book review

Everyone Just Wants to Drum by Kevin Rabas

By Charles Rammelkamp

In the title piece of his new collection, in a brief section called “Prose Pieces,” Kevin Rabas, chair of the English Department at Emporia State University and poet laureate of Kansas from 2017-2019, tells the story of library night in Mulvane, KS, where he has been invited to participate. He stands by a sandwich board with an arrow pointing to Clowns & Activities and another arrow pointing to Poet Laureate. He stands by the appropriate sign with a table of books and his drums beside him. “I do a jazz poetry bit,” he tells us parenthetically.

Of course, nobody is particularly interested in poetry but makes straight for the face-painting and food trucks. But when Rabas begins with a measured, Brazilian beat” on the drums, a little kid with his mom gets interested, and soon enough Rabas is mobbed by kids wanting a chance at the cymbals, the snare, the tom-tom, “about 50 kids make their way through in an hour,” but of course  nobody sticks around for the poetry, he observes with good humor. “Everyone just wants to drum.”
But Rabas makes the point that the music is a form of poetic expression itself, and this theme holds up throughout the collection. Indeed, one whole section (the book is divided into nine sections), “Song Cycle: Poems at the Piano,” a suite of eight poems, was written in collaboration with the pianist Martin Cuellar. Each poem corresponds to a movement in a Tao Lin composition. One especially evocative poem is “Floating Clouds”:
Above us, clouds
sag with rain, as if they
carry heavy sacks. They move now
with weight. Then, rain,
and those clouds run,
sleek and thin
on to another pasture, another
town, water
rising and following.
Another section of ten poems is entitled “Music,” with titles like “Jazz Standards,” “Know the Notes,” “How composed music hopes” and “Quartet.” The poem “Crazy” is after the Patsy Cline song:
I know everyone,
every girl sings
Patsy’s Crazy
at karaoke, but
in this little rusted-
out bar my drink
burns with your voice.
Most of the poems in Everyone Just Wants to Drum are short, focused like haiku, more about image and reflection than narrative. Indeed, many have the impact of “Observations,” the title of the final, twelve-poem section. “Hail,” for instance, succinctly shows us a hailstorm:
How the hail, pea-sized,
  froghops on the lawn,
bright white, rock-like, misshapen,
  and sounds like bags
of marbles being dropped
  on top the roof
The sections entitled “Time Off,” “Words, Language,” and “At the Gym, the Gas Station, the Coffee Shop” are likewise little epiphanies of examination, celebrations of the everyday. What could be more ordinary than a gym, a gas station or a coffee shop, after all? “On the Road,” from “Time Off,” reads:
Rain coming, the black cows
lie down in the green and wait
for droplets, for a summer
shower like a lover’s
touch, all hazy
and indigo, late June
in east central Kansas
along the turnpike, driving
the grey ribbon
that never ends.
Simple but vivid, Rabas shows you the passing scene in all its modest, quotidian beauty, like something from a Japanese haiku indeed, as you drive along the mind-numbing freeway going from point A to point B. The cows settle in, the soothing, life-giving rain about to begin, the drab hypnotic pavement unspooling ahead.
Rabas teaches playwriting at Emporia State as well, and thus another of his short “observations” from the “Words, Language” section paints another powerful, dramatic picture:
That white noise murmur
of the house with the lights up
before the show, what
heaven might be like
at first, before we know
the words.
A short, five-poem section called “Disquiet” seems to address a time of mental anxiety. But the drum is back in “Mom Brings My Drum to Menninger’s,” an apparent reference to the psychiatric clinic in Houston.
How that
garage sale conga
held what I knew
and needed,
when I thumped
my story
across its skin.
And the orderlies
said, That’s ok, sonny.
You can play that,
play that again.
And thus we come full circle to music and expression and to poetry and the mental and emotional impulses that move and are moved by the words and the music. There’s a quiet wisdom in Kevin Rabas’ work, even a subtle “therapy” at work, as well, as if these are the very things you really need to stay sane in our turbulent world – the poetry, the music. Because face it, everyone just wants to drum.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is)

