selected poems

Bloodline by Michael A. Griffith

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By g emil reutter
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Poet Michael A. Griffith writes in the opening poem of this collection, Polyglot:
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To know true meanings and speak plain
as whales tell no lies in their arias
and bees are never false in their dance
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To whisper a word to the wind
and make the hurricane stop.
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In this 26 poem collection released by The Blue Nib, Griffith brings the commonplace to life through the use of stark, truthful language blended at times with extraordinary metaphor in settings of the ordinary, never false in his dance with words.
He writes of a strained relationship in the poem The Old Dingy. Griffith captures the divide between father and son, a stubbornness on both parts he equates to the quiet dark cold lake:
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The distance between us in not so great,
but the space…
it stretches out like darkness,
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like the lake his dinghy is on.
Dark, even at noon, wide, can’t see the other shore,
Quiet and cold, this space between father and son.
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In the poem, Satan’s Toy Car, Griffith writes of the salesman who comes to visit his mother, capturing the sleazy nature of the man in the description of his car. his long red car./ A big city car./Shiny, real shiny in the sun./ New. The poem tells us how the salesman attempts to get rid of the child by presenting him with a toy car so that he can hit on the mother. After several attempts the mother slaps the salesmans face who departs. The child also departs later in the day with the toy car. Day later I fetched Satan’s toy car,/ buried it up at the church/ where it ain’t done no harm/ or no good ever since.
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In the first four stanzas of Noona, he captures the hopelessness with imagery that brings you into life existence in a nursing home:
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You called me “honey” amid your clutterspeak
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You will forget what you said to me
or that we spoke once you turn and leave.
You will roam the halls,
look into darkened rooms
for someone you might see.
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You will moan and wail and cry.
Wet will drip from your nose.
And the next time I see you, you could be calm.
You might be laughing,
Yet your eyes never seem dry.
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Only remembering patches of a life before,
thoughts so full of holes,
like the ivory doily
on your cluttered night stand,
brought here with your family pictures and more.
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Griffith covers a large swath of life in this short collection. Of birth and death, of politicians and creeps, of love and loss. An observer, his poems bring you into the real world he has lived and loved.
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You can find the book here: https://thebluenib.com/product/bloodline/
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g emil reutter is a writer of stories and poems. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/
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Or Else By Diana Loercher Pazicky

or else

By Frank Wilson

The first poem in this collection, titled “Else” — not “Or Else,” as the book is — explores the implications of said modifier (it can be either an adverb or an adjective). An epigraph reminds us that the word derives from the Old English word elles, meaning “other.” The exploration is anything but academic. “Else,” the speaker tells us, “encompasses the unknown / the alternatives that impinge / upon our constricted lives.” It is “an enchanted island … inhabited by sirens singing, / Where else? Who else? What else?”
A couple of pages later there is “Meditation on the Pencil, While Grading Papers” (Diana Loercher Pazicky is a former English professor at Temple University). “The pencil allows one to reconsider,” the speaker tells us, “stop time and go back, / undo that hasty judgment ….” Moreover,
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Erasers are soft, forgiving,
leave only a faint smudge,
a chance to correct oneself
         before presuming
         to judge another.
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This is whimsy segueing into the humane, and is characteristic of much in these pages, leading one to suspect that Pazicky’s former students remember her fondly. She wears her learning lightly as well. Most of the poems in the second of the three suites gathered here make reference to the gods and goddesses of mythology, though in ways that are far from solemn. “Venus Redux,” the first of these, is really about the speaker’s mother. “Venus had nothing on you, Mom,” it begins. The thought of her mother’s perfect body calls to the speaker’s mind the works of Praxiteles, Botticelli, Titian, and more. But in those she sees “only the memory of your body … as you paraded naked through the house, / and I hung back in the shadows, furious, / knowing such perfection could never be mine.”

This poem comes poignantly to mind when one arrives at the third suite. “Seaside Victorian” tells us that “The house she inhabited / slowly inhabited her. / Memories yellowed, hardened, / like the doilies and antimacassars ….”

“As she sank into solitude / the house acquired breath, /even speech, children’s voices, / and her husband calling her ….”

