poems

From Our Poetry Editor

Diane Mudd Puddle  In the month of love, ironically a tryst of lovers turned into “strangers” at the climax of the poem (end of the romantic rendezvous) entitled “The Forge” by John D. Robinson. Then the surreal enlivened images in two poems, “Liberty Atoms 11 & 15,” by Christopher Barnes with quotes within them from the late novelist Iris Murdoch (The Nice And The Good) take flight like Cupid’s wings—”Birdcage alarm clock flew / Tick-reversed / An hour pursuant to every ten minutes.” (from “Liberty Atoms 11”).  Further attributes of love and time exist in DS Maolalai’s poem, “Time takes pawns like a short game of chess” with the first line completed by two words, “everyone leaves.” His fresh and remarkable mixed metaphorical images are evident, especially “…and spiders / with legs / that bounce like bent paperclips…” This poem gives the reader a “bent” angle of the timelessness of time and lost love in a simple but loved object of a “…a cup and saucer / in your mother’s house. / kept whole for 20 years, / and cracked / and thrown away.” Lastly (but, by no means least), Louis Gallo’s “Tree” poem, where the speaker is witness to the loveless butchering of “a most magnificent oak tree” grieves the reader to heart’s core.  “But this is the way it goes with the sacred.” North of Oxford hopes you enjoy reading our United Kingdom, Irish-Canadian, & American poets in this February 2020 issue.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Diane Sahms

http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/

https://dianesahmsguarnieri.wordpress.com/

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                        Submissions are always open at North of Oxford. Please see our guidelines for submissions at this link: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

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Two Poems By Christopher Barnes

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Liberty Atoms 11
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Birdcaged alarm clock flew
Tick-reversed
An hour pursuant to every ten minutes.
Maisie writhed, forecasted a drum roll;
Squabbled-about lace
Reduced to tatters.
Kalanchoe petals on flung down Riesling
Ordered the tidings:
“Look, there’s a cottage.  I can see a light”.
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Quote: Iris Murdoch, The Nice And The Good
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Liberty Atoms 15
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Razor-wire teddy bear
Fissioned its thin ice.
Cynthia’s aura
Held no mollycoddle
Into an insensitive galaxy.
Maisie wrung the cigarette
                  –       Retaliation.
And on that postal stamp:
“There were faint scratching sounds
Rats perhaps,
Or what Ilona called ‘Mousekins”.
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Quote: Iris Murdoch, The Nice And The Good
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christopher-barnes
Christopher Barnes is a poet, filmmaker, and performance artist.
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Someone’s Utopia by Joe Hall

Joe Hall - Someone's Utopia - Cover
By Greg Bem
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to give a heavy falling all things do but I keep time
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will push through the wall where you stand alone on the conveyer line
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of a massive retailer of a baby’s mouth as who looks back on a man’s violent desire
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of milligrams in dosage of poem stop singing
it all   together—through yourself—it can fall
if there’s someone to catch it
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(from “Amnesia, 1997 / Closing the Vents,” pg. 31)
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Someone’s Utopia is a mess of poetry that careens through the sordid faces of history both recent and not-so, across into the present, with unspoken truths lingering on the tip of the tongues of the future. It is deeply chasmic, almost impossible to approach at points, and carries a blankness at once riotous and shackling. It is difficult and with its difficulty, and its commitment, is triumphs as a howl and as a whisper, but nothing tolerably-in-between.

Hall’s trailer-strewn, antiquity-as-proclivity atmosphere returns following in the bloodied, entrenched, mouth-foaming footsteps of his formers Pigafetta Is My Wife and The Devotional Poems. The atmosphere is one of suffocation and distraction in its images of longing that bridge desperation and exasperation. It is an atmosphere that rages with a poetics driven by defensive structures in language, lingual nihilism, and a self-made pathfinding/wayfinding sentiment to grind the reader from one parapet to the next. It is filled with love, and not filled with love, simultaneously:

