north of oxford book review

Stain by Nathalie Anderson

Review by g emil reutter
“The Silver Stain,” they called it, this medieval innovation—
silver nitrate fired onto glass, turning a white surface
sallow, citron, saffron, sulfur—the silver alchemically
aping gold: a crown, a wing, a head of hair, an apricot
or palomino. No longer did the glazier need to cut
a separate slice of yellow, but could tint and fire and tint again—
       -First stanza – Stain: Six Meditations on the Craft
And so begins Nathalie Anderson’s Stain. The collection consists of four parts: “Stain”, “Wreckage”, “Crush”, and “Kyoto”. Like the craftsman noted in the above stanza, Anderson’s use of language in each section tints and fires and tints again.  
In the poem Revelation – Shatterings at Canterbury she writes: If God is a light inaccessible, /a light beyond our comprehension, then/how shall mere eyes see? Pierce our walls/ with windows, but shade them, shade them. /At Chartres, / light seeps ruby, light pools sapphire. At Sainte Chapelle, /it’s dazzling as diamond, all lux and lumen, / splendor in the glass. Anderson has the eye of a mature poet as this stanza brings the stained glass to life in the word of the shading, of light seeps and lights pools of splendor in the beauty of the glass transformed once again on the page.
The section “Wreckage” brings to life the photograph album of Elize Hodges FitzSimons, an album kept during the Second World War. A master of images, Anderson’s Secret Heart is stunning, such as the second stanza:
Why so mysterious? Against the dark,
Exuberance on exuberance: girls
who’d tell all. Friends like sister; sisters so close
they call each other always only “sister”; a man
grown so familiar, he’s wall, he’s furniture,
he’s shadow; a crowd so tight, who bothers with names?
And again in the second stanza of Old Flame:
The way he sits, canopied in forrest.
Live oak crowns him, crosses him; and Spanish moss
Scrawls over his white t-shirt, shawls his shoulders,
cauls his arm. She’s written by his picture, “Not
a cave man,” but he’s caverned, shadowed, primal.
She brings the photograph to life for the reader with no need for the reader to view it. Her improvisational writing and deliberate use of imagery brings the photograph to life in words.
The section “Crush” ends with an outstanding poem, Troll. The first stanza brings the reader under the bridge with the Troll.
Troll under her bridge, raw from clawing up
her rankling, swollen green with grudgery,
feeling on her spine each splintery plank,
each trip trap tramp, each neat little goat’s hoof.
She’s a cat-fit rash for rocketing, back
Always up, hackles always bristling. She’s
the worm in your apple, thorn in your flesh.
In the final section, Kyoto, Anderson brings the reader to Japan in a series of poems that confirms her position as both a realist and imagist. From the first stanza of Shisen-Do:
For every slightest quaking leaf, a gardener
to lull and hush it. For every flighty gust of green,
a gardener to sleek it, clip the wing. For every spree
of branching limb, a gardener to rein it, bend
back the wrist, twist the arm in. No sprig evades
their balding, no frond their fondest scrutiny.
Poets’ Hut
House of Fallen Persimmons
So quick, the cloud flung
over the garden, trailing
its beaded fringe, that
delicate pelting.
Under the thunder,
falling suns, their heft
explosive, stormed to bursting:
coronas of succulence.
And then the moon,
all pocks and rots and bruisings.
It softens on my window sill:
ghost fruit.
Stain by Nathalie Anderson is lyrical with intense imagery driven by realism.
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

Versos de un Doctor Criollo (A Ranch Vet’s Verse) by Fernando M. Terrizzano



Review by Stephen Page

While I was in a veterinary store in Lobos, a neighboring town twenty kilometers north of a ranch I was visiting, I noticed a stack of brown and red books on the corner of the display-case divider that divides the tellers from the customers. I picked up one of them and recognized the cover illustration as a Gustavo Solari, a local, and internationally famous, artist. The title of the book was “Versos de un Doctor Criollo” (“A Ranch Veterinarian’s Verses”), and it was written by Fernando M. Terrizzano, a veterinarian who lives on a ranch that borders the same river my friend’s ranch borders, El Río Salado (The Salty River). I didn’t even open the book to read a few of the poems. I just decided to support the local artists by purchasing the book. I am glad I did. What I like about the book is the quality of writing, the attitude of the narrator, and the vivid characterizations. Terrizzano reveals the rustic realities that accompany pastoral settings while portraying the ranch workers as human beings. As Bruce Chatwin said once, “If you can’t maintain the dignity of the people you are writing about, then you shouldn’t be telling their stories in the first place.” Many scenes in the book are Wild-Western. More importantly the book has Green Appeal, as the narrator watches pastures and wetlands transform into biosphere-poisoning mass agriculture.

The book is available by going to or contacting anyone in the veterinary office “La Ensenada” San Martin 8, Lobos Province- Buenos Aires.  Telephone  02227 – 42-2009.


Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at


Martin Fierro by José Hernandez

Martin Fierro - Jose Hernandez
Review by Stephen Page
In order to delve deeper into the gaucho mind, as research for my poem project, I read José Hernandez’s Martin Fierro.  I have been told by many people that the fictional character Martín Fierro is a model for gauchos.  Argentine children are required to memorize the first part of the poem in grade school, and most everyone in Argentina sees Fierro as a kind of Robin Hood (though I see him as more of a Jesse James or a Billy the Kid).  To help you begin to understand, I translated the first part of the poem for you.  It is in the Criollo vernacular, so it required a lot of reference work.  The epic poem is a novel in verse, with character development and a thick plot. It is over 2,000 lines long, set mostly in six-line stanzas, the 2nd , 3rd and 6th lines rhyming, and the 4th and 5th lines rhyming; the first line is unrhymed, I think as a way for Hernandez to freely set up the stanza.  In my translation, I tried to maintain some meter, but the rhyme I disregarded in order not to bend syntax and meaning.   If Martin Fierro is an anti-hero for the Argentine people and a model for gauchos, I understand now why there are so many bad-guys that work on ranches.  Fierro deserts the army, raids Indian camps, picks one-on-one knife fights with other men just to watch how they die, and ends up stealing for a living, blaming the government and rich people for his actions.  Things are becoming clearer for me.  The poem begins as an anthem against colonialism and political war (you could parallel this with a ‘have-not’ rising against the ‘haves’), but it ends up an excuse for sociopathic behavior and pure anarchy.   (This is, of course, a culture issue, and I use my knowledge of this not to judge but to understand.)
I – Cantor y Gaucho
Aquí me pongo a cantar
Al compás de la vigüela,
Que el hombre que lo desvela
Una pena estraordinaria
Como la ave solitaria
Con el cantar se consuela.
Pido a los Santos del Cielo
Que ayuden mi pensamiento;
Les pido en este momento
Que voy a cantar mi historia
Me refresquen la memoria
Y aclaren mi entendimiento.
Vengan Santos milagrosos,
Vengan todos en mi ayuda,
Que la lengua se me añuda
Y se me turba la vista;
Pido a Dios que me asista
En una ocasión tan ruda.
Yo he visto muchos cantores,
Con famas bien obtenidas,
Y que después de adquiridas
No las quieren sustentar
Parece que sin largar
se cansaron en partidas
Mas ande otro criollo pasa
Martín Fierro ha de pasar;
nada lo hace recular
ni los fantasmas lo espantan,
y dende que todos cantan
yo también quiero cantar.
Cantando me he de morir
Cantando me han de enterrar,
Y cantando he de llegar
Al pie del eterno padre:
Dende el vientre de mi madre
Vine a este mundo a cantar.
Que no se trabe mi lengua
Ni me falte la palabra:
El cantar mi gloria labra
Y poniéndome a cantar,
Cantando me han de encontrar
Aunque la tierra se abra.
Me siento en el plan de un bajo
A cantar un argumento:
Como si soplara el viento
Hago tiritar los pastos;
Con oros, copas y bastos
Juega allí mi pensamiento.
Yo no soy cantor letrao,
Mas si me pongo a cantar
No tengo cuándo acabar
Y me envejezco cantando:
Las coplas me van brotando
Como agua de manantial.
Con la guitarra en la mano
Ni las moscas se me arriman,
Naides me pone el pie encima,
Y cuando el pecho se entona,
Hago gemir a la prima
Y llorar a la bordona.
Yo soy toro en mi rodeo
Y torazo en rodeo ajeno;
Siempre me tuve por güeno
Y si me quieren probar,
Salgan otros a cantar
Y veremos quién es menos.
No me hago al lao de la güeya
Aunque vengan degollando,
Con los blandos yo soy blando
Y soy duro con los duros,
Y ninguno en un apuro
Me ha visto andar tutubiando.
En el peligro, ¡qué Cristos!
El corazón se me enancha,
Pues toda la tierra es cancha,
Y de eso naides se asombre:
El que se tiene por hombre
Ande quiere hace pata ancha.
Soy gaucho, y entiendaló
Como mi lengua lo esplica:
Para mí la tierra es chica
Y pudiera ser mayor;
Ni la víbora me pica
Ni quema mi frente el sol
Nací como nace el peje
En el fondo de la mar;
Naides me puede quitar
Aquello que Dios me dio
Lo que al mundo truje yo
Del mundo lo he de llevar.
Mi gloria es vivir tan libre
Como el pájaro del cielo:
No hago nido en este suelo
Ande hay tanto que sufrir,
Y naides me ha de seguir
Cuando yo remuento el vuelo.
Yo no tengo en el amor
Quien me venga con querellas;
Como esas aves tan bellas
Que saltan de rama en rama,
Yo hago en el trébol mi cama,
Y me cubren las estrellas.
Y sepan cuantos escuchan
De mis penas el relato,
Que nunca peleo ni mato
Sino por necesidá,
Y que a tanta alversidá
Sólo me arrojó el mal trato
Y atiendan la relación
que hace un gaucho perseguido,
que padre y marido ha sido
empeñoso y diligente,
y sin embargo la gente
lo tiene por un bandido
The Gaucho Martín Fierro
I – Singer and Gaucho.
Here I begin to sing
with the company of guitar,
like a man who is sleepless
from an extraordinary pain
that like a solitary bird
sings to be consoled.
I ask the saints in Heaven
to help me with my thoughts;
I ask them during this moment
that I will sing my history
to refresh my memory of me
and clarify my understanding.
Come Holy miracles,
come all to my aid,
the language tongue-ties me
and clouds my vision;
I ask that God assists me
in so crude an occasion.
I have seen many singers,
who obtained good fame,
and after they acquired it
did not want to keep it;
it seems that without realizing
they got tired of the games.
Further than any gaucho
has Martín Fierro gone;
nothing he does is cowardly
or is he frightened by ghosts,
and since they all sing
I also want to sing.
Singing I will die
singing they will bury me,
and singing I will arrive
at the foot of the Eternal Father:
because from the belly of my mother
I came into this world to sing.
Because my speech is not perfect
and words are hard to find:
through singing my glory shines
and  by setting myself to sing,
singing they will find me
even when the Earth chasms.
I am in the plan of a lowly one
to sing out  in protest:
like when the wind blows
it makes the grass ripple;
with all the cards in a deck of tricks
my thoughts will play there.
I am not a learned singer,
and when I start to sing
I do not know when to stop
so I age while I am singing:
the songs are flowing from me
like a water from a spring.
With a guitar in my hand
the flies do not bother me,
nobody is above me,
and when my chest intones,
I make the strings moan
and cry with the chords.
I am the bull of my own herd
but visit other herds;
I always thought myself quite good,
but if they want to test me
in contest with another,
they will see who is the better.
Do not place me in the ranks
when they come cutting throats,
with the friendly I am friendly
but with the tough I am tougher,
and none in any confrontation
have ever seen me walk trembling.
In dangerous situations, Christ Jesus!
my courage enlarges,
and because all the world is a battle-field,
no one can be astonished:
that who he who is a real man
stands with his legs splayed wide.
I am gaucho, and understand
like my language will explain;
for me the Earth is small
and should be much larger,
but the viper never bites me
and the sun never scorches me.
I was born as a fish is born
at the bottom of the sea;
none can take from me
what God gave to me;
what the world gives to me
to the world I will return.
My glory is to live free
as the bird in the sky:
I do not make a nest on this ground
where to walk is to suffer,
and no one has to follow me
when I veer in my direction.
I do not have love
for those that come to quarrel;
like those beautiful birds
that jump from branch to branch,
I make my bed with grasses,
and the stars are my blanket.
And know when you listen
in empathy for my pain,
that I never fight or kill
except when it is necessary,
and when I am so badly treated
I have to give in return.
And they who make the rules
that persecute a gaucho,
who though father and husband
has been loyal and diligent,
have created for themselves
a bandit for the people

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at



a week


Review by Ray Greenblatt


Henry Thoreau made a week’s boating trip with his brother John in 1839. Henry was a mere 22! This voyage in a sailboat with oars would be a forerunner to the classic Walden; in it we see so many elements that reappear in the latter work. However, the former book was not published until 1849 and did not sell many copies. Henry’s brother would die at age 27 in 1842; Henry would succumb to tuberculosis at age 45. If in some obscure New England attic stacks of A Week are discovered, what would they now be worth!

.                                                                          STYLE

During his voyage Thoreau refers to many eras: Chinese, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Hindu, Moslem, etc. He concentrates on all aspects of Greek civilization: Orpheus, Jason, Pythagoras, Plato, Aurora. He philosophizes about astronomy, early American history, friendship, politics. He even discourses in detail on certain famous  individuals from Persius to Chaucer to Goethe.

Let us first consider the bare bones of Thoreau’s writing; later we will add the flesh. He often relies on a series of adjectives: “The few dull, thumping, stertorous sounds which we heard impressed us.” (200) Also, nouns, verbs, and even sentences are written in triplicate for emphasis. He often inverts his verb before the subject: “So have all things their higher and their lower uses.” (185) This puts stress on a key word. We notice metaphors and similes, but his analogies are subtle: “The fisherman, meanwhile, stands in three feet of water, under the same summer’s sun, arbitrating in other cases between muck-worm and shiner.” (21) Comparing a fisherman to a lawyer is unique. He also coins many original adages. Using the concept of money figuratively he writes: “The truth is, there is money buried everywhere, and you have only to go to work to find it.” (208)

Critics often write about Thoreau’s dryness and fact-oriented analyses. Yet, close reading discloses whimsy: “Some will remember, no doubt, not only that they went to the college, but that they went to the mountain. Every visit to its summit would, as it were, generalize the particular information gained below, and subject it to more catholic tests.” (197) Sometimes the humor holds a bite: “Perchance, after a few thousands of years, if the fishes will be patient, and pass their summers elsewhere meanwhile, nature will have leveled the Billerica dam, and the Lowell factories, and the Grass-ground River run clear again.” (32) This ecological statement still applies today!

Our author is excellent in description. Here the wind drives their boat under sail: “The mountains like school-boys turned their cheeks to it . . .The north wind stepped readily into the harness which we had provided, and pulled us along with good will . . .with our wings spread, but never lifting our head from the watery trench.” (384) He employs all his senses: “All these sounds, the crowing of cocks, the baying of dogs, and the hum of insects at noon, are the evidence of nature’s health or sound state.” (40) And “I see, smell, taste, hear, feel, that everlasting Something to which we are allied, at once our maker, our abode, our destiny, our very Selves.” (182) This will lead us to Thoreau’s views of nature.

.                                                                   NATURE

Thoreau fully believed that man was part of nature and could see transcendental things and the universe through it. Something as simple as a flower: “I have passed down the river before sunrise on a summer morning, between fields of lilies still shut in sleep; and when, at length, the flakes of sunlight from over the bank fell on the surface of the water, whole fields of white blossoms seemed to flash open before me, as I floated along, like the unfolding of a banner, so sensible is this flower to the influence of the sun’s rays.” (19)

Trees like the linden have been working partners with man: “It was once used for carving, and is still in demand for sounding-boards of piano-fortes and panes of carriages, and for various uses for which toughness and flexibility are required. Baskets and cradles are made of the twigs. Its sap affords sugar, and the honey made from its flowers is said to be preferred to any other. Its leaves are in some countries given to cattle, a kind of chocolate has been made of its fruit, a medicine has been prepared from an infusion of its flowers, and finally, the charcoal made of its wood is greatly valued for gunpowder.” (166)

