Karen Corinne Herceg

Torohill by Donna Reis

By Karen Corinne Herceg
Death and disappointment can be called life’s great equalizers. No amount of money, privilege, or cryogenics has yet found a way to exempt any of us. Grief spares no one, even in our best attempts at denial. It has arguably the most profound impact on our journey through life in everything from the smallest disappointment to larger tragedies and into death. No matter your perspective on life or religious beliefs, there is a universal depth of feeling that cannot be denied when we are faced with the hard truth of loss. The question remains: what do we do with it?
Donna Reis knows a lot about loss. She’s known it since childhood. She’s known it when a horrific car accident at the age of seventeen left her disabled and struggling for years to recover the semblance of a normal life. She’s known it through failed relationships, an abusive marriage, and finally in the loss of a long-awaited life partner, a husband who passed from cancer several years ago, taken all too soon. But she’s spun gold from the threads of despair, just as she works so adeptly and laboriously over her needlepoint, and certainly as she’s done in her poetry, weaving her thoughts into the fabric of our consciousness.
In her new book of poems, Torohill, Reis revisits her past in a very human way that is intensely reflective, sometimes brutally stark, and often quite humorous. If comedy is just the other face of tragedy, then our catharsis lies within the synthesis of both. Reis knows this instinctively and expertly weaves both through her poems. It renders them remarkably touching but not in a saccharin or intentional manner. She allows feelings to vacillate and often startle and surprise us organically and authentically. A life of such challenges and loss might create a poetic style that holds the emotions apart, examining them from the safety of distance, the perspective of an observer. But Reis participates and dives into the feelings and what she uncovers is a landscape of multi-faceted responses to death and tragedy: irony, humor, the savory sweetness of memories, all weaving our stories toward what is inevitable but with comfort in the real, in the truth, and the shared connectedness of our journeys. No matter their diversity and deviations, there is a similitude and combined solace in our unavoidable finales. We join hands in communion with the unavoidable destiny of finality. Reis’ poems convey integral parts of our emotional journey through life’s predicaments, and an honest response to navigating the precarious nature of it all. She recognizes that our best defense is always the creative impulse that outlives physical limitations and memorializes our spirit’s eternal imprint.
Torohill is the name of the ancestral home of Reis’ late husband, Tom. Ironically, the hit and run car accident that took such a physical and mental toll on Reis occurred on the road at the bottom of that same property when she was just seventeen and still in high school. She wouldn’t meet Tom until several decades later, and it would challenge her psychologically to return to the scene of such a horrific memory, but it would be under much happier and life sustaining circumstances. There is an almost magical, fairy tale quality to the story, except she will sit alone in the house after Tom’s passing and eventually leave it.
The opening poem, “Shoes,” reflects upon the many shoes found on the ocean floor from the sinking of the Titanic, that grand ship to be the greatest to ever sail, yet had only one disastrous, aborted voyage. Like items on view in Holocaust camps and museums, they represent at once many individual lives resting together that touch us with both their specificity and collective humanity. Reis concludes how they’ve never really left: “row after row, so still/still there.” If we were here, we were never gone, living inside one another in experiences, in memories, in life, and even in death. In “Answering Machine” the theme returns of items that remain after someone has passed, even the voice of Reis’ husband in the recorded phone message:
Sometimes I’m jealous
you went first, as I tie
your loose ends,
dust your collections
and preserve your voice
for anyone who calls.
In “Mexican Standoff” we learn Reis and her father, a pastor, were abandoned by her mother. Her father follows her mother to Mexico but is unsuccessful in bringing her back. Instead, he returns with a dress her mother sent, a poor replacement. Reis feels she will betray her father by wearing it but decides to wear it for her graduation from high school. Elaborately embroidered with flowers, ribbons, and two love birds, she is driven to the ceremony in an ambulance and a wheelchair as she continues to recover from the accident. The dress is slipped over her “sutured belly/fractured pelvis and casted legs, like Disney birds/dressing Cinderella” in an amazing contrast between a celebration and an incredibly challenging day. She concludes the image: “Two plaster feet peered/from the dress’s hem like white doves/legs elevated like wings.” The recurrent theme of Reis rising to meet adversity is evident in her choice of words such as “elevated” and “wings,” a persistent will to survive.
The absence of maternal love and support are starkly evident in “How Do You Like Them Apples,” with a mother who spews platitudes that are meant to hurt, where “Compliments were doled out/when Hell froze over.” In “My Father Invents An Alternate Life” she imagines what he would have hoped for in a wife, a supportive one with “pies cooling in the larder,” who would “embroider cushioned kneelers/with Ecclesiastical petit point, a labor/of the finest love I could imagine.” That mother and wife did not exist, but Reis knows this and explores it. She often returns to the theme of needlepoint and stitching, metaphorically speaking to our desire to bind together, to hold together, despite what tears us apart. She visits this again in “Festival of Broken Needles” after the passing of her beloved husband. She stitches to piece together what is lost, to “sew them back together/as if they never parted.” She meets grief head on but is not immune to the lure and comfort of magical thinking. She balances this against the realization of hard facts. In “God’s Shepherd,” about her dying father, he sees that “he was already one/of many sheep crossing the plank/to a ship about to sail,” as she returns to face stark realities.
