north of oxford poetry book review

Logos by Gil Fagiani

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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In the 161 page soft cover poetry book, Logos by Gil Fagiani, the reader learns from Fagiani himself in an author’s note that his poetry is of the people.
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                          This poetry of the people, this song of the streets, has been
                           the most influential element in my literary pursuits, and why
                           my first impulse has been to write about the world with addiction
                           and treatment by means of poetry rather than prose.
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This book fulfills Fagiani’s literary pursuit..  For example, his poem Believer on page 15 is only one stanza but powerful in both image and storyline.
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                          On a muggy
                          fly-filled day
                          inside a courtyard
                          reeking of diapers,
                          mice-filled glue traps,
                          take-out tins of rice and beans,
                          he stands behind a long line
                          of sick junkies
                          until it’s his turn
                          to push his last ten-dollar bill
                          through a hole in the wall,
                          convinced
                          a dynamite sack of dope
                          is going to be pushed back.
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The title suggests faith but takes an ironic tact on the “belief” of an addict with a questionable outcome for the deliverance of a product that would allegedly lift his spirits. The language used is clear and common in a setting that speaks of squalor and desperation.

Fagiani divides the tome into sections Shooting Dope with Trotsky, White Uncle Tom, Siding with the Enemy, and A Single Spark.  These titles also represent Fagiani’s approach to heal the reader with street song and poetry. Jose’ B. Gonzales, Ph.D., editor of Latinostories.com, says: This collection is full of lyrical grit. In the first section, Shooting Dope with Trotsky, Fagiani uses images in the poems talking about the black section of town, anti-poverty volunteerism in Harlem and skin popping until he almost ODs. In the section, White Uncle Tom, Fagiani tells the stories of an interview in the South Bronx, the feds busting Mikie for a pound of pure in his trunk, and teaming up with a girlfriend to scam guys.  The gritty storylines represent imperfect lives in imperfect and desperate situations.

In Siding with the Enemy, Fagiani shows a party group made up of Black, White,  and Puerto Rican men walking arm in am down a street in an Italian neighborhood singing at the top of their lungs until the narrator realizes they could get hurt and they need to leave the neighborhood when bottles start flying and exploding. A Single Spark shows situations in the subway, in the bedroom and behind the Paradise Theater with the play on words successfully executed.  The subjects, the storylines and the images use their figurative eyes to look directly into the face of reality.

The book is a  pleasurable read especially if you like looking at images that aren’t afraid to roll in the dirt and stand up to shake it off.

Gil Fagiani has many poetry collections to his credit including A Blanquito in El Barrio, Chianti in Connecticut, and Stone Walls.  He was a social worker and worked in a Psychiatric hospital and a drug rehab program in downtown Brooklyn.

The book is available from www.guernicaeditions.com

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

 

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Sideways Blues – Irish Mountain & Beyond by Carl Kaucher

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By g emil reuter

Carl Kaucher is not a poet who walks. Kaucher is a wanderer. Often from the foot of Irish Mountain in Temple, Pennsylvania to the sometimes familiar, often forgotten urban landscapes of southeastern Pennsylvania. From city to dusty borough, to boroughs on the rebound. Kaucher wanders the main streets, back streets and alleyways, ever the observer, ever the recorder.

This collection of 32 poems bring the reader into the geography and characters who inhabit these places, many on the margins of life. A realist, Kaucher writes in the second stanza of the first poem:

