic hand,” as if a supreme force could cause the fall of snow—and could “upend” the world. By juxtaposing the very large with the very small, the poem asks how big we are, or how important we are, in the whole of the world and beyond. We have only our perception, our “eye,” to answer that question, and at the end we arrive at a state of “quiet and awe.”
Nature is in the process of being tamed in “Portraits of Soul,” a poem placed later in the collection:
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The harbor’s a flurry of work:
juggernaut mowers crop the lawn,
bushes are trimmed, the sand is combed
and brushed away from the walkways,
a team sweeps and lines the clay courts,
boats bustle with gossip and cleaning—
Spring is here!
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This excerpt offers a fairly straightforward description of a beach being prepared for human activity as the weather gets warmer. There is a feeling of excitement and anticipation. The area will become a spot of play and recreation. However, the poem takes a detour toward the philosophical in the following stanza: “Forms must be in things / and beings ever shaping space, / and these eyes that we have seen through, / must return to their visions’ graves.” I read this as meaning that “forms,” or objects that we see, are always changing with the forces that shape the space we live in. And all must come to an end, if our eyes, or what we see with, return to the “graves” of their perceptions. The poem ends with a kind of Zen koan: “Make something of what can’t exist.” The paradox of being and nothingness, of existence and nonexistence, cannot be resolved through reason, though it can be accepted through enlightenment. In this way, the last line of the poem functions as a koan. (I use the words “Zen” and “koan,” but to my recollection organized religion isn’t mentioned in this book.)
            Many of the poems in “Appearances” contain a visual element. “Harbor Mandala,” for example, consists of blocks of type arranged in a circle, with a block of type in the center. This pattern allows you to read the poem in different directionstop to bottom, side to side, or around the border. The effect enhances the contemplative quality of the words. As the eye wanders around the poem, certain phrases pop out (I could say “appear”): “i apprehend the amorphous dream,” “your skin creating visions,” “invited you into my soul.” It’s up to the reader to put these thoughts into more coherent order, or not. That “not” might be Collins’ message.
            You can find the book here: http://saddleroadpress.com/ appearances.html
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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the prose books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and RoughhouseHaywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
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Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders

hap

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By Lynette Esposito

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Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders is a 286 page novel written from the viewpoint of a young girl trying to understand the adult world around her.

Set in Texas during the 1940’s, innocence is challenged by situation, choice and misunderstandings.  The observations of the young narrator draw a clear picture of how a youngster can see but not understand the mysteries of adults, their issues and the choices they make.

It is difficult to sustain the strength of the storyline when it is presented from the viewpoint of a juvenile but DeSanders does an adequate job for the most part. She is creative with her chapter titles which serve as guides to the points made and symbolic messages suggested. For example, Lone Star Oldsmobile and Cadillac is the first chapter title and the situation involves a car ride with our narrator in the backseat and her father driving. In the chapter, I Call Him Nathan, the narrator details a friendship with a boy who is a foster child whose choices are not very good and the adults who choose to turn him out.  In the final chapter, The Bullfrog, our young narrator tries to interpret the frog’s situation allegedly trapped in a chlorinated swimming pool and relate it to her understanding of reality.

 DeSanders places the narrator in family situations where, while she is present, the adults do not really notice her and talk more at her than to her. The young girl details the happenings to the reader without realizing the complexities of what is going on.  It is as if the reader is in the room and is reviewing, with the narrator, the mundane family happenings and the stark loneliness\ of some of the characters. The characters exhibit much psychological pain in their reactions to every day life and our young narrator is confused as to why the adults around her are acting as they do.

Although this is not a novel about solutions, it is a novel about situations that are common to the majority of average people who have hopes and dreams often unrealized.It is a novel about the vulnerability of childhood and all of us.

DeSanders is a fifth generation Texan and a history buff.  This is her first novel.

She also has an active interest in the theater arts and sings in New York. The paperback is published by Bellevue Literary Press. For information on their titles go to blpress.org.

