poetry book review

Indebted to Wind by L.R. Berger

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By John Zheng

What flows through L.R. Berger’s Indebted to Wind is the sensibility presented in each poem. It is a physical and emotional response to what the poet sees, experiences, and feels, a visual chord struck in her senses. This sensibility urges Berger to express through images and evokes the reader to experience or revisualize what she gains through her conscious looking.

The title poem, “Indebted to Wind,” brings what the wind carries: the “dandelion silk dispatching seed” and the “neighbor’s trashcan lid… / hurled in a tempest / against the bedroom window.” The definitions that wind offers are “howling, love cry, / lamentation,” inviting associative thinking about the human characteristics of wind. This sensibility juxtaposes nature with human nature with such a visual effect in this stanza:

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When love unbuttoned your blouse
wind did the rest
fumbling through the aspens
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Here, the wind functions like a gentle lover. If it evokes a memorable scene in the past, it also blows to the future and “tutors your own breath / to extinguish the flame” of an unhappy relationship or an unrequited love.

Wind has been a favorite image for poets. My favorite poems are Emily Dickinson’s “The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man” and James Stephens’ “The Wind.” Both poets personify the wind to show weariness and temper. In Berger’s poem, wind, as an element of nature, acts kinetically. It dispatches, wakes, hurls, howls, cries, tutors, extinguishes, fumbles, stings, whips, and lifts, activating the human experiences or encounters with nature. Therefore, what Berger presents through the image of wind is the visual sensibility to nature and human nature.

“Wind Breaks into the House” is another wind poem. It is a lyric that describes the mess caused by the wind: papers driven off the desk, paragraphs plastered against walls, and stanzas blown into corners of chaos. But the poet catches the moment to experience the wind by unzipping her sweatshirt to let it sweep through her body with whatever it picks from the fields it passes. This unzipping is then a way to open the mind to nature, to be with nature, and to be a part of nature.

“38th and Chicago” is a poem using the image of the personified wind. It is a tribute to the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The title mentions the two street names, at the intersection of which the murder occurred. The poet re-envisions the murder with the focus on the knee that kills Floyd. The humanized wind which embodies the killed begs the police not to clench tight, but the officer refuses to give an opening for the wind to wedge. The poet smartly sets up the contrast of the sympathetic wind against the brutal knee. While the wind becomes humanized, the officer becomes dehumanized by clenching tight. Wind, as the poet says in another poem, “Ask Anybody,” is “God’s great source / of subsequently / visible gestures.” Yet, the personified wind in “38th and Chicago” is killed by the knee on its neck, revealing a conflict between nature and human nature.

While poems about wind are apparent in Berger’s collection, other poems about sensibility are also worth reading. “Palliative Care” is one that describes human nature in a difficult situation. It uses the apostrophe to address Hal to express a feeling and an experience both sweet and bitter. It is divided into eight numbered sections, each focusing on a part of the patient’s physical, emotional, or spiritual state, as seen in section 1:

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And God could sometimes be found
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in your final watercolor
propped up and facing us
on the sill of the hospital window—
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its suggestion of wintered trees
fracturing banks of blue
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while under a tent of white sheet
you faded like fugitive colors.

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The speaker consciously seeks a way of showing concerns and a way of optimizing the quality of life through palliative care. In a sense, this poem deals with the difficult time of death and the sensibility to the true meaning of existence.

The second section focuses on the spiritual state of the patient who, though lying on the sickbed like fugitive colors of Hal’s final watercolor, smiles with the shining eyes which “were steady blue flares up ahead / on the gravel of night’s back road.” His smile is contagious and has the power to change everybody’s mood. His good spirit or optimism makes him strong in dealing

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Wearing the face of the jilted
you woke each morning
to find death stood you up.
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In the next section, the speaker imagines the daily changes in the health condition of the patient imagined as a wooden broom, a sleeping prince, and one “fallen nestling, featherless, / still breathing splayed” or one with “a living face / of Christ crucified.” Here, wind appears as an image of death, trying to take him away by “circling the hospital / with something like intention, whirlpool of winter…” Section 5 presents the thought of the speaker, her exhaustion from caring for the sick, and her dream “about birds [they] don’t have.” But whatever comes next is inevitable and must be faced. The last two stanzas of section 5 are repeated in the last section.

A reader may notice that blue is the color in section 6. With its function to string all sections, blue adds a touch of sadness when the blue sky is fractured by winter trees in section 1, shines in the patient’s eyes in section 2, and offers a blurry sheen like chicory weed and forget-me-not. To both characters, each is a forget-me-not in each other’s eyes, as their life is a companionship of blue, shining, blooming, tolling till their last conversation.

Section 7 is like the speaker’s confession in a bitter and difficult tone:

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Once you stopped breathing so long
I crossed the room
whispering finale, meaning finally.
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Then you gasped like a newborn
gulping his first fist of air.

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It is ironic that while death is an inevitable finale of life, the dying person’s desire to live is still as strong as a newborn’s. The palliative care lasts for forty days and nights. During this time, “sometimes the heft of a word’s / true meaning comes to find us.” Yet, when death finally comes, the meaning of the word is just a moment of now, a finale whispered, or metaphorically, the dappled light of the virgin forest finally leaves. Sadness stays and departs at the same time as the light of blue finally fades. “Palliative Care” deserves careful reading, yet one question that haunts this reviewer is why a couple of stanzas reappear in different sections. I guess the poet must have a reason for that.

In brief, Berger’s poems are indebted to nature and reveal human sensibility, something that seems to have gradually faded in today’s human society.