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My altar is alternative form
meditated since before I was born.
Sometimes I dream of silence
and pray for it’s return
Life is far simpler than I know
when I let go of my self.
Drifting on an empty street
I am hoping to be filled with lost.
In giving away, I am not taking.
In living my way, I am not faking.
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He writes of the intercity bus station, of the dirty socks of damnation, of life along the railroad tracks, of street preachers and when he wanders into a neighborhood where his appearance is different than those who occupy the corner, they look upon each other suspiciously in the mirror of distrust.
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Kaucher tells of his love of nature while on a park bench in the opening stanza of 16:
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Far side of nowhere
under cool shade of pin oak
singing the park bench blues
to the cello sounds
of cicada whorls
that mesmerize me deep
to the sonic rhythm
sonata of August.
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This well-crafted collection pulsates with the rhythm of the hard side of life as in the 2nd and 3rd stanza of 4:
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Hard stepping down streets
rhythmic to a four count beat.
Passing through pools of dark
Carrion shadow- into my self
into meditation – emptiness.
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Thoughts come to pass as memory
Then fall into the gutter
to someday be washed away
down sewers into streams
and into the seas of dream.
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Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella published by New York Quarterly Books is a good end of summer read for lovers of poetry. The broad range of themes presented in everyday language gives a sense of deep understanding of relationships between nature, humans and the overall the culture we live in.
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An example of nature and how one reacts is the last poem of this soft cover volume, My Rain, which creates an ending to the lushness of the warmer months and how one can interpret something as common as rain in an individual way.
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My Rain
                                          does not whip the ground
                                          from under me.
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                                          Falls straight
                                                    As a sheet.
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                                          Ends at dawn
                                             in a mist that lingers
                                             over blades of grass.
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I like the technique of using the title in a dual function of being the title as well as the first line of the poem.  Although the poem has a lyrical sense to it, its directness and clarity expands the image of how perspective on even drops of rain can change a person. The uneven lines contribute to the visualization of the unevenness of rain drops.
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This direct and clear approach is all through the book when the narrator remembers her relationship with her father on page 27, Father, fix it, please. The poem opens with The dark befriends me here in the basement.  Lisella has given the reader a place that is usually unfriendly and often scary and makes it into the safe and wonderful memory of her father’s workshop where anything can be repaired.
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The relationship to our culture is shown on page 57 when she reveals some issues with being short in her poem Lethal.   Lisella’s last line draws the poem to a close on the subject of being short: lethal, small and ready to spring.  The poem gives images of what it means to be small but gives power to the petite of the world using the common denominator of ballet and turning that suggestion and perhaps negative of being diminutive into power.
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In another cultural reference, she speaks of war in her poem Just Boys on page 79 by showing three tombstones of boys who fought the other boys.  The opening line is so strong, The sun is about to slip below the grass, that one can feel a graveyard shiver.  She speaks of taking pictures as if they could record silence. In the space she has led the reader to, we stand in a dead and quiet war zone of the past but in the present.
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The volume is divided into four parts headed by Roman numerals.  The 100 page tome covers a wide range of themes drawn from everyday life and presented in both long and short poems.  Although the poems are direct and clear, many of them I wanted to read again and again because of the way they made me feel.
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Maria Lisella is the Poet Laureate of Queens for 2015 to 2018. Her work has appeared in Amore on Hope Street, Two Naked Feet and many literary journals including Fox Chase Review and New Verse News.  She holds an MA in specialized Journalism from NYU-Polytechnic University. She is also a travel writer and editor and has had her work recognized in South Africa, Italy and France.
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The book is available from www.nyq.org
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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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Gathering View by Jack C. Buck

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By Stephen Page

A couple of years ago I traveled with my wife to my home state Michigan, north of the city of Detroit. We were to stay there during the last week of March and the first week of April. The last few times I went to Michigan it was either in June, August, or October. And even though I grew up in Michigan, I had not been to Michigan in March or April in quite some time. I packed a couple of cotton sweaters and a rad waxed-cotton motorcycle-style jacket with a picture of Steve McQueen imprinted on the lining. It had no snap-in wool lining and I thought that I would not need it.  After all, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Right? As the plane carrying me and my wife was descending for a landing in Detroit Metropolitan Airport, we looked out the fuselage window and saw what looked like at least three inches of snow on the ground. The pilot came on the air and announced that the wind chill was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I looked at my wife.

The shuttle bus drove us to a car rental and we chose to pay for a mid-size car.  The cashier told us we would get a Ventura.  We stood outside shivering, clenching our teeth, hugging each other while we waited for the valet to arrive with the car.  The valet drove up in front of us in a brand new Charger. He said he took one look at my cool jacket, and new I would need a sporty ride. I thanked him and gave him tip.  We leaped in the vehicle, drove to the first shopping mall we saw alongside I-94, ran inside, and bought wool sweaters, down jackets, Detroit Lions beanies, and gloves.  Sorry McQueen, you would have looked very cool in that new Charger.

Driving to my sister’s house, I remembered that when I was a kid I walked one mile every day to school and one mile back. Sometimes during January or February, no matter how many layers of clothing I wore, the cold bit all the way down to the marrow of the bones.  The cheeks on my face felt like they had been scorched with ice.  And then the cold would grip my lungs and heart and I thought I was going into cardiac arrest.

