poetry

Two Poems by Guinotte Wise

horse_hooves-resized-600
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Poet Lariat
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I’m not a Poet Laureate
of even a one-horse Kansas town
But. I’m a Poet Lariat
which is a poet with some dusty duct-taped boots
who drew some bulls at the here and there
jackpot rodeos in towns you never drove through.
I was committed to my horses, you can say that
about me if nothing else.
They lived their lives at Wise Acres,
good lives, too. They liked me fine,
and I was so fond of them. Good feed,
pasture, shots and care and ten thousand
mile checkups, no harsh words.
They came to me and dipped their heads
into their halters, stood for the farrier,
stood while I put my foot in the stirrup,
and I cried when they died. And I was
there. They knew that, cold and rain and
storms. I owed them that and more. They
talked to me, and I, to them, if you know
what I mean. A poet lariat would know.
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The Spoon Lady
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Time honored spoon play is what she
orchestrates with washboard, tin cups,
a bell or two sometimes, but her spoons
are magic and her hands dip and fly as
her instruments of choice create a cadence
I wish I could make my words snap and
clack and emulate, the click, the tang, the
perfect flow and flourish, but also the
birdlike hands that follow through and dive
along the jingle and the arabesque of ring
and ping and flick of metal bowls caressing
her sleeve, the back of her balletic hand and
chattering clattering with decisive pops on
the backbeat continuous flashing magick of
an Appalachian family playing to survive
another winter another coal mine cave-in
head of household rises flatfoots slowly
at first, his arms seem to float for balance
and his heel and toe match the spoons as
he gains speed no expression on his face
he is propelled by spoons and centuries
and the eerie harmony of an entire family
escaping through Wildwood Flower and
a boy on banjo as big as himself. The
spoons sound like lovely skeletons.
Dancing.
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GWBARN3
Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Five more books since. His fiction, essays and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Southern Humanities Review,  Rattle and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. (Until shelter in place order) Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com

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& Peacocks in Trees by Susana H. Case

peacocks
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& Peacocks in Trees
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& fog at night lingering
& a black bear with rope
strung through his snout
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& a boy pulling it
who offers to pose for photos
& what first seems
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to be furniture in a chai shop
but is a man
in rags asleep upright
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& a radio that plays only static
& everyone coughing coughing
& a tourist who brags in broken
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English of the fifty grams
of dope he smokes each day
& a night watchman
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who takes a bribe to unlock
a tower with a marble casket
& the Taj Mahal in moonlight
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before the workers shout
to open the massive doors
& the ghosts of suicides
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who jumped from the stairs
near the gateway
& the beggar who offers
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to leap into a well for rupees
who when I say no looks down
in disappointment
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photo--Susana H Case
SUSANA H. CASE is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Dead Shark on the N Train in 2020 from Broadstone Books. Drugstore Blue (Five Oaks Press) won an IPPY Award in 2019. She is also the author of five chapbooks, two of which won poetry prizes. Her first collection, The Scottish Café, from Slapering Hol Press, was re-released in a dual-language English-Polish version, Kawiarnia Szkocka by Opole University Press. Poems by Case have appeared in Calyx, Catamaran, The Cortland Review, Portland Review, Potomac Review, Rattle, RHINO and many other journals. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology in New York City.

Two Poems by Don Riggs

petals
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Archaic
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Yesterday when I was walking home
from making those essential purchases
that justify my walking out in the world,
and was listening to the trees seethe
with breath anticipating rain, I passed
a blossoming tree–after all, it’s spring–
suddenly caught up in a whirling wind
and I found myself surrounded by pink
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petals in a sudden dense flurry,
an unaccustomed sweet delicacy,
a fragrance meant ordinarily
for bees, to attract them to the nectar
that is the refined drink of the Greek gods
but the Greek gods are extinct now, so I
may as well get drunk on archaic fragrance.
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Last Wishes
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Back when he was my father-in-law, he
told my then-wife that if he ever lost
the use of his legs, he wanted to die.
Fortunately, or un-, he lost his mind
and saw strange spirits walking through the house
before that part of the brain that controls
the motor functions disintegrated.
When I last talked to Marta over the phone,
she and her mother were both exhausted
from packing all the furniture, dishes,
books, the machinery in Papa’s shop,
to be moved to the nursing home or sold.
That, and from caring for a sentient
metabolism without self control.
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  Don Riggs has been writing verses, if not poetry, since 1964, when he published some in The Pine Cone, newspaper of Pinecrest Elementary School. He has gone through periods of influence from Edward Lear to Longfellow to Dylan Thomas to James Wright to Emily Dickinson till now he writes ten syllables per line for fourteen lines. Count them! He writes each morning in the bath.
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Two Poems by William Taylor

