poetry collection

Pavement by Rustin Larson

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By Lynette Esposito

Rustin Larson’s poetry volume, Pavement, is more than slim with only 14 poems but it is also more than powerful.  When I read the last poem on page 33, I wanted more; it can’t be over already.  I was left on the pavement struggling, visualizing and wishing I was not stuck in “nowhere.”  Larson’s tight focus, innovative literary technique, and clearly defined imagery lead the reader down his many forms of pavement.

Larson provides a tight focus on the image of pavement in each of his fourteen poems as well as entitling this tome Pavement.   Each poem is entitled Pavement with a number after it going from Pavement 1 to Pavement 14. This almost over focus works well here as the starkness of the multiple references and suggestions are revealed.  In Pavement 1, the narrator observes a man in a bathrobe smelling of urine coming into the health shop

where he has gone for a cup of barley soup.  The poetic lines are unevenly set up in length and indention which I like in the flow of this one-stanza poem.  The suggestion of a health shop where one can pay to be healthy but turns someone obviously unhealthy and desperate out to the pavement serves as irony at its best especially when the clerk goes to wash her hands after touching his bathrobe.

In creating his poems, Larson uses standard literary techniques and images in innovative ways.  Diane Frank, author of Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines comments …

Pavement breaks into new territory.  Larson, for example, says in Pavement 5, The Pallbearer has a rat’s tongue. So many suggestions of what this means almost assail the reader’s imagination and visualizations of funerals he/she has attended.  Just like Larson says in Pavement 4, Things we play with at home and mentions matches.  The settings of funerals and home are places the reader has been and felt secure in but the images take the readers out of that “comfort” zone. While Larson uses standard stanza formats, he fiddles successfully with line length and spacing to allow his meaning and images to form a visual of stepping and sidestepping on the underlying pavement.

Another example of Larson’s use of innovative imaging is In Pavement 13.   Larson says Part of you drinks sunlight.  This is a life story of a Norfolk Pine with a dream and hope about life. The metaphor extends beyond the seedling to anyone who has wanted to amount to something with the exception of being an overworked accountant.

All I can say is I loved this book and I am thirsty after reading it.  I want more.

Rustin Larson is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA in writing. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, North American Review and others.  He is the author of Wine-Dark House (Blue-Light Press 2009) and Crazy Star (selected for the Loess Hills Book Poetry Series in 2005. He has also won many prizes for his work.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Pavement-Rustin-Larson/dp/1421837781

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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

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Sidebend World by Charles Harper Webb

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By Charles Rammelkamp

The title poem of Charles Harper Webb’s new collection is an apt metaphor for his poetic vision. “When I lean to my right, left arm stretched / over my head…” the poems begins: all sorts of fresh angles and relationships appear. “All cars / in the condo parking lot incline.” What else? “All waves / tilt as they roar toward shore….” Charles Harper Webb looks at the world from a unique perspective, reminding us of Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” With refreshing, original metaphors and vivid language, Webb tilts our vision as well.  And his poems are often just so funny!

Take the poem, “Rain Stick,” sprung from the contemplation of one of those long hollow tubes filled with pebbles or beans, pins arranged in the inside of the tube so that when you upend it, it sounds like rain, and “you feel released,

as if the clenched world has relaxed, yielding
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to tears, orgasm, the laughing relief that soaks you
when the lab test comes back negative.
Its reprieve, resuscitation, the stopped breath
re-starting before a single brain cell dies,
the baby splooching out as the uterus sighs.
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 And you thought it was just a stocking stuffer or a tchotchke! So many of the poems in Sidebend World – and throughout Webb ‘s work generally – spring from these casual observations of mundane objects we might normally overlook – “Dominion of Blue” about the Galapagan booby made famous by Charles Darwin; “Box of Butterflies” with its curious observations (“Monarch: orange and black Majesty to which I bowed, seeing you / flap, frantic, on my killing jar’s drenched throne.”); “Bait Ball,” a poem shaped like an ornament on the page, “Not really round, but / suitable for bouncing.” He notes later in the poem: “London, to the / Luftwaffe, was a bait ball.” “The Woman on the Cover of Glamour Magazine” “so full of tigress-in-bed- / and tyrant-in-the-boardroom.”