The “she” in that poem is never named. But we soon read, in “Actively Dying,” that “My mother is ‘actively dying’ / as opposed to passively dying, / which is what the rest of us / are doing every day.”  The speaker elaborates:
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Actively dying really means
the body has staged a coup
against the arrogant mind,
that delusional tyrant
twirling and whirling
his hollow scepter
like a child spinning a top,
who thinks he’ll live forever
until the body revolts,
brings the old fool down.
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“Ashes” makes things even more plain:
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The marble urn is heavy,
its contents weightless.
I unscrew the lid, pour
my father into a bag,
turn my head away
to avoid inhaling the dust.
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That last image seems to say it all, but not quite. “Next I open the wooden box / containing my mother … I empty the box into the same bag.” And then, “I take them / to the bay they gazed at every day /from the windows of our house ….”

All is united — husband and wife, father and mother, daughter and house.

There is a surprising range of thought and feeling encompassed in these few pages, all of it expressed with the sort of clear-eyed unsentimental observation one gets from someone like Basho. Do read it. Or else you’ll be missing out on something really worthwhile.
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Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog Books, Inq. — The Epilogue. Email him at PresterFrank@gmail.com

2 Poems by Arlyn LaBelle

sun car window
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Girl threat
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She learned her hunger from
the southern sun which laps
against car windows, blistering
pool water until it glitters like
a knife. Who could blame her,
her body licking like fire, known
to itself as her hips hum little
laundry songs. When you hear
hushed voices, you lean in.
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A poem about my mother
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I am writing a poem about my mother
the way I always do, through water, so
her body dilates. I cannot write her arms
a discernible length, her hands open
or closed, only her figure above and
the places I knew to go under my skin
where I could chime quietly. She taught
me how to hold my breath as she had
for years. I heard that she could sing
before I knew her.
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Writer's Photograph (1)
Arlyn LaBelle is a poet and legal assistant living in Austin, Texas. Her poems have appeared multiple times in the Badgerdog summer anthologies as well as Words Work, Persona, The Missing Slate, The Blue Hour, LAROLA, JONAH Magazine, The Oddville Press, Songs of Eretz, Cease, Cows and The Southern Poetry Review.
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Says the Forest to the Girl by Sally Rosen Kindred

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By Kristina Gibbs

If you want to be transported back into a land of Once Upon a Times where the magical and the mysterious collide, then delving into Sally Rosen Kindred’s work is for you. Only expect a few darker twists.

In Says the Forest to the Girl, Kindred modernizes popular tales—inserting Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and others—while also restoring them back to their original eerie glory. The results are spellbinding.

Just because Kindred focuses on fairy tales doesn’t make her work irrelevant to the hardships of the 21st century, however. In fact, her poem “Sleeping Beauty Makes Dinner” is a rallying cry for feminists everywhere. In this piece, Kindred cleverly depicts Sleeping Beauty being awakened to the reality of stereotypical gender roles that society impresses upon all people: it is the male who provides the substance of the meal, and the woman who prepares it. The inner turmoil that Sleeping Beauty experiences showcases her unhappily ever after:
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           I stir—
or did I ever
wake? Would a princess
be circling this pot,
her hand scarred from sleep’s glass thorns
and feeling the push
of the dark ladle through the broth,
her hair rising to mist in its steam?
I love this heat. Is that right?
It’s all too much like those years
of stained-glass sleep.
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Kindred makes the witty analogy between the confines of Beauty’s glass box to the confines of the role she plays as a wife in the kitchen. By circling the pot, the author emphasizes this mundane cycle of gender stereotypes that Beauty is trapped in.
Kindred reawakens childhood nostalgia inside all adults in Says the Forest to the Girl. She laments over lost dreams and feelings of imprisonment. Kindred seeks to reconcile the inner sprightly child trapped within the adult, and illustrate how adults trapped by life’s demands can shatter mandated adult monotony and dream again. She wrestles with this tension between what is and what once was in her opening poem “Women at the Crows’ Funeral”:
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The crows won’t ask
what kind of daughter you are—
if your grief remembers wings,
if you wear shoes of iron or shoes of wind
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Here the imagery of steel shoes compares to life’s burdens and responsibilities, whereas the “shoes of wind” depict the quick lightheartedness one feels when they dream or have far-fetched hopes. Kindred cleverly uses the shoe motif in fairy tales (like Cinderella’s glass slipper, or hot iron shoes Snow White’s stepmother danced in till she died in the Grimm retelling) to convey this. The narrator mourns with regret, aching for a chance to re-hatch and obtain her happy ending. Kindred interweaves this dichotomy of dreaming verses facing reality throughout the rest of her poems, painting striking images with words to parallel to the bold artwork on her cover. The speckled white forest contrasted with the sharp red background may be gruesome, but it conveys the restlessness and pain of her words held within.
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The chapbook itself is seamless. When the poems transition, each theme bleeds over onto the next page; the poems are distinct in voice and syntax, but they all carry ominous scenes and darker elements of nature. There is intent behind every minute detail from the symbols of black birds to the reintroduction of characters throughout the cohesive work.

