north of oxford

Two Poems by Catherine Zickgraf

cath 2
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 Remission
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Blessings in the clouds sound horns of plenty.
Her boys roll around in frenetic joy.
They are pinecones still maturing on the boughs,
on her song in the sweetness of wind-borne bells.
Her words will remain when her voice flies away.
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She weaves yarn through her backyard long pines
so her children can wander their own unknown.
She watches from the porch with gratitude
they’re still young enough they still return home.
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The bridge outside connects the creek sides,
brides swim their dresses out to sea—she teaches
her sons to see with their minds, not eyes.
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Rivers scoop lakes at their estuaries.
A marble she holds encases the oceans.
Tending futures inside, she polishes the sky’s eye,
guards her kids tugging rope up the creek side
and swinging into the long line of horizon.
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Storyteller
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She holds a placemat I wove from construction paper
to lay under her Willow Blue Wedgewood plates on
holidays. I slept over often, I was her bed warmer,
slid eyes open at times when she stroked my hair in
the strawberry dawn. Her girl, says my emerald ring.
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Waking wide into a houseful of comfort, dark coffee
percolating, strawberry jelly and toast, I helped turn
dough into linen-lined bowls of dinner rolls. We
greeted parents, uncles and aunts at the door—sons
of her heart, in-law daughters of her dreams. She’s
prayed hope and home into each new household
since before her boys were born. We still lament his
absence, the guest list forever incomplete. Yet she’s
been strong enough to attend to our needs, tending
generations of seeds, taking the head of the table.
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Fed full and warm, we laughed, I swam carpet and
grass with cousins. My, how those evenings passed
without watch-references, phone-glances, grudges,
etc. Adults rested elbows, leaned in, flushed with
Riesling—trunks feeding canopies their leaves. For
from the recliner now, she nurtures with stories of
perseverance and stability to bless even as-yet unsent
souls whom during her own time she will never meet.
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cath
Catherine Zickgraf grew up in Boothwyn, PA and lives in Augusta, GA. Two lifetimes ago, she performed her poetry in Madrid. Now her main jobs are to write and hang out with her family. Her work has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pank, Victorian Violet Press, and The Grief Diaries. Her chapbook, Soul Full of Eye, is published through Aldrich Press. Find her on twitter @czickgraf. Watch and read more at http://www.caththegreat.blogspot.com
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Two Poems by James Tyler

cumberland
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Cumberland River, 2am
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There’s a latitude and longitude in Tennessee
where I step in the dirty Cumberland River,
mud between toes, those brittle bones.
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It goes from here to the Queen City,
winds its filth, memories of Civil War
and white paddle steamers.
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Wind sings songs on the surface
to rainbow trout and walleye,
to the bones of drowned lovers.
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White lights shine on black water,
reflect the last silver quarter minted 1964.
The Queen City is asleep now,
nestled against the Cumberland River, 2am.
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There must be some equation
explaining how the river bends into nothing—
darkness a heavy, bottom-dwelling catfish—
darkness that betrays no moon tonight.
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I could slip nude into these black waters,
but it’s too cold and the current might take me away—
for I am a man and not Ophelia,
for there is no bard to orate about me but me.
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Somewhere around here I wish starlight could sink
all the way. I wish I could play the flute,
coax sleeping fish away from the reeds
so they could follow me into my own dreams.
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My father taught me to fish these waters,
how to hook a night crawler and cast a line,
but I never got the gumption to gut one.
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Put your ear to these waters and they’ll sing
a whole history, how sun and star burn in turn,
and maybe they’ll tell the truth, or just a little lie.
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Blade of Grass
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O to be a blade of grass, trampled upon
by the soles of a thousand feet,
to fall victim to the gardener’s blade
in the morning before the spring storm.
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Dear wind, your northern breath sour
from snowstorms and icy midnights,
spreads pregnant pollen across meadows,
the whorehouses of nature.
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I am not a wildflower, red columbine or harebell,
just a blade of green that has grown too tall,
quite worthless in the eyes of flower pickers,
but am I not one of God’s children, equal
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to lily and rose, though not fragrant or fair,
free to be pissed upon by your purebred dog
and forgotten like one of a thousand banquets
whose mother is dirt and water, seed and sun?
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The double rainbow is essential to my soul
in a mundane world whose colors are black and grey,
where I kiss the dew with tongue and a force
that can cut this blade, this insignificant flower
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whose song remains unsung in the season
who becomes golden in its turn and spun,
becomes humble food for cattle and horse,
forsaken by me, yet still touched by God.
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James Tyler earned a BA in English from Austin Peay State University. He has been published in such journals as Chiron Review, Cape Rock, Doubly Mad, and Poetry Quarterly. He currently resides in Nashville, TN.