The bream holds a special delight for him: “Seen in its native element, it is a very beautiful and compact fish, perfect in all its parts, and looks like a brilliant coin fresh from the mint. It is a perfect jewel of the river, the green, red, coppery, and golden reflections of its mottled sides being the concentration of such rays as struggle through the floating pads and flowers to the sandy bottom, and in harmony with the sunlit brown and yellow pebbles.” (26)

He admits to having killed and roasted a pigeon somewhat reluctantly: “We obtained one of these handsome birds, which lingered too long upon its perch, and plucked and broiled it here with some other game, to be carried along for our supper; for, beside the provisions which we carried with us, we depended mainly on the river and forest for our supply.” His philosophical reasoning: “We are double-edged blades, and every time we whet our virtue the return stroke straps our vice.” (236)

Nature is so much older than man: “Here is the gray dawn for antiquity, and our tomorrow’s future should be at least paulo-post to theirs which we have put behind us. There are the red maple and birchen leaves, old runes which are not yet deciphered; catkins, pine cones, vines, oak leaves, and acorns; the very things themselves, and not their forms in stone,–so much the more ancient and venerable.” (266) Its beauty has a correspondence: “Undulation is the gentlest and most ideal of motions, produced by one fluid falling on another. Rippling is a more graceful flight. From a hill-top you may detect in it the wings of birds endlessly repeated. The two waving lines which represent the flight of birds appear to have been copied from the ripple.” (338)

Thoreau sees in nature a combination of exigency and the fanciful: “There seemed to be a great haste and preparation throughout Nature, as for a distinguished visitor; all her aisles had to be swept in the night by a thousand handmaidens, and a thousand pots to be boiled for the next day’s feasting,–such a whispering bustle, as if ten thousand fairies made  their fingers fly, silently sewing at the new carpet with which the earth was to be clothed, and the new drapery which was to adorn the trees. And then the wind would fall and die away, and we like it fell asleep again.” (355)

.                                                      LITERATURE & THE POET

The essayist and poet states that he likes quality books: “Books, not which afford us a cowering enjoyment, but in which each thought is of unusual daring; such as an idle man cannot read, and a timid one would not be entertained by, which even make us dangerous to existing institutions,–such call I good books.” (99) He wants nature woven into the literature: “The sentences are verdurous and blooming as evergreen and flowers, because they are rooted in fact and experience.” (107) Conversely, he condones bad books in which a man “finds himself reading a horse-rake, or spinning-jenny, or wooden nutmeg, or oak-leaf cigar, or steam-power press, or kitchen range, perchance, when he was seeking serene and biblical truths.” (99)

He highlights the value of the classics: “I know of no studies so composing as those of the classical scholar. When we have sat down to them, life seems as still and serene as if it were very far off, and I believe it is not habitually seen from any common platform so truly and unexaggerated as in the light of literature. In serene hours we contemplate the tour of the Greek and Latin authors with more pleasure than the traveler does the fairest scenery of Greece and Italy. Where shall we find a more refined society?” (239)

First, he reasons “to some extent, mythology is only the most ancient history and biography.” (60) However, he centers in on the worth of the poet: “Everything that is printed and bound in a book contains some echo at least of the best that is in literature . . . What would we not give for some great poem to read now, which would be in harmony with the scenery,–for if men read aright, methinks they would never read anything but poems. No history nor philosophy can supply their place.” (93)

The poet’s “words are the relation of his oldest and finest memory, a wisdom drawn from the remotest experience.” (101) To illustrate an idea, Thoreau would quote a poem or part of one, often his own. “The poet is no tender slip of fairy stock, who requires peculiar institutions and edicts for his defense, but the toughest son of earth and of Heaven, and by his greater strength and endurance his fainting companions will recognize the God in him. It is the worshipers of beauty, after all, who have done the real pioneer work of the world.” (362)

.                                                                       PHILOSOPHY

Thoreau’s philosophic views are grounded in the real. Take travel: “The cheapest way to travel, and the way to travel the farthest in the shortest distance, is to go afoot, carrying a dipper, a spoon, and a fish line, some Indian meal, some salt, and some sugar. When you come to a brook or a pond, you can catch fish and cook them; or you can boil a hasty-pudding; or you can buy a loaf of bread at a farmer’s house for fourpence, moisten it in the next brook that crosses the road, and dip into your sugar,–this alone will last you a whole day.” (325)

His views on government are more profound: “When I have not paid the tax which the State demanded for that protection which I did not want, itself has robbed me; when I have asserted the liberty it presumed to declare, itself has imprisoned me . . . Men execute nothing so faithfully as the wills of the dead, to the last codicil and letter. They rule this world, and the living are but their executors.” (135) “Herein is the tragedy: that men doing outrage to their proper natures, even those called wise and good, lend themselves to perform the office of inferior and brutal ones. Hence come war and slavery.” (136)

About religion he is even more accusatory: “The church is a sort of hospital for men’s souls, and as full of quackery as the hospital for their bodies. Those who are taken into it live like pensioners in their Retreat or Sailor’s Snug Harbor, where you may see a row of religious cripples sitting outside in sunny weather.” (77) He even rebuffs evangelicals:  “Tell me of the height of the mountains of the moon, or of the diameter of space, and I may believe you, but of the secret history of the Almighty, and I shall pronounce thee mad.” (71)

His religion rests in the mystical: “This earth was made for more mysterious and nobler inhabitants than men and women. In the hues of October sunsets, we see the portals to other mansion.” (403) What is our life: “We linger in manhood to tell the dreams of our childhood, and they are half forgotten ere we have learned the language. We have need to be earth-born as well as heaven-born.” (406) This leads us to Thoreau’s emphasis on the man of the earth, the countryman.

“The wilderness is near as well as dear to every man. Even the oldest villages are indebted to the border of wild wood which surrounds them, more than to the gardens of men. There is something indescribably inspiriting and beautiful in the aspect of the forest skirting and occasionally jutting into the midst of new towns, which like the sand-heaps of fresh fox-burrows, have sprung up in their midst. The very uprightness of the pines and maples asserts the ancient rectitude and vigor of nature. Our lives need the relief of such a background, where the pine flourishes and the jay still screams.” (179)

“How few circumstances are necessary to the well-being and serenity of man, how indifferent all employments are, and that any may seem noble and poetic to the eyes of men, if pursued with sufficient buoyancy and freedom. With liberty and pleasant weather, the simplest occupation, any unquestioned country mode of life which detains us in the open air, is alluring.” (220)

A man in nature is in touch with his soul: “Yet these men had no need to travel to be as wise as Solomon in all his glory, so similar are the lives of men in all countries, and fraught with the same homely experiences. One half the world knows how the other half lives.” (227)  “These are stirring autumn days, when men sweep by in crowds, amid the rustle of leaves like migrating finches; this is the true harvest of the year, when the air is but the breath of men, and the rustling of leaves is as the trampling of the crowd.” (359)

Our author also puts up with a certain type of rudeness among these men: “I therefore did not repel his rudeness, but quite innocently welcomed it all, and knew how to appreciate it, as if I were reading in an old drama a part well sustained. He was indeed a coarse and sensual man, and, as I have said, uncivil, but he had his just quarrel with nature and mankind, I have no doubt, only he had no artificial covering to his ill-humors.”

About these hearty men he says: “Men fuller of talk and rare adventure in the sun and wind and rain, than a chestnut is of meat, who were out not only in ’75 and 1812, but have been out every day of their lives . . . Look at their fields, and imagine what they might write, if ever they should put pen to paper. Or what they have not written on the face of the earth already, clearing, and burning, and scratching, and out and out, and over and over, again and again, erasing what they had already written for want of parchment.” (6) And this figurative “writing” brings us full circle in Thoreau’s philosophy.

In his fine book The Geography of Imagination, the renowned American critic Guy Davenport wrote about Thoreau: “He was clearly an ecologist; he was also a student of time, of cyclic movements in nature and of the miraculously synchronous organization of plants and animals. Hence his daily inspection of one woodscape, knowing every detail of its life . . . Thoreau’s love affair with the scrub-oak, homeliest of trees, began to have the qualities of myth, the Greek feeling for the olive which we find in Oedipus at Colonus.” (242) Even at such a young age as 22, we can see that Henry Thoreau had developed the skllls to write Walden years later.


You can find the book here:

Ray Greenblatt has recently been published in: Abbey, Apiary, Boston Literary Magazine, Comstock Review, Clarion, and Painters & Poets.  His experimental novel TWENTY YEARS ON GRAYSHEEP BAY, half poetry and half prose, is being republished by Sunstone Press.


Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball

Review by Karen Corinne Herceg
Redaction and Inquiry
There has been a trend in recent decades of what has popularly been called New Age thinking and the idea that science and spirituality are not antithetical, challenging approaches to traditional Western thought purported since the dawn of The Enlightenment. Prior to that time of bustling scientific discoveries, technological advancements and industrialization, humans were much more intricately linked between the machinations of the physical world and the workings of the cosmos. More current views are harkening back to that conventional wisdom and, in many ways, modern inquiry can now substantiate the facts of our interconnectedness, spirit and science yoked together intricately within our experience of the cosmos. 
There is extensive debate about the efficacy of theories supporting these assumptions, with much inability to reach consensus. Magdalena Ball’s new poetry collection, “Unmaking Atoms,” might just be the kind of unifying force that is needed. Bridging the hard, concrete world with our abstract interior one, Ball seeks to deconstruct what we use from the physical environment as confirmation and ballast for our existence in contrast to the illusive, mystical world of the unknown. She juxtaposes emotions and memory with sensory perceptions evoking a quantum leap of sorts, seeking a crossroads where answers might be possible. We need poetry to explore these seemingly inaccessible and polarized forces, amidst a mass of contradictions, in ways theses and academic abstracts often cannot.
“Unmaking Atoms” is a very ambitious work of seven sections and ninety-one poems. There is a relentless insistency and emotional intensity in these poems, a genuine and heartfelt plea that implicates us and demands our engagement. In “The Last Report of the Day,” the opening poem, Ball invokes poetic lineage in Adrienne Rich with an deference to maternal guidance. Addressing Rich she states, “…you became every mother/I had ever lost” (P. 6, ll.13-14). In facing the inevitable demise of physical loss, this is Ball’s anchor—to grieve, seek solace and often acceptance in the creative landscape of the poet. Throughout the book Ball derives substantiation in the words of other poets and writers such as Elizabeth Bishop in “Charitable Crumb” and Edna St. Vincent Millay in “Luminous Air,” and many others in an effort to reside in good company in a world without definitive resolution. In the lovely prose poem “Essential Whites,” Ball expresses the angst and striving of a writer, the conflicts and challenges, and the endless hope for inspiration: “Writing this way, while waiting for transition is like the swipe of a hand against my face: that blessed sting” (P. 93, ll. 1-2).
The constant tension in these poems is inherent in the exploration between perception and reality, “…as if this alien moon were the moon” (“Right Angles to Reality,” P. 10, l. 8), and with some resignation, in “Catalyst,” we remain “…subject to reactivity/and mathematical constructs.” (P. 13, ll. 28-29). But Ball continues to strive for resolution between two worlds as evidenced in the wonderful tactile imagery of “Salting the Wound” as she reflects, “A memory of moon settles/liquid and silvery into my skin” (P. 19, ll. 17-18). In “Encroachment Spells Erosion” (after James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake) the geocentric title attempts to yoke us to solid evidence as in the lines “…the world’s a cell/very ordinarily designed/a song of alibi…” (P. 32 ll. 5-7). In “Life Dreaming” she says this more directly, a scientist’s desire to see life in basic, clear terms in opposition to the discomfort of the doubtful mind: “…a secular prayer to calm the pain of change” (P. 34, l. 24). Often there is further acceptance as in “Harnessing Wind” which captures optimism in natural wonder and acknowledgement of mysteries.
There are many poems that might have worked well as a completely separate 
volume on loss, specifically maternal loss. “Irrational Heart” is a soulful, exquisite elegy with the supplication “…anything to negotiate the hurt” (P. 26, l. 69) and with homage to lineage in “I might share this knowing with my daughter/when she’s in need of a god/and no male/armed with a pocket full of tools/will do…” (P. 26, ll. 137-141). An example of a very long poem that keeps us moving through it effortlessly with anticipation and empathy is “Hieroglyphics,” and in “Nature’s Observatory” in a reversal of inheritance, “…the air took your breath/a reverse offering” (P. 88, ll. 2-3). “Probability Waves” expresses the frustration of loss with a stubborn resistance against all reason and outcomes: “…if I never know/then all things are possible” (P. 92, ll. 26-27), and “In Situ” highlights this frustration in juxtaposed images: “…there was much to do/but nothing more to be done” (P. 94, l. 3) and serves as a nice complement to “…an aging child/counting losses” in “Image of the day” (P. 107, ll. 21-22). The theme of impermanency gathers momentum in “Past Life” with stars as hypergiants “…burning through billions of lives” (P. 12, l. 22) asking “Is the connection between us/me in this life/you in another/so tenuous/un-tethered by those bonds/we once thought permanent?” (ll. 33-38). As Ball asks us in “Atomic Mess” in direct, plaintive language, “…does inheritance/provide solace” (P. 11, ll. 25-26)? The maternal loss might best be expressed with a good balance of emotion and imagery in “Mourner’s Kaddish”:
“For me you’ll always be in motion,/standing in the bright/light of your kitchen,/the percolated aroma,/cut cake,/a ready joke” (P. 70, ll. 27-29). Ball excavates deeply in an essential and noble undertaking of dismantling bereavement, meaning and recovery.
There are many words and expressions throughout the book that are illuminating but will likely require the reader to be curious enough to look them up, some being more accessible within the context of the poem and others less so. For example, “Mandlebrot” referring to absolute numbers (P. 9, l. 19), “Enceladus,” the sixth largest moon of Saturn (P. 10, l. 9), and “synecdoche,” (P. 10, l. 25), a part of something referring to the whole. In “Trojan Horse” there are obscure references throughout, at least to most of us, as in (P. 24, l. 15 ) “…on a Gantt or Pareto” but then followed by the incisive “…the waiting executive team/of the soul” (P. 24, ll. 16-17). “Mirror Neurons” has words like “thigmonasty,” (the response of a plant to touch or movement) quite dense to linguistically integrate for the less energetic reader.
Occasionally there is a somewhat inaccessible joining of imagery and language such as “…running, like Buddha himself/into glory…” (P. 18, ll. 16-17) and the obvious rhyme scheme of “…from perception to conception” (P. 18, l. 6), Herceg/Ball Review/P. 6 both from “Beginner’s Mind,” but then the lovely “…leaving me with all this/responsibility/all this breath” (P. 18, ll. 19-21). Alliteration is used effectively as in “Irrational Heart” in the lines “With closed eyes, I watered the weeping/willow…” (P. 26, ll. 1-2). Imagery works well in “Static” between shocks of ghostly memories and physical evidence of those memories, and “Landscape at Pentecost” is a good example of conveying an emotion and impression through concise, accessible symbolism. “In The Frame” evokes nicely a snapshot of memory with clear, simple visuals like “…olive-hued chain” (P. 37, l. 11) and “…dusky teal” (P. 37, l. 14). And scientific references work well as in these lines from “Walking Into Eternity” which are precise yet defining: “…all things change under pressure/silica and calcium carbonate/call it entropy/that elegant word for chaos/disorder, decay…” (P. 33, ll. 6-10).
There is the ongoing hint of conflict between the poet’s vocation and the mundane obligations of daily life in motherhood, children, running a household: “I could put something/in place to serve/a replica/doing dishes/with the same earnest/lack of care” (“Planet Nine,” P. 108, ll. 4-9). “Ascetic Stitch” expresses this dilemma of maternity, being stuck in the ordinary and commonplace, hording provisions against potential disasters, deceiving oneself: “I keep pretending I’m different” (P. 51, l. 22), often putting aspirations aside while justifying obligations. In “Orthonym” there is the poet’s potential unraveling back, possibly only to find she is  “…lost in that lonely place/where skin meets bone” (P. 17, ll. 40-41), with maternal confusion amidst marriages, names and identities. “A Cloud Withdrew” conveys a genuine sense of detriment and missed connection and has a sensuality to it: “…slippery like liquid,” (P. 72, l. 7), “…your elemental self/water vapour/my face wet/the sky empty” (P. 72, ll. 15-18); “…finding you only through redaction” (P. 72, ll. 23-24). In “Möbius Strip,” a surface with only one side and one boundary, the desire to look to the corporeal world for affirmations and how they fall short of answers bemoans loss that cannot be quantified: “…I crawl, an unborn child, blind and hungry/back around the fold towards this place of darkness/this gap” (P. 57, ll. 20-22) and, in “Dark Matter Wants to be Alone,” Ball echoes again this unknown place with options open: “As dark matter’s mysterious ghost/I inhabit two worlds/feed two hearts,/hedging bets/just in case one proves to be real/the beater; the keeper” (P. 64, ll. 37-41).
This subtle confidence continues in “inanimate,” a wonderfully concise poem, words parsed judiciously, a hesitant homage to optimism in the observation of our interconnectedness with the elements. In fact we join in this communion and do not hold the rights to benevolence in “…that all things/even the inanimate/responded to compassion” (P. 63, ll. 20-22). Ball states directly in “Stargazy” that we are the stuff as made from stars, buoyed by science and spiritual implication, as when she observes, ”In the end,/we’re all like you/burning up our fuel/collapsing after what feels like/ten thousand years…” (P. 69, ll. 7-10). And in “Venus in the East Before Sunrise” she tells us the uninvited is “still beautiful” (P. 73, ll. 35-36).
Unmaking Atoms is a thought-provoking work, its natural inclination to scientific inquiry applying a probative and penetrating analysis of our vast universe and the limitless spectrum of its human inhabitants without sacrificing genuine emotion.  A nostalgic longing permeates these poems, where the pragmatic mind examines and the poetic one questions. Practical applications that attempt to explain the inexplicable as in “Most of Everything is Nothing,” emphasize the striving: “I watched my tools float/soundless down some river” (P. 41, ll. 7-8). Ball navigates the frustrations well and laments “…there are some places/even a poet can’t go” (P. 92, ll. 15-16). She even states directly, in “Fractals of Fractals,” that “I wrote this book myself/at the atomic scale of pain” (P. 110, ll. 12-13). With “Intelligent Equations,” the last poem of the book, the poet confesses she is “…lost in time/waiting for answers” (P. 114, ll. 29-30), an honest, heartfelt admission. Ball manages to examine and rest in that space most admirably.
You can find the book here:
About the reviewer: Karen Corinne Herceg graduated Columbia University where she studied with David Ignatow and Pulitzer Prize winner Phil Schultz.  She has featured at major venues with such renowned poets as John Ashbery and William Packard. Her new book of poems, Out From Calaboose, was released in November 2016 by Nirala Publications with edits by Linda Gray Sexton, bestselling author and daughter of two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton.  Her website is

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

a poetry notebook covr

Reviewed by Stephen Page


As I am browsing around a bookstore, I pick up Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, because another writer recommended the book to me.  It is simplistically written. It is geared for high-school or freshmen-college students (but, I am sure that is Oliver’s intent). The first couple of chapters are short and low-attention spanning, but by chapter 7 they expand and deepen.  There are some important points made in the book, even in the first six chapters:

Everyone knows that poets are born and not made in school.  This is also true of painters, sculptors, musicians.,  something that is essential can’t be taught; it can only be given, or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious . . . still, painters, sculptors (poets) and musicians require a lively acquaintance with the history of their particular field and with past as well as current theories and techniques.  Whatever can’t be taught, and there is a great deal that can, and must, be learned . . . This book is about the things that can be learned.  It is about matters of craft . . . this book is written in an effort to give the student a variety of technical skills.

The book is written with the idea of teaching basic poetic skills, philosophies, and exercises, so it’s a great book for novice writers, or for teachers of novice writers.

You can find the book here:


Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at



Bird Flying through the Banquet by Judy Kronenfeld

Review by Richard Nester
Judy Kronenfeld’s narrative powers are on full display in her latest collection, Bird Flying through the Banquet, a book whose central concerns are signaled by its cover art, a recasting of Pieter Bruegel’s painting, Peasant Wedding. Kronenfeld’s approach is ekphrastic with regard to multiple mediums, primarily visual, but musical also, as the book’s cover art presents a complex chord that the book’s contents both riff on and elaborate.
A close look at this opening chord shows how complicated it is. Two ideas stand out: first, there is the Venerable Bede’s assertion found in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England (731 AD) that man’s life can be compared to the flight of a sparrow through a mead-hall on a winter night from dark to dark, unknown to unknown; second, is the way that Kronenfeld applies that metaphor to Bruegel’s painting, where the darkness is represented by the graying-out of two strips at the left and right margins and the sparrow is added as a silhouette.
Both of these ideas find a place in Bird Flying. Sometimes Kronenfeld’s subject is the ineffable itself, the permanent in the transitory, the missing in what remains—the sparrow’s all too brief but still exquisite journey. At other times, she foregrounds her immigrant experience, captured in the trope of the peasant gathering of Bruegel’s painting, which differs in one important way from the mead-hall gathering addressed by Bede. Bede was speaking to an audience of nobles, whereas Bruegel portrays a peasant banquet, more pot-luck than fine dining, an image Kronenfeld uses to bring together a series of poems that are both celebratory and richly peopled by person and places from her memory cupboard.
Bird Flying is an intensely visual collection with a palette that ranges from the concrete to the imaginary,  from the “cracked sidewalks flashing mica” of “My Long-Left Birth City,” where the “newsstand, candy store, barbershop” are “utterly, beautifully, unremarkable,” to the mental vista of “Rothko Dark,” where after “long looking . . . giving oneself to darkness / faintly lightens it.” This poem does not refer to any particular Rothko work, but rather, to the optical vibrations created by the painter’s characteristic methodology, an effect Kronenfeld mimes in her memory portraits. The careful reader will note that “Rothko Dark” contains but one sentence, elegantly formed, as graceful in its lines as it is in its forward movement. So composed, it mirrors the book as a whole and the way individual poems propel it forward, while not sacrificing any of their individuality.
 Kronenfeld’s fascination with time is constant. Examples include timepieces, her father’s alarm clock in “Ten Minutes,” times of day as in the lyrical “The Braille of Evening” with its “last coins of sunlight” and “darkness-gathering trees,” important dates such as yahrzeit in “Neighborly Sorrow” where the memorial candle “burns now in my agnostic /house, three thousand miles /from the Bronx,”  or time itself, as in “Grief-Shock.” “Grief-Shock” is worth careful study both with regard to its imagery and its sound. In the first place, this is not time as an abstract entity, but a particular kind of time, that is “grief” time, which simultaneously rushes our sorrows forward and stacks them up in a series of “after[s]”that leave us “stranded” and “despoiled.” At the same time that the imagery strands us—a clever but nonetheless organic wordplay (Kronenfeld is never witty for wit’s sake) on the shore, its language propels us relentlessly forward by a series of “s” sounds—“spot,” “homestead,” “stomped.” Every line has at least one “s” with one telling exception: the line that sets up the poem’s conceit in the first place “but time—like the metronome clicking,” a reference to time’s twin character as both object—  metronome—and process.
Kronenfeld is seldom overtly political, but when she is, the effect is startling. The poem “What We’re Reduced To” offers such a moment, one where Kronenfeld’s husband is “reduced” to filing his protest on a scrap of paper shoved into a sidewalk crack, a comic rendering of the Jerusalem Wailing Wall, where worshipers place rolled up paper messages in crevices between the wall’s stones. Overt politics aside, her poems possess a high degree of civic involvement of a kind not reducible to slogans, as if they have decided to conduct politics by other means, those of language, family, and neighborhood.
In this regard, I find itj instructive to contrast Kronenfeld’s use of Bruegel with that made by Auden in his poem “Musee des Beaux Arts,” one of poetry’s the better known ekphrastic poems. Auden references Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and his verdict with regard to art and its influence on the larger world is the same in “Musee des Beau Arts” as it is in “In Memory of W.B. Yeats, ” where he says that “poetry makes nothing happen.” Art can call attention to the “astounding” moment and the way that it is ignored by the demands of commerce but that is all. In Icarus, the ship witnesses suffering, “a boy falling out of the sky,” but ignores it in pursuit of business as usual. In fact, the witnessing agent is not animate, not the sailors on board, but the ship itself, and all art can do is record that indifference.
In contrast, Kronenfeld offers us a different Bruegel painting, Peasant Wedding, and a different set of conclusions about the human community and its resources. In “Ten Minutes” she shows us that business as usual is accompanied by bone-weary sacrifice, a poem in which suffering takes the form of an alarm clock whose demands can only be bought off for a few minutes. Nevertheless, Kronenfeld closes the emotional distance between art and suffering by offering us a father and daughter with a common set of problems. One way or another both are bullied, the father by the necessities of earning a working class living (witness the living room hide-a-bed) and the daughter by school yard injustice. Kronenfeld folds their two experiences together while merging the strategies each uses to cope, the father’s snooze alarm, which offers him a middle ground between sleep and waking, and the daughter’s cupcakes. Kronenfeld mines this memory only with great effort:
            It’s terrifying how far back
            this memory goes. I feel as if
            I’ve had to lie on my belly
            with a head lamp and inch forward
            in the dark to see it.
Nevertheless, the ore recovered is precious “as if / ten minutes would sweeten arm-twisting /death, or gentle me into braving his.” The minutes gained are a reminder of the celebratory meal of Peasant Wedding, where time is suspended by a community event that weds not just a couple but a community.
Another back-channel source of recollection occurs during a dream recounted in “Lives of the Dead” where Kronenfeld’s parents, neither of whom can spell, play an “anarchic” game of Scrabble while she attempts to inform them that she has been robbed. They are suitably non-plussed, because after all they are dead, and, thus, immune to time’s persistent robberies, taking place downstairs and outdoors in the waking world. What makes this dream convincing is its intensely visual nature combined with the narrative grace Kronenfeld employs in steering her parents “to their little pocket of moored time.” The poem opens with a typical Kronenfeld canvas that renders the mundane beautiful: “Alive in my dreams, and serene /they sit in our 40-watt /dim Bronx kitchen on the lollipop-red /dinette set leatherette chairs.” Again, as in so many of her poems, the speaker is confident in her resources, able to gather the ingredients she needs, emotionally and linguistically, to serve and participate in time’s banquet.
Mercy and compassion are far more prominent in these poems than complaint, which is not to say that the speaker is always content—far from it. There is a restless, probing energy in every poem, exploring and seeking answers, however elusive. Nevertheless, Kronenfeld locates the grandeur and consequence in apparently inconsequential lives, and in so doing, rescues us all. You will feel more alive for having read her poems.
Richard Nester has twice been a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has published poetry in numerous journals, including Ploughshares, Callaloo and Seneca Review and essays in the Catholic Agitator. His work has appeared most recently in Floyd County Moonshine.