You can find the book here: https://www.deerbrookeditions.com/indebted-to-wind/

John (Jianqing) Zheng’s publications include A Way of Looking, Conversations with Dana Gioia, and African American Haiku: Cultural Visions. He is the editor of the Journal of Ethnic American Literature. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Dog Years of Reeducation from Madville Publishing.

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getting away with everything by Vincent Cellucci and Christopher Shipman

GETTING
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Shifting location from Louisiana to North Carolina and back, this collaborative work is drenched in dream and memory and necessarily traffics in ghosts and remembrance of things past. Indeed, the very first poem is titled “Solastalgia,” a neologism that, as opposed to nostalgia, that homesickness we experience when separated from loved ones or “home,” signals a distress that is directly connected to the home environment. Rooted in the memory of a mellifluous radio DJ, the poem concludes:
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Yesterday’s splintered limbs say

            don’t let this be the last memory of me
                                                head for the trees

                                                make an offering.

                        If the waves lap at the door
                                                            let us swim.
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            If the sky is never finished
                                                            nothing is.
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And so the next poem, “Time Travel,” focuses on the dislocation experienced from moving from one place to another – specifically from New Orleans to Greensboro, North Carolina – with “ghosts in tow,” as the title of the third poem tells us.
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            same doom
            different poem
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“Even the porch swing was a ghost,” the fourth poem, “This Morning,” continues the thread, as if it were “trying to find the right words / to finish a last sentence.” You get the picture. Haunted. This poem concludes:
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            He understood the desire to perform
            such a gesture, rather
            than finish any sentence
            and wake forever from that dream.
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For “waking is like being dead,” we are told earlier in the poem.
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It’s the following fifth poem, “some mornings,” that launches the title speculation. “Getting away with everything” sounds so triumphant on its face, but it’s more complicated than that. The poem ends:
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            it’s much simpler
to get away with everything
when getting away
with mere nothing
is no cinch.
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All of this is in the first of the seven parts of the collection, the section called “opening words like floodgates.” The six sections that follow expand on the themes. It is the year that the poet turns 37. Think of Dante at the start of The Divine Comedy. He’s just turned 35. “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost,” he writes. So Cellucci/Shipman has two poems called “On the Morning of my 37th Birthday” and later, the antepenultimate poem in the book, “on my 37th year and yet another day around the sun,” in which the poet obviously feels distress, confusion, lost in the dark wood. The former begins, “I spill from a dream.”
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In “getaway cars,” a poem from the third section called “Pilgrimage to the Fountain of Nothing,” a poem that is full of reminiscences of chases and escape, including “the first 9mm to the head” in a weed purchase gone wrong, the poet writes:
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            a raindrop gets away
with everything down
            the window pane
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Then quickly the poet is back into his dreams where we never get away with anything: “blame everything / get away with / the width of the margins / we sneak into / or are imprisoned in.”
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Death, of course, is a factor in everybody’s life, from which you never escape, never get away with. As Kafka famously observed, “The meaning of life is that it stops.” Does death become more “real” as we age?   “chronic chthonic disorder” is a poem that quickly follows “getaway cars” and is a metaphorical “getaway” to the underworld, across the mythological Styx. “Churn the Earth,” section three, begins with the death of a pet cat, Jack, and segues to the burial of the poet’s grandfather.
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            I remember wanting
to help haul Grandpa’s box
to its muddy hole.
I remember it felt wrong
the job was given
to his brothers alone.
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I had to stand by watching
the rain churn the earth.
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In the following poem, “alt burial rites,” the poet again expresses regret at not having eased a casket into its grave:
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            I too have been envious
of pallbearers
excluded
(probably for my youth
or smaller stature)
from the last time
you have to help
someone make
a move
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“In the Wake of Chthonic Fires,” a poem from the fourth section, “This Never-Ending Theater,” again alludes to burial, just as, from the same section, “negative capability,” a term first used by Keats to describe a writer’s ability to accept doubts, mysteries, uncertainties, he returns to the world of dreams, writing:
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            but there’s some killer
            deep in my dreams
            sometimes he succeeds
            in his war against me
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The poem called “honestly,” from the sixth section, “The Dampest of Spirits,” takes us back, one more time to that phrase at the heart of the book, “getting away with everything”:
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            leaving new orleans
was getting away from
getting away with everything
and I know you felt now-or-never-compelled to do the same
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No escape! So the poet returns, at least in thought, perhaps reluctantly, to Louisiana. Channeling the old quiz show, To Tell the Truth, the poet writes in “Will the Real Secret Agent Please Stand Up?”:
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Now when I’m wishing I could slip back
into an old loneliness I’m back
in New Orleans back to the first year there
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It’s a long poem, about thirteen pages, full of wonder and regret, the memories of youth mixed up with the inevitable memories of mistakes, “the treasured hours / we can’t remember / of friends and feeling / alive and fucked up / immune to / mistakes washed away in the mississippi.”
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getting away with everything is at once a lyrical consideration of life and a philosophical cri de coeur.
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You can find the book here: getting away with everything
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

