north of oxford poetry book review

We Are Beat, National Poetry Festival Anthology

beat

By Lynette G. Esposito

Beat poetry is defined as poetry that has no conventional form and which is unencumbered by conventional rules. The We Are Beat National Poetry Festival Anthology published by Local Gems, a small press in Long Island New York and edited by James P. Wagner (Ishwa) is a gem of 267 pages of delicious verse written by poets from many walks of life from firefighters to engineers to lawyers to teachers to spoken word artists both national and international.  The poetry is as varied and interesting as the poets themselves.

The authors are presented alphabetically by authors’ last names.  The poems proceed in no other order or credential and are standalone pieces of art.  The authors’ credentials follow each poem.  When the reader dives into this river of poetry, the water is very inviting all through the anthology.  For example, on page 23.Carolyn Chatham presents We Will Drink From Broken Cups. The poem begins:

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                                        We will drink from broken cups
                                        This bitter brew
                                        A country scene of trees and cows and grass
                                        and lads and lasses dallying together
                                        adorn its rim

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This is such a sweet scene but the poem twists to an explanation of climate change and unanswerable explanations of a world we slew.

On page 168, Juan Perez writes Eyes Closed and Dancing.

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                                        I close my eyes and I am dancing
                                       At the senior prom, in 1987
                                       With a smoking hot brunette
                                       Things are great so far….

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The sixty-six line ten-stanza poem details life after the amazing dance and the amazing life that follows.   Perez uses images that are common to most readers, marriage children old age and the realization of mortality.  He answers the question of what happens when we close our eyes and look back over our life when we are about to leave.

Ron Whitehead speaks of Shootin’Up Poetry in New Orleans on page 254.  It is a narrative poem in prose form that successfully explores the loss of poetic inspiration and its successful return.  It begins in Algiers and ends in The Howlin’ Wolf Club in New Orleans. The narrator laments I’m feeling burnt out, tired to the bone.  The narrator calls on previous poets such as Jack Kerouac for help.  When inspiration hits, the narrator says:

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                                  The word sets us free.
                                  And I think of Allen Ginsberg
                                 And what he said about taking someone’s hand
                                 Cause we’re all in this together.
                                 We’re pullin’.  We ain’t pushin’
                                 We’re lettin’ it be.
                                 We realize that when one is lifted up
                                 We’re all lifted up
                                And I realize that Poetry is life
                                And life is poetry

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Outside the Howlin’ Wolf Club all is well.  The 48 hour INSOMNIACATHON will go on and be a success.  There is a full smilin’ moon in New Orleans. The intensity of  the resolution leaves the reader with relief like finding your Rolex  in the lost and found.

Many fresh voices from many different countries can be heard in this anthology.   It is a pleasure to read.

Local Gems Poetry Press is a small Long Island, New York based poetry press.  It has published over150 titles.  Local Gems can be reached at www.localgemspoetrypress.com

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. 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, Bindweed Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, That Literary Review, The Remembered Arts Journal, and other literary magazines.

Oblique Music: A Book of Hours by Elizabeth Bodien

oblique

By Jenny Ward Angyal

a life entire
in the swoop of a blackbird
wing flash of red
sufficient this morning
for a rising up of wonder
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Poet Elizabeth Bodien has captured ‘a life entire’ in the 102 tanka of this handsome little book. Subtitled A Book of Hours, it is divided into nine sections inspired by the traditional structure of the liturgical day. Each section opens with essentially the same photograph of the sun over water, but the colors of the image and the sun’s position within it change to reflect the time of day or night, until we reach the final section, ‘Beyond’, which opens with an image of star-filled sky. The poems are printed in restful periwinkle ink on creamy blue-white paper; one poem per page allows plenty of time and space to contemplate each small gem. .

