north of oxford poetry book review

My Mother’s Transvestites by Tiff Holland

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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As in her 2011 flash fiction collection, Betty Superman, winner of the Rose Metal Press’ Short Short Chapbook contest, the star of this poetry collection is the narrator’s mother. But she’s not the only star. There’s so much else going on in these poems, from reminiscences of a Midwest childhood to fluctuating gender identity to sex, death, marriage and parenthood.
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But the title poem and the prose poem that begins the book, “Hot Work,” both focus on the men who come into her mother’s beauty salon, men who “would like nothing more than to mingle under dryers, nibble donuts, discuss The Enquirer with the other ladies.”  The poem concludes:
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My mother applies the transvestites’ make-up. I feign sleep in a shampoo
chair, sneak peaks at finished products: wingless angels with five o’clock
shadow, tottering in circles between the dryers and the styling chairs,
trying in that small space to learn to fly.
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How like her mother’s female clients, whom Holland shows us in “The Beauty Shop Ladies”:
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They really want to be movie stars
Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Vivien
Leigh. They’ve seen “The Women”,
and they like to lounge on the settee-
shaped shampoo chairs while awaiting
their turn as the focus of my mother’s
attention.

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They all smoke in the way
of the rich and famous, holding
Salems and Winstons with just
the tips of their middle and fore-
fingers, close to the filters, calling
attention to their manicures,
the hue of their lips.
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The narrator’s mother skillfully juggles the fragile egos, like a magician. Other poems involving the mother include “Vanilla” (“Still in rollers, cigarette clenched between dentures, / Mom sat at the kitchen table….”), “Resemblance,” which is also about the narrator’s daughter, “Kenny,” “Orange, Brown, Yellow, Red,” “Thanksgiving,” and “The Vagina Tax,” in which she alludes to her mother’s death. This poem also concerns the narrator’s daughter.
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I admit, when the amniocentesis came back
Girl, I suggested murder-suicide: you, me
the Girl in my belly. I refused to birth into
this world another being to make only
seventy-six cents for every dollar
a boy would make.
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The mother appears in others, but this is a nice place to segue to two of Holland’s other potent themes, gender identity and sex. Early on, we get a picture of the narrator as a tomboy. In “Vanilla,” the mother dresses her son up like a girl, and of course the kids on the bus picked on him. The narrator pounded them. In “Flared,” we also read about clothing, and the narrator’s distaste for girlie clothes. “Foundations” which also deals with feminine garb, begins:
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About the time I was trying to decide
whether to have a sex change operation
but before I threw all my dresses and skirts,
my slips and nylons in the trash,
my boyfriend invited me to a fancy nightclub
for New Year’s Eve.
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This poem is neatly balanced by the final poem in the collection, “The Last Dress,” in which the narrator reflects on the last female garment she kept, but only for “wedding or funeral, over / seventy degrees, my / attendance obligatory.” As in the poems already cited and others like “Once I Wore a Red Bikini” and “”Don’t Ask,” the narrator’s ambivalence about gender roles as manifested in clothing and appearances is likewise upfront and center.  The poem – the book! – ends with positive self-affirmation:
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Really, I abandoned it because
I had no where to go in which
I had any reason to be someone
other than myself.
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Speaking of funerals, they are the subject of more than a few of these poems. “Carry On” is about the narrator’s father’s funeral. “Grandma Gone Out of Breeden West Virginia” is about burying her grandmother on the day she turned eight. “Eulogy for O’Toole” is about her mother’s second husband’s funeral. “Elegy for Uncle Bill” is a sweet tribute to a loved uncle, who in some sense still lives on. “In some theories of time, / everything is happening at once.”
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Indeed, the poems in which the narrator re-creates her childhood in Ohio are like this. “Purple Town,” “A Piece of August,” “Yanked” and “Burning Ghost Money in Akron, Ohio” bring the Midwest to life. The narrator married at seventeen to a boy going into the army, and several of the poems address this aspect of her coming of age, such as “Watch, Necklace, Luggage,” which is about the wedding, the reception in the Eagles hall where her Uncle Buddy’s band supplied the entertainment.  “Between home and homesick is the highway, / the Day’s Inn at Cave City, Kentucky,” she begins the poem, “No Need for Room Service.” It’s a poem about escaping from home. The occasion for this poem is not clear, though I like to think of it as the narrator and her husband after the wedding.  “Just past claustrophobia, we slip / from Central to Eastern Standard Time….” A vivid character named Tracy, a sort of “town slut” figure, appears in three of the Midwest poems, including the title poem.
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There is so much to admire about My Mother’s Transvestites, not the least of which is the humor that makes you smile on almost every page, the sympathetic characters, not the least of whom are the narrator and her mother, and the humanity that lies underneath it all.
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You can find the book here: My Mother’s Transvestites
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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  published by Future Cycle Press.  Most recently Catastroika  was released by Apprentice House in 2020.
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Atlas of Wolves by John Macker