The Algorithm of I by Jack Crocker

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By John (Jianqing) Zheng
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The Algorithm of I is Jack Crocker’s second collection of poems, but it is the first book proudly published by the newly established Mimbres Press at Western New Mexico University. It has a foreword, two poems titled and used as “Prologue” and “Offering” respectively, and seven subtitled sections. The foreword by Joseph Shepard offers a biographical sketch of the poet and points out that the collection is “a reflective journey of intellectual prowess that spins nostalgia with purpose and wonders about life, faith, and human evolution.” The prologue poem functions as a welcome doormat with eight questions about existential and temporal issues in stanza one and the recognition of nature as the source for thought and intuition in stanza two. “Offering” synthesizes the ideas conveyed in the seven sections: the quest about where the person is from:
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the little big bang,
The atom dispersal that made me a singular
Universe, the quantum splash that set in
Motion the journey to entropy, the gravitational
Waves moving from the center of the generous
Brine to deliver me into the Mississippi Delta,
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This quest especially echoes what the poet presents in the first section titled “Expatriate.” The title poem, “The Algorithm of I,” centers on the self. It has 18 tercets followed by 43 couplets or epigrams which function like a kaleidoscope of self-images or different roles played in society, community, and family. The tercet part asks a series of existential questions about the roles of the self. The last tercet shows the self who stands “mentally naked before / The mirror of I am, was, and cannot help but be.” So, the self sees the past and present of the “I” in roles indicated by the titles of each epigram, such as Athlete, Believer, Atheist, Musician, Rhetorician, Artist, Mississippian, Scholar, Philosopher, Poet, and Father. It is important to know that the poet believes that the birth of the self is through the marriage “to the universe in a union of senses / Until consciousness fell in love with itself.” This belief helps us understand why Crocker subtitles the first section “Expatriate”—poems about the Mississippi Delta, his birthplace—and why he states definitely “I left / before / I left” in “Exit.”
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Many poems in “Expatriate” explore the sense of place. This sense can be a loss of place, a nostalgic moment, or a search for the self. It wrestles between attachment and detachment, as suggested by the house image in the beginning lines of “Home Place”:
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The house has stood empty fifteen years.
I’ve returned each summer for the peace I feel
Watching it lean against the absence
Of those who brought it to life.
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This wrestling is suggestive through the effective use of the figurative language, showing the poet’s craft of etching images:
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I hear the sigh of nails ungrip, letting
The weary rafters and studs pull away
To gravity and the whims of wind.
A few snaggled posts remain,
Useless fangs weathered and veined
Like the final years of my father’s skin.
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The abandoned house also symbolizes a lost place where the poet finds peace and embraces memories belonging to him alone. That’s why he does not rent the house out, preferring “its future unlived” so that no thoughtless breaths will foul the space and no strange footsteps will disturb the floors laid by his grandfather. Ironically, this sense of place moves like the ticking of a clock. Time loses itself, so does the self who stands like a headstone where the front steps were, and peace becomes memorial and “purified by fire” when the house burns down into memories.
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“The Visit” is another poem about the loss of place with a feeling of attachment and detachment. Time has erased everything which remains fresh in the mind: the dying road to the birthplace, the rotting asphalt with gravel bones, and the neighbors long gone. There is nothing left in the area. “All welcome has vanished, even the banquet / Of pecan trees, and the oak’s summer shade.” It seems that nature or the Delta land has reclaimed the dwelling area once belonging to humans. What one sees is nothing but the plowed land, fallow and fertile with time. This vision extends the loss of place as the speaker says: “I am here where I once was, / Homeless and free to go.” This poem also suggests that memory of the birthplace cannot encage the bird of the mind from flying away. If the home place deserves a visit; it also deserves a farewell if one feels free to go to a new place.
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The Mississippi Delta is the most southern place on earth. Its fertile alluvial flatland, its history and culture, and its influence on agricultural life also challenge the poet to dwell upon its social and racial issues. This sense of place reveals Crocker’s deep thinking and concerns about life, music, politics, faith, and race. He points out in “A Good Man” that “The Middle Passage never died, / Only turned into double chains.” He states in “Conversation with a Confederate Statue” that “I laid down arms long ago, / And live not in the shadow of was / But the light of letting go” and in “Upon the Removal of a Confederate Statue” that
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Now malice spread from the Whitest House
Released the hemophilia of the lost cause—
Enslaved history is not the South’s alone,
But genetic repetition replayed in the course
Of our lives, a generation to generation clone.
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Raised in the Mississippi Delta, Crocker learns as well to be a male, a musician, a thinker, a philosopher, and an expatriate. He acts against what he is told to follow. His disbelief in what “his bible-thumping cousins” try to sell makes them want to send him to hell (“Ancestry”); his desire to be part of nature helps him recognize that what “keeps us human” is “nature’s God” (“First Lust”); his vision as an expatriate offers an insight into the migration of the soul or the self that “…home is / Always someplace else” (“Migration”); and his interest in blues urges him to make a deal at a crossroads like Robert Johnson (“Delta Nights”).
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The Algorithm of I explores a theme of where to posit the self and the human mind, revealing a sense of place through the loss of the birthplace, the resettlement of the self from place to place, and the human connection with nature, history, and environment. His poetry is both personal and universal, exploring for self-examination. This self comes alive in Crocker’s poems full of wit and poignancy, fresh images and figurative expressions, and loss and memory of the past because, as Robert Penn Warren says, “If there is no past, there can be no self.” Therefore, Crocker is a poet whose life is unique in connecting the self and the past.
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You can find the book here: The Algorithm of I
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John (Jianqing) Zheng published A Way of Looking and Conversations with Dana Gioia in 2021. His poetry has appeared in Hanging LooseMississippi ReviewPoetry SouthTar River among others. He is the editor of Journal of Ethnic American Literature.
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My Body Lives Like a Threat by Megha Sood

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By Candice Louisa Daquin

If we consider poetry as a polemic for societal change – then Megha Sood’s full-length poetry collection, My body lives like a threat, will strike a deep chord in the reader’s psyche. Sood doesn’t aim to soften the blow; her truth is brutal and honest, wrapped in her wordsmith craft. Social activism runs like a hot vein through these poems, imploring us to step outside boundaries and challenge the broken system until it begins to give way.

