Larissa Shmailo

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.

Gessner

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

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/the-conduit-and-other-visionary-tales-of-morphing-whimsy-by-richard-gessner/

border

Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/border-crossings-by-thaddeus-rutkowski/

mailer

The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/the-gospel-according-to-the-son-by-norman-mailer/

appearances

Appearances by Michael Collins

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/appearances-by-michael-collins/

young

The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/the-infinite-doctrine-of-water-by-michael-t-young/

attic

A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/a-look-back-antic-hay-by-aldous-huxley/

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Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/leaning-into-the-infinite-by-marc-vincenz/

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Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/monte-carlo-days-nights-by-susan-tepper/

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The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/the-gates-of-pearl-by-jill-hoffman/

ornaments

Ornaments by David Daniel

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/ornaments-by-david-daniel/

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A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/a-bright-and-pleading-dagger-by-nicole-rivas/

thieves

Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/thieves-in-the-family-by-maria-lisella/

gil-fagianis-logos-book

Logos by Gil Fagiani

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/logos-by-gil-fagiani/

fire-without-light-copy

A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/a-fire-without-light-by-darren-demarre/

Lasater Philosopy of Ranching by Laurence M Lasater cover photo

The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/the-lasater-philosophy-of-cattle-ranching/

 

 

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The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young

young

By Larissa Shmailo

William Carlos Williams famously wrote: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” And the poet Anna Wrobel demanded, “If poets aren’t prophets, / what are they?/ If poets aren’t prophets, /what good are they?” More than any other art, we expect wisdom from our poets, even as we also demand the usual things we want from the arts: beauty, inspiration, elegance, connection, revelation. Dickinson, Whitman, and Frost delivered on those scores, and in an intimate, deceptively simple way, so does Michael T. Young, who takes up the mantle of poet as philosopher and fabulist in his rich collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water.

Young’s wisdom is paternal, and its source is nature, and the advice of natural history is couched in lyrical language full of subtle twists and delights. In “Advice from a Bat,” our Aesop adjures: “Hunt only at night. Fly erratically. Defy even your own expectations / . . .  Cultivate the myths about you . . .”  Many poems of Doctrine are like unexpected gardens in the center of lower Manhattan, replete with catkins, beech trees, lemons, dandelions, bioluminescence, chameleons, and gingko trees. And water schools us through the title poem’s prosopopeia:

Go around, it says, or through or under or over,
but go on.
Stand still for no one and no thing,
because when you stop,
your breath will thicken and grow dark,
the life swimming in you
rot. The stones will not preserve you,
their hands will not endure; in fact, you will grind
them down to pepper the way for those who follow.
Whatever trinkets you pick up,
soften them in your hands, shaping them
with the gentle art of friction . . .
                                    –“The Infinite Doctrine of Water”
.
Like the water which carves a way for those who follow, Young’s natural history explores, or more aptly, carries the past, a theme signaled by the epigraph from Stephen Dunn, who terms it “unfinished work . . . seductively revisable.”  The elegant lyrical sestina “The Generosity of the Past” shifts light, memory, and a changing relationship with subtle chiaroscuro.
.
In our apartment there was always light
splitting through the windows like mercy,
illuminating bookshelves and what we thought,
our conversations or our glasses of wine
lifted to toast each day of generosity:
the quantity surpassing what we knew.
.
The poet walks the streets of lower Manhattan and nearby Jersey, an observer of its denizens and architecture, the tacit memory of 911 always at the tip of the lyricist’s tongue. In his peregrinations he declares, like Borges’s Funes the Memorious, “that is to truly live—be a master of minutiae, every  marginal  memory,” but realizing “part of me was missing.” In “Birdwatcher,” he surveys his ground zero home, finding that coming to terms with tragedy may not always be possible in the “shadows it can cast but never catch.” But the poet notes growth attributed to the homo fabers of all epochs:
.
Years later, as I pass a construction site
and each morning, there’s a little more cement,
a few more girders, wiring and steel,
fused under acetylene flies,
I realize all those hands, all those minds
pick their way through halls of carbon and fly ash,
trace potentials down molecular paths of iron,
water and gravel, bits and pieces like breadcrumbs
trailing all the way back to subterranean lavas
and prehistoric furnaces, the inhuman fires
that go into making every habitation and home.
                                      —“Breadcrumbs”
.

In The Infinite Doctrine of Water, bridges and subways and the station at Journal Square and Wall Street’s narrow lanes become an ecosystem full of flora and strange fauna, strangely haunted and strangely hopeful, connected viscerally to the past, animated by a lyrical pen that brings its fond transcendental musings to it, and luckily, to us.

You can find the book here:

http://www.terrapinbooks.com/newmdashthe-infinite-doctrine-of-water-by-michael-t-young.html 

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, author, translator, editor, and critic.

Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz

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By Larissa Shmailo

I am not a fan of the unadorned vernacular in poetry, no matter how sincere its sentiment or pertinent its message. In my book, what a poet should do is invent wonderful turns of phrases, new syntax, head-turning semantics. There should be a dialectic of differences which interacts to ­­create the magical, entirely new, entirely necessary synthesis. A poet should bring brilliant LANGUAGE to the reader, by which I more nearly mean semiotics, meaningful, culturally rich, innovative signs that the reader gets to deconstruct time and time again. If you are tired of reading monosyllabic laundry list poetry, then you will be delighted by Marc Vincenz, a poet who trucks in the unpredictable and unexpected, and who conjoins words like gems for jewelry.

In Leaning into the Infinite, Vincenz displays a magical imagination that mines from three continents and a dozen cultures. The language is literate and sparkling. Look at a typical title: “When Uncle Fernando Conjures Up a Dead-Bird Theory of Everything,” where Fernando is “Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa and his many alter egos . . .  written under more than seventy heteronyms.”  Other inspirations are Li Po, Wang Wei, Kafka, Paracelsus, Heraclitus, and Robert Bly. If Auden multitasked, if cummings studied alchemy, if Borges reincarnated into a Hong Kong-born British-Swiss living in America on a green card, you might get a Marc Vincenz.

 If Auden multitasked, if cummings studied alchemy, if Borges reincarnated into a Hong Kong-born British-Swiss living in America on a green card, you might get a Marc Vincenz.

Vincenz’s Infinite is a poetry of mind, a garden of images and ideas and characters that is uncannily aware of its reader. Perhaps all good poetry has this in common, this drawing of the reader in, like an accomplice to its art. Vincenz’s poetry engages and questions, implicitly and explicitly: “How?” “Should I?” “Who?” In “Unreliable Narrator,” he asks “Should I be / stumped / by the greatness / of God . . .”

Who then is

the protagonist

when trillions

of single cells

all think

for themselves?—or together?—

The poet asks and the spare Basho–like verses —and rich longlined poems later in the collection—wait for answer. The poet’s elegant use of line breaks and sculpted white space seem to invite readers to reply, to mark Leaning into the Infinite up with all kinds of marginalia.

We have a tradition in the European canon of the philosopher-poet, in which a poet offers insights into the human condition. Modern poets do so ponderously as a whole. Vincenz’s touch on this is so light and his language so original that you scarcely know you are being enlightened. His temporal range is from the nascent prehistory of cave paintings to the post-relativistic twenty-first century. His worlds are populated with extraordinary beings, including the aforementioned Uncle Fernando and his interlocutor, the oracular Sibyl. In “Uncle Fernando & Sibyl Exchange Curt Words,” Fernando asks for “that mythical moment” and the oracle replies, “Hush,”:

Carbon first.

Then light.

Sibyl, Vincenz’s untamed muse, also appears in dialogues between Prometheus and Orpheus:

 

Orpheus:                                             Prometheus:

The voice                                             & what

of time                                                 is that perfume—

 …                                                       . . .

within the planes                                 the word made

of being                                               Thing

…                                                        . . .

Sibyl:

whenever I start

to try & explain it

I forget words

altogether

My favorite characters in Leaning into the Infinite include a finch singing to his mate from a tree-top which he thinks is a mountain, the Tree God Saluwaghnapani, and Milen, a Filipino wet-nurse who sings a song she “claimed drove off demons that grew within Javan / smog clouds: Ai-Li-Ma-Lu-Ma-Nu — . . . “

Leaning into the Infinite ranges from Olympus to “The Penal Colony” and is vivid and visceral:

Not from the gagged mouth—it knots & tangles in the larynx

& the chain simply groans: ‘Have done it.

Have it etched to the bone.

 It’s all in the pointed nib of the writers’ dark truth.

 In an enlightened moment the Bewildered gasps alone—

The Orwellian/Kafkaesque boot stamps:

Just                 Be                     

             a        

      good Citizen 

Be                    Just

And then the poet escapes to his natal Asia:

O to be born reforested in Borneo

 where water doesn’t run off in disappointing sloughs,

 but cascades & careens within the bejeweled heart

of a single fruiting tree, where a child is a rambutan

(or the fleshy dumpling-pulp of a mangosteen)— . . .

Vincenz speaks to the childlike longing in us to have a storyteller/mentor introduce us to the world’s mysteries, to share its secrets:

If only I had a good uncle to sit me down at an uneven hearth

with a hot cup of mulled wine, a twinkle in his eye

& this background whiff of ancient pine:

To hear how the world begins green, fresh, tabula rasa:

& late at night or early morning through air still as glass,

to eavesdrop upon the grasses & their endless philosophizing.

You have this uncle in Marc Vincenz. Drink up.

.

You can find the book here:

https://www.dosmadres.com/shop/leaning-into-the-infinite-by-marc-vincenz/

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Larissa Shmailo’s latest novel is Patient Women and latest collection of poetry is Medusa’s Country. www.larissashmailo.com

 

Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Border

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By Larissa Shmailo

Like a Chinese-Polish American cross between Rod Serling and Emily Dickinson, Thaddeus Rutkowski invites you to the portals of mind and matter in Border Crossings. In this first collection of poems, the fiction writer and performance artist presents carefully sculpted, deceptively simple verses of immediate interest to the reader, typically with an understated but potent twist.

 Whether at the boundaries between cultures, the edges of human interiority, or the trespasses of racism, trapdoors usually closed shut are pried open in Border Crossings. “Light and Shadow,” among the poems opening the book, describes the poet’s initial conflict moving in and out of hidden places:

My father opens a trapdoor
and leads me down concrete stairs
. . .

I don’t want to stay.
Spiders scrunch in the corners,
and pieces of copper tubing—
. . .
litter the floor
. . .

Spiders notwithstanding, the poet finds himself liking the smell of horsehair cement in the cellar and wanting to stay there. The rest of the volume’s poems proceed to traverse borders to the secret and unknown.

As Rutkowski comes to love cellars, so he comes to love spiders. The collection reveals the rurally reared poet’s childlike fascination with spiders, bees, flies, rodents, raptors, tree frogs, and other animalia of crevices and corners. There is both a love for the honest presence of nature’s smallest and a vampire’s interest in “little lives”:

 I can see and hear it now,
the crazy path of flight at blinding speed,
the inevitable, the unavoidable, hitting,
when the crazy fly comes into contact
with the eye, with the bed,
buzzing around upside down,
for the crazy fly has no great sense of equilibrium.

And:

. . .

I stand back
while a hyper bird perches on a jumbo stalk
so another can feed on the multi seeds
next to the mad mud hole.

Perhaps these innocent animals offer a kind of escape from other, more malevolent creatures. From “Party Animals”:

I throw a party

 . . .

Another guest says

he killed people

who looked like me

when he was in Vietnam.

The kindness of nature juxtaposes vividly with the descriptions of rednecks and racists literally at the poet’s door; the conjunction is reminiscent of Viktor Frankl seeing hope and life in a sparrow perched outside his Auschwitz barracks window. The violent racists cross borders in threatening trespass and are held back spiritually by the poet’s integrity and wit, with the help of small loving lives.

As a veteran performance poet and ranter, Rutkowski routinely crosses audience boundaries with épater-le-bourgeoisie material. A common edgy theme is sex, delivered with deadpan. From “Nine Rules for No Sex”:

No kissing with a cold sore.
No kissing with a sore throat.
No thoughtless pressing, rubbing or brushing.
.
No fingering with long nails.
No fingering with hangnails.
No foolish fingering . . . .
.
The motion is sometimes toward stand-up comedy, as in “Anarchist Manifesto” ( “I believe in anarchy, / but not if everybody goes wild.”) The same wry humor obtains as the poet finds his Asian roots in food and found poems; “Found Poem, Hong Kong Museum”:

When you are finished tilling the soil,
spading seedlings, weeding, winnowing,

hulling, grinding and pounding,

you may enjoy
the silky yellow rice,
the dry sticky rice,
the rat’s tooth rice,
the little flowery waist rice,
and the yellow husk full brow rice.

The poet encourages forays into the unknown, but with realism and caveats. Despite the “disappointing” toilet facilities of foreign places, and the shock of strange invertebrate foods, Rutkowski reminds us in the poem, “Border Crossing,” that “it’s the people we want to see.” And cautions his reader:
.
So let’s think twice before we cross
the twenty yards of no-man’s-land.
I know you want to get there
as fast as we can.

You can find the book here:  https://sensitiveskinmagazine.com/books/border-crossings/

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Larissa Shmailo is an American poet, novelist, translator, and critic.  Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country#specialcharactersIn Paran, the chapbook A Cure for Suicide, and the e-book Fib Sequence;  her latest novel is Patient Women. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, Words for the Wedding, Contemporary Russian Poetry, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural, and many others. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world’s first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Please see more about Shmailo at her website at http://www.larissashmailo.com  and Wikipedia athttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larissa_Shmailo.