north of oxford book review

Darwin’s Mother by Sarah Rose Nordgren

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By Lynette G. Esposito

The soft cover volume of Darwin’s Mother by Sarah Rose Nordgren published by Pittsburg Press is a delight. It is so good, even the acknowledgements are interesting.

The book is divided into three sections: Origin of Species, Material, and A Moral Animal. I have favorites in each section. In the first section, my favorite is Mitochondrial Eve on page 9. The first two stanzas set up the poem and the last single line closes it. 

                                     Please go down and thank her
                                      under the arched branches
                                      where she sits on her heels

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                                      arranging a circle of leaves
                                      for a good bed.  And on the inside
                                      of her skin thank the mosaic.

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The seven-stanza  poem is both visual and logical. The structure is regular until the final stanza which stands alone as a single line: always with the door open.  The reader is spoken to in direct address and then is presented with a picture of our original Eve as she puts everything together from the inside out while resting in nature and at the same time being part of nature.

In the second section, Material, my favorite is on pages 28 and 29 entitled Reservoir.  The poem begins It is the nature of data,,,, The poem progresses to discuss

this dry subject in fresh and wonderful images of “things.” Norgren relates data to water and the gathering of it.  In stanza three and four, she presents how this gathering works:

                                        It takes a staff of thousands
                                        traveling on foot with tin buckets
                                        under their arms to collect                                        
                                        even a fraction of it, empting it all
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                                        into the reservoir we’re building
                                        for this very purpose.  

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She uses the image of water as data through the rest of the poem discussing the uses of information and the broad expanse of it, and ends the poem in two lines: as they stare and say, My God how beautiful. One sees in the poem the digital blue lakes and not the dry numbers of information we observe in landlocked pages. The poem transforms informational data into a lovely useable waterscape.

In A Moral Animal, Nordgren presents poetry with subjects including The Kiss, Moral Animal, Achilles and Mary at the Museum and Simulation. My favorite in this section is

Movie Night on page 54. The title suggests this is a fun poem. If you think watching a horror movie on an Easter Sunday is fun, then add giving birth and trying to stuff the baby back in as a leisure activity and you have a rather twisted vision of what to in your spare time.

The one stanza poem ends with the lines:.

                                      …This time
                                      you play the distant voice while I
                                      heave myself up, heave myself up
                                      from the bitter lake.     

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As in her other poems,  Nordgren creates not only visuals, but contrasting perceptions in how reality can affect us and in this poem how an old horror movie affects our Sunday afternoons.

The book feels honest, simple and complex as it explores the exterior and interior of the author’s view of the human condition in a timeless exposure of how the past, present and future intermix.

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The book is available from The University of Pittsburgh Press at  www.upress,pitt.edu

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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.  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.

 

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The Boulevard Trial by Stephanie Laterza

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By Karen Corinne Herceg

In clear, often compelling prose, Stephanie Laterza’s debut novel, The Boulevard Trial, offers us a contemporary story of moral dilemmas, confused intentions and missed connections that frequently result in disappointing resolutions and, at times, even tragic consequences. The traumas of the novel’s characters bleed into their ongoing personal experiences like an unchecked, gaping wound. On a larger scale, they mirror disturbing issues in the very fabric of our society and the ramifications of our actions in a greater perspective. The Boulevard Trial takes place mainly in New York with some flashbacks to Boston and Germany. Laterza captures much of the city’s raw, often ruthless vibe, the indifference of overpopulated urban compression, images of media hounds and grueling corporate competition and an apathetic environment where ambition overrides compassion.  The main character, Helena, is a young attorney struggling with a secret from her past that could ruin her career. Her boss, a partner in the prestigious law firm where she’s employed, assigns her a pro bono case defending Francesca, a prostitute, while he considers her future at the firm in light of this past information that has come to his attention. Helena is up against a tough, renowned prosecutor, Alexandra, whose zealotry in persecuting morally compromised women masks her own demons. Upon learning of Alexandra’s post-war past in Germany, Helena must decide whether or not to use this against her. But this is only one of many moral quandaries presented in a story where Laterza does a very competent job of weaving and delineating the intricate similarities and inter-connectedness among the characters. At the forefront are the damages that secrets can hold, the lies and misperceptions generated by withholding truth, and the often destructive, even fatal, results of misguided decisions.