And it is of course the poems themselves that matter most. The poems in this collection, most of which first appeared in various tanka journals over the course of a decade, move simultaneously through the hours of a day, the seasons of a year, and the seasons of a life, capturing moments and reflections each of which is ‘sufficient . . . for a rising up of wonder.’
he poet displays a fine sensitivity to the world around her:
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iridescent blue
two dragonflies
catch and throw
waning sunlight
onto the path
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 . . . and also to her own interior landscape:
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lingering in bed
one moment longer
I trawl
the vast in-between
where creation might stir
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The first tanka above is an exquisite capture of something that most people would simply overlook; the second explores that fertile state between sleeping and waking where the riches of the subconscious mind may be most accessible. Elizabeth Bodien’s creations are shot through with ‘waning sunlight’, a poignant sense of the ephemeral:
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I buy cut tulips
arrange them in a vase
for their color
and because I trust
they will be here tomorrow
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The closing lines suggest that the narrator—like all of us—knows well that many beautiful or beloved things will not ‘be here tomorrow’. The clarity and simplicity of this tanka typify the way in which these poems illuminate everyday phenomena and help us to see how such ordinary things point beyond themselves to the unknown.
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barely touching
his scraped bloody knee
the boy ponders
for the first time
what is inside him
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From the child’s first intimations of vulnerability to the adult’s full knowledge of death, these poems simultaneously mourn losses and celebrate life:
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we are all old
now that you’ve gone
you danced
like a butterfly
on the lid of our lives
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What a beautiful five-line portrait of someone whose life seems to have been emblematic of freedom and joy. Loss of loved ones leads inevitably to reflection on what happens ‘beyond’:
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smoke rises
from the burning barrel
our trash
turns to ash, to air
what will we become?
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 . . . and it is no accident that the final section of this ‘book of hours’ is entitled ‘Beyond’, reaching outside the traditional cycle of the liturgical day and  hinting, like the following tanka, at a larger reality:
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frost flickers
on the dark window
a thin veil
separates this earth
from beyond
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Elizabeth Bodien, who holds degrees in cultural anthropology, consciousness studies, religions, and poetry, recently published a nonfiction book about her past-life regressions. She has also published five books of ‘mainstream’ poetry and has won numerous poetry awards, including several for haiku. Readers of her Oblique Music will hope that this accomplished poet, with her wealth of experience, insight, and wonder, will continue to travel the tanka road.
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we peer
from the bus
across the river
our final destination
the city veiled in mist
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Jenny Ward Angyal’s  poems have appeared in many journals and may also be found on her blog, The Grass Minstrel. . Her tanka collection, moonlight on water (Skylark Publishing), appeared in 2016. She co-edited the Tanka Society of America’s 2016 Members’ Anthology, Ripples in the Sand, and was Reviews & Features Editor of Skylark: a Tanka Journal, for over five years.
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Her Heartsongs by Joan Colby

HER-HEARTSGONS-187x300

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Published by Presa Press of Rockford, Michigan, Joan Colby’s, Her Heartsongs, presents 69 pages of poems that create an intensity of emotion with fresh views of every day and familiar events
The lead poem on page nine entitled Her Heart, discusses the difference between a man’s heartbeat and a woman’s.
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                  The heart of a woman beats faster than the heart of a
                        man.
                  A billion heartbeats over a lifetime. No wonder a woman
                  Is tired.  No wonder she crawls into bed with a book\
                        before
                 The evening news arrives.  Her heart is misdiagnosed
                 Repeatedly.  The symptoms atypical.  Blockages in the
                        small
                 Arteries the tiny byways clogging unseen by the radiant
                         eye.
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The thirty-line single stanza poem points out how the great artery of a man’s heart is called the widow maker. Colby suggests there is no name for the woman’s.  The implication of what breaks a woman whose heart is made of  cut- velvet or satin , emblazoned with a scroll surrounded by cherubs suggests the gentle complexity that brings a woman’s heart to break.  The skillful presentation of the differences between men and women gives a fresh view through the imagery of the heart  and the way it beats through life then stops.  She has  a light touch that resonates.
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On page thirty-two, Colby’s poem Moving Men reveals how the things in ones life represent the past, present and future. Most of us have been through the common event of moving our things from one place to another so the reader is able to relate to the theme of the poem and understand the implications.  She begins the poem talking about keepsakes from a first love packed into sawdust and she ends the poem:
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                    Days of muscle and sweat.  You watch
                    The truck back out of tne drive.  Stow
                    Everything that is left, an inventory
                    of  tomorrows.
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The poem frames time in the things we move and the things we box up for later. Her use of the act of moving works well as a symbol both of time and the changes one goes through.
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Philip Dacey says the poems that Colby presents show an emotional intensity and large sympathies. I agree.  The book is a pleasure to read for the commonality of subject matter and the fresh perception of how every day events define the human conditionShe chooses such subjects as wash day, working, anniversaries and happiness to reveal and define individuals as works in progress. Colby is successful in her astute observations.
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Her Heartsongs is available through Baker and Taylor, The Book House, Coutts Information Services, Midwest Library Services, and directly from the publisher Ptesa Press at Presa Press
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. 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, Bindweed Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, That Literary Review, The Remembered Arts Journal, and other literary magazines.
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MEOWKU Poems and Photographs by Patricia Carragon