Reading Jack C. Buck’s “Gathering View” harked back those times.  I had again forgotten that winter in Michigan can last well into May.  Mr. Buck has kindly reminded me. I wish I had read this book before that expedition with my wife.  Winter in Michigan is either chilly, cold, freezing, polar, bone-chilling, face-peeling, or heart-stopping. There is no warm, cuddly, soft-fleeced March lamb. Mr. Buck encapsulates this face-blistering phenomenon in his vivid collection of short poems. In his book, warmth comes only in human contact, literally and lovingly. His succinct poems paint the grandeur of Michigan in all its beauty—rivers, lakes, forests, flora and fauna.  He also alludes to the Michiganders penchant for football.  The book is divided into three sections: one is the late autumn and first few months of winter (including references to football); two, the long bitter middle of winter; and three, the ending of winter and the beginning of spring (which can still be quite nippy).  In this book, Buck has produced empathetic poems about loneliness, solitude, and those ever-saving Persophonic graces, acts of humanity.

You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Gathering-View-Jack-Buck/dp/0998890235/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533473293&sr=1-9

Stephen Page is the Author of The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA from Bennington College. He also attended Broward College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, reading, travel, family, and friends.

The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis by Luisa Igloria

buddha

Review by Robbi Nester

Recently, I watched an episode of the Netflix series The Chef’s Table featuring the sublime cuisine of a South Korean Buddhist monk who resides in a monastery in the forest, where she cooks for her community as well as for visitors who come from all over the world to taste those dishes. The food she prepares, her words, and everything about her embodies the teachings of Buddhism.

The multiple avatars of the Buddha in Luisa Igloria’s collection of poetry The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (Phoenicia Publishing) have not yet reached this monk’s advanced stage of enlightenment. They have not retreated from the world to serene sanctuaries, but live out their lives in the midst of the chaos the rest of us must negotiate every day, and yet these poems, like the dishes the monk prepares, are perfect embodiments of a Buddhist practice.

In “The Buddha considers with all seriousness,” the Buddha shops for ice cream in a convenience store, where she considers “[t]he vanity of decisions that revolve around desire.” Though the speaker in this poem, as in so many others, is the Buddha, this desire is not theoretical. The poem and the poet are clearly attached to the world of the senses. These poems embrace that world and evoke it with great care.

At the same time, they take up the challenge embodied by Buddhist philosophy, finding a way to unite it with poetry, which on the surface seems incompatible with the notion that desire and the senses, the concrete things that make up the substance of poetry, are but illusions. The speaker in “Ghazal with Cow burial” wonders about the after-life of a cow: “The cow that in this life was cow, does it remain the same? Does it dream/ of feathered grass in the fields, of gnats, the low symphony of fellow-cows//chewing their cud?” Poetry without the body is hard to imagine. What does it mean to be oneself when all the particulars this entails have gone? The very act of pondering this insoluble riddle presents an act of meditation.

Similarly, in “The last temple in the north,” the speaker, clearly a teacher of literature like Igloria herself, muses on the odd parallels between postmodern theory and Buddhist philosophy. Post-structuralist theory reduces language to illusion, indefinitely deferring meaning, yet, the poet insists, “[o]nce we understand we have nothing, then and only then can we understand poetry,” the word “deconstructed into fearful significance.”

In one poem after another, the various incarnations of the Buddha undertake the mundane tasks of everyday life, going on the Internet, filling out job applications, and dealing with the same annoyances the rest of us face. Yet on top of these everyday frustrations, this Buddha has others. Igloria elaborates the down side of a life of absolute compassion. The Buddha, open to the suffering of every living creature, suffers from chronic migraines and also psychic pain of another sort. To that end, she seeks out a therapist.

Privy to the Buddha’s worries, we find him fretting about the possibility of resolving doctrine with one’s emotions, as in “The Buddha listens,” where the speaker wonders “How is it possible to cultivate detachment/at the same time that one practices compassion?” Yet elsewhere, in “The Buddha is a wallflower,” we find the speaker practicing this very skill, listening intently to another’s reminiscence and remarking “how a memory not even his can offer a spark undiminished by the years.” This is radical empathy, the ability to identify totally with another, an ability as prized among poets as among practitioners of Buddhism.

Despite the fact that these embodiments of the Buddha live among us and sometimes suffer as we do, Igloria reminds us in “Innervate” that we carry within us our own retreat, the “little hilly village” of the brain,”criss-crossed/by winding trails and nestled like an egg/in a walled-off fortress.”  It is to this redoubt where the speaker of “The Buddha picks up a call without first checking caller ID” retreats in his response to a telephone sales call, using a tactic that is at once straightforward and ingenious. Rather than simply hanging up, thus inviting further calls from the persistent sales-bot, the Buddha answers this person’s questions about life-insurance with tenets of Buddhist philosophy, such as “The goal/ of all life is the movement toward greater/and greater enlightenment, which is the freedom at last/from suffering and illusion.”

As this example suggests, Igloria both charms us with humor and gorgeously crafted poetry and embodies Buddhist concepts that can so often resist words. Whether you have never read the work of this poet or have followed her work regularly, treat yourself to this book.

 

You can find the book here: http://www.phoeniciapublishing.com/the-buddha-wonders.html

 

Robbi Nester frequently reviews books of poetry. She is the author of a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and three collections of poetry: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and a forthcoming book, Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag).

Talking Pillow by Angela Ball

Talking Pillow by Angela Ball
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Review by Lynette G. Esposito

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Talking Pillow by Angela Ball a professor of English at the Southern University of Mississippi, takes the poetry reader on a contemporary ride arounda block of modern subjects represented in both literal and figurative images.

Published by the University of Pittsburg Press in their Pitt Poetry Series, this 55-page soft cover tome offers reflections on universal themes such as love, loss, death hope and grief.

The poems are divided into three sections:  Lady of the House, FBI Story, and Bicycle Story. The sections are thematic. In Lady of the House, the focus of the poems is on relationships and the myriad subjects that make them.  In FBI Story the theme switches to discovery and realization using contemporary images that are both representative and logical. In the section, The Bicycle Story, the reader rides with the narrator through locales, timelines passing through remembrance and grief.

In the lead poem in the first section, Society for Ladies of the House. the situation is set in an ambulance ride to the hospital and the desire for the patient’s recovery The surprise ending is sweet but not sentimental  and shows how love transcends every day minutiae to survive and make one recognize how glorious love is.  After the trip to the hospital, the last lines show the true purpose:.

        …It parades the sky in its windows, admits
         the opera of passing sirens, the swerving, rocking
         ambulance with the brave young driver, determined
         to reach the hospital in time to save the patient
         to let him heal and return home, tentative
         but upright, to his own true love, the Lady of the House
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The poem I favor in FBI Story is the last poem in this section on page 37 entitled An Attempt.  Ball uses a dead bee..
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           For us, all that’s left
           is a dried bee, tilted
           onto one wing.
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The narrator says you cannot touch anything without water.  I like the perception of death during An Attempt, and the stillness represented by the bee caught trying but left unmoving.  It is a visible image in nature that asks the reader to understand action projected and action paused…probably without warning.  The last lines speak of the bee dust in the flower and the sad realization that the “we” of the poem will still not be any closer.

In The Bicycle Story, two poems attracted me: Lots of Swearing at the Fairgrounds, and Intercourse after Death Presents Special Difficulties.

          At the fairgrounds even children
          were full of curses, scrawled across mornings.
          What was denied, open pasture,
          the perfection of a stallion covering its mate.
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The comment on confined spaces obscuring the beauty of nature is subtle but clear.

The lines that struck me in Intercourse After Death Presents Special Difficulties, beside the title, involve a congeal visit to the after life. Ball handles the desire without sentimentality but with intensity and possibility. .

      Nights I ingest the pill
        that lets me seem awake while in motion
        at home and at work.  I note
        today’s horoscope
       “a far-fetched hope is realized.”.  
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For those who have lost a lover or a loved one, Ball suggest that there is shame in the need to touch and be touched by the lost one and how the narrator of the poem deals with the reality and perception

The book is a pleasure in its direct simplicity as well as its subtlety.

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You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Talking-Pillow-Pitt-Poetry-Angela/dp/0822965151/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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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.

American Parable by Sonia Greenfield

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By Richard Nester

Sonia Greenfield’s chapbook, American Parable, should receive a trumpet fanfare upon being opened. It pioneers a style, a method—not so revolutionary as Whitman’s breathtaking leap into free verse perhaps—but worthy of notice both for what it says and how it says it. Greenfield’s verse is fiery, packed with lived experience and whetted by an imaginative grit that is emotionally concrete, accurate and incisive. She manages to join Whitman’s vigorous engagement with public issues with Dickinson’s lyric genius for private mediation. Greenfield’s poems are not only important in themselves as individual explorations of significant human questions but also for what they accomplish in terms of method, which is to explore civic questions in poems that have a complete right to be called lyric poems, something long thought impossible. In American Parable, Greenfield successfully closes the considerable distance between the styles of Whitman and Dickinson and their subject matters.

To better understand how Greenfield operates in American Parable and why her method is so fresh, we need to look at a poem from her first collection Boy with a Halo at the Farmer’s Market. This poem “Nafsicrate Considers Bruegel’s Famous Work” reacts to W.H. Auden’s famous “Musee des Beaux Arts” from the point of view of a character who might have appeared in Auden’s poem but doesn’t, that is the mother of Icarus. Greenfield will use a similar approach many times in American Parable as she establishes a point of view that has been overlooked or disregarded and then uses that point of view to close the distance between the reader and the poem’s subject. Providing readers with these kinds of insights is a classic trope of lyric poetry, but one that has rarely found its way into the rhetoric of civic discourse.

One of the things we notice about “Nafsicrates Considers” is that Icarus isn’t named until the poem’s last line since to his mother he is simply “my boy,” a real person, who is both intensely special as well as typical of all children. She has passed her unique knowledge of how to dive to him—a detail that ironically references the painting—while acknowledging her anxiety for his safety. As she says “you can’t trust children to make good choices.” Icarus remains somewhat unreal to us since we don’t encounter him except in his mother’s report. In this respect, we are still “turned away” from him, to borrow Auden’s figure of speech, but Nafsicrate is certainly a real mother suffering the anxieties of a real parent and not the generalized, emotionally distant spectator of Auden’s poem.

Developing this fresh point of view enables Greenfield to dispute Auden’s opening claim in “Musee,” which is  “about suffering they were never wrong / the old Masters.” Auden continues, deftly producing his evidence both from life and from Bruegel’s painting, so that we tend to accept authority of his argument and his verdict that indifference to suffering is the default mode for humanity. What other opinion could there be? Auden is apparently cocksure about its truth, but is it actually the only truth available? Is it so universal after all? Or is it rather the wisdom of a particular set of “masters” (with a small m), painting in a particular time for a particular audience, singularly devoted to commerce. By including an observer who is also a vital—but usually disregarded–participant Greenfield is able to challenge the hegemony of the expected, a classic move in lyric poetry.

As far as Yeats was concerned, poetry and rhetoric could not exist together, and his distinction between them is famous, poetry arising from “quarrels with ourselves” and rhetoric from “quarrels with others.” After Yeats, poetry took an inward turn away from public engagement and persuasion toward explorations of inner conditions and their imaginative traffic with the material world. When public engagement did occur as in Auden’s oft-quoted “September 1, 1939,” it exhibited a reluctance to linger with the personal. Within the space of a few lines, Auden moves from his seat at the bar “uncertain and afraid” to a place at the lecture podium delivering a geo-political sermon about what every schoolboy should have learned about the propagation of evil. I don’t mean to say that this isn’t great poetry, but it is not in the lyric mode of exploration and discovery. In American Parable, Greenfield closes this distance as we become more fully engaged with the people and issues she offers us.

Another means she adapts from the lyric vocabulary is what Matthew Zapruder in his recent book Why Poetry calls “associative leaping,” a form of imaginative seeing. This method is on vivid display in “Snapshots of Pluto from New Horizons,” a poem that skillfully combines exposition with lyric grace as Greenfield examines how embattled language is in the current political climate. She includes situations from gender politics to the distorting power of language without once seeming strident or accusatory. Humans may “default to optimism” as we imagine a heart shape emerging—like our own lunar man-in-the-moon—from Pluto’s “variegated terrain,” but the poem’s sadness is unmistakable, sadness for emotional resources squandered because of a lack of the clear seeing that poetry offers.

She provides a poignant update to Williams’ claim that “men die every day for lack of it [poetry],” as she focuses our attention on the women, workers, and children that are diminished by our failure to offer “new horizons” to our most vulnerable citizens. Her images have an associative power that belies their plain spoken sense. A case in point are the leaking “sandbags” of the poem’s last line, which remind us of our inability to insure against disasters political and emotional as well as natural.

A poem that pairs well with “Pluto”—in that both involve journeys that are in part hopeful and in part forsaken—is “Refuge” where Greenfield portrays the contemporary refuge experience through the eyes of a character she calls “melania” (spelled with a small m). “Refuge” fuses the refuge experience of women and children fleeing war or political crisis with the immigrant journey of the First Lady of the United States—a decidedly more well-known Melania—as it juxtaposes material barriers of “brambles” and “walls” with emotional barriers of “tinted windows” and “blue pills.”  The fusion completes itself as the “tinted windows” of melania’s exile existence “roll down” the way / Slovenian woods pull their / shutters closed at the end / of the day” and melania is eventually pointed to her “bed over there.”

Woody Guthrie, in his classic protest ballad “Deportee,” recognizes that namelessness is a signal trait of the economic and political exile. He sings “you won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,” reminding us not only of how dangerous anonymity is for the exile but also of how anonymity can be weaponized by the powerful. Greenfield, by ironically naming the principal character of “Refugee,” throws the humanity of the exile into stark relief. She will insist that the world look now even if it was not looking during the earliest stages of the world refugee crisis.

Accurate, insightful seeing is a crucial component of Greenfield’s lyric approach. In poem after poem, the visual details pile up, calling on us to witness what on many occasions we might prefer not to see. Sights, detailed on Greenfield’s moral canvas, places and events where the seeing is inward as well as outward, include those associated with lynchings and abortions. She notes in “Yours,” where the subject is unsafe drinking water, that moral toxicity usually accompanies physical toxicity. Twice she goes underwater, once to survey drowned Confederate statues, noting that “if you want to touch / this history bad enough you can dive for it” and again at “The Miami Museum of Water” where Trumpian artifacts submerged by global warming mingle with detritus from Cuban restaurants. Even when a poem’s overall message is inspirational, as in “I Believe, in the End, the Dogs Will Save Us” suffering is evident, a reminder that our real heroes are ones who survive trials—in this case a mutt whose leg is caught in a trap and not the kind of dogs—herders and bomb-sniffers—that are more likely to get credit for heroism.

American Parable’s title poem is probably the least lyrical of the collection, not because it lacks the quick movement that we usually associate with lyric, but because it is in fact a parable, a parable being a narrative tale designed to illustrate a universal truth. The universal truth in this case is the powerful negative impact of fear on a country and a people. The poem begins by describing the reasons that the country has not to be fearful: “weapons & open / spaces, prairie grass & forests / river runs & rolling golden / mountains.” But fearful this country is, shockingly so, and without rational explanation.  Rumors of “terrible creatures” spread, but there is no evidence that they are doing anything “terrible.” Rumors are all the evidence offered. A “golem” appears to be lurking and a “fog of plagues,” but whether these dangers are the reasons for the fear or its consequences, goes unsaid. All we know is that a “prophet / who lived in a golden tower” tells the people that he can save them, provided they will throw rocks at those he says are to blame.

The allegorical nature of the narrative is too plain to bother recounting. Nonetheless, it is expertly told, and its truth about the consequences of fear is hard to question. Creating an allegory is clearly a way to steer the poem away from topicality and toward universality, and Greenfield is successful in doing that. “American Parable” is not a political lyric of the kind I have been examining, but it serves the collection the way the pole of a circus tent serves the spacious area underneath it—a three-ring circus of political poetry that illuminates our current crises and points a way toward new forms of poetic discourse. That these poems will constitute acts of resistance and survival is a hope profoundly worth hoping.

You can find the book here:

http://www.autumnhouse.org/product/american-parable-sonia-greenfield/

Richard Nester has twice been a fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has published essays on social justice topics in The Catholic Agitator, a publication of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, and poetry in numerous magazines, including Ploughshares, Seneca Review, and Callaloo and on-line in The Cortland Review, Qarrtsiluni and Inlandia. He has two collections of poetry, Buffalo Laughter and  Gunpowder Summers, both published by Kelsay Books. His reviews of poetry have appeared in North of Oxford.