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

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By Marian Frances Wolbers

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FootHills Publishing released the third and final volume of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county by Jennifer Hetrick this past autumn. Swimming within these tender memory-poems are the jagged edges and startlingly soulful snatches of remembered machine work in the factories and businesses of Berks County decades ago. Faithful to the worker-narrators’ storytelling, Hetrick braids honorable, dignified word-portraits on her lyrical image-loom, whether a worker affixed left-hand side doors on military trucks or spent every day “securing strong stitches” on endless bottoms of belt loops. The detailed troubles and trials of men and women in stanzas that—short or long—perfectly match each person are juxtaposed with unabashed pride in the unique parts each individual played in the workplace, using hands and minds to produce not just hosiery, paint, or smoked meats but the totality of community, economy, opportunity, and familial necessity. Each alliteration, phrasing, and turn of thread in the line displays a range of emotion and circumstance: wry humor (“masking tape, a rare few worked with it as i did”); awareness of war; bodily stresses (“every night, i came home, felt fuzzy / wads of sweater aftermath in the creases of my neck, elbows”); and philosophical recall (“nestled in an italian neighborhood. / we were the only black family there. my neighbors / used to give us tomatoes from their backyards. i didn’t know / prejudice”). Generous and vivid are the pictures of the way things were, as well as the way folks speak and see themselves in their own mind’s eye. This is a gem on multiple levels in its sweet artistry, thoughtful voice, documentation of the past, and revelatory extraordinariness of ordinary men and women.

As a fellow writer and documenter of days, I am very holistically aware of how this work stretched well back across time and place and memory-worlds of these workers. It’s always been my impression that people record every silly little ant that crosses their picnic table at a birthday event, while ending life with virtually NO record of their long, long, much-longer-than-home-life hours spent in life’s labors under the thumb of a supervisor.

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Marian Frances Wolbers is a self-confessed fan of interstices and author of novels (including Rider, St. Martin’s Press), short stories (The Southampton Review, Westview, Remarkable Doorways), drama (Return of the Sun Goddess, Holding the World, American Beauties) and poetry (Juked).

 

 

 

The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching

Lasater Philosopy of Ranching by Laurence M Lasater cover photo

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By Stephen Page

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Laurence M. Lasater’s The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching is progressive and full of common sense.  Old cattle ranching methods are becoming extinct or decimating the ranchers.  Just few examples of Lasater’s new ideas are: selecting cows and bulls by size and productive characteristics, not just coat color; keeping animals only if they are productive (examples, if a bull is not working or a cow aborts, sell the animals, don’t wait for next year as they are just eating grass that could be used for productive animals); and don’t use whips, cattle prods or screams to move animals, in open range just move behind them on your horse, and in the corral use a white flag on a pole (they will move forward)—this stresses less stress the animals, reduces the possibility of them injuring themselves or an employee, and they are easier to handle.  If they are on the way to the butcher, calm animals are higher in weight and have better quality meat—animals when stressed hours before they are butchered have tougher, darker colored meat, that is why sometimes you will see cuts in a butcher shop that are almost black (not always because the meat is old or exposed to air, but often because the animal was stressed out before it reached the butcher.  I read the book as research for my poem project and to improve myself as a rancher.

You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Lasater-philosophy-cattle-raising/dp/087404037X/ref=la_B001JOU556_1_2_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1513899850&sr=1-2

More on Lasater:

http://www.isabeefmasters.com/Beefmasters/books.html

 

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

 

 

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Albatross by Dore Kiesselbach

alb
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By g emil reutter
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On the surface there is a cool detachment by this poet, yet as one reads through the collection there is a strong undercurrent of emotion, of trauma, heartbreak and reality. Kiesselbach has given us a collection of poetry that requires more than one read, not for the ability to understand, but to explore the many layers, to explore the intensity of Kiesselbach’s poetry.
In the poem, Bob, Kiesselbach writes of a time when he hung out in a 7-11 where Bob would let him work from time to time. He sets the tone in the opening.
 
Bob
was what his 7-11 nametag said. Part of his head
was missing. Tumor or crash, they excised
skull and left a steel plate, thinner than bone,
behind. It made a dent where, if his
head were a hand, the fist would be.
When he couldn’t find the right word,
he’d make a tapping motion there.
 
Although he writes of events at the store, working the register, of going home to a grim family, of never stealing a cent, although he did take a Hustler, Bob had become his family and as you read the poem you continue to go to the opening and see Bob tapping the steel plate watching the boy work in the store.
 
In the section titled, Worn, Kiesselbach revisits 9-11 as an eyewitness to events. In the poem, PlumeHe writes:
 
Close upon a long hiccup in the light comes
clockwise torsion incident to the sound
of a huge cupped hand slapping water.
Concussion’s shiver shuffles your guts
On its way to Tim’s office and parts
northeast.
 
And at the end:
 
In a turbulent flow of faces
you recognize one, late to work,
not among the early birds lying
uncharacteristically down on the
job three blocks away. What’s going
on? It’s never been so hard to say.
 
From the poem, Blood:
 
Many thousands
headed to Manhattan
hadn’t gone, like
a colony of seabirds
on a cliff in a gale
were simply
staying put,
thoughts of
feeding eclipsed
for the day.
 