The opening sentences of the novel are laid out clearly and succinctly, giving us a lot of cryptic information and engaging our curiosity from the start. There’s good exposition and, for the most part, Laterza manages to avoid the writer’s perennial pitfall of “telling not showing.” There is some pause over use of “voice” from chapter to chapter. The novel’s beginning chapters are told in the third person that begins to shift to first person perspectives then back again. While this might seem to present some inconsistency in the narrative, it does give insights from varying perspectives, much as we might hear in a court of law. This reflects both the literal trial transpiring in the novel as well as the trials of the various characters. Ion the end, however, Laterza demonstrates that no one is free from bias. There are occasional unsettling phrases such as, “Her nose whistled, amplifying her quick breaths…” (P. 1, ll. 10-11), “The bolus in Helena’s throat melted as tears blurred her vision,” and a romantic scene where an anticipated kiss is seen as a lover’s “…entry into her mouth, that blood-colored gateway…” (P. 217, ll. 13-14). The meltdown in the trial scene seems a bit hurried, as does Helena’s realization of her true love. But these somewhat less developed depictions are offset by the many fine descriptive passages that offer sensitive, tactile and vivid portrayals of the characters, their situations and recollections that bring them vividly to life for the reader. In one scene Helena’s friend and former romantic interest, Michael, describes a tapas bar downtown with customers seated at a “…curved mahogany bar, whispering in Spanish beneath repurposed copper penny lanterns and sipping from tiny glasses of Manzanilla,” (P. 73, ll. 5-7) as he and Helena sit at a table with a “… chipped red and blue mosaic top” (P. 73, ll. 8-9). A scene in The Museum of Sex finds a receptionist, “…college aged and bored, slumped over a Social Psychology textbook while chewing on the straw of a Starbucks Frappuccino” (P. 83, ll. 14-16). There are many detailed, colorful portraits and scenes throughout the novel that enable us to easily visualize characters and scenes. In a reminiscence of wartime Germany, Alexandra’s mother, Nellie, refers to “…buildings crumbling like torsos with severed balconies and fractured cables in a sky determined to cling to its blanket of wizened gray clouds” (P. 261, ll. 16-18). And Laterza doesn’t shy away from raw, painful and disturbing details, such as Francesca’s rape scene, right down to the seedy motel room and “smoke-scented bed” (P. 12, l. 7).

Connections to past events that lead the characters to their current actions and reactions are drawn well. When Francesca assesses a current abusive client, “She remembered the way her father would get up close to her face before breaking into a rampage” (P. 9, ll. 24-25). But the deepest, most introspective examination of relationships for the female characters is the link to their mothers, their controversial and emotional maternal inheritances. The mother and daughter connections are explored quite well in a multitude of ways yet ultimately emphasize the similarities of the various dynamics. There are mothers’ rules, admonitions, condemnations and expectations. There are times when characters would rather hurt themselves than hold their mothers responsible for damage to their self-esteem. Ultimately they need to realize and accept responsibility for recognizing their own worth. Perfectionism, cleansing and order are safeguards against fear and life and a mother’s unattainable love. As Alexandra observes, “…Such is the nature of the unbreakable yet fragile strings that bind daughters and mothers” (P. 237, ll. 14-16). Tamar, who is Alexandra’s mentor, knows that Alexandra “…walks around tortured with memories of her dead mother” (P. 117, l. 17). She tries to  “…reverse the years of her mother’s abuse,” (P. 117, l. 24-25) something Tamar learns we cannot do for another person. As she notes further, “…the Universe has a way of balancing out the sins of the world in a way I cannot control” (P. 118, ll. 3-4). Tamar is a substitute mother figure for Alexandra but very damaged herself, using work to provide her with “…the distraction it gave from the everyday annoyances of being human” (P. 125, ll. 22-23). Tamar sees herself as free in “…not having a mother to tell me what to do, or to stop me from doing everything I wanted” (P. 137, ll. 9-10) such as becoming a secretary or reproducing. But this maternal lack gives her no strong foundation from which to compare, separate and eventually confront herself. For Alexandra, all she wanted from her mother “…was for her to love me, to show me the mercy she wished the world had shown her” (P. 237, ll. 10-11). This is a valued insight teaching us that what we do not heal we pass along in anger and revenge creating a chain of ongoing destruction. As Nellie states in a letter discovered posthumously, “I hated hearing the sound of my mother’s misery in my own voice” (P. 272, ll. 10-11). Ultimately all the blame and guilt cannot help us. We must take responsibility for our own lives. As Michael observes, people’s heads “…are packed from corner to corner with muck and regret, who look at every decision they’ve made from the time they graduated high school till now and realize that the unrelenting misery that has become their life is entirely their own fault…” (P. 111, ll. 17-20). It is our duty to extricate ourselves from the imprints and challenges of others, and to make our own way.

Fears distort perceptions and dictate tragic outcomes for many of these characters, some departing this world without resolution and others finding some peace. Comparing Francesca’s soul to a river, we read, “The River washed over its skins of cracked salted seaweed and the assaults of oil spills and even dead bodies in a cold emptiness, never having to remember its pains and imperfections because it died and was reborn a thousand times” (P. 27, ll. 17-20). Yet remembering is really critical to learning and not repeating the transgressions we inherit and commit. Just as in life, some of these characters pass away in pain, some speak their truth too late, and others find levels of redemption. Laterza offers good insights into the various choices that lead to certain outcomes. She avoids tying up the story into a neat package and leaves us with both unavoidably sad results as well as satisfactory conclusions that are realistic. The Boulevard Trial is a good, fast-paced read with more than a few lessons to impart. It opens with our introduction to Helena, and she has the final word in the last chapter. She offers herself this admonition that is sage advice for us all: “I slap myself on the knee for my bad habit of dwelling on destructive alternatives to present joy” (P. 337, ll. 17-18). The essential ingredient to joy, however, is examining the genesis of those destructive choices.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Boulevard-Trial-Stephanie-Laterza/dp/150591051X

Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, essays and reviews. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose, by Nirala Publications (2017).  She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer

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By Samantha Seto

Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son is written as if it were an  autobiographical account of the narrator, Jesus, who presents a firsthand coming-of-age story. The novel traces the linear trajectory of Jesus’ life story. Mailer, writing in the 20th century, is mindful of the original, historical Jesus and his story in the Bible. The novel has biblical verses embedded into the narrative that reflects the progression of Jesus’ life as related by the authors of the four Christian gospels: Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John. Mailer adapts Jesus’ unique voice by using a persona. Jesus’s first-person narrative voice creates a distinct account that retells yet perceives the series of events that compose the gospel differently. Mailer uses an analytical lens to make his point within the religious context of Jesus’ story. He provides keen insight into the role of character of Jesus. He gives the reader a glimpse of the good morals in Jesus that build the power of highest good from God. The good in Jesus is a noteworthy attribute because it contrasts the evil that God also tolerates. Mailer’s novel provides insight into the gospel by establishing Jesus’ presence and great impact that made all the difference in the world.

The novel portrays Jesus, who is the Son of God, making a very significant mark in history. Jesus was once a child gifted with divine power and a genuinely good heart. Jesus prefaces his retelling by relating such events not found in the Bible as a memory of his father, Joseph, “I could still see the strain on his face on the day he told me that he was not my father” (23).[1] Mailer takes creative license that varies from the original account of the Bible. I think Mailer needs to take creative liberty to create an effective story. By taking creative liberty, Mailer has made this book his own. He imagines Jesus to have thoughts that spark deeper feelings within him. Jesus precisely has a distant relationship with his father Joseph. Mary always fears for the life of her son. She listens to a still small voice that belongs to God. The character of Jesus parallels the Scripture because he has moral and altruistic qualities who is also the Son of God. He also befriends John the Baptist, son of Zechariah. John the Baptist baptizes young Jesus in the river and they remain friends until the day John dies. His character symbolizes the light and good of the world. Jesus travels throughout the lands and his disciples, or followers, express great faith in him. Mailer’s choice of narrating from Jesus’ point of view allows readers to empathize with his great struggle to obey God’s commands and walk in the righteous path of the Lord. The reader can visualize the pain that this human soul endures. He is just one heartbeat. Jesus obeys the word of God because he puts his trust in the Lord. Jesus can walk on the water too. He sets the example for his disciples to have a strong faith in God. For instance, Moses obeys God and parts the Red Sea in order to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Abraham almost sacrifices his son Isaac for the sake of his great trust in God. Jesus claims to be the Son of God but his teachings are banned by law according to King Herod’s men in Judea. In fact, the rabbis do not believe he is the King of the Jews or the Messiah and regard Jesus’s teachings to his disciples at the temple upon a hill as treason. Yet the disciples sacrifice and devote their days to follow Jesus. The disciples’ view of the world is quite interesting. Their walk with Jesus is profound evident in the record of life events that provides input for the Bible. On the journey to obey the word of God, Jesus performs miracles such as turning water into wine for people at a wedding or splitting bread to feed the Jews. The wedding captured my attention due to Mailer’s detailed portrayal of Jesus finding the vase-like jars, walking to the fountain to fill them with water, and then miraculously having red wine at every table. The passage states, “Indeed I could feel an angel at my side. In that instant, the water in the jars became wine. I knew this. It had been accomplished by no more than the clear taste of one grape and the presence of one angel.” (61) It is simply a beautiful image of God’s wrath to grace people with good and peace on earth. Jesus describes that he feels “near to the Kingdom of God” as the beauty of the miracle occurs. The reader is in awe of the miracle that brings Jesus to a divine, amazing sight.

The story is a fairly good, interesting read. Mailer offers a unique perspective. The novel refers to the Gospel of Luke as it directly quotes the angel of the Lord who says, “Mary, thou hast found favor with God. Thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son. Call his name Jesus. He shall be great and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.” (Luke 1:30-32).[2] The narrative surprised me at times such as when Mailer puts words into Jesus’s mouth. I did not imagine Jesus to have thought in the same way. Mailer clearly takes creative license by writing this story from the point of view of an omniscient narrator that knows the mind of Jesus. Jesus argues with Satan in an epic of good triumphing against evil. Mailer invents the dialogue from his own imagination. Jesus speaks of God, “He is all-powerful. The heavens and the earth, the stars and the sun, bow before Him. They do not bow to you.” (48)[3] Jesus’s firm belief in God might be so, yet he puts-down the enemy. Jesus further indicates, “your words are poisonous,” which is directed to Satan. (53) The self-evident truth remains that Mailer lived after Jesus, thus we can never take this story as fact but rather a fiction. The subjectivity which Mailer introduces to Jesus’s familiar narrative arises in Jesus’ deeper internal state during his lifetime. Jesus narrates, “but according to my mother, the angel said little” (25).[4] Sorrow dwells in his heart. As a reader, I sense Jesus’s melancholy in part due to his solitary walk in life. Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father. Mary cares deeply for Jesus and considers him to be different from the rest. This may allude to God taking the role of the Good Father. Mailer identifies with the narrator’s predicament because he feels that he must “give my own account” and “yet I would hope to remain closer to the truth” (13).[5] Thus, Mailer invents his own point of view of Jesus, which characterizes Jesus in new, compelling light. The novel is centered around Jesus’s life such as his resilience against the struggle he faces. Since Mailer focuses on Jesus’s character, it gradually molds into a story rather than simply presenting a fact of history.

Mailer’s story accurately reflects the history of Jesus’ life in the gospel and follows a chronological order. It begins with Mary, a virgin from Nazareth, and Joseph, a poor carpenter, before Jesus is born. Jesus remains the true narrator throughout the entire novel. The angel appears to Mary to declare that she will conceive a baby in her womb who will be the Son of God. The white dove in the blue sky represents the Holy Spirit. Joseph thinks that if the Essene priests knew, “Mary could be stoned to death.” (13) Although she is innocent, the strict law would never allow her to be pregnant without a husband. A passage states, “Mary, however, went to visit her own cousin, Elizabeth, who lived in the hills to the east, for Elizabeth was six months pregnant” (26-27).[6] The historical reference is quite accurate and parallels the biblical story. Elizabeth is also pregnant even in her old age with John the Baptist. Jesus retrospectively explains, “‘only when Elizabeth saw me,’ she liked to say, ‘was John able to quicken in the womb.’” (29) Elizabeth’s dialogue remains very close to the Scripture. The narrative mirrors the Immaculate Conception by illustrating the history of Mary’s life during the times that she is pregnant with Jesus. The Lord’s presence allows Joseph to listen to God’s word, “And while Mary was gone, a voice came to Joseph in his sleep” (27).[7] As Mary conceives the baby, three wise men, or magi, are sent to find the Messiah. The three wise men set out on a journey to follow the North Star. The baby is born in Bethlehem. The baby’s name is “Yeshua,” which in their “rough dialect” means “Joshua” and translates in Latin to Jesus (27).[8] Jesus essentially retells the truth of his birth. One passage states, “Mary was now heavy with me but willing to travel for three days from Nazareth to Bethlehem…it is also true that I was born in a manger by the light of a candle.” (15) On the night Jesus is born, the three wise men bestow gifts to Jesus: gold, myrrh, and frankincense. King Herod of Israel comes to know of a holy birth in Bethlehem from the shepherds. I anticipated the angel who appears on the clouds proclaiming, “‘this day is born Christ, the Messiah of the Lord.’” (16) King Herod is mad that the baby might be a threat to his reign. A baby watched over by a guardian angel may become a king. He orders for all the first born sons in Bethlehem to be killed. The Roman soldiers invade the city walls. The light from their torches contrasts the heavy rain pouring from the dark clouds in the sky. The soldiers violently slaughter every first born son. Blood pours from their bodies as they lie dead on the ground. Mothers weep into their son’s damp clothes. The sons of Bethlehem were no more. God’s delivers love and guidance to Mary and Joseph as they set out on a journey. They walk over sand dunes. God is with them. Jesus lives.

Mailer points to the traditional miracles that Jesus supposedly gave yet the narrative is filled with suspense and fear, making the novel a real page-turner. The suspense builds in the steps taken to perform the miracle. Mailer creates Jesus’s actions in real time that contribute to the miracle. I take the side of the protagonist. At times, Jesus faces a problem in which the good of the people is at risk. God never fails to bring the cure or solution. I fear will he make it? My heart races knowing that the good always wins yet I cannot help but doubt it. Jesus even brings a dead child who is sick back to life by means of a miraculous, powerful healing. The narrative perfectly describes the way in which Jesus breathes a person back to life. Mailer writes, “I held her hand and recited words I remembered well from the scroll of the Second Kings, saying: ‘When Elisha was come (came) into the house, behold, the child was dead, and he prayed unto the Lord. And he lay upon the child and put his mouth upon the child’s mouth and his eyes upon the child’s eyes and his hands over the boy’s hands, and he stretched himself upon the child and the flesh of the child was now warm, and the child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.’” (98)[9] The heroic character saves the sick and poor in spirit to restore his vast creation. Jesus dearly shows compassion. His compassion is evident in his kindness and care for others. Furthermore, Mailer provides a researched, historically accurate backdrop to the stories recorded in the Bible, describing to his readers how strict Jewish laws against preaching the word of God to masses of people stood in the way of the disciples sharing the gospel. The strict Jewish law is comparable to the historical fact of paying taxes to the king. Meanwhile the city of Jerusalem undergoes turmoil like a wave that spreads, creating tension. A rabbi recites a prayer at the temple upon a hill to the nation of Israel.

The author Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 (The Armies of the Night) and 1980 (The Executioner’s Song) for his literature.[10] Mailer’s books were nominated for the National Book Awards and he received a lifetime achievement award. Yet, this novel seems more ambitious compared to his earlier works. He uses a primary source, the Bible, to establish the basis of his story. The gospel that supposedly contains the truth about Jesus was created before Mailer’s time. The novel is derived from the classic roots of the Bible. In the Christian tradition the four gospels are the canonically recognized accounts of the life, words, and deeds of Jesus, but Mailer clearly adds his own interpretation to these Biblical accounts. Mailer interprets the Scripture in his own way. He projects his own unconventional view of the gospel in the first-person narration. The characters of the epic story in the Bible are transformed into humans with common attributes according to the emotions that drive their character. Mailer presents Jesus without flaws in his character, which is a quality reflected in his sound mind, voice, and thought. Jesus’ traits reveal his identity. In the end, Jesus is sacrificed on the cross for the sake of humanity. Jesus precisely gives readers hope of salvation from his death and resurrection. God the Father created the world knowing that mankind would fall and needed a savior. Jesus’s sacrifice is part of a plan ordained by an omniscient God. The power of God has worked through Jesus Christ for people to inherit eternal life and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The traditional story of the gospel through the eyes of Jesus combines history with the psychology of the human mind. Jesus must have a been an active thinker in addition to experiencing feelings during the time that he lived on earth, which is evident in the role of his character. In the Current Era notation, history is measured according to the year of the Lord. Scholars separate dates in history according to the term B.C. referring to “before Christ” and A.D. meaning “after death.” The story brings the reader’s attention to the character of Jesus. I recommend The Gospel According to the Son to readers interested in the human mentality and emotional state of Jesus, who may appreciate this work of fiction.

To conclude, I desire to pay tribute to Mailer’s novel. I read this novel on the train that took me to and from Penn Station in Baltimore, Maryland and Union Station in Washington, D.C. I did not mind the long chapters. Mailer essentially invents the character of Jesus to present him in a new, favorable light. Yet, Mailer remains accurate in his portrayal of the gospel. The author has done his research using valid sources. He conveys a story that is strongly rooted in the Scripture even when he adds his own interpretation. Therefore, readers should not shy away from a novel that has a fresh lens. It may take a leap of faith. Nevertheless, I trusted Mailer from the very first page of the novel. I was interested to read this famous writer’s view of Jesus in the gospel. I turned each page believing that Mailer reflected on Jesus in his own way. Mailer fashions his novel with a new perspective and establishes the narrator’s voice to share the good news of the gospel. Although it is not possible for Mailer to know the mind of God, I praise this novel because Mailer’s intuitive sense is so powerful. He imagines it this way to offer a story, rather than retelling the historical fact presented in the pages of the Bible. I have learned a great deal from reading this story that I may have never thought of otherwise. Mailer’s story gives rise to contemporary writings that derive from timeless pieces of literature. Most love stories written in the 21st century have minor details that allude to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and so forth. The novel keeps the message of the gospel alive.

You can find the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/106285/the-gospel-according-to-the-son-by-norman-mailer/9780345434081/

[1] Mailer, Norman. The Gospel According to the Son.

[2] The Holy Bible. New International Version (NIV).

[3] Mailer, Norman. The Gospel According to the Son.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer. The Pulitzer Prizes.

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Samantha Seto graduated with a B.A. as a Writing Seminars major and History of Art minor at the Johns Hopkins University. She is a third prize poet of the Whispering Prairie Press. Samantha has published in many journals including Ceremony, Soul Fountain, Black Magnolias Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Breadcrumbs, and Chicago Literati. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Music For A Wedding by Lauren Clark

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By Lynette G. Esposito

Lauren Clark’s Music for a Wedding published by the University of Pittsburgh Press presents 82 pages of reminiscent poetry with visual images and interpretations of every day occurrences and locations..

Vijay Seshardi, Judge says Clark’s poems take the reader into “a relationship with the invisible and the ineffable, bringing image and language (as if by magic) to the page and to the reader.” Take for example on page one in an untitled poem:

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       There is a sorrow being outside your body
         even when I am in the places where it has been.
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This generalization brings this sorrow to the heart my naming a place, the kitchen, in the next stanza and the bedroom thereafter where the narrator measures her lover with the palm of her hand so that when he is gone, she can remake him.  He does not awaken.

In Aubade on page 32, she takes the reader to the bathroom and we all know what goes on in there.  Yet, she graphically shows the act of recreation with our panties down and in the washing of hands…reproducing the life it has known.  She visualizes a common act with judgment and appraisal about how life works.

On page 63, the narrator takes us into the bathroom again in the poem Afterfeast.

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         There is no absolute aloneness on this island
         and so it is for me to understand there is none
         on any island, and so it is or me
         in the white bathroom light.
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It is not the bathroom but the commonness of the room where there should be privacy for all things and where one should be alone.  As presented, the reader finds the illumination of the white bathroom light and the realization about interpreting absolute aloneness.

She ends this poetry tome with Illinois in Spring, outside and thinking of endings.

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            ….The place that is big enough to hold every
            absence. That things grow here, pale and small from enormous land,

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            inspires abject panic. The wonder of watching a flying bird land
            on water.  The end of the line will always give you that feeling.
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The natural elements of air and water and reaching a conclusion for this narrator is panic. A reader cannot help but react to this image because it happens so often and to so many beside lake, and rivers and oceans.

Clark is an effective writer juxtaposing the common with the uncommon and twisting the images to fit a fluid form. She leaves the window open for the lace curtains to fiddle in the breeze to form a  shadowed pattern on the mind of the reader. This is a good read for lovers of poetry.

Lauren Clark holds a B.A. in classics from Oberlin College and an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan.  Music for a Wedding is the winner of the 2016 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry.

It is available at www.upress.pitt.edu

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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.  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.

Weather by Kelly Cherry

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By g emil reutter

Cherry is a narrative poet in this slim collection of poems. Within its pages she captures turbulence, calm, defines the seasons. Cherry captures the wind in the poem, Birds on the Patio Feeders, No. 1:

The big wind scours the sky as if the sky is a giant kitchen sink/ Trees bend, hanging their heads, sorrowful/ Such drama. Yet we are captivated to see.

Yet the collection is just not about weather, it is about much more such as these lines from the poem, This Should be Winter, reflecting what the future may hold:

Thrity or forty years from now, we may be heading north in search of water, in search of air that can be breathed, in search of food that’s not been wrecked before it’s harvested.

Cherry captures the essence of a storm in both its quietness and violence in the poem, Rain:

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It falls. Sometimes quietly, sometime loudly
as bullets hitting targets, or soldiers in war

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A sprinkle doesn’t even seem like rain.
It does an almost silent dance, then stops.

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demure as a virgin. The breaking thunderstorm
rails at everyone, but the daylong soak

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that rescues trees, flowers, and failing farms
sings a song both simple and everlasting.

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In the poem, The Start of Spring, she writes of the young in comparison to the old:

Spring is for the young, and the young/ put smiles on the old. Maybe rueful smiles. maybe sagacious smiles, maybe fond smiles/ as the old remember their checkered youth…The young are always foolish/ the old, always reminiscent.

She writes of a beach party and the aftermath in the poem, The Fourth of July:

…men and woman burn logs on a beach and hope to get lucky/ Sex is such a driving force, and then?/ Its not. It leaves us high and dry/ as if our bodies were nothing but old clothes/ hanging on a weathered, worn-out laundry line. 

The poet writes of an elderly woman who keeps bits of the season in Autumn LeavesThe deaths of the living, even leaves/ sadden an elderly woman once a child/ dragging her feet through fallen leaves or pressing/ the pretty leaves into a scrapbook.

Cherry is a forecaster as she writes in the poem, Mayday:

It strikes terror in our hearts/ like a fire alarm…Is it the end of our world?/ Of course it is. Earth’s dying./ Our world is ill, regurgitating/ its insides.  

Weather by Kelly Cherry is not for those who enjoy the disconnect. This collection of narrative poems connects with the reader through plain speaking combined with excellent imagery. Cherry writes of the seasons but also utilizes weather as a metaphor for lives lived and more directly the condition of the earth.

You can buy the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780998187204/weather.aspx

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g emil reutter is a writer of stories and poems:

https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

Follow the Sun by Edward J. Delaney

sun

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon says Follow the Sun by Edward J, Delaney is just plain fantastic.  I agree.

The seven-part, 287 page dramatic story explores a family’s trials, tribulations and daily life experiences in its quest to find both answers and resolutions in its search for its missing parts. This search leads the reader to a deeper understanding of family and what family represents.

The lead character, Quinn Boyle, has “bugs” in his head from the first line of part one. While the author clarifies the bugs are lobster and the location is on the lobster docks and boats, the relationship of psychological issues is crystal clear. His brother, Robert, who takes time off to visit the local bar, again gives a clear relationship for the need of psychological relief even if it comes from a bottle. Daily life is depicted in a realistic way  for these fictional characters who live on the edge of poverty.

The story line addresses contemporary issues of not being able to make a living and still have to pay child support; problems with drug addiction, and despair when few options are left in making life choices. The locations in which these decisions are made do not take place in upscale homes and fancy places but on lobster boats, in prison, newspaper offices and  local bars.  The despair of the human journey for the hard working but  poverty-stricken brothers leads one to his supposed demise and the other on a quest for truth.  The family legacy becomes an analysis of the burdensome past, the acceptance of the present, and a questioning of the future.  For example, Robbie muses:

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There’s too much in the space between then and now, an entire

continent worth of unanswered questions.

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The lead character makes some of his own problems as he struggles to survive and yet Delaney represents Quinn as a man who believes he can leave his problems behind and start a new.  Quinn believes he can make himself  “not remember.” The dialogue is realistic and the characters are believable.  Delaney uses contemporary language as if he  has listened to real people conversing and transformed their conversations  into this piece of fiction. Quinn says

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“I guess people can make themselves see what they want to see.”

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While this phrase fits well into the story, one hears it in real life all the time and the reader understands the truth of it.

The book is a good read with its clear language and characters who try to make their lives  work but cannot always reach their goals just like most of us.

Delaney is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker. Besides Follow the Sun, he has published Broken Irish and Warp and Weft as well as a short story collection, The Drowning and Other Short Stories.  He has also directed and produced documentary films including The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus and Library of the Early Mind.  He edits the literary journal Mount Hope.

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Follow the Sun is available fromwww.cbsd.com and published by Turtle Point Press: www.turtlepointpress.com

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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.  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.

The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

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By Karen Corinne Herceg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can find the book here: The Gates of Pearl

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