north of oxford poetry book review

Ornaments by David Daniel

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By Lynette  G. Esposito

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Ornaments, by David Daniel, is a great read for lovers of poetry.  Divided into four parts, the sixty-four page volume of poetry shows insights into conversations with the self and how ones observations affect not only the narrator, but also the space around him and his readers.

Daniel uses common language and images to portray how everyday situations become representative of life’s struggles.  For example, Daniels in his poem The Naturalist says:

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          In nature, what is beautiful is poisonous,

          And if it is beautiful and easy to catch, it is likely deadly:

          This fact supported by naturalists worldwide.

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He then relates this to: prophets are sometimes beautiful and who are often blind and predict deadly futures.   He suggests no one is hurt by poetry.  He juxtaposes the concepts of the natural and unnatural with the effects they produce.  The narrator in this poem speaks of beheading poetry and drinking the poison of the moon. He catches a snake which bites him before it pours itself into its hole. The reader is left at the port of entry where language encounters the surprise of multi snake bites and escapes.

 In his poem The Mouse’s Nest, the narrator complains Madness, you know, creeps in– or you stumble on it.  The narrator’s definition of madness and his technique of using direct address to the reader set an unnerving scene.  The narrator discovers a mouse’s nest in an old trunk by the sea and the logical mind can see reality in an unreality:

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          Just who’s found the nest and when?  “The mirror of nature, you say,

          Just look at yourself.”  And I do.  A storm had washed in

          A wooden chest made to store what you need by the sea.

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The image of the self looking into the sea chest and back at itself over the discovery of a nest with a dead mouse and her babies clinging to her demonstrates how cruel nature can be in preserving evidence of once living creatures.  It feels like madness in the preservation of the dead creature entombed in a place it considered safe.

 The soft cover book released by the University of Pittsburgh Press, offers a clear vision into what poetry is and what it is supposed to be.  This book is well worth reading more than once.

 Daniel is the author of Seven-Star Bird which won the Levis Reading Prize given by Virginia Commonwealth University.  He is the editor of Ploughshares and founded WAMAFEST (The Words and Music Festival) which brings together many celebrated artists such as Bruce Springsteen with Robert Pinsky and Roseanne Cash with C.D. Wright.  Daniel is a member of the Bennington Writers Seminars.  He teaches at Farleigh Dickinson University.  He is a native of Danville, Kentucky and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The book is available from University of Pittsburg Press and in e-book format.

https://www.amazon.com/Ornaments-Pitt-Poetry-David-Daniel/dp/0822965186

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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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Daphne and her Discontents by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

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By Lynette Esposito  

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Jane Rosenberg LaForge writes of Daphne and her Discontents
in her 78 page poetry volume published by Ravenna Press.
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LaForge explores the mythology of the minor goddess Daphne changed into a tree by her father so she would be protected from Apollo’s carnal desire. She interprets the perception of protection versus punishment as she exposes her own life through Daphne’s transformation and her own changing life.
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In the poem, Introducing  Daphne. LaForge directly links herself to Daphne.
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                       The myth I have chosen to explain
                       myself rests in oil and marble:
                       One incontrovertible at its final
                        arrival, the other capable of separation
                        into terraces, an archaeological
                        rendering of lime, and flavor.
                       That was me, once, before I changed
                       To outrun my fidelity and desire;…
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She ends the poem with the words, conservator’s suffocating power. She intertwines
the examination of her feminine self and the protection that smothers her.  The tone and images presented in the poem work well with the subject matter.  LaForge has a light but clear touch in revealing her message (s) to the reader.
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All through the book LaForge accomplishes this strong approach.   In Mount Olympus II, she writes: We should have met in air as the tops of trees do.  The image is lovely and presents a clear visual.  It excites the imagination to look up and see the tops of trees moving in the breeze and touching each other like lovers.
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She writes in Pre-Daphne, Before my father turned me into a tree, I was fire and all the atomic numbers…. She suggests that she was not born the way Daphne became. The father changed her into a vehicle that would offer her protection but he basically changed her into an unmovable structure…no longer what she was.  She was “hands” and “feet”
but no more. I like her use of body parts to suggest the whole.
Throughout the book, the presentation of a transforming Daphne is used over and over but always fresh.  In the poem Danger Prone Daphne, LaForge writes,
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                                Daphne will always need
                                Rescuing, by saints, or angels
                                 Or contemporary females of
                                  no consequence, because only
                                 they can acknowledge the expediency
                                in her deliverance…
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She acknowledges at the end of the poem that I am Daphne, and why.
The volume is well focused and presents images that are both fresh and interesting. Her last poem, Post- Daphne, she acknowledges, I did not fit the myth over and over again like a kind of slacker Sisyphus: It is a fitting end poem pulling together the myth of a goddess and a living poet.
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Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s have been published extensively on line and in print.  Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  She is a former journalist and college teacher, and lives in New York with her husband and daughter.
 For information on this paperback volume go to ravennapress.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.
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Appearances by Michael Collins