An equally intense section of the collection is, Cut Short. An excellent example is the poem Crucifixion.
 
One minute he’s looking at you, full-size, in anguish.
and the next he’s a stricken Harryhausen figurine.
Someone with cooler blood would be wishing
for a compendium of diseases but you’re
pressed too personally into the event
to separate symptoms from suffering.
If it can be thought to do so, horror
flows like gas from an unlit oven,
well past the point where it makes
any sense at all to strike a match.
When he says there’s this awful
pounding in my head no one has
the heart to tell him it’s not in your head.
 
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter
 

A Wilder Time by William E. Glassley

wilder
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By g emil reutter
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Notes From a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice
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Glassley chronicles the expedition of three geologists in search of a truth that is in dispute. Along the way Glassley writes about the wilderness and nature of the massive walls of the fjords they are excavating. He writes of the hillocks, ridges, cascades of rocky knolls where plant life anchored itself in ice-wedged cracks and linchen attached to bare rock and of tundra pockets. There is a silence to the place as there is an absence of trees, houses, streets and people.
 
Glassley documents a mirage dancing along the horizon, thick horizontal blade of sharp turquoise blue cut along the land stretching hundreds of feet into the air. He writes of sailing on the water when the three hear a sound generated from more than two miles away, a mournful, wrenching sound, morphing into a feminine symphonic chorus, staccato screeches that turn out to a disturbed rookery where hundreds of gulls be gulls cried. Yet, the three believed they had just heard the sound of the Sirens, mythical, the sound Osyesseus had heard 3,200 years ago.
 
He writes in beautiful prose about his encounters. Such as just off camp in the bay a purplish color below the surface only to find thousands of sea urchins so densely crowded that their spines tangled together, of hundreds of small comb jellies, each shaped like a lantern, iridescent colors propelled as slowly turning lanterns in the sea. Always the observer, Glassley notices small ice blocks from a calving ice sheet floating lazily and that may have enough for some but Glassley notices more. Just under the murky water a river of fish were swimming, a school of herring like fish many feet wide unknown depth stretching in both directions as far as the eye could see. Suddenly the fish exploded, frantic panic possessed them as an Artic sculpin grabbed a straggler slowly sinking back down into the murky water as the herring regrouped and continued on their journey to an unknown destination.
 
During a thunderstorm he tells us of atoms that had once been part of the rock enclosing the sea were scrapped from surfaces by pounding boulders, released to float freely with the tides… mingle with other atoms whose origins were wind-blown dust, interstellar particles, dissolving dead animals and decaying plants… evolving into unities, become things that construct living forms… become part of snowfall on the high Himalayas, cause seasonal floods of the Ganges or just part of us. In this simple observation Glassely connects everything on earth, at times separate yet always part of the whole.
 
On a journey to bathe in the ice cold waters he returns to walk up a small bluff to a tundra bench. There while walking through the grasses, short stemmed flowers of the tundra carpet he encounters a female ptarmigan who appears and disappears as her colors blend in with the patterns of brown, tan and black color and texture of the plants. All the while she was protecting her hatchlings. Glassley speaks of the vertical and how much is missed. He knelt down taking in the sweet flower scents of Artic poppy, bell-heather, mountain sorrel, hairy lousewort and more. He describes it as being awash in a botanical sea. Had he not knelt he would never had experienced this beautiful event.
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The purpose of the expedition was to prove that Greenland was formed by the collision of two continents. That the ocean between them was sucked down into the earth. The three geologists examine rock formations, individual clusters and patterns. Their work is fascinating and the story telling ability of Glassley brings the reader into geology in an unexpected way. He brings us into the mystery of ice and rock and along the way his simply beautiful observations of tundra and fjords, the wild life and plants that populate the place are amazing. A Wilder Time is a book for those who love nature and have that longing desire to learn the unknown, all hidden along the walls of the fjords of Greenland. 
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The official release date is February 2018 but you can check out the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Wilder-Time-Notes-Geologist-Greenland-ebook/dp/B06Y1RY67T