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Two Poems by Ace Boggess

park light
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Listening to James Brown on Pandora Radio
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Thing to do while lying in bed, embracing
as slack body squeezes slack—
post-sleep, pre-awakened. Forget sex—
hard demand of it James Brown’s words &
rhythm urge like hundreds of electric pulses
in the creature reviving. Let them
carry you on a pilgrimage
where what you seek has less importance
than what you see, experience—
all music, even songs you loathe
which fill your dreams with calamities—
stir something you’ve forgotten:
maybe it’s the funk you’re in
his funk will bring you out of.
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“And What Is the Point of Walking
When There Is Nowhere You Have to Be?”
                        —Katherine Kilalea, Ok, Mr. Field
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let me be lazy without the word tattooed on my chest.
it’s hot outside. say it. yes, it’s scorching, humid.
asphalt melts my tennis shoes. my skin
slicks as though I showered in cooking oil.
when spacemen left their heaven, they left the oven on.
think light, & there is light—too much, I’m blind.
let me be lazy one afternoon with nothing to do,
no roads to cross, goods to accumulate.
I could, if forced, stroll slowly to the corner shop,
except I see no corners, only curves
that bend to monotony. let me be lazy.
let me self-medicate for aches & lack of sleep,
lulled by the computer light until my eyes
let me remember why I came.
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Ace Boggess photo
Ace Boggess is author of five books of poetry—Misadventure, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, Ultra Deep Field, The Prisoners, and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled—and the novels States of Mercy and A Song Without a Melody. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Mid-American Review, Rattle, River Styx, and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. His sixth collection, Escape Envy, is forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press in 2021.
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Two Poems by Edward Lee

feet
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Memory
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This soil beneath my feet
is as your body,
spread before me
wounded by age
and decay, tumbled
by strong winds
and harsh rains,
disappearing with every passing season,
as you do
from my memory,
the last of you
staining clothes
I no longer wear.
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Two Countries
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In the country
that lives
in the marrow of my bones
I am a free man,
prone to daydreams
and gentle lies,
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while in the country
that beats beneath my steps,
I am a man bound
by all the tales
I have told,
and the tales to come,
those that I must tell
for their ancestral untruths
to remain alive
and true.
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Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll.  His debut poetry collection “Playing Poohsticks On Ha’Penny Bridge” was published in 2010. He is currently working towards a second collection. His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com
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Razor Wire Wilderness by Stephanie Dickinson

RAZOR WIRE

By Charles Rammelkamp

Toward the end of her harrowing true crime memoir, Stephanie Dickinson writes that her own experience with missteps “has shown me that life sometimes does give you a second chance, and that we must seize it.” Razor Wire Wilderness focuses primarily on Krystal Riordan and Lucy Weems, two inmates in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, New Jersey, a maximum security prison for women, how they got there, how they survive once they are incarcerated, their urgent pursuit of that second chance, that redemption.

Dickinson weaves her own story throughout Krystal’s and Lucy’s, from her dull mid-century childhood in rural Iowa to hitchhiking around North America as a teenager, rebelling against a repressive Midwestern mother, her fateful meeting with her friend Michael in Montreal, and eventually attending an inauspicious Thanksgiving Day party in North Carolina at the home of Michael’s psychopath friend Charlie, who, drunk and jealous, blasts her with a shotgun, rendering her left arm useless for the rest of her life.

Dickinson had already read Capote’s In Cold Blood, the newspaper stories of the Manson cult girls in the Tate-LaBianca murders, the accounts written by Auschwitz survivors, the brutal Andersonville prison camp during the American Civil War, when, in the summer of 2006, her attention was snagged by the lurid cover story in the New York Daily News, Hooker Watched Boyfriend Kill Teen, a true crime story about Krystal Riordan and her pimp lover Draymond Coleman and their victim Jennifer Moore, murdered in a shabby Weehawken, New Jersey hotel.  Stephanie befriends Riordan, sympathetic to her through her own life experiences, and the friendship results in Dickinson’s much-heralded 2014 novel, Love Highway. Razor Wire Wilderness is as much backstory to that novel as it is a story of deliverance.