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By g emil reutter
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John Macker is not a poet to make you laugh, he is not a poet to perform his poetry in such a manner as to void its serious implications for John Macker is a poet grounded in decades of lineage arriving at his current destination. Atlas of Wolves consists of strands of words flowing across pages into the darkness of life brightened by the moon, measured by history and acute awareness by the poet of his surroundings.
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First Stanza of Border Wall Blues:
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When not speaking in tongues
its soullessness borders on the devout.
From the top of the wall, we’re out of range
of anything animated or proselytizing
from the top of the wall
there are no degrees of separation
from the heat
the desert is a fever dreamt graveyard and
the wind is alive with hymns.
The wall wages a war of insurrection
on the landscape
dispossessed javelin mothers cry at the moon
rattlesnakes sell death rattles
safe for children without homes.
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The words sing from the page of the wall, separation, heat, graveyard with hymns, of insurrection, of mothers crying at the moon and rattlesnakes selling death rattles. The poet links the strands of desperation into imagery so profound to enable the stanza to cause an immediate reaction within the reader.
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The first stanza of winter poem provides fresh imagery although in a dark setting revealing the reality of life:
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Driving through winter fog
it’s difficult to see
a raven peck at the lost movie
in a coyote’s
frozen eye
that last saw the morning
star, a hawk
kiting, an anxious flock of
cedar waxwings
or the world’s wounds
tombs or bombs
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The poet creates landscapes with words in the section titled, Still life and Border Crossings. He pays homage to winter and the moon in the second section, In Praise of Winter’s Essentials and sings to us in the third section, Gorge Songs.
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These are poems of truth without need for explication, woven with imagery and metaphor. One can say that Macker has joined his beloved moon and ever expansive glory of the stars in the dark sky.
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g emil reutter can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/
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All the Useless Things are Mine by Thomas Walton, with Etchings and Drawings by Douglas Miller

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By Greg Bem

“We’re all working hard every day on composing seventeen or so words that will decorate our headstones.” (from “Bitter Pills,” page 41)

Thomas Walton’s a poet’s poet. But not only in the ways you might think. He writes poems with allusions, with complex symbols, and with a literary imperative, but his writing also expresses a more automatic, emergent language, a language reflecting a growing relationship with the surrounding world. And Walton’s latest book is a poet’s book that captures this, but it’s also difficult to pin down, challenging to categorize and understand, as we are sometimes wanting to do with poetry. All the Useless Things are Mine—the title is bearably funny while also being deadpan. When it comes to the poems, this is a collection with a name fittingly accurate and inaccurate all the same—there’s a lot here, and it might be useless, and it might be useful, but to Thomas, it’s a matter of taste and curiosity, the poet finding their self and their voice emerging from a world that is inconsequentially available.

Let’s step back. Let’s see this availability in form. The book, on the surface, is a collection of Thomas’s 17-word aphorisms, loosely packed and fitting nicely into rigid and flexible sequences of theme. Thomas is following up last year’s investigation of marriage failings, dutiful fatherhood, and a relentless commitment to Gertrude Stein, The World Is All That Does Befall Us (Ravenna Press, 2019), and the previous year’s collaborative investigation of art history in Rome, The Last Mosaic (with poet Elizabeth Cooperman, Sagging Meniscus Press, 2018). To say Thomas is on a roll would be underwhelming; Thomas’s newest release flows (or stems) from both of his predecessors. Each aphorism is a statement. It harkens to the lyrical essay. But each aphorism lives on its own in a slightly more liberated (open?) circumstance.