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By Thaddeus Rutkowski
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The title of Michael Collins’ new poetry collection suggests more than one way of seeing things. “Appearances” could indicate things that come into view or into existence. It also could mean the superficial or surface look of things, the way things merely seem. Both of these ideas are at work in these poems of life among people and life lived next to nature.
Near the beginning of the book (published by Saddle Road Press in Hilo, Hawaii), I found this brief poem, titled “Creation”:

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The fleshy snowflakes
twisting blissfully down
through the faint breeze

seem to have been made
in the image of the paperweight
I would gaze at as a child,

a tiny half world upended
in beautiful flurry, set down at will
by a suddenly gigantic hand

to quiet and awe the eye.
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Each stanza, save for the last, is constructed almost like a haiku, and like the classical Japanese form the poem concerns nature, starting with a reference to snow. But the thought turns inward as it becomes a memory of a paperweight owned in childhood. Another shift occurs in the third stanza, with a reference to a “gigantic hand,” as if a supreme force could cause the fall of snow—and could “upend” the world. By juxtaposing the very large with the very small, the poem asks how big we are, or how important we are, in the whole of the world and beyond. We have only our perception, our “eye,” to answer that question, and at the end we arrive at a state of “quiet and awe.”
Nature is in the process of being tamed in “Portraits of Soul,” a poem placed later in the collection:
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The harbor’s a flurry of work:
juggernaut mowers crop the lawn,
bushes are trimmed, the sand is combed
and brushed away from the walkways,
a team sweeps and lines the clay courts,
boats bustle with gossip and cleaning—
Spring is here!
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This excerpt offers a fairly straightforward description of a beach being prepared for human activity as the weather gets warmer. There is a feeling of excitement and anticipation. The area will become a spot of play and recreation. However, the poem takes a detour toward the philosophical in the following stanza: “Forms must be in things / and beings ever shaping space, / and these eyes that we have seen through, / must return to their visions’ graves.” I read this as meaning that “forms,” or objects that we see, are always changing with the forces that shape the space we live in. And all must come to an end, if our eyes, or what we see with, return to the “graves” of their perceptions. The poem ends with a kind of Zen koan: “Make something of what can’t exist.” The paradox of being and nothingness, of existence and nonexistence, cannot be resolved through reason, though it can be accepted through enlightenment. In this way, the last line of the poem functions as a koan. (I use the words “Zen” and “koan,” but to my recollection organized religion isn’t mentioned in this book.)
            Many of the poems in “Appearances” contain a visual element. “Harbor Mandala,” for example, consists of blocks of type arranged in a circle, with a block of type in the center. This pattern allows you to read the poem in different directionstop to bottom, side to side, or around the border. The effect enhances the contemplative quality of the words. As the eye wanders around the poem, certain phrases pop out (I could say “appear”): “i apprehend the amorphous dream,” “your skin creating visions,” “invited you into my soul.” It’s up to the reader to put these thoughts into more coherent order, or not. That “not” might be Collins’ message.
            You can find the book here: http://saddleroadpress.com/ appearances.html
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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the prose books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and RoughhouseHaywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county – Vol. 3 by Jennifer Hetrick

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By Marian Frances Wolbers

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FootHills Publishing released the third and final volume of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county by Jennifer Hetrick this past autumn. Swimming within these tender memory-poems are the jagged edges and startlingly soulful snatches of remembered machine work in the factories and businesses of Berks County decades ago. Faithful to the worker-narrators’ storytelling, Hetrick braids honorable, dignified word-portraits on her lyrical image-loom, whether a worker affixed left-hand side doors on military trucks or spent every day “securing strong stitches” on endless bottoms of belt loops. The detailed troubles and trials of men and women in stanzas that—short or long—perfectly match each person are juxtaposed with unabashed pride in the unique parts each individual played in the workplace, using hands and minds to produce not just hosiery, paint, or smoked meats but the totality of community, economy, opportunity, and familial necessity. Each alliteration, phrasing, and turn of thread in the line displays a range of emotion and circumstance: wry humor (“masking tape, a rare few worked with it as i did”); awareness of war; bodily stresses (“every night, i came home, felt fuzzy / wads of sweater aftermath in the creases of my neck, elbows”); and philosophical recall (“nestled in an italian neighborhood. / we were the only black family there. my neighbors / used to give us tomatoes from their backyards. i didn’t know / prejudice”). Generous and vivid are the pictures of the way things were, as well as the way folks speak and see themselves in their own mind’s eye. This is a gem on multiple levels in its sweet artistry, thoughtful voice, documentation of the past, and revelatory extraordinariness of ordinary men and women.

