Karen Corinne Herceg

The Boulevard Trial by Stephanie Laterza

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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.

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The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

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By Karen Corinne Herceg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can find the book here: The Gates of Pearl

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

Ordinary Impalers by Anton Yakovlev

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

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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.

magn

Magnesium by Ray Buckley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/magnesium/

GuessAndCheckcover

Guess and Check by Thaddeus Rutkowski

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/guess-and-check-by-thaddeus-rutkowski/

Martin Fierro - Jose Hernandez

Martin Fierro by Jose Hernandez

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/martin-fierro-by-jose-hernandez/

shoot

Shoot the Messenger by John Dorsey

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/shoot-the-messenger/

ee

100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/100-selected-poems-by-e-e-cummings/

f h

Seek the Holy Dark by Clare L. Martin

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/seek-the-holy-dark-by-clare-l-martin/

ray

Justine by Lawrence Durrell

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/justine-by-lawrence-durrell/

ball

Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/unmaking-atoms-by-magdalena-ball/

the way back

The Way Back by Joyce Meyers

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/the-way-back-by-joyce-meyers/

kronenbook

Bird Flying through the Banquet by Judy Kronenfeld

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/bird-flying-through-the-banquet-by-judy-kronenfeld/

 

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Radio Poems by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

radio poems
Review by Karen Corinne Herceg
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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.

Summer Reading Recommendations

sunrise woods 1

Photograph by g emil reutter

 

Here are the top ten book reviews based on readership at North of Oxford for the first six month of 2017. Consider them for your summer reading.

 

Magnesium by Ray Buckley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/magnesium/

Shoot the Messenger by John Dorsey

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/shoot-the-messenger/

100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/100-selected-poems-by-e-e-cummings/

Unmaking Atoms by Magdelina Ball

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/unmaking-atoms-by-magdalena-ball/

The Way Back by Joyce Meyers

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/the-way-back-by-joyce-meyers/

Seek the Holy Dark by Clare L. Martin

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/seek-the-holy-dark-by-clare-l-martin/

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’s Poetics

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolfs-poetics/

Martin Fierro by Jose Hernandez

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/martin-fierro-by-jose-hernandez/

Bird Flying through the Banquet by Judy Kronenfeld

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/bird-flying-through-the-banquet-by-judy-kronenfeld/

Justine by Lawrence Durrell

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/justine-by-lawrence-durrell/

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Karen Corinne Herceg on the Joe Dans Radio Show July 26th at 11 a.m.

Karen Corinne Herceg

Poet Karen Corinne Herceg, a contributor to North of Oxford , will appear on the Joe Dans Morning Show with Donna Reis. The show will air on July 26th at 11 a.m. You can listen on line at www.wtbq.com