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

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Ordinary Impalers by Anton Yakovlev

ordinary
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By Karen Corinne Herceg
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Anton Yakovlev writes with a nuanced sensibility and finely spun sensitivity that almost belie the impact and depth of the messages contained in each poem of his subtle but powerful new collection “Ordinary Impalers.” We are all truly “impalers”…not the larger-than life-monsters of history, the murderers, genocidal maniacs and infamous abusers, but each one of us who impale ourselves and one another each day in multiple ways that, in the aggregate, are no different energetically from what we perceive as larger transgressions.
In the opening poem, “Scapegoat Cemetery,” the narrator is “Clutching at gravestones for balance,” (P. 9, l. 1), a balance that puts him literally and metaphorically between reality and lost hope, seeking to blame the ancestor who never took responsibility for passing along the wounds and anger he has inherited. The damage he recalls emphasizes the desire for a better memory, of a distinction between what we wish for versus what truly occurred. And rage and outrage are completely justifiable responses for the ineptitude and lack of character we display in our interactions with one another. “The Submarine” describes a visit to an apparent tourist attraction that symbolizes our ability to submerge and resurface, a constant disappearance lost in “a few syllables” (P. 10, l. 3) as the narrator walks with his father in the shadow of his grandfather whose sins and legacy are palpable despite no physical presence: “There are orphans everywhere,/even those with parents alive,” (P. 10, ll. 8-9). The unhealed wounds disallow connection and reconciliation. Holidays, traditional observances and meaningless conversations are “useless homecomings” (p. 10, l. 22) and mere distractions. There are collections of images and fragments of interactions but nothing exchanged authentically between father and son. We rely on empty omens and conjured symbolic comforts as “Our controversial angels take us/into the Hallmark wolf packs,” (“Cliffhanger,” P. 13, l. 9). We create “terraces of abstraction” (“A Stop Sign Worn as a Helmet,” P. 20, l. 14). We search for meaning in disparate images and moments that ultimately elude us.
Yakovlev employs imaginative ways to convey meaning through an unexpected use of words that create greater, multiple impact as in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” when he observes of a long-time relationship what is unrecognizable, forgotten or never acknowledged, “I could ask you questions to make you figure it out,/make you Sherlock your way to the only reasonable conclusion,” (P. 15, ll. 1-2) that is the irony of fearing the loss of what never existed. The use of the proper name Sherlock as a verb is fine-spun but jarring, almost humorous in an introspective manner.
In “The Immigrant” we see time passing without meaning, issues without resolution and words used to obfuscate meaning instead of avenues to true comprehension. There is a plea for deeper contact when the poet commands, “Stop fidgeting with your kaleidoscope./Hold a hand, say hi, have dessert.” (P. 16, ll. 19-20). He is speaking to various people in these poems, to the many relationships in which he has tried to reach out for something authentic only to find that the other’s “ghost has solidified.” (“Frog Pond,” P. 19, l. 21). We do not know what we are even looking for and so are completely lost:
            Before you meet again,
            Look for ravens on abandoned rocks
            Until you realize they are not the point. (P. 21, ll. 23-25)
We are absent from the present and unhealed from past traumas and grief. Yet Yakovlev actually offers a solution to healing in an unexpected but authentic manner:
            A rusted ship might float again someday,
            If you are nice enough to the bacteria
            That captain it from now on. (P. 22, ll. 16-18)
We must acknowledge and delve into those “bacteria” in order to excavate truth, clean out the wounds and not cover them up to fester beneath the oppression of blame and guilt. Instead we allow the losses to accrue and break us. We marginalize the authentic and are prey to the illusionary.
            In “The Jogger” we witness the portrait of a marriage as an exercise in perfunctory living amid external actions that do not constitute true depth and continuity in a relationship. Yakovlev describes the beginning of the marriage as “an incensed gallery/of old New England pumpkins, candles in antique stores,/afternoon trips to vegetable farms.” (P. 25, ll. 11-13), and then quickly adds “but only autumn could sustain that kind of enchantment./Quickly he grew to see the void in all other seasons” (P. 25, ll. 14-15). He is asking us to see what we substitute for real kinship and interaction. There is “the invisible lock in the double door of all ears” (P. 35, l. 20), and in the book’s title poem, “Ordinary Impalers,” he states, “so pretend we can cheer each other,/even if it’s Russian Roulette we play.” (P. 38, ll. 7-8). In the final poem, “The Lingering Portal,” we see a doorway of possibility of  “cathartic/hopes” (P. 50, ll. 4-5) once more thwarted by the past and unhealed memories that again cause us to lose our balance “and go to sleep” (P. 50, l. 19).
There are so many fine expressions in these poems that one could quote many lines from each piece as Yakovlev is careful and sparing with language, getting to the heart of things without sentimentality, unnecessary embellishment or overstatement. He explores the many ways we fail to reach one another, to connect and find our way to a clearer reality. He doesn’t negate possibility but rather addresses the realities of where most of us remain stuck and distant from one another and ourselves. There is a roadmap to healing within these wise poems if the reader takes advantage of the opportunity.
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Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, reviews and essays.  A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with renowned writers Philip Schultz, David Ignatow, John Ashbery and William Packard. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose by Nirala Publications (2017).  She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

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