Krystal is born with the odds already stacked against her. Her mother, Eva, is a prostitute who neglected her children.  Indeed, when Krystal reconnects with her mother years later, Eva steals from her! Lice-ridden, Krystal, already molested by an uncle before the age of five, and her younger sister Nicole are “rescued” by Child Services and subsequently adopted by the Riordans, a middle class family in Orange, Connecticut. Despite the parental attention, Nicole will become a junkie, Krystal a prostitute.

For almost a decade, Mrs. Riordan, a Girl Scout troop leader, ferries Krystal and Nicole around to therapy sessions, music lessons and, in 5’9” Krystal’s case, basketball practice, until one day, when Krystal is 14, her mother catches her in her bedroom with some boys, and after consulting a psychologist for “disturbed adolescents,” packs her off to a boarding school for troubled teens in Maine called Élan, which turns out to be more like a prison run by sadists than a nurturing educational institution. Students are humiliated and attacked by residents who are egged on by school officials. They shout, “You’re a whore!” and “We wish you were dead!” The whole approach is later described by investigators as a “brainwashing technique.”

Élan ultimately closed in 2011 after stories of deprivation and abuse circulated about the place whose annual tuition was around $50,000. Stories of suicides and prison were common. But in Krystal’s case, the damage had already been done – or exacerbated. After she graduates, it’s almost no wonder she turns to prostitution.

This is how she meets her psychopath, Draymond Coleman, a man almost twice her age, whom she loves with the passionate conviction of a person in the grip of Stockholm Syndrome.  Dray is both her lover and her pimp. Often, at Draymond’s direction, they engage in threesomes with other girls, and indeed this is how things ultimately go wrong.

One night a group of teenagers from New Jersey comes to Manhattan for a night of fun. One, Jennifer Moore, get separated from her friends and falls into Draymond’s clutches. He takes her to the Weehawken hotel where he and Krystal are staying, and things get out of hand. Draymond strangles Jennifer, and he and Krystal dispose of the body.  They are caught and Krystal winds up at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF).

Dickinson describes the bleak existence at EMCF in great detail, from the treatment by guards to the work details to the humiliating desperation of “Toilet Paper Day” to the interaction among the inmates. It is at EMCF that Krystal meets her friend Lucy Weems.

Dickinson describes Lucy’s life in grim detail, from her rough treatment by an uncle, her life of drugs and prostitution, the heroin addiction that drives her to the grimmest decisions.

“It’s hard to get off the hooker hamster wheel,” Lucy confides. “I’ve given blowjobs for $400 and anal sex for $20. If you’re dope-sick, you’ll do anything.”

Dickinson describes the intensely possessive friendships among the women at EMCF and how Valentine’s Day with its explosions of love and sex is the signature holiday in prison. “Love’s an obstacle course that sometimes ends in blood,” she writes. Fights are usually about cheating.

By contrast, Mother’s Day is sad. Children are ashamed of their incarcerated mothers; mothers of inmates refuse to visit their daughters. Those that do are awkward and self-conscious. Dickinson tells the grim stories of so many of the women, like “Anna,” who has sex with her 14-year-old daughter’s boyfriend, for which she’s been sentenced to five years at EMCF.

Do Lucy and Krystal get a second chance? After her release, Lucy reunites with the father of her younger daughter and seems to be making a life, difficult though it often is. The COVID-19 pandemic occurs when Krystal is still facing five more years at EMCF, still determined to get out and start over. “I look forward to a normal bed,” she declares. “Wearing real clothes and shoes….There is so much I want to do.”

In a final reflection, Dickinson dreams of a final redemption for all the girls – for everybody – who has taken a wrong turn, made a disastrous decision. Razor Wire Wilderness is a fascinating look at a world so many of us never encounter.

You can find the book here: https://www.kallistogaiapress.org/product/razor-wire-wilderness/

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

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High Tide by Ed Meek

 
high tide
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The surf is certainly up in Ed Meek’s High Tide published by Aubade Publishing. Nina Rubenstein Alonso, Editor of Constellations, a Journal of Poetry and Fiction, comments that “Ed Meek’s poems pull us in with such clarity that you don’t feel the pain at first, almost like a painting you need to study until you see what’s waiting in the shadows, that scarred figure, it’s history.”
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High Tide makes the reader feel like he is swimming in the shallows, safe, unaware of the images of sharks like dark gothic beings waiting to prey on your intellect.  The poems open on one path, then deliciously lead down another one you did not expect. For example, the first poem in the book on page one, Hamock, details notes that Columbus took.
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                 Mayans carved them from the bark of trees
                 Columbus noted in his diary.
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Meek skillfully uses the title to define “them” and holds a conversational tone all through this twenty-six line, one- stanza poem.  Meek details the wonderful leisurely activities of using a hammock through the first fifteen lines of the poem then speaks of A promise I usually fail to keep as the poem reaches a turning point.  The tone of the poem becomes more somber and the narrator becomes like a spider in a web suspended above the earth dreaming of things he did not do and the Mayans half asleep before Columbus washes ashore.  It is a powerful poem with many suggestions.  
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This highly skilled author shows this strength throughout the book.   In the poem on page seventeen, Praise for Ponytailed Girls Who Run, Meek presents a nice setting and visual and makes a subtle comment on what is alive and what is not alive using hair as his metaphor.
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          I love to see them bouncing past
          on the balls of their feet—
          hair pulled back to flaunt
          flawless skin, flashing
          arms from T-shirts, legs
          in short shorts, multi-colored,
          incandescent shoes.
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In this three- stanza, free-verse poem, it is clear the narrator’s admiration has reconstructed a view of beauty.  The third stanza turns to the hair.
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        And the hair, lovely,
        surely not dead
        but vibrant with life and light
        as it sways and bobs
       like a rope swings in the wind above the water.
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Meek has turned the vision of a young girl running into a comment on how life is perceived.
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While some poems span more than a page, Meek is also able to project deep meaning in very short poems.  On page seventy-eight, the three- line, one-stanza poem,  The Last Game, demonstrates Meek’s ability to see and translate images into profound interpretation.
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        When you die, you will slide
        under the tag at home.
        dust rising in the air.
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The assumption that we all die is, of course, clear, but to become dust and rise in the air at home, gives one pause for thought when housekeeping.
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Hide Tide is a thoughtful book of complex poems that range from the ordinary to extraordinary in both themes and images. It is not a book one would read in a single setting but a little here and a little there allowing time to digest.  It was a pleasure to read.
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High Tide is available from Aubade Publishing at https://aubadepublishing.com/books/high-tide/ 
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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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Kim by Rudyard Kipling

kim

By Ray Greenblatt

          Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an author of many poems and as much prose. He lived many years in India as a journalist , so he knew the inner workings of the country, even speaking Hindi. Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he seemed to evolve into something different and grow to believe in the White Man’s Burden as he aged. However, we are not concerned with politics or economics. Our goal is to illustrate how Kipling blends his poetic skill into his unique early novel Kim (1901).

                                                                     Poetic Style

          Let us immediately analyze Kipling’s poetic approach. Afterwards, we shall observe how these poetics bring his characters and India itself to life. He the author sometimes interrupts the omniscient narrative to step forward into the scene. “There was a whirr and the voice stopped—as voices must if you ram a thrice-doubled coat on to the wax cylinder and into the works of an expensive phonograph.” (151)

           At times he makes it sound as if a report had actually been written about Kim’s spy work after he graduated from the St Xavier School. “The report in its unmistakable St Xavier’s running script, and the brown, yellow, and lake-daubed map, was on hand a few years ago (a careless clerk filed it with the rough notes of E. 23, second Seistan survey).” (170) As in poetry, inversion is used. ”Followed a sudden natural reaction.” (185)

          Kipling finds a series of phrases emphatic. “Bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp.” (275) Sometimes simple nouns: “Decked, brow, nose, ear, neck, wrist, and ankle with heavy native jewelry. When she turned it was like the clashing of copper pots.” (177) Repetition, even of clauses, plays a role:  “Because they knew and loved the Lama, because he was an old man, because he sought the Way, because he was their guest.” (195)

          That last paragraph contained a simile using “like.” Another is “gurgling, grunting hookahs, which in full blast sound like bull-frogs.” (71) His metaphors are prevalent too: “With the gait of a bogged cow.” (160) And how Indians speak like the British: “the tinny, saw-cut English of the native-bred.” (84) Often sight images like “watching the throat-muscles quiver and jerk” (180) blend with hearing imagery, “he caught the well-known purr and fizzle of grains of incense.” (179) The onomatopoeia is acutely used.

          Kipling’s poetic devices are numerous, so I will close this section with the imaginative use of verbs, such as “the Lama jibbed at the door.” (27) Gerunds: “with strivings and yearnings and retchings and agonies.” (288) Participles: “full-fleshed, heavy-haunched, bull-necked, and deep-voiced.” (225)  “Northern folk . . . swearing, shouting, arguing, and chaffering in the packed square.” (17) You can see all of these methods at work throughout the novel.

                                                                      Kim

          Kim, a half-English, half-Indian boy, we see grow up from ages 13 to 16 at the height of the Raj. He is bright and loves all aspects of life. He can blend in with a crowd, dressed like them and speaking their language. Kipling describes that phase of life as “years of indiscretion.” (2) If he is offended Kim is apt to tell a person off. “Consider for a while, man with a mud head. Think you we came from the nearest pond like the frog, thy father-in-law.” (60) And yet, Kim has a good heart, calling India “the great good-tempered world” (34) and “this broad, smiling river of life.” (61)

          After many adventures the ever-healthy Kim becomes ill. Usually his sleep was deep.  Noise “did not even weave a dream through his slumbers.’”(140) But now “his soul was out of gear with its surroundings—a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery.” (282) As he heals he says, “I remember that the days and nights passed like bars of white and black, opening and shutting.” (276)

          However, the wise old Lama inspires him. “The cross-legged figure, outlined jet-black against the lemon-colored drift of light.’” (287) “The Lama was his trove, and he purposed to take possession.” (12) The Lama taught him to think deeply, beyond the common world of men. “Kim watched the stars as they rose one after another in the still, sticky dark.” (193) He practices meditation. “His mind drifted away from those heights with the rush of a wounded bird.” (185) He “threw his soul after his eye across the deep blue gulfs between range and range.” (233) The boy loves the Lama very much perhaps because Kim was an orphan. I see him following in the wise man’s footsteps not as a priest but as a teacher.

                                                            The Lama

          The Lama was old: “He turned his head like an old tortoise in the sunlight.” (6) Kipling describes “his thousand-wrinkled face.” (10) He often feels tired: “The Lama dropped wearily to the ground, much as a heavy fruit-eating bat cowers.” (66) “The Lama shrugged and shrunk into himself, a dingy, shapeless mass.” (33) But he has a quest to discover the river Buddha found to cure all ills. He is often unsure: “The boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion.” (260) Yet, the people loved him for his holiness: “The Lama was a great and venerable curiosity.” (38)

          With Kim’s constant aid and love, he can energize himself: “It pleased him to curl himself up into the sudden sleep of old age.” (193) Then refreshed his “voice boomed like a Tibetan devil-gong.” (244) We see the Lama “speaking truth to chance-met people.” (16) He is sympathetic to all castes of individuals. “’And they likewise, bound upon the Wheel, go forth from life to life—from despair to despair,’ said the Lama below his breath, ’hot, uneasy, snatching.’” (54)

          He has learned to endure: “My spirit sits above my bones, waiting.” (212) The monastery in the mountains of northern India is where he calls home. To reach there and show Kim his country along the way becomes his goal. “With steady, driving strokes from the loins he strode upwards.’”(230) “The first freshness of the day carried the Lama forward with long, easy, camel-like strides.” (51) “He set his ivory-yellow face, serene and untroubled, towards the beckoning Hills; his shadow shouldering far before him in the dust.” (229) The Lama will learn that his magic river is anywhere that he is contented.

                                                         People

          At many moments in the novel crowds dominate the scene. “A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust and trot past to a chorus of quick cackling.” (62) “The crowd drew a long, quavering breath.” (48) “A wall of uncertain darkness speckled with little flames and alive with half-caught forms and faces and shadows.” (71) “They scattered like frost on south eaves of a morning.” (259)

          Different characters occur then disappear. “A wild-eyed, wild-haired Sikh devotee in the blue-checked clothes of his faith, with polished-steel quoits glistening on the cone of his tall blue turban, stalked past.” (61) An evil holy man looks at the Lama: “The priest looked at him sideways, something bitterly—a dry and blighting smile.” (49)

         Kim meets a spy disguised: “Ash-smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu . . . luminous with insolence and bestial lust.” (204) On another occasion the same spy is disguised so that two Russian agents refer to him as “the nightmare of a Viennese courier.” (239) His real intelligence is shown when he says: “To discuss medicine before the ignorant is of one piece with teaching the peacock to sing.” (218)

          The Lama becomes fast friends with an old soldier– the man, not his former profession. The soldier thinks of his long life: “It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.” (57) But with the Lama’s ministrations he begins to recall: “”Last night broke up the fountains of remembrance in my so-dried heart.” (51) The two old men form a diptych as they nap: “The old officer’s strong-cut head pillowed on his arm, the Lama’s thrown back against the tree bole.” (55)

          A rich old woman who nurses both Kim and the Lama back to health springs vividly to life in the novel. She is a talker: “They could hear the old lady’s tongue clack as steadily as a rice-husker.”(75) She even screams: “She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook –house.” (278) Yet she can be happy: “She chuckled like a contented parrot above the sugar lump.” (214) Although her language can be rough: “She paid Kim compliments that would have flung European audiences into unclean dismay.” (214) But her nursing shows her skills: “Have I shifted thee and lifted thee and slapped and twisted thy ten toes.” (277) Kim kiddingly admires her old face: “a Moon of Paradise, a Disturber of Integrity.” (75)

                                                          India

          Kipling can describe cities, like Lucknow. “She is the center of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury.” (120) “The house-lights scattered on every level, made, as it were, a double firmament.” (148) Some stores were weird like a tobacco shop: “Those who know it call it The Bird-cage—it is so full of whisperings and whistlings and chirpings.” (177) Kipling can depict a simple decoration: “The patterns on the gold-worked curtains ran up and down, melting and reforming as the folds shook and quivered to the night wind.” (71)

          Yet some buildings can be sinister as Kim encounters sounds and smells: “ The room was full of things that smelt like all the temples of all the East. A whiff of musk, a puff of sandalwood, and a breath of sickly jessamine-oil caught his opened nostrils.” (149) This description even approaches horror: “There leaped out from the walls a collection of Tibetan devil-dance masks, hanging above the fiend-embroidered draperies of those ghastly functions—horned masks, scowling masks, and masks of idiotic terror.” (149)

          Kim and the Lama traveled into the country. ”Mid-days in the dun-gloom of kindly oak-forests.” (269) “The smoke-scented evening, copper-dun and turquoise across the fields.”  (214) “The frogs were busy in the ditches, and the moon slid to her setting.” (220) “The solemn deodars, climbing one after another with down-drooped branches.” (146) “They walk farther north: “Golden, rose, saffron, and pink, the morning mists smoked away across the flat green levels. All the rich Punjab lay out in the splendor of the keen sun.”  (31)

          They longed for the silence and restorative air of the mountains. “The long, peaceful line of the Himalayas flushed in morning-gold.” (225)  “A thousand feet below lay a long, lazy, round-shoulder bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning sun.” (254) “It was like sitting in a swallow’s nest under the eaves of the roof of the world.” (258) Those stupendous heights, “all day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and at evening put on their jewels again.” (231)

          For the Lama his religion was an integral part of the landscape and its people. “Buddhism, overlaid with a nature-worship fantastic as their own landscapes, elaborate as the terracing of their tiny fields.” (232) “The easy, uncounted Eastern minutes slid by.” (188) “The soft, smoky silence of evening in India wrapped them close.” (287) Kim and his Lama had found fulfillment.

          By today’s standards Rudyard Kipling’s poetry is old-fashioned. However, some of his fiction remains powerful; from the short stories The Phantom Rickshaw and The Man Who Would Be King to the novels The Light That Failed and Captains Courageous. But for me Kim, employing diverse poetic effects, is the pinnacle of his success.

You can find the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/93144/kim-by-rudyard-kipling/

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

Nothing but the Music by Thulani Davis

Thulani Davis Cover

By Greg Bem

& then, of course, “the jazz life” joints
we smile after hours on the lower east side
steppin’ & stompin’ & steppin’ & stridin’
where dairy bars hop with hip tales
all the living legends gather
over record dates/historic gigs/dope stories
music intrigue & sudden disappearances
“rough life”/”no breaks” unrecorded
among boppin’ feet/gippin’ hips

  • from X-75-VOL. I, HENRY THREADGILL / “SIDE B (AIR SONG/FE FI FO FUM)”, page 31

Newly-released, Thulani Davis’s Nothing But the Music is a collection of poetry that feels at its core musical and alive—living songs on loop in bustling centers of humanity. It is a collection that embodies jazz, embodies soul, embodies funk. It is a poetry of resistance and a poetry of liberation. It is also uniquely its own through love, through description, through tones of spontaneity and concentration.

Strongly a selected, a mix, a range, this collection features works published as early as 1978 and many published closer to now. Its core rings true. It is a jewel of the Black Arts Movement, a collection that sings and roars addressing the significance of presence, of now, of time and space and place, and of performance.

Distinct and vocal, Nothing But the Music features most prominently the music of Davis’s voice. Thulani Davis’s voice resonates that reflects a mix of edgy poetic underground and street-side vernacular. It feels of the clubs and cafes that these poems originally found audience within. It feels of the lives of New York, San Francisco, and DC, and of Gorée Island, Senegal, and Harare, Zimbabwe—places Davis found these poems, created them, and presented them. It is a voice that connects across time, spinning historically forward from the 1970s to the present.

More literally is the book’s connection to music. The “Music” of the book’s title is in reference to the source of these writings. As Davis acknowledges in her book’s opening, “many of the poems here were performed with an umber of musicians in different improvising configurations” (page 1). Indeed, the improvisational subtext feels quite clear from poem to poem, that rambles almost as a score would ramble down a page. Ghostly, the accompanying instruments are absent, but Davis ensures through her own instruments, her language and voice, that the rhythm is percussive, and the poems are in harmony with their origins.

Davis’s work as printed often feels like one of many configurations, alternations, contextualizations. The page poet’s presence is just as improvisational, and as such, the feelings of the reader as the poem is intercepted.

some springs the Mississippi rose up so high
it drowned the sound of singing and escape
church sisters prayed and rinsed
the brown dinge tinting linens
thanked the trees for breeze
and the greenness sticking to the windows
the sound of jazz from back
boarded shanties by railroad tracks

  • from C.T.’S VARIATION (page 45)

The verse within Nothing But the Music is incredibly agile, spanning a vast swathe of content and subject matter. As Davis’s friend and poetic collaborator Jessica Hagedorn says in her foreword:

“We were curious and passionate about everything, from Jimi Hendrix to Anna May Wong to Jean-Luc Godard and Tennessee Williams. Thulani turned me on to The Original Last Poets, Bill Gunn’s Ganja and Hess, Archive Shepp & Jeanne Lee’s “Blasé,” Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, Pedro Pietri’s Puerto Rican Obituary, Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping,” and Amiri Barak’s “Beautiful Black Women” (page 6).

These literary interests, alongside the influence of jazz legends like Thelonious Monk, fosters a space of both inquiry (study) and soul (spirituality). They also reflect an active, engaged pursuit to create and to be on the edge of creativity, to know much and go further alongside the bounty of expression that live performance can support. This engagement is reflected in the imperative statements serving as one of a handful of motifs from poem to poem:

this is not about romance & dream
it’s about a terrible command performance of the facts
of time & space & air

  • from C.T. AT THE FIVE SPOT (page 22)

Reinforcing the imperatives and necessities of the poems themselves is the stunning introduction from literary critic Tobi Haslett: “Darting through these poems is an answer to a question, posed by multiple and overlapping waves of Black artists: How do you account for the dynamism at the heart of Black expression, and its centrality to the wider culture it’s been forced to resist?” (page 11) . . . “These are backstage poems. By which I mean that they issue from a place of sophisticated doubleness, slung between intimate complication and the blast political life” (page 12).

Haslet’s commentary explores the poetry, and the poetry is the documentation of life and lives within certain positions, within acts of restoration and rebellion. It is also a poetry within the margins that have always existed for Black artists and have existed in particular and ongoing forms over the past 50 years. Documentation is one lens through which this book can be received.

Like the work of Thulani’s husband Joseph Jarman, this book also invites the reader to actively learn as a participant, through a relational agreement, through intimacy, and allowing connection to what experiences and images Davis and her musician and poet peers have felt, have created. These are the gifts that have elevated and served to reposition, to repair, to rebuild. Such a collection is impossible to generalize here. The nuances are too ecstatic and complex. Davis’s work is compelling but not only as an idea of itself, but as an action of being read, being explored, being listened to by the readers who have the opportunity to find it.

You can find the book here: https://blankforms.org/publication/thulani-davis-nothing-but-the-music/

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 www.gregbem.com

Gigantic Cinema – A Weather Anthology – edited by Alice Oswald and Paul Keegan

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By Byron Beynon

What’s the weather like today where you are? Is it raining? How do you feel when you hear the rain?  The sun maybe shining, and a gentle breeze massages your face. Giant clouds inhabit the sky above you, faces or objects begin to take shape before your very eyes as your imagination feeds on weather’s images.

Novelists, poets, dramatists, film-makers, artists, musicians, have all been inspired by the kaleidoscope and mysterious moods weather has kindled before and within us.  I live in south-west Wales, where most of the weather conditions come from the Atlantic bringing rain.  Even the trees, growing in open, exposed places, lean towards the north-east because their sap runs weaker on the windward side.

The poet Ted Hughes in his essay entitled “Wind and Weather” wrote “Have you noticed how your mood depends on the weather?  All living things are natural barometers, and change as the weather changes … we experience these changes in our bodily chemistry as changes in our feelings.”  He goes on to say that “The great American poetess, Emily Dickinson, has many wonderful poems about various weathers” he chose the poem which begins “There came a wind like a bugle” – as one of her best on weather regarding the landscape coming alive “as if the touch of the wind and the strange light had turned it into a nightmare.”

In this new anthology edited by the poet Alice Oswald and the Penguin Classics editor Paul Keegan, we have a wide and thought-provoking selection of prose and poetry about the weather, reactions both formal and fleeting, actual responses, found in journals and jottings, diaries and letters. Whether it be rain, volcanic ash, nuclear dust, snow, light, fog, hurricanes, flood, dusk and dawn, we find a flow of reactions.  We read writers from across the ages, giving their responses and feelings on climate from Ovid to Elizabeth Bishop, Virginia Woolf to Pliny the Younger, Charles Baudelaire to Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens, Dafydd Ap Gwilym to Paul Muldoon and many others.

In the preface we hear of William Hazlit’s essay on “My First Acquaintance with Poets”, he describes his walking holiday along the Bristol Channel with his new friend:”A thunder-storm came on while we were at the inn, and Coleridge was running out bare-headed to enjoy the commotions of the elements….”.  Further along we read about Daniel Defoe’s report of the Great Storm of 1703, that “the air was full of Meteors and fiery Vapours”.  In his journal for 20th July 1778 the following details are given by Gilbert White “Much thunder. Some people in the village were struck down by the storm, but not hurt.  The stroke seemed to them like a violent push or shove.  The ground is well-soaked.  Wheat much lodged.  Frogs migrate from the ponds.”

Open the antholody at any page and you will find something to delight and fascinate.  From the fourteenth century, Yoshida Kenko writes in his “Essays in Idleness” – “One morning after a pleasant fall of snow I sent a letter to someone with whom I had business, but failed to mention the snow.  The reply was droll: “Do you suppose I can pay any attention to someone so pervserse as to write a letter with no word of inquiry about how I am enjoying the snow? I am most disappointed in you.”  Now that the author of that letter is dead, even so trivial an incident sticks in my mind.”

The poet Louis MacNeice creates atmosphere in his 1935 poem “Snow” – the opening begins:

“The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.”

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In his journal of 1892 the artist Edvard Munch writes:”I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – I felt a wave of sadness – the sky suddenly turned blood-red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, tired to death – I looked out over the flaming clouds like blood and swords – the blue-black fjord and city – my friends walked on – I stood there trembling with angst – and I felt as though a vast, endless Scream passed through nature.”

This rich antholody takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the varying moods and canvases of weather, words heightening and buffeting our senses with light and shade, creating atmosphere, this influential action of weather.
 
 
Byron Beynon lives and writes in Swansea, Wales.
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