north of oxford book review

The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene

law

By Ray Greenblatt

Graham Greene did not have much time to be poetic when writing his novels; he knew that a fast-moving plot was what held the reader. However, in his book reviews, essays, travel books, other elements could be expanded. In THE LAWLESS ROADS Greene explores the dynamics of Mexico in 1938, wandering many byways where he had the space to be descriptive as well as contemplative.

                                                       The Shadow of Hemingway

          Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway both began to write in the 1920’s. As the years evolved, Greene developed a philosophical, psychological style; while Hemingway’s remained essentially the same—basic word usage, spare sentences—growing stylized over time. But Hemingway’s almost immediate and worldwide effect on writing was a phenomenon. The writers especially of detective fiction employ his style to this very day. Greene’s “Entertainments,” his name for the six thrillers he wrote, were influenced by Hemingway; even to a degree this early travel book about Mexico. This style was apt for expressing what Greene experienced.

Greene uses a series of nouns loosely joined by “and.”  “In the market flowers and flies and ordure and sleep.” (90) “They were full of scent and sunlight and quiet and desertion.” (200) “This was real—the high empty rooms and the tiled and swarming floor and the heat and the sour river smell.” (126) Notice the high number of negatively charged nouns.

Perhaps with further nod to Hemingway, Graham Greene also uses strings of simple sentences. “The hammocks creaked and something fluttered in the roof and a child wailed.” (135) “This small place wedged in among the mountains round its locked decaying church, and time just going by and the aeroplane always coming tomorrow. “ (157) Sometimes that all-purpose “and” joins adjectives, even sentence fragments: “No one could resent it: he was so pink and old and he had so many introductions. And a police badge under his lapel. “ (32)

The tone of his writing can be blase: “He was like the tough case of something labeled fragile.” (105) Or the author himself steps into the scene: “I had taken him already and made a character of him and I had got him entirely wrong.” (33) Also the use of ironic humor: “A few bright blue birds mocked one with other people’s happiness.” (185) Selectively, the Hemingway style can be liberating and focus the reader on each word: “He hated Mexico with a little refined adder-like hatred.” (42) Not only is “hatred” repeated for emphasis; unique adjectives—“refined” and “adder-like”—can be more easily observed and enjoyed.

                                                            Meet The People

          The 1930’s, with a worldwide depression, were a sad time for the people of Mexico. Graham Greene shows us some happy folk. At a cockfight: “They had plump mild operatic faces.” (43) In a cantina: “Nothing one could say failed to feed that enormous flame of mirth: it roared like a draught in a chimney, sucking up words like scraps of paper.” (96)

But for the most part life was serious if not tragic. A rebel general: “One gold tooth like a flaw in character.” (50) “Many people had a kind of affection for him—an affection for an animal whose cage you enter with caution.” (51) Even the soldiers had a hard life: “I passed the poor huts of the soldiers—just twig and mud, like birds’ nests, on the bank.” (205)

The educated suffered similarly to the poor. A philosopher: “The old professor had thin white hair, a long white moustache, and blanched and bony hands. He had an air of melancholy breeding; he was very clean and very worn; he was like an old-fashioned vase standing among the junk at the end of an auction.” (47) A school- teacher: “He was benevolent and patronizing, he knew everybody, but unlike the priest he knew nothing at all. He sat there like a poster advertising something of no value to anyone at all.” (204)

An ancient peasant: “His hands were like last year’s leaves.” (161) Beggars at a railroad station: “They came up around the train on both sides of the track like mangy animals in a neglected zoo.” (58) Even children were afflicted: “Two small boys boarded the train at San Marco with guitars and played in the middle of the coach for centavos—sweet melancholy voices and large brown actors’ eyes.” (88) “A little blonde girl of two lay wearily asleep in her nurse’s arms. Washed out and fragile as a shell, with her tiny ears already drilled for rings and a gold bangle round the little bony wrist.” (95)

During this Mexican persecution priests were not spared: “In the mortuary, lids not quite closed and the obstinate mouth dropping open to show the big stony teeth, and the vacant face like a mask taken off and ready for any wearer.” (75) Greene gives most of his time to describing men; women were usually involved with the church, as we will later see. However, here is one tragic woman: “Through an open door in one of the little houses I came suddenly on a tall tragic woman with hollow handsome features and a strange twisted mouth—like an expression of agony.” (147)

                                                     Mexican Flora and Fauna

          Graham Greene is skilled in depicting people. Let us now see poetically how he brings the landscape to life: “The rough, friendly, complex hills.”(49) “An oriental flat-roofed town under the leonine wrinkled hills.” (192) Mountains from the air: “The mountains came nearer—heavy black bars one behind the other—and a silver horizontal gleam upon the ground was a waterfall.” (128) “The mountains crouched all round like large and friendly dogs.” (169) “The volcanoes were there, moving half submerged like icebergs along the horizon.”

The land ran the gamut from aridity to fecundity. “This was the dry season: you could see the hollows—like thumb-marks—waiting for the rains.” (128) “All the vegetation died out into a black and hopeless soil.” (94) “It was like the grave, the earth taking over before its day.” (152)  “You can’t open a book without some tiny scrap of life scuttling across the page.” (120) The ancient temples in the jungle: “You can see them on the point of being swallowed again by the forest; they have looked out for a minute, old wrinkled faces, and will soon withdraw.” (137)

The villages and towns were often run down. “It was like a place besieged by scavengers—sharks in the river and vultures in the street.”(103) “ In the yard a whirlwind, small and domestic, raised a pillar of dust.” (50) “The turkeys—those hideous Dali heads, with the mauve surrealist flaps of skin they had to toss aside to uncover the beak or eyes.” (142) “The cocks crowing for miles around, an odd Biblical rhapsody at dawn.” (35) And in the local river  “the carcasses of old stranded steamers held up the banks.” (102)

Yet the natural beauty could be stunning: “The sun dropped out of sight, the forests became black below their gilded tips. The world was all steel and gold, like war.” (160) “Only sunset cast some kind of gentle humanizing spell over this rocky cactus desolation—a faint gold, a subjective pity, as if one were looking at the world for a moment through a god’s anatomical and pitying eye.” (38) “The last pale golden light welling across the plain, dropping down over the ridge which ended it as if over the world’s edge, so that you thought of the light going on and on through quiet peaceful uninhabited space.” (166)

Greene traveled by local train: “We were like an overgrown fossil as we bumped at seven in the morning along the hideously familiar way to Istapa.” (189)  Also by train: “It moves in great loops to summer, the seasons change as you watch, the air thickens, and exhilaration stirs in the flaccid lungs.” (89) Here is an overview of the landscape: “At the top of the ridge above the Mexican plain one emerged far above the sunset, which poured out between the mountains—a pale green under-water light shading into gold across the Mexican plain towards the volcanic snows, over more churches than you could count of fake pink stone, over haciendas like broken toys, and the wrinkled hills, a hundred luminous miles.” (205)

                                                           The Greene Theology

          Graham Greene, a Catholic himself, was commissioned to evaluate how Mexico was surviving. For a decade the dictator President Calles tried to eradicate Catholicism from the country; many churches had been closed and priests killed. However, the people’s faith would not be stamped out. “The cathedral sails like an old rambling Spanish galleon.” (61) “The churches still stand, great white shells like the skulls you find bleached beside the forest paths.” (141) “Everywhere churches lift up their bruised and antique heads above the walls and trees.” (75)

It is mostly women who sustain the faith. “With their cave-dwellers’ faces and their long staffs they might have been Stone Age people emerging from forgotten caverns to pay their tribute to the Redeemer on Resurrection morning.” (185) If a church was unavailable, they would go to private homes: “All day you could see women hurrying with ostrich secrecy towards the house in the side street where the body and blood of Christ was reserved in the little room off the balcony.” (178)

Some might not take the faith seriously: “Three girls doing the Stations of the Cross, giggling and chattering from agony to agony.” (35) But an innate feeling abided: “During the Calles persecution God had lain in radio cabinets, behind bookshelves. He had been carried in a small boy’s pocket into prisons; he had been consumed in drawingrooms and in garages. “ (36) “A great bare pulled-about church hummed gently and continuously with the prayers of the people.” (36)  “They were like relays of labourers making a road up Calvary.” (36)

“Perhaps this is the population of heaven—these aged, painful, and ignorant faces: they are human goodness.” (40) “You would say that life itself for these was mortification enough.” (40) “Even if it were all untrue and there were no God, surely life was happier with the enormous supernatural promise than with the petty social fulfillment, the tiny pension and the machine-made furniture.” (45)

To conclude, let us have Graham Greene poetically offer some of his wisdom:

“Death dictates certain rites. Men make rules and hope in that way to tame death.” (44)

“Guns on their hips, the holsters and the cartridge belts beautifully worked, a decorative death.” (49)

Dictators “under their pretence of freedom have left so many chains.” (58)

Socialism “like an electric train gone wild, sparkling and jabbing down the Embankment.” (87)

“That Mexican façade of bonhomie—the embrace, the spar, the joke—with which they hide from themselves the cruelty and the treachery of their life.” (163)

“Despair has its own humour as well as its own courage.” (42)

“The little villages go up on the wounded clay with garages like tombs.” (46)

“It is before you cross a frontier that you experience fear.” (100)

“There is always something exhilarating about moving inward from the sea into an unknown country.” (104)

“It was like being forgotten in a maze when the ticket man had gone home.” (47)

“Man has a dreadful adaptability.” (137)

“Human kindness withering out like a flower in a vacuum flask.” (93)

“I suppose the love of life which periodically deserts most men was returning: like sexual desire, it moves in cycles.” (144)

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Lawless-Roads-Penguin-Classics/dp/0143039733

This review will be published by The Graham Greene Newsletter in print August 2019.

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

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The Liar’s Asylum by Jacob M. Appel

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By Lynette G. Esposito

The eight short stories in Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum are amazingly fun to read.   The 168 page collection, published by Black Lawrence Press, explores common every day experiences with life twists that both surprise and confirm the human condition.

Appel is a keen observer of people interacting with their life situations.  John Jodzio, author of Knockout, comments,  ”I am in absolute awe of Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum.  The stories here are magnetic and knowing, funny and inventive.  Appel is a master of form—deftly able to conjure up pitch perfect characters whose lips spill out both truth and wit.”  I agree.

In the story when Love Was an Angel’s Kidney on page 120, Appel narrates the story of a young eighth grader fascinated with a high school athlete who comes to her father’s camp for youth who need dialysis. The story, in true beginning, middle and end short story form, shows how love can happen and end anywhere. While the young girl would give up a kidney for her innocent love when she is skinny dipping with him in the camp lake, her financially inept father is losing the camp to the bank and his wife to his best friend.  Her father never finds another woman for whom he would sacrifice an organ, but she wonders about her young love and if he still thinks of her.   She asks:   Am I what remains when an angel’s kidney evaporates in the past? This is an interesting concept when looking at love itself as it fades into the past but remains in the heart.

In Good Enough for Guppies,  the story opens with Divorce infected the air last summer and Appel sets the scene for old women (78) seeking love in a variety of places all told from a candid observer who once in awhile participates in the story by suggesting the relationship he has with his own wife.  The narrator, Gene, and his wife, Shelia, must deal with Shelia’s mother, 78, marrying a man in his forties with a Bronx accent.  Shelia is almost hysterical because it is her mother and Gene attempts to understand survivorship in a long-term marriage.  The story suggests and shows average people reacting to love at various stages in their life and how they react as well as judge others outside and inside the family.

Appel is a master of unique and inventive story lines that are well controlled, developed and meaningful.  He sets clear scenes with unique twists that help the reader see and understand the characters in more than one perception and in more than one dimension.  I enjoyed every story.

The book is available here: https://www.blacklawrence.com/the-liars-asylum/

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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

A Brief Biography of My Name by Yalie Kamara

brief

By Michaiah Samples

A Brief Biography of My Name, Yalie Kamara, a Sierra Leonean American, explores the theme of self-discovery through a series of reflective poems by drawing from her past, her family’s experiences, and her cultural heritage.  Her words capture the joy and loneliness of trying to find one’s true self.  On the chapbook’s cover is a metal statue of a bare-chested, African woman, with a lifted chin and a proud stance.  This cover image reflects the determination needed to find one’s identity and the hard-won pride of its discovery.

She devotes her title poem to an exploration of her names, Yalie Saweda Kamara.  She uses beautiful imagery to capture not only the significance of her names but also the significance they have for her identity: “I wouldn’t have sought the sound of whiteness, / if I’d known I was a song strained from indigo. / a note wrapped in lapis lazuli.”  She even reclaims a lost name, Masuba, a name her grandmother took from her, and imbues it with her own meaning to complete the picture of herself.

In “Space” she writes about a time when she left off the “i” in her name on school assignments and no one noticed.  By the poem’s end, Kamara writes, “Nobody else played the game, so there’s no / record of the joyful sound that was made when / the long-lost me, found the small, brown, I.”  This clever twist at the end emphasizes the close connection between a name and an identity.  When she restores her name, she also restores her perception of herself with new significance.

In “Pest Control,” Kamara reveals the nature of liars and flatterers by comparing them to the long mot arata, a kind of rat that munches on the heels of sleeping people.  The story of the long mot arata teaches her “to doubt the admiration of anyone / who loves me without good enough reason / to look for punctured heels following any / explosion of praise leaving a familiar mouth.”  Kamara describes the pain of falling under their spell, “seeing a bit of myself hanging / from your smiling lips,” and also the triumph of moving past its pain to see that deceivers destroy themselves when they destroy others.

Yalie Kamara also draws from the words of her family.  “Mother’s Rules” is a tribute to her mother’s instructions on how to live.  Her instructions alternate between a sarcastic playfulness, (“Never order me a meal that is spelled with silent letters.  I came to eat, not / to explore”) and a hardness that reflects reality (“You laugh at me now.  Like I laughed at my mother”).  “I Ask My Brother Jonathan to Describe Oakland, And He Describes His Room” is a tribute to her brother.  The poem shows her brother “creating a new town” in his imagination, “where his body is unfettered by the terror of others’ imagination.”  Each of these glimpses into her family provide a place for Kamara to reflect on the lives closest to her, yet she does not directly connect them to her own search.  She allows the reader a clear view into her family, and she lets those poems stand alone because her family is part of her identity.

Through her poems, Yalie Kamara provides the reader glances into her journey of self-discovery.  Her beautiful imagery and her unflinching stance towards the pain of reality make this chapbook a necessary addition for anyone searching for their own selves.

You can find the book here:

https://www.yaylala.com/new-page/

Michaiah Samples is an undergraduate student at Lee University, where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English.  She has a forthcoming interview with Yalie Kamara on the website, Speaking of Marvels.  She likes to crochet scarves and study Hebrew in her spare time.

 

The Middle Ground by Jeff Ewing

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By Charles Rammelkamp

The characters in the nineteen stories that make up Jeff Ewing’s new collection, The Middle Ground, all seem to be trying to come to terms with bleak realities for which they bear some responsibility but whose fuzzy dimensions go way beyond their grasp. Indeed, as the story “Coast Starlight” begins: “Clifford could have been anyone, though no one from around here.”

In the story, Clifford, who may be a con man after all, fills a waitress’s mind with fantasies of movie stardom. Elena. Elena’s daughter asks her, “Don’t you wish something exciting would happen to you just once?” Elena remembers Clifford, then. Elena is married to the dull but reliable Matias. When she makes an impulsive trip to Los Angeles (aboard a train called the Coast Starlight) in a half-baked plan to pursue the dream of stardom, only to return to the stoic but forgiving Matias, you’d think there might be a moral here, like something out of The Wizard of Oz.  “No place like home.” But no, at the end Elena, if somehow wiser, is still indecisive, hovering ghost-like in the middle ground.

What is the middle ground? In the eponymous story, another one in which a parent and child clash over dreams, Ewing writes of the son, “He was one of those who can’t think any further than the negation of things. No nuance, no middle ground.” In the middle ground there are no clear answers to the situations people find themselves in. Maybe this, maybe that. Some of this, some of that.

Indeed, several of the characters in these stories deal with an unexpected celebrity that seems to shine a light on their lives, but only in a confused and upsetting way. The little girl Anna in “Lake Mary Jane” who is bitten by an alligator while she is swimming becomes a fleeting figure of interest, and she is forced to consider events in a new light. “When the gator had bit down, it was just a thing that was happening to her.” Then come the doctors, the reporters. Her dad and a character named Emily (mother? sister?) react in complicated ways. Finally, somebody shoots a gator in the lake they claim was the one that bit Anna. But her reaction? “All she knew was it had left its mark on her, which is what love does.”

In the first story, “Tule Fog,” the narrator remembers his high school girlfriend Lisa who became a celebrity of her own, giving motivational speeches, selling books and DVDs, on the subject of “Moving On.” She clearly moved on from the narrator, who feels stuck in his bleak California town where “no one anywhere, not even the dead, will wish they were here.” It should be noted that Lisa dies in an airplane accident near Lake Tahoe. “It took over a year for the wreckage to be discovered….”

Similarly, in “Coast Starlight,” as she’s finishing her shift at the diner, Elena comes upon another waitress, Shelly, flipping through a National Enquirer and, “tsking and shaking her head” at the shenanigans of the dubious famous people whose shenanigans are detailed in the scandal sheet.

“These people got everything you could want, and nine times out of ten they piss it away,” she said.

Elena asks her coworker, “You think it’s different here?”

“Jesus, yes. Are you kidding? Nobody’s got anything to piss away.”

It’s strange and perplexing how right there in the middle ground where nothing is clearly one thing or another how events will make you feel your insignificance. And certainly this seems to be the great challenge for so many of the characters in these stories, this urge for a meaning to one’s life. The very title of the final story in this collection, “Hiddenfolk,” gives a hint to the great trials most of these characters face. “Dick Fleming is Lost” gives another, a story in which the protagonist, George, becomes obsessed with the whereabouts of a former classmate, who has gone missing.  “Maybe Dick Fleming would be found,” the story concludes, “and maybe he wouldn’t. Either way he was no longer alone.”

The stories in The Middle Ground are bleak but thought-provoking and end with the same ambiguity with which they begin, though indeed there is always a kind of resolution. Nothing ever quite ends “happily ever after,” but the characters all reach a kind of self-understanding that makes their destinies easier to accept.

You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Middle-Ground-Stories-Jeff-Ewing/dp/1775381307

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

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The Love Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

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By Ray Greenblatt

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          Kenneth Rexroth was considered the senior member of the Beats. He was writing experimental free verse and lengthy exhortations to the world as early as the 1920’s, a generation before Ginsberg, Kerouac, and the West Coast poets.

          But I think he has been overlooked for his exquisite love lyrics. These poems are often set in the wildest of the back country. Let’s insinuate ourselves into these scenes of love to observe how Rexroth illuminates them:
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         You beside me
          Like a colt swimming slowly in kelp
          In the nude sea
          Where ten thousand birds
          Move like a waved scarf
          On the long surge of sleep. (“Camargue”)
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Rexroth loves to look minutely at his lover. Indeed she becomes part of nature:
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          Eater of moonlight, drinker
          Of brightness, feet of jewels
          On the mountain, velvet feet
          In the meadow grass, darkness
          Braided with wild roses, wild
          Mare of the horizons.
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          It’s enough that the green glow
          Runs through the down on your arms
          Like a grass fire and your eyes
          Are fogs of the same endless light.
          Let the folds and divisions
          Of your anatomy envelop
          All horizons. (“Air and Angels”)
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The following poem opens with imagery that Rexroth remolds in his conclusion:
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          Lean back. Give me your mouth.
          Your grace is as beautiful as sleep.
          You move against me like a wave
          That moves in sleep.
          Your body spreads across my brain
          Like a bird filled summer.
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          My eyelids sink toward sleep in the hot
          Autumn of your uncoiled hair.
          Your body moves in my arms
          On the verge of sleep;
          And it is as though I held
          In my arms the bird filled
          Evening sky of summer. (“When We with Sappho”)
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          Sometimes the locale shifts to a foreign city, but the intense sensuality remains:
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          Your face topples into dark
          And the wind sounds like an army
          Breaking through dry reeds.
          We spread our aching bodies in the window
          And I can smell the odor of hay
          In the female smell of Venice. (“Sottoportico San Zaccaria”)
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          At times Rexroth removes all censure so that our faces redden at the intimacy, as in “Floating”:
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          Take me slowly while our gnawing lips
          Fumble against the humming blood in our throats.
          Move softly, do not move at all, but hold me,
          Deep, still, deep within you, while time slides away,
          As this river slides beyond this lily bed,
          And the thieving moments fuse and disappear
          In our mortal, timeless flesh.
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The poet is also able to capture moments of a lover’s personality:
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          Suddenly you laugh, like a pure
          Exulting flute, spring to your feet
          And plunge into the water.
          A white bird breaks from the rushes
          And flies away, and the boat rocks
          Drunkenly in the billows
          Of your nude jubilation. (“Still on Water”)
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So many of his poems are like scenes caught by a painter—nuanced details, striking movements often in open air held fast in bright colors:
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          A fervor parches you sometimes,
          And you hunch over it, silent,
          Cruel, and timid; and sometimes
          You are frightened with wantonness,
        And give me your desperation. (“Between Myself and Death”)
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          As Kenneth Rexroth’s art matured, his view toward love developed deeper feelings and interpretations. In “Incarnation” after a day of climbing, the narrator returns to camp and glimpses his love in the distance:
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          The crinkled iris petal,
          The gold hairs powdered with pollen,
          And the obscure cantata
          Of the tangled water, and the
          Burning, impassive snow peaks,
          Are knotted together here.
          This moment of fact and vision
          Seizes immortality,
          Becomes the person of this place.
          The responsibility
          Of love realized and beauty
          Seen burns in a burning angel
          Real beyond flower or stone.
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The lover remembers all his past loves, the highs and lows:
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          Under this tree for a moment,
          We have escaped the bitterness
          Of love, and love lost, and love
          Betrayed. And what might have been,
          And what might be, fall equally
          Away with what is, and leave
          Only these ideograms
          Printed on the immortal
          Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone. (“Lyell’s Hypothesis Again”)
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Sometimes we must apologize for mistakes to let the relationship heal and continue to grow:
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          Now my heart
          Turns towards you, awake at last,
          Penitent, lost in the last
          Loneliness. Speak to me. Talk
          To me. Break the black silence.
          Speak of a tree full of leaves,
          Of a flying bird, the new
          Moon in the sunset, a poem,
          A book, a person. (“Loneliness”)
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An outer and inner peace can be achieved eventually as seen in “Quietly”:
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          So quiet, our bodies, worn with the
          Times and the penances of love, our
          Brains curled, quiet in their shells, dormant,
          Our hearts slow, quiet, reliable
          In their interlocked rhythms, the pulse
          In your thigh caressing my cheek. Quiet.
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          At times Rexroth infused a religious tone into his poems of love:
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          Let us bring to each other
          The gifts brought once west through deserts—
          The precious metal of our mingled hair,
          The frankincense of enraptured arms and legs,
          The myrrh of desperate, invincible kisses—
          Let us celebrate the daily
          Recurrent nativity of love,
          The endless epiphany of our fluent selves.  (“Lute Music”)
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          “She Is Away” is from a more mature poet’s point of view:
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 O love,
          I who am lost and damned with words,
          Whose words are a business and an art,
          I have no words. These word, this poem, this
          Is all confusion and ignorance.
          But I know that coached by your sweet heart,
          My heart beat one free beat and sent
          Through all my flesh the blood of truth.
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          Kenneth Rexroth lived from 1905 until 1982. His first wife Andree died in 1940, and he always revered her memory in several lyrics over the years. A very touching one simply titled “Andree Rexroth” concludes:
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          Bright trout poised in the current—
          The raccoon’s track at the water’s edge—
          A bittern booming in the distance—
          Your ashes scattered on this mountain—
          Moving seaward on this stream.
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          In the realm of poetry there is almost nothing more difficult to write than an original love lyric. We have looked at a number of passages. To conclude I would like to quote in full a short but very effective poem #X by Rexroth out of a series of linked poems titled “The Thin Edge of Your Pride”:
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          Out of the westborne now shall come a memory
          Floated upon it by my hands,
          By my lips that remember your kisses.
          It shall caress your hands, your lips,
          Your breasts, your thighs, with kisses,
          As real as flesh, as real as memory of flesh.
          I shall come to you with the spring,
          Spring’s flesh in the world,
          Translucent narcissus, dogwood like a vision,
          And phallic crocus,
          Spring’s flesh in my hands.
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All poems are taken from: The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth, (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
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You can find the book here:

https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/pages/browse/book.asp?bg=%7BD2AA026E-B2F1-46AF-9735-90395CFBBCD6%7D

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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

Says the Forest to the Girl by Sally Rosen Kindred

saystheforrest

By Kristina Gibbs

If you want to be transported back into a land of Once Upon a Times where the magical and the mysterious collide, then delving into Sally Rosen Kindred’s work is for you. Only expect a few darker twists.

In Says the Forest to the Girl, Kindred modernizes popular tales—inserting Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and others—while also restoring them back to their original eerie glory. The results are spellbinding.

Just because Kindred focuses on fairy tales doesn’t make her work irrelevant to the hardships of the 21st century, however. In fact, her poem “Sleeping Beauty Makes Dinner” is a rallying cry for feminists everywhere. In this piece, Kindred cleverly depicts Sleeping Beauty being awakened to the reality of stereotypical gender roles that society impresses upon all people: it is the male who provides the substance of the meal, and the woman who prepares it. The inner turmoil that Sleeping Beauty experiences showcases her unhappily ever after:
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           I stir—
or did I ever
wake? Would a princess
be circling this pot,
her hand scarred from sleep’s glass thorns
and feeling the push
of the dark ladle through the broth,
her hair rising to mist in its steam?
I love this heat. Is that right?
It’s all too much like those years
of stained-glass sleep.
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Kindred makes the witty analogy between the confines of Beauty’s glass box to the confines of the role she plays as a wife in the kitchen. By circling the pot, the author emphasizes this mundane cycle of gender stereotypes that Beauty is trapped in.
Kindred reawakens childhood nostalgia inside all adults in Says the Forest to the Girl. She laments over lost dreams and feelings of imprisonment. Kindred seeks to reconcile the inner sprightly child trapped within the adult, and illustrate how adults trapped by life’s demands can shatter mandated adult monotony and dream again. She wrestles with this tension between what is and what once was in her opening poem “Women at the Crows’ Funeral”:
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The crows won’t ask
what kind of daughter you are—
if your grief remembers wings,
if you wear shoes of iron or shoes of wind
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Here the imagery of steel shoes compares to life’s burdens and responsibilities, whereas the “shoes of wind” depict the quick lightheartedness one feels when they dream or have far-fetched hopes. Kindred cleverly uses the shoe motif in fairy tales (like Cinderella’s glass slipper, or hot iron shoes Snow White’s stepmother danced in till she died in the Grimm retelling) to convey this. The narrator mourns with regret, aching for a chance to re-hatch and obtain her happy ending. Kindred interweaves this dichotomy of dreaming verses facing reality throughout the rest of her poems, painting striking images with words to parallel to the bold artwork on her cover. The speckled white forest contrasted with the sharp red background may be gruesome, but it conveys the restlessness and pain of her words held within.
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The chapbook itself is seamless. When the poems transition, each theme bleeds over onto the next page; the poems are distinct in voice and syntax, but they all carry ominous scenes and darker elements of nature. There is intent behind every minute detail from the symbols of black birds to the reintroduction of characters throughout the cohesive work.

Kindred’s work is vividly hypnotic. Her brilliant wordsmithing allows for raw statements and glaring images that strike at your emotions. This piece carries a somber tone, a far cry from well-known Disney remakes. After devouring the delightfully grim Says the Forest to the Girl you’ll be “Ravenous” for more.
You can find a copy of her work at https://porkbellypress.com/poetry/says .

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Kristina Gibbs is an emerging writer from the hills of Tennessee currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English and minor in Linguistics. She has previously published an interview in an online publication, Speaking of Marvels. When she is not reading or writing, you may find her clambering over both hiking trails and paint brushes.