poetry book review

Magnesium

magn
.
Reviewed by Frank Wilson
 .
John Stuart Mill drew a shrewd distinction between eloquence and poetry. The former, he said, is heard. The latter is overheard.
The best of the poems in Ray Buckley’s Magnesium demonstrate the soundness of Mill’s observation. Take this one, for instance:
I was mistaken when I said
those things to you.
I’m apologizing now.
For being wrong and for
being very sure I wasn’t.
This sounds exactly like something you might hear in the booth next to yours in a restaurant, and it reminds one of how poetic the fragments of ordinary discourse can often sound — and be. Like many of the poems in this collection, this one’s first line serves as its title. None of the poems is titled “Magnesium,” though many of them and many of the lines that compose them bring to mind that experiment one did in high school chemistry class, when you set alight a thin strip of magnesium wire and watched it sizzle. “Who will reveal us to what we are thinking?” has just that sort of sparkle.
.
Poems are not the only things here. There are prose interludes, and what are best described as playlets, fragmentary dialogues. One of these, “Piccadilly Circus,” has two guys in a phone booth at the London landmark trying to reach a girl to tell her where to meet them. It would make for an effectively absurd skit a la Samuel Beckett (who is referenced from time to time in the book). There is a sort of narrative at work here, defined largely by a sense of disaffection and the need for apology. This can be wryly self-deprecating, as in the conclusion to “One Too Many Things”:
 .
I work very hard to be considered significant.
I have intentions of having a very elevating photograph taken of me
at some point so it can accompany the paragraphs I’ve written
dedicated to my abiding attention to my own immortality.
.
It does seem that the speaker in these poems has much to be apologetic about. There are the references to drugs: “I’d be in better shape to say something to you/if I had something other than 2631 in my system.” Cyclobenzaprine hydrochloride, known by the number 2631 on the pill, is a muscle relaxant, which would seem no big deal. But a later, one-line poem announces “I ran out of narcotics. But I have this bottle of muscle relaxers.” And the very next poem, also a one-liner, notes that “It’s very good for one’s career to affect a drug problem.” So we may well be dealing with a less than reliable narrator, which might be a problem were it not that the speaker himself sometimes doubts his reliability:
I’m sorry I made you believe I was a liar. The strangeness of my honesty was a red herring. … I don’t know how to properly explain to you how false everything you believe is.
The recurring sense of unfulfillment grows trying at times, but one never doubts its authenticity. It would appear to be a common mode of being these days. And every now and then there is the exultation of “Be Grace”:
 .
Tell us how you started it all.
Grow roots in us which we’ll
Wish ourselves the prisoners of
Reach in like all there is is reaching.
Be grace, and tell us your secret.
Like eternity, shine like eternity.
Go into us, contain us.
And be grace. 
 .
Ray Buckley is worth keeping an eye on.
 .
.
Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog Books, Inq. — The Epilogue. Email him at PresterFrank@gmail.com.
 
 
 

Shoot the Messenger

shoot
.
Review by g emil reutter
.
The evolution of the poet John Dorsey continues in this, his 50th book of poetry. Dorsey writes of the heartland of America and the forgotten characters. In this collection there are no small ponds/just forgotten rivers of intention/just stolen kisses/captured in the night. He writes of The Prettiest Girl in Moscow, Kansas, pumps gas with a farmer’s bicep/and sells off-brand energy drinks 2 for $4/ tallying the state tax/to determine her own worth. In the poem, Don’t Flip the Boat he writes of a Hell’s Angel looking for an insurance claim. the fire of youth/an old tire/left hanging from a tree/that has been burning/ since he was a boy. he says there’s wisdom/ in these hills. he just can’t remember where he buried it.
.
A poet who writes for the disenfranchised, Dorsey gives us, The Years We Remained Anonymous
.
waiting for history to moan our names
to carve our initials into a tree
that we can no longer find
.
the moonlight is no longer happy
just touching the skin of generations
& the road back home
is muddy with blood
.
there is very little peace
.
in any of it.
.
Dorsey remains at the heart of the modern Meat Poetry scene also known as the Outlaw Poetry Movement. He writes of smoking joints outside a convenience store, of a town with no roosters, of an addict and his needle, of old men wrestling with their youth, of learning to shoot, of rabid dogs and of family. And of Sadie – she has never danced backward/in the mouth of oceans/while piecing together the remains/ of her tattered heart. her stars still shine through cheap beer/and well whisky/the highway feels limitless/and the music in her heart seems free. He writes of his grandmother in Home Cooking and a problem with food poisoning- and my grandfather would ask without fail/”what’s the matter, don’t you like your grandmother’s cooking?”/i guess it was a fair question/after all, she left a lot of sweat/ on that counter.
.
In this collection he put his mark on Meat Poetry, an evolved style of raw and imagery such as this from Poem for My Parents- i remind her/that we are running out of time/that every moment of silence/is another wrinkle on our face/another memory/to hang our bones on. There is a rawness such as this from The Rainbow Family Would Never Have You – just before sundown/we wandered through the side streets/of your heart/ in search of adam’s rib/ our lips smacking/ as we wiped our sticky fingers/on the marrow of dusk.
 
County Route 705
.
is full of ghost stories
.
faded yearbook photos
of dreams that died
on loose gravel
.
the sun shining
on our failures
.
just hanging there
like a rusty hubcap
nailed to the cross
.
Dorsey has given us a collection of poems, of characters of the heartland who live the hard life, who dream, who take the hits and keep getting up. The bonus in this collection are the beautiful images provided by the artist by Greg Edmondson. In his very Dorsey way, Shoot the Messenger, opens the window for others to understand and feel the struggle in the heartland.
.
You can find the book here: Shoot the Messenger – John Dorsey
.
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

The Philosopher Savant

ps

.

Review by Stephen Page

.

In the first poem of the book the narrator, as a young boy, skips church and wanders the countryside, discovering new truths, learning he is able to think for himself, coming to his own conclusions about himself and the world, and finding out he is not bound by non-secular dogma. This is where the Philosopher Savant comes into being.

The book follows the remembrances, dreams, fears, evaluation, assessments, and vision of the Philosopher Savant. He is an average person, a father, a householder with a job—but he has a vagrant soul and the fugue vision of a shaman.

Larson writes in the veins of Whitman and Shakespeare. Some of his poems read as contemporized sonnets, and they have as much genius entwined as Shakespeare’s.  While reading the poems, I had a feeling of transcending my self, a oneness with the “all”. The thesis of the book parallels and paraphrases the consciousness of the diffused identity, an identity much like Whitman’s—putting that in other words, “If you want to find me again, look for me in the silence between your thoughts.”

Larson’s intention with the book is to hold the consciousness of the reader, and never let it go, completely—as the images and stories of the poem remain in the minds of the reader after the book is read. Larson wants to say to the reader that everyone and everything share the same consciousness, they always have, and there is only one being in the universe.

What works wonderfully in this book, aside from the brilliant poetics, is that the reader becomes aware that linear time is insignificant. Similar to how memory works. The Philosopher savant is allowed to say what he wants, when he wants, the way he wants, wherever he wants. He remembers things in an anti-chronological manner. He remembers between lifetimes, previous lifetimes, the present, the past, and he forecasts the absurdity of the future.

A while back, I read an earlier book written by Larson, “The Wine-Dark House,” and I was mesmerized. Each poem in “Philosopher Savant” is packed with as much detail as a short story.  Larson’s writing style is multifarious.  In the great library of the universe, this book would be there on the top shelf. If the great library of Alexandria still stood, this book would also be there.

I look forward to reading Larson’s next book, “Pavement”.

.

Rustin Larson’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, North American Review, Poetry East, and The American Entomologist Poet’s Guide to the Orders of Insects. He is the author of The Wine-Dark House (Blue Light Press, 2009), Crazy Star (selected for the Loess Hills Book’s Poetry Series in 2005), Bum Cantos, Winter Jazz, & The Collected Discography of Morning, winner of the 2013 Blue Light Book Award (Blue Light Press, San Francisco), and The Philosopher Savant (Glass Lyre Press, 2015). His website is: https://rustinlarson.wordpress.com/

.

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

Frank Wilson on the poetry of Marion Deutsche Cohen

closer to dyingtruth and beauty.what wearing
.
Reviewed by Frank Wilson
The second of these volumes takes its title from a course Marion Deutsche Cohen developed and teaches at Arcadia University. The subtitle of that course is “Mathematics in Literature.”
Cohen’s day job is teaching math, and math figures a good deal in her poetry. Lest you think that might be off-putting, fear not. When it comes to math, I am without a trace of comprehension, and I had no problem at all with the references to sets, theorems, and the like. That’s because Cohen manages to communicate what it is like to have a passion for mathematics.
“Memoirs of a High-School Math-Brain,” from Closer to Dying, begins thus:
  .
“The Parabola,” I announced.
“She would choose that one,” whispered three regular teenagers in the back row.
Yes, alas, I would.
  .
The final stanza makes clear why:
 
Plenty of regular teenage girls got A’s in math.
But they didn’t prefer working on crossing polygons to going to a party.
And they didn’t write little squiggly geometry and algebra shapes in history class.
And they didn’t choose the parabola.
“Not as Much as Before,” one of the poems in Truth & Beauty is a response to students lamenting that they didn’t enjoy math in college as much as they had before college:
“… before college, I was like a kid in a candy store with math … The profundity of math could make me cry.
But in fact I didn’t really need the candy store … Candy was still candy even without the store and fifty years later I’m still a kid with candy. … Loving can come in spurts and it can come back ….
The poems in Truth & Beauty  are based on homework questions and classroom conversations that students and their teacher have shared. They are prose poems. Now, the prose poem has not had much success in English. Cohen’s work precisely because she does not go out of her way to make them “poetic.” The “prosy” parts of “Not as Much as Before” provide just the right context for that “loving can come in spurts” phrase.
While the profundity of math may make people like Cohen cry, it is life that brings heartbreak, and math is no help for that, as “Proof Theory” makes plain:
Like when my third baby died, and the students all know about that, I tried to prove that she couldn’t possibly have died, I said things like “But I ate so healthily”, “I already had two successful pregnancies”. Prove it, God, how did you do it, how could it POSSIBLY have been done?”
Heartbreak itself, though, never dies:
A grave once opened for me.
It was so big, so wide, an entire small house.
And she whom they were lowering was twenty inches
six pounds, fourteen ounces, small enough
To have fit inside me.
The dispassionate precision of these lines only makes the grief more palpable. In “Dreams about One Way in Which Life Goes On,” we learn that the child’s name was Kerin: “I have another baby named Kerin and she also dies. / I say I lost two babies named Kerin … / Another night I lost yet another baby named Kerin. … How many nights can I keep this up?”
And then there is growing old, which means growing “closer to dying,” while visited by insomnia, insinuating dreams, together with pain and memory. Here is “One Brand of Insomnia”:
By day I play Mozart and Bach on the piano.
I play pretty well. I sort of conquer them.
But by night they’re back.
By night they’re conquering me.
This suggests, rather startlingly, that the two conquerings work in synergy. Something akin animates “50-Year High School Reunion”:  “encountering my sixteen-year-old self. … I am hugging her, comforting her, advising her … Yes, I am advising her. And she is listening. She listened.”
Time to go shopping — or, more precisely, thrifting and that is what Cohen does in a good many of the poems in What I’m Wearing Today. Math tags along, of course. In “Math in the Thrift Store,” an “ethnic hand-embroidered top”  prompts interrogation:
What theorem are you? I ask it.
What is your proof?
What’s your Gödel number?
What’s your Gödel name?
But more than number resonates here. The speaker in “What I See in Thrift Stores” claims to seek space, time, “my past.” As in ”What I Wore in the 70s”:
I didn’t dress sexy.
I dressed arty.
I wasn’t a sex object.
I was an art object.
What it all adds up to is a fundamental mathematical truth: the terms on either side of an equal sign are just different ways of expressing the same thing. Cohen’s poems inevitably prove equal to their quotidian details. This is poetry not merely as a manner of speaking, but as an actual way of living.
Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog Books, Inq. — The Epilogue. Email him at PresterFrank@gmail.com.

The Diviners

div

.

A Mini Review by Stephen Page

.

The book is a single poem divided into five chapters, each chapter a different decade, the total chronicling a family’s beginnings, growth, problems, separation, and reunion.  The device of chapter/decade works well. Even though the world doesn’t go through any major changes at midnight when the calendar flips over to a year with a zero on the end, we as human beings have the habit of measuring our existence in decades—what we were like and what we did in the 70’s, the 80’s etc.—what fashions were like, how people behaved.  Readers relates to decades well.  Especially in remembrance.  The events shown in the poem are ones that most everyone can empathize with in one way or another. The language and form are prosaic yet poetic.  The result is an accessible poem that reads like a novel.  Most of the characters’ relationships are dramatic, but some are humorous—especially during the haunted house scene.  
 
Buy the book on Amazon.
.

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

Spirit Boxing

spirit-boxing

.

Review by g emil reutter

.

There is a richness in American poetry that traces its roots from Levine to Sandburg to Whitman. Poetry rooted in the American spirit, the working class, the knowing of who we are and where we come from. In that chain that links poets to the barbaric yawp of Whitman we can add Afaa Michael Weaver as the next link. Weaver writes poetry that is spiritual yet rooted in realism, the passion for life that is missing from many modern poets who embrace disconnect. From the first stanza of Preachers:

.

Worked in the steel mills, black men

from Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia

studying the way God whispered

in the hot air of the coke oven, how

the saints waved the smoke rising

up over Baltimore harbor, a pastiche

announcing the hope of generations.

.

…God whispered/in the hot air of the coke oven 

This is not an imagined image, Weaver lived it, saw it, wrote it down. God whispering to the men and women who tended the coke ovens, popped lids, saw the vapers felt the intense heat. These are the people who where worn down by the heat of the oven, soaked with sweat and could hear God whispering.

In part two of The Ice House, 1969 Weaver writes:

.

…If there is power in want,

I want to know it and be free of doubt

to be a man who walks on what earth is,

a solidity of words stolen from dreams

cooked up in the minds of star systems

we know only because we believe

the stories pasted on night skies.

.

Here Weaver the spiritual poet once again joins in the realism of working in the ice house penning these beautiful images. Weaver’s unique ability to combine the spiritual with realism comes into focus time and again in such poems as Repack Room, A Nation of Hands, Interiors, a Miners Home. And then there is this stark realism from the poem The Winepress:.

Men and women come new, fresh,

step into one end of the mills dancing,

come out the other hobbling, coughing

.

up the accumulated frustrations

of paychecks eating away at paychecks,

loan sharks promising to realize dreams.

.

Steel mills chew up workers,

Put the young flesh in their jaws,

Teeth shining with ads for things.

.

In Ode To The Righteous Union he begins in a Bejjing Starbucks, through the City of Cold Love, the Forbidden City to decaying tobacco barns to Virginia:

.

I knew as a boy in Virginia, following

my father’s steps walking long rows,

him following the steps of his father,

each step backward until the first plow

was cast in some old testaments of dirt,

what earth is when it gives life to us, lets

us grow hands that make art from work.

.

And so it is that Spirit Boxing by Afaa Michael Weaver is art from the work of life, of knowing the spiritual rooted in realism that warms and warns with each turn of the page.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Boxing-Poetry-Michael-Weaver/dp/0822964589

 

.g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

 

.

 

 

 

 

Submissions Still Open for February

cropped-cropped-north-of-oxford.jpg

Submissions are open until January 31st for our February issue.

Submissions:

Submissions of book reviews, essays, and commentary are welcome. Send your submission for consideration of publication in word doc with any images or photographs attached , Include a brief bio. All submissions are to be sent to:  sahmsguarnieriandreutter@gmail.com  Please note in the subject line of the email- submission- your name. Our response time should be less than two weeks.