poetry book review

I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood By Tiana Clark

i cant
By Lynette Esposito
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I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark published by Pittsburgh University Press in the Pitt Poetry Series is an amazing collection of verse.
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The ninety-nine pages of poems vary in style, length and subject but are connected by a raw honesty that reveals stark truths. For example, on page three in her poem, Cross/Bite, Clark describes a difficult birth.
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          I was born into the world sideways.
    Doctor said.
            surgery to break my face
set it right again
              as f breaking were simple.
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 This poem represents a harsh beginning that makes the narrator’s jaw click like typewriter keys, yet she remains unbroken and thankful.  The form supports the images and revelations in this poem by having ragged lines on the right.  It suggests, among other things, like white sand in the mouth, an uneven life from the very onset and the uneasy decisions that are made from the beginning of existence.
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In the poem, In the Middle Things on page eighty-eight, the narrator is grown but acknowledges the desire for information on an unknown absent father.
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       My daddy   is what    is always   at stake   in all   my work
       I want to know if he is still                                alive—
       If he thinks of me as often I think of him.
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       I am still that baby, alone
       In the incubator, yelping    for more and more breath
       with moist, moth-like wings for lungs.
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       Only my mother’s name is on my birth certificate
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The poem skillfully uses spacing, and word groupings as techniques to emphasize the desire to understand where one comes from, who one’s fathers are and what that does to one’s lives.  Her images reek of longing and wondering.  It is a strong poem that is worthy of being read and read again.
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The book is divided into four sections, I Can’t Talk, About the Trees, Without the Blood and an Epilogue that has quotes from Muriel Rukeyser and Gwendolyn Brooks. This is a poet who is not afraid to quote other poets throughout the book as well.
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The book is the winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.  Justly so.  The poems are consistently strong and complex.  The images are fresh and interesting.  This is a good read for lovers of poetry.
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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 book is available from www.upress.pitt.edu

Lying Like Presidents, New & Selected Poems 2001-2019. Djelloul Marbrook

lying
 
 
 
 
By Michael T. Young
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What I look for in a new and selected collection is a sense of both the best the poet has to offer and the breadth of his vision. It isn’t merely a sampling of the work but a direct line to the essence of it, at least as best as a poet can understand his own poetry well enough to distill it. In this sense, the new work should seem like something that is an inevitable consequence of the journey the poet started. And that is what we get with Djelloul Marbrook’s Lying Like PresidentsNew & Selected Poems 2001-2019.
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The first section consisting of the new poems is enough to be a full-length collection on its own. It is a series of interlocking cantos that recall John Donne’s “Anatomy of the World,” in that they use the microcosm of an individual soul to explore the macrocosm of the world soul. And we are led into this from the opening poem that begins:
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Yesterday eighty years ago I toddled on the brink
of catastrophe, and the world tottered with me.
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This sets the stage for a series of poems seeking reconciliation on multiple levels: present with past, self with other, identity with history. And it is finally achieved. The concluding poem ends:
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More than a little tired but eager
to start out again as friends.
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But the journey here starts long before, rooted in Marbrook’s first collection, Far from Algiers, which opens the section of selected work. This first collection locates us in Marbrook’s original concerns with questions of alienation and otherness, identity and belonging. These themes persist throughout Marbrook’s poetry both symbolically and ideationally. So, one reads in Far from Algiers:
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Nothing can shake me
from my resolve to leave
or my distrust of doors
–“Sinistral”
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which recalls from the new section, in which he writes:
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I slip through keyholes
fondling tumblers as I pass
–“20”
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The new ease of departure marks the progress one finds throughout his career. Which is to say that more than a mere persistence of themes, there is development and growth from the anchors of social constructs and their restrictions to a plumbing of spiritual truth beyond those restrictions or, in other words, transcendence. Marbrook was born in Algeria but raised in Brooklyn. So, alienation and belonging are rooted in his life and articulate the initial conflict in his first book. But it serves as the groundwork from which he seeks transcendence throughout his career. The primary difficulty is one we all face to a greater or lesser degree, because the self that embraces an identity from the history and culture within which it finds itself immediately puts that self in chains. This is the case every time because no culture permits validation of what it implicitly defines as alien. So transcendence becomes the immediate necessity for self-assurance or validation. In Marbrook’s first collection we find again:
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                        I went
about the work of finding
the idea of belonging strange
–“Sinistral”
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Alienation propels the search for transcendence. And this foreshadows the progress toward his later collection entitled, Nothing True Has a Name. Or these lines from that collection:
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      and when they ask for your name
              say you’ve forgotten it
             and eventually you will.
         Who will go along with this?
          No one, but you will be one
with the crime you were meant to commit.
              –“Temenos Nakedly”
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This articulates a growth toward a genuine self, not ethically but spiritually, in a realm beyond norms and naming. Hence that collection’s title and an argument central to Marbrook’s entire oeuvre. Indeed, I don’t think there is a more thorough poetic exploration of identity and belonging, self and transcendence than the poetry of Djelloul Marbrook, at least from the point of view of the conflict between belonging to a culture and not being enchained by it. As someone who was not only born in another country but who suffered childhood abuse, his poetry doesn’t merely represent a struggle with otherness and identity but embodies the progress of that struggle from collection to collection. So there is not only witness but growth, and it is this growth and struggle that clothes his language with elegance and wisdom. In this light we also encounter friends who have committed suicide, and confront the problems of aging, each found in Brash Ice and Riding Thermals to Winter Grounds, respectively. Each of these are lenses by which we view his central themes. Some of my favorite poems or quotable passages from the collection focus on the persistent longing for transcendence:
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I’ve never wanted to disturb the world
or even move the air around me much.
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It didn’t seem appropriate for a visitor
who didn’t plan to stay very long.
–“Skirt disappearing behind a door”
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More is up to us than we are up to.
Dolphins and roaches will outlive us
because we wrap each moment in dogma
to throttle it rather than be artists.
–“Rather than be artists”
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Why of all the lives we’ve lived
should this be the memorable one?
–“Even now the embers”
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In this last quote we have that link between transcendence and a fixed identity, between multiple lives or meanings and the singular memory or “memorable one.” It lingers between the push and pull of accepting a place in history and transcending it. Suspended between these two points, Djelloul Marbrook’s poetry sings.
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While the collection certainly captures the beauty of Marbrook’s language and the range of his themes, I can’t avoid pointing out what is perhaps the collection’s biggest shortcoming: its title. While Marbrook’s themes intersect social and even political concerns, they are not central to his poetry. One views them in light of his major themes. But a title such as Lying Like Presidents makes politics seem central and I fear that may dissuade some from purchasing the collection. If my review can do any bit of justice to this poet’s work, it is to correct that possible misperception and encourage people to purchase a collection that represents a gifted poet’s journey.
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Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of War, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. His previous collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club. Young’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Gargoyle, One, Quiddity, Rattle, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. His poetry has also been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. Michael T. Young

 

 

Inculpatory Evidence: The Covid 19 Poems by Eileen R. Tabios

inculp

By Neil Leadbeater

Inculpatory evidence has, in its title, a legal reference frame which underscores the gravity of the subject-matter. Tabios presents the evidence. It is up to us, the readers, to draw our own conclusions.

The cover photograph of the author wearing her mask is a sombre reminder of just how contagious this virus is. Traditionally, masks were worn by actors as a means of transferring the wearer into a different character. More recently, they are considered to be a form of deception, a facade that obscures the truth. With regard to the present global pandemic we view them as a necessary part of everyday living. The covering over the nose and mouth is not without a cruel irony for we are short of breath due to polluting and dangerous pathogens and we are muted in expressing the truth because certain sections of society are fuelling us with misinformation, the so-called “fake news” that endangers us all. Wearing masks, we all lose a little of our facial identity and, to those who are hard of hearing, and who rely on lip-reading, our means of communication.

Four poets and translators have collaborated on this volume of ten poems by Eileen R. Tabios. John Bloomberg-Rissman has written an afterword and commentary on them, Natthaya Thamdee translated them into Thai and Susan M. Schultz provided useful feedback subjecting one of the poems to her Oulipian N+7 process in which a writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. This added a surreal touch to what many of us feel is a surreal situation. Some notes about issues that arose in the course of translating the poems into Thai are included at the end.

John Bloomberg-Rissman gives a chilling factual account of events (from November 2019 to June 2020) relating to the spread of Covid 19, the nature of the virus, and the attempts that are being made to curb its spread. His essay focusses on the complete denial, by certain sections of the population, that there is any need to take any precautionary measures, such as the wearing of masks and social distancing, at all. The account then widens to incorporate other global issues that are equally serious, if not more so. He lets the keepers of the Doomsday Clock sum it up: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers – nuclear war and climate change – that are compounded by a threat of multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond.”  Will we never learn? It seems that a proportion of the human race is hard-wired to self-destruction.

The ten poems in this volume employ a range of different styles appropriate to their subject matter. Two poems, for example, are written in the reverse hay(na)ku form (a sequence of tercets comprising lines of three words, two words and one word each) and there is also a poem written in couplets, and a list poem. In others, there is some experimentation with the way the lines are presented on the page, the size of the typeface and, in one poem, one or two words are typographically represented by a strikethrough to give an additional meaning to the text. Several poems are dated by month and year of composition. Interestingly enough, the year 2020 is adjusted to 2563 in the Thai translation to accommodate the Buddhist calendar which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar.

In the opening poem we are reminded, among other things, of the power of the word and how a single word, (corona), when it suddenly acquires a new meaning can change our perception of it forever, and that poetry has the power to foretell, to warn, of things to come.

The subject matter in this volume goes wider than Covid 19: ‘Regret’ focusses on the environment, ‘Triggered’ on hunger, ‘Not My First Mask’ on xenophobia and racism and ‘What I Normally Would Not Buy’ on panic buying, consumerism and survival. This is not just physical survival but also survival from domestic abuse.

Tabios uses food in this collection as a metaphor for survival. Food, in its various forms, appears in at least seven of the ten poems. We cannot survive without it. Witness the panic buying that took place as soon as news of the outbreak spread. Maslow was right when he included it within his hierarchy of basic human needs (although he seems to have overlooked toilet paper altogether).

Deception is another theme that weaves its way through this collection: things are not necessarily what they look like or what they seem to be. In ‘Sudden Asian Prepper’ Tabios uses references from hair colouring and make-up to illustrate her point about the deeper issues of deception, not just those that are follicle or skin-deep, but ones to do with race, misinformation and denial.

dye for turning

hair blonde,

tape

for double-lidding eyes,

Eyelid tape and other similar products are hugely popular in places like Korea where having “double eyelids” is considered to be ridiculously desirable.

Despite the gravity of the subject matter there is dark humour at work in some of these poems. Take ‘Faith in the Time of the Coronavirus,’ for example, which opens with these lines:

The President proclaims

-nay, guarantees! –

BETTER DAYS AHEAD!

WE SHALL BOUNCE BACK

HIGHER THAN BEFORE!

 

I respond faithfully

 

with an item I’ve never experienced:

a box of 100 MREs*

My tastebuds cringe –

[*Meals Ready to Eat].

‘Kapwa on Covid’ opens with a quotation from Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’. So much depends upon that word. If we can stem the virus, if everyone can adhere to social distancing, if there is another wave, if an effective vaccine can be found, if the virus mutates…different trajectories will ensue. There was a framed copy of Kipling’s poem in our home when I was young. I used to read it often and I can still recall the opening line: ‘If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…’ In it, the speaker advises his son about how to perceive the world and life’s challenges so that he can both learn from his experiences and resolutely overcome barriers. It is something we all need to do in these difficult times.

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Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017),  Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) and Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019).  His work has been translated into several languages.

Riven by Catherine Owen

Riven by Catherine Owen, ECW Press

By Greg Bem

Sweet disappeared man; sweet disappearing river
I sing to you this is all I have.

(from “Two Stanzas in Autumn” on page 18)

Grief looms around each corner. Down each path. Beneath the canopy, beneath the stones, across the lawn to the riverbanks, in the river itself. Grief is huge, and it’s often left out of conversation, left out of the social experience. As an often-solitary experience, grief often feels elevated and urgent in poetry. The opportunity to experience another’s exploration of grief and grieving is daunting and awestriking. In Catherine Owen’s Riven, we have just that: daunt and awe through Owen’s commitments and difficult attention to this crucial process.

Riven (defined within the book as a “a word that echoes river and means rift”) combines the poet’s tangible explorations in her immediate world with explorations of grief. The work’s concept is the ritualization of writing through the Fraser River. The work’s basis is writing through the grief of a lost spouse, who died from drug addiction in 2010. Owen’s work is monumental in that it balances a strong, Cascadian ecopoetics as examined via Fraser River with a challenging, cathartic, and human inquiry into death and loss of another human. Owen’s life and writing, as they shift from poem to poem, across moods and a trajectory of the spiritual and the practical, reflect recovery, understanding, and balance.

The poems connect with the river across time and space. Owen’s proximity to the water within the river reflects a conduit that pushes the boundaries of the temporal within poetry. While each poem feels like a new step, a new pathway, there is the persistence of the river itself:

forever happens while so near behind our window, the dark river rides the / shoreline, draws some of the land in it, then further down / what was sunk into something like commitment / is dry on the banks again [. . . ]

(from “Sundays, in the frozen construction site” on page 33)

The undefinable space of grief aligns poignantly with the river, ceaseless but wavering and textured in our conceptions and perceptions. A lingering sense of the past, a restless haunt, is present in these meditations. It is known but not. It is felt but feels unfamiliar in its newness. Each poem, like each day, provides a fractured vision of the river and of history. A revisitation that surprises. Owen’s writing is elegant though thorough, curious though cautious. Juxtapositions do not feel forced but feel adaptive and founded in growth and learning despite the shadow of pain and discomfort.

The juxtaposition that affected me the most was the imposition of reality. Owen’s push towards the river, toward a constrained, intentional artistic immersion never fully achieved as such, the world continuously occupying and imposing. Owen writes of this as Pamela Manché Pearce wrote similarly in Widowland and Phil Elverum sung on A Crow Looked at Me. Owen’s approach to the presence of the world and the disillusionment within is subtle and gestures towards grief’s relentless challenge. It is not a realm of feeling that can go away, despite distraction and interjection:

So you wait beyond concepts of waiting. I’m telling him – the grief regions are vast. I may call out hello hello I live only here now but the truth is a geography. Saw whinges. Click of trucks. The overexposed heron doesn’t celebrate quickly. Lollop of otter. Fish whipping and eh elusive option that this is not, again, a hook. Falling 1000 feet into your memory.

(from “Conniption: The River” on page 63).

The other end of contrast is the opportunity of the beauty within the world Owen is writing. Loss and presence of human and river are still surrounded by impeccable circumstances, and these sequences of imagery fill Riven with ornamentation and symbols. A fullness results and resounds. The ritual of presence fills the poetry. Line spills to line with Owen’s reiterative world-building. It is a translation of that which daunts and that which awes. It is the sprawl of minutiae based on time of day, angle of reference, and the exquisite biological and geological layers through which the images form and become complex.

In the wake of the passing, another wake.
The water does not return to itself.
There is a gleam, a density.
The sun pivots in the wound

where a white bird retires its flying.

(from “Love should not be written in stone, but in water” on page 71)

Within the construction of the image, we find the construction, subtly, of another layer of grief: that river (that riven) echoing Owen’s loss. The world is bigger than the self. Bigger than the lost spouse. There is an ecological sickness, far larger in scope, more global in the lack of nurturing and stewardship. Owen observes this in the wildlife, in the watercraft, in the pollution, in the built environment. Grief’s other face is the slow decay. It’s the intolerable, fractured steps toward environmental destruction:

Our minds can assimilate all horrors. / Is the problem. / The animals will disappear and those small, strange invertebrates; // the bees will vanish and in the well-oiled waters, fish / will surge their deaths over the sand bags.

(from “Nature Writing 101” on page 13)

It would be difficult to claim Riven a book that feels conclusive or filled with solutions. It may have solutions. It may have conclusions. But it is much larger: it goes to the precipice and knows the precipice. It approaches the chasm and knows the chasm. The investigations, the pauses and pulses—they indicate resolve, they reflect immersion and presence. The difficulty, the discomfort: these are the qualities of grief the reader is exposed to, the ones that are that opportunity we rarely, as social beings in need of healing, have.

You can find the book here: https://ecwpress.com/products/riven

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

The Elvis Machine by Kim Vodicka

elvis

By Greg Bem

But at some point, I stop dancing
and start poking meat.

At some point, I stop wondering
and start looking.

(from “High Tea,” page 47)

Kim Vodicka’s third book, The Elvis Machine, is the follow-up to 2018’s rambunctious Psychic Privates. It contains an explosion and a resulting silence—a collection of poems worth feeling uncomfortable by only to slowly be empowered by moments later. Featuring a myriad of ecstatic tones, collages of images and ideas that wander through and between each poem, The Elvis Machine is a collection of intensely beautiful feminist poetry that ruptures and coats. It is a book that takes up time and does not give it back: each poem features narratives with a sense of the imperative—these are Vodicka’s speakers’ moments, at once intimate and relentless.

I wrote a note near the beginning of the book that describes a cursory understanding of how the poetry is working in The Elvis Machine: “balance between delicate and chaotic—juxtaposed.” On one hand, Vodicka reaches a totality that blends between these qualities. But that’s also a superficial way of describing her work. There is much more going on from moment to moment, from poem to poem. The poems’ speakers, which tend to feel both similar and distant from one another, contribute to the collective; The Elvis Machine embodies a choral quality, and with it comes empathy and a sense of reflective endurance.

The rage of the wounded feminine lifts me.

I vow to be a famous mass murderess.

I vow to let you clean up the carnage.

I vow to grasp without ever even reaching.

I vow to wear wicked withc shoes for the rest of my days.

(from “Blue Flowers (Reprise),” page 61)

What is being endured? Systemic misogyny, for one. These poems contain a lot of love, but that love is persistent across time and space of pure, awful agony and difficulty. Plights and oppressions galore await the casual or intentional reader of Vodicka’s works. These bounds never sit still in their horror, their trauma, and any of the bravery behind the confessions. Many of these poems contain language that disturbs, sickens, and twists the guts into a rigidity or spasm. It is the type of work that could force one reader to shake their head in disbelief and another reader to throw up their lunch. Because Vodicka does not hold back.

But she isn’t only out to provide the grotesque. Much of the highlighting concerns active, dynamic sexuality that arouses. The stimulation edges the reader along, maintaining concentration, deepening satisfaction. As rhetoric, as pedagogy, Vodicka’s work is an alignment emphasized by viscera and an ultra-realism. It is this visceral work that produces lingering effects, effects of insight and inspiration. Readers of Vodicka’s previous books will know these feelings well—The Elvis Machine is further refinement of techniques perfected in earlier works.

But I will fight to the death
to retain my sensitivity.

Which means I’ll die of love.

Eaten alive by those who say right
but mean wrong.

(from “Babalon Fantasy,” page 114)

Despite the work being “ultra-real,” some readers may relate and feel the resulting elements of survival contained within. That chorus calling for new minds and voices within the readership. The stories, while holding that imperative, are much more than a series of urgent “calls to arms.” They are also uniquely positioned as vignettes that illustrate a fluidity concerning sexuality and relationships. Vodicka’s speakers blend in their own form of identity collage. This is a unique collective of humanity that, while at its core resembling a distinct feminine energy, contains many folks with many identities. That fluidity moves through gender, moves through sexuality and sexual orientation, and is wonderfully queer. The risks that are taken here, in what sometimes comes off as a freefall or dance between each poem, are immense. But Vodicka’s poetry satisfies that immensity with humor, ironic crassness, and a profound attraction toward the guttural. Some of the most complex differences between humans end up being solved with our shared ability to laugh, mate, orgasm, and produce bodily substances.

What The Elvis Machine reflects is a commitment to exploring the self of selves. Vodicka’s work is an ongoing epic meta-narrative that fits well into an era of distraction and hyper-consumption. I believe it carries a poetics that embraces technology and emerged senses of knowing with unsolved, systemic issues faced by women for millennia. I believe it also connects to the issues faced by trans, gender fluid, and gender nonconforming folks as well.

Cuz the moon is a rogue,
and the muse I on repeat,
and my gaze has been thusly affected.

Respectable receptable, man-infested.

Kingly queen with delusions of infamy.

(from “Milk PTSD,” page 41)

Vodicka’s poems are not solely concerned with solving those issues but rather, like the trickster hero(ine), concerned with pointing them out and doing so in a powerful, incessant, and beautiful way. The language is as crisp as a lake’s edge, as rigid as daggers, and it sweetens the world like a brief lick of blood. It is poetry capable of challenging and chiseling. It calls and it crumbles. And it knows what it is capable of from cover to cover, allowing risk to manifest as subtle, tense experimentation.

Whether readers have a history with feminism or have never heard the word, whether they have read feminist poetry or have never imagined they could, The Elvis Machine is a great place to start. And with as many doors as it shuts in its forceful, chaotic elegance, it opens just as many for us to depart, screaming all along, only to sit still, rest, grow, and sigh empathetically. Vodicka has once again, through effort that bridges gaps between chaos and delicacy, between formalities and madness, crafted a gift of a collection that will educate, will infatuate, and will salivate the gentle reader’s understanding of, and belonging to poetry.

You can find the book here: https://www.clashbooks.com/new-products-2/kim-vodicka-the-elvis-machine

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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Library Rain by Rustin Larson

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Rustin Larson’s poetry volume, Library Rain, has 50 pages of poems that vary in length, style and subject matter. Many of the poems have been previously published in a wide variety of literary journals and other publications.   This volume has a good mix of Larson’s tightly focused and innovative images and literary skill.
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Larson, in his poem Man of The Future on pages four and five and first published in Saranac Review, focuses on a narrator who observes riders on a transit bus and gives them nicknames. One is named The Man of the Future and another is named Mrs. Rabbit. The two sit next to each other their thighs touching. Then, suddenly, they avoid each other. Larson ends this two-page seven stanza poem with:
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                                 I’m no genius. I’ve made plenty
                                 Of  mistakes.  If life gives you something,
                                 You take it, and you don’t ask any questions,
                                 And then when life takes it away
                                 Again,  then what?  There is no elegant way
                                 to put this.  If we’ve lived this far,
                                 We’ve become the future we once thought was distant.
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Life on the bus translates in figurative form, to a truth of gain and loss and time unexpectedly bringing the future to us too quickly.  Larson’s choice of place, a bus that carries people back and forth to work, also encapsulates the repetitive rhythm of a pentameter keeping time even as it moves forward.
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John Peterson of Wapsipinicon  Almanac says “Larson writes like an angel, but one who’s willing to work both sides of the street.” This can be seen in Larson’s poem Summer Vacation (The Iowa Source) on pages twenty-eight and twenty-nine. It is like many of Larson’s poems, a vignette in poetry. A young boy has his first sexual encounter with a girl and it is more fantasy than reality as others in the poem both congratulate and condemn the experience. The narrator of the poem presents the idea of someone who is there but not there as a reality check.  The following lines suggest our involvement in our own life plot.
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                              The miracle is that we each live a story
                              That really isn’t about us at all.
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The narrator comments that this is the plotline for every thing .I find this is a little on the negative side but also I hear the ring of truth to it.
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Many of Larson’s poems have this double edge to them with the common settings and place suggesting much more.  On page fifty, the poem, A Yet to Be Determined Painting, (Briar Cliff Review) has beautiful imagery but underneath the beauty, is broken machinery.
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                        Maple sees flickered down from the branches.
                       “We are replacements for butterflies,”
                        they said with their illusion of two wings.
                        They struck the boards of the deck
                        and then they just lay there broken machinery,
                        done, the pilot green, the current strong.
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These strong images encourage the reader to take a second look at nature and how it reflects on how one imagines life.
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The poems in this book are a pleasure to read and give the reader insight into the world around them. Larson’s complex inter mix of ideas and form work well throughout the book.
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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.

The Damages of Morning by J.C. Todd

damage

By Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

J.C. Todd’s chapbook, The Damages of Morning, has been written to remind us of the horrors of the World Wars. You can’t escape it! Page after page, poem after poem, you are reminded of the terror; of the desolation; of the lost lives; of the inhumanity of war. Hell on earth.

Todd steps in (as time traveler) with her meditative, yet explosive poems about these silent horrors; perhaps her eleven poems (one of which is five parts) more like snapshots, each a poetic narrative of a frame-frozen moment captured in the history of wartime. She has gathered these poems (as photos) for you, through the lens of research and discussions with her students, and ultimately in her own silent musings of war and its fall-out.

These tragedies appearing understated on the silent page are nothing of the sort. For instance, in the poem “Pylimo Gatvė, Vilnius” (Gatvė: street in Lithuanian) we have the seemingly silent, giving fruits of nature, “the chestnuts” that “no one stoops now to gather.” So, at once you may think of starving women wanting to pick up a few chestnuts to eat later, but to do so, they would be taking a chance. But what kind of chance or risk, might they be taking?

“…In the midst of this history / imprinted in stone, along a street that bordered / Ghetto 2, the chestnuts fan their boughs / and bloom, the leaves brown and droop, the nuts / fall and no one stoops now to gather them / as women did then, slack shouldered and starved / to the pith of their bones, returning under / guard from the fields or factories, passing / through the gate into the ghetto each night, / the burning question, did Shulamith / or Menke make it through the day.  They risked / the boot, the rifle butt, the bullet, to scoop up / a few russet shells. Horse chestnuts… Eat, it’s food.

Raw horse chestnuts are toxic, that is, the fresh, unprocessed seeds contain esculin.  Therein lies the rub. These desperate and starved women risked death every day.  Chestnuts are healthy for the body, but not horse chestnuts, as they may cause death, if eaten raw. So, the question the poem presents to these women and to the reader as well, would be: Is it worth staying alive “to work one more day for the Germans” and “to want to outlive the war?” Knowing that physically outliving a war doesn’t necessarily mean that you can ever “outlive your sorrow or your death.” Here, “your death” as in a kind of living death, meaning that you live through each and every day physically starving, but worse than that you are already dead on the inside (inside your mind) living inside this captive life. Maybe, this is what Todd is saying, yet not saying at the start of her poem by cleverly using “chestnuts” and ending with the deliberate “horse chestnuts;” and the eerie lines that lead the reader to the end, “An act of will to chew and swallow, / to say to yourself, Eat, it’s food.” Food, no doubt to escape. As in the burning question: “Did Shulamith or Menke make it through the day?”

Dismal / dark.  Horrific times.  Even in “Country Living” there is:

“…the man-plowed fields of one-cow farms, /holdings that yield enough to keep the body / Alive, not more… Here, winter last for twelve months, / the rest of the year is summer.”

Another poem “Flayed,” metaphorically hints at the flaying of the speaker’s “my Oskar” and his “flapped open” vest and that of the flaying of a spring hare:

“…the night they took him into the forest. / Sternum cracked, yanked out with ribs attached, lifted into a cast iron / pot, laid on a bed of early greens and sorrel for a sour stock tomorrow.”

Subtle, the metaphor of Oskar, as the “flayed,” or not so subtle. On first read the poem leans more imagistically toward the preparation of “this one a spring hare. Not fat enough” with all of its crude culinary skinning and butchery, “the meal for today.”  Yet, on a closer second read, here, is where Todd’s craft is perfected. With no explanation, Oskar, no doubt, the hunted game for the death pot, cast iron, no less. Hunted and killed by the Germans as predators, upon the helpless prey. What really struck me was Todd’s choosing of the German name “Oskar” and how closely it resembles the word, “hare,” and also (intentionally or not) how ironically Oskar as in Schindler, the German industrialist (from the movie Schindler’s List), credited with saving the lives of over a thousand Jews. Deliberate or not? I think Todd’s choice.

There’s so much more to “Flayed,” but for the sake of space, I will return to Oskar and touch on the wonderfully crafted, double (quiet) meaning of the line (quoted above, yet worth repeating): “laid on a bed of early greens and sorrel for a sour stock tomorrow.” Yes, our Oskar and hare laid out (in death) on natural “greens and sorrel” and the sourness of it all, when death is felt more on the morrow.   And a line from the last stanza:

“…They took the chickens, eggs, the cow, the pretty girls, the men.”

Those living day to day, working for the Germans, lived in their own trenches of fear, starvation, and daily despair. Also, apparent in Todd’s succinct, poetic accounts of war’s abuse: “Daughter,” “Mother,” women, men, unborn, and children, all of the preyed upon and their predators (Doktor and “Commander”). This cast of characters caught in the ugliness of hellish war, as it tore apart basic fibers, scourged human-essence, and demeaned dignity of those whom should have been spared, yet made to endure the crippling torments of bare bone survival:  cruel, non-sacred war.

Every page a reminder of “Not our lives, but lives / of the dead, escaped / into us. Grave, / we open to them.”  J.C. Todd makes your gut wrench, brands you mind with horrific images—lest we grow too comfortable; lest we forget that freedom comes at an extremely high cost; lest we stop listening to the voices of all whom suffered cruel injustices, the brutalities of wartime. Beware: some of these same atrocities happening, even now, on “Earth.”

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You can find the book here: https://squareup.com/store/moonstone-arts-center/

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently The Handheld Mirror of the Mind (Kelsay Press, July 2018) and Images of BeingLight’s Battered Edge; and Night Sweat. She has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer Many Mountains Moving, Indiana Journal, among others, with poems forthcoming from Sequestrum Journal of Literature and Arts. She is poetry editor at North of Oxford, an online literary journal. Visit her at http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/

The Seas Are Dolphins’ Tears By Djelloul Marbrook.

Book Cover_Seas Are Dolphins Tears_
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Michael T. Young
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The latest collection by poet Djelloul Marbrook, The Seas Are Dolphins’ Tears, follows the arc of a trajectory one can trace back to perhaps his fourth collection, Brash Ice, one following an ever-deepening engagement with the mysteries of spiritual awakening. It is signaled by the opening quote from Ibn al ‘Arabi, a Muslim mystic of the early 13th century. From there we enter a poetry that is spare and startling. No capitalization or punctuation delimits the explorations we set out on. We are instead invited to question everything from grammatical nuance to identity. It is a language that is simultaneously direct and absurd, a kind of magic that reveals truth beyond logic and where paradox jars the senses.
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in the heart of such familiarity
i cannot find my way
one must be one’s own light
in cracks between ordinariness
and exquisite punishments
— “lost in the midst of finding
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Marbrook’s poetry turns inward and walks the path between polarities as the language of ecstatic poetry does. External realities manifest themselves as turmoil in the internal spiritual terrain. Boundaries of self and other breakdown not into illusions but mutually affirming realities, the interdependence of all things. Following Marbrook’s poetry from his first to latest collection, one sees a poet who refuses to divorce physical necessity from spiritual subtlety. Unlike many who assert the dominance of one of these realms over the other, Marbrook remains devoted to the truth of their balance and a poetics that reveals the connection of spirit and body in all its diverse facets.
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I notice that the best of us
counterclockwise bear
sea rains to refresh
the brittleness of drought
that ravages our innards
— “panic”
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As so much of this book does, these lines recall mystical texts, as here, we confront the aridity of the soul or “innards” as St. John the Divine did in Dark Night of the Soul. That “brittleness of drought” is soothed by a return to primal sources, those “sea rains,” for the sea often, in poetic tradition, is an image of creative potential or, in other words, the unconscious. That counterclockwise motion is the return and it echoes in various other contraries of place and time, self and other throughout the collection, for instance, as “’there’ is the most elusive word,” or “he is a woman,” or “we are most of all/what we think we’ve lost.” While this journey leads us to elvish tables and faerie parties, such fantastic encounters do not abandon compassion for our very real fellow living beings. That would not be in keeping with the humanity that pervades Marbrook’s poetry.
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            remember that
tortured beasts
      thrash beneath
            every sorrow
                  & imprisoned thing
— “leviathan”
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Or again,
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if methane did not leak
from political endeavor
if we could die assured
of so much loveliness after us
i could simply shut my mouth
—“words flee”
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Much of Marbrooks’ earlier poetry overtly confronts social issues and artistic needs while allowing spiritual underpinnings to surface within that framework. He has, in this new collection, reversed that order and we now see the worldly problems from a spiritual perspective, a perspective that does not include silence before political folly or ecological disaster. In this sense, these poems partake of the surreal tradition by which given boundaries are tested or broken down and which inherently dissents with established politics and norms. However, the trajectory of Marbrook’s project reaches further back and forward than the present collection, a trajectory that reveals a marvelous balance and beauty in his poetry, a great breadth of poetic vision, something too large for a single collection. Marbrook is a poet of great scope who packs an epic power into poems of incredible lyrical compression. This may be one way of seeing the journey of a spiritual awakening itself, that is as a narrative traveled inside a lyrical moment.
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parts no one has touched
since i was an astonished boy
parts god and women for all their wiles
have not found    they have gone ahead of me
to find you whom i was forced to leave behind.
— “questions the parts”
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Astonishment is a variety of the sublime, that experience of the transcendent often too profound for our crude sensibilities to bear. So, this racing on ahead to find what was left behind is not merely past is prologue, but how that spiritual awakening is a remembrance, the recovery of a fundamental insight as if we all are born with our lips still glistening from the waters of Lethe.
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One may, at times, be baffled by these poems, but that is in the way a Zen koan can be baffling, which is by a language meant to break us free of the torpor of routine logic, that prison nearly invisible to us because its bars are made of our daily thoughts. These poems, however, are written in that language which is a prelude to enlightenment. The Seas Are Dolphins’ Tears makes an incredible addition to the growing oeuvre of this versatile and gifted poet.
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You can find the book here:

 https://www.amazon.com/Seas-Are-Dolphins-Tears/dp/190984960X

 Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was published by Terrapin Books. HIs other collections include The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Award. Young also received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, The Cortland Review, The Los Angeles Review, Shrew, The Smart Set, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Young lives with his wife, children, and cats in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Gathering View by Jack C. Buck

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By Stephen Page

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

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

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

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

You can find the book here:

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

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