poetry book review

The Elvis Machine by Kim Vodicka

elvis

By Greg Bem

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

At some point, I stop wondering
and start looking.

(from “High Tea,” page 47)

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

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

The rage of the wounded feminine lifts me.

I vow to be a famous mass murderess.

I vow to let you clean up the carnage.

I vow to grasp without ever even reaching.

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

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

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

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

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

Which means I’ll die of love.

Eaten alive by those who say right
but mean wrong.

(from “Babalon Fantasy,” page 114)

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

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

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

Respectable receptable, man-infested.

Kingly queen with delusions of infamy.

(from “Milk PTSD,” page 41)

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

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

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

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.

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Library Rain by Rustin Larson

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

The Damages of Morning by J.C. Todd

damage

By Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Seas Are Dolphins’ Tears By Djelloul Marbrook.

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

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

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

Gathering View by Jack C. Buck

gathering-view-31

By Stephen Page

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

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

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

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

You can find the book here:

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

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

Welcome Distractions- Accessible Poems for Time Strapped Humans by Carol Wierzbicki

wel dist
By g emil reutter
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The first time I read a poem by Carol Wierzbicki was in the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.  Wierzbicki was part of the Unbearables with Thad Rutkowski, Hal Sirowitz and many other poets, who at the time were were active in challenging the established literary elites and elites in general. Unlike many movements, the Unbearables continue. In the case of Wierzbicki, she has released an excellent collection of poetry. Welcome Distractions – Accessible Poems for Time-Strapped Humans. Fittingly the book is part of the Unbearable Series published by Autonomedia. In these unadorned beautifully written poems Wierzbicki writes of poets, politics, her beloved Brooklyn and much more. In the second stanza of Ode to Brooklyn she captures pre-millennial Brooklyn.
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You, with your rusting smokestacks,
your vigilante block associations,
chain-smoking beauty salon owners and patrons,
over the top Christmas displays crowding your
postage stamp-sized front lawns,
marketing slogans that breed like flies
your brass-knuckle childhoods,
your forsythia stubbornly flourishing
beside the grimiest warehouses,
your incongruously ultramodern gas stations
your overpasses and viaducts,
a thousand negative spaces for neighborhood kids
to unfurl their evil games,
lawnmowers, awnings your thwarted attempts
at upscale suburbia.
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These images stay with the reader as a photograph in words, intense realism.

In the poem Champion Cat Breeder, Wierzbicki shows her humorous side in reflecting on poets.

“So you’re big in the poetry world/Who Cares?/ It’s like being a champion cat breeder/ You move in weird, fussy/ little circles/ where ego’s erupt like cat-spit …”

Wierzbicki takes on the elites in the poem, My Apology to Saks 5th Ave. In the second stanza she writes:

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I don’t deserve to be here
I feel out of place
wandering among your white walls
and shiny black shelves
and unforgiving light
and angular salespeople.
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And again in the fourth stanza:
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…My guilt at being here cuts both ways:
I don’t earn enough money to shop here,
but I can still browse the sale racks
to comfortable anonymity;
no security personnel
will suddenly appear alongside me,
grabbing my thin, lily-white wrist.
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She ends the poem, Unincorporated Township, in beautifully unadorned verse with images that once again stay with the reader.
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The town hall stands unfinished
over earth that is brown and cracked
to match radon-soaked brick
of the hastily knocked-up dwellings
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The snow that falls here
turns beige on contact
and the people that die here
do so in midsentence.
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Wierzbicki writes poems of love, family, neighborhood, injustice. She reflects about the times we live in the poem Age:
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We’re living in a disposable age, a polemical age, a laughable
age, a tragical age, a changeable age. An age of individuality that
curls back toward conformity like a snake eating its tail. A digital
age of tweets and posts and texts and yet an age where we crave
face-to-face contact. It’s an age of excess and yet not having
enough. An age of hate and yet of radical love cradling the hated ones.
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It’s an age of extreme weather: fires, floods, tornados,
hurricanes and intensely beautiful days. An age of jealously
guarded privacy and unprecedented surveillance. An age of
space travel and deep drilling. Of discovery and discovering
how little we actually know. Of unstoppable development and
naturally reclaimed land, flowers blooming above sludge.
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A paradoxical age of rural lifestyle movements within cities:
beehives and tomato plants on rooftops, crops of corn and herbs
in parking lots – where we’re both locavore and globally
connected. An age where the city has no future and IS the future.
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Where we all speak different languages and yet push the same
buttons.
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If you are a lover of poetry, of realism, of intense rhythmic poetry you should pick up a copy of Welcome Distractions- Accessible Poems for Time Strapped Humans.

