new and selected poems

Portable Light – New and Selected Poems by Mike James

port
By Lynette G, Esposito
 
Portable Light New and Selected Poems 1991-2021 by Mike James published by Redhawk Publications (The Catawba Valley Community College Press) Hickory, North Carolina features one hundred and twenty-three pages of poetry that interweaves common images with uncommon juxtapositions presenting old themes in new ways.
 
The volume is divided into two sections including New Poems and Selected Poems. In the New Poems section on page twenty- three, James presents sunlight and one’s expectation of it in his poem In This Place.
 
I expect the morning light to end
And it does.
It does.
 
The sun reminds me which way is west,
One less thing to guess about,
Take me away from my plowed down routine
I’m mostly lost.
 
His narrative voice brings the reader into his morning observations, drawing without unnecessary details, how quickly morning disappears. In choosing the word end, the impression is direct and stark.  Something is over just as it begins. The final stanza of the three-stanza poem concludes:
 
The dreams I wake with don’t stay close.
Last night I dreamed about walking among flowers.
This morning, one window frames
The consolation of an empty field.
 
James skillfully guides the message with a light touch. Dreams are as fleeting as the morning sunlight. We have all been there.
 
His poem Sitting on the Back Porch, in Summer at Dusk in the Selected Poems Section on page forty-eight, works with juxtaposing an observation of nature and a human response.  The poem is made up of mostly unrhymed couplets and feels as if one is having a conversation with oneself.
 
my children play in the neighbor’s field
games they make up themselves
 
my wife somewhere else
wherever that is
 
James has established the place through his title and the situation by putting his family away from where he is alone on the porch. The narrator observes the crow and suggests the crow observes him.
A crow lands and human and bird stare.
 
after a few minutes he makes his loud cry
then flies away
 
I can’t repeat the cry he makes
only the silence he leaves
 
This is a skillful poem that visualizes a quiet lonely moment on a back porch and shapes its message into a comment on the ability of nature compared to the silence of man.
 
James explores carnal knowledge in his poem Questions for Genesis. This is one of those long skinny poems that slides down the page like a string.
 
did eve’s lips
grow lustful
after the first
bite of the
apple did she
inhale in
anticipation
of adam’s
scent think
of her own
which she
barely knew
did she
quickly look
over each
shoulder’to
see if animals
saw her
different
before she chewed
 
In the series of questions, the focus is clearly on eve but the bigger question becomes obvious in the last lines. Is she perceived different now? Again, James is skillful in focus and in drawing the reader into the world he creates.  He does not rely on capitalization or punctuation but on image and message.
 
This tome is well worth a read and reread.  The themes are varied as well as the poetic forms. James has excellent control in his poetic works and is able to lead the reader to places they don’t realize they are going.
 
.
 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.
.
.
.
Advertisement

These Days of Simple Mooring by Florence Weinberger

these
.
By Charles Rammelkamp
.
In “My Very Own Opera,” one of the new poems in These Days of Simple Mooring, Florence Weinberger writes:
.
            A cantor’s wail becomes a lullaby my father sang which kicks off
            Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which triggers La Boheme, shaky
            bridges over troubled waters. It’s all in the shuffle.
.
This is an apt description of Weinberger’s creative process, how her poems develop, the associations that drive her verse. It’s all in the shuffle, indeed. In another new poem, “The Prescription,” she writes about her doctor suggesting she eat something salty to combat sluggishness (“Are you kidding me?” Salt, after all, has been a no-no for years – bad for kidney stones, blood pressure, tissues and organs, right?), but –
.
            It licks me back home
            to my mother’s kitchen.
            I don’t compare
            the slick of fat.
            I don’t care. I’m told
            to eat salt, to taste
            total recall…
.
Memory is a key ingredient to her poetry. At ninety, Florence Weinberger has a long life to draw on.   In a poem from 2010’s Sacred Graffiti called “The reason I don’t visit your grave,” she asks her dead husband, “Are you still listening? I tend to digress.” (“God, I’d love to make a date / to drink wine with your ghost,” she writes earlier in the poem.) Digression is her crabwise approach to meaning, the memories that pile on one another like hamsters in a nest of cedar shavings.
.
These Days of Simple Mooring includes selections from four previous collections, The Invisible Telling Its Shape (1997) Breathing Like a Jew (1997), Sacred Graffiti and Ghost Tattoo (2018).  “Mame Loshen, The Mother Tongue,” from Breathing Like a Jew, takes her back to her childhood.
.
            Yiddish, my first language,
            you were given to me whole, your wild colors
            intact, your bent humor, centuries
            of bottled-up rage and richly-imagined revenge.
 .
The poem’s a memory of her father. She writes that she believed in him, believed “his dazzling litany of dirty jokes,” “his poker-player’s paranoia,”
.
            because out of this avalanche of language,
            punctuated by deep painful rasps of breath
            as he battled bronchitis and then emphysema,
            still smoking those pungent Turkish cigarettes,
            came the rhythm of my poems, like hard slaps
            with an open palm….
.
The rhythm of Weinberger’s poems certainly whacks a reader out of his complacency. “As if all the gods have slashed their wrists at once / your inexhaustible waters pour and pour,” she begins “Iguazu Falls,” an ode to the Argentine waterfall, one of the new poems. “Where are this century’s muses, have they abandoned their vocation, / are they hefting Berettas instead of bone flutes?” she starts another new poem, “”Renew Us to the Mercy of Lyres and Flutes.” Got your attention yet?  How can you help but read on?
.
The poem, “Hitchhiker,” from Sacred Graffiti, quintessentially evinces Weinberger’s style. She’s driving her car past “one of those lost unkempt souls  / you see stranded at bus benches trailing / their parcels of loose ends.” Reflexively waving her away and driving on, Weinberger has second thoughts. The girl wasn’t a gang member, after all; she just needed a lift. Weinberger feels a pang guilt.
.
            No sooner had I fled the scene,
            I began to play the game of what if.
            I began to take credit
            for that spontaneous kindness.
 .
“I began to play with a memory already receding,” she writes, “I can no longer tell you what she was wearing.” Memory and imagination conspire to create a poem that a guilty conscience inspired.
.
Weinberger’s mother and father – her whole family – are never far from her mind. They are inspirations for so many of these poems, as are Judaism and art. “Mother’s Blood,” a new poem, is a memory of her mother’s help when as a young girl she began menstruating. “My Mother’s House,” from Ghost Tattoo, is a poem about her joy at tracking down the house in Ukraine where her mother grew up, though the actual house is long gone. The joy lies in understanding her mother’s childhood,
            what it is to live in snow and planting seasons,
                        what it is to dig into the earth, milk a cow,
            fear soldiers on horses,
.
            drunken neighbors with mouths full of curses,
                        that’s still here, I feel it, her fear,
            I feel her here.

.
Weinberger writes in “The Power of My Mother’s Arms”:
.
My mother’s death changed the alchemy of food.
Holidays run together now like ungrooved rivers.
I forget what they are for.
I buy bakery goods.
They look dead under the blue lights.
I forget what they are for.
I buy bakery goods.
They look dead under the blue lights.
.
“What’s mine was my mother’s first,” Weinberger concludes the poem “Whole Grains and Hard, Harmonious Ways.” “How do I spend these final years?”
.
“Smoking with My Father” from Sacred Tattoo is another affectionate memory of her father, teaching her how to smoke cigarettes. “Years later
.
a man in a Max Beckmann painting
holding a cigarette European style
reminded me how my father and I
bonded, when I was sixteen….
.
A mother herself, her two daughters and their offspring also figure prominently in the poems. “My Daughters Tell Their Friends,” one the new ones, and “My two daughters drop me off at the museum” are two titles, the latter poem, from Ghost Tattoo, also highlighting Weinberger’s interest in art, as the poem weaves in and out of various thoughts, with Weinberger-esque association.
.
These Days of Simple Mooring includes at least a half dozen ekphrastic poems, including “A Common Grayness Silvers Everything,” with references to Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and other photographers; “Unraveling Darkness,” which, like “My two daughters drop me off at the museum,” involves Mark Rothko; “Picasso’s Four Bulls”; “Ejaculate Trajectory I, II, III,” works by the transgressive photographer Andres Serrano; “Revisiting Ozymandias,” sculptures by Albert Szukalski; “You Remind Me of Someone,” Maria Lassnig’s painting, Du Odor Ich.
.
Judaism and Jewishness are important themes in the poems as well. The rituals of mourning, of eating (“Let me fashion prayer from a piece of dough,” she writes in “The Power of My Mother’s Arms”), references to the Torah, survivors of the Nazi death machine, modern-day Israel. “Where I Was When Yitzhak Rabin Was Assassinated,” an elegy for the murdered peacemaker, is a memory of being in Las Vegas at the time. “I am in the city of chance, city of sham and amnesia.”
.
These Days of Simple Mooring concludes with “Announcement,” a musing about a sort of DIY obituary, like rescuing her own memory: her very own opera, indeed!  Florence Weinberger’s unique voice and verse make for an impressive read.
.
.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
.
.