poetry book review

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.
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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.

Seven Floors Up by Cati Porter

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By Stephen Page

Cati Porter’s Seven Floors Up is about wifehood, womanhood, and most expressively, adulthood.  Porter reveals in varied forms of verse the roles of a contemporary married mother.

            The narrator of the poems has a husband, two children, a cancer-ridden dog, a mother, a stepmother, a mother in law, and a couple of people in her extended family who are terminally ill.  She often reflects on how she got to where she is, and in her everyday occurrences she inadvertently divulges to the reader that being an adult means accepting responsibility and not showing that you are falling apart inside.  Protecting her children from every day scrapes and falls is big on her list of things to do.  To keep her life from getting heavy, she often looks for and finds the humorous things in her life.

This is a well-written book containing a good combination of serious and funny poems.  It is an interesting read for anyone.

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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Floors-Up-Cati-Porter/dp/093241267X

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

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

Radio Poems by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

radio poems
Review by Karen Corinne Herceg
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Jeffrey Cyphers Wright is one of the proper heirs to the famed New York City poets of Manhattan’s grittier, exhilarating literary scene. He received an MFA in Poetry having worked with Allen Ginsberg at Brooklyn College and studied with Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley at the legendary St. Mark’s Poetry Project. He also taught there and served on its Board. Wright has been at the helm of several publications and currently produces Live Mag! A visual artist as well as a poet, writer and reviewer, he carries the mantle of respected literary giants upon his shoulders with grace and continued innovative fervor. Radio Poems harkens back to the rhythms of eccentric, challenging city streets, artistic enclaves and cutting edge airwaves. This work is part of The Operating Systems’ Chapbook Series now in its fifth year, and the series rightly encourages experimentation.
These poems operate on multiple levels. They not only entertain us, they work hard to encourage our brain cells to engage with disparate imagery and crossfire perceptions. These concisely compiled pieces remain expansive and rich while employing consistent economy of words. Multiple voices add color and varied perspectives, and each poem stands on its own merit. We can “turn the dial” and find a new revelation on every page, absorbing smart dissections and magical leaps. Still, as a collection, Radio Poems is cohesive, linked in both theory and practice with solid expression both thematically and specifically.
There is a startling combination of reality and surrealistic interpretation in Wright’s work. Think of the postcard snapshot these lines evoke:
            Let’s take our love to town,
            golden sun-canyoned angles
            of Manhattan filling the distance
            between unmoving street chasms. (P. 20, ll. 1-4)
We move from station to station with “broadcasts” of advice, announcements, opinions, ads and observations. Some of these poems deliver like musical impressions as in the Gershwinesque “let’s meet” with its light litany of suggestions that banter back and forth like a symphonic tennis match:
            Let’s meet in Chinatown
            at Confusion Square.
            Let’s go shopping for new
            fall outfits at Herald Square. (P. 27, ll. 1-4)
Similar to a proverbial DJ, Wright announces, “Spin me. Put your finger/in and dial—like an/old black rotary phone” (P. 16, ll. 11-13). He has a remarkable ability to keep messages clear within a framework of classic, realistic yet imaginary proclamations, rendering them all authentically.
            He begins the poem “Al Qaeda on the western front” with these tongue-twisting lines of alliterative mastery that bring us up sharply in the fourth line. There is an ominous feeling lurking between the words like a news anchor’s clever announcement:
            The last locust leaves leave
            their last lashes of gold
            crackling in whip-crisp
            blue November glare. (P. 11, ll. 1-4)
There are sparkling and delightful phrases that prompt us to alternately smile or solemnly reflect such as “…a dancer holds her/arms and weaves/the music into shape” (P. 17, ll. 23-25) and “This is how the dead dance/hoping for a second chance” (P. 24, ll. 7-8). There is a serious underpinning to this work, despite often easy top layers of incisive humor. As Wright warns, “The odyssey is not easy./Blows crown every turn” (P. 25, ll. 9-10). Contemporary angst meets ancient myth suggesting a timeless feeling and a summons to seek lofty goals without pretense as in these final lines from “Look. See.” with periods in the title definitive and commanding that ask us to “See if you can be/the one to pull the sword free” (P. 30, ll. 13-14).
Wright can invert meanings succinctly yet with complicated implications as in the terse concluding line of the poem “No Questions Asked” that proclaims, “Always invent the truth” (P. 28, l. 14). It seems less avoidance and more of an imperative to dig for integrity at all costs. Here we have an original voice that seeks liberation through language and challenges our impressions and observations, attempting to decipher how we communicate in the world between the mind and the voice.
            There are essential declarations here, and Wright tells us he is “Having my way with/the airwaves” (P. 12, ll. 6-7). We hear familiar phrases with a new ear, often wrought out of context, to bring the customary into the extraordinary thus extracting new meaning. And this is the poet’s obligation, after all, to render the old new, to elicit inventive and ingenious ways to see life afresh. Radio Poems is the work of a cutting-edge contemporary artist who honors history and heritage while keeping beat to a modern tempo with keen observations. It’s an imaginary ride to real places.
 
 
Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, reviews and essays.  A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with renowned writers Philip Schultz, David Ignatow, John Ashbery and William Packard. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose by Nirala Publications (2017).  She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

The Gospel of Barbecue by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

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Review by Stephen Page

Arriving late in the evening at the ranch house my collie greets me and I give him some raw meat I had brought with me.  I eat a sandwich and drink a glass of milk and go to bed with Honorée Jeffers’ The Gospel of Barbeque (a gift from Ed Ochester), a collection of poems mostly from southern black women points of view.  Each poem is from a different narrator, yet each is written in the first person.  Unique and imbued with ethos, the collection takes the reader into the souls of the repressed to look out upon the world with hope and tenacity.  Jeffers’ voice and style are exemplary. I read it several times and fall asleep around four in the morning.  I wake up early to the sound of rain tapping on the corrugated roof of my office (we have been in a dry spell).  I open a window so I can smell it, then sip a coffee at my desk while I journal and make a list of things to that day—edit a poem, edit the cover letter, meet the employees, walk about the ranch a bit and check on the state of the fattening calves and inspect the new water tank in lot eight.  I sit back and smile, and think how lucky I am to have this life.  Lucky, lucky, lucky.  Oh, did I tell you I read Gerald Stern last month?

You can find the book here: http://www.kentstateuniversitypress.com/2010/the-gospel-of-barbecue/

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

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

Stain by Nathalie Anderson

Stain
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Review by g emil reutter
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“The Silver Stain,” they called it, this medieval innovation—
silver nitrate fired onto glass, turning a white surface
sallow, citron, saffron, sulfur—the silver alchemically
aping gold: a crown, a wing, a head of hair, an apricot
or palomino. No longer did the glazier need to cut
a separate slice of yellow, but could tint and fire and tint again—
       -First stanza – Stain: Six Meditations on the Craft
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And so begins Nathalie Anderson’s Stain. The collection consists of four parts: “Stain”, “Wreckage”, “Crush”, and “Kyoto”. Like the craftsman noted in the above stanza, Anderson’s use of language in each section tints and fires and tints again.  
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In the poem Revelation – Shatterings at Canterbury she writes: If God is a light inaccessible, /a light beyond our comprehension, then/how shall mere eyes see? Pierce our walls/ with windows, but shade them, shade them. /At Chartres, / light seeps ruby, light pools sapphire. At Sainte Chapelle, /it’s dazzling as diamond, all lux and lumen, / splendor in the glass. Anderson has the eye of a mature poet as this stanza brings the stained glass to life in the word of the shading, of light seeps and lights pools of splendor in the beauty of the glass transformed once again on the page.
 
The section “Wreckage” brings to life the photograph album of Elize Hodges FitzSimons, an album kept during the Second World War. A master of images, Anderson’s Secret Heart is stunning, such as the second stanza:
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Why so mysterious? Against the dark,
Exuberance on exuberance: girls
who’d tell all. Friends like sister; sisters so close
they call each other always only “sister”; a man
grown so familiar, he’s wall, he’s furniture,
he’s shadow; a crowd so tight, who bothers with names?
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And again in the second stanza of Old Flame:
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The way he sits, canopied in forrest.
Live oak crowns him, crosses him; and Spanish moss
Scrawls over his white t-shirt, shawls his shoulders,
cauls his arm. She’s written by his picture, “Not
a cave man,” but he’s caverned, shadowed, primal.
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She brings the photograph to life for the reader with no need for the reader to view it. Her improvisational writing and deliberate use of imagery brings the photograph to life in words.
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The section “Crush” ends with an outstanding poem, Troll. The first stanza brings the reader under the bridge with the Troll.
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Troll under her bridge, raw from clawing up
her rankling, swollen green with grudgery,
feeling on her spine each splintery plank,
each trip trap tramp, each neat little goat’s hoof.
She’s a cat-fit rash for rocketing, back
Always up, hackles always bristling. She’s
the worm in your apple, thorn in your flesh.
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In the final section, Kyoto, Anderson brings the reader to Japan in a series of poems that confirms her position as both a realist and imagist. From the first stanza of Shisen-Do:
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For every slightest quaking leaf, a gardener
to lull and hush it. For every flighty gust of green,
a gardener to sleek it, clip the wing. For every spree
of branching limb, a gardener to rein it, bend
back the wrist, twist the arm in. No sprig evades
their balding, no frond their fondest scrutiny.
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Rakushisha
Poets’ Hut
House of Fallen Persimmons
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So quick, the cloud flung
over the garden, trailing
its beaded fringe, that
delicate pelting.
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Under the thunder,
falling suns, their heft
explosive, stormed to bursting:
coronas of succulence.
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And then the moon,
all pocks and rots and bruisings.
It softens on my window sill:
ghost fruit.
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Stain by Nathalie Anderson is lyrical with intense imagery driven by realism.
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter
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Versos de un Doctor Criollo (A Ranch Vet’s Verse) by Fernando M. Terrizzano

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Review by Stephen Page

While I was in a veterinary store in Lobos, a neighboring town twenty kilometers north of a ranch I was visiting, I noticed a stack of brown and red books on the corner of the display-case divider that divides the tellers from the customers. I picked up one of them and recognized the cover illustration as a Gustavo Solari, a local, and internationally famous, artist. The title of the book was “Versos de un Doctor Criollo” (“A Ranch Veterinarian’s Verses”), and it was written by Fernando M. Terrizzano, a veterinarian who lives on a ranch that borders the same river my friend’s ranch borders, El Río Salado (The Salty River). I didn’t even open the book to read a few of the poems. I just decided to support the local artists by purchasing the book. I am glad I did. What I like about the book is the quality of writing, the attitude of the narrator, and the vivid characterizations. Terrizzano reveals the rustic realities that accompany pastoral settings while portraying the ranch workers as human beings. As Bruce Chatwin said once, “If you can’t maintain the dignity of the people you are writing about, then you shouldn’t be telling their stories in the first place.” Many scenes in the book are Wild-Western. More importantly the book has Green Appeal, as the narrator watches pastures and wetlands transform into biosphere-poisoning mass agriculture.

The book is available by going to or contacting anyone in the veterinary office “La Ensenada” San Martin 8, Lobos Province- Buenos Aires.  Telephone  02227 – 42-2009.

 

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

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

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Seek the Holy Dark by Clare L. Martin

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Review by Karen Corinne Herceg
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A FIERCE HEART
 
            It may feel a bit unnatural to combine the words holy and dark, but all one needs to do is turn on the news and see well-intentioned people navigating a world of violence, and the realities of lives poised continually within antithetical forces, to realize it’s not such an unusual merger. This extends to our interior being as well since it reflects, on a microscopic level, what exists in a macroscopic equivalent. Clare L. Martin’s latest book Seek the Holy Dark: Poems was written with an intrepid pen and a fierce heart that knows all too well the many unbearable burdens of existence. A 2017 selection of the Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series by Yellow Flag Press, it embodies the inheritance of a melancholy, mixed history of those particular southern sensibilities, specifically the Franco-American descendants of colonial Louisiana, centralized in the legacies of New Orleans. It’s a rich blend of exotic architecture, authentic jazz music and Mardi Gras frenzy that belies a region fraught with ghost histories, voodoo stories, poverty and struggles evoked most recently in the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The region was always susceptible to natural disasters, rising back up on the strength of its people, its colorful history and its almost supernatural resilience. Clare L Martin seems very much a child of these legacies, internalized in unrelenting examination.
            The cover of the book is evocative, and artist Agnieszka Nowinska compels with deep reds and rich, vivid colors despite its ominous depictions of inverted imagery and swirling whirlpool warnings, and represents the poems well. Martin opens with the title poem of the book written “after Jo Ann Tomaselli’s ‘Birds & Fence’” (P. 8, epigraph). If you search this photograph, you will find a stark black and white picture of birds strung along a wire affixed to a weathered, wooden fence against a gray horizon. But the most remarkable thing about the photo is that these birds appear apart from one another, each perched in its own spot, together yet isolated. Martin states, “We only surmise the fence/contains a breadth/for one impenetrable/moment” (P. 8, ll. 4-7), the illusion of support and kinship evident. This is at the core of where these poems reside. There is a deep desire for meaning and connection that continues seeking despite overwhelming discouragements. Martin knows there are hidden answers within our shadow selves, and she searches for them relentlessly but, ultimately, with little resolution. From the sparse “The Hanging Woman” to prose poems like “Embellishments,” we see the futility of false absolutions for our transgressions. Deep catholic influences migrate from poem to poem in the disappointing promises of religious icons and symbols. In “Come, a Love Poem” she pleads, “Touch my brokenness/with your miracle/with your spit and mud, and I shall be healed” (P. 24, ll. 27-30). The plea is not to any deity but to a lover, in sexual union, a human connection, the poem inspired by photographer Brian Baiamonte’s “unclouded,” where clouds rest at the bottom of the photo like violent ocean waves with rays of sun breaking through above them. But these saviors rest on the surface and not in the depths of where we need to go to rescue ourselves. She observes, “We drop through this world/into dark awakening/we, the strong –hearted” (P. 13, ll. 19-21). And it takes a strong heart to plumb the subterranean wounds of our existence. Martin continues to search less than optimistically but forges ahead nevertheless while “Sobs bully our throats/Unique fears squirm in the gut/Only sex dispels the hour” (P. 25, ll. 18-20). And these poems are candidly sexual in shattering, visceral expression. These are no romantic visions. Martin fixes us with stark, vivid images such as “A dress is silent on the floor” (P. 14, l. 11), “…bruise-colored garments” (P. 17, l. 15) and perceived losses as in “Aftermath” when she states, “My old-woman womb/flutters with illusory children” (P. 19, ll.17-18) and “crown of thorns/my own heart/brambles and thorns/jag the aorta” (P. 21, ll. 23-26). Earthy and organic, the poems are palpably anatomical in references to bodies, blood and breath, the tools by which we interact and often measure meaning.
These are poems of mourning, regret, and loss. In “Phoenix,” a prose poem with an epigraph “for Kelly,” we have a woman as “Huntress, seductress, heathen and whore made new in body, new in word” (P. 39, ll. 15-16). We all return to the earth but, for Martin, it is as if we continually bury ourselves piece by piece even before our last breath. She has a way of seeing things in the present as already past and disappointing as she states in “Refuge” when she pleads: “Please, tonight, hold me/with the remembrance of light” (P. 43, ll. 8-9). In “Of the Gone Woman” we find a clue to Martin’s despair, the poem buried within the midpoint of the book. She names her mother “the Gone Woman” and remembers her mythological legacies and “bad magic” (P. 38, l. 14), stating almost accusingly, “Mother/you skimmed your finger/along my bone/and left a print/inside” (P. 38, ll. 18-22).  This poem is a scathing indictment of injurious maternal bequests and segues into further generations as in the poem “All This Remembering” where we meet a daughter:
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 My only child
stares me down
with hatred
while a tube is snaked
down her throat. A black
foaming slick of pill
fragments
drains out of her mouth— (P. 50, ll. 11-18)
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            It does not get much darker than this. Loss in subsequent relationships permeates the work in deep, thematic ways, expectations undercut by failure and bereavement: “We named ourselves after mountains/but forgot what shifted beneath us” (P. 40, ll. 17-18). In “Eiffel Tower, a Recollection of Paris, 1986” the iconic landmark is never visited as the narrator remains in bed with a stranger during her visit, resting in the shadows of the city, a reminder only “of what I missed” (P. 41, l. 3). And in “Refuge” she pleads, “Please, tonight, hold me/with the remembrance of light” (P. 43, ll. 8-9), the transitory, sad expectation of loss already anticipated. People appear as translucent outlines, not wholly flesh and grounded, gone before they actually leave as in “Seeing Through” when she observes, “Your shape embosses/the far line of the horizon” (P. 45, ll. 7-8). And in “The Artist and His Model” there is a cold, removed interaction between painter and subject, as if the replication of the model is more accessible and vivid than the actual woman.
            Poems such as “Thunder found me” are somewhat less original in expression but are more than compensated for in pieces like “What We Carry” that are sparse yet rich with imagery. There is a sense of constant opposition between people, desires and even the way Martin perceives the natural world as in “How it comes,” where she observes: “Today it came to me/as a bird; its wingbeat/light as a whisper, pecking/fruit in a verdant heart” (P. 36, ll. 21-24). We are alone yet still together like those birds on a fence, and our “shared transformation” seems to occur at the very point we leave our bodies. The poet “constellates with discorporate multitudes in harmonic undulations” (P. 61, ll. 29-30), as she states in “End Note” that concludes with “Holy holy holy” that is ultimately more of an imperative than a deterrent. Beyond the constant insistent hopelessness, there is “the Christ/that I need to believe in/that I am begging to take/a Lifetime’s desperation” (P. 21, ll. 17-20). But it is disconcerting, as if the narrator recognizes the shallowness of needing to believe as opposed to any genuine confidence or optimism.

Stark, unrelenting and uncensored pleas and imagery define these poems. Martin leaves nothing on the table, asking us to see the skin, bones, organs and very heart of darkness. She resides in the demi monde of duality, committed to the search, where those of us with resilient hearts and resoluteness will resolve to join her. .

You can find the book here: https://www.yellowflagpress.com/_p/prd15/4592458541/product/clare-l.-martin—seek-the-holy-dark

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Karen Corinne Herceg graduated Columbia University where she studied with David Ignatow and Pulitzer Prize winner Phil Schultz.  She has featured at major venues with such renowned poets as John Ashbery and William Packard. Her new book of poems, Out From Calaboose, was released in November 2016 by Nirala Publications with edits by Linda Gray Sexton, bestselling author and daughter of two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton.  Her website is www.karencorinneherceg.com.