In “Please Forward” Reis thinks back on her “last summer of innocence” before her body is marred by the accident and life changed forever both personally and in the wake of political and societal shifts dispelling the carefree illusions of youth. Her humor shines through in “Learning to Sail,” in which she misunderstands a word in class that changes her perception and leads to a litany of misperceptions we can all relate to, then delivers a punch in a final line: “And once I said hate when I meant love.” Reis will experience a host of misjudged and misguided relationships in her search for love and connection and never shies from naming names and places that bring a very personal yet universal imperative to her poems. She dreams of boyfriends and romanticizes “walking the moors, like Plath and Hughes” or meeting “in our secret/garden among ghostly irises” but also admits to the dark side of our dueling thoughts. In “Amber Bottles” she longs to be out and walking while recovering with “leg elevated for three years,” and later laments wanting that time back to read and rest, finally deciding her muse is drawn to “amber bottles, and a stranger/in the corner with a crooked smile.” Reis is always searching for that special connection but also recognizes the contradictions we face within ourselves, the wounds we carry that can easily distort the outcomes. “Botched Job” describes a dysfunctional marriage, a husband who tries to commit suicide, and her recognition that the relationship is over and “we were one breath from death.” Reis fights to live despite the tragedies and challenges. The dark side calls to her often in her thoughts or through others, but her refrain is “Not yet, not yet” as in these last lines from “The Reverend’s Irreverent Daughter.” The title of this poem aptly describes Reis, her rebellious spirit, her unwillingness to relent to misfortune, her desire to embrace life and hope. In her homage to poet John Berryman, she relates to his despair and early death, but that resignation does not live in Reis. She notes that had he lived and wrote longer, at this point in time he would have been dead anyway. We will all die, and here Reis tells us that hastening that moment is wrong and speaks to Berryman stating, “Your throat still had songs stirring/down deep.” Her life force is too strong and is not about giving up or giving in. In “Purgatory” she describes everyone’s present moment as one of loss through fear and imaginary thinking that remind us we live more by diminishment than expansion: “Most believe if they step off the ledge,/they’ll plummet to Hell.”
Reis returns to the scene of her horrific accident when she marries Tom who lives in his ancestral home, Torohill. Ironically it is at the bottom of Torohill where the accident occurred thirty-one years prior. Despite her fears, she faces them and comes full circle in this new home and, finally, with a true love, sharing in the inheritance of the house’s history. Her “Letter to Jane Kenyon” parallels Kenyon’s joining poet Donald Hall at his home and making it her own as well. An assimilation takes place based on a shared love that overcomes apprehension of moving into someone else’s settled landscape. When Reis states, “Yet as I ascend, passing the old scene/I resurrected from to marry and live above,” she decides to move forward, to “realize I’ve come home.” The faith in her decision is evident in her choice of words such as “ascend,” “resurrected,” and “above.” These are words of triumph over tragedy, of life over death. “Grey Rock, Squirrel Island” presents us with another perspective on the meaning of houses and home. Reis and her husband pay a visit to his cousin’s home rife with antiques and nostalgic memorabilia, and Reis takes a bath sinking “into a claw-foot tub with a glass of wine to drink in the sunset.” Shortly they receive a visit from the caretaker who advises them they are in the wrong house. It’s a humorous moment, but the underlying message is that the people make the home.
 “The Last Night” is a heart wrenching goodbye as Reis lies with her husband, curled into him with her back against him. She wants to turn but can’t. She concludes with “When I awoke/he was gone.” This short piece perfectly captures the conflict of denial and acceptance. In “Miracle Whip & Woolite” she writes of going to the lawyer’s office for probate. Little nuances and remembrances constantly trigger grief because they’re so personal and specific. She realizes she will have to ask someone else’s help to open a bottle of Woolite “because you won’t be here to help me.” Finality sets in with “You will never, ever be here again.” Later in “Orientation,” Tom appears to her two days after his death. Their “eyes locked and we/were too far away to speak.” There’s a sad triumph in this moment, of connection beyond time, but still “too far away.”
The poems of loss morph back and forth as memories stir pleadings to “Come home, Baby. I have a place/set just for you.” In “You’ve Left” there is more resignation as she visits the grave and says, “I’m certain/you’ve left, seeing only parched/grass and a marker.” But in “Great Horned Owls,” which concludes the collection, she elevates his status in her life and memories and states, “You always knew/death would swoop in on grey wings/and carry you to the highest tree.” In this collection, Reis rises to that place in “the highest tree” both in creativity and in spirit. At the beginning of Torohill Reis quotes Rilke. It sums up all we have and all we must do:
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
In these poems Reis extends her hand, and we won’t be disappointed if we take it.
Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, essays, and reviews. Her second book of poetry, Out From Calaboose, was released in 2017. A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with notable poets Philip Schultz, John Ashbery and William Packard. She lives in France. Her website is http://www.karencorinneherceg.com

Planetary Motions by William Seaton

By Karen Corinne Herceg
William Seaton possesses a poetic voice whose sage and steady delivery comforts yet challenges us simultaneously. These qualities are on fine display in his latest book Planetary Motions. This collection’s combination of astute observational wisdom and inquisitive introspection allows us to explore the wonders and mysteries of the world with joy in spite of our frustrating inability to ever fully comprehend it. A critical component is to compel our powers of observation and reflection despite whether we receive satisfactory answers or any answers at all. His poems are beguiling expeditions that spur us on to deeper examinations of the human condition. It’s refreshing to find such an erudite voice that incorporates the humor and pathos of the quotidian so very well. A deep satisfaction that comes from reading these poems is their ability to make familiar things new and new things surprising.
Formally trained and accomplished in translating Greek, Latin, German, and French, Seaton has a formidable background firmly entrenched in the history of poetry. It’s an art he not only practices but has taught and a craft he takes quite seriously in the tradition of such heady influences as Ezra Pound and poets who worked laboriously upon each word and phrase as being integral to the integrity of an entire piece. Nothing is viewed as superfluous. And in spite of this studied and precise attention to the importance of each word, he avoids a didactic, uninspired mindset and transforms that precision into music. The result is a lovely song to enjoy in its entirety without the obvious dissection of each note in its composition. We might be interested in the ingredients of a great meal, but it is the colors, textures, and tastes we appreciate in the final presentation.
Seaton takes his knowledge on the road, both literally and figuratively, which speaks to his expansive and varied ability to make so many strange worlds seem quite familiar. A graduate in English Literature of the University of Illinois and the University of Iowa’s Comparative Literature Program, he could have remained entrenched in his Midwestern American roots, safely ensconced in academia. However, he chose the life of a bohemian traveler fused with a solid, scholarly foundation and literary acumen. He’s taught in prisons and in the Nigerian bush and has hosted several series and events, particularly in his home base of Orange County in the Hudson Valley of New York State where he resides.
Seaton’s antiquarian references come alive against a soundtrack of contemporary musings that might often be compared to the rhythmic undercurrents of  jazz with its roots in both blues and ragtime. It’s an intoxicating blend of melancholy ruminations and playful ebullience that makes jazz so compelling, and this is also true of Seaton’s poetry. Interestingly, Planetary Motions is published by Giant Steps Press, which takes its name from the song and album of famed jazz musician John Coltrane. There’s an immense substantiation of poetic tradition in drawing upon a diverse lineage of history and so gracefully integrating it with the subtle and often soul-disturbing notes of such a modern art form. But it is evocative of Seaton’s work which brings the past alive by connecting it so deftly to the present.
His expansive, global perspective can best be summed up in his own words. In a 2021 interview with Rubee Rancourt, an editor at Giant Steps, Seaton referred to earlier days he spent in Haight Ashbery saying, “We declaimed poetry in the streets and strove to make each act of daily life into art.” He adds, “As for academe, some may conceive the ivied halls as an isolated and remote realm, but for me it opened up the globe and the centuries past. The traditional canon is not, however, sufficient. To learn the real nature of literature requires familiarity with work outside the English Literature curriculum.” He makes note of the many ways we come together in commonality as human beings by exploring and integrating the vast scope of multi-cultural literature. The poet or artist brings a myriad of emotions, personal history, and individual perspectives to what manifests as a poem or a work of art but elevates it further with a universal inclusiveness. At the same time one must maintain reverence and humility. As he states in his Foreword to Planetary Motions, he promises “…only a few snapshots of consciousness reflecting glints of shattered truth which I wave in the dark like a blessedly naïve child with a sparkler.” It is more about presenting possibilities than absolutes.
Planetary Motions is divided into seven very diverse sections and includes a Foreword and an Afterword. In Section One’s Other Scenes, we see a good example of Seaton’s ability to juxtapose and highlight the dichotomies of life in a variety of different cultures. In Men’s Clubhouse in Chihuahua he presents the subtle image of a young boy who absorbs the imprint and harshness of the local neighborhood while holding a Coke that is emblematic of external influences that tarnish that very culture. We see this theme again in the analogy of red feathers to blood and the historical and ongoing threat of violence contrasted with a quiet, pastoral scene in Macaws by the Gate of Copán, and in Mahashamsana where the Ganges River flows with shit, chemicals, and corpses but also with candles afloat that represent wishes of worshippers.
On Ganges Shore he explores further the distance between appearance and intention when he states:
…though aren’t they brothers in their con:
guru, priest, imam, rabbi,
passing the plate
and running the concern.
There’s no question mark added at the end, since it is more of a statement that underscores its truth while asking us to consider this for ourselves. The striving of humans to impose our intricate and often convoluted thought patterns on the world as compared to the uncomplicated acceptance of other creatures is summed up succinctly in The Turkish Cats. He tells us that “…their cogitation seems a simple thing/and yet their gaze is sharp and clear and true” and without doubt.
In Andean Day Seaton offers us marvelous physical imagery that underpins more ethereal experiences:
A bowl of coca leaves can soften some
the stones and bones of every passing hour.
Thin air sublimes my thoughts and makes them rare,
for heaven tells no more than these high peaks.
The inner rhythm of “stones and bones” so strongly impacts our awareness of time that measures our lives. It is mitigated to some degree by certain comforts that buffer harsher realities. And the jarring use of  sublime used as a verb, as in “sublimes my thoughts,” or the unexpected adjective “purling” paired with “water” in Walking in Aguirre Springs—adds new and refreshing perspectives.
The next section, Divagations, gives us the mind wandering in the freedom of various reveries. In the Metaphysics of Everyday Life, we’re asked if the abstract thoughts and intrusions on our reality are truly abstruse or is reality the illusion?  In this poem the mind wanders as it truly does in each of us. There is no linear, rational pattern that informs our constant perambulations. We see the interruptions of the mind imposing various observations and seeming order into random impressions and broken connections:
I carry my household gods from place to place and put their
            images on the walls to contain me, still horizons.
And the line will, despite horizons, propagate itself in any
direction and look to   its rights.
This theme is echoed again in His Thoughts Flowed:
…those thoughts flowed very like the wind
that takes each turn that comes along the way
and skims on top of fast food sheds and cars and busy men,
seeking some Zephyr in the stratosphere, some sweet high air
above the birds and plans, with which to mix and drift
and effortless glide on.
The so whimsically titled Wheee almost belies the gravitas of its message of connection and connectedness that fairly stretches into the realm of Shakespearean worthiness in its conjunction of colloquial yet elevated language and expression. Yet it is aptly named as it emphasizes the frequent comic elements that underpin our perceptions and conclusions:
Beginning from the reverent and deeply held belief
            that matter and anti-matter must, in the end, be equal,
                        as positive and negative charges are equal,
and in this way the cosmic doughnut was
always already eaten and if my dream is a map of the stars, the
stars must dream always of me –
Further fragments provide insights into our efforts to reconcile ourselves to inevitabilities and death:
And just as the truth of a birth is concealed behind jubilation
 that, in spite of mortality, we are keeping abreast of the game
through efforts strenuous and strongly felt through the entire
human race…
And the following fragment elevates death to its proper place in the scheme of life and reality:
 And the sum of all things is precisely nothing at all, when
positive charges meet negative and matter meets antimatter and
finds annihilation perfect and sweet and a most elegant end…
In the section Appetites, Seaton brings a palpable, organic sensibility to his observations of various foods and other physical elements with insights that assault our traditional and more complacent interpretations as in Cherry, where it becomes more of a transubstantiation than a comparison:
Whence the gravity of your deep, deep red, o cherry?
You’re some vestigially corporeal internal organ of an angel
There are descriptions of ordinary elements that birth startling contrasts:
The highway cars,
a procession of dark stones
on the night’s sash,
the contained explosions
of their iron hearts
a constant tide
coursing down the lanes of night
The following lines are reminiscent of the grandeur of classical soliloquy:
An ego’s flame may burn or cook or warm,
ignite the incense of a devotee.
It’s rooted firm in metamorphosis.
O what hot changes rung upon the world
which may tomorrow be but ash and dust
but which right now is hot with change and pain.
Songs gives us a section that is playful and lighter, some poems like the grand rhymes of bygone times, sometimes with a naughty twist as in:
The force made a stand by enigma’s land.
The horses paused; he marshaled the band.
They  sought  to  breach  the  gate
behind which the queen was reclining in state.
They made it no further the chroniclers wrote
than the ripple of an aureole,
the nipple’s guardian moat.
Seaton’s use of foreign or more obscure words achieves the difficult task of inviting us in rather than excluding us. His turn of phrase, inherent humor, and rhyming schemes create an inviting cocoon in which to feel expansive rather than marginalized:
The early earthworm twisted his tail
and glistened his part that was glad to be male.
Vermicular lust began to rise
when the male part caught sight of his feminine side.
Before the morning was halfway done:
a hermaphroditical orgy of one.
Further, he takes some literary license with pieces one could consider as limericks:
Under the counterpane’s tropical heat
it’s torrid and humid down under the sheet
where natives go naked and nuzzle at will
down each damp valley, up each fertile hill.
We’ve sailed past the Cape, we’re rounding the Horn,
we’re starboard of Cancer below Capricorn!
Or as in It Won’t Belong, even a sort of tongue twister:
Giblet wonton,
new tot goblin,
neon blog twit,
boil tent gown,
blown ego tint,
no betting owl,
bent wing tool.
And, just for fun:
Another Charm
ha dinga bolooya mabit!
la linga ha hatnee zooo
These pieces are so clever and enjoyable we can readily accept them among the more serious and studied poems. After all, it’s the poet’s choice in a somewhat ‘take it or leave it’ attitude as evidenced in the final word of Another Charm: “there” which, in its definitive defiance, doesn’t even need the validation of an exclamation point.
As its title suggests, the section Momento Mori brings us back to more sober considerations. A study on the inevitability of death is exemplified in these lines from Bullfight when the bull falls defeated and dying:
One can avert one’s eyes right now,
tomorrow, too, but in the end one can’t.
The estocada comes for every beating heart.
Estocada is an intriguing word choice translating akin to “lunge” in English, emphasizing that the final stroke is never gentle no matter what our expectations or circumstances.
Seaton reminds us there are many kinds of deaths as exemplified in end of the world, very much a political statement but quite apropos in this section. It is a condemnation of the fleeting rewards of greed that will ultimately bring about destruction and loss:
choking on bilious consumer goods
constipated by warehouses
with goods that just must move
swollen with inflammation
and cancerous economic growth
In a bow to surrealism, and the cabaret series of new and alternative art he hosted at the Seligmann studio in Sugar Loaf, New York, Seaton presents a sort of alter ego in this section called Lama Swine Toil. He’s presented as the “Surrealist chaplain” who satirically dissects the misleading lure of gurus and spiritual leaders, and the false sense that any of us mortals can contain and offer divine wisdom. His disdain for such faux personas is clear in these lines from The Old Lama:
My master said that he became a lama in order to avoid selling
snacks in the market. As good a reason, he thought, as any.
He puts a final, hard stop to it with this proclamation from the comically titled The Lama’s Parable of the Not-OK Corral:
Suddenly he heard from behind the voice of the cosmos, deep
and unmistakable,
“Drop your ego on the ground right there, I’ve got you
And he knew the jig was finally up.
With no conclusive words to placate our desire for resolutions, we are left with an acceptance of an ultimately unknowable and fluctuating dynamic but one which we all share. Herein lies the solace of capitulation to our common experience. As Seaton sums up in these lines from Apothegms of the Backbrain:
In the end we all are in the same boat, and we know it has
sprung a leak, and we hold hands in dread and in this way our
comfort and our fear are as one.
The final section of Planetary Motions is Translations, which treats us to a host of work by poets from various cultures and historical time periods aptly rendered by Seaton’s expert and intuitively inspired interpretations. These translations serve to further underscore the connectivity of the human experience in what is essentially a global home of shared commonality undiminished by language or locale. Planetary Motions shows us that Seaton is a true citizen not only of the planet but perhaps of other worlds as well.
You can find the book here: Planetary Motions
Karen Corinne Herceg graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University with a B.A. in Literature/Writing and has graduate credits in editing, revision and psychology. Her first volume of poetry is Inner Sanctions, and her second volume, Out From Calaboose, was published in Fall 2016 by Nirala Publications. She publishes poetry, prose and essays in a variety of magazines and literary journals, including American Book Review, Compulsive Reader, North of Oxford, LiveMag!  https://www.karencorinneherceg.com/

