poetry book review

Red Rover Red Rover by Bob Hicok

red rover
.
By Charles Rammelkamp
.
One thing you notice about Bob Hicok’s poems is that so many of them have no stanza breaks, and when they do it seems a little arbitrary anyway since every one of them is a stream of consciousness, developing its own logic, as if the poet is thinking out loud.  Indeed, in an interview several years ago with Split Lip magazine, Hicok said, “I don’t really know where my poems are going; I almost never know where they’re going.” He goes on, “I wish in a lot of ways that I could plan poems out. A lot of people talk about walking around and they’re writing as they’re walking around, or they’ll build a sense of a poem over a period of time. And for me it’s so much about just sitting down and seeing what shows up. The first thing that shows up that has energy and catches my attention—I just start following where it’s going.”
.
Take a poem in his new collection called “A lament, pep talk and challenge walk into a bar.” It begins
.
Banjo. Zither. Carnegie Hall. The Four Tops and Seasons.
Greek chorus, Music of the spheres and triangles
and dodecahedrons.  The Kinks. The Mozarts
and Fats Waller and Puentes.  The Butthole Surfers.
My office is bigger and more flexible than my heart
and this is a weird way to critique my heart….
.
And he’s off, musing about what it means to be a good person, helping others (“and do unto others goes from words / dropped in the suggestion box to law.”), the futility of good intentions, of wanting selflessly to bring clans and tribes together. And then, “It’s no accident I began”.
.
this meandering with music: no two species
could come from more distant planets
than a Steinway and a sax,
yet listen to how well they get along
when they put their mouths where their fears are,
when they lend us our better-tuned selves.
.
No accident that Hicok describes his verse as “meandering,” and yet it coheres in a heartfelt message. “Don’t just have but be a soul,” the poem concludes.In that same interview with Split Lip, Hicok laments, “One of the things that I am uncomfortable with as of late is that some people are looking at me as a funny poet, and I think that can pretty much be the death of a career.” Indeed, the title of the poem just quoted takes the form of the classic joke about three different characters walking into a bar, but there’s obviously a serious moral consideration at its heart.
.
Make no mistake, Hicok can make you smile with his versatility with words. He is funny! In “Pedagogy,” a 55-line poem with no stanza breaks, he and another person are passing notes, “the most private genre after the shopping list.” You have to smile at such an observation. And later in the poem, “I try to make the word / ‘theater’ out of ‘hate her’ but need another t / and one less h.” But Hicok goes beyond “funny.” “If you make a joke,” he notes in the interview, “it usually stops the conversation, and that’s not my intention at all.”
.
Indeed, so many of Hicok’s poems in Red Rover Red Rover concern themselves with how we humans are wrecking the planet.  It doesn’t get much more urgent than that. Poems like “On the Rocks” and “Weather Report” and “On the Other Hand,” which takes Greta Thunberg as its subject, directly confront climate change and human responsibility.
“Having our cake and being eaten by it too” addresses the thoughtless human greed at the core of this, as does “After you, or what would Whitman, Emerson, or Merwin do?” (The title is a jokey play on “What would Jesus do?”). This poem begins, “It’s not too late / to schlep water in a bucket to your sink.” It goes on with example after example of how the human urge for convenience has wrecked the ecosphere. It concludes,
.
On the count of three, never use
electricity again. One, two, two
two, two, two
.
This, too is funny, right? But of course it’s serious. And heartrending. Oy. How are we going to get out of this mess? “Looking in the mirror” has the same message. It’s a poem about the Amazon burning because Brazil is clearing the forest for cattle, because cattle provide beef for hamburgers, and so many of us love our Big Macs and Whoppers. If each one of us just stopped ordering cheeseburgers,
.
the closer we are to being able to breathe
tomorrow and more importantly the day after
the day after the day after
the ten thousand years after that.
.
While not prescribing a solution to the world’s problems, Red Rover Red Rover includes several poems about the Tao, the Way, living in harmony with the natural world. Indeed, the book’s title, itself a kind of joke as it plays on the simple childhood playground game, comes from the ten-page poem in the center of the volume, “My Tao”: “red rover, red rover, send good or evil over.”
.
But Bob Hicok is just thinking out loud, not really suggesting or commending any social policy changes, not really. These poems are entertaining, first of all – yes, often “funny” – but they are challenging and thought-provoking at the same time.
.
.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
.
.
.