Of course, “monsters” and “heroes” both get a slightly different look, too, in Webb’s sidebend world. In “Here Be Monsters,” he dismisses Cave Bear, Saber Tooth, Scylla, Charybdis,  Dracula. “Now monster means the flippered child, / the protoplasmic blob.” “Monster’s // a murderer with bulging, jailhouse arms. / A job-search agency. An energy drink.”  Monster is the disfigured prom queen burned up in an accident with a drunk driver, the one “every boy wanted, just last year / to kiss.”  The poem, “You Don’t Want to Meet the Ai-Uru” takes another sideways look at a monster, and “Fear Factor,” a satire on Reality TV, similarly describes a rescue gone wrong, despite the hero’s “class-president grin.”

Which indeed takes us to heroes. In “Meanwhile, back on Mt Olympus…” we get Webb’s amusing take on Achilles and the limping god Hephaestus who makes his shield. In Webb’s sidebend world they seem like ordinary people, if only because he elevates us all to the status of “hero.” “Hero Food” riffs on an instruction from Food Styling for Photographers that is its epigraph. For although we need heroes more than the Greeks did, what we get is “Kenny Carrot leading the Allied Vegetables / against the merciless axis of Tooth Decay,” as Webb’s imagination takes us laughing all the way through a Homeric epic of the staging of a photoshoot for canned corn.  (Take “canned corn” in both senses!)

But he can also be empathetic in his sardonic way, displaying a real tenderness for his son. In “Emergency” we see him and his wife overcome with despair as they have visions of the boy’s life “leaking away” to some mysterious disease. “Barred / from the spinal test for meningitis  – “Can’t have fathers / passing out!” – I roam the halls, dodging other dads’ dead eyes.” In “Nice Hat” he watches his son trying to master skateboarding, knowing the boy is “too thought-bound ever // to dissolve into pure speed. The jabs of “I might / fall,” “I’ll look bad,” “It’ll hurt,” punch / through his guard, bloodying his nose….” Yet he protects his son from the “mohawked thug” who calls him “Dickweed.” How protective we are when we see our loved ones are so vulnerable!

The best of Webb’s poems are the ones like “A Far Cry from Eli Whitney” and “Down the Bayou” that start us out in one place but by the time they’re over have taken us someplace totally unexpected. ”Hey, The Sopranos / are on TV!” he writes in “Down the Bayou.” “Five minutes in I’m calling guys // “Frankie the Frog” and “Lenny Lasagna,” / swigging vino, yelling “Fugedabout it”…” and only a stanza later, having caught a snatch of “She Loves You” on the stereo, he’s “tromping / through cold Liverpool rain, winking at birds, / all of whom I’ve shagged, and now call Luv.

Sidebend World is Charles Harper Webb’s twelfth collection of poetry. Any of them will take you inside, outside, sideways down with, as one critic puts it: “compassionate intelligence and an abiding wonder at the beautiful strangeness of the world.” Amen.

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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Sidebend-World-Poetry-Charles-Harper/dp/0822965615/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538521669&sr=1-3

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

What Narcissism Means to Me by Tony Hoagland

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By Stephen Page
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After I read What Narcissism Means to Me, I wished I had chosen The Donkey Gospels.  Glancing through the other, after I read the first, I sense more immediacy.  Nonetheless, I arbitrarily chose to study Narcissism, will accept my choice, and thus I shall report.  It’s a great book.  A good read.  The structure is interesting, with America, Social Life, Blues, and Luck as titles of the four sections, as if that were the hierarchy from top to bottom for self identity.  The poems are narrated sarcasticly, ironically, self-loathingly.  The point of the collection is to show that when the self is the center of the universe and the ego presides over community and society, problems arise—racism, dictatorships, presidents taking self-motivated actions without concern for the people.  Hoagland portrays the narrator, the “I” of the poems, as narcissistic, but this is aptly a tool for pointing out the fallibilities of narcissism rather than a point-of-view for confessional poetry.  Well done, Mr. Hogland.  I especially liked the poem the second section is named after, “Social Life”:
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            After the first party peters out,
            Like the gradual slowdown of  a merry-go-round
another party begins
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            and the survivors of the first party
climb onto the second one
                        and start it up again
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                        Behind me now my fiend Richard
                        Is getting a fresh drink; Ann, in her black dress,
                        Is fanning her breasts; Cynthia is prancing
                        From group to group,
                                                            Making kissy-face—
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                        It is not given to me to understand
                        The social pleasures of my species, but I think
What they get from these affairs
Is what a bee gets from flowers—a nudging of the stamen.
…..
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                        What I like about the tree is how
                        They do not talk about the failure of their parents
                        And what I like about the grasses is that
                        They are not grasses in recovery
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                        …because silence is always good manners
                        and often a clever thing to say
                        when you are at a party.
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All introverts can relate to this poem, all observers, all insightfuls.  Much of social life is childish, ridiculous, pretentious, an act, yet, it is probably natural for human species to behave this way.  Those who do not find it natural to socialize sometimes resort to the readily available drug alcohol.  Hoagland does offer a suggestion.  Listen.  Don’t act.  Don’t expound.  Make an appearance but do not lose the egoless self for the self that needs to be socially accepted.

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You can find the book here: https://www.graywolfpress.org/books/what-narcissism-means-me

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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.

https://smpages.wordpress.com

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Logos by Gil Fagiani

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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In the 161 page soft cover poetry book, Logos by Gil Fagiani, the reader learns from Fagiani himself in an author’s note that his poetry is of the people.
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                          This poetry of the people, this song of the streets, has been
                           the most influential element in my literary pursuits, and why
                           my first impulse has been to write about the world with addiction
                           and treatment by means of poetry rather than prose.
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This book fulfills Fagiani’s literary pursuit..  For example, his poem Believer on page 15 is only one stanza but powerful in both image and storyline.
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                          On a muggy
                          fly-filled day
                          inside a courtyard
                          reeking of diapers,
                          mice-filled glue traps,
                          take-out tins of rice and beans,
                          he stands behind a long line
                          of sick junkies
                          until it’s his turn
                          to push his last ten-dollar bill
                          through a hole in the wall,
                          convinced
                          a dynamite sack of dope
                          is going to be pushed back.
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The title suggests faith but takes an ironic tact on the “belief” of an addict with a questionable outcome for the deliverance of a product that would allegedly lift his spirits. The language used is clear and common in a setting that speaks of squalor and desperation.

Fagiani divides the tome into sections Shooting Dope with Trotsky, White Uncle Tom, Siding with the Enemy, and A Single Spark.  These titles also represent Fagiani’s approach to heal the reader with street song and poetry. Jose’ B. Gonzales, Ph.D., editor of Latinostories.com, says: This collection is full of lyrical grit. In the first section, Shooting Dope with Trotsky, Fagiani uses images in the poems talking about the black section of town, anti-poverty volunteerism in Harlem and skin popping until he almost ODs. In the section, White Uncle Tom, Fagiani tells the stories of an interview in the South Bronx, the feds busting Mikie for a pound of pure in his trunk, and teaming up with a girlfriend to scam guys.  The gritty storylines represent imperfect lives in imperfect and desperate situations.

In Siding with the Enemy, Fagiani shows a party group made up of Black, White,  and Puerto Rican men walking arm in am down a street in an Italian neighborhood singing at the top of their lungs until the narrator realizes they could get hurt and they need to leave the neighborhood when bottles start flying and exploding. A Single Spark shows situations in the subway, in the bedroom and behind the Paradise Theater with the play on words successfully executed.  The subjects, the storylines and the images use their figurative eyes to look directly into the face of reality.

The book is a  pleasurable read especially if you like looking at images that aren’t afraid to roll in the dirt and stand up to shake it off.

Gil Fagiani has many poetry collections to his credit including A Blanquito in El Barrio, Chianti in Connecticut, and Stone Walls.  He was a social worker and worked in a Psychiatric hospital and a drug rehab program in downtown Brooklyn.

The book is available from www.guernicaeditions.com

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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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

 

Sideways Blues – Irish Mountain & Beyond by Carl Kaucher

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By g emil reuter

Carl Kaucher is not a poet who walks. Kaucher is a wanderer. Often from the foot of Irish Mountain in Temple, Pennsylvania to the sometimes familiar, often forgotten urban landscapes of southeastern Pennsylvania. From city to dusty borough, to boroughs on the rebound. Kaucher wanders the main streets, back streets and alleyways, ever the observer, ever the recorder.

This collection of 32 poems bring the reader into the geography and characters who inhabit these places, many on the margins of life. A realist, Kaucher writes in the second stanza of the first poem:

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My altar is alternative form
meditated since before I was born.
Sometimes I dream of silence
and pray for it’s return
Life is far simpler than I know
when I let go of my self.
Drifting on an empty street
I am hoping to be filled with lost.
In giving away, I am not taking.
In living my way, I am not faking.
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He writes of the intercity bus station, of the dirty socks of damnation, of life along the railroad tracks, of street preachers and when he wanders into a neighborhood where his appearance is different than those who occupy the corner, they look upon each other suspiciously in the mirror of distrust.
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Kaucher tells of his love of nature while on a park bench in the opening stanza of 16:
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Far side of nowhere
under cool shade of pin oak
singing the park bench blues
to the cello sounds
of cicada whorls
that mesmerize me deep
to the sonic rhythm
sonata of August.
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This well-crafted collection pulsates with the rhythm of the hard side of life as in the 2nd and 3rd stanza of 4:
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Hard stepping down streets
rhythmic to a four count beat.
Passing through pools of dark
Carrion shadow- into my self
into meditation – emptiness.
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Thoughts come to pass as memory
Then fall into the gutter
to someday be washed away
down sewers into streams
and into the seas of dream.
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Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella published by New York Quarterly Books is a good end of summer read for lovers of poetry. The broad range of themes presented in everyday language gives a sense of deep understanding of relationships between nature, humans and the overall the culture we live in.
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An example of nature and how one reacts is the last poem of this soft cover volume, My Rain, which creates an ending to the lushness of the warmer months and how one can interpret something as common as rain in an individual way.
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My Rain
                                          does not whip the ground
                                          from under me.
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                                          Falls straight
                                                    As a sheet.
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                                          Ends at dawn
                                             in a mist that lingers
                                             over blades of grass.
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I like the technique of using the title in a dual function of being the title as well as the first line of the poem.  Although the poem has a lyrical sense to it, its directness and clarity expands the image of how perspective on even drops of rain can change a person. The uneven lines contribute to the visualization of the unevenness of rain drops.
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This direct and clear approach is all through the book when the narrator remembers her relationship with her father on page 27, Father, fix it, please. The poem opens with The dark befriends me here in the basement.  Lisella has given the reader a place that is usually unfriendly and often scary and makes it into the safe and wonderful memory of her father’s workshop where anything can be repaired.
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The relationship to our culture is shown on page 57 when she reveals some issues with being short in her poem Lethal.   Lisella’s last line draws the poem to a close on the subject of being short: lethal, small and ready to spring.  The poem gives images of what it means to be small but gives power to the petite of the world using the common denominator of ballet and turning that suggestion and perhaps negative of being diminutive into power.
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In another cultural reference, she speaks of war in her poem Just Boys on page 79 by showing three tombstones of boys who fought the other boys.  The opening line is so strong, The sun is about to slip below the grass, that one can feel a graveyard shiver.  She speaks of taking pictures as if they could record silence. In the space she has led the reader to, we stand in a dead and quiet war zone of the past but in the present.
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The volume is divided into four parts headed by Roman numerals.  The 100 page tome covers a wide range of themes drawn from everyday life and presented in both long and short poems.  Although the poems are direct and clear, many of them I wanted to read again and again because of the way they made me feel.
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Maria Lisella is the Poet Laureate of Queens for 2015 to 2018. Her work has appeared in Amore on Hope Street, Two Naked Feet and many literary journals including Fox Chase Review and New Verse News.  She holds an MA in specialized Journalism from NYU-Polytechnic University. She is also a travel writer and editor and has had her work recognized in South Africa, Italy and France.
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The book is available from www.nyq.org
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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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.
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The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis by Luisa Igloria

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Review by Robbi Nester

Recently, I watched an episode of the Netflix series The Chef’s Table featuring the sublime cuisine of a South Korean Buddhist monk who resides in a monastery in the forest, where she cooks for her community as well as for visitors who come from all over the world to taste those dishes. The food she prepares, her words, and everything about her embodies the teachings of Buddhism.

The multiple avatars of the Buddha in Luisa Igloria’s collection of poetry The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (Phoenicia Publishing) have not yet reached this monk’s advanced stage of enlightenment. They have not retreated from the world to serene sanctuaries, but live out their lives in the midst of the chaos the rest of us must negotiate every day, and yet these poems, like the dishes the monk prepares, are perfect embodiments of a Buddhist practice.

In “The Buddha considers with all seriousness,” the Buddha shops for ice cream in a convenience store, where she considers “[t]he vanity of decisions that revolve around desire.” Though the speaker in this poem, as in so many others, is the Buddha, this desire is not theoretical. The poem and the poet are clearly attached to the world of the senses. These poems embrace that world and evoke it with great care.

At the same time, they take up the challenge embodied by Buddhist philosophy, finding a way to unite it with poetry, which on the surface seems incompatible with the notion that desire and the senses, the concrete things that make up the substance of poetry, are but illusions. The speaker in “Ghazal with Cow burial” wonders about the after-life of a cow: “The cow that in this life was cow, does it remain the same? Does it dream/ of feathered grass in the fields, of gnats, the low symphony of fellow-cows//chewing their cud?” Poetry without the body is hard to imagine. What does it mean to be oneself when all the particulars this entails have gone? The very act of pondering this insoluble riddle presents an act of meditation.

Similarly, in “The last temple in the north,” the speaker, clearly a teacher of literature like Igloria herself, muses on the odd parallels between postmodern theory and Buddhist philosophy. Post-structuralist theory reduces language to illusion, indefinitely deferring meaning, yet, the poet insists, “[o]nce we understand we have nothing, then and only then can we understand poetry,” the word “deconstructed into fearful significance.”

In one poem after another, the various incarnations of the Buddha undertake the mundane tasks of everyday life, going on the Internet, filling out job applications, and dealing with the same annoyances the rest of us face. Yet on top of these everyday frustrations, this Buddha has others. Igloria elaborates the down side of a life of absolute compassion. The Buddha, open to the suffering of every living creature, suffers from chronic migraines and also psychic pain of another sort. To that end, she seeks out a therapist.

Privy to the Buddha’s worries, we find him fretting about the possibility of resolving doctrine with one’s emotions, as in “The Buddha listens,” where the speaker wonders “How is it possible to cultivate detachment/at the same time that one practices compassion?” Yet elsewhere, in “The Buddha is a wallflower,” we find the speaker practicing this very skill, listening intently to another’s reminiscence and remarking “how a memory not even his can offer a spark undiminished by the years.” This is radical empathy, the ability to identify totally with another, an ability as prized among poets as among practitioners of Buddhism.

Despite the fact that these embodiments of the Buddha live among us and sometimes suffer as we do, Igloria reminds us in “Innervate” that we carry within us our own retreat, the “little hilly village” of the brain,”criss-crossed/by winding trails and nestled like an egg/in a walled-off fortress.”  It is to this redoubt where the speaker of “The Buddha picks up a call without first checking caller ID” retreats in his response to a telephone sales call, using a tactic that is at once straightforward and ingenious. Rather than simply hanging up, thus inviting further calls from the persistent sales-bot, the Buddha answers this person’s questions about life-insurance with tenets of Buddhist philosophy, such as “The goal/ of all life is the movement toward greater/and greater enlightenment, which is the freedom at last/from suffering and illusion.”

As this example suggests, Igloria both charms us with humor and gorgeously crafted poetry and embodies Buddhist concepts that can so often resist words. Whether you have never read the work of this poet or have followed her work regularly, treat yourself to this book.

 

You can find the book here: http://www.phoeniciapublishing.com/the-buddha-wonders.html

 

Robbi Nester frequently reviews books of poetry. She is the author of a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and three collections of poetry: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and a forthcoming book, Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag).