poetry book review

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




Slap by Rustin Larson


By Lynette G. Esposito

Rustin Larson’s poetry volume Slap offers a wide variety of poetry lengths, forms and images. Published by Alien Buddha Press, it is ninety-two pages of insightful messages in poetic form.

For example, the poem Four Steps on page twenty-four, creates in thirteen stanzas, a situation of how many steps lead away from home when at the train stop and what it represents. Larson turns this image into the constant life journey of taking steps to all the doors that lead to or away from home.
                  Four steps, please. Four steps
                  into the train’s platform
                  in the middle of the night.
                 Four steps before you trip
                 and fall down the basement.
                Four steps into the bower
               of wild roses.  Four steps in fever
               into your mother’s arms
              in the cool kitchen of your childhood.  Four steps
Larson has used the image of four steps and varied situations to portray how close so many things in life are and what a difference this makes.  His exquisite use of the F sound and his skillful use of repetition control the poem to the closing single-line stanza:
              steps from all the doors you called home.
In contrast to this lengthily poem, Larson presents a little humor in his one- stanza, five-line poem Discard on page thirty-two.
                  Although I might be a discard,
                  like the man who believes
                  in extraterrestrials,
                  I say to myself
                 I am not alone.
The brevity of the poem does not reduce its effectiveness.  It takes a twist on the concept of the populace of Earth seeking other intelligent beings in other galaxies and looks clear sightedly at those who are perceived as discards on this planet. I find this poem hilarious. 
When the Shark Bites, is a one stanza poem on page sixty-two that presents a moment-in- time when Larson remembers having burritos with his daughters at Taco Bell in Iowa City and when his one daughter was little, how he put her to sleep with an unusual song. He begins the poem with:
                   Not to disagree with the song’s lyrics
                   but sharks don’t have
                   molars.  They rip and swallow
                   rather than grind and chew.  It’s
                   a fine point, but important I
It is interesting that he begins this poem with facts then throughout the poem remembers wonderful instances with his children.  He brings a time frame in, 1996 and calls it a premium year.  The poem suggests it is about one thing but when Larson calls his daughters my little sweethearts the reader can feel how full Larson’s heart is remembering this time with his daughters. It is a skillful poem with musical references that some of a certain age will appreciate.
Slap is an interesting tome with some poems being stronger than others.  The poems vary widely in subject matter and with interesting twists.  It is well worth a read while sitting in a comfortable chair.
You can find the book here: Slap
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.

Etching the Ghost by Cathleen Cohen

By Lynette G. Esposito
Etching the Ghost by Cathleen Cohen, published by Atmosphere Press, is an interesting collection of poems about the art of painting and other subjects.  The voice in the poems Is honest and direct and the poetry illustrates skillfully how closely related the literary and visual arts are.
The tome is divided into four sections:  If Released, Magnificent, The Weight of the Press, No Mistakes in Art, and As Witness, As Echo. Each section has a particular focus.  The volume spans sixty-five pages and covers topics relating to relationships, art, landscapes and personal experiences.
In the first section, If Released, Magnificent, the poem Possibly wind on page nine uses visual metaphors to show situation and place in dealing with a daughter’s relationship to her parents.
            fans us out past dark.
           Fathers shout our names from doorways.
            In hedges we crouch,
           plan forays and small rebellions.
           I tear my yellow dress
          in a dirt fight, then lie
          to my mother’s shocked face.
The way the poem is set up suggests the fragmented steps a young person would take when doing something they know they shouldn’t do.  It is clear the parents care but children will be children.  The closure is direct and clear as the daughter faces her mother with a lie.  The poem is effective in presenting a common situation between parents and their kids.  It is interesting that the narrator is wearing the color yellow and a dress.  Her mother would not expect her daughter to be in a dirt fight let alone wearing a dress or, perhaps, lie.   The suggested conflict is clear and the poem works well.
The poem, No Mistakes in Art on page thirty-nine, has some of the same rebellious traits as Possibly wind.  The school tries to restrain and control the children but they are so of full life, they jostle and proclaim.
                 A quince breaks into bloom
                 outside the school
                where I sketch
               (between classes)
               trying to capture the tangle of citrus
               in rooted stance
               against brick walls
               that can’t contain children
                from chanting, jostling
               down stairwells, proclaiming
                       vivid and delicious.
Cohen cleverly inserts her artistic self into the observation of school children as if they are not only visual art but semi out of control poems that are not only vivid—a sight—but delicious poems connecting the literary to the visual art form.  The poem is strong in its setting and situation.  It makes the readers feel as if they are observing along with the narrator just to the corner of the poem’s edge.  I also like the way the stanzas are set up as if implying the stair steps the children are coming down.
Some of the poems in this book seem almost interactive like the poem No Mistakes in Art.  This volume has many strengths but I find it is uneven in tone and perhaps tries too hard to link art forms.  I wonder if the book had sketches next to the poems how this would affect the reader.  I bet it would be a positive.
You can find the book here: Etching the Ghost

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.

And So Wax Was Made & Also Honey by Amy Beeder


By Greg Bem

Where to locate on that over-fingers lacquer speech?
Over boundaries of corruption, the physics of corpse or ash?

(from “Ouija Blink” on page 9)

Sprawling across 36 poems divided between three distinct sections, Amy Beeder’s latest published poetic voice has concocted and presented a vast array of personas and lingual variations that feel, in a short span, like living history. And So Wax Was Made & Also Honey is a book that brings forward the medieval, the gothic, the pioneer, the ancient, the contemporary, and more into an alchemical, prismatic collection that collects with each page flipped.

Beeder’s poetry shifts and morphs in front of the reader, states of the perceived reality as ephemeral as time itself. Never feeling without, never feeling of lack, this is a book of captivation, rallying, and an undeniable memento. It features explorers, witches, linguists, novelists, philosophers, and gravediggers, to name a slice of the cast. And it is global, covering grounds from many places and many cultures.

When quarantines are lifted we’ll play Marco Polo

in the empty wards & by lamplight study ancient methods
of beekeeping: mud hive & yeast cake, the tendering

of tiny crowns & tiny homes of sedge.

(from “And So Wax Was Made & Also Honey Out of the Tears of Re” on page 8)

The poems are senselessly arousing, moving between tangible and tangential from breath to breath. It is a book that is mischievous and keen, gripping and confounding, and ultimately visceral in its aural estimations and proximities. And So Was Wax contains some description, some explanation, and yet never enough. There are allusions and wayfinding, some intentionally exposed and some buried within subtext, yet there is mystery, and it is strong and strange and lingering.

One of the endnotes calls forth a reference to Ezra Pound, and I could not help being reminded of the complexities, challenges, and illuminations of the Modernists at large in texts nearly 100 years old. Still, I was also reminded of Black Mountain, Naropa, and also, I was reminded of the epic poems and parables of ages and eras many, many years’ past.

your tongue thicken to an ox’s, pronouncing words
that only through your industry still merit this translation:
I sometimes feel I am liquifying like an Old Camembert.

(from “Flaubert & the Chancre” on page 33)

Such is Beeder’s work. It never relents and it always offers more, the further one dips their head (and their mind) inward. Ultimately, the book sits on the precipice of greatness with a feeling of necessitated muddiness: to leave out direction leads to inherent incoherence, but never without confidence, without the sense that the poet is in full control, and knowingly looking upward, into the sky, the stars, and all directions of time at once.

A book of questions and yet a book of documentation and storytelling, it is a collection that may, at length, feel connected to something larger, above and beyond its own covers. I am reminded of the longer works of Caroline Bergvall, Anne Carson, and Joshua Marie Wilkinson, whose books are woven together like intense strands.

Drought our summer corn was overrun again
with weed & cheat; the bitter zinnias fell to bits.

Dear yearlings our harvest is lattice & husk.

(from “Dear Drought” on page 30)

Reminisces and ruminations on form aside, Beeder’s third book is distinctly her own. She brings forward wisdom derivative of many ages, and yet the comments feel current to the urgencies of today. From climate change to spirituality to a belief of women, Beeder captures the moment by deferring to the relevance of the past. All told, the timelessness is timeliness, and the poet serves as a firm but quizzical reminder that we have much to learn by adjusting our gaze.

I am waiting at the crossroads, here at your broken gate
where barbed acacias stoop to shade my trespass.

(from “For Fresno’s Best Process Service Call Hermes” on page 56)

You can find the book here: https://www.tupelopress.org/product/and-so-wax-was-made-also-honey/

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

Poisons & Antidotes by Andrea L. Fry

By Charles Rammelkamp
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” go the lyrics of a hit song by Kelly Clarkson, the same paradox at the heart of Andrea L. Fry’s impressive collection in which she explores the clash of the nutric and the toxic,  the safe and the perilous: the noxious and the obnoxious, as the title of the book’s first section sums up.
“Oh, I would divide the world into binaries,” she begins the poem called “The Glitter of the Simple,” but the dichotomy is never so clear, as she captures so beautifully later in the poem:
The sacred passion flower,
ringed by purple filaments,
though its cool smile nests in leaves
of cyanide.
Later in the poem, after having archly declared her intention to judge by appearances only, Fry more sagely notes the deceptive malleability of the world’s contents in an observation from which the collection takes its name:
Both substance and creature slink
over a delicate border,
can so easily pass
from poison to antidote.
Some of Fry’s poems are so deliciously specific in spelling out the world’s almost oxymoronic inconsistencies. “Jimsonweed” and “Mothballs,” which open the book, focus on these two modest objects to tease out the point. “The Flower Maker” tells the story of the accidental poisoning of a person who makes beautiful bouquets for ladies’ hair using a chemical like Scheele’s Green, a mixture containing arsenic. “She shaped the flowers, / and pinned them, // loved them like / little green children.”  Unfortunately, the flower maker got the poison all over herself, too, her hair and lashes, and eventually into her stomach and liver.
“The Snake Charmer” is another poem that plays on the ambiguity of the safe and the dangerous. Inspired by a magazine article about an Indian snake charmer who “attempted suicide by cobra” (“your nemesis / and livelihood coiled in a basket”), she describes the man considered an “entertainer” by some and a “beggar” by others:
Yours was like a prophet’s
mission, to travel to villages
and festivals – like a marshal
out in front, townspeople cowering
behind – to challenge peril,
dare it to come out from its
hiding, show itself.
An oncology nurse practitioner at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Fry knows what she’s talking about when she evaluates the risks and benefits of different drugs and therapies. “Tomfoolery” brings a smile with its curmudgeonly expression, but she speaks truth:
Harrumph, I say!
Your cure’s as toxic as the bug itself.
A panacea that kills the lymph.
Amphotericin destroys both fungus and the host;
camphor kills moths, gives us emphysema.
Amphetamines make depressives
leap the fence….
“Narcan,” a poem about the emergency drug used to treat opioid overdose, expresses a similar ambivalence; the “miracle” comes with a warning, “the burden / of pure gift.” “Therapy” continues the idea of the fragility of the body in response to drugs, “fondling kidneys / like pottery.”  And so we encounter “Amir” “holding / the sample of urine with a slight tremor, as if asking for alms,” as uncertain and terrified as any other anonymous patient.
This mixture of promise and peril is particularly potent in “Return,” a poem dedicated to “the Babushkas of Chernobyl,” the old women coming back to tend to the radioactive land, “to your home, / to what they said would be uninhabitable.” The birds, the bees, even, for a time, the wolves, moose and boars were gone. “But you would not grieve.  / There was work to be done.”
My favorite poem is the one called “The Renderer,” in which a farm mother cushions the death of a beloved ancient horse with a vision of Patsy grazing happily in Heaven, much like the story parents tell their children about the dead family pet going away to live on a bucolic farm. Unfortunately, before she can take the kids away, the renderer drives up, jerking “the brake up like he was snapping / something’s neck” and proceeds to describe how he will have to saw Patsy’s legs off before hooking her up and driving the carcass away. The mother hastily rolls up the window and starts to leave the property. They drive away in silence for a few minutes, and then:
“Yes, Jack,” I said.
“Was that God?”
Fry’s sense of humor shines throughout many of these poems, while expanding on her theme. “Don’t Let Anyone Dull Your Sparkle!” channels the snarky colleague who manages to undercut her co-workers while smiling her fake smile. “Help Desk” is a sort of surreal take on the recorded telephone message that “directs your call.” “The Show Dog” anthropomorphizes the competitors in competitions like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. “The Death of Rhetoric” humorously analyzes how language has been poisoned. It starts out:
Take whatever.
Once royal, now it dwells
like a fallen angel
in the most ignoble realm:
the syntax of a sullen teen.
These marvelous poems brim with wit, imagination and intelligence. What doesn’t simply charm or enchant you will make you wiser. (Am I right, Kelly Clarkson?)
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Planetary Motions by William Seaton

By Karen Corinne Herceg
William Seaton possesses a poetic voice whose sage and steady delivery comforts yet challenges us simultaneously. These qualities are on fine display in his latest book Planetary Motions. This collection’s combination of astute observational wisdom and inquisitive introspection allows us to explore the wonders and mysteries of the world with joy in spite of our frustrating inability to ever fully comprehend it. A critical component is to compel our powers of observation and reflection despite whether we receive satisfactory answers or any answers at all. His poems are beguiling expeditions that spur us on to deeper examinations of the human condition. It’s refreshing to find such an erudite voice that incorporates the humor and pathos of the quotidian so very well. A deep satisfaction that comes from reading these poems is their ability to make familiar things new and new things surprising.
Formally trained and accomplished in translating Greek, Latin, German, and French, Seaton has a formidable background firmly entrenched in the history of poetry. It’s an art he not only practices but has taught and a craft he takes quite seriously in the tradition of such heady influences as Ezra Pound and poets who worked laboriously upon each word and phrase as being integral to the integrity of an entire piece. Nothing is viewed as superfluous. And in spite of this studied and precise attention to the importance of each word, he avoids a didactic, uninspired mindset and transforms that precision into music. The result is a lovely song to enjoy in its entirety without the obvious dissection of each note in its composition. We might be interested in the ingredients of a great meal, but it is the colors, textures, and tastes we appreciate in the final presentation.
Seaton takes his knowledge on the road, both literally and figuratively, which speaks to his expansive and varied ability to make so many strange worlds seem quite familiar. A graduate in English Literature of the University of Illinois and the University of Iowa’s Comparative Literature Program, he could have remained entrenched in his Midwestern American roots, safely ensconced in academia. However, he chose the life of a bohemian traveler fused with a solid, scholarly foundation and literary acumen. He’s taught in prisons and in the Nigerian bush and has hosted several series and events, particularly in his home base of Orange County in the Hudson Valley of New York State where he resides.
Seaton’s antiquarian references come alive against a soundtrack of contemporary musings that might often be compared to the rhythmic undercurrents of  jazz with its roots in both blues and ragtime. It’s an intoxicating blend of melancholy ruminations and playful ebullience that makes jazz so compelling, and this is also true of Seaton’s poetry. Interestingly, Planetary Motions is published by Giant Steps Press, which takes its name from the song and album of famed jazz musician John Coltrane. There’s an immense substantiation of poetic tradition in drawing upon a diverse lineage of history and so gracefully integrating it with the subtle and often soul-disturbing notes of such a modern art form. But it is evocative of Seaton’s work which brings the past alive by connecting it so deftly to the present.
His expansive, global perspective can best be summed up in his own words. In a 2021 interview with Rubee Rancourt, an editor at Giant Steps, Seaton referred to earlier days he spent in Haight Ashbery saying, “We declaimed poetry in the streets and strove to make each act of daily life into art.” He adds, “As for academe, some may conceive the ivied halls as an isolated and remote realm, but for me it opened up the globe and the centuries past. The traditional canon is not, however, sufficient. To learn the real nature of literature requires familiarity with work outside the English Literature curriculum.” He makes note of the many ways we come together in commonality as human beings by exploring and integrating the vast scope of multi-cultural literature. The poet or artist brings a myriad of emotions, personal history, and individual perspectives to what manifests as a poem or a work of art but elevates it further with a universal inclusiveness. At the same time one must maintain reverence and humility. As he states in his Foreword to Planetary Motions, he promises “…only a few snapshots of consciousness reflecting glints of shattered truth which I wave in the dark like a blessedly naïve child with a sparkler.” It is more about presenting possibilities than absolutes.
Planetary Motions is divided into seven very diverse sections and includes a Foreword and an Afterword. In Section One’s Other Scenes, we see a good example of Seaton’s ability to juxtapose and highlight the dichotomies of life in a variety of different cultures. In Men’s Clubhouse in Chihuahua he presents the subtle image of a young boy who absorbs the imprint and harshness of the local neighborhood while holding a Coke that is emblematic of external influences that tarnish that very culture. We see this theme again in the analogy of red feathers to blood and the historical and ongoing threat of violence contrasted with a quiet, pastoral scene in Macaws by the Gate of Copán, and in Mahashamsana where the Ganges River flows with shit, chemicals, and corpses but also with candles afloat that represent wishes of worshippers.
On Ganges Shore he explores further the distance between appearance and intention when he states:
…though aren’t they brothers in their con:
guru, priest, imam, rabbi,
passing the plate
and running the concern.
There’s no question mark added at the end, since it is more of a statement that underscores its truth while asking us to consider this for ourselves. The striving of humans to impose our intricate and often convoluted thought patterns on the world as compared to the uncomplicated acceptance of other creatures is summed up succinctly in The Turkish Cats. He tells us that “…their cogitation seems a simple thing/and yet their gaze is sharp and clear and true” and without doubt.
In Andean Day Seaton offers us marvelous physical imagery that underpins more ethereal experiences:
A bowl of coca leaves can soften some
the stones and bones of every passing hour.
Thin air sublimes my thoughts and makes them rare,
for heaven tells no more than these high peaks.
The inner rhythm of “stones and bones” so strongly impacts our awareness of time that measures our lives. It is mitigated to some degree by certain comforts that buffer harsher realities. And the jarring use of  sublime used as a verb, as in “sublimes my thoughts,” or the unexpected adjective “purling” paired with “water” in Walking in Aguirre Springs—adds new and refreshing perspectives.
The next section, Divagations, gives us the mind wandering in the freedom of various reveries. In the Metaphysics of Everyday Life, we’re asked if the abstract thoughts and intrusions on our reality are truly abstruse or is reality the illusion?  In this poem the mind wanders as it truly does in each of us. There is no linear, rational pattern that informs our constant perambulations. We see the interruptions of the mind imposing various observations and seeming order into random impressions and broken connections:
I carry my household gods from place to place and put their
            images on the walls to contain me, still horizons.
And the line will, despite horizons, propagate itself in any
direction and look to   its rights.
This theme is echoed again in His Thoughts Flowed:
…those thoughts flowed very like the wind
that takes each turn that comes along the way
and skims on top of fast food sheds and cars and busy men,
seeking some Zephyr in the stratosphere, some sweet high air
above the birds and plans, with which to mix and drift
and effortless glide on.
The so whimsically titled Wheee almost belies the gravitas of its message of connection and connectedness that fairly stretches into the realm of Shakespearean worthiness in its conjunction of colloquial yet elevated language and expression. Yet it is aptly named as it emphasizes the frequent comic elements that underpin our perceptions and conclusions:
Beginning from the reverent and deeply held belief
            that matter and anti-matter must, in the end, be equal,
                        as positive and negative charges are equal,
and in this way the cosmic doughnut was
always already eaten and if my dream is a map of the stars, the
stars must dream always of me –
Further fragments provide insights into our efforts to reconcile ourselves to inevitabilities and death:
And just as the truth of a birth is concealed behind jubilation
 that, in spite of mortality, we are keeping abreast of the game
through efforts strenuous and strongly felt through the entire
human race…
And the following fragment elevates death to its proper place in the scheme of life and reality:
 And the sum of all things is precisely nothing at all, when
positive charges meet negative and matter meets antimatter and
finds annihilation perfect and sweet and a most elegant end…
In the section Appetites, Seaton brings a palpable, organic sensibility to his observations of various foods and other physical elements with insights that assault our traditional and more complacent interpretations as in Cherry, where it becomes more of a transubstantiation than a comparison:
Whence the gravity of your deep, deep red, o cherry?
You’re some vestigially corporeal internal organ of an angel
There are descriptions of ordinary elements that birth startling contrasts:
The highway cars,
a procession of dark stones
on the night’s sash,
the contained explosions
of their iron hearts
a constant tide
coursing down the lanes of night
The following lines are reminiscent of the grandeur of classical soliloquy:
An ego’s flame may burn or cook or warm,
ignite the incense of a devotee.
It’s rooted firm in metamorphosis.
O what hot changes rung upon the world
which may tomorrow be but ash and dust
but which right now is hot with change and pain.
Songs gives us a section that is playful and lighter, some poems like the grand rhymes of bygone times, sometimes with a naughty twist as in:
The force made a stand by enigma’s land.
The horses paused; he marshaled the band.
They  sought  to  breach  the  gate
behind which the queen was reclining in state.
They made it no further the chroniclers wrote
than the ripple of an aureole,
the nipple’s guardian moat.
Seaton’s use of foreign or more obscure words achieves the difficult task of inviting us in rather than excluding us. His turn of phrase, inherent humor, and rhyming schemes create an inviting cocoon in which to feel expansive rather than marginalized:
The early earthworm twisted his tail
and glistened his part that was glad to be male.
Vermicular lust began to rise
when the male part caught sight of his feminine side.
Before the morning was halfway done:
a hermaphroditical orgy of one.
Further, he takes some literary license with pieces one could consider as limericks:
Under the counterpane’s tropical heat
it’s torrid and humid down under the sheet
where natives go naked and nuzzle at will
down each damp valley, up each fertile hill.
We’ve sailed past the Cape, we’re rounding the Horn,
we’re starboard of Cancer below Capricorn!
Or as in It Won’t Belong, even a sort of tongue twister:
Giblet wonton,
new tot goblin,
neon blog twit,
boil tent gown,
blown ego tint,
no betting owl,
bent wing tool.
And, just for fun:
Another Charm
ha dinga bolooya mabit!
la linga ha hatnee zooo
These pieces are so clever and enjoyable we can readily accept them among the more serious and studied poems. After all, it’s the poet’s choice in a somewhat ‘take it or leave it’ attitude as evidenced in the final word of Another Charm: “there” which, in its definitive defiance, doesn’t even need the validation of an exclamation point.
As its title suggests, the section Momento Mori brings us back to more sober considerations. A study on the inevitability of death is exemplified in these lines from Bullfight when the bull falls defeated and dying:
One can avert one’s eyes right now,
tomorrow, too, but in the end one can’t.
The estocada comes for every beating heart.
Estocada is an intriguing word choice translating akin to “lunge” in English, emphasizing that the final stroke is never gentle no matter what our expectations or circumstances.
Seaton reminds us there are many kinds of deaths as exemplified in end of the world, very much a political statement but quite apropos in this section. It is a condemnation of the fleeting rewards of greed that will ultimately bring about destruction and loss:
choking on bilious consumer goods
constipated by warehouses
with goods that just must move
swollen with inflammation
and cancerous economic growth
In a bow to surrealism, and the cabaret series of new and alternative art he hosted at the Seligmann studio in Sugar Loaf, New York, Seaton presents a sort of alter ego in this section called Lama Swine Toil. He’s presented as the “Surrealist chaplain” who satirically dissects the misleading lure of gurus and spiritual leaders, and the false sense that any of us mortals can contain and offer divine wisdom. His disdain for such faux personas is clear in these lines from The Old Lama:
My master said that he became a lama in order to avoid selling
snacks in the market. As good a reason, he thought, as any.
He puts a final, hard stop to it with this proclamation from the comically titled The Lama’s Parable of the Not-OK Corral:
Suddenly he heard from behind the voice of the cosmos, deep
and unmistakable,
“Drop your ego on the ground right there, I’ve got you
And he knew the jig was finally up.
With no conclusive words to placate our desire for resolutions, we are left with an acceptance of an ultimately unknowable and fluctuating dynamic but one which we all share. Herein lies the solace of capitulation to our common experience. As Seaton sums up in these lines from Apothegms of the Backbrain:
In the end we all are in the same boat, and we know it has
sprung a leak, and we hold hands in dread and in this way our
comfort and our fear are as one.
The final section of Planetary Motions is Translations, which treats us to a host of work by poets from various cultures and historical time periods aptly rendered by Seaton’s expert and intuitively inspired interpretations. These translations serve to further underscore the connectivity of the human experience in what is essentially a global home of shared commonality undiminished by language or locale. Planetary Motions shows us that Seaton is a true citizen not only of the planet but perhaps of other worlds as well.
You can find the book here: Planetary Motions
Karen Corinne Herceg graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University with a B.A. in Literature/Writing and has graduate credits in editing, revision and psychology. Her first volume of poetry is Inner Sanctions, and her second volume, Out From Calaboose, was published in Fall 2016 by Nirala Publications. She publishes poetry, prose and essays in a variety of magazines and literary journals, including American Book Review, Compulsive Reader, North of Oxford, LiveMag!  https://www.karencorinneherceg.com/

All the Rage by Rosamond S. King


By Greg Bem

All the Rage is an outstanding book, capturing the moment of the pandemic, the fight for Black lives, and the movement to understand emotion and life within the borders of our everyday life. It is a book divided into seven sections, and each section could feel like its own book, and the entirety wrapped together feels ecstatic and boundless. Rosamond S. King is not only a storyteller but a mediator of truths, a gateway into the archetypes being born today. This is a book that, like the recent work by Claudia Rankine and Divya Victor, captures a contemporary feminist approach to discontent within America, and also follows in the radical, performative Black poetics of Douglas Kearney, Terrance Hayes, and Tyehimba Jess.

This book is for
you, whether you quarantine
stuffing your face
or (and) reorganizing drawers

(from “This book / is for you,” page 1)

The book opens matter-of-factly, inviting the reader into a world of quarantine and the mundane. It is from this stable beginning that King leaps off the edge into the known and unknown simultaneously. This leap, this dive through text and literary spirit, is done with subtle critiques to and amendments of style and standard formatting. Take “America the beautiful,” an early poem in the book’s opening section. “Beautiful” is left uncapitalized. The poem’s punctuation is highlighted, emphasized as taking on importance akin to the words themselves. The poem ultimately moves from a focus on lines of beauty to lines of bondage:

. True
, some never make it out, but while they’re here, we
distract them with baubled accessories and bubbled beverages

(from “America the beautiful,” page 6)

King is concerned with flow, and the absence of flow. Or its interruption. The following poem, “Etymology of a Scream,” calls forth Yoko Ono’s tweet during the 2016 election. But this is not a poem about 2016 so much as it is a poem about now, about always. Amidst the subtle narrative, King writes: “. Mourn those who came / before and the absence among those who / remain.” (page 8).

As with any astute, mature and conscious poetry, King is able to balance between trauma and reconciliation, between wound and insight. It may take patience, but the reader can follow this volume and find the ends of the spectrum readily available from page to page. In “21st Century Goddamn,” King morosely writes: “Everybody knows / not every body / gets out of this alive” (page 15), alluding to the murders of Black lives from slavery to Baltimore to Staten Island to Cleveland (and so on, and so on). Pages later, the meditative sway of the pendulum: “Breathe / . As in what if / the shadow is gold / en? Breathe.” (from “Avante-Garde Is a Term of War,” page 24). The subtle art of the poet is one that bears multiple waves of resonance and multiple contexts of control over image, feeling, and time. King captivates without sacrificing a serious investigation into public and personal relations with violence over social brutality (a la white supremacy) and a personal, focused process of grief.

All the Rage is not a book that “ends” or finds resolution within its covers. The book, as rage, captures rage in its many forms. As such, there is a very intense and beautiful disintegration that occurs as the book evolves from beginning to end. A prominent interplay and exchange with words and their cores emerges, revealing not flaw but remarkably vulnerable risk-taking in language:

desire lead yu by the nose hairs, promising
love and panic just there
just beyond   desire will drown yu
an as liquid becomes pummeling wave

(from “Sunshine Sigh, page 96)

An emphasis on deconstruction within voice and tone recalls Toni Morrison and other fantastic and fantastically raw writers whose words will not be forgotten. King’s work here is unforgettable. It lingers, awash with the permanence only humanity can provide, with witness, with observation, with the capturing of our flight and our ongoing struggle to know flaws and pain, and growth.

You can find the book here: https://nightboat.org/book/all-the-rage/

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



Palm Lines by Jonathan Koven

palm lines
By Lynette G. Esposito
Palm Lines by Johnathan Koven published by Toho Publishing LLC in Philadelphia is an interesting tome of forty-nine pages of poems that flow like stories in a guided stream.  The poems are complex in both imagery and interpretive meaning which makes the reader want to take a second or third read to discover how it all fits together.
For example, the three-stanza poem on page thirteen Drowned in the Eye of the Equinox, uses the narrative of a beast suffering from rabies who is affected by nature in ways acknowledged by an insane thinker.  If the reader interprets the beast to be a season, it takes on a whole different set of possibilities.
                            The moon opens.  My eyes rotate
                              to reproach my insides.
                              The pith’s fumes sing, Reduce me,
                              with their sour breaths.
                              A new month has come, another
                              empty emblem of resurrection.
What is the narrator seeing?  It is night and this poem places the reader in the forest but it does not feel safe.  The image of the moon opening and the eyes rotating sets a tone of eerie doom.
This is the first stanza of this macabre poem and it sets the time, tone. and place.  The second stanza is more specific on what the place looks like and also hints at the time of year.
                              Pines and oaks starve thin;
                              horizon or blanket of cinder,
                              it does not matter anymore.
                             More shadow has spilled over
                             from dawn. Old rain covers
                             everything until tomorrow.
The third stanza closes the poem with a suggestion of coming sorrow from planting the rabid seed in a child or the impression that the season and/or the child is the rabid seed.
                          The season dies a rabid animal,
                          Hiccupping, seizing, Remember me.
                           I cannot be careful tonight,
                           my fire extinguished:
                           a crying child,
                           a seed.
The poem is certainly open for interpretation.  Who or what is the narrator and is the seed implanted or is the child the seed and the seed of what, the season or the Equinox?  The imagery works well and is fresh. Endings and beginnings are skillfully mixed together. The tone of the poem is surprising calm for all that is happening on the night the moon opens.
Another poem of similar complexity is Photograph of Visible Light on page thirty-six.
                              A small family
                              sits in my heart, quiet
                              at a kitchen table
                              in darkness
                             One bird
                             speaks outside the window
                             They listen
                             The lonely child lingers long
                             Does it hurt less
                             if I sleep?
                            The question’s answer
                            holds no promise
                            of ever being known.
The poem has created a visible scene inside the narrator’s heart and it is drenched in apprehension. The poem does not answer but suggests and Koven creates a complexity of interpretation that asks the reader to seek the promise of knowing.
The book is divided into three parts following the lines of the palm:  Life Line, Heart Line, and Head Line.  The book also has impressionistic visuals in full color with dominant colors of blue and gray. I particularly like this book because the images and concepts are fresh and interesting. Koven has skillfully intermingled the common with the extraordinary and this volume is a pleasure to read.
 Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

Blue Swan Black Swan – The Traki Diaries by Stephanie Dickinson

blue swan

By Lynette G. Esposito

Stephanie Dickinson has cleverly used the prose poem form to reflect diary entries of a tragic narrator.  Published by The Bitter Oleander Press of Fayetteville, New York, the sixty-six- page tome is strong on place, emotion and image.

The book has five sections which are characterized by places.  The five sections:  Salzburg. Vienna, Berlin, Galicia, and Grodek.  Dickinson adds time as well as place in the titles and a linear time line throughout until you reach the final sections of 1914.  She also uses a linear time technique in Salzburg, 1887 where she details personal items about George Traki, 1887-1914. that influences the poetry being presented.

On page fifteen, Dickinson begins her two- stanza prose poem with The Linden trees take on a wilt.  The tone is set. The second stanza begins, Morning drags on. Again, Dickinson combines poetic skill in linking place with time.  All through this first poem are details setting the scene presented as if these are diary entrees that are logical, emotional and personal.  This first poem captures the reader completely.

The tone changes in the second section called Vienna and the time is 1909.  The first poem in this section on page twenty-nine is The Wine-Hunt.  It is a one-stanza poem that begins: Vienna, 1909.  Two days asleep.  Dickinson’s narrator gives time and action as if it is a notation to the self. The narrator speaks of extreme drunkenness and a sky full of piss.  The poem reads like a self evaluation of one’s condition and in this poem, the self- evaluation is negative.  The narrator puts his fingers to his nose and smells the piss. Dickinson skillfully causes the reader to not only see the narrator’s condition but to relate to it through the senses.

In the third section, Berlin, the poem Snow on page forty-one begins 1912. Tavern night and the serving girl’s shoulders sag….  Again, Dickinson has placed the reader as both the observer and as participant in this one- stanza poem.  This sweet girl nudges the narrator out into the snow and the many cruel things that happen to a drunk in the cold.

All the poems in this book are prose poems of different lengths but written with great detail and sensitivity. The book is an interesting and complicated read but worth it.

You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781734653519/blue-swan-black-swan-the-trakl-diaries.aspx

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.