Postpoemed, by Carl Kaucher

post
By Lynette G. Esposito
 
Postpoemed, by Carl Kaucher (Alien Buddha Press) is 80 pages of mostly free verse poems exploring the context of location, time and circumstance.  Throughout the volume, Kaucher titles various poems with actual places and places observations within the verse that empirically reveals connections between what can be seen and what cannot be seen. 
 
For example, in his poem, Philadelphia, on page thirteen, in the second stanza of six, the narrator defines where he is:
 
                         I am sitting on sitting on the sidewalk, silently
                         pondering chaotic cracks in the concrete
                          that form these fractal lines of prose
                          that go nowhere and have no flow
                          till someone throws me a dime
                          that I turn into a rhyme
                          and scribble it on a cardboard sign
                           that no one can read.
 
The picture of the city is there but subtle.  In later stanzas, he talks of not knowing where he is and of great philosophers as he ponders an empty storefront.  The last stanza pulls the reader across the boundaries of what one sees and how one sees it.
 
                            Martyr me vagrancy at the Trestle Inn
                             then bury me in a pothole
                             At 11th and Callowhill.  
 
 In this context, a person cannot sit on the cement step just to think and then to write without passers by judging the poor soul as a jobless nuisance.  Kaucher skillfully comments on societal reactions as well as the state of thinkers and poets.
 
In his poem, At 8 pm, on page 60, Kaucher intermixes time, place situation and distortion.  He sets the place at a concert with the lead musician attired in a dress but looking not like a woman and is juxtaposed to flashing lights and grandma hooping it up in the front row with the crowd possibly protesting the NRA. Seems like chaos but he makes it work in the last stanza when he pulls the reader from a possible high back to reality with simple receipts.
 
                                      Later,
                                      coffee, crumb buns, horn honks
                                      and rude gestures till 2 AM
                                      and the sleepless interlude
                                       I woke with a pocketful of receipts
                                       that all indicated
                                       it was Easter morning.
 
The poem makes the reader feel as if he has been on a trip but gone nowhere.  At 8 pm is a well- controlled poem with clear visuals that one needs to awaken from to be back in real time.
 
In his poem, Weed Freak, on page 73, the narrator makes a clear comment on what it is to be unique.
 
                                          Wet fallow field
                                          and vacant lots
                                          inspire dormant seed
                                          that grow into weeds.
 
                                          One time,
                                          I was called a weirdo freak
                                          while taking a picture
                                          of a rustic wooden fence
                                          with two
                                          beware of dog signs.
 
                                          Freaks can always spot a freak.
                                          Weeds can always be pulled.
 
The poem succeeds with its plain images and concept that wryly twists the observed and the observer into one.
 .
The poems in this book are interesting and well crafted. Kaucher sets the place, time and situation in the poems with deliberate precision.  It was a pleasure to read.
.
.
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.
.
.
.

Hysteria by Kim Yideum

hys

By Greg Bem

Contemporary translations of South Korean poetry reveal a world of many layers and many breakthroughs. The quasi-recent collection Anxiety of Words, which features Seattle-based poet Don Mee Choi’s translations of three late 20th Century female poets serves as a cornerstone for feminist voices coming out of South Korea. Ch’oe Sung-Ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yon-ju are featured in that text, and their distinct styles are brought together in a text both compelling and informative. As Choi wrote early in the book’s introduction, it’s important to remember that there was “an emergence of a feminist consciousness in [South Korean] women’s poetry beginning in the 1970s.” But that emergence is not limited to one time or place. As with any understanding of feminism, its development is fluid and across generations.

Around 50 years ago, the poets listed above started bringing the world to their works and vice versa, and yet Anxiety of Words was released in 2006. The translations are utterly present within the 21st Century, and feel exciting and exacting, inciting and insightful. In one moment, rage and compassion and a visceral coming-to-terms are thrown into the blender of the poems. In many ways and from many angles the poems carry more energy and inertia than the dominant voices of the Americas and Europe. In many ways, these are the voices of liberation and independence. They reflect the art of breaking free from bondage and abuse. I have written of Hyesoon’s works of body and horror at length in multiple reviews and could write about her and Sung-Ja and Yon-ju extensively. Their works are symbolic and deserve space, and yet what I am curious about today is the next generation of work from South Korea. Let us turn our attention to contemporary South Korean poet and feminist successor Kim Yideum.

The 2010s and 2020s will be generations marked as a shuffling along, a rounding the corner, and a subduing of life amidst infinite crises. Information overload challenging the global populace at every moment is impetus for achieving both satisfaction and numbness. Kim Yideum is a poet whose words reflect this sense of paralysis and challenge. In Hysteria, poets and translators Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, and Hedgie Choi bring a fresh and immediate presentation of Kim’s works through vigorous translations that are as harmonious and consistent as they are defiant and excruciating.

Hysteria is, as one might guess from the title, a book that finds balance between the mundane and the extreme. A throwback to the concept of hysterics and reactionary moods as defined by male doctors in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the book investigates, through a feminist lens, the way the poet and world collide today. It is often harsh, unpleasant, and at odds with truth and beauty. And yet Kim’s poems, poems of hysteria, are, in their trials, puzzles and conversations.

I have this hobby where I go to the back of the bus
and lean on the window and stare out
until I fall into a sleep so deep I don’t breathe.

(from “Aori More Than Aura” on page 2)

The book goes far in exploring the relationship between self and world in the long format. The poetry is divided into three sections: the first feels utterly nihilistic and opiated; the second reflects the anger and fury constantly under the surface; and the third extends to the pettier qualities of the everyday filled with humdrum and melodrama. The arc across the book is exquisite because on the surface there is a sense of failure; however, the arc challenges how neat and polished collections of poetry serve only to reinforce structures and historical power. Kim’s work explores each poem’s interconnectedness and these threads are exposures into an authentic and versatile every day. That truth and that beauty that is covered up is actual and gritty. It is noisy and full of disjunction.

Finding a middle ground is reaching a point of absurdity. It feels, through a quagmire of emotions, impossible to be at one with the atrocities of everyday life and the rhythm and unstoppable reverberations of that life. Kim writes in “Correction” that she is “Writing like someone suffering / something they haven’t lived through / winners of million-dollar prizes, whatever” (page 19). The attitude toward this space is sardonic and demeaning, but also Kim is consistent in elevating an understanding of what it means to be authentic, and how right and wrong that is. This sense of absurdity feels like the works of American poet Rauan Klassnik, who challenges the machine while riding the machine all along.

Kim’s speaker is in no way doing one thing or another; there is never a clear position or stance within the voices of these poems. When taken side-by-side, the poetry as a collection often feels disconnected and, as such, incorrect. And this is where Kim is so profound. Hyesoon poetry, contrasted, is wild and filled with awe-and-wretch-inducing moments, and there is a fantastic sense of the whole as one consistent, blasting chorus across poem-time and poem-space. And for Kim? Kim’s answer is to throw the sense of the fantastic into the gutter.

Even if you cover me with a wrinkled blanket
you’ve got to understand that a buttercup’s character is so fiery
it can’t be buried. Not even by a snowstorm.
I’ll never be weak.

(from “The Flood” on page 58)

In 2019 and 2020, this sensibility, as captured within these poems, feels relevant and insistent. There is enough destruction in the sentiment to feel like Dada feels, or like Grunge feels. To feel as though the world we’re facing, with screen addictions and a fallow/hollow sense of relationship and commitment, is a world to reject. And in the process of rejection there are poems, and what those poems are, as padding or as output, is fascinating and inspiring. But as it feels unsettled, it begs the question: what next? Does there need to be a next? The emotion of rage and wrath Kim elegantly includes suggests that there may be something more loving, more accepting, more inclusive. But that is not in Hysteria. It is not the point of Hysteria. Making space for positivity is something Kim’s future works may consider, or not. I suppose it all depends on how much of the world weighs down upon us, and how trapped or numb we feel about it.

You don’t have anything else?
a woman shopper asks me and
I become a different person
who wonders what it would be like to be someone else.

(from “You Are Suddenly Green” on page 76)

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Hysteria-Kim-Yideum/dp/0900575824

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.

Poems from Argentina by David Francis

Poems from Argentina by David Francis
.
By Patricia Carragon
.
We travel by train, boat, plane, car, or on foot. In Poems from Argentina, David Francis shows us another way—by poetry, in four segments—Tucumán, Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata and Honeymoon Hitchhike. But this is not an ordinary travelogue that details superficial expectations and experiences of tourists from the United States. This is an independent traveler’s journal; a modern-day troubadour traveling deeper into the daily throes of a country at war with the United Kingdom back in the early 80’s. Mr. Francis, a poet and singer-songwriter, writes about the tensions he saw and sensed in the Argentinean people, even while doing the most mundane tasks. Being a poet, he has empathy. His poems are conduits for a nation’s sorrow. Yet at the same time, his personal life experiences discord, making it difficult to balance the pressure, giving credence and flavor to his work.
.
In his first poem “A Window in front of the Mountain,” Mr. Francis picks up on foreboding karma in the atmosphere.
.
A window in front of the mountain
but from that window you cannot see
the mountain . . . Clouds themselves like
towels fray and mildew, are impure
because the air is not a vacuum.
Even the cypresses will not last but
turn to sticks, a slight discolored
stain on the grass.
.
He sets the metaphoric tone for his stories to unravel. War is waging, and Argentina is dealing with a military dictatorship. You can’t see the mountain in front of you. Clouds aren’t pure, and the cypresses will die. Nature in pain like its inhabitants.
.
In “A Rainy Night,” fear is everywhere and grips the people of Tucumán.
.
but the wires are black
but then forms start to emerge
sharing no umbrella they hurry across
the street to one of their houses
leaving behind a house with no lights
then – the shadow of the inside of a kitchen
on a neighboring house – a face in silhouette –
in the darkness a horrible white face –
then nothing – back to bed
.
We move on to the section called Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, famous for the tango and its European architecture and culture, has its dark side. In “Apology for the Seamen,” we read about how sailors react to the city.
.
There is a logical reason
seamen are so gray and bored and
redundant and their endless card
games have the insensitive traveler’s
flipping-through-postcards flatness.
There are certain calls they won’t
answer and ports they wouldn’t
go to if you gave them a million
dollars.  They are tired of
meeting begging children on the
first land they see.
.
And in “Drops Falling after a Downpour,” the author is miserable in his hotel room. He writes:
.
Stick my head
                       out the window
from our hotel room
                                 into the alley
so dark
            with a bad smell
and feel
             the drops falling
catch one
               in my hand
one on
           my eyelid
am I
       catching
the present
.
The author, like the sailors, impoverished children, and nature itself, lives in the ever-present gloom encompassing the city and nation. As you read on, the balconies get darker, rain becomes incessant currents, and the author goes deeper into battle with himself. An old man nods to something Mr. Francis fears.
.
Mr. Francis takes us to Mar del Plata, a section where he writes his truth behind a pretty postcard seaside resort. He is lonely and sees that he is not alone as we learn in “Mirror of Loneliness.”
.
The loneliest rooms facing the sea
the opposite of what people say
the sea is a mirror of loneliness . . .
. . .  and an old man walks his dog
runs him across the street
then takes off the leash
and sets him free
                           on the beach
and the man picks up the bread
for the birds and throws it
and the little dog ignores him
                           for a sand castle
The ocean in “The Sea Is Peaceful” tends to be calming but to the author, its rhythmic tides synchronize with the flow of soldiers marching off to the Falklands War.
.
oh we say the sea
is violent
but it’s just an expression
the sea is peaceful
but always, always
old waves rolling
young men marching,
young men.
.
Lastly, in Honeymoon Hitchhike, Mr. Francis and his bride travel through a myriad of landscapes, ranging from hills, pampas, deserts, to the southernmost tip of Argentina. This final chapter does end on a more hopeful note.
.
We feel the iciness of “A Wall in Río Gallegos.”
 .
Woman in black walking along the white wall,
holding her purse tightly as though in a stall,
ignoring the signs advertising the city
as though they were so much graffiti,
huddling in the chill of the South . . .
. . . I had seen her before proudly enter the café
as the men froze their dice and glowered her way:
what made her move to this cold town
like a black rose by a sudden snow weighed down?
And his final poem “Ushuaia” almost sums up Mr. Francis’ Argentinean adventure.
.
the shadow of the stovepipe
on the snow is like a toadstool
but neither the frozen wires
nor the frozen antenna
that balances like a cat
have shadows or reflections
and the reason is
buried things have no reflection
and the snow buries
even the clouds
sometimes even the stars
However, there are reasons for hope, since the chill and bleakness of snow and sorrow are temporary in the last stanza.
.
A twisted tree
on the side of a hill
and behind a yellow falling torrent
and bushes with orange thorns
stranded on streaked snow
sea gulls congregate on an isthmus
and cows listen
strange buds start reddening
one ahead of the others
in the distance
ready
.
To summarize, Poems from Argentina is a traveler’s journal set to poetry. With his troubadour poet wisdom and vision, David Francis delves into the depths of situations, going beyond his world to understand nature and the Argentinean people, while watching history take another ugly step into the future.
.

.

Patricia Carragon’s debut novel, Angel Fire, is from Alien Buddha Press and her latest book from Poets Wear Prada is Meowku. Patricia hosts Brownstone Poets and is the editor-in-chief of its annual anthology. She is an executive editor for Home Planet News Online.  She lives in Brooklyn, NY. For more information about Ms. Carragon and her reading series, www.brownstonepoets.blogspot.com  and at patriciacarragon8.wordpress.com  

All Our Fare-Thee-Wells by Robert Cooperman

all
By Charles Rammelkamp
.
The title of Robert Cooperman’s latest chapbook of poems refers to the fiftieth anniversary concert series the surviving members of The Grateful Dead performed in 2015 – a couple of decades after Jerry Garcia had already died. Like the concert, this chapbook is at once a sweet goodbye and an almost palpable blast of memory. Of course, it’s saturated with nostalgia. Cooperman’s previous chapbook, Saved by the Dead (Liquid Light Press) likewise revives the memory of the famous jam band and similarly addresses the fleeting nature of youth.
.
The collection begins with the poem, “Ask Amy,” set in contemporary times, the narrator and his wife, Beth, who is an integral part of the whole sequence of poems, reading an advice column question over breakfast, from a woman whose feelings have been hurt by her brother, who plans to attend a rock concert rather than celebrate his sister’s 65th birthday. The advice makes Bob and Beth smile, though not without a passing sorrow over what cannot be recovered.
.
“Unless,” Amy replies,
“that gig involves
Jerry Garcia returning
from the Other Side,
your brother has no excuse.”
.
The next set of poems takes us back in time, first to Cooperman’s youth in New York and the Dead’s legendary performance at Fillmore East, “all of us roaring for the music never to end, // as all things must.” A suite of four poems set thirty years ago in Baltimore and D.C.’s RFK stadium follows, bringing us to Jerry Garcia’s last days and, almost as a consequence, the end of Cooperman’s youth. “Seeing the Grateful Dead, RFK Stadium, July, 1993,” ends:
.
“Jesus, he’s a wreck,” I said,
frightened for a favorite uncle,
though his fingers flew
along the frets, and tunes filled the air,
two years before he went still
and silent forever.
.
We’re next taken to that Fare-Thee-Well concert in 2015. At this point, Bob and Beth concede their age has become an issue. “Watching the Last Show Ever of the Grateful Dead: Pay Per View TV” starts:
.
Who could afford tickets and a hotel room?
Not us.  So Beth and I settle for live TV
and not a joint or pipe: Beth frowning
on my imbibing, and nowadays, my lungs
rasp like stripped-down gears, after one toke.
.
The concert’s a treat, though if we’re honest,
we admit something’s missing: Garcia,
gone twenty years, but still indispensable…
.
Just as in Saved by the Dead, Cooperman encounters kids who weren’t even alive when the Grateful Dead were prominent and reacts to their innocent ignorance, reflecting on his own geezerhood. In “The Grateful Dead Dancing Terrapins Baseball Cap,” he encounters such a person in a health care facility, home away from home for the elderly. The poem starts:
.
The receptionist at this urgent care center
compliments my baseball cap when I sign in.
.
“Thanks,” I smile, despite the urinary infection:
my urethra barbwire every time I piss.
.
“We’re everywhere!” I chime the code
to a fellow Deadhead, but she throws a look
.
blank as the black boards I’d dusted
and washed, at after-school detention.
.
“Jerry Garcia?” the name, in my nostalgic universe,
should be clarification enough.
.
“Who?” her young brow’s furrowed, as if considering
the most confusing math problem ever devised.
.
 In “A Question in the Buchtel Boulevard Post Office: Denver, Colorado,” it’s a postal clerk who makes him feel his age.
 .
“Winter Cold,” “The MRI Machine” and “At the University of Colorado Hospital Spine Center” are other poems involving the frailty of age. This final one is about the results of the tests, the X-rays and MRI, the next steps, the next treatment decisions. It ends:
.
Still, it’s nice to dream of walking,
even slowly, around the park’s lakes,
and not teeter and tap with my cane,
while listening to the ghosts
of Jerry Garcia and Pigpen
harmonize on an old blues number,
.
when my generation believed
its birthright was to stay forever young.
.
Ah, youth! But there are also moments of redemption, as when, in “We’re Everywhere,” he encounters a couple of fellow Deadheads at a fundraiser at the university where Beth teaches. In “License Plate,” he notices a car’s vanity plate as he drives through Denver running errands. “GR8ful-1” it proclaims. Bob wants to salute his fellow Deadhead, but the car turns left, and he’s not so sure the driver would understand anyway.
.
Better just to savor his plate, of tasting
the delights of once being young,
when we thought music could save the world,
or at least make it more bearable.
.
In the final poem, Bob and Beth consider attending a concert in nearby Boulder featuring three surviving members of The Grateful Dead, but they decide against it.
.
“Now if Jerry’s ghost were to show up,”
I joke to Beth, “or if the man himself
were still alive, that’d change everything,”
.
like all those hopeful sightings of Elvis.
.
All Our Fare-Thee-Wells is full of wit and an honest appreciation for a musical act that means so much to Cooperman, and with its insights into aging and the exuberance of youth, it’s a collection anybody can enjoy.
.

You can find the book here: ALL OUR FARE-THEE-WELLS by Robert Cooperman – Finishing Line Press

.

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

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

i cant
By Lynette Esposito
.
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.
.
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.
.
          I was born into the world sideways.
    Doctor said.
            surgery to break my face
set it right again
              as f breaking were simple.
.
 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.
.
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.
.
       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.
.
       I am still that baby, alone
       In the incubator, yelping    for more and more breath
       with moist, moth-like wings for lungs.
.
       Only my mother’s name is on my birth certificate
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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 book is available from www.upress.pitt.edu

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

lying
 
 
 
 
By Michael T. Young
.
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.
.
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:
.
Yesterday eighty years ago I toddled on the brink
of catastrophe, and the world tottered with me.
 .
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:
.
More than a little tired but eager
to start out again as friends.
.
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:
.
Nothing can shake me
from my resolve to leave
or my distrust of doors
–“Sinistral”
.
which recalls from the new section, in which he writes:
.
I slip through keyholes
fondling tumblers as I pass
–“20”
 .
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:
.
                        I went
about the work of finding
the idea of belonging strange
–“Sinistral”
.
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:
.
      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”
.
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:
.
I’ve never wanted to disturb the world
or even move the air around me much.
.
It didn’t seem appropriate for a visitor
who didn’t plan to stay very long.
–“Skirt disappearing behind a door”
.
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”
.
Why of all the lives we’ve lived
should this be the memorable one?
–“Even now the embers”
.
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.
.
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.
 .
.
 
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.

——————

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