You can find the book here:

https://bookstore.autonomedia.org/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=75_71_22&products_id=779

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found here: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/ 

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The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young

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By Larissa Shmailo

William Carlos Williams famously wrote: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” And the poet Anna Wrobel demanded, “If poets aren’t prophets, / what are they?/ If poets aren’t prophets, /what good are they?” More than any other art, we expect wisdom from our poets, even as we also demand the usual things we want from the arts: beauty, inspiration, elegance, connection, revelation. Dickinson, Whitman, and Frost delivered on those scores, and in an intimate, deceptively simple way, so does Michael T. Young, who takes up the mantle of poet as philosopher and fabulist in his rich collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water.

Young’s wisdom is paternal, and its source is nature, and the advice of natural history is couched in lyrical language full of subtle twists and delights. In “Advice from a Bat,” our Aesop adjures: “Hunt only at night. Fly erratically. Defy even your own expectations / . . .  Cultivate the myths about you . . .”  Many poems of Doctrine are like unexpected gardens in the center of lower Manhattan, replete with catkins, beech trees, lemons, dandelions, bioluminescence, chameleons, and gingko trees. And water schools us through the title poem’s prosopopeia:

Go around, it says, or through or under or over,
but go on.
Stand still for no one and no thing,
because when you stop,
your breath will thicken and grow dark,
the life swimming in you
rot. The stones will not preserve you,
their hands will not endure; in fact, you will grind
them down to pepper the way for those who follow.
Whatever trinkets you pick up,
soften them in your hands, shaping them
with the gentle art of friction . . .
                                    –“The Infinite Doctrine of Water”
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Like the water which carves a way for those who follow, Young’s natural history explores, or more aptly, carries the past, a theme signaled by the epigraph from Stephen Dunn, who terms it “unfinished work . . . seductively revisable.”  The elegant lyrical sestina “The Generosity of the Past” shifts light, memory, and a changing relationship with subtle chiaroscuro.
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In our apartment there was always light
splitting through the windows like mercy,
illuminating bookshelves and what we thought,
our conversations or our glasses of wine
lifted to toast each day of generosity:
the quantity surpassing what we knew.
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The poet walks the streets of lower Manhattan and nearby Jersey, an observer of its denizens and architecture, the tacit memory of 911 always at the tip of the lyricist’s tongue. In his peregrinations he declares, like Borges’s Funes the Memorious, “that is to truly live—be a master of minutiae, every  marginal  memory,” but realizing “part of me was missing.” In “Birdwatcher,” he surveys his ground zero home, finding that coming to terms with tragedy may not always be possible in the “shadows it can cast but never catch.” But the poet notes growth attributed to the homo fabers of all epochs:
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Years later, as I pass a construction site
and each morning, there’s a little more cement,
a few more girders, wiring and steel,
fused under acetylene flies,
I realize all those hands, all those minds
pick their way through halls of carbon and fly ash,
trace potentials down molecular paths of iron,
water and gravel, bits and pieces like breadcrumbs
trailing all the way back to subterranean lavas
and prehistoric furnaces, the inhuman fires
that go into making every habitation and home.
                                      —“Breadcrumbs”
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In The Infinite Doctrine of Water, bridges and subways and the station at Journal Square and Wall Street’s narrow lanes become an ecosystem full of flora and strange fauna, strangely haunted and strangely hopeful, connected viscerally to the past, animated by a lyrical pen that brings its fond transcendental musings to it, and luckily, to us.

You can find the book here:

http://www.terrapinbooks.com/newmdashthe-infinite-doctrine-of-water-by-michael-t-young.html 

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, author, translator, editor, and critic.

Finding Truth Through Poetry – A Review of The Handheld Mirror of the Mind

northeast times

Logan Krum of the Northeast Times reviews The Handheld Mirror of the Mind by Diane Sahms-Guarnieri https://northeasttimes.com/finding-truth-through-poetry-6748fc56061a

Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Border

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By Larissa Shmailo

Like a Chinese-Polish American cross between Rod Serling and Emily Dickinson, Thaddeus Rutkowski invites you to the portals of mind and matter in Border Crossings. In this first collection of poems, the fiction writer and performance artist presents carefully sculpted, deceptively simple verses of immediate interest to the reader, typically with an understated but potent twist.

 Whether at the boundaries between cultures, the edges of human interiority, or the trespasses of racism, trapdoors usually closed shut are pried open in Border Crossings. “Light and Shadow,” among the poems opening the book, describes the poet’s initial conflict moving in and out of hidden places:

My father opens a trapdoor
and leads me down concrete stairs
. . .

I don’t want to stay.
Spiders scrunch in the corners,
and pieces of copper tubing—
. . .
litter the floor
. . .

Spiders notwithstanding, the poet finds himself liking the smell of horsehair cement in the cellar and wanting to stay there. The rest of the volume’s poems proceed to traverse borders to the secret and unknown.

As Rutkowski comes to love cellars, so he comes to love spiders. The collection reveals the rurally reared poet’s childlike fascination with spiders, bees, flies, rodents, raptors, tree frogs, and other animalia of crevices and corners. There is both a love for the honest presence of nature’s smallest and a vampire’s interest in “little lives”:

 I can see and hear it now,
the crazy path of flight at blinding speed,
the inevitable, the unavoidable, hitting,
when the crazy fly comes into contact
with the eye, with the bed,
buzzing around upside down,
for the crazy fly has no great sense of equilibrium.

And:

. . .

I stand back
while a hyper bird perches on a jumbo stalk
so another can feed on the multi seeds
next to the mad mud hole.

Perhaps these innocent animals offer a kind of escape from other, more malevolent creatures. From “Party Animals”:

I throw a party

 . . .

Another guest says

he killed people

who looked like me

when he was in Vietnam.

The kindness of nature juxtaposes vividly with the descriptions of rednecks and racists literally at the poet’s door; the conjunction is reminiscent of Viktor Frankl seeing hope and life in a sparrow perched outside his Auschwitz barracks window. The violent racists cross borders in threatening trespass and are held back spiritually by the poet’s integrity and wit, with the help of small loving lives.

As a veteran performance poet and ranter, Rutkowski routinely crosses audience boundaries with épater-le-bourgeoisie material. A common edgy theme is sex, delivered with deadpan. From “Nine Rules for No Sex”:

No kissing with a cold sore.
No kissing with a sore throat.
No thoughtless pressing, rubbing or brushing.
.
No fingering with long nails.
No fingering with hangnails.
No foolish fingering . . . .
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The motion is sometimes toward stand-up comedy, as in “Anarchist Manifesto” ( “I believe in anarchy, / but not if everybody goes wild.”) The same wry humor obtains as the poet finds his Asian roots in food and found poems; “Found Poem, Hong Kong Museum”:

When you are finished tilling the soil,
spading seedlings, weeding, winnowing,

hulling, grinding and pounding,

you may enjoy
the silky yellow rice,
the dry sticky rice,
the rat’s tooth rice,
the little flowery waist rice,
and the yellow husk full brow rice.

The poet encourages forays into the unknown, but with realism and caveats. Despite the “disappointing” toilet facilities of foreign places, and the shock of strange invertebrate foods, Rutkowski reminds us in the poem, “Border Crossing,” that “it’s the people we want to see.” And cautions his reader:
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So let’s think twice before we cross
the twenty yards of no-man’s-land.
I know you want to get there
as fast as we can.

You can find the book here:  https://sensitiveskinmagazine.com/books/border-crossings/

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Larissa Shmailo is an American poet, novelist, translator, and critic.  Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country#specialcharactersIn Paran, the chapbook A Cure for Suicide, and the e-book Fib Sequence;  her latest novel is Patient Women. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, Words for the Wedding, Contemporary Russian Poetry, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural, and many others. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world’s first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Please see more about Shmailo at her website at http://www.larissashmailo.com  and Wikipedia athttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larissa_Shmailo.