Kindred’s work is vividly hypnotic. Her brilliant wordsmithing allows for raw statements and glaring images that strike at your emotions. This piece carries a somber tone, a far cry from well-known Disney remakes. After devouring the delightfully grim Says the Forest to the Girl you’ll be “Ravenous” for more.
You can find a copy of her work at https://porkbellypress.com/poetry/says .

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Kristina Gibbs is an emerging writer from the hills of Tennessee currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English and minor in Linguistics. She has previously published an interview in an online publication, Speaking of Marvels. When she is not reading or writing, you may find her clambering over both hiking trails and paint brushes.

American Parable by Sonia Greenfield

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By Richard Nester

Sonia Greenfield’s chapbook, American Parable, should receive a trumpet fanfare upon being opened. It pioneers a style, a method—not so revolutionary as Whitman’s breathtaking leap into free verse perhaps—but worthy of notice both for what it says and how it says it. Greenfield’s verse is fiery, packed with lived experience and whetted by an imaginative grit that is emotionally concrete, accurate and incisive. She manages to join Whitman’s vigorous engagement with public issues with Dickinson’s lyric genius for private mediation. Greenfield’s poems are not only important in themselves as individual explorations of significant human questions but also for what they accomplish in terms of method, which is to explore civic questions in poems that have a complete right to be called lyric poems, something long thought impossible. In American Parable, Greenfield successfully closes the considerable distance between the styles of Whitman and Dickinson and their subject matters.

To better understand how Greenfield operates in American Parable and why her method is so fresh, we need to look at a poem from her first collection Boy with a Halo at the Farmer’s Market. This poem “Nafsicrate Considers Bruegel’s Famous Work” reacts to W.H. Auden’s famous “Musee des Beaux Arts” from the point of view of a character who might have appeared in Auden’s poem but doesn’t, that is the mother of Icarus. Greenfield will use a similar approach many times in American Parable as she establishes a point of view that has been overlooked or disregarded and then uses that point of view to close the distance between the reader and the poem’s subject. Providing readers with these kinds of insights is a classic trope of lyric poetry, but one that has rarely found its way into the rhetoric of civic discourse.

One of the things we notice about “Nafsicrates Considers” is that Icarus isn’t named until the poem’s last line since to his mother he is simply “my boy,” a real person, who is both intensely special as well as typical of all children. She has passed her unique knowledge of how to dive to him—a detail that ironically references the painting—while acknowledging her anxiety for his safety. As she says “you can’t trust children to make good choices.” Icarus remains somewhat unreal to us since we don’t encounter him except in his mother’s report. In this respect, we are still “turned away” from him, to borrow Auden’s figure of speech, but Nafsicrate is certainly a real mother suffering the anxieties of a real parent and not the generalized, emotionally distant spectator of Auden’s poem.

Developing this fresh point of view enables Greenfield to dispute Auden’s opening claim in “Musee,” which is  “about suffering they were never wrong / the old Masters.” Auden continues, deftly producing his evidence both from life and from Bruegel’s painting, so that we tend to accept authority of his argument and his verdict that indifference to suffering is the default mode for humanity. What other opinion could there be? Auden is apparently cocksure about its truth, but is it actually the only truth available? Is it so universal after all? Or is it rather the wisdom of a particular set of “masters” (with a small m), painting in a particular time for a particular audience, singularly devoted to commerce. By including an observer who is also a vital—but usually disregarded–participant Greenfield is able to challenge the hegemony of the expected, a classic move in lyric poetry.

As far as Yeats was concerned, poetry and rhetoric could not exist together, and his distinction between them is famous, poetry arising from “quarrels with ourselves” and rhetoric from “quarrels with others.” After Yeats, poetry took an inward turn away from public engagement and persuasion toward explorations of inner conditions and their imaginative traffic with the material world. When public engagement did occur as in Auden’s oft-quoted “September 1, 1939,” it exhibited a reluctance to linger with the personal. Within the space of a few lines, Auden moves from his seat at the bar “uncertain and afraid” to a place at the lecture podium delivering a geo-political sermon about what every schoolboy should have learned about the propagation of evil. I don’t mean to say that this isn’t great poetry, but it is not in the lyric mode of exploration and discovery. In American Parable, Greenfield closes this distance as we become more fully engaged with the people and issues she offers us.