Witness in the Convex Mirror by Eileen R. Tabios

By g emil reutter
Eillen Tabios is a prolific poet and editor, with over 50 collections notched on her belt, she continues to inspire with her ability to cast new light into the world of poetry. This past May, TinFish released the collection, Witness in the Convex Mirror. The concept to create poems beginning with the first two lines in each poem from Ashbery’s poem, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
This was no small task. We are fortunate that this project was developed by a poet like Tabios. She is the ultimate crafted poet whose hard work, insight and passion for the written word flows throughout these 135 pages of poetry. She begins the collection with The Song of Space.
We set out to accomplish and wanted so desperately
to see come into being our corralled chords
disciplined into the sublime—it is otherwise impossible
to heighten cathedrals into a space where supplicants
will feel their smallness, thus, comprehend they are not
Later in the poem she writes:
I opened my eyes to
a rainbow settling itself upon my chest. I looked at this
odd light and whispered, “I’m no pot of gold, dear
The images of the heightened cathedral, smallness, comprehending they are not gods and then the fresh image of a rainbow settling itself upon my chest, simply beautiful.
In the poem Civilization and Inheritance she tells us, like yellowing leaves on shrubs tentative/ before marauding birds. One’s beak/ flashed open to reveal a dangling worm— / surely imagination need not be radicalized/to fortell the fodder’s fate.
In the poem, Integrity, she opens once again with two Ashbery lines and then brings us to unexpected places:
The surprise, the tension are in the concept
rather than its realization. In this way, integrity
is possible as, like Picasso, we break into
irreparable fragments the image that assumes
it bespeaks the reality of psychology. To see
that woman sleeping amidst laundry piled up
in the corner of a room, her fingers trapped
in the pose of folding her master’s shirt, must
be to become broken witness—if not, integrity
becomes a dream trapped in a mirror. Only
the broken can muster the ability to howl
The use of two of Ashbery’s lines to begin new poems is bold and courageous. Tabios has never been a poet to conform, she shatters the mirror. Its shards of images and words, both beautiful and harsh, of the comfortable and uncomfortable glitter like diamonds spilled out upon the floor. The book is divided into five sections. Abstract Expressions, The Sheriff’s Advice, Cubism of Color, Scars and Excavated Tankas. Each section is an honest reflection of the world we live in.
Euphemisms for Mortality
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
what it advertises, the gaze bypasses the age
of beams and leaded panes—no one wishes
to look at the old unless they can be elevated
by euphemisms. Say, “antique.” Say, “powerful”
Say, billionaire.” Say, “convex” for widening
the gaze when focus means the revelation of
mortality. You wake up one morning and, unlike
yesterday, the hand is spotted with dark spots,
the jowls hang, the breath catches on the third
step, and the prodigal child is at the door
with hand stretched for any inheritance. From
that point onward, everything you muster on
the piano shall be nostalgic and poignant. For
novels, you return to the Russians—at least
they live again when your trembling fingers
open their books. But you suspect no one will
read you, and you professed your entire life
that you are a poet. Damnation: I am a poet!
You can get the book here: Witness in the Convex Mirror
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. His most recent collection is Stale Bread and Coffee