sun-beneath-blanket-of-clouds-meghna

MEGHNA Meghna Art

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Blinking Beneath the Sun
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A little while back when they opened me up
to replace my faulty heart valve
and something went a little wrong, I don’t know.
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They installed the valve okay, but the two
chambers of my heart stopped talking
to each other and they had to give me
a temporary, and then a permanent pacemaker.
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I was semi-conscious when they installed the thing
and it was like listening to two guys at a discount
garage putting in a car battery:
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“Why you doing it that way? That’s not the way
I was taught to do it.”
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“That’s not how those wires go.”
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“O, fuck.”
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Anyway, I survived and I stand in front of the mirror
studying my scars. I don’t mind them as much
as I imagined I might.
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There’s, of course, the vertical one
from where they split apart my sternum,
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there’s a diagonal one on my upper chest
just below my left shoulder
where they put in the pacemaker
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and there are three little horizontal slits
where tubes protruded from my stomach.
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Most of the time I don’t think about it
but sometimes I remember that I am being kept alive
by some thing in my chest the size of an iPhone
that runs on batteries and wires
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and I freak out a bit.
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I feel like a Frankenstein
or a cyborg,
I feel like I’m already dead.
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I get nervous the same way
I get nervous when I fly
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because I think of how my life depends
upon some damnable contraption
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invented and slapped together by some random assholes.
Who’s to say they weren’t drunk or vengeful
or hungover when they tightened those screws?
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But then I get over it mostly because while I don’t
trust humans I trust god even less, so I figure
I’m as good as the next guy blinking beneath the sun
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waiting for his wires to snap or his
doohickey to sputter out for good
with all the warranties expired.
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Song
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We wait in the dark outside
the glow of trainwrecks
and the burning cities
we always knew
these things would find us
it’s just the broken sky
it’s just the fire singing
the only songs it knows
its just dust and bone
and the ghosts of the lonely
and forgotten swimming
through our blood
trying to make their way
back home
there’s nothing needs saving
that will be saved
it’s nothing worth mentioning
it’s just the way it was written
in sand and stone
and the last look on her face
things will be quiet again
like before we were born
that beautiful silence
darling you can cry
for as long as you wish
the weeping is just a moment
a moment is just forever
cling to me in the pretty rain
until the ancient sorrow
of everything finally
finds and reclaims us
as its own.
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newest bill2.5
William Taylor Jr. lives and writes in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.  He is the author of numerous books of poetry, and a volume of fiction. His work has been published widely in journals across the globe, including Rattle, The New York Quarterly, and The American Journal of Poetry. He is a five time Pushcart Prize nominee and was a recipient of the 2013 Kathy Acker Award. Pretty Words to Say, (Six Ft. Swells Press, 2020) is his latest collection of poetry.
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Three Poems by Mary Shanley

IMG_5017 (2)
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Blown Away
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Little leaf
you were blown away
so easily.
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In the end, you were so beaten down,
there wasn’t much of the earth element
remaining in you; glistening, you were
mostly spirit.
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With your last breath,
you exhaled and arose
into the arms of the golden
beings of light, who awaited
your arrival and greeted you
with songs of celebration and joy.
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I can no longer hug you
or hear your voice
but, believe you are safely
in the company of loved ones
who have already floated
out of their bodies, into pure
spirit.
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You no longer need to bear
the loneliness of the nursing home.
No longer captured by schizophrenia
and a wheelchair.
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Now, you fly free, with the Blakean
angels and guardian spirits who
accompany you through the spheres
to your
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place on the bardo thodol,
to your place in heaven,
to your place next to Mom.
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Beyond
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She travels beyond the narrows
of time and destination.
Bravely invoking the uncalculated
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journey, she watches it unroll before her,
like a Turkish rug.
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She is wearing a Dada t-shirt,
as she revolves around the earth.
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She doesn’t stop to consider the content
of her days. In the moment, boundless
possibilities
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form the trail she follows, unaided by compass
or companion.
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Watch, as her amazed eyes peer into
her deepest place.
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She calls each day forever.
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Her hands worship the immensity
of the deepest blue sky, a portal
into eternity.
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She counts blessings and adjusts
to reverses, allowing for support,
when needed.
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Along her enchanted road, when organic
connections are made, the presence of these
kindred spirits send a quiver of shimmering
energy down her spine.
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Posture of Defeat
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She was hunched over
like a woman with advanced
osteo of the spine – but that’s
not it. Her posture indicated
her psychological state. After
forty years of battling schizophrenia,
institutionalizations, shock treatments
and toxic medication, her delusions
finally won out; exercising
an erratic control over her personality
and her body..
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She has been entirely captured
by this vicious disease, allowed few
decisions. Her dyed black hair hangs lifeless,
her tongue droops over her lower lip, drooling;
her fingernails overgrown.
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It is a deep jungle; she is in there.
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Mary Shanley is a poet/storyteller, living in New York City with her wife.
She began publishing poetry at the behest of Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr
in 1984. She first published in Long Shot Magazine, co-founded by Allen
Ginsberg and Danny Shot. Since that time, she had had three books of poetry
published and one book of short stories.
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I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood By Tiana Clark

i cant
By Lynette Esposito
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I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark published by Pittsburgh University Press in the Pitt Poetry Series is an amazing collection of verse.
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The ninety-nine pages of poems vary in style, length and subject but are connected by a raw honesty that reveals stark truths. For example, on page three in her poem, Cross/Bite, Clark describes a difficult birth.
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          I was born into the world sideways.
    Doctor said.
            surgery to break my face
set it right again
              as f breaking were simple.
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 This poem represents a harsh beginning that makes the narrator’s jaw click like typewriter keys, yet she remains unbroken and thankful.  The form supports the images and revelations in this poem by having ragged lines on the right.  It suggests, among other things, like white sand in the mouth, an uneven life from the very onset and the uneasy decisions that are made from the beginning of existence.
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In the poem, In the Middle Things on page eighty-eight, the narrator is grown but acknowledges the desire for information on an unknown absent father.
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       My daddy   is what    is always   at stake   in all   my work
       I want to know if he is still                                alive—
       If he thinks of me as often I think of him.
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       I am still that baby, alone
       In the incubator, yelping    for more and more breath
       with moist, moth-like wings for lungs.
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       Only my mother’s name is on my birth certificate
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The poem skillfully uses spacing, and word groupings as techniques to emphasize the desire to understand where one comes from, who one’s fathers are and what that does to one’s lives.  Her images reek of longing and wondering.  It is a strong poem that is worthy of being read and read again.
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The book is divided into four sections, I Can’t Talk, About the Trees, Without the Blood and an Epilogue that has quotes from Muriel Rukeyser and Gwendolyn Brooks. This is a poet who is not afraid to quote other poets throughout the book as well.
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The book is the winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.  Justly so.  The poems are consistently strong and complex.  The images are fresh and interesting.  This is a good read for lovers of poetry.
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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.
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The book is available from www.upress.pitt.edu

Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed The World by Jonathan Bates