“Your breath on my skin spits and marks its boundaries. Your words carve out / the burnished wounds. The bourgeois display of pain splayed for the whole world. / To whom this body belongs? Suffering is nameless. Carved out of the tongues of those / who abused us. Misunderstood and mispronounced like a foreign language.” (Entry/Exit)

Reading these poems separated into four relevant sections, we’re submerged in a collective outrage against inequity and racism. When in recent history have, we needed a book like this more than now? They say it takes a village, and Sood’s words are a veritable village of experience. Her reach into empathy and intelligent understanding (“This lack of emergency / this hunger frothing between our teeth” – True Lies) of how the machinations of oppression, patriarchy, and injustice work, is uncanny and deeply moving. Sood’s poems deftly unravel the lies we’re told; instead, she presents the gory truth about suffering, bias, and prejudice as it really is.

“Where were the entry points for the catacombs this city / was hiding for so long chewing and spitting out the half-eaten narratives. / The flawed narratives. / Where is the blind mouth of this cave which /devoured everything which one was once black and beautiful.” (Safekeeping).

We badly need civic-minded, eyes-open poets like Megha Sood. Not to write pretty poems but to storm into a room and present the truth for all those who are too comfortable to do anything about it.

“the unbroken trails of tears have yet again / dusted by the ashes of dead and unknown / screaming from the headlines of the paper, / lying helpless at our doorsteps / waiting to be hauled in we are averting our eyes to living these days.” (Are You Listening, World?).

If poetry can cause social change, and I believe it can, then My body lives like a threat will drive a much-needed stake into the heart of apathy; forcing us to confront our notions of what is acceptable. Megha Sood has written a battle cry, and I for one am turning up. Her fierce unbridled words are searing truths for a world that has misplaced the art of truth-telling. Maybe she’s the original reason people wrote poetry.

“You are not carrying your freedom in your arms /your right to bear arms/ when the only right you give to a mother / is to stick a cross in the middle of an unknown street / giving a piece of land for her dead son.” (An Act of Self Defense, After Ahmaud Arbery).

This intense poem about a shattering event, continues scathingly:

“To hell with your right to the Second Amendment / when it’s laced with the blood / of a black brother whose murder / you are incessantly / trying to justify as self-defense.”

We think of poets as breaking conventions but even then, to blatantly call out a system with the purity of outrage, is relatively new because for so long those complaints were denied publication and only localized. Sood stands outside parochial group-think as an outsider looking in, sharing with us a collectivized observation through her no-holds-barred approach. Perhaps when you have experienced the immigrant journey and survived it, you have transcended notions of ‘place’ and you can write fearlessly on what you witness without needing to watch your tongue. There is a freedom to Sood’s truths that most will find refreshing and necessary. When poets share the inequality of the world, they forge conversation. Sood’s style is a perpetual question, calling out that which is unacceptable but accepted, that which is wrong but justified.

“how thin is the separation between / the love and the acceptance, / despair and the second chances, / between the judged and the forgiven.” (Demarcation)

And should you for a moment, think this poet is safely removed, speaking from a distance, then reflect please on the title of this book and its message of survival. Megha Sood the woman who has endured and thrived even when she thought she could not. Consider the aching truth of what it takes to survive and how even if we do, we understand the pain in a molecular level ever afterward:

“My pain impaled on the stars in the nightly sky / I shine through my pulverized skin, / the broken pieces I foraged together / to make a whole of me.” (My Survival Story).

When Sood says “I am the knowledge in the verse.” She’s not being pithy, she’s harkening to the reality of being a woman: “I’m the war cry, the mortal fear / residing behind the enemy lines.” (My Survival Story). Aside from being a well-informed polemic on the depleted state of racial equality today, Sood’s work is intensely feminist, standing in defense of all women in the 21st century. Some may say, we don’t need defending, but as long as inequity exists, that’s simply not true, and without speaking out, change will never be wrought. We need poets like Megha Sood, not just in India or America but every continent, until it becomes universally accepted to treat all people with respect. The book’s title is both a woman’s body being under threat but also being a threat (to the established norms of violence and oppression) gives a clever double-meaning to this collection’s title. With reproductive rights under attack, this is beyond timely.

This canny poetess is a leading voice in Indian-American poetry with her voice carving a way through the false belief that everyone has an equal chance in America today. Her blunt, informed, fierce voice refuses half-measures, and stands shoulder-to-shoulder alongside other social justice warriors, utilizing the power of poetry to identify and harness meaningful change.

You can find the book here: https://www.flowersongpress.com/store/p/my-body-lives-like-a-threat

Candice Louisa Daquin, Senior Editor, Indie Blu(e) Publishing. Poetry Editor, The Pine Cone Review. Writer-in-Residence, Borderless Journal. Editorial Partner, Blackbird Press. Author of Tainted by the Same Counterfeit (Finishing Line Press, 2022).

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Harvest Time by Martin Willits Jr.

harvest time
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By g emil reutter
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Willitts brings us onto the farm in this collection offering insight into the Amish/Mennonite life style in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He uses poetic imaging to reveal the harshness of field work, chopping wood, milking nameless cows. He writes of his quiet Grandfather and Grandmother. The title poem opens the collection that meanders through the seasons and as he accomplishes this he also meshes the farm with the lives of his grandparents who work the farm hard and in the end pass to the other side as the bank seize their assets. Willits worked the farm every spring into summer from the ages of 5-17. He tells us in this poem, I carry baskets of tomorrow/heavy as death. Willitts reveals the violence of nature in survival and the violence of man interacting with nature using domesticated animals until they have no use and then disposing of them. Not all is dark here as Willitts reveals the beauty of life in barns, fields, even Amish lovers.  In the poem, It’s All a Matter of Perspective, he himself watches as his girlfriend, ..ran away with the broom salesman.  He further tells us:
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At seven, I never understood why Grandmother giggled
when Grandfather looked at her a certain way.
I believed it was because he puckered his lips
like he tasted lemon. Later, I found out what it meant.
My girlfriend made the same giggle when she ran off.
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The poet tells the reader of Quiet:
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When the world goes silent
after the crackle of birds landing on trees,
air seems to glow—
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that moment of sadness
when nothing else happens,
time crawls into a small whimper,
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a bantam rooster’s spurs
barely tic, tic, tic
on a grey, crushed-stone path.
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Some people just need to disturb that silence.
Others want to escape the disturbance
like those birds swarming onto trees.
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I just want that moment of solitude
emitting from apple blossom odors
in noiseless breeze.
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Quiet is a beautiful poem with a freshness of images, time crawls into a small whimper…that moment of solitude/emitting from apple blossom odors/in noiseless breeze.
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In the poem, Milking the Moment, the poet tells us:
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Love takes the same slowness—
a body responds to evenness of hands,
anticipating the next light touch
until it feels fingers before they land,
gentle as dust. And if you lay your head
against a belly, cooing a soothing melody
the other person eases
into what will happen next.
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This from an experience of milking a cow, a life lesson in handling other humans.
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Willitts writes extensively of learning from his Grandfather in silence, no words, just nods and smiles as he learns the farm. He captures the beauty of this lesson in the poem, Silence Has Its Own Language:
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There are days when I am still ten, following Grandfather
out the back door into the prayer of stars.
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There are several ways to know silence—fishing forever
without a bite, your heart moving with a spring steam defrosting;
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or mucking the barn, rake scratching wooden floors and straw;
or cat swishing its tail before striking: or goldenrod opening.
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Grandfather barley spoke all summer. No need to talk. Words
Were wasted, when silent commands and nods worked well.
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You can hear more if you listen intently— deer moving at dawn,
Inventing silence; or the stillness of heart and hush of breath.
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More important, all of earth and stars and silence speak.
You can hear, like a dog ear’s perking, everything unsaid.
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Harvest Time is an excellent read. Be sure to read intently as gentle metaphor and imagery blends with the harshness of farm life as Willitts captures rural Amish America.
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You can find the book here: Harvest Time
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems, stories and an occasional literary review. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/
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A Way of Looking by Jianqing Zheng

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Jianqing Zheng’s new book of poems, winner of the 2019 Gerald Cable Book Award, is a collection of haibun, a Japanese literary form first used by Matsuo Bashō in the 17th century that combines prose and haiku juxtaposed to provide a fresh “way of looking” at an event, a scene, a character, an anecdote, a sort of “double vision.” The form is inherently reflective, meditative, while being descriptive in brief but vivid prose and incorporates elements of autobiography, essay, flash fiction/nonfiction. The accompanying haiku may be seen as a subtle commentary or summation of the prose passage.  A Way of Looking is divided into four sections, “On the Road,” “Farewell,” “Momentary Stay” and “Forever,” which feels almost like the cycle of seasons, so that the reader has a sense of coming “full circle,” experiencing the writing, which indeed has many seasonal referents.
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Just as Bashō’s haibun were originally travel accounts from his various journeys, so many of Zheng’s are the same, as is evident from the title of the first section. In many of these, Zheng, who lives in Mississippi, drives around the Deep South region in search of the places where famous bluesmen performed.  As he writes in “Weekend Drive, 1998”:
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After landing a university job in the Mississippi Delta, I fell in love with photographing blues sites for my research. One Saturday I went to grab shots in Moorhead where W.C. Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues” immortalized the crossing of the Southern and Yazoo Delta railroads.

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            juke joint blues
            a sluggish creek crosses
            through town
            by a lean-to shack
            blooming wisteria
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He drives on to Inverness, hometown of Little Milton, another bluesman, looking for Arcola. He gets lost, asks directions from various people, one of whom suggests Zheng, who looks a little bewildered by the instructions, follow him in his truck, until he finally finds the fork to Arcola.  He rolls down his window and thanks the man. “Oh, brother, the back road wasn’t that hard to find.” In “Birds of Passage” he is driving to the airport in Memphis, just before dawn. “We cross the Yazoo River Bridge, pass Baptist Town where the bluesman Robert Johnson died of poison,” eventually passing Avalon, “where the blues marker for Mississippi John Hurt looms above the roadside high weeds.”   As day starts to break, he slows down, “to catch this gorgeous flight:

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            crack of dawn
            thousands of snow geese
            honk off the fields”
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His travels take him to Helena, Arkansas, New Orleans, Tokyo, Wuhan and Canton, China, where the protagonist of the haibun encounters

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            a rooster’s crow
            headstone
            of a Chinese railroad builder
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The haibun in the “Farewell” section are more third-person sketches and anecdotes than personal reflections or reminiscences. They are all located in China. “Mediation in Changsha, China,” “Moon Festival,”  “Home,” “The Seven-Year Itch,” an amusing anecdote about a man named Seng whose snoring disturbs his wife, are some of the titles. The accompanying haiku to this latter reads: “spring equinox— / a cat’s nocturnal yowl / in the front yard.” The title is a sly reference to the popular belief that the romance in a marriage dies with sustained familiarity. You can feel the wife’s frustration!  There’s even a haibun called “Responses” that recalls an inane song in praise of Chairman Mao that he was forced to sing during the Cultural Revolution. The selection ends with the humorous haiku:

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            riverside hip hop
            even the water
            starts twerking

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“Fish Debate,” another haibun from this second section, has a very Taoist point-of-view. Two ancient Chinese philosophers, Zhuang Zi and Hui Si, walk by a river and see fish. Zhuang Zi (known also in literature as Chuang Tzu) thinks they look happy, but Hui Si says it’s not possible to know if fish are happy. Zhuang Zi replies, “You are not me; how do you know I don’t know the fish are happy?” This is so much like the other famous Taoist about Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly. The accompanying haiku reads:
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which came first,
the hen or the egg? –
endless rain

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The “Momentary Stay” section brings us back to Mississippi. “Night in the Mississippi Delta,” “Road to Vicksburg,” “The Bayou by the Home in the Woods” are some of the titles of haibun that take us to specific scenes. In “Road to Vicksburg” the narrator sees a dead armadillo in the road and, momentarily distracted, nearly collides with an oncoming eighteen-wheeler.

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by the blues highway
to casino
a wreathed cross tilts in wind

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In “Delta Wind,” Zheng writes with an almost Kerouac-like flair, “the wind rises like the saddest blues blown from a sax in a lean-to juke joint.” The accompanying haiku reads:

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autumn night
a freight train chugging
across the Yazoo

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A Way of Looking is dedicated to the memory of Don and Nell George. The final section, “Forever,” includes several tender haibun written in their memory. The Georges welcomed Zheng to Hattiesburg, Mississippi when he came to the United States from China as a young man, and he feels a great love for them, a sadness at their death, but the haibun express an enduring connection that itself reflects back on the section title.
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Many of Zheng’s haibun include more than one verse passage. Many of the haiku contain seasonal references, and this is true of the three included in “Eulogy,” written in memory of Don George. The first reads:

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            summer visit –
            in the town where
            I was born
            I’m asked
            where I’m from
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The second follows the reflection, “He taught me to pronounce a word in English, how to mow the grass, and more importantly, how to be a man in my life.” The verse that follows reads:

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            spring morning
            mom and dad chat
            over coffee
            memory an aroma
            of old times
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Finally, after thanking both Don and Nell for their kindness and guidance, he concludes the haibun:

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            autumn dusk
            an empty recliner
            in the den
            a lonely cat
            at the window
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The section and the book end with a short haibun called “Waiting for spring” that sums up not only the section but Zheng’s overarching philosophy as well:
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When life stops clicking, body – a mass of elements – can be turned to ashes, used as fertilizer for flowerbeds.
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                        autumn dusk
                        a worn-out jacket
                        on a peg
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Jianqing Zheng’s A Way of Looking alters the reader’s own vision, providing a view of reality that’s more peaceful, more benevolent, more thoughtful.
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You can find the book here: A Way of Looking
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners by Sarah Mangold

Her Wilderness Cover

By Greg Bem

They put our body
into the text

and there we are
made to wonder

(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 1)

Back in 2016, I was made aware of Sarah Mangold’s extensive catalog by way of the publication of her latest book at the time, Giraffes of Devotion. I ended up reviewing four of her works altogether, and occasionally came across her readings and engagements in the Seattle literary community between then and now. Giraffes in particular stuck with me as a book filled with the engagements of ghosts. A powerful feminist exploration of historical found text and the channeling of voices from eras past, Mangold’s work created a sort of time traveling choir that (at the time) left my gawking and to this moment has made me think about poets’ enduring capacity as archivists and historians.

Now we’re into 2021, and I have come across Mangold’s latest volume, Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, winner of the Poets Out Loud Prize from Fordham University Press, and “out loud” only begins to describe this exquisite return to the form of ghosts, near and far, lost and found. In this book, generally speaking, Mangold’s aim is to bring attention to taxidermist Martha Maxwell and “the wife of the father of modern taxidermy,” Dalia Akeley, and their realities, otherwise faded or ignored. Mangold approaches natural history texts and other sources, funneling their words into a repurposing. This is a project of presence and one in which Mangold responds to the problem of absence. In fields dominated by men, Mangold provides an investigation into the possibility of, and the reality of, women in those spaces.

What interested me was
the way ladies survive
as acknowledgments
in other people’s prefaces

(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 14)

There are several types of poems that fill the book’s pages. From elegantly aged lyric to blocks of prose poetry to lists to spacey and less formal additions, the book includes a lot of range, and a single reading will definitely not uncover the many patterns and constructions Mangold has included. Despite the collage effect of the found texts, the poems are undeniably easy and enjoyable to read, their subject matter intellectually challenging and emotionally dynamic. As I read, I felt like Mangold is offering certain forms of accessibility to the reader: the layers may run deep, but the surface of these poems is inviting and contains enjoyable qualities at the onset.

As the book unwinds and the poems continue, challenges are offered and afforded. Mangold has provided an extensive (to say the least) bibliography of the source and inspiration of the text as a whole, a field of portals waiting to be entered. The archivist, the historian, the poet: the forms converge and coalesce into a document that feels incredibly alive. This is “the choir” that Mangold has championed and led in past works, reconstructed. Or, unusually and amazingly, the taxidermy construct crafted by Martha Maxwell, or an alter-ego, a benefactor, a promoter. The representation is a cluster formed of erasure and assemblage, a polyvocal reality from history to the present. And at its forefront? Sarah Mangold, who spent years conducting the research that would feed the poems of Her Wilderness.

My own chosen world
of intellectual development

and feminist action
might indeed unstring

unnerve
and unfit me

(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 23)

There is an exquisite conceptual balance between the found and the authored, where Mangold herself becomes the subject in some of the investigations. Indeed, Mangold’s presence within the works continues what I last investigated in 2016: a commitment to not only be for the research but to be of it, to have a stake in it, and to embed. Mangold has created collages of images that explore taxidermist Martha Maxwell’s collections. Metaphorically and literally, Mangold has offered an abrupt and present dualism: she has applied a collage method to create stereographic images. It is worth looking at the images through the flow of the book’s poetry, but I found myself paging back through the book time and time again to revisit these images as moments of process and result; they are, as much as the text, reflective of Mangold’s process of work.

In Her Wilderness, Mangold is providing images and text derivative of the past. The poet wants to fill the masculine void with a feminist revisiting, crafting a life out of a static, oppressive history. There is much that should (and will) be said about this project, and for me I found Mangold’s presence in the work to be the most fascinating. The poems flit and jump between the pulling at the strings of found text, but Mangold’s voice is undeniable. It creeps in, manages to find a place, and is defiantly present. Most found poems lose the author’s voice and tone, but not here, not within Her Wilderness, and as I read the book cover to cover, I kept thinking: perhaps the book’s truths are just as much rooted in Mangold’s reality as the goal of the restructure and positioned text.

she braced against the inequalities of the bark and drew

herself up among branches

(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 41)

You can find the book here: https://www.fordhampress.com/9780823297702/her-wilderness-will-be-her-manners/

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

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Reefer Madness by Robert Cooperman

reefer
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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The title of Robert Cooperman’s hilarious new collection comes from the 1936 melodrama about high school students lured by drug pushers. Reefer Madness became a cult classic in the 1970’s among the younger hip generation, for its unintentionally campy humor.  The lurid movie poster, warning ADULTS ONLY contained phrases like “The sweet pill that makes life bitter” and “drug-crazed abandon.” “Youthful marihuana victims. See what really happens.” In part one of this collection, Cooperman shows us what really happened, at least to him, and his experiences are so familiar to anybody born before 1960 and probably beyond.
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After a poem about the meaning of “420,” the code for smoking dope, Cooperman launches into “The First Time I Tried Weed: Brooklyn College,” about his initiation into the rite. Though citing the familiar “Refer Madness” warnings in the very first stanza – “In high school, it was gospel / that one ‘puff’ would turn us / into groveling heroin addicts” – curiosity wins out, and just as the response to the old adage, “curiosity killed the cat” – “satisfaction brought him back” – that first time smoking with a college friend was glorious.  The poem ends with another nod to Refer Madness:
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            Giggling at a joke only I could get,
            I fell into bed, the room a tilting merry-
            go-round in a Hitchcock mystery,
            but no desperation, thank god,
            to shoot smack.
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  Then in one entertaining poem after the next, Cooperman details the whole project of “getting high”: The rituals of rolling joints, the exclamations of “I’m really wrecked!” that came almost like a testimony at an evangelical religious service, only instead of “Praise Jesus!” it’s “I am so stoned!” We read about the psychedelic songs of the era that were a necessary component to the experience – “White Rabbit,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Jimi Hendrix.  There are poems about the various drugs on the menu of our youth – hash, angel dust, psychedelic mushrooms. “Worse” vividly describes a bad trip on mushrooms in the otherwise idyllic setting of the Catskill Mountains. “It’s in the Bag” is a poem about snorting cocaine and the energy-burst it provides – and recognizing how easily one could become addicted to it, reefers or not.
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“Smoking Dope Outside the Keats Museum: Hampstead Heath” tells the story of two friends sneaking a joint outside the building while their wives linger inside, “maybe beside the very tree / where Keats had heard / his immortal nightingale.” Their spouses bust them, making them feel like kids caught breaking a window, but at least they avoid the surveillance cameras!
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As the first section winds down, marijuana has become legal in Colorado, where Cooperman currently resides, though now in late middle-age, a little late to really take advantage. He recognizes his dope-smoking days are over, though he still enjoys the occasional “contact high” from the skunk-stink of marijuana drifting from the pothead neighbors or when walking by the school kids passing joints around. In “The Weed Tree,” he and his wife stroll up a hill after passing the kids,
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            me floating a bit, pointing out to Beth,
            the red-tailed hawk making lazy, lovely,
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            merciless circles above the lake.
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“Got Pot?” and “AAA and the AA” explore the further implications of legalized weed, in the Trump era, when we all needed a crutch to make it through.
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In “Now That It’s Legal” and “Now That Colorado,” he laments the loss of the risk-taking scoring dope used to entail, which added a frisson of “sticking it to the Man” to the alteration of one’s consciousness, an added bonus. “Now That Colorado” ends the first section and sets us up for the equally hilarious second part.
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            In my day – geezer that I am – it took
            some discernment to score primo weed,
            and always the fear that the dealer was a narc,
            or if you sweated sauntering past beat cops,
            they’d stop you faster than Killer Kowalski’s
            professional-wrestler Atomic-Drop-Kick move.
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           And now the Girl Scouts will sell cookies
           outside pot shops! I ask you, is nothing sacred?
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“There are eight million stories  in the Naked City,” the iconic line at the end of every episode of the long-running TV series from the early 1960’s went. “This has been one of them.” Just so, Cooperman gives us over three dozen angles on the scene outside of The Wild Weed Dispensary in Denver as a Girl Scout troop sets up outside to sell cookies, in the second part of this hysterical collection. “The Girl Scouts of Colorado have decided it’s now cool to peddle their baked goods outside marijuana dispensaries,” a story from The Denver Post informs – the epigraph to the section – and Cooperman is off and running!
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There’s the Larsen family, the jilted wife Wilhelmina, chaperoning her Girl Scout daughter Melissa outside the Wild Weed Dispensary, while the wayward husband Ron holes up with his sex kitten Clair. There are Leonard and Marissa Millstein, a public defender and corporate lawyer at ideological (and marital) loggerheads, and their Girl Scout daughter Emily, caught in the middle. There’s the cop, Malcolm Sanders, whose daughter Kelly is also a Girl Scout and remembers the note her mother left when she walked out on Kelly’s father, no longer able to be a policeman’s wife.  Poor Fiona Terry, shoved into the Girl Scouts by her mother, hates being there at all, always the odd-girl-out. Cindy Bartlett, another Girl Scout, is the daughter of Sonny, a Hell’s Angel-style motorcycle gang member whose ex-wife Jo-Jo is having an affair with the tattoo parlor owner Nick Breeze, all here while the Girl Scouts sell their cookies. Each uproarious poem adds a soap-opera-like tale to the afternoon sale.
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Reefer Madness is a rollercoaster high, and the melodramatic warnings about pot? Still potent in the twenty-first century, as little Melissa Larsen tells us:
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            Tiffany’s older brother tried to get us to smoke,
            but our teacher warned us we’d become maniacs
            and have to live in straitjackets, like forever.
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So do yourself a favor and read this collection about “drug-crazed abandon.”  But a warning: read just a couple of these poems and you will probably be hooked!
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You can find the book here: Reefer Madness
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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the deering hour by Karen Elizabeth Bishop

the deering hour cover

By Greg Bem

confession is built mouth
to open mouth until water

(from “honeyhive,” page 3)

In the deering hour, there is buried between an awesome and ecstatic lyric poetry is a timely poetics of isolation and survival capable of carrying a pandemic readership toward honest, patient movement. the deering hour is a book that feels as crafted by quarantine and introspective society as it feels a conduit for the ever-expansive world just beyond our walls. Throughout, Karen Elizabeth Bishop follows many veins, many threads, and finds her own natural space for foraging the wispy peripheries of a breathing world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first, of which the book’s title comes, is “the deering hour.” This sequence is a welcome beacon and blueprint in this cagey global moment, filled with discoveries and dances, flirtations and flashes that are utterly American in their experimentation, but also feel spread across space and time and culture.

as she falls we all fall hers is the history of
flight the future of lyric the winter of our ash

(from “the history of flight,” page 34)

Collective and personal, the general appeal of “the deering hour” as a section and as a book is the feeling of roots, of being bound as reader (through writer) to the primal or ancient. Ecologically, the verse often flutters through natural imagery and a spirited presence takes shape by way of the world’s many forms and their relationships. Even when poems concern movement, either forward or backward, inward or outward, there is a slow and mature consideration within the poem’s subtext; a peaceful tone of ritual, of intention lingers.

[. . .] here the surface
does not hold. where the final
hanging on comes to a close,
wea are sound receding in
waves, four hearts quiet
ascending, the light at the
border dark increasing [. . .]

(from “the deering hour,” page 13)

Poems vary in size and shape, but there is a propulsion to most of them. This rush within Bishop’s work can be thanked to the poems’ elemental foundations. Water upon stone, for example, is one of the most prevalent carriers of energy and ideas within the deering hour, and its emblematic presence demonstrates the timeliness of water’s power. It is also, in Bishop’s writing, reflective of a more sacred, finite resource. Ecology and the flight of the world that surrounds us may feel overwhelming in reality, but in the book we see transformation as humbling. This is a tempered and tempering volume that keeps reality in a perspective somewhere between balancing and revealing.

Following “the deering hour” is “Kilpisjärvi,” a shorter sequence that takes its name from a village in Northern Finland, where Bishop recently visited and stayed as a resident at the “Biological Station.” Unfortunately we do not know too much more than that, as a fuller description of this place is missing. Still, the mysterious presence and existence of this place lends itself to the writing Bishop does include.

While at first glance this second, closing sequence feels thrown at the end of the book as an addendum or “extra,” a deeper read reveals Bishop’s cunning: the prose and verse here demonstrates an example of source material, where the work and the mindset of “the deering hour” stem. Reading it reminded me of the works of Craig Childs and Terry Tempest Williams, who have sought the truth by being embedded by place and experience, by living through relationships and convictions: “We watch from the shore of the moraine as the future recedes,” Bishop writes in part IV (page 59) and: “Under cover, we speak in surprises, measure the fell in objects and action” she writes in part IX (page 72) are examples of Bishop’s relational journaling.

Near the beginning of “Kilpisjärvi,” Bishop writes, “I don’t need to get to the end to know I’m already living my future” (page 54). This is the illumination that rounds out a poetics of the pandemic so well. It is new and yet established, emerging yet defined. But the illumination can occasionally be too bright; aside from serving us with this well-rounded close, some of the book’s moments cascade into realms of twist and obscurity:

you didn’t say if you gave over, a last present
amidst our famine, or if you sought the wild
wasting of our white nights, the pleading scar,
fingers in the welt, the searing blightburn. [. . .]

(from “inflorescence,” page 15)

There is a play with abstraction that occasionally feels maddening in its confusion and disconnection, but it is ever-so-present and just barely heavy enough to be problematic. Instead, I took the abstraction to be an element of introduction and arrival, Bishop’s writing beginning its dance across a longer form of time. Overall, Bishop’s the deering hour is an enduring book of juxtaposition the succeeds in bringing two ends of experience together at once.

You can find the book here: https://www.ornithopterpress.com/store/p15/the_deering_hour.html

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

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