Gothic Orange By Robert Milby


A Guardian of Lost Legacies


 By Karen Corinne Herceg.

In Robert Milby’s new chapbook, “Gothic Orange”, he fosters in us “the awe of eternal human history” (P. 5, l. 13), as he states so eloquently in “The Fossil Record, Catalogued by a Child.” He uses his home county of Orange in the Hudson Valley, New York region to create a microcosm of wonder and natural intelligence that informs both the local and wider landscapes of the world. Specific regional references correlate to universal knowledge through very personal perspectives, and Milby knows the minutia of the area as well as anyone. In stark and striking language, he writes with an antique authenticity, a pre-industrial mindset, and nostalgic yearning for a purer time of farms, fields, and the poetry of nature with “The sagacity of woodsmoke, grease/and ethers of the hayride of American history” (P. 10, ll. 10-11). He exhibits a remarkable ability to observe the environment with extreme patience and detailed specificity in the tradition of such great poets as Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Frost.

Milby reminds us that the ghosts of the past are integral to our shared history. They are ever present, but mostly obscured by modern noise and distractions that steal our rich heritage and the quietude required for reflection that enriches the imagination. We are overwhelmed by contemporary emphasis on commerce, capital, and our perceptions of compressed time. There is great irony in our emphasis on physical gain, loss, and success as opposed to what we miss on much deeper, spiritual levels:
            Small village life, family secrets and scandals, useless to
            City folk, because in the end, the money cults prevailed. (P. 9, ll. 25-26)
We are out of balance with nature and the very wonders that surround us. We bypass these gifts each day with our eyes transfixed on screens and superfluous messages. Meanwhile we forfeit the subtle, important wisdom that resides within our natural environment. Milby laments our lack of reverence for the natural world. He asks:


           What is this motoring madness; distraction
           from the walk of life; song of Aurora’s heralds;
          whisper of a child at Dawn? (P. 18, ll. 10-11).

There are very specific examples of our inability to acknowledge the disconnections we experience within our environment. Milby cares deeply and expresses this throughout his work.  We feel his deep sense of loss of a centuries old cottonwood in “The Balmville Tree,” cut down and disposable. He assigns an anthropomorphic persona to the tree that enhances the fact that this was a living, breathing entity: “Here he stood, a patriarch; a witness tree; over 300 years of/Hudson River story” (P. 13, ll. 2-3). And, again, in “Night Noise,” he employs a human element in a description of  “the parched and cracked skin of fields” (P. 16, l. 3).  Given our ubiquitous disregard for the importance and pre-eminence of nature, is it any wonder that a coyote would hide “from the heresy of humans”? (P. 26, l. 20).

Milby has a facility for examining humans and nature both in opposition and in communion. In “The King of the Frogs” he states: “I speak science truths one day, mythology the next” (P. 8, l. 17), evoking our ongoing conflicts and attempts to reconcile the mystical and the material worlds. He draws on his deep understanding of nature and extensive knowledge of both literary and world history to create an informed and nostalgic yearning, combining his wonder of the natural with ponderings of our many troubled interactions in the world. With wonderful, original lines like “the rails hiss like feral cats” (P. 10, l. 14-15), “wildlife gossip like human festivals” (P. 14, l. 17), and “Post partum rain” (P. 16, l. 1), he brings into focus the symbiosis of humanity and our indigenous environment. His connection to nature is intensely personal, and he integrates that connection with all aspects of art including painting, as in “The Field—for Vincent Van Gogh,” and with music in “The Grand Montgomery Chamber Series in Spring”:

            The artists spoke mythos through the piano. Forests rose,
            Surrounding the concert hall.
            Marshes and pastures permeated the parking lot.
            No breathing was labored as Chopin walked through the walls. (P. 4, ll. 10-13)

 A visual image or auditory experience can evoke a direct association with elements of our inherent biological world. We have a legacy that is both ethereal and tactile, and nature is the bridge to that magical world through which we can “trace our organic past” (P. 5, ll. 1-2). There are “verses trapped in ancient stone” (P. 5, l. 8).

Milby is the Poet Laureate of Orange County, New York (2017-2019), an honor that is well earned and well deserved. He is the paterfamilias of poetry in the county and beyond it, encouraging and supporting his fellow poets, reading not only his own work but also promoting the work of others, hosting series and events since 1995, and publishing throughout the Northeast in many journals and anthologies. He is the author of four previous books of poetry and two spoken word CDs. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for his dedication, support and assiduous study of the ancient art of poetry that is so vitally needed in our modern world.

We may not ever reconcile the contradictions of human desires and intentions with the imperatives of nature, but we have poetry like Milby’s to prompt us to awareness and reflection so that we, too, might stop to reconsider our interactions and possibly make “a truce with/snowflakes” (P. 24, l. 19-20).

Milby, Robert. Gothic Orange.  New York: Printeks Reprographics, 2018. Copies available from the poet at:


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.

Reader Picks for the Holidays 2018


The following list consists of 15 book reviews published in 2018 that have generated the most interest from our readers as of November 2018. Click the links and consider a purchase for your holiday gift giving.


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



Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski



The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer



Appearances by Michael Collins



The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young



A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley



Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz



Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper


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The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman



Ornaments by David Daniel


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A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas



Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella



Logos by Gil Fagiani



A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree


Lasater Philosopy of Ranching by Laurence M Lasater cover photo

The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching




The Boulevard Trial by Stephanie Laterza



By Karen Corinne Herceg

In clear, often compelling prose, Stephanie Laterza’s debut novel, The Boulevard Trial, offers us a contemporary story of moral dilemmas, confused intentions and missed connections that frequently result in disappointing resolutions and, at times, even tragic consequences. The traumas of the novel’s characters bleed into their ongoing personal experiences like an unchecked, gaping wound. On a larger scale, they mirror disturbing issues in the very fabric of our society and the ramifications of our actions in a greater perspective. The Boulevard Trial takes place mainly in New York with some flashbacks to Boston and Germany. Laterza captures much of the city’s raw, often ruthless vibe, the indifference of overpopulated urban compression, images of media hounds and grueling corporate competition and an apathetic environment where ambition overrides compassion.  The main character, Helena, is a young attorney struggling with a secret from her past that could ruin her career. Her boss, a partner in the prestigious law firm where she’s employed, assigns her a pro bono case defending Francesca, a prostitute, while he considers her future at the firm in light of this past information that has come to his attention. Helena is up against a tough, renowned prosecutor, Alexandra, whose zealotry in persecuting morally compromised women masks her own demons. Upon learning of Alexandra’s post-war past in Germany, Helena must decide whether or not to use this against her. But this is only one of many moral quandaries presented in a story where Laterza does a very competent job of weaving and delineating the intricate similarities and inter-connectedness among the characters. At the forefront are the damages that secrets can hold, the lies and misperceptions generated by withholding truth, and the often destructive, even fatal, results of misguided decisions.

The opening sentences of the novel are laid out clearly and succinctly, giving us a lot of cryptic information and engaging our curiosity from the start. There’s good exposition and, for the most part, Laterza manages to avoid the writer’s perennial pitfall of “telling not showing.” There is some pause over use of “voice” from chapter to chapter. The novel’s beginning chapters are told in the third person that begins to shift to first person perspectives then back again. While this might seem to present some inconsistency in the narrative, it does give insights from varying perspectives, much as we might hear in a court of law. This reflects both the literal trial transpiring in the novel as well as the trials of the various characters. Ion the end, however, Laterza demonstrates that no one is free from bias. There are occasional unsettling phrases such as, “Her nose whistled, amplifying her quick breaths…” (P. 1, ll. 10-11), “The bolus in Helena’s throat melted as tears blurred her vision,” and a romantic scene where an anticipated kiss is seen as a lover’s “…entry into her mouth, that blood-colored gateway…” (P. 217, ll. 13-14). The meltdown in the trial scene seems a bit hurried, as does Helena’s realization of her true love. But these somewhat less developed depictions are offset by the many fine descriptive passages that offer sensitive, tactile and vivid portrayals of the characters, their situations and recollections that bring them vividly to life for the reader. In one scene Helena’s friend and former romantic interest, Michael, describes a tapas bar downtown with customers seated at a “…curved mahogany bar, whispering in Spanish beneath repurposed copper penny lanterns and sipping from tiny glasses of Manzanilla,” (P. 73, ll. 5-7) as he and Helena sit at a table with a “… chipped red and blue mosaic top” (P. 73, ll. 8-9). A scene in The Museum of Sex finds a receptionist, “…college aged and bored, slumped over a Social Psychology textbook while chewing on the straw of a Starbucks Frappuccino” (P. 83, ll. 14-16). There are many detailed, colorful portraits and scenes throughout the novel that enable us to easily visualize characters and scenes. In a reminiscence of wartime Germany, Alexandra’s mother, Nellie, refers to “…buildings crumbling like torsos with severed balconies and fractured cables in a sky determined to cling to its blanket of wizened gray clouds” (P. 261, ll. 16-18). And Laterza doesn’t shy away from raw, painful and disturbing details, such as Francesca’s rape scene, right down to the seedy motel room and “smoke-scented bed” (P. 12, l. 7).

Connections to past events that lead the characters to their current actions and reactions are drawn well. When Francesca assesses a current abusive client, “She remembered the way her father would get up close to her face before breaking into a rampage” (P. 9, ll. 24-25). But the deepest, most introspective examination of relationships for the female characters is the link to their mothers, their controversial and emotional maternal inheritances. The mother and daughter connections are explored quite well in a multitude of ways yet ultimately emphasize the similarities of the various dynamics. There are mothers’ rules, admonitions, condemnations and expectations. There are times when characters would rather hurt themselves than hold their mothers responsible for damage to their self-esteem. Ultimately they need to realize and accept responsibility for recognizing their own worth. Perfectionism, cleansing and order are safeguards against fear and life and a mother’s unattainable love. As Alexandra observes, “…Such is the nature of the unbreakable yet fragile strings that bind daughters and mothers” (P. 237, ll. 14-16). Tamar, who is Alexandra’s mentor, knows that Alexandra “…walks around tortured with memories of her dead mother” (P. 117, l. 17). She tries to  “…reverse the years of her mother’s abuse,” (P. 117, l. 24-25) something Tamar learns we cannot do for another person. As she notes further, “…the Universe has a way of balancing out the sins of the world in a way I cannot control” (P. 118, ll. 3-4). Tamar is a substitute mother figure for Alexandra but very damaged herself, using work to provide her with “…the distraction it gave from the everyday annoyances of being human” (P. 125, ll. 22-23). Tamar sees herself as free in “…not having a mother to tell me what to do, or to stop me from doing everything I wanted” (P. 137, ll. 9-10) such as becoming a secretary or reproducing. But this maternal lack gives her no strong foundation from which to compare, separate and eventually confront herself. For Alexandra, all she wanted from her mother “…was for her to love me, to show me the mercy she wished the world had shown her” (P. 237, ll. 10-11). This is a valued insight teaching us that what we do not heal we pass along in anger and revenge creating a chain of ongoing destruction. As Nellie states in a letter discovered posthumously, “I hated hearing the sound of my mother’s misery in my own voice” (P. 272, ll. 10-11). Ultimately all the blame and guilt cannot help us. We must take responsibility for our own lives. As Michael observes, people’s heads “…are packed from corner to corner with muck and regret, who look at every decision they’ve made from the time they graduated high school till now and realize that the unrelenting misery that has become their life is entirely their own fault…” (P. 111, ll. 17-20). It is our duty to extricate ourselves from the imprints and challenges of others, and to make our own way.

Fears distort perceptions and dictate tragic outcomes for many of these characters, some departing this world without resolution and others finding some peace. Comparing Francesca’s soul to a river, we read, “The River washed over its skins of cracked salted seaweed and the assaults of oil spills and even dead bodies in a cold emptiness, never having to remember its pains and imperfections because it died and was reborn a thousand times” (P. 27, ll. 17-20). Yet remembering is really critical to learning and not repeating the transgressions we inherit and commit. Just as in life, some of these characters pass away in pain, some speak their truth too late, and others find levels of redemption. Laterza offers good insights into the various choices that lead to certain outcomes. She avoids tying up the story into a neat package and leaves us with both unavoidably sad results as well as satisfactory conclusions that are realistic. The Boulevard Trial is a good, fast-paced read with more than a few lessons to impart. It opens with our introduction to Helena, and she has the final word in the last chapter. She offers herself this admonition that is sage advice for us all: “I slap myself on the knee for my bad habit of dwelling on destructive alternatives to present joy” (P. 337, ll. 17-18). The essential ingredient to joy, however, is examining the genesis of those destructive choices.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Boulevard-Trial-Stephanie-Laterza/dp/150591051X

Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, essays and reviews. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose, by Nirala Publications (2017).  She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

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By Karen Corinne Herceg


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:


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


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:


            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)


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:


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


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.


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

Ordinary Impalers by Anton Yakovlev

By Karen Corinne Herceg
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.


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.



Readers Picks For The Holidays

Looking for that special book for a holiday present? Here are the top 10 books based on readership at North of Oxford for 2017 as of November.


Magnesium by Ray Buckley



Guess and Check by Thaddeus Rutkowski


Martin Fierro - Jose Hernandez

Martin Fierro by Jose Hernandez



Shoot the Messenger by John Dorsey



100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings


f h

Seek the Holy Dark by Clare L. Martin



Justine by Lawrence Durrell



Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball


the way back

The Way Back by Joyce Meyers



Bird Flying through the Banquet by Judy Kronenfeld




Radio Poems by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

radio poems
Review by Karen Corinne Herceg
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright is one of the proper heirs to the famed New York City poets of Manhattan’s grittier, exhilarating literary scene. He received an MFA in Poetry having worked with Allen Ginsberg at Brooklyn College and studied with Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley at the legendary St. Mark’s Poetry Project. He also taught there and served on its Board. Wright has been at the helm of several publications and currently produces Live Mag! A visual artist as well as a poet, writer and reviewer, he carries the mantle of respected literary giants upon his shoulders with grace and continued innovative fervor. Radio Poems harkens back to the rhythms of eccentric, challenging city streets, artistic enclaves and cutting edge airwaves. This work is part of The Operating Systems’ Chapbook Series now in its fifth year, and the series rightly encourages experimentation.
These poems operate on multiple levels. They not only entertain us, they work hard to encourage our brain cells to engage with disparate imagery and crossfire perceptions. These concisely compiled pieces remain expansive and rich while employing consistent economy of words. Multiple voices add color and varied perspectives, and each poem stands on its own merit. We can “turn the dial” and find a new revelation on every page, absorbing smart dissections and magical leaps. Still, as a collection, Radio Poems is cohesive, linked in both theory and practice with solid expression both thematically and specifically.
There is a startling combination of reality and surrealistic interpretation in Wright’s work. Think of the postcard snapshot these lines evoke:
            Let’s take our love to town,
            golden sun-canyoned angles
            of Manhattan filling the distance
            between unmoving street chasms. (P. 20, ll. 1-4)
We move from station to station with “broadcasts” of advice, announcements, opinions, ads and observations. Some of these poems deliver like musical impressions as in the Gershwinesque “let’s meet” with its light litany of suggestions that banter back and forth like a symphonic tennis match:
            Let’s meet in Chinatown
            at Confusion Square.
            Let’s go shopping for new
            fall outfits at Herald Square. (P. 27, ll. 1-4)
Similar to a proverbial DJ, Wright announces, “Spin me. Put your finger/in and dial—like an/old black rotary phone” (P. 16, ll. 11-13). He has a remarkable ability to keep messages clear within a framework of classic, realistic yet imaginary proclamations, rendering them all authentically.
            He begins the poem “Al Qaeda on the western front” with these tongue-twisting lines of alliterative mastery that bring us up sharply in the fourth line. There is an ominous feeling lurking between the words like a news anchor’s clever announcement:
            The last locust leaves leave
            their last lashes of gold
            crackling in whip-crisp
            blue November glare. (P. 11, ll. 1-4)
There are sparkling and delightful phrases that prompt us to alternately smile or solemnly reflect such as “…a dancer holds her/arms and weaves/the music into shape” (P. 17, ll. 23-25) and “This is how the dead dance/hoping for a second chance” (P. 24, ll. 7-8). There is a serious underpinning to this work, despite often easy top layers of incisive humor. As Wright warns, “The odyssey is not easy./Blows crown every turn” (P. 25, ll. 9-10). Contemporary angst meets ancient myth suggesting a timeless feeling and a summons to seek lofty goals without pretense as in these final lines from “Look. See.” with periods in the title definitive and commanding that ask us to “See if you can be/the one to pull the sword free” (P. 30, ll. 13-14).
Wright can invert meanings succinctly yet with complicated implications as in the terse concluding line of the poem “No Questions Asked” that proclaims, “Always invent the truth” (P. 28, l. 14). It seems less avoidance and more of an imperative to dig for integrity at all costs. Here we have an original voice that seeks liberation through language and challenges our impressions and observations, attempting to decipher how we communicate in the world between the mind and the voice.
            There are essential declarations here, and Wright tells us he is “Having my way with/the airwaves” (P. 12, ll. 6-7). We hear familiar phrases with a new ear, often wrought out of context, to bring the customary into the extraordinary thus extracting new meaning. And this is the poet’s obligation, after all, to render the old new, to elicit inventive and ingenious ways to see life afresh. Radio Poems is the work of a cutting-edge contemporary artist who honors history and heritage while keeping beat to a modern tempo with keen observations. It’s an imaginary ride to real places.
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.