meow

By Aaron Fischer

Patricia Carragon has done something notable, writing and assembling some 30 pages of haiku about cats (hence, meowku) that are neither cute nor cloying. What they are is smart, funny, and satisfyingly complex — quite an accomplishment in seventeen syllables.

Consider these two meowku that occur early in the book:

(for Tama)
            the goddess meows
                        Kishigawa’s good fortune
                                   calico’s blessing
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We have to do a little digging for this meowku to surrender its secrets. Tama was a female calico who was actually appointed station master at Kishi Station on Japan’s Kishiwaga line.

In lieu of an annual salary, the railway provided Tama with a year’s worth of cat food and a gold nametag.

A few minutes with Wikipedia reveals another layer of meaning: Tama is often cited as part of a phenomenon known in Japan as nekonomics (literally, “cat economy”), which describes the positive economic impact of having a cat mascot.

We’ve got Tama, Kishigawa, and at least one calico. But what about the goddess?

The answer comes in the next meowku and involves another calico.

the maneki-neko
                waves her calico paw
                           “meowzel tov”
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According to Wikipedia, maneki-neko (literally, “beckoning cat”) is a common Japanese figurine (typically calico) that’s supposed to bring good luck to its owner. This may sound esoteric, but you’re almost undoubtedly familiar with these beckoning cats if you’ve ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant or shopped in a Japanese market. They’re the cat figurines sitting on their haunches and beckoning with one raised paw.  Some maneki-neko are actually battery powered and wave their paw, though it’s not clear if this attracts more luck.

Of course, in our multicultural society, it makes perfect sense that this beckoning cat spreads good fortune in a feline version of Yiddish.

Just to close the loop, by juxtaposing these two meowku on the same page, Carragon allows them to resonate: two calicos celebrating good fortune in three (maybe two-and-half) languages: English, Japanese, and near-Yiddish.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the photographs that accompany these meowku. They have the feeling of snapshots, which seems just right for the feel of this book. Also, we’re spared cuddly closeups. Many of these shots are taken outdoors and feature cats on the sidewalks or brick stairs or checking out the action on the street.

The photographs are particularly apt, since these are decidedly urban cats.

 

tails of tomcats
             territorial showdown
                        Brooklyn howl

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Cheshire Cat
            curls up … disappears up close
                        trash bag in disguise
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Carragon does an admirable job of refusing sentimentality, offering, at times, a cold appraisal of feline life on the streets
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newborn kittens killed
            blood on tomcat’s mouth
                         love is not for everyone
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At the risk of making a pun not worthy of this work: I think these meowku are for everyone — regardless of their feelings about felines. They’re sharply observed and reflect city life. And as I hope I’ve demonstrated, at times they’re both complex and rewarding.

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You can find the book here: http://www.poetswearprada.com/

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Aaron Fischer is an award-winning poet. His chapbook Black Stars of Blood: The Weegee Poems (Main Street Rag Press) was published this past summer.

