Lynette G. Esposito

Caina by Joe Albanese

caina

By Lynette G. Esposito

The tale of twin brothers who take different paths in their lives is not a new one. However, Joe Albanese has told the story of Grant and Lee from the first moments of their birth. The narrator is the younger brother by twelve minutes in his book Caina published by Mockingbird Lane Press of Maynard, Arkansas.

Albanese skillfully sets the time, place and background beginning with the first breath of the brothers who are named Grant and Lee after the Civil War generals because their dad is a Civil War buff. The symbolism of the names is carried throughout the one-hundred-sixty-four- page book divided into the twenty-five chapters. The brothers make opposite choices but no matter if they are together or not, they connect by both a misunderstanding of who the other is and a confidence of the deep connection they have to each other. They mirror each other.

Although the older brother, Grant, was born first, his brother’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. The reader is privy to this information on the first page of chapter one.  However, Albanese illustrates the brother’s relationship by opening the first chapter with:

  When my brother and I were ten-years-old, we would play this game of chicken.  Once a week, while our mother was preparing dinner, the two of us would sneak out oof our back yard and run across the field to the train tracks, kicking dandelions on the way.

The boys would try to out last each other as the train bore down on them with its loud horn. The narrator, Lee, admits his brother always won.

From Lee’s perspective, his brother was always the larger than life more successful person. Then, a twist of events leads to Grant’s death; the identical twin, Lee, steps in as his brother and discovers all the things and much darkness he did not know his brother was living.

Albanese ends the story on the train track with Lee’s dead brother sending him a message.  Lee has a vision of his brother on the other side of tracks and Lee believes he finally understands what his brother was trying to tell him in life.

The chapters are filled with double entendre after double entendre in keeping with the twin theme and the story of doble lives in the same space. An example of this is in chapter twenty.

Lee Tolen has been dead for weeks…

It wasn’t Lee who had died…it was Grant.  When they pulled the evidence from the box, it was Grant’s id in the wallet. Yet, to complicate things, the very alive Lee is standing in the room with the killers of his brother.

Even though at one point the devoted brothers had not seen each other for ten years, their parallel lives intersected at the end and closes the story on the train tracks where it had begun.

Albanese has created characters who are interesting and believable using an old universal theme of twins.  He makes it work quite well.  This is a good read on a cold winter evening.

Joe Albanese has been widely published including poetry, short fiction and nonfiction across The United States and in seven other countries.  He is the author of Smash and Grab in addition to Caina.  He lives in South Jersey.

Caina can be found here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/caina-joe-albanese/1128942876

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

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Left Over Distances by Mike James

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Left Over Distances by Mike James published by Luchador Press is an interesting mix of long and short poems divided into five sections covering eighty- two pages.  In the mix are poems about dreams, locations and loneliness.
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For example, on page twenty-six, James addresses time and space in his one-stanza poem Every Summer was Always the Same.
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          He’d eat butter sandwiches three times a day.
          On Sunday, he’d check his blood pressure with a garden hose.
          A Zen witch taught him that trick for a pack of smokes.
          Afterwards, he’d turn the garden hose into a Sunday lasso.
          He would climb to the moon when he could find it.
          He liked it there.
         He liked the moon quiet.
         It was up beyond dark clouds and among white stars.
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While James has not identified the he in the poem, he has focused on a special day of the week in the summer and what repeatedly happened on that day.  It is almost dream like in the memory of that day as the action went from observable activities to an imaginary trip to the safety of the moon where inactivity gave rest.  It is a skillful poem of images that both relate to summer experience and the distance one gains when one can see someone mentally disappear into another zone.
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He also accomplishes this sense of the present and the ethereal in his poem The Refugees on page forty-three.
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            Each carries two suitcases.
           One for belongings.
           One for ghosts.
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In this tiny poem, James has drawn a picture of people fleeing what they had but also carrying the memories of the past with them. The poem is lean, controlled and effective. Here he sets an unknown place where the refugees have gone with their surreal packing of spirits that can both haunt and comfort, and at the same time, suggest the loneliness of the journey.
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The poems throughout the five sections vary in form and length and from one stanza to many. James, however, seems to favor the one stanza free verse form.  On page sixty-five his poem,  Acceptance Jubilee  is a good example of this.
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            Once, I mistook my scars for stars and made my own
            little universe. I was a big boy with my own place. That
            night was dark. The moon nothing other than far away.
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Ths self-reflection poem uses images to detail the process of accepting one’s self with all the baggage that comes with it.  He turns his scars into something beautiful that helps with this acceptance.  The title guides the reader to the idea it is a Jubilee when it happens.  This is a skillful poem with empirical images and a clear message.
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This tome is not a quick read. The poems are the kind you come back to for a second look and maybe a third read.   I liked the variety of subjects and the clarity of poetic message.
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You can find the book here: Leftover Distances
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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Slap by Rustin Larson

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By Lynette G. Esposito

Rustin Larson’s poetry volume Slap offers a wide variety of poetry lengths, forms and images. Published by Alien Buddha Press, it is ninety-two pages of insightful messages in poetic form.

For example, the poem Four Steps on page twenty-four, creates in thirteen stanzas, a situation of how many steps lead away from home when at the train stop and what it represents. Larson turns this image into the constant life journey of taking steps to all the doors that lead to or away from home.
                  Four steps, please. Four steps
                  into the train’s platform
                  in the middle of the night.
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                 Four steps before you trip
                 and fall down the basement.
                Four steps into the bower
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               of wild roses.  Four steps in fever
               into your mother’s arms
              in the cool kitchen of your childhood.  Four steps
Larson has used the image of four steps and varied situations to portray how close so many things in life are and what a difference this makes.  His exquisite use of the F sound and his skillful use of repetition control the poem to the closing single-line stanza:
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              steps from all the doors you called home.
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In contrast to this lengthily poem, Larson presents a little humor in his one- stanza, five-line poem Discard on page thirty-two.
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                  Although I might be a discard,
                  like the man who believes
                  in extraterrestrials,
                  I say to myself
                 I am not alone.
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The brevity of the poem does not reduce its effectiveness.  It takes a twist on the concept of the populace of Earth seeking other intelligent beings in other galaxies and looks clear sightedly at those who are perceived as discards on this planet. I find this poem hilarious. 
When the Shark Bites, is a one stanza poem on page sixty-two that presents a moment-in- time when Larson remembers having burritos with his daughters at Taco Bell in Iowa City and when his one daughter was little, how he put her to sleep with an unusual song. He begins the poem with:
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                   Not to disagree with the song’s lyrics
                   but sharks don’t have
                   molars.  They rip and swallow
                   rather than grind and chew.  It’s
                   a fine point, but important I
                   think….
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It is interesting that he begins this poem with facts then throughout the poem remembers wonderful instances with his children.  He brings a time frame in, 1996 and calls it a premium year.  The poem suggests it is about one thing but when Larson calls his daughters my little sweethearts the reader can feel how full Larson’s heart is remembering this time with his daughters. It is a skillful poem with musical references that some of a certain age will appreciate.
 
Slap is an interesting tome with some poems being stronger than others.  The poems vary widely in subject matter and with interesting twists.  It is well worth a read while sitting in a comfortable chair.
You can find the book here: Slap
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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Etching the Ghost by Cathleen Cohen

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Etching the Ghost by Cathleen Cohen, published by Atmosphere Press, is an interesting collection of poems about the art of painting and other subjects.  The voice in the poems Is honest and direct and the poetry illustrates skillfully how closely related the literary and visual arts are.
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The tome is divided into four sections:  If Released, Magnificent, The Weight of the Press, No Mistakes in Art, and As Witness, As Echo. Each section has a particular focus.  The volume spans sixty-five pages and covers topics relating to relationships, art, landscapes and personal experiences.
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In the first section, If Released, Magnificent, the poem Possibly wind on page nine uses visual metaphors to show situation and place in dealing with a daughter’s relationship to her parents.
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            fans us out past dark.
           Fathers shout our names from doorways.
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            In hedges we crouch,
           plan forays and small rebellions.
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           I tear my yellow dress
          in a dirt fight, then lie
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          to my mother’s shocked face.
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The way the poem is set up suggests the fragmented steps a young person would take when doing something they know they shouldn’t do.  It is clear the parents care but children will be children.  The closure is direct and clear as the daughter faces her mother with a lie.  The poem is effective in presenting a common situation between parents and their kids.  It is interesting that the narrator is wearing the color yellow and a dress.  Her mother would not expect her daughter to be in a dirt fight let alone wearing a dress or, perhaps, lie.   The suggested conflict is clear and the poem works well.
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The poem, No Mistakes in Art on page thirty-nine, has some of the same rebellious traits as Possibly wind.  The school tries to restrain and control the children but they are so of full life, they jostle and proclaim.
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                 A quince breaks into bloom
                 outside the school
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                where I sketch
               (between classes)
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               trying to capture the tangle of citrus
               in rooted stance
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               against brick walls
               that can’t contain children
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                from chanting, jostling
               down stairwells, proclaiming
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              poems,
                       vivid and delicious.
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Cohen cleverly inserts her artistic self into the observation of school children as if they are not only visual art but semi out of control poems that are not only vivid—a sight—but delicious poems connecting the literary to the visual art form.  The poem is strong in its setting and situation.  It makes the readers feel as if they are observing along with the narrator just to the corner of the poem’s edge.  I also like the way the stanzas are set up as if implying the stair steps the children are coming down.
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Some of the poems in this book seem almost interactive like the poem No Mistakes in Art.  This volume has many strengths but I find it is uneven in tone and perhaps tries too hard to link art forms.  I wonder if the book had sketches next to the poems how this would affect the reader.  I bet it would be a positive.
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You can find the book here: Etching the Ghost

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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Blue Swan Black Swan – The Traki Diaries by Stephanie Dickinson

blue swan

By Lynette G. Esposito

Stephanie Dickinson has cleverly used the prose poem form to reflect diary entries of a tragic narrator.  Published by The Bitter Oleander Press of Fayetteville, New York, the sixty-six- page tome is strong on place, emotion and image.

The book has five sections which are characterized by places.  The five sections:  Salzburg. Vienna, Berlin, Galicia, and Grodek.  Dickinson adds time as well as place in the titles and a linear time line throughout until you reach the final sections of 1914.  She also uses a linear time technique in Salzburg, 1887 where she details personal items about George Traki, 1887-1914. that influences the poetry being presented.

On page fifteen, Dickinson begins her two- stanza prose poem with The Linden trees take on a wilt.  The tone is set. The second stanza begins, Morning drags on. Again, Dickinson combines poetic skill in linking place with time.  All through this first poem are details setting the scene presented as if these are diary entrees that are logical, emotional and personal.  This first poem captures the reader completely.

The tone changes in the second section called Vienna and the time is 1909.  The first poem in this section on page twenty-nine is The Wine-Hunt.  It is a one-stanza poem that begins: Vienna, 1909.  Two days asleep.  Dickinson’s narrator gives time and action as if it is a notation to the self. The narrator speaks of extreme drunkenness and a sky full of piss.  The poem reads like a self evaluation of one’s condition and in this poem, the self- evaluation is negative.  The narrator puts his fingers to his nose and smells the piss. Dickinson skillfully causes the reader to not only see the narrator’s condition but to relate to it through the senses.

In the third section, Berlin, the poem Snow on page forty-one begins 1912. Tavern night and the serving girl’s shoulders sag….  Again, Dickinson has placed the reader as both the observer and as participant in this one- stanza poem.  This sweet girl nudges the narrator out into the snow and the many cruel things that happen to a drunk in the cold.

All the poems in this book are prose poems of different lengths but written with great detail and sensitivity. The book is an interesting and complicated read but worth it.

You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781734653519/blue-swan-black-swan-the-trakl-diaries.aspx

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

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Summer Reading Recommendations 2021

Top ten book reviews based on readership of North of Oxford

scott

A Little Excitement by Nancy Scott

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/04/01/a-little-excitement-by-nancy-scott/

erotic

Erotic by Alexis Rhone-Fancher

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/erotic-by-alexis-rhone-fancher/

danish

Danish Northwest/Hygge Poems from the Outskirts by Peter Graarup Westergaard

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/04/01/danish-northwest-hygge-poems-from-the-outskirts-by-peter-graarup-westergaard/

red rover

Red Rover Red Rover by Bob Hicok

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/red-rover-red-rover-by-bob-hicok/

RAZOR WIRE

Razor Wire Wilderness by Stephanie Dickinson

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/05/01/razor-wire-wilderness-by-stephanie-dickinson/

American Quasar CoverA Camera Obscura Cover

American Quasar by David Campos / A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/06/01/american-quasar-with-poems-by-david-campos-and-art-by-maceo-montoya-a-camera-obscura-by-carl-marcum/

world

The Likely World by Melanie Conroy-Goldman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/02/01/the-likely-world-by-melanie-conroy-goldman/

HunleyCov

Adjusting to the Lights – Poems by Tom C. Hunley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/adjusting-to-the-lights-poems-by-tom-c-hunley/

savant

The Philosopher Savant Crosses The River by Rustin Larson

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/the-philosopher-savant-crosses-the-river-by-rustin-larson/

come

Come-Hither Honeycomb by Erin Belieu

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/02/01/come-hither-honeycomb-by-erin-belieu/

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Sonnets by Theresa Rodriguez

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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In Sonnets, published by Shanti Arts Publishing in Brunswick, Maine, Theresa Rodriguez executes the Shakespearean form and other sonnet forms in a delightful variant of topics.
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The seventy-five pages of sonnets explore universal themes from love and loss to desire and faith. On page seventeen, Rodriguez presents a Spenserian Sonnet in which she acknowledges she is new to the form.
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          Another form of poetry for me:
          The Poetic forms concrete, sublime, refined;
          Another type of sonnet flowing free:
          The product of a careful, studied mind.
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As with other endeavors in this poetic volume, she addresses what it is to write as well as the intellectual discipline to write in a particular form.
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         In joyous new discovery do I find
        The puzzle-solving mental different way;
        Creative energy will flow in kind
        In all that I can do, and write, and say.
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The next quatrain addresses the complexity of staying in form almost as if there is a fight between the writer and the words as she works to fit the words into their rightful places.
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        If every word would thus obey
       The many thoughts that full within me spring,
       Then I could make a miracle today,
       And I would birth a brand-new thing.
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Rodriguez skillfully keeps control of the form and pulls it together with the final couplet.
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         Oh, could I create a worthiness in this:
         That not a word would here appear amiss.
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To write in a particular form, a writer must always be aware of the rules.  To marry content into the verse that has particular rules, requires the writer to have both discipline and focus.  Rodriguez displays both all through the book.
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In her Petrarchan Sonnet on page eighteen, Rodriguez, in two stanzas and the standard fourteen lines, honors Petrarch and humbles herself to achieve the form. On page twenty-nine, Rodriguez speaks of unrequited love in her poem You’ve Made it Clear.  She says in the poem:  I know that love is never made by force and ends the poem with
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          For though I’ve longed for you in every way,
          I also love enough to stay away.
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The poem succeeds in a traditional theme of desire and loss.
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On page sixty-seven, Rodriguez addresses how the young lose faith in The Prayers of Youth.
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          The prayers of youth begin with fervent heat,
          And all the passions of a lover’s love,
          And all the ardor of an earnest sweet,
         Excited faith, transcendent from above.
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She follows the theme through the aging process as youthful faith cools and the ardor diminishes.  The sonnet is successful in presenting the changes as youth matures and perceptions adjust to a different way of thinking. The couplet closes the poem with a plea.
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        Oh, keep me on the warm and lighted way
       That you might fan me when I go astray.
It is interesting that the ending couplet gives direct address to a higher power with a passionate prayer.
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If you are a lover of the sonnet form, there is plenty in this tome to enjoy.  I found Rodriguez dealt a little too much on her involvement in discovering various forms of sonnets and her self- awareness of her reaction to the various sonnet forms.  Overall, reading and re-reading. the book was an enjoyable exercise in sonnet exploration.
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You can find the book here: Sonnets
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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High Tide by Ed Meek

 
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The surf is certainly up in Ed Meek’s High Tide published by Aubade Publishing. Nina Rubenstein Alonso, Editor of Constellations, a Journal of Poetry and Fiction, comments that “Ed Meek’s poems pull us in with such clarity that you don’t feel the pain at first, almost like a painting you need to study until you see what’s waiting in the shadows, that scarred figure, it’s history.”
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High Tide makes the reader feel like he is swimming in the shallows, safe, unaware of the images of sharks like dark gothic beings waiting to prey on your intellect.  The poems open on one path, then deliciously lead down another one you did not expect. For example, the first poem in the book on page one, Hamock, details notes that Columbus took.
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                 Mayans carved them from the bark of trees
                 Columbus noted in his diary.
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Meek skillfully uses the title to define “them” and holds a conversational tone all through this twenty-six line, one- stanza poem.  Meek details the wonderful leisurely activities of using a hammock through the first fifteen lines of the poem then speaks of A promise I usually fail to keep as the poem reaches a turning point.  The tone of the poem becomes more somber and the narrator becomes like a spider in a web suspended above the earth dreaming of things he did not do and the Mayans half asleep before Columbus washes ashore.  It is a powerful poem with many suggestions.  
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This highly skilled author shows this strength throughout the book.   In the poem on page seventeen, Praise for Ponytailed Girls Who Run, Meek presents a nice setting and visual and makes a subtle comment on what is alive and what is not alive using hair as his metaphor.
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          I love to see them bouncing past
          on the balls of their feet—
          hair pulled back to flaunt
          flawless skin, flashing
          arms from T-shirts, legs
          in short shorts, multi-colored,
          incandescent shoes.
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In this three- stanza, free-verse poem, it is clear the narrator’s admiration has reconstructed a view of beauty.  The third stanza turns to the hair.
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        And the hair, lovely,
        surely not dead
        but vibrant with life and light
        as it sways and bobs
       like a rope swings in the wind above the water.
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Meek has turned the vision of a young girl running into a comment on how life is perceived.
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While some poems span more than a page, Meek is also able to project deep meaning in very short poems.  On page seventy-eight, the three- line, one-stanza poem,  The Last Game, demonstrates Meek’s ability to see and translate images into profound interpretation.
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        When you die, you will slide
        under the tag at home.
        dust rising in the air.
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The assumption that we all die is, of course, clear, but to become dust and rise in the air at home, gives one pause for thought when housekeeping.
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Hide Tide is a thoughtful book of complex poems that range from the ordinary to extraordinary in both themes and images. It is not a book one would read in a single setting but a little here and a little there allowing time to digest.  It was a pleasure to read.
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High Tide is available from Aubade Publishing at https://aubadepublishing.com/books/high-tide/ 
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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The Philosopher Savant Crosses The River by Rustin Larson

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By Lynette G. Esposito 
 
The Philosopher Savant Crosses the River published by New Chicago, reveals Rustin Larson’s sense of place, time and sense of humor in almost eighty pages of artistically controlled poems.
 
In, By Greyhound with Grandmother on page nine, the reader is immediately invited onto the bus with a safe companion.  Larson skillfully sets the scene with the title before he reveals the details in the text of the seven- stanza poem.
 
Quarters slid into the vending machine.
   It’s good to have a town in mind in California
        when you speak of death.
 
The scene is set, the location is clear and the action of eating from a vending machine shows the reader the circumstance.  But death? 
 
Subliminal messages: deviled ham
     On white bread.
           My grandmother handed me half.
 
The poem triggers the narrator’s memories of sound, taste and color. He mentions his grandmother again so the reader knows the narrator is with a safe traveling companion.
 
The ending, however is a surprise since there is a tone of calm and nourishment.  After remembering the taste of a drink that spoke of sunset and tasted like kisses, the last line brings an image of colossal meaning of his feeling for his grandmother and her role in his life.
 
My grandmother hugged me
 
The way a mountain hugs stone.
 
The poem is written in three- line stanzas except for the last line that stands alone.  The visual of the two traveling companions is built into a remembrance and an accolade for the safe feeling being with Grandmother.  This artistically transports these images into the universal feelings and observations one has of a protector.
 
On page twenty-one, the narrator is in second grade and speaks of First Love.  This is a time of innocence and surprise. The three-stanza poem shows a young boy discovering desire and longing.
 
In second grade, I stuck my paste-stiffened mittens on Donna Owen’s shoulders, then choked on my saliva.
 
The poem ends with:
…….The whole
 
tree quivered as it swallowed it down.  The goddess walked flowing
in silk.  She would take her chances.  The cool air shattered and sang.
 
The images are descriptive and lovely as this young second grader discovers the fleeting deep emotion of young love.
 
On page eighty, the poem, Neruda, demonstrates a wry twist life has. All is good in the five stanzas until the last line.
 
Neruda had the goddess scarf
     dangle what was over all
           in heaven again pounced
 
in a roar around the microscope
       about what the devil said.
 
The evangelist, red,
     complaining, is lit
         with Neruda’s returning,
 
white and blue, by the way,
     with happy people.
I’m contemplating;
   it occurs, it asks me
          and then it rains.
 
This poem has a serious and religious tone. The reader is drawn into the importance of what is happening here.  And as in life, no matter how serious, no matter how religious, nature takes over and puts one in his/her place.  In this case, it rains.  It is a fresh presentation on pomposity.
 
This tome has a wide variety of scenes, places, situations and images that seem to speak out loud of commentary on daily life both as it is lived and remembered.  I liked the conversational tone of the poems and the skilled clarity of the narrator’s observations.  This is a good read.
 
 
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.