radical

By Byron Beynon

Jonathan Bate’s new biography of William Wordsworth, published to mark the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the poet’s birth, guides us through the life and makes a strong case of why we should care about the poet’s work today.
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Bate focuses and notes a climate of ideas, that Wordsworth ‘wrote with unprecedented sympathy for the poor, the excluded and the broken’. He ‘changed the way we perceive, inhabit and preserve the wilder places of the natural world’. He also ‘foresaw that among the consequences of modernity would be not only the alienation of human beings from each other, but also potentially irretrievable damage to the delicate balance between our species and our environment’.
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Wordsworth in ‘Tintern Abbey’ wrote that for him the importance was that ‘We see into the life of things’ and as Bate points out in the wonderful skating sequence from ‘The Prelude’,
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‘He felt this spirited ‘transport’ again when skating on the lake at twilight in the frosty season. The village clock tolls six as ‘All shod with steel /We hissed along the polished ice in games/…..The sibilanceof ‘shod’, ‘steel’, ‘hissed’, ‘polished’ and ‘ice’ brings the very sound of the skates to life’. However the experience of skating is not just a physical action but also an interaction, an experience with the image of a star reflected in the ice ‘To cut across the reflex of a star;/ Image that, flying before me, gleamed/ Upon the glassy plain’. 
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Wordsworth was born on the 7th of April 1770, at Cockermouth, a little Cumbrian market town on the edge of the Lake District. Educated at Hawkshead school and later St John’s College, Cambridge he became disillusioned by university life. He was to develop a keen love and empathy for nature as well as the lives of real people, he also realised his vocation as a poet. In his poetry he saw nature as a kind of spiritual healer, with a personality of its own. His deep poetic appreciation of the natural world was not an incidental and decorative part of his verse, it was its chief impulse and theme.
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Bate charts his way through Wordsworth’s childhood in the Lake District, his time at Cambridge, and his walking tours in France and Switzerland with his Welsh friend Robert Jones. He was also to visit the home of Robert Jones in North Wales, their famous night-time ascent of Snowdon left a profound impression on him, as they climbed to find the surrounding peaks illuminated as ‘the Moon looked down upon this shew/ In single glory, and we stood, the mist/ Touching our very feet; ……The universal spectacle throughout/ Was shaped for admiration and delight…’
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In 1791 he visited revolutionary France, alone this time, and met Annette Vallon by whom he had a child. He moves back to England to seek a livelihood and to be with his gifted and observant sister Dorothy.  In 1795 he meets Coleridge. He settles, after a cold and severe winter in Germany with Dorothy and Coleridge, back in the Lake District, at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and marries Mary Hutchinson. Bate focuses largely on this first half of Wordsworth’s life, through childhood, youth and the years between 1798 and 1808 when he completes ‘The Ruined Cottage’, the bulk of the poems published anonymously as ‘Lyrical Ballads’, plans ‘The Recluse’ and when ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’ and ‘The Prelude’ are also completed during this groundbreaking period.
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In his preface Bate fairly states that Wordsworth ‘always lacked the glamour of Coleridge, De Quincey and Byron: he was neither opium addict nor ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. He lacked too, the pathos of Keats, Shelley and John Clare: he failed to make the romantic career move of dying young or going mad’.
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However what Bate argues towards is ‘ a selective account of the journey from the visions and experiences that made him a poet to the rays of influence that made him a force in cultural history……why his words are still worth reading two and a half centuries after his birth’.
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In 1807 he published the following sonnet which still resonates across the years:
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‘The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wrèathed horn.’
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Bate succeeds in persuading the reader of the continuing importance of Wordsworth’s poetry, how he created a revolutionary style to express the experience of people previously ignored by literature, along with the importance of human emotions throughout childhood and into adulthood, producing a biography which is both fascinating and relevant to the challenges we face in our own time.
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Bate succeeds in persuading the reader of the continuing importance of Wordsworth’s poetry, how he created a revolutionary style to express the experience of people previously ignored by literature, along with the importance of human emotions throughout childhood and into adulthood, producing a biography which is both fascinating and relevant to the challenges we face in our own time.
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You can find the book here: Amazon.com
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Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales.  His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, The London Magazine, Agenda, Poetry Ireland Review, Grey Sparrow, The Worcester Review, Poetry Wales and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions).  A selection of his work is forthcoming from Moonstone Press (Philadelphia) entitled A View from the Other Side.
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Lying Like Presidents, New & Selected Poems 2001-2019. Djelloul Marbrook

lying
 
 
 
 
By Michael T. Young
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What I look for in a new and selected collection is a sense of both the best the poet has to offer and the breadth of his vision. It isn’t merely a sampling of the work but a direct line to the essence of it, at least as best as a poet can understand his own poetry well enough to distill it. In this sense, the new work should seem like something that is an inevitable consequence of the journey the poet started. And that is what we get with Djelloul Marbrook’s Lying Like PresidentsNew & Selected Poems 2001-2019.
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The first section consisting of the new poems is enough to be a full-length collection on its own. It is a series of interlocking cantos that recall John Donne’s “Anatomy of the World,” in that they use the microcosm of an individual soul to explore the macrocosm of the world soul. And we are led into this from the opening poem that begins:
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Yesterday eighty years ago I toddled on the brink
of catastrophe, and the world tottered with me.
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This sets the stage for a series of poems seeking reconciliation on multiple levels: present with past, self with other, identity with history. And it is finally achieved. The concluding poem ends:
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More than a little tired but eager
to start out again as friends.
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But the journey here starts long before, rooted in Marbrook’s first collection, Far from Algiers, which opens the section of selected work. This first collection locates us in Marbrook’s original concerns with questions of alienation and otherness, identity and belonging. These themes persist throughout Marbrook’s poetry both symbolically and ideationally. So, one reads in Far from Algiers:
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Nothing can shake me
from my resolve to leave
or my distrust of doors
–“Sinistral”
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which recalls from the new section, in which he writes:
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I slip through keyholes
fondling tumblers as I pass
–“20”
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The new ease of departure marks the progress one finds throughout his career. Which is to say that more than a mere persistence of themes, there is development and growth from the anchors of social constructs and their restrictions to a plumbing of spiritual truth beyond those restrictions or, in other words, transcendence. Marbrook was born in Algeria but raised in Brooklyn. So, alienation and belonging are rooted in his life and articulate the initial conflict in his first book. But it serves as the groundwork from which he seeks transcendence throughout his career. The primary difficulty is one we all face to a greater or lesser degree, because the self that embraces an identity from the history and culture within which it finds itself immediately puts that self in chains. This is the case every time because no culture permits validation of what it implicitly defines as alien. So transcendence becomes the immediate necessity for self-assurance or validation. In Marbrook’s first collection we find again:
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                        I went
about the work of finding
the idea of belonging strange
–“Sinistral”
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Alienation propels the search for transcendence. And this foreshadows the progress toward his later collection entitled, Nothing True Has a Name. Or these lines from that collection:
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      and when they ask for your name
              say you’ve forgotten it
             and eventually you will.
         Who will go along with this?
          No one, but you will be one
with the crime you were meant to commit.
              –“Temenos Nakedly”
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This articulates a growth toward a genuine self, not ethically but spiritually, in a realm beyond norms and naming. Hence that collection’s title and an argument central to Marbrook’s entire oeuvre. Indeed, I don’t think there is a more thorough poetic exploration of identity and belonging, self and transcendence than the poetry of Djelloul Marbrook, at least from the point of view of the conflict between belonging to a culture and not being enchained by it. As someone who was not only born in another country but who suffered childhood abuse, his poetry doesn’t merely represent a struggle with otherness and identity but embodies the progress of that struggle from collection to collection. So there is not only witness but growth, and it is this growth and struggle that clothes his language with elegance and wisdom. In this light we also encounter friends who have committed suicide, and confront the problems of aging, each found in Brash Ice and Riding Thermals to Winter Grounds, respectively. Each of these are lenses by which we view his central themes. Some of my favorite poems or quotable passages from the collection focus on the persistent longing for transcendence:
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I’ve never wanted to disturb the world
or even move the air around me much.
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It didn’t seem appropriate for a visitor
who didn’t plan to stay very long.
–“Skirt disappearing behind a door”
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More is up to us than we are up to.
Dolphins and roaches will outlive us
because we wrap each moment in dogma
to throttle it rather than be artists.
–“Rather than be artists”
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Why of all the lives we’ve lived
should this be the memorable one?
–“Even now the embers”
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In this last quote we have that link between transcendence and a fixed identity, between multiple lives or meanings and the singular memory or “memorable one.” It lingers between the push and pull of accepting a place in history and transcending it. Suspended between these two points, Djelloul Marbrook’s poetry sings.
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While the collection certainly captures the beauty of Marbrook’s language and the range of his themes, I can’t avoid pointing out what is perhaps the collection’s biggest shortcoming: its title. While Marbrook’s themes intersect social and even political concerns, they are not central to his poetry. One views them in light of his major themes. But a title such as Lying Like Presidents makes politics seem central and I fear that may dissuade some from purchasing the collection. If my review can do any bit of justice to this poet’s work, it is to correct that possible misperception and encourage people to purchase a collection that represents a gifted poet’s journey.
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Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of War, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. His previous collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club. Young’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Gargoyle, One, Quiddity, Rattle, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. His poetry has also been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. Michael T. Young

 

 

Inculpatory Evidence: The Covid 19 Poems by Eileen R. Tabios

inculp

By Neil Leadbeater

Inculpatory evidence has, in its title, a legal reference frame which underscores the gravity of the subject-matter. Tabios presents the evidence. It is up to us, the readers, to draw our own conclusions.

The cover photograph of the author wearing her mask is a sombre reminder of just how contagious this virus is. Traditionally, masks were worn by actors as a means of transferring the wearer into a different character. More recently, they are considered to be a form of deception, a facade that obscures the truth. With regard to the present global pandemic we view them as a necessary part of everyday living. The covering over the nose and mouth is not without a cruel irony for we are short of breath due to polluting and dangerous pathogens and we are muted in expressing the truth because certain sections of society are fuelling us with misinformation, the so-called “fake news” that endangers us all. Wearing masks, we all lose a little of our facial identity and, to those who are hard of hearing, and who rely on lip-reading, our means of communication.

Four poets and translators have collaborated on this volume of ten poems by Eileen R. Tabios. John Bloomberg-Rissman has written an afterword and commentary on them, Natthaya Thamdee translated them into Thai and Susan M. Schultz provided useful feedback subjecting one of the poems to her Oulipian N+7 process in which a writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. This added a surreal touch to what many of us feel is a surreal situation. Some notes about issues that arose in the course of translating the poems into Thai are included at the end.

John Bloomberg-Rissman gives a chilling factual account of events (from November 2019 to June 2020) relating to the spread of Covid 19, the nature of the virus, and the attempts that are being made to curb its spread. His essay focusses on the complete denial, by certain sections of the population, that there is any need to take any precautionary measures, such as the wearing of masks and social distancing, at all. The account then widens to incorporate other global issues that are equally serious, if not more so. He lets the keepers of the Doomsday Clock sum it up: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers – nuclear war and climate change – that are compounded by a threat of multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond.”  Will we never learn? It seems that a proportion of the human race is hard-wired to self-destruction.

The ten poems in this volume employ a range of different styles appropriate to their subject matter. Two poems, for example, are written in the reverse hay(na)ku form (a sequence of tercets comprising lines of three words, two words and one word each) and there is also a poem written in couplets, and a list poem. In others, there is some experimentation with the way the lines are presented on the page, the size of the typeface and, in one poem, one or two words are typographically represented by a strikethrough to give an additional meaning to the text. Several poems are dated by month and year of composition. Interestingly enough, the year 2020 is adjusted to 2563 in the Thai translation to accommodate the Buddhist calendar which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar.

In the opening poem we are reminded, among other things, of the power of the word and how a single word, (corona), when it suddenly acquires a new meaning can change our perception of it forever, and that poetry has the power to foretell, to warn, of things to come.

The subject matter in this volume goes wider than Covid 19: ‘Regret’ focusses on the environment, ‘Triggered’ on hunger, ‘Not My First Mask’ on xenophobia and racism and ‘What I Normally Would Not Buy’ on panic buying, consumerism and survival. This is not just physical survival but also survival from domestic abuse.

Tabios uses food in this collection as a metaphor for survival. Food, in its various forms, appears in at least seven of the ten poems. We cannot survive without it. Witness the panic buying that took place as soon as news of the outbreak spread. Maslow was right when he included it within his hierarchy of basic human needs (although he seems to have overlooked toilet paper altogether).

Deception is another theme that weaves its way through this collection: things are not necessarily what they look like or what they seem to be. In ‘Sudden Asian Prepper’ Tabios uses references from hair colouring and make-up to illustrate her point about the deeper issues of deception, not just those that are follicle or skin-deep, but ones to do with race, misinformation and denial.

dye for turning

hair blonde,

tape

for double-lidding eyes,

Eyelid tape and other similar products are hugely popular in places like Korea where having “double eyelids” is considered to be ridiculously desirable.

Despite the gravity of the subject matter there is dark humour at work in some of these poems. Take ‘Faith in the Time of the Coronavirus,’ for example, which opens with these lines:

The President proclaims

-nay, guarantees! –

BETTER DAYS AHEAD!

WE SHALL BOUNCE BACK

HIGHER THAN BEFORE!

 

I respond faithfully

 

with an item I’ve never experienced:

a box of 100 MREs*

My tastebuds cringe –

[*Meals Ready to Eat].

‘Kapwa on Covid’ opens with a quotation from Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’. So much depends upon that word. If we can stem the virus, if everyone can adhere to social distancing, if there is another wave, if an effective vaccine can be found, if the virus mutates…different trajectories will ensue. There was a framed copy of Kipling’s poem in our home when I was young. I used to read it often and I can still recall the opening line: ‘If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…’ In it, the speaker advises his son about how to perceive the world and life’s challenges so that he can both learn from his experiences and resolutely overcome barriers. It is something we all need to do in these difficult times.

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Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017),  Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) and Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019).  His work has been translated into several languages.