Let’s All Die Happy by Erin Adair-Hodges

lets all

By Lynette G. Esposito

Let’s All Die Happy by Erin Adair-Hodges is the winner of the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and well deserved.  The 95-page poetry volume published by University of Pittsburg Press delivers a poetic experience that not only engages the reader as an observer but also involves the reader in the images, in the action and in the message.
For example, on page seven, Adair-Hodges uses images to set the tone in the thirty-three-line poem In the Black Forest.
                                 Even the birds, stained black by the thumb
                                 of morning.  If not love, then at least a thing
                                that is not love’s undoing, that is not
                                a lung with nothing to do.  When I dream
                                of loving another man it is only
                                a muscle remembering the joy.
So much is presented in the couplets opening this poem.  Tone is both dark and light, musical and clash, lost and found as one discovers love and its profound effect.  The mixed metaphors twist the black forest with controlling punctuation, with spindles and bobbins and two jobs for one action.  The last words are both mournful and hopeful
: … I changed the locks because I thought there were more keys to come.
On page thirty-five, the one-stanza poem, The Trap, opens with There is no greater tragedy than to be young.  Action is suggested through universal but unique images such as:  linoleum of heartbreak, corn dog stands, letters hinged by blades, and lightening bolts angry and bored.  Imagine yourself in high school; your first time having sex, and these images ignite.
Each poem suggests cause and effect messages.  In Seeing Ex-Boyfriends on page 88, aging is presented in seeing the past in the present and nostalgia for what was.
                                   Sometimes you see the young man you knew
                                   inside the skin of this deflated one.
Adair-Hodges again uses couplets without end rhyme to keep the pace of the poem quick.
                                    Sometimes, you look good, never better.
                                   Mostly you do not.
The language of aging is no longer how great you look but how you look good—a linguistic dodge around the implications that beauty is not for the old.  The poem is not just about what is but the perception of beauty and also about how beauty is defined when one is young– which is both realistic and forgiving.  The images Adair-Hodges uses visualize clearly the situation both then and now.
                                    it is at a  party you did not want to go to,
                                   hair unwashed, skirt unpressed, crust of spit-up on your neck.
                                   so that when you see him, though he is fatter and fading,
                                  you think of why you stayed those extra months,
                                 the gentleness with which he parted you,
The poem is meaningful and astute in its presentation of how people change and stay the same.
The poems in Let’s All Die Happy use common language and both traditional and untraditional poetic form successfully.  It is a good read for poetry lovers who like complex thought.
Let’s All Die Happy is available at
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 Imaginative Prose of Peter Fleming


By Ray Greenblatt


Peter Fleming’s younger brother was Ian Fleming—of James Bond fame—who idolized his older brother. Peter was a journalist for the London Times who had been assigned to investigate events in China in 1936. Information about encroachments by Russia and Japan as well as Communists vs Nationalists in China itself was not forthcoming in the world at large. These world powers would contribute to the explosion in a few scant years that would become Word War Two.

Peter had originally traveled from Moscow to Beijing; covered by his book One’s Company. Now he would continue from Beijing, over the Himalayas, to India in seven months at a distance of three thousand miles. This second book would be called Travels in Tartary; both books were combined under one cover titled News from Tartary. On this second adventure Peter would go with Kini Maillart, a Swiss Olympic ice hockey player, sailor, and skier, who worked for a French newspaper.


If you consult a map of China, roughly drawing a diagonal line from Beijing  across the Himalayas to Lahore India, you will realize that Peter Fleming traveled the entire breadth of China.  Terrain, including parts of the Gobi Desert, were difficult, to say the least. “The sun was well up now; the heat seemed to us terrific and was in fact considerable. The world around us jigged liquidly in a haze.” (455) “The valley narrowed, and we found ourselves marching down a gully whose walls were pock-marked with smooth caves like the flanks of a Gruyere cheese.” (452) “A yellow country, streaked here and there with red. Everywhere startlingly terraced hills of loess, grotesquer than the most outlandish ant-hills.” (282) Yet some relief existed: “Everything was deathly still; only a little bird from time to time uttered a short and plaintive song whose sweet notes echoed anomalously under those frowning cliffs.” (453) “The melodramatic mountains and the lake which glittered with a vulgar, picture-postcard blue.” (432)

Night held different fascinations: “Smoke rose with great deliberation in the sparkling air. At night footsteps fell with a curious and sullen emphasis upon the frosty ground.” (266) “The sand was silver, and the dust we breathed hung like an emanation, as of steam, around the caravan.” (370) Then the environment could quickly alter: “The wind was the curse of our life; ubiquitous and inescapable, it played the same part on the Tibetan plateau as insects do in the tropical jungle.” (359) “A dun, vaporous, impalpable wall marched up across the sky and bore slowly down on us from the west. From the dunes pale writhing snakes of sand licked out across the dark grey desert, and almost before we realized what was happening the sand storm was upon us.” (413)

Some man-made creations grounded the travelers. Their tent “looked like an abstruse practical joke.” (332) “We walked behind the lorries over a precarious bridge whose architecture seemed to be an affair of mud and mass-hypnotism.” (291) A monastery: “The maze of buildings whose small trapezoid windows, wider at the top than at the bottom, seemed to frown down on us from under lowering brows.” (325) Some villages functioned: “From behind the mud walls of a farm unseen winnowers threw up a lovely rhythmic series of golden jets which spread into fine golden clouds, then settled slowly.” (257) Others not so: “As we arrived at the inn, the building next to it—an eating-house where we had breakfasted—quietly and rather sadly collapsed, crumbling into rubble in a cloud of dust.” (294) Another town: “An unsightly, unexpected cluster of walls and roofs which grew like a wart in the middle of a vast bare plain. “ (372)

Animals played an important part in their lives. “In our empty world the animals that served us, revealing their characters by tricks of temperament or gait, bulked almost as large as human beings.” (434) “If camels can appear Byronic. Detached and skeptical, he seemed always to be something more than a camel: perhaps a prince unluckily metamorphosed.” (440) “Shining like seals, with thick necks arched heraldically, they towered over us, two splendid Badakshani chargers from Afghanistan.” (460) “There is something about a donkey which keeps your mind and spirits earth-bound. On a horse, on a camel, even on a yak, your imagination soars without much difficulty.” (504) They even meet “ Marmots, their red coats very gay in the sunshine, whistled defiance and perplexity, then scampered into their burrows with a curious flouncing gait.” (441)


Fleming learned many Chinese character traits: “I knew how swiftly the beanstalk of procrastination grows in the soil of Asia, and how easily another day, or two or three more days, could lose themselves in the intricate Chinese labyrinth of delay.” (290) “Harrows were being dragged along with a man standing on them like a chariot-driver.” (310) “The women hobble round the puddles on bound feet, their sleek heads shining like the shards of beetles.” (301) On public conveyances: “It had struck me as odd that a large crowd had gathered to see us off. I now realized that they were not seeing us off; they were coming too.” (296) “Making one cubic foot into two and turning the Black Hole of Calcutta into an only slightly over-crowded debating hall. Sixty-eight of the seventy-two people present were impervious to the lack of elbow-room, and except in our corner the intricate pattern of humanity had a surface as smooth and harmonious as a completed jigsaw puzzle.” (283)

Our journalist observes individuals in unique ways: “One was an oldish man with a fierce dignity and an abstracted manner which cloaked, at first, his ineffectualness.” (430)  “He wore a black three-cornered hat and a rusty bottle-green coat tied round the waist with a scarf which might have been a dirty tricolour; thus clad, he looked, as he slouched along, like a minor and unsympathetic character in a play about the French Revolution.” (492) “A crude young man with a pock-marked face, whose ungovernable passion for song found expression in a deplorably limited repertoire.” (494) “He used to eke out his meaning by closing his eyes, thrusting forward his face, and waving it blindly to and fro, like a snake in a glass case. It was impossible not to like the gawkish and pathetic dolt.” (521)

People came from faraway places:  “The assistant was a raffish but charming Afghan who, with his Homburg hat tilted wildly, his defiantly folded arms, and his over-truculent stance, looked exactly like a wag in a house-party snapshot.” (508) “A Russian ‘adviser’–-dressed for the backblocks but not in uniform, admirably mounted-–trotted down the street; the bulge in his pocket, his penetrating but evasive stare, his air of furtive consequence conformed splendidly to the standards of discreet melodrama.” (543)

Tibetans were especially interesting to Fleming. “Both races dressed in the Tibetan style. Huge sheepskin robes, worn with the wool inside, were gathered round the waist by a sash, above which, and concealing it, capacious folds overhung , making  a kind of pocket in which all personal possessions, from the inevitable wooden bowl to a litter of mastiff puppies were carried.” (316) “The women’s plaits of hair were burdened with superfluous silverware like a Victorian sideboard.” (368) Two priests: “The chief lama was a fat, merry man; he had rolling eyes and a little moustache and looked exactly like a Frenchman in a farce.  The other was much thinner—a jerky cadaverous creature who hooded himself with his robe against the sun and corresponded very closely to my idea of a Martian.” (387)

“We crawled down that endless valley, a string of small, jaded automata under  the dwarfing hills.” (444) “Presently the caravan arrived, long and deliberate, eating up distance as a caterpillar eats a leaf.” (367) The people who aided Fleming and Maillart the most were Christian missionaries from all over Europe. ”The Catholic Fathers gave us a riotous reception. They were nine enormous Spaniards, of whom the younger ones looked, in their large new beards and medieval habit, like supers in a Shakespeare production. They gave us cakes and chocolate and roared with laughter at everything we said.” (295)


Peter Fleming recounts quite an adventure, but his vivid style brings all elements to life. We have been witness to a number of his writing techniques; now we shall try to define them. Word choice is often striking: “He had with him a white and equally venerable pony, and on its back, wrapped in a tattered greatcoat, he rode hunched in a coma, protecting us.” (323) Describing an ancient man in an ancient region, you would never expect a relatively modern psychological word like ‘coma.’ It also stresses the irony that this feeble man could protect them? Here is a more direct look at irony. As the group of travelers was descending a dangerously steep ‘S’ turn, the Chinese road sign was unusual: “As we hurtled downwards the recurrent ‘!’ atoned for its inadequacy as a warning by its charming aptness as a comment.” (297) Understatement is closely linked to irony: “Sitting in a small ornate room containing no fewer than eight far from unanimous clocks.” (329)

Fleming’s imagery is strong. Here is a reference to chickens not generally known but true: “Sinkiang seemed much farther away even than it had in Peking, and we had already become like a hen with its beak to a chalk line, hypnotized by the next step, blind to all beyond it.”  (288) A more direct use of simile: “The flames licked through the camp as swiftly as a striking snake.” (364) The author has used a snake comparison in different ways throughout the book. Sometimes an entire scene becomes a symbol:  “ A carter who was taking a very elaborately decorated coffin up the road, and for part of the afternoon we travelled behind this gaudy and impressive object, in company with a little boy riding on a donkey and carrying a white rabbit in his arms. It was all like some sort of fable.” (310)

The author’s beginning to a chapter is often powerful: “June opened with a villain’s smile.” (433) His closing is as striking: “It was a good moment: the last of its kind for a long time.” (313) Sounds: “Bugles brayed thinly.” (313) Not only is alliteration strong tying the bugle to its sound; but bugles are often played on the back of donkey or mule. Repetition: “We were sick of suspense, sick of unprofitably collating rumours, sick of the jungle of bureaucracy in which we were benighted.” (322) ‘Sick’ reinforces how difficulties had piled upon them.  And yet, through all these travails Fleming is not without humor.  His traveling clothes are filthy, but he has saved some clothes for visiting. However, the box containing them has fallen into green gutter water: “I had now to decide whether to enter Kashgar disguised as a lettuce, or looking like something that had escaped from Devil’s Island.” (534)


For a young man in mid-twenties, Peter Fleming was not only courageous to take on this assignment but wise beyond his years. Here are some observations he made on a wide variety of topics in his unique manner:

“Here everything that was not of local manufacture had a history behind it, a long itinerary and an outlandish pedigree of owners.” (489)