As a fellow writer and documenter of days, I am very holistically aware of how this work stretched well back across time and place and memory-worlds of these workers. It’s always been my impression that people record every silly little ant that crosses their picnic table at a birthday event, while ending life with virtually NO record of their long, long, much-longer-than-home-life hours spent in life’s labors under the thumb of a supervisor.

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Marian Frances Wolbers is a self-confessed fan of interstices and author of novels (including Rider, St. Martin’s Press), short stories (The Southampton Review, Westview, Remarkable Doorways), drama (Return of the Sun Goddess, Holding the World, American Beauties) and poetry (Juked).

 

 

 

Albatross by Dore Kiesselbach

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By g emil reutter
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On the surface there is a cool detachment by this poet, yet as one reads through the collection there is a strong undercurrent of emotion, of trauma, heartbreak and reality. Kiesselbach has given us a collection of poetry that requires more than one read, not for the ability to understand, but to explore the many layers, to explore the intensity of Kiesselbach’s poetry.
In the poem, Bob, Kiesselbach writes of a time when he hung out in a 7-11 where Bob would let him work from time to time. He sets the tone in the opening.
 
Bob
was what his 7-11 nametag said. Part of his head
was missing. Tumor or crash, they excised
skull and left a steel plate, thinner than bone,
behind. It made a dent where, if his
head were a hand, the fist would be.
When he couldn’t find the right word,
he’d make a tapping motion there.
 
Although he writes of events at the store, working the register, of going home to a grim family, of never stealing a cent, although he did take a Hustler, Bob had become his family and as you read the poem you continue to go to the opening and see Bob tapping the steel plate watching the boy work in the store.
 
In the section titled, Worn, Kiesselbach revisits 9-11 as an eyewitness to events. In the poem, PlumeHe writes:
 
Close upon a long hiccup in the light comes
clockwise torsion incident to the sound
of a huge cupped hand slapping water.
Concussion’s shiver shuffles your guts
On its way to Tim’s office and parts
northeast.
 
And at the end:
 
In a turbulent flow of faces
you recognize one, late to work,
not among the early birds lying
uncharacteristically down on the
job three blocks away. What’s going
on? It’s never been so hard to say.
 
From the poem, Blood:
 
Many thousands
headed to Manhattan
hadn’t gone, like
a colony of seabirds
on a cliff in a gale
were simply
staying put,
thoughts of
feeding eclipsed
for the day.
 
An equally intense section of the collection is, Cut Short. An excellent example is the poem Crucifixion.
 
One minute he’s looking at you, full-size, in anguish.
and the next he’s a stricken Harryhausen figurine.
Someone with cooler blood would be wishing
for a compendium of diseases but you’re
pressed too personally into the event
to separate symptoms from suffering.
If it can be thought to do so, horror
flows like gas from an unlit oven,
well past the point where it makes
any sense at all to strike a match.
When he says there’s this awful
pounding in my head no one has
the heart to tell him it’s not in your head.
 
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter
 

Ordinary Impalers by Anton Yakovlev

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By Karen Corinne Herceg
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Anton Yakovlev writes with a nuanced sensibility and finely spun sensitivity that almost belie the impact and depth of the messages contained in each poem of his subtle but powerful new collection “Ordinary Impalers.” We are all truly “impalers”…not the larger-than life-monsters of history, the murderers, genocidal maniacs and infamous abusers, but each one of us who impale ourselves and one another each day in multiple ways that, in the aggregate, are no different energetically from what we perceive as larger transgressions.
In the opening poem, “Scapegoat Cemetery,” the narrator is “Clutching at gravestones for balance,” (P. 9, l. 1), a balance that puts him literally and metaphorically between reality and lost hope, seeking to blame the ancestor who never took responsibility for passing along the wounds and anger he has inherited. The damage he recalls emphasizes the desire for a better memory, of a distinction between what we wish for versus what truly occurred. And rage and outrage are completely justifiable responses for the ineptitude and lack of character we display in our interactions with one another. “The Submarine” describes a visit to an apparent tourist attraction that symbolizes our ability to submerge and resurface, a constant disappearance lost in “a few syllables” (P. 10, l. 3) as the narrator walks with his father in the shadow of his grandfather whose sins and legacy are palpable despite no physical presence: “There are orphans everywhere,/even those with parents alive,” (P. 10, ll. 8-9). The unhealed wounds disallow connection and reconciliation. Holidays, traditional observances and meaningless conversations are “useless homecomings” (p. 10, l. 22) and mere distractions. There are collections of images and fragments of interactions but nothing exchanged authentically between father and son. We rely on empty omens and conjured symbolic comforts as “Our controversial angels take us/into the Hallmark wolf packs,” (“Cliffhanger,” P. 13, l. 9). We create “terraces of abstraction” (“A Stop Sign Worn as a Helmet,” P. 20, l. 14). We search for meaning in disparate images and moments that ultimately elude us.
Yakovlev employs imaginative ways to convey meaning through an unexpected use of words that create greater, multiple impact as in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” when he observes of a long-time relationship what is unrecognizable, forgotten or never acknowledged, “I could ask you questions to make you figure it out,/make you Sherlock your way to the only reasonable conclusion,” (P. 15, ll. 1-2) that is the irony of fearing the loss of what never existed. The use of the proper name Sherlock as a verb is fine-spun but jarring, almost humorous in an introspective manner.
In “The Immigrant” we see time passing without meaning, issues without resolution and words used to obfuscate meaning instead of avenues to true comprehension. There is a plea for deeper contact when the poet commands, “Stop fidgeting with your kaleidoscope./Hold a hand, say hi, have dessert.” (P. 16, ll. 19-20). He is speaking to various people in these poems, to the many relationships in which he has tried to reach out for something authentic only to find that the other’s “ghost has solidified.” (“Frog Pond,” P. 19, l. 21). We do not know what we are even looking for and so are completely lost:
            Before you meet again,
            Look for ravens on abandoned rocks
            Until you realize they are not the point. (P. 21, ll. 23-25)
We are absent from the present and unhealed from past traumas and grief. Yet Yakovlev actually offers a solution to healing in an unexpected but authentic manner:
            A rusted ship might float again someday,
            If you are nice enough to the bacteria
            That captain it from now on. (P. 22, ll. 16-18)
We must acknowledge and delve into those “bacteria” in order to excavate truth, clean out the wounds and not cover them up to fester beneath the oppression of blame and guilt. Instead we allow the losses to accrue and break us. We marginalize the authentic and are prey to the illusionary.
            In “The Jogger” we witness the portrait of a marriage as an exercise in perfunctory living amid external actions that do not constitute true depth and continuity in a relationship. Yakovlev describes the beginning of the marriage as “an incensed gallery/of old New England pumpkins, candles in antique stores,/afternoon trips to vegetable farms.” (P. 25, ll. 11-13), and then quickly adds “but only autumn could sustain that kind of enchantment./Quickly he grew to see the void in all other seasons” (P. 25, ll. 14-15). He is asking us to see what we substitute for real kinship and interaction. There is “the invisible lock in the double door of all ears” (P. 35, l. 20), and in the book’s title poem, “Ordinary Impalers,” he states, “so pretend we can cheer each other,/even if it’s Russian Roulette we play.” (P. 38, ll. 7-8). In the final poem, “The Lingering Portal,” we see a doorway of possibility of  “cathartic/hopes” (P. 50, ll. 4-5) once more thwarted by the past and unhealed memories that again cause us to lose our balance “and go to sleep” (P. 50, l. 19).
There are so many fine expressions in these poems that one could quote many lines from each piece as Yakovlev is careful and sparing with language, getting to the heart of things without sentimentality, unnecessary embellishment or overstatement. He explores the many ways we fail to reach one another, to connect and find our way to a clearer reality. He doesn’t negate possibility but rather addresses the realities of where most of us remain stuck and distant from one another and ourselves. There is a roadmap to healing within these wise poems if the reader takes advantage of the opportunity.
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Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, reviews and essays.  A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with renowned writers Philip Schultz, David Ignatow, John Ashbery and William Packard. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose by Nirala Publications (2017).  She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

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Single Woman by Dell Lemmon

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By Lynette Esposito

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In the Mudfish Individual Poet Series number 10, Dell Lemmon presents Single Woman, a collection of confessional style poems using images from everyday living to represent a lifestyle and a life.
The 105 page paperback is divided into five parts.  The poems range in subject matter to include dogs, cats, dolphins and the sewers of Paris from the viewpoint of a woman revisiting her perspective of her own life and the suggestion of how others evaluate her.
The poems are mostly free verse using images the narrator chooses from locations and situations such as when she babysat in France to when her mother died and she inherited her coats.  The use of everyday language is appealing and the clarity of presentation helps the reader appreciate how symbolic daily incidents can be.
In her poem, Yankee Candle, Lemmon explores the usually dreaded doctor’s appointment where one faces an honest truth about one’s body.
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          At my bi-annual doctor’s check-up, my doctor told me only a few more
          Ponds and I would officially be obese.
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She proceeds in the poem to detail weight gain and the why of it.  The poem has more a sense of rebellion rather than resignation as she speaks of pecan pie.

The poems are conversational in nature as if the narrator is not only talking to herself but also to the reader.   In her poem, Congratulate Yourself, she talks about the things you promise yourself when you were child:  I wanted to live without lying…I wanted to live without hurting other people.  She addresses the issue of failing.

If you like poems that border on prose and images that suggest complexity through simplicity, this is an enjoyable poetry collection .

 You can find the book here: Single Woman

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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.

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