It is a world, a built environment, a fortress that is founded on history, founded on text found, founded on collage and ekphrasis. For example, some of this fortress of letters harkens at times back to the quasi-colonial-cum-industrial, anti-or-faux-spiritual ridiculousness of Oneida’s John H. Noyes (late 1800s) and his targeted efforts as patriarch and disciple of or for agony. It also includes ekphrastic derivations from Tirzah Miller’s journals, she who is Noyes’s niece, she who was suffering acutely from the utter misogynistic ownership of women by their abusers. It also includes more contemporary though gritty conversational approaches to industrialism and poverty a la a conversation with a one Mary Scire.
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There’s also, most brutally, the transcriptions and echoes of transcription of time Hall spent in manual labor, or documented of (perceivably proximal) peers who did the same. The factories and warehouses and oppressive architecture of the endless machines punches across the page and sputters and flows in tandem.
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My wife stares at the sun. Her scabs turn to birds
Dyed red after red until black.
A opossum tooth is in my fist. In my mind is the man
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Choking on his nephew’s fingernails
After eating the live from his belly.
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(from “Someone’s Utopia: Love as Refusal,” pg. 142)
drain games small moves whorl
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reed bone color can’t say next
move to fiber in the morning planet
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shaves cell seep fill sleep formation
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Ever Ever Ever the unvarying word
itself thunder overrun under
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(from “Amnesia, 2007 / Nightshift, Mandatory Overtime I,” pg. 99)
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Hall’s mastery of giving into form and theme, a practice that arrived much earlier in his story as poet and artist, is seen here. It is a bleak shower of numbness across time, space, and project. Worlds upon worlds collide, requiring information but being deprived it. The rumble and rubble of chaos is protected through its own relentlessness, a Catch-22 of corrosion that entrances, enthralls, and brutalizes.

These texts of what could be late-stage humanity seep with drama, with utterances that can suck us in and whip us dry, as the collision of our inabilities to our necessities, universal and forever, remains striking and paralytic.

Throbbing across the book is the resemblance of love. This love is cloaked in the maddening disorder already stated, but it’s there, there to read, there to seek out, there to latch onto. It is the heart and the guts of the otherwise wretch of rudiments spewing from the covers. Love opens the book with an absurd sequence entitled “Greetings: Play for 2 Voices,” a 9-poem-long first section of the book that reveals attraction, attachment, and obsession amidst the whirrs and sonic ripples:
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[. . .] 1: You can’t

hurt—as a Player at the Keys. 2: Now I want you to do something for me.

I want you to close your eyes. The back of your head is resting
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in someone’s hands. 3: Someone is holding your head, and you rest
like that, like a buoy in waves. Who is it? Who is
holding your head like a buoy folded in faves? [Often a communicating spirit cannot
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(from “Unfoldment,” pg. 11)
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Later on, in “Talk Piece: David” contained within the second section of the book, “$ ∞ / HR,” we encounter discourse between Joe Hall and “David Hall,” (the specific David goes undefined), which reflects bonding, reflects initiation, reflects bondage.

The piece with Scire, “Talk Piece: Mary,” extends this flittering socializing process. Again, the love, the need, the presence, the indefatigable. The book hints at it throughout, and this spattering song balances text while provoking the reader into a cruel sense of hypnotic submission: the perfect situation for the muck and the crack of a nuanced poetics of tear and wrought, tare and rot. “Talk Piece: Mary,” affords the reader with excellence in the grotesque nature of our split affections by mildly erasing (a la the strikethrough) all of the verse in the “piece,” and leaves fully intact a distributed interview with Mary Scire. The effect is uncanny, though resolute, as seen below:

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in mind never to the nearest hold my finger slips eggs foam slow useless to
the nest I know people strokes my hair a man pays heavy with some virus
to eat centipede song thousand legged
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so you see a new basis you still got to do something about it
 
[. . .]
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M: When my parents built their house in Virginia, in Shenandoah Shores, we spent or summers down there working as a group. It was cheap labor. We all worked together to help build that house, from the little kids getting water or stones. [. . .]
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(from “Talk Piece: Mary,” pg. 105)
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Lest not we ignore the fountainhead of love itself, “Someone’s Utopia: Love as a Fountain,” a poem that strikes the reader, barrages them, with the poet’s reflections on enduring connectivity. Despite “the cannery,” despite the alchemical and industrial transformations of life and substance, there is the direction outward, the direction inclusive of bond-making, sharing, collectivity:
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We cut three names into a tree.
And when I burned my wrist in the cannery
So badly it began to bubble,
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You were there with a bucket of cold water.
Among tons of softening apples
You smelled like cinnamon burning.
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(from “Someone’s Utopia: Love as a Fountain,” pg. 129)
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The balance between the creep of chaos and form, between cavern and home, between polarity and proximity: these are Hall’s points and counterpoints, these are the poet’s arrival to disturbance and peace. In an odd, disfigured, brutish way there is harmony following fulcrum, transformation above stasis, and reflection beyond the juxtaposition. There is light between the cracks.

When I think of Joe Hall, I envision the human behind the phalanx of writ, the maestro commanding a presence of stacks of lines of poetry in darkly-lit theaters. This book has etched this image, in conjunction with the former works. It is a crude image, and it is one that supplements a book that needs its keeper, a keeper that needs its book, both illuminated, rhythmically in the dark.

While the stage’s pit coughs up that which is despicable from the world outside, and the floor runs slick with the sweat of the efforts of our sordid and malnourished collective: Someone’s Utopia instills the brittle, angry reactant to a truth we can always try to and never quite fully imagine, never quite realize completely. It is a challenging truth in being partial. It is difficult to accept though there is power in it being a beginning. It is more alive, this book, than not. And some readers might have a hard time accepting the universality within.

You can find the book here: http://www.blackocean.org/catalog1/someonesutopia

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.

The Weight of Bodily Touches by Joseph Zaccardi

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By Don Thompson

This is dark stuff.  The opening poem of Joseph Zaccardi’s new collection, The Weight of Bodily Touches, seems to be offered as a warning so that the tender-hearted might proceed no farther.  In “To Feast on the Flesh of Decay”, a farmer’s wife exhumes the bones of a miscarried baby to “suckle my loss” and then “eats the grave dust under her own nails”.  Some readers of this review will no doubt stop right here.

But I wonder about the source of such darkness.  Usually it’s a kind of posturing that intends to shock for its own sake—a variety of grand guignol.  But in these poems, it’s a genuine and almost compulsive response to the—well, horror that surrounds us.  Zaccardi looks closely at things most of us studiously ignore or see as social issues that provide an opportunity to do good from a distance. In these poems we witness human consciousness barely holding itself together in the face of suffering that just is.  No one to blame.  Not much to be done.

“The Sound the Tree Makes” turns out to be a scream and the answer to Bishop Berkeley’s question that even if no human hears it, the other trees do.  And this is only a tree—perhaps ridiculous if Zaccardi hadn’t given us such a vivid description of the tortures inflicted on logs in a lumber mill. When he focuses on human suffering in “ICU”,  we’re forced to see the awfulness of hospitals that we try to pretend isn’t there among the pastels and smooth jazz: “…a gurney casting chirps down a corridor…while IVs beep and air whistles from tap holes” and “a defibrillator delivers doses of electric current to undo a flatliner”.

In all this, Zaccardi exhibits a craftsman’s skill with the unpunctuated, run-on prose poem.  We are carried long by the ebb and flow of rhythms rather than bogged down in the usual unreadable clot.  This gives the poems tension—an odd exhilaration that runs counter to their grim subject matter.  And he does make an effort to reach some sort of quietness if not peace of mind in the final section, which shifts tone radically to pay homage to classical Chinese poetry.  But it’s too little too late to offset the preceding darkness.

And yet, like the spiders he writes about in “Circle and Alchemy”, his work is both “beautiful and hair-raising”.  Although their webs and our lives are fragile and tear apart easily, we “rebuild because there is so much left.”

You can find the book here: https://kelsaybooks.com/products/the-weight-of-bodily-touches

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.

 

 

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Remembering Edgar Allan Poe on the Date of His Birth

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Annabel Lee 

It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
   And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
   In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
   Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
   Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
   Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
   In her sepulchre there by the sea—
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

 

A Dream Within a Dream 

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

 

The Raven 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Alone 

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—
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Two Poems by Mike Cohen

sunrise
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A Final Aubade
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There is no adequate narrative for this
or any morning
when an early glint of sunlight
slants between leaves
as clouds mount breathlessly
beneath the great breadth we call blue.
Now that morning has come, the poet assumes
that morning requires an aubade,
missing what sunrise reveals
as he tries to catch it in his flimsy net of lexicon.
Let it come without comment.
Morning is a greater thing
than all the words dedicated to it.
There is no adequate narrative for this
or any morning.  A morning is
simply to be witnessed,
greeted with due silence….
Be quiet and watch it progress
acknowledging there is
no adequate narrative for this.
Yet we cannot help
but help ourselves to these grand pronouncements –
these pretentious aubades –
a profusion of insufficiency
like treatments for what cannot be cured.
It’s far too much and not enough.
There is no adequate narrative
for this or any morning.
Au revoir to you, Aubade…   – not another word.
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IMG_0060 (3)
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Bovine Mantra
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“Moo,” I say to the cow.
She is surprised I can speak Cowish.
She’d assumed I was just another of those
who talk so much, with so little to say.
She’d looked at my boots on the ends
of my two legs, my silly colored clothing
and the hat that conceals my pathetic lack of horns,
and judged me to be capable only
of sub-bovine speech – some low human babble,
profuse and pointless and prattling on
so it could drive a cow over the moon.
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This is what cows have come to expect of people.
I want to show her that we humans are not all alike.
And as, face to face, we stand in silence,
a trace of respect seeps into her big brown eyes.
She sees that I too recognize how inept words are
at expressing thought.
There is nothing more for me to say.
I have said my “Moo,”
and allow the resonant syllable
to fade into the beyond.
“Moo…,” the cow’s mantra,
is the consummation of language…
The rest is only cud,
a regurgitation to chew on and on and on.
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Hour after hour the cow bears with me,
her jaws at work, her eyes on watch
until, finally satisfied that my understanding is sufficient,
she turns away and lows at the moon.
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mike-cohen (1)
Mike Cohen hosts Poetry Aloud and Alive at Philadelphia’s Big Blue Marble Book Store. His articles on sculpture regularly appear in the Schuylkill Valley Journal in which he is a contributing editor. Mike’s wry writing has appeared in the Mad Poets Review, Fox Chase Review, and other journals. His poetic presentations feature humor and drama against a philosophical backdrop. Mike likes to bring poetry and audiences to life in cafes, libraries, book stores and venues including Princeton’s Café Improv, the Pen and Pen Club, the Hedgerow Theatre, Fergie’s Pub, Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and neither least nor last, Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Look for him at http://mikecohensays.com/  on youtube at mike cohen   and in his book, BETWEEN THE I’S
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On an Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge by Robert Dash

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By Greg Bem

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“When it comes to exploring, it’s possible to travel real distances without going far at all.”  – Robert Dash, from the “Preface”
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Epic encounters across time and space are often represented with examples of time and space. Such is the case of the 2017 book of poetry and images by photographer, naturalist, and educator Robert Dash. In his insightful, exhausting collection, where he examines the microscopic through the lens of the human, Dash reveals that time and space do not need to be large to be encompassing. This is a book that at its core explores the artistic fervor of the scanning electron microscope, Dash’s tool and medium of choice, and it is a book that explores how the photographer might internalize and become captivated by the worlds that fill their imagery.
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“A community of processes, creatures and tools–termite jaws, fungal hyphae,
tunneling earthworms, wind, ice, drizzle, springtails, pecking nuthatches,
chemical magic, entropy, the ruthless blender known in slang as time–built this bridge.”
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(from “Gossamer Thin,” page 99)
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On an Acre Shy of Eternity reveals what an artist can do in a confined, constrained landscape. The muse cries out as a collective: from cliff rock to bunch of moss, the inherited imagery that is within, beneath, deeper still, is that imagery which is cherished and collected. In making this book, Dash situated himself across time while focusing on the subject of his home: the microcosmic subject matter within and along the periphery of his property, his corner of one of the San Juan Islands in the Salish Sea. The world is vast and vaster still, and it is one of mystery and intense—enormous even—forms of inclusion.
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Camas Lily, by Robert Dash

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The book is divided into four natural categories: plants, animals, water, and stones. Their presence reveals a quasi-alchemical relationship to reality and materials, and yet the subjects within carry range and precision. These are real images, a captured reality freakish and exquisite. Like the description of the X-Ray in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, the use and results of the scanning electron microscope feel hyper-potent and, at times, unfathomable. And in their space of fringe, in being known and untouchable one and the same, Dash provides juxtaposition, and tension. This leads to romance. To poetry. To feverish, undoubtedly spiritual insight.
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“this one hops me back across decades
and reveals every wave, leaf, cloud, shadow and feather
as a trace of eternity.”
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(from “Small Wonder,” page 57)
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This circumstantial structure is directed by Dash’s own poetry. The poetry begins with the photographs themselves. Dash has given relatively straightforward descriptions to the plates within the book, which when strung together read as a poem themselves: “Grass pollen: four hundred pollen grains would span a pinhead,” “Garry oak leaf in autumn,” and “Cliff ice at sunset,” to name a few. The educator, the naturalist, in collector’s mode, constructor’s mode, educator and describer, traveler of the unknown universe beneath our limbs.
Poetry is here: poetry is reflexive, and it is functional, and it is emotional. The photographs may be visual poems through and through. And then, too, most of the photographs in the book are paired with their own short, lyrical poem. The text is elegant and brief—enough to entice and allure. It is poetry that is as cleverly portrayed as the subjects of the photography. The verse may commentary on the process itself: “and you can’t parse these facts / and sometimes life falters even when relief is at hand” (from “Relief at Hand,” page 72). And at other times, Dash extends the lesson or intention of the photograph with additional explanation:
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“Down below, water shatters bedrock, free silica for diatoms
who float free to make half the globe’s oxygen,
only to come back around
wed to hydrogen
a lover returned.”
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 (from “Water is a Lover,” page 82)
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Dash’s efforts to provide a mixture of science and art is what I consider this book’s best quality. The photographs and the images each add to the weight and the significance of the overall message within the book. Much of this has to do with the flow of material across pages. Book designer Robert Lanphear allows Dash’s work to shine—quite literally, the expansive and intricate imagery is set evenly alongside the text. Images and poetry complement and provokes, in a dance between representation and self-awareness. As much as this book is about the tides that sit swollen alongside Dash’s island property off the coast of Northern Washington, so too is this book about the rhythm of the artist who inhabits, who occupies, who respects the surrounding and enveloping world.
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Vac-High PC-Std. 15kV x3400 (46mm)

Camas Lily Pollen by Robert Dash

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All but three of the photographs in the book were taken on this small nook of island geology. Three others were taken while in a boat, not far from the property. This proximity is fascinating when also considering the process of Dash’s poetics. The invisible hand of the writer, the invisible hand of the photographer: a sense of place is only afforded through the work itself. But Dash is generous in his literal descriptions of the work and offers challenges to the reader after setting the stage. This context, this establishment of bond, I can’t help but imagine reflects the bond Dash has discovered between his life in the macrocosmic alongside his life in the microcosmic.
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Since the publication of On an Acre Shy of Eternity, Dash has continued his use of and passion for the scanning electron microscope, and the abundance made visible with such a tool. His collection Food for Thought – Micro Views of Sustenance: Threats and Prospects looks at the resources we (and the world) consume, from food to soil, from crops to deforestation, and the conversations in between in the context of climate change. Dash’s photographic work has evolved into even greater levels of precision, and curation. To see his early microscopic work thrive alongside his recent, empowered imagery is marvelous.
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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 http://www.gregbem.com.
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