“Concentration is a kind of levitation, and when you’re in the clouds it’s easy to love indiscriminately.” (from “All Poets Are Lunatics,” page 63)

The titles of each sequence, each “poem,” tend to be wayfinding tools if anything. Each adds subtext to the aphorisms within. “At the Crack of Up” and “All Poets Are Lunatics” and “I Guess I Don’t Travel Much” are a few examples of Walton’s layering of humor. “Love and Sex” and “Birdsong” and “The Afterlife” balance things out. And this is a book of balance, despite its sprawl and flexibility. The poems are compacted nicely into a book that feels nice. Like the others mentioned above, this collection is also a relatively small physical shape. It can fit in most pockets. It can be pulled out and examined in a flash, or a breath, and repocketed for future engagement.

Or, for readers like myself, it is a book of deception. The book feels small, but the print is as well. And the aphorisms keep on coming. I devoted an entire evening to reading it—and it took the entire evening! Such is the way of Walton’s latest works, which drag and twirl mesmerizingly. The lack of any narrative structure, any overall argument, entraps the reader further. Stepping into All the Useless Things are Mine is a visit to the poppy field, a long beach with ceaseless tidal crashings, a labyrinth not of “how” or “why” but of “when.”

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Time, duration, mortality—the nature of our beating hearts—these qualities blossom within this text through the inclusivity of Douglas Miller’s etchings and drawings. The images are straightforward—household objects, animals, insects, trees—each page-long visual is presented in stark black and white. The materials used feel rough and emergent. There is a flow to the scrapes and scratches upon the page. Some images feel rough, even resembling drafts through the presence of outlines. But the they are also hardly such; as documents of the creative process, Miller’s visuals resemble the fixity of Walton’s seventeen-word form. Whether they contain everything or only part, they are complete and gorgeous. The sense of emptiness, of incompleteness, juxtaposed with the reality of finality instills a haunting (or chilling) effect: it is existential. This is what we have, and this is when we have it—the now, the immediate, the temporary.

“I walked out with her, looking hard at things, hoping to break into living with my eyes.” (from “Do Your Job,” page 26)

The temporary is linked through the visual, and the visual is mighty in Walton’s aphorisms. It is a construct, a poet’s world, remembering, assembling, forever revisiting. It is moving; this poet’s world is a space, a field, ever-expanding and ever-enveloping one and the same. What often does not translate into a book-length work, which is often confronting form on a large scale, with distinct purpose and message, is how that world’s expansion and envelope is fluid and in flux. Walton’s previous works alluded to the phenomenon of the everyday poetic practice, and All the Useless Things are Mine dives right in. While not a daybook or journal, it still reminds us that the notes, the scrawl, the scribbling existed to lead into the book. There are roots. There is the prototypical core.

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Intimately, Walton’s latest work allows the reader to feel like we’re walking down the block, resting in the park, holed up under some bushes in a garden, or off in some shadowy nook of a house. But not to linger—to merely capture the moment, to create a literary impression—and then to move on. Walton’s work is once again spirited, and balanced within the two covers that hold it close. And yet the fluidity and sprawl of the world Walton has documented, like the haiku of Matsuo Bashō, the walking poems of Frank O’Hara, or the contemporary American Sentences of Paul E. Nelson, insists on the “something more” of process, of origins, and of linearity’s charm.

You can find the book here: https://www.saggingmeniscus.com/catalog/all_the_useless_things_are_mine/

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.

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Sojourners of the In-Between By Gregory Djanikian

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By Frank Wilson
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The opening lines of “Even During the Slightest Changes,” Gregory Djanikian’s poem in memory of James Tate, could well serve as an epigraph for this latest collection of  Djanikian’s poems:
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Everything is in flux, Heraclitus said,
and I believe him with my ragged heart.
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Heraclitus also said that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  Djanikian seems to have taken this to his ragged heart as well, even wondering who that man is now. As he puts it at the end of “Loose Ends”:
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Someone, come knock on my door.
Let’s see who’s inside.
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He’s already confronted this question in “Nostalgia,” the poem that precedes “Loose Ends,” when he thinks “if I had a photograph of every second / of the life I’ve already lived / I might feel bedraggled by it. // Or maybe not, maybe I’d pore over every snapshot, nuance, every shade of gray …”
Like all of us who reach three score and ten and beyond, he is supremely aware of time passing and past, with the future growing ever foreshortened — “the past / coursing into the present, the then / and the there / into the here I am.”Again and again the words hand and touch figure decisively:  “Therefore,” the first in  suite of poems titled  “Uneven Dozen,” begins:
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The hand at the end of my arm,
how far away it feels
from what I think I am.
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But another poem in the suite, “Without Saying,” concludes thus:
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Little magical hand
I am attached to,
waving in the rain.
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Then, on the facing page, in “Reconstitutions, Dispersions,” the speaker tells us “I smell the earth in a handful of earth,/ touch the atoms I might one day be colluding with.”In “Therefore” the speaker’s hand is somehow detached from the speaker’s self, the same self that feels attached to the hand that seems magical in “Without Saying,” the self that may amount one day to a handful of dust.
This is quite a step away from “Sometimes”:
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… what is it about holding the hand
         of your best girl and feeling at 14
     nothing of the past or future
just the desire of a boy
              who’s lost all his marbles
somewhere between a touch and a kiss?
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“Body to Body,” a couple of pages after “Sometimes,” concludes with a reference to “the sufficient touch / of the touch.”
Lest you think this is all morose brooding on mortality and possible oblivion, rest assured there’s more than that to be found here. Take “Beauty,” for instance:
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Sometimes it’s almost nothing at all,
a long whistle in the distance,
a startle of new rain,
a woman’s delicate hand appearing
in a window, then disappearing
before any implication. 
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There’s also  “Poem With Clouds.” The speaker’s wife “mentioned in passing / that what they were really feeling / each time they kissed /were her electrons, his electrons, /repulsing each other without touching.”
So the speaker starts kissing everything — tree bark, cat’s fur, piano keys:
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He wanted to see why one cloud
of electrons was mystifyingly different
from another, why he could distinguish
just by kissing, a potato from a peach pit.
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“After a while, his lips grew inflamed … // One day, a tree fell and he heard it. /Then, he kicked at a rock and it hurt.” And so …
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He went back to his wife
and gave her a kiss everywhere.
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And then there is Djanikian’s mother. This wondrous lady has made appearances in Djanikian’s other collections, always stealing the show. She makes two appearances here. “My 90-Year-Old Mother Would Be an Alpinist” tells of her “climbing my high porch stairs /pulling herself up by the railing.” With each step she calls out the name of a famous mountain peak:
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“Jungfrau,” she says, without stopping
to take a rest, “Kilimanjaro.”
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He tells us “I’ve offered her my arm / but she loves saying the name / of each difficult mountain….”
She has transfigured a chore into an adventure and more:
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Here, too, where steepness is a stairway
leading only to my front door,
every breath is hard won and holy,
Every step, a kind of prayer.
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“My Mother Considers Her Death During Cocktail Hour” wastes no time making plain her viewpoint: “It will be a sleep without dreams, she thinks.” Either that, “Or someone ushering her into a plush limo. … though she’d like the limo / to carry a full bar.”
It is, in fact, cocktail time, and “she’s after a dollop of bourbon.” A toast is raised:
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… here’s to the sheer improbability
of being where we are, making
a small place in the world
where a history of our loves and losses
shapes us into who we are.
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The tone of these poems varies a good deal, sometimes humorous, at other times almost testy, unavoidable sadness redeemed by tenderness.
But let us give the canny Mrs. Djanikian the final word:
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“Here’s to forgetfulness, too,” she says,
turning on the lights, “give me an absence
that stays absent without any trouble.”

Audubon’s Sparrow by Juditha Dowd

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Subtitled A Biography-in-Poems, Juditha Dowd’s insightful collection concentrates on the famous naturalist’s wife, Lucy Bakewell, showing us the incredible hardships both she and her husband endured. While some of the poems are in John James’ voice, most are from Lucy’s perspective, in the form of diary entries and letters as well as lyrics that reveal her mind. Audobon himself lived to the age of 65, dying in 1851 after suffering a stroke several years earlier and slipping into dementia, and Lucy survived another couple of decades after him, but the arc of these poems covers the twenty-five years from their meeting, in 1804, to their departure for England in 1829, when Audubon’s success was just at its start.
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When they meet in their rural eastern Pennsylvania community near the Schuylkill River, Audubon is only nineteen years old, Lucy seventeen. Born into a wealthy English family that were friends with the distinguished Priestly and Darwin families, Lucy Bakewell had come to America only two years before. John James Audubon, whose ancestry was a bit less genteel, had a French background, via San Domingue (Haiti).  The second poem, an 1804 letter to her cousin Euphemia, concludes with a decorous allusion to their growing mutual affection.
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As to how he pronounces my name, you may not be surprised
to learn I now prefer it uttered by the French.
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Lucy affectionately refers to John James as “La Forest,” suggesting his love of the outdoors, his vigorous nature. He’s a lively young man who charms her mother and her younger siblings with his swaggering liveliness. As Lucy says in another letter to her cousin, “Mr. A. is fond of dancing. He treats us to his fiddle
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or accompanies me on pianoforte, and he’s taught us all
some charming French chansons.
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For this reason, Lucy’s father is skeptical of him, but for better or worse, they marry three years later.  Soon after, they head west, into the frontier.  Dowd likens John James to Papageno, the comic character in Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, at once playful and wise“To tell you all this truth in simple words,” Papageno famously says, “I make my living catching birds.”  
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While his primary drive is always collecting specimens and drawing them in detail, for the next ten years, Audubon makes a brave effort to support his family through various business ventures. He and Lucy have four children, though two of them, Lucy and Rose, die in infancy. In Kentucky, he goes into business with his brother-in-law running supply stores, a sawmill, but they lose everything in the Panic of 1819.  In a poem set around three years earlier, “Audubon at the Window,” Dowd shows us John James musing to himself:
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I do not dissemble when I say that I’m a happy man,
though something weak within me says I’m not.
Fall has unmistakably arrayed our woods,
and ice has skimmed the creek beyond that stand of holly.
I cannot see it, for I’m here amid the bales and boxes,
flour bins and raisins, and the woolen socks,
hoes and skillets, twine and carriage straps,
the cabinet where we keep the guns and shot.
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I’m a provisioner of farmers, of travelers and families,
while something in me sighs that I am not.
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Oy, what poet or painter hasn’t felt the same, toiling away at his or her clerical job, or serving customers in a store or restaurant?  But after the business failure, John James devotes himself to his passion, first at the Western Museum in Cincinnati, then in New Orleans and eventually Europe. These next ten years are tough ones and put a real strain on the marriage. Lucy and her husband spend years apart while he is in Scotland and England trying to get his work published.  Except for fleeting journal entries and occasional desperate letters to Lucy, we do not enter Audubon’s thoughts as much as we do Lucy’s, on whom the burden of supporting the family falls. She becomes a teacher at a plantation in Louisiana for an imperious Southern family and then later sets up teaching on her own. Correspondence between husband and wife is intermittent and overlapping.  Poems like “I Put Aside Pride” indicate the humiliations Lucy endures for her husband’s sake, just as in an earlier episode, when the family’s finances are falling apart in Kentucky, in a poem called “I Remind Myself about Gossip,” she reflects: “What wife escapes a husband’s reputation?”
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The sequence ends on a happy note with their reunion in Louisiana after years apart, but more tragedies, as well as triumph, fame and financial success, will follow over the next 40 years. Dowd includes  all of this information in a Preface, an Afterword and a Timeline, but the essential drama in Audubon’s Sparrow focuses on the sacrifices of the early years and the love that sustains them.
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Audubon’s Sparrow – the title refers to the swamp sparrow Audubon had inscribed with Lucy’s name in The Birds of America – is satisfying on so many levels, for its lyricism, the love story, the history, the sense of life in early nineteenth century America. The book also includes five illustrations from Audubon’s work, including hawks, a downy woodpecker, the mocking bird, and not least, that swamp sparrow.
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You can find the book here: https://rosemetalpress.com/books/audubons-sparrow/

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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

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Refuse by Julian Randall

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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In Refuse published by the University of Pittsburgh Press Pitt Poetry Series, Julian Randall, as many poets do, explores the tortured vision of the self as he makes his way through an unsettled world exposing biases and rules which a person attempts to fit into.  In the eighty-five pages of introspective and sometimes raw poetry, themes of self- examination; sorrow and parental connections are presented in various lengths and forms.
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In his poem, Elegy for the Winter After Taina was Cancelled on page thirteen, he uses images of photographs, even if they aren’t real, to depict his relationship to his mother, her skin color and children at play.
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                         In the photograph     which never existed
                         I am roughly 7
                         on a block somewhere
                         near Michigan Ave.
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                                                                           It is worth noting
                                                                           that even in the photographs
                                                                          I look exactly like my mother                                                                        
                                                                         except for the skin
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Randall adjusts the form of the poem to represent what is there and not there using indentations and spacings in a suggestive way to fit his narrative and skillfully presents a time and place where things are connected and disconnected at the same.  He speaks of the white children playing Bestial with joy.  It is a complicated poem open to many interpretations but has a light touch in tone, situation and place.
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In his poem On the Night I Fear Coming Out to My Parents on page forty-one, Randall weighs the pros and cons of his parental reactions.  He not only has concern for himself but also for the ones he cares about.  It is a one-stanza prose poem concerning self- reflection.
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                        I am afraid of something I am and have never named.  My tongue
                       is a refuge for secrets. How does one fear banishment if they were
                       born in exile?
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The poem succeeds in posing outcomes of unmasking yourself and its consequences.  It also shows Randall’s skill in writing a variety of poetic forms.
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On page seventy-five, Randall presents a Tanka for the 4th of July. Again, Randall shows his skillful poetic control and raw commentary. He gives this poem time and place independent of the holiday mentioned in the title. The narrator is not explicit in meaning but the tone suggests a resiliency of the narrator on a day that celebrates freedom.
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                                         I will spend the day
                                         surviving which is the most
                                         un-American
                                         use of my body since I
                                         spat loose a bullet and laughed.
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This tome is not for everyone.  The poem’s subjects can be raw and direct.  I like the book because of the sincere clarity of the narrator’s voice that shows both vulnerability and strength in being. Randall is a talented writer with a broad range.
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The book is available from www.upress.pitt.edu

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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The Minor Virtues by Lynn Levin

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By Maggie Paul

A sharp intellect coupled with compassion contributes to the wry yet tender tone of The Minor Virtues (Ragged Sky Press, 2020), the fifth collection by poet, translator, and author, Lynn Levin. Levin’s new collection contains a trove of poems that courageously traverse a wide range of subjects including, the seduction of a drug that removes a patient’s fear of death, a criminal finally turning himself in “for a bed and some chow,” and the practicality of habits (organizing, offering small kindnesses to strangers) that structure our days. An alchemy of ordinary gestures, pieces of memory, and echoes of a pre-digital world rise up in poem after poem to reveal who we really are, what we value, and ultimately, what we call our lives. In Levin’s world, form and meaning are intertwined. There is nothing trite in the execution of these poems.

Levin’s work incorporates traditional form and word play to great effect. She is adept at rondels, villanelles, ballads, lyrics and narratives. Her use of end-rhyme, off-rhyme, and internal rhyme is delightfully embedded in the music of the line. Yet these techniques are so skillfully handled, they do not obscure the edgy subject matter and multiple layers of meaning in each poem; rather, they enhance it. In this poet’s hands, form and meter are not constrictive containers, but vehicles barely visible carrying the reader to surprising and evocative ends.

When addressing the challenges of living in the virtual world of cell phones, online dating, and social media, Levin, with a unique un-pedantic approach, explores how 21st century devices alter the nature of relationship – both with one’s self and others. To do so, she calls upon such predecessors as Allen Ginsburg and Walt Whitman, as in “Song of My Cell Phone,” a play on Whitman’s “Song of My Self.” Here the narrator proclaims, “I sing the life electronic,” and invites the reader to enter into the poem with echoes of Ginsburg’s “Howl:”  “I saw the best minds of my generation,/clunking into buildings and strolling into traffic….” Marianne Moore’s poem, “Poetry” provides the impetus for Levin’s “Sex:” “I too, dislike it,” as the poem proceeds to explore the primal yearning of the body and ultimately turns to conclude, as Moore did regarding the art of poetry, that the value of sex is ineffable.

Some of the poems elegize aspects of a former time. In “Writing in Longhand,” the narrator, after “decluttering” Maria Kondo-style, discovers hand-written letters she’d not looked at in years: “And there I found my old friends alive/in their script.” It is not just finding the letters that moves the narrator to fondly recall the old art of letter writing, but the way the cursive style of each friend reveals their personality: “Exuberant Nancy/with her flourishes and bubble-dotted i’s./Tammy, her cursive half-sized/as if the soul witheld.” Emails and texts notoriously exclude the unique individuality of their correspondents. One must sometimes guess at tone and meaning, and therein we find a loss.

One sign of a strong collection is the desire to turn to it again and again. Successive readings of The Minor Virtues yields more than the number of pages in the book. The poems never fail to re-open, like water lilies known to open at day and close at night. The undeniable magic of multiple meanings and witty conceits occurs without clutter or fluff. Each poem delivers; the possibilities are laid plain.

Among the most moving poems in this collection are those in which the narrator addresses and examines the self, both specific and general, from a philosophical if not existential point of view. The Lilith poems are a carry over from Levin’s previous books. In The Minor Virtues, the Lilith poems continue to mythologize the experiences of a female persona. These poems address the power dynamic between men and women as in “Lilith and Adam,” the writer “before a keyboard and screen” who remembers fondly the writing implements of stylus and quill in “Lilith, the Scribe,” and the trials and tribulations of seeking the intimacy of love in the public sphere of online dating in “Lilith Tries Online Dating.” These poems are at once humorous and yet, full of pathos. As post-modern elegies for how humans communicated in the past, they shed light on a type of beauty the digital world has all but erased.

Is the speed of the digital, technological world worth the sacrifice of in-person relationship, the touching of hands that occurs when a customer pays with small change, the kindness of a woman sharing her breast milk with “…a new mother who is not producing enough milk for her infant?” a new mother whose milk is not producing enough for her infant?  Has it enhanced or deepened our awareness and appreciation for how we spend our time? In “My Hours,” the narrator drives these questions home: “All my life I have passed/through curtains of mist./When have I lived and why?/I have spent so much/of my life in aimless hours—lost in weeds, lost in flowers.” How many of us privately hold these same questions? It takes a tightrope walker, a dancer of both classical ballet and hip hop, to weave examinations of our eternal nature with those of the edgy, fast-paced post-modern world we find ourselves in. Levin’s poems perform a seamless duet between the physical and metaphysical, humor and tragedy, joy and loathing.

It is satisfying, no gratifying, to read poems that so eloquently and astutely address the issues of our time. When you enter the poems in The Minor Virtues, prepare to travel the full spectrum of experience lived, lost, and still to come. You just may find yourself…dancing.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1933974354/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

Maggie Paul is the author of Scrimshaw (Hummingbird Press 2020), Borrowed World, (Hummingbird Press 2011), and the chapbook, Stones from the Baskets of Others (Black Dirt Press 2000). Her poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in the Catamaran Literary Reader, Rattle, The Monterey Poetry Review, Porter Gulch Review, Red Wheelbarrow, and Phren-Z, SALT, and others. She is an education consultant and writing instructor in Santa Cruz, California. For information on Maggie’s publications go to: https://dasulliv1.wixsite.com/hummingbirdpress

Journeyman’s Suitcase by Mike James

journey
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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In Journeyman’s Suitcase by Mike James, published by Luchador Press, clear questions and observations open a literary window of perspective and viewpoint. The fifty-two pages of this short tome are mostly one-stanza experiences that read like someone’s notebook as the writer interprets representative images into logical conclusions.
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For example, in the poem False Confessions on page three, James presents things that never happened in a one-stanza truncated sentence form.
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                   The time you panhandled for tattoos. The monthly
                   payments for transcendence.  All the famous people waived at or
                   had orgies with.  The time you found the burnt wreckage
                   of flaming shoes.  Childhood spent tossing pennies behind the
                   Red Dirt Cabaret.  The mother who worked as both a nun and a
                   stripper. The medical journal contribution about aspirin as a
                   cure for love sick penguins.  How you were the first o capitalize
                   and conjugate KAPOW.  That ability to translate any fairy
                   language into Yiddish.  The parakeets who sang duets while
                   you scrambled and re-scrambled the eggs from the plain white
                   chickens you raised. The prize-winning rooster from Borneo.
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The choices of the false confessions suggest bravado and humor as well as serving a good dose of how our memory works and what we are willing to confess to even if there is little truth in it.
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James uses this same tone and technique in the poem, She Could Have been a Seller of Indulgences on page twenty-one This poem shows a perception of time as it controls and/or influences one’s choices.  The poem is presented in a two–stanza format.
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                        It was never easy for her especially on Tuesdays, as we know
                        how Tuesdays are with their leftover promises from the start
                        from the start of the week and the day before.  It’s probably not enough
                        that every third day she wore a sun dress to keep the sun
                        interested and nearby.
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The reader is introduced to the she of the poem by what she wears and on what day. she wears it.  There is a certain tonal sorrow for this SHE as the unnamed person who seems to be holding on by the thread of a perhaps unneeded sun dress on a specific day of the week. The answer the narrator gives is to keep the sun near and interested. This is almost like a Don Quixote scene without windmills.  In its place is the sun.
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The second stanza gives details of her life and the dry chardonnay she shares at her dining room court with her nail technicians and everyone else.  It is like a short story without unnecessary details.
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In part two of this volume, the journey continues as James explores the everyday symbols that define everyday life. The image of a map is used in Too Far on page thirty-nine.
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                               A map keeps you from too far.
                               That’s a map’s job.
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                               The best map would reflect stars.
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This poem like so many of the poems in this book, suggest in a direct way the meaning, both literal and figurative, of everyday objects that guide us.
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James demonstrates his prowess in observing and analyzing poetically how the world works.  The book is a pleasure to read and quick paced.
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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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What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym

What the Owl Taught Me
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By Byron Beynon
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In this, her first full collection, Annest Gwilym makes an impressive debut. She brings to life, through rich observation, her deeply felt connection with the natural world. She inhabits this world with an objective and sympathetic eye. Landscape and place are important to an understanding of what Gwilym is trying to say in these poems. The creatures that inhabit them become the primary focus, whether they are mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish and marine life, they all play a part in the delicate balance and rhythm of a world we all share and live in.
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As Ted Hughes discovered as a teenager, animals have a “vivid life of their own, outside mine” and he began to “look at them……from their own point of view.” Gwilym’s poem “Last Night I Became An Emperor Moth” begins with this view in mind:
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“I rode through the liquid night,
as a melon-slice moon crested a bank of cloud.
Part of the hush and curve of the universe;
Pleiades above me a diamond cluster ring.
Clothed in starlight, wings powdered,
furry belly glossy and plump.”
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Gwilym also casts an innocent eye in the poem “Whelk Shell” when
“As a child they looked like ice-cream cones”……and “Held to the ear I hear/the rushing blood and heartbeat/of a living being.”
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There are several focused observations in her work such as:
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“sheep like drops of candlewax/Spilled over bare green hills.” (Driving Through Sheep Country)
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“Hair-thin legs on stilts” (Daddy Longlegs in the Attic)
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“They huddle like conspirators/in slick black suits…” (Crows)
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“they crest/ like the pure notes of a clarinet.” (Dolphins At Porthdinllaen)
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and from the poem “Great Crested Newt” she takes us to a world inhabited by a “Creature of two elements,/he waves his dinosaur tail /at his chosen one, beguiles/her with cologne/in his brightest spring suit.”
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There is also that sense of fate which many creatures have little or no choice to determine:
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“Ear-tags show these beasts are marked for death;” (September Cattle) and again where trees are uprooted and houses built “foxes /stalk the shrinking woods.” (The Fox Road)
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As the Anglo-American writer Stephen Pain says we “experience a whole range of feelings towards animals, and hope and believe that they are reciprocated. They produce, to paraphrase David Hume (author of A Treatise of Human Nature), “a sensible concern” in us. The birth and death of animals (not all of course) elicit from us sympathy. The nature and extent of this sympathy has evolved over centuries into something complex and provides the foundation for our appreciation of animal verse.”
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This concern can be heard in the poet’s voice as she looks outside late at night from a bedroom window at a family of foxes “a swirl of autumn,/with a feline leap from a fence they landed,/velvet-footed, spangle-faced, a mother/and kits who rolled and played…”(City Foxes)
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Gwilym has two patterned poems, “Wasps’ Nest” and “Golden Child”, both arranged in interesting shapes on the page. In her poem “Golden Child” the endangered Undulate Ray is: “Beauty queen of rays,/she hides her cartoon face underneath where she/grins with 50 teeth. She bears children in a purse/fit for a mermaid.”
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We are closer to the poet’s home territory in “Seal At Play” where in the marina she perceives the unfamiliar in familiar surroundings;
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“A water-slick head surfaces and his eyes
watch the watchers, as sunlight glosses him.
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Later, the retreating tide will lead him away,
dragged by the moon and stars.”
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In “Encounter” an unexpected meeting with a mare unfolds “she is as polished as a chestnut just out of its thorny armour,” when the horse is offered some grass to eat a trust develops as:
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“the mare lowers her head
and eats, lipping my hand
as ears flick away flies.”
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This is a mature, accessible first collection of forty poems, written with imagination and craft.  Her keen perception allows the reader to experience an understanding of familiar creatures in a receding and threatened world from a different slant.
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You can find the book here:  https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/833724534/what-the-owl-taught-me-poetry-collection?ref=shop_home_active_8&frs=1

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Byron Beynon’s work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, The London Magazine, Agenda, San Pedro River Review, Planet, Poetry New Zealand, Wasafiri and the anthology Moments of Vision (Seren).  A former co-editor of Roundyhouse poetry magazine.  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)
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