chapbook

Blue Electrode by Margaret Barbour Gilbert

blue
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Poetry is such a personal thing.  Margaret Barbour Gilbert’s Blue Electrode published by Finishing Line Press Georgetown, Kentucky, takes the reader on Gilbert’s journey of seizure and recovery. Her images reveal truths about the human condition.  In one moment, one is fine and in the next moment, one is on the floor.
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In her poem Aura on page two, she presents in two stanzas a vision of her waking:
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I felt like angels
were holding me up
when I woke this
morning.  I could see the grey sky
through the green trees
of my window pane,
the clear blue day,
the bright black
hair of angels.
It was as if
I were high above
the earth,
suspended,
riding
an angel’s wing
into the mirror
of my life.
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What an interesting way to wake up.  She has strong use of place and time in this poem and the awakening is common to all of us in how the first thing we see affects us.  She uses color effectively.  The poem is lean as if Gilbert took a surgeon’s instrument to it. It is not sentimental but displays observable images of a needed courage and a protection of an angel reflecting her life.
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Her title poem, Blue Electrode on page four, details her experience in having her brain wired to machines to discover why she is seizing.  She talks about a blue scarf she uses to hide the wires. The three stanzas in this poem are numbered as if to indicate stages of the procedure. At the beginning of the poem, she states:
At the moment, I am all wired up and
buckled into a $9,000 belt with tape recorder
–getting a 24-hour recording of my brain.
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Gilbert is again strong on time and situation. In the second stanza she talks of plastic flowers and graves and her mother thinks the words Epilepsy and Woe are synonymous.  While the mother’s visit may have been meant to be soothing, obviously not so much.
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In the third stanza (stage) she wraps a blue scarf around her head so she can go to the grocery without the wires showing or her hair that she relates to medusa snakes.  She describes the scarf as a gift her father wanted to give to her mother.  It has little flowers on it.  She sends the scarf to her mother but the last line makes so much clear to the reader.  She returns it.
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On page twenty-eight she presents her poem, Recovery.
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Long gowns lie in my arms like dead lovers,
corpses that nestle against my shoulder and climb
down my back like vines clinging to a trellis.
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In this poem she turns the gowns into taffeta and gathers them together in her arms.  It is as if she has taken back what she had lost.
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The book is slim—only thirty pages.  But this is powerful in situation and clear-sited images of what it is to suffer from a seizure disease.  It is well worth reading.
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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 Damages of Morning by J.C. Todd

damage

By Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

J.C. Todd’s chapbook, The Damages of Morning, has been written to remind us of the horrors of the World Wars. You can’t escape it! Page after page, poem after poem, you are reminded of the terror; of the desolation; of the lost lives; of the inhumanity of war. Hell on earth.

Todd steps in (as time traveler) with her meditative, yet explosive poems about these silent horrors; perhaps her eleven poems (one of which is five parts) more like snapshots, each a poetic narrative of a frame-frozen moment captured in the history of wartime. She has gathered these poems (as photos) for you, through the lens of research and discussions with her students, and ultimately in her own silent musings of war and its fall-out.

These tragedies appearing understated on the silent page are nothing of the sort. For instance, in the poem “Pylimo Gatvė, Vilnius” (Gatvė: street in Lithuanian) we have the seemingly silent, giving fruits of nature, “the chestnuts” that “no one stoops now to gather.” So, at once you may think of starving women wanting to pick up a few chestnuts to eat later, but to do so, they would be taking a chance. But what kind of chance or risk, might they be taking?

“…In the midst of this history / imprinted in stone, along a street that bordered / Ghetto 2, the chestnuts fan their boughs / and bloom, the leaves brown and droop, the nuts / fall and no one stoops now to gather them / as women did then, slack shouldered and starved / to the pith of their bones, returning under / guard from the fields or factories, passing / through the gate into the ghetto each night, / the burning question, did Shulamith / or Menke make it through the day.  They risked / the boot, the rifle butt, the bullet, to scoop up / a few russet shells. Horse chestnuts… Eat, it’s food.

Raw horse chestnuts are toxic, that is, the fresh, unprocessed seeds contain esculin.  Therein lies the rub. These desperate and starved women risked death every day.  Chestnuts are healthy for the body, but not horse chestnuts, as they may cause death, if eaten raw. So, the question the poem presents to these women and to the reader as well, would be: Is it worth staying alive “to work one more day for the Germans” and “to want to outlive the war?” Knowing that physically outliving a war doesn’t necessarily mean that you can ever “outlive your sorrow or your death.” Here, “your death” as in a kind of living death, meaning that you live through each and every day physically starving, but worse than that you are already dead on the inside (inside your mind) living inside this captive life. Maybe, this is what Todd is saying, yet not saying at the start of her poem by cleverly using “chestnuts” and ending with the deliberate “horse chestnuts;” and the eerie lines that lead the reader to the end, “An act of will to chew and swallow, / to say to yourself, Eat, it’s food.” Food, no doubt to escape. As in the burning question: “Did Shulamith or Menke make it through the day?”

Dismal / dark.  Horrific times.  Even in “Country Living” there is:

“…the man-plowed fields of one-cow farms, /holdings that yield enough to keep the body / Alive, not more… Here, winter last for twelve months, / the rest of the year is summer.”

Another poem “Flayed,” metaphorically hints at the flaying of the speaker’s “my Oskar” and his “flapped open” vest and that of the flaying of a spring hare:

“…the night they took him into the forest. / Sternum cracked, yanked out with ribs attached, lifted into a cast iron / pot, laid on a bed of early greens and sorrel for a sour stock tomorrow.”

Subtle, the metaphor of Oskar, as the “flayed,” or not so subtle. On first read the poem leans more imagistically toward the preparation of “this one a spring hare. Not fat enough” with all of its crude culinary skinning and butchery, “the meal for today.”  Yet, on a closer second read, here, is where Todd’s craft is perfected. With no explanation, Oskar, no doubt, the hunted game for the death pot, cast iron, no less. Hunted and killed by the Germans as predators, upon the helpless prey. What really struck me was Todd’s choosing of the German name “Oskar” and how closely it resembles the word, “hare,” and also (intentionally or not) how ironically Oskar as in Schindler, the German industrialist (from the movie Schindler’s List), credited with saving the lives of over a thousand Jews. Deliberate or not? I think Todd’s choice.

There’s so much more to “Flayed,” but for the sake of space, I will return to Oskar and touch on the wonderfully crafted, double (quiet) meaning of the line (quoted above, yet worth repeating): “laid on a bed of early greens and sorrel for a sour stock tomorrow.” Yes, our Oskar and hare laid out (in death) on natural “greens and sorrel” and the sourness of it all, when death is felt more on the morrow.   And a line from the last stanza:

“…They took the chickens, eggs, the cow, the pretty girls, the men.”

Those living day to day, working for the Germans, lived in their own trenches of fear, starvation, and daily despair. Also, apparent in Todd’s succinct, poetic accounts of war’s abuse: “Daughter,” “Mother,” women, men, unborn, and children, all of the preyed upon and their predators (Doktor and “Commander”). This cast of characters caught in the ugliness of hellish war, as it tore apart basic fibers, scourged human-essence, and demeaned dignity of those whom should have been spared, yet made to endure the crippling torments of bare bone survival:  cruel, non-sacred war.

Every page a reminder of “Not our lives, but lives / of the dead, escaped / into us. Grave, / we open to them.”  J.C. Todd makes your gut wrench, brands you mind with horrific images—lest we grow too comfortable; lest we forget that freedom comes at an extremely high cost; lest we stop listening to the voices of all whom suffered cruel injustices, the brutalities of wartime. Beware: some of these same atrocities happening, even now, on “Earth.”

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You can find the book here: https://squareup.com/store/moonstone-arts-center/

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently The Handheld Mirror of the Mind (Kelsay Press, July 2018) and Images of BeingLight’s Battered Edge; and Night Sweat. She has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer Many Mountains Moving, Indiana Journal, among others, with poems forthcoming from Sequestrum Journal of Literature and Arts. She is poetry editor at North of Oxford, an online literary journal. Visit her at http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/

These Days, Days Like This

These Day, Days Like This
These Days, Days Like This
By Adrian Manning and John Dorsey
Concrete Meat Press – Leichester England-February 2015
First Edition – 28 pages
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Review by g emil reutter
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In this limited edition, John Dorsey and Adrian Manning carry the torch for the Meat Poetry Movement. This masculine collection is tempered with an odd gentleness of remembrance.  These Days, Days Like This is dedicated to the late poet and publisher of Open Wide Magazine, James D. Quinton. This collection expands on the Meat Poetry form with strong imagery such as this from the poet Adrian Manning:
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Days Like This
(For JQ)
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It’s days like this
I want music without sound
A book with blank pages
And art with no shape,
Line or colour
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It’s days like these
I want the clocks to stop
The roads to empty
And the sky to be clear,
Cloudless and blue
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Nothing to disturb me
So I can stretch out a hand
And try to reach you
Wherever you are
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At each turn of the page the reader alternates between the well-crafted poems of Manning and Dorsey.  John Dorsey steps up to the plate with this poem:
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these days
for marlon harris
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i peel skin away
from the sun
like a ghost
devouring a blood orange
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we are nothing but smiles
and our credit scores
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age is just a ring
inside the heart
of a dying elm tree
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hawks circle
and count to ten
before pumping their fists
                           in the air
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i blink
and you
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disappear
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Manning and Dorsey are poets who are always searching for redemption in the stark realities of life. They bring to us the familiar ghosts at times in that unsettled and wondering manner. Of doing just enough in the back of an Irish bar to feel whole and bring us to one of those rare moments, never closer; our hearts never more honest.
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You can find this collection at: http://www.concretemeatpress.co.uk/these_days.htm

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/