Soft Targets by Deborah Landau

soft
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Deborah Landau’s new collection continues themes from her previous book, Uses of the Body, which explores the inevitable decline of our physical selves, the body’s vulnerability, its exposure to pain, while celebrating the creative aspects of our beings, the intimate intertwining of pleasure and death. Like that collection, too, there are only eight titles (seven in Uses of the Body), with many of these poems composed of parts which build upon themselves.
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Unlike the previous collection, these poems add an urgency of political turmoil on top of the individual defenselessness/helplessness, the existential equation. The metaphor of the “soft target” recurs throughout. The first title, “when it comes to this fleshed neck,” begins:
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When it comes to this fleshed neck
even a finger could do it
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even a sharp stick,
a blunt blow, a fall –
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my jugular
there’s a soft target
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What an image, the soft exposed throat; you can see the vein throbbing under the thin skin, practically begging for violation. This poem ends with the vision of a suicide bomber on a subway train.  Everybody is vulnerable.
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The next three poems, multi-part suites, focus on Paris (“there were real officers in the streets”), site of so many terrorist attacks; Frankfurt, Germany, as the Holocaust goes into full swing (“those Nazis, they knew what to do with a soft”), and America (“America wants it soft”).  “Existence is killing us,” she writes in the first, with bitter irony.  Paris, the city of love, romance, Eros. “…in Paris we stayed all night / in a seraphic cocktail haze,” she writes, when one may be at her most exposed, least vigilant, not to say at the same time triumphant in her possibilities.
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Tonight we’re the most tender of soft targets,
pulpy with alcohol and all asloth.
Monsieur, can we get a few more?
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A few pages later:
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I’m a soft target, you’re a soft target,
and the city has a hundred hundred thousand softs;
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the pervious skin, the softness of the face,
the wrist inners, the hips, the lips, the tongue,
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the global body,
its infinite permutable softnesses…
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And indeed, this section of the poem likewise ends with a vision of a terrorist’s arsenal: “The bad news is Kalashnikov assault rifles / submachine guns, pistols, ammunition….”
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Later in this poem come the lines:
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I rolled over and tried to sleep
thinking mostly of self-preservation,
how it makes everything else irrelevant….
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Keep your wits about you! The next poem is exactly about self-preservation, the author’s Jewish grandmother escaping Nazi Germany at the end of the 1930’s.  The poem begins:
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I don’t know
what’s so neo
about neo-nazis
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they seem a lot
like the old
nazis to me
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“Those Nazis, they knew / what to do with a soft” – those lines that make up the title of the piece – “an adagio of soft”: a slow, orchestrated movement, deliberate. Yet she escapes, “when, how, when would she / get to New York, St. Louis, Detroit?
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(the swiftest bike to bike
a frantic Frankfurt, her wits
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the manifold papers
certified stamped correct)

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And then we come to America wants it soft, which is again the current political moment, when “To be female on coronation night was a difficulty. / Her skin under his thumb was a sickhouse was too much.” This sounds so familiar in the Donald Trump era, doesn’t it? Even before the Alabama and Georgia abortion laws. And again, keep your wits about you! Note the escape routes, be familiar with the exit strategy:

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Keep your passport handy, keep cash

keep water and batteries, collect your meds

and loved ones, just in case,

and silence your phone.

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This poem ends with a sort of elegy for our dying democracy:
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The end of America, no one knew how to manage it

but we tried the typical ways of numbing pain –

my daughter painted tiny flowers on her toenails,

I mixed honey and vodka, squeezing in a lime,

and we carried on with our breathing –

my father was still alive, my body kept aging,

the pills helped a little, not a lot.
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The final poems are no less powerful, contemplating the responsibility of giving birth to a child in these times, a daughter no less, while celebrating the creative act (“Such a reckless act, to pop out a human, / with the jaws of the world set to kill.”); and contemplating, too, the sheer inevitability of death, no matter how we try to forestall or circumvent it.
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I’ll antioxidize as best I can
bat away death with berries and flax
but there’s no surviving
this slick merciless world
a bucket of guts we’ll be
full-blown dead
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Deborah Landau’s subtle, mordant wit is evident throughout these passages, as is her lyrical skill with words and sounds (“alcohol and all asloth”; “wrist inners, the hips, the lips”; “the swiftest bike to bike / a frantic Frankfurt, her wits” to cite a few examples).  Soft Targets is relevant and gorgeous at the same time.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –

http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf

Intersection on Neptune by Donna J. Gelagotis Lee

inter
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By g emil reutter
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In this time when many in the United States have forgotten their lineage, of how they came to be in the United States, along comes Donna J. Gelagotis Lee to remind everyone of the immigrant experience, of native born children who have lived lives that those who came here hoped for. Intersection on Neptune brings us into the urban layering of Brooklyn, of family, of Coney Island, to family life and as she writes in the title poem, the country’ pivot point. In the second section the reader is transported New Jersey, the burbs, farms, and shore, of Seaside, of pastures, horses and trails even of a man making deliveries of eggs. Gelagotis Lee brings us into the rest stops, ballgames, writes of the pay phone and a homage to Trenton. She has had a lifelong love affair with Brooklyn and New Jersey. Her poems are blunt and truthful such as this in the second stanza of From a Rooftop in Brooklyn:
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Today, a sea of brick
buildings combs
the grey air,
green parks pushing them
aside, schools still
straining to meet
the goals of a touchdown
democracy. Silver birds
cluster like butterfilies
as they eagle-sweep over the
land they know, past faceless
windows, a country
below.
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So in the midst of grey air, brick, faceless windows she gives us hope, Silver birds cluster like butterflies.
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These poems by Gelagotis Lee read as a documentary of the American experience with love, family, of the difficult times, the good times. She captures the urban, suburban and rural experience in poems that will stay with you long after the read. Intersection on Neptune reminds us of from where we came, that the United States is a place that new arrivals can accomplish much, it is not an easy ride here, but you can make it.
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I end with the title poem that captures so much.
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Intersection on Neptune
               –Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn
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The sea smell rushes
in on a sudden breeze, like
that vehicle that veers into the space
just as someone pulls out. Older
couples, hearty Jamaicans,
Yiddish accents: land of Immigrants;
watch them claim it—
Chinese, Russians, ladies with thick
jewelry, men with yarmulkes;
the elderly line up at the strip
mall to trade stories, their props
canes and old-world hats. Yellow
lights let you cross only to the island.
Sirens interrupt talk. The sea breeze inter-
venes. The walk to the boardwalk is short.
But here, at this intersection, we
Have gathered, where the city turns.
And we find a parking space,
Crowded, a little tight, but afterwards
it’s enough; we all fit.
We smell the sea, the kosher bakery.
Our house is a high-rise
Our horizon, the Verrazano and the Empire
State. We’re on the finger
of New York City –the end
of the subway line, or the beginning—
the city starts and ends here,
on the country’s pivot point.

Birnam Wood/ El Bosque De Birnam by Jose Manuel Cardona – Translated by Hélène Cardona

bir

By Mark Eisner

This book is a forest of love, the richness grown from the shared familiar roots in the fertile Spanish soil of poetry, then spread around the world.

This remarkable forest is a trove of love, grown from shared roots, originating in the fertile Spanish tierra de poesia. The love of a daughter translating her father’s words for all eternity, published just at his death. A renaissance man, and his daughter, a renaissance woman, all of their wonders, all of their life, all of their art now fused together even more through the act of translation. Both have placed their lives in the service of poetry, and it shows. José Manuel’s poetry is informed by the generation in Spain just before him –– Lorca, Machado, it’s evident in the flavors he evokes –– but he takes the baton to create his own voice, inspiring and insightful voice, propelling yet grounding, salted by his experience in political exile.

Above all, “Ode to a Young Mariner” moved me the most, its qualities emblematic of what makes this book work so well. The poem dedicated to the poet’s brother, who at the same time is the translator’s uncle –– movingly and convincingly so that it rowed my heart with warm, resonating, lingering strokes: the endearment and respect for a sibling, the duty as a mariner like the duty as a poet, the reverence that roots this family, the love that lights the words, the woods of this book.

And what a treat for those who don’t read Spanish to be able to have this collection of this truly special poet’s work finally available, accessible for their easy enrichment.

You can find the book here: https://amzn.to/2w8e5kV

Mark Eisner has spent most of the past two decades working on creative works related to Pablo Neruda. They include Neruda: The Biography of a Poet (Ecco, 2018), a finalist for the PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography. He also edited and was one of the principal translators for The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems (City Lights, 2004) and is currently producing a documentary film on the poet. A bilingual anthology of Latin American Poetry in Resistance Eisner co-edited is forthcoming  in 2020. More info at www.markeisner.net.