Another means she adapts from the lyric vocabulary is what Matthew Zapruder in his recent book Why Poetry calls “associative leaping,” a form of imaginative seeing. This method is on vivid display in “Snapshots of Pluto from New Horizons,” a poem that skillfully combines exposition with lyric grace as Greenfield examines how embattled language is in the current political climate. She includes situations from gender politics to the distorting power of language without once seeming strident or accusatory. Humans may “default to optimism” as we imagine a heart shape emerging—like our own lunar man-in-the-moon—from Pluto’s “variegated terrain,” but the poem’s sadness is unmistakable, sadness for emotional resources squandered because of a lack of the clear seeing that poetry offers.

She provides a poignant update to Williams’ claim that “men die every day for lack of it [poetry],” as she focuses our attention on the women, workers, and children that are diminished by our failure to offer “new horizons” to our most vulnerable citizens. Her images have an associative power that belies their plain spoken sense. A case in point are the leaking “sandbags” of the poem’s last line, which remind us of our inability to insure against disasters political and emotional as well as natural.

A poem that pairs well with “Pluto”—in that both involve journeys that are in part hopeful and in part forsaken—is “Refuge” where Greenfield portrays the contemporary refuge experience through the eyes of a character she calls “melania” (spelled with a small m). “Refuge” fuses the refuge experience of women and children fleeing war or political crisis with the immigrant journey of the First Lady of the United States—a decidedly more well-known Melania—as it juxtaposes material barriers of “brambles” and “walls” with emotional barriers of “tinted windows” and “blue pills.”  The fusion completes itself as the “tinted windows” of melania’s exile existence “roll down” the way / Slovenian woods pull their / shutters closed at the end / of the day” and melania is eventually pointed to her “bed over there.”

Woody Guthrie, in his classic protest ballad “Deportee,” recognizes that namelessness is a signal trait of the economic and political exile. He sings “you won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,” reminding us not only of how dangerous anonymity is for the exile but also of how anonymity can be weaponized by the powerful. Greenfield, by ironically naming the principal character of “Refugee,” throws the humanity of the exile into stark relief. She will insist that the world look now even if it was not looking during the earliest stages of the world refugee crisis.

Accurate, insightful seeing is a crucial component of Greenfield’s lyric approach. In poem after poem, the visual details pile up, calling on us to witness what on many occasions we might prefer not to see. Sights, detailed on Greenfield’s moral canvas, places and events where the seeing is inward as well as outward, include those associated with lynchings and abortions. She notes in “Yours,” where the subject is unsafe drinking water, that moral toxicity usually accompanies physical toxicity. Twice she goes underwater, once to survey drowned Confederate statues, noting that “if you want to touch / this history bad enough you can dive for it” and again at “The Miami Museum of Water” where Trumpian artifacts submerged by global warming mingle with detritus from Cuban restaurants. Even when a poem’s overall message is inspirational, as in “I Believe, in the End, the Dogs Will Save Us” suffering is evident, a reminder that our real heroes are ones who survive trials—in this case a mutt whose leg is caught in a trap and not the kind of dogs—herders and bomb-sniffers—that are more likely to get credit for heroism.

American Parable’s title poem is probably the least lyrical of the collection, not because it lacks the quick movement that we usually associate with lyric, but because it is in fact a parable, a parable being a narrative tale designed to illustrate a universal truth. The universal truth in this case is the powerful negative impact of fear on a country and a people. The poem begins by describing the reasons that the country has not to be fearful: “weapons & open / spaces, prairie grass & forests / river runs & rolling golden / mountains.” But fearful this country is, shockingly so, and without rational explanation.  Rumors of “terrible creatures” spread, but there is no evidence that they are doing anything “terrible.” Rumors are all the evidence offered. A “golem” appears to be lurking and a “fog of plagues,” but whether these dangers are the reasons for the fear or its consequences, goes unsaid. All we know is that a “prophet / who lived in a golden tower” tells the people that he can save them, provided they will throw rocks at those he says are to blame.

The allegorical nature of the narrative is too plain to bother recounting. Nonetheless, it is expertly told, and its truth