“We were always hungry all the time.” (367)

“We were on our own; the odds against us had lengthened fantastically, but from now on, every stage, every ruse, every guess that helped us towards the west would be a very personal triumph.” (309)

“A hard journey makes you curiously tender to even your most maddening companions.” (392)

“There had been a long prelude to this comic expedition, but it had yielded a sufficiency of far-fetched generalizations couched in three-pile, fire-proof, Printing House Square prose.” (258)

“To pose rigidly before a faded, tattered, manorial back-cloth on which segments of unimaginable architecture framed startling gouts of boskage.” (318)

“A large crowd, most of whom had for us—I liked to think—the ephemerally proprietorial fondness which menagerie elephants inspire.” (332)

“There are times when this base craft, this pushing of a pencil across a piece of paper, stands suddenly justified.” (336)

“You fell sometimes into a meditation which blotted out a segment of the march, so that when you returned from the far-off things and places that had filled your mind you remembered the country you had passed through hazily.” (360)

“Just outside, our horses munched their barley, making as charming and soporific as the sound of running water or of waves upon a beach.” (363)

“We were both adaptable and fairly phlegmatic; and we were both fatalists, as all travelers, and especially travelers in Asia, ought to be.” (398)

“You knew by now the technique of enduring long marches—how helpful is a train of thought, how it pays to have a half-remembered quotation, a half-worked-out idea, as iron rations for the intellect: something on which the mind can dwell, ignoring the body.” (447)

“They stood for freedom and backblocks; they stood for the luck which had always dogged me while I wore them. And it is not, after all, every pair of boots in which you can travel, sockless, for several months without discomfort.” (589)

“Anglo-India, starched and glossy, stared at us with horror and disgust.” (594)

You can find the book here:

Peter Fleming (1907-1971) wrote a book, Brazilian Adventure, about exploring Brazil in 1933. He then wrote two books about traversing China in 1936. He went on to fight bravely in World War II as a captain receiving an OBE. In the 1950’s he wrote articles for the Spectator Magazine, collected into four books of essays. All of his writing offers poetic insights into the world at large. Ironically, he died of a heart attack at age sixty-four while hunting in Scotland.

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.






Jack Tar’s Lady Parts by Charles Rammelkamp


By Lynette G. Esposito

This slim remarkable volume of forty-five pages of poetry published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company of North Carolina,  relies heavily on the readers’ response to suggestions from the contemporary mindset. For example, the title of the volume, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is suggestive but instead of being the suggestion it is the referral to the women in Charles Rammelkamp’s life and to women’s “sea” lives in history. This twist of what is expected and what is presented reveals itself in the poetic themes of courage, betrayal and resolution in the book’s three sections: Wives, Prostitutes, and Transvestites.

Rammelkamp details the trials of sailors’ wives in the first section Wives.  He not only paints a picture of history while employing short story techniques in each poem, he also unmasks the vulnerability and resilience of women on both a literal and metaphorical sea as seen in two companion poems: Saving the Horatio, May, 1815 and Loss on pages 10 and 11 respectively. In Saving the Horatio, May, 1815, the captain thanks the women on board for making a sail that can plug the hole in the ship caused by hitting rocks so it can get back to a safe port.  The men are bailing water while the women make the plug.  In lowering the sail, a man is lost and abandoned to the sea in a one for the many scenario.  In the companion poem, Loss, the viewpoint of the widow is explored and ends with the lament
                        and even though Captain Dillon praised the women
                        for saving the ship,
                        all the accolades and honors of the British Navy
                        could never console me for my loss.
In the second section, Prostitutes, Rammelkamp explores betrayal.  In the lead poem,  Fleet Marriage, 1750, on page19, the narrator details meeting a sailor just home from the sea.   In the opening line, she says Jack’s ship’d just come in and in the middle Jack gets restless and goes back to sea.  The last three-line stanza reveals the betrayal by Jack.
                        Jack said he loved me,
                        when he went.
                         I said, yeah, I know.
On page 24, Molly Poole Changes her Mind shows a woman able to take care of herself by working as a prostitute until she is beaten unconscious by a client who doesn’t pay. She gives up her day job and goes to the Female Penitentiary for Penitent Prostitutes at Stonehouse to be rehabbed.  In the course of the treatment, she trained to wash clothes, clean and say yes ma’am. After working to exhaustion, she changes her mind.  Society has betrayed the narrator and she makes clear how she feels in the last two lines of the poem.
                         Fuck that.  .After three weeks, I sneaked away one night,
                         went back to the ships to take up whoring again.
In the third section, Transvestites, women wear many masks to survive at sea. In the poem J.C. Dickinson, Surgeon’s Mate, and the Amazon, 1761 on page 27, an unnamed woman who was thought to be a man, is discovered on the toilet and her gender is revealed.  Because of her gender, she is off the boat. On page 42 in the poem Christopher Hughes Outed, the narrator posing as a man so she can work at sea confesses she is a woman.  The fellow sailors she confesses to promise to keep her secret.  The last stanza provides resolution.
                         After a couple of days,
                        the rumor died a quiet death.\
                       Once again we were all complaining
                        about the awful food—
                        and how we did not get enough of it.
The book is a pleasurable read of poetic vignettes which resurrect, in verse form,  harsh judgments on women as they try to earn their livelihood on and off the sea.  Rammelkamp uses history as his palette as he explores the plight of different types of women and their circumstances in history..  His approach is not judgmental which is a relief and the poems are clear and precise.
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.

Three Symphonies by Tony Conran

Tony Conran - Three Symphonies (Cover)

By Bryon Beynon

In 1968 the poet Basil Bunting wrote “with sleights learned from others and an ear open to melodic analogies I have set down words as a musician picks his score, not to be read in silence, but to trace in the air a pattern of sound that may sometimes, I hope, be pleasing.”

Reading the preface to Tony Conran’s Three Symphonies he says that for sometime he had been “haunted by the idea of a long poem in several disparate movements like a symphony in music”. There is a sense here of a bond between the two poets, wave-lengths not too dissimilar.

The word symphony derives from Greek, meaning a sounding together or concord of sound, and arguably is the most pure musical form that can be written. I believe that during his lifetime (he died in 2013), Conran’s Symphonies (the first, Day Movements, appeared as far back as 1967) worked towards this union or concord of sound, using the rhythm of words. Conran’s book contains symphonies 7 The Magi, 8 Fabrics (in one movement of sonnets), and 9 Everworlds (including “Requiem for Robert Graves”), all composed in the period 2004-2007. I remember that in December 2004 I published in a magazine (Roundyhouse) I co-edited, a sequence of seven sonnets from Symphony 8, which included Fabrics (which became the untitled sonnet 4), ‘Stone Age’, ‘Fleece’, ‘Washing the Fleece’, ‘Dye Plants’, ‘Penelope’ and ‘India’ with “Brahamani bulls humped like toast racks-all day /Odd villagers with an hour to spare would meet/ To shed the warp, let fly the scuttling weft.” The sonnets were a work in progress, and numbered sixteen when completed.

I first heard his poems being read aloud by his wife Lesley at the Poetry Society in London, when it was based at Earl’s Court. By coincidence, the following day I went along to Keats House in Hampstead, where Basil Bunting sat and read by a table in the Brawne Rooms. Conran also belongs to that same line of Modernists which includes Bunting, MacDiarmid and David Jones. 

Born in India in 1931, he spent most of his life in north Wales, settling in Bangor, where he taught at the university. Widely published, he was much admired for the passion behind his writing, as a poet, critic, dramatist and translator of Welsh-language poetry. His Penguin Book of Welsh Verse appeared in 1967, with translations from a selection of work from fourteen centuries of poetry from Taliesin and Aneirin, to Waldo Williams and Gwyn Thomas. Through his discovery of Welsh literature he went on to learn the rules of cynghanedd, and wrote poems in English which were based on Welsh metres. His books of essays The Cost of Strangeness and Frontiers in Anglo-Welsh poetry, are impressive, stimulating and important works, and his many volumes of poetry include Life Fund (1979), Blodeuwedd (1989), Castles (1993), The Shape of my Country (selected poems and extracts 2004), and What Brings You Here So Late? (2008).

In his informative and thought-provoking introduction to Three Symphonies the poet Jeremy Hooker, a fine critical writer on Anglo-Welsh matters, writes with detachment, insight, and warm sympathy, that Conran’s “ modernism acknowledges diverse influences including Eliot and Yeats, Robert Graves and Idris Davies……he used what he found in them creatively in making poetry of striking originality.” Add to this his knowledge of Welsh poetry dating back to the sixth century to the present day, a fusion of something new and powerful occurred. Hooker guides the reader as he notes “ the symphonies’ encyclopaedic form includes everything, from the Big Bang to the present state of the world.”  We are taken on a poetical, cultural, and political journey, an unsentimental celebration of “the gift of life”, an exploration of “the making of the world and all that it contains.”

We hear this in the poem ‘Life’ (from Symphony 7):

It has taken me time
Wherever life grew first –
In black smokers
Of the rifting seabeds
Where bubbling lavas
Geyser up
Into an airless murk;
Or by breakwaters
The soup of lagoons
Warmed by the Sun, but saved
From the deadly light
Under rock debris
Or buried in mud
-Wherever the thin whiskery
Haze of the protein
Crept like rottenness
Into sharp stone
Foul-smelling – but
There were no noses –
The secret changelings,
T he cloned effluvia
From whose myriads
Came our breathable air,
Our shielded home…..
Came, like locust swarms,
Eventually, us.

Conran also thought of his poetry “as a dance for the tongue and the vocal chords: ultimately, since tongue and vocal chords don’t occur in a vacuum, for the whole body, the whole mind.” In an interview in The New Welsh Review with Ian Gregson in 1988, he was asked about the influence of Robert Graves, in the sense of how poetry happens, how it gets written, Conran’s reply…… “I think that writing poetry does involve you in a different level of experience, a deep trance-like state. But it depends on the poem. Poems which have a strong rhythmic base and the rhythms takes you along into the darkness….the poem is a stranger to you like a baby”.

In the second movement of the final Symphony 9, there are several poems in memory and in praise of Robert Graves, including ‘Dejà Unvisited’, ‘The Erosion of Everworlds’, ‘Castle’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Oxford 1919’, ‘Disembarking’, ‘The Goddess Sings’, ‘To the Utmost’, and ‘The Peony’.

The second movement begins with:

Passage to Dejà
i.m. Robert Graves (1895-1985)
Dejà Unvisited
The hill haunted me. Dejà –
One of my everworlds
Whose magical fauna
Sometimes as friends of friends would come
Filling my room
With his last, dumb
Awarenesses, geologically
Slow, a poetry
Speechless as lichen.
My household could have been translated
And I’d only to look out
Through olive groves
To see twilight
Blur the long stairs
Up to the town,
The corner to his home…..
And behind me, did I half-hear
Her footsteps
Who ‘variously haunts’
This hill,
This island Earth ?

This is a life-affirming book, written with intensity and energy, poems of mystery and beauty, where the personality of the poet enters the vital sinew of each poem. He has, as T.S. Eliot said of the work of James Joyce and David Jones, “the Celtic ear for the music of words”.

Byron Beynon lives in West Wales.  His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, London Magazine, Cyphers, Poetry Ireland Review, The Sante Fe Literary Review, The Yellow Nib and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  He coordinated the Wales section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). Collections include The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions), Nocturne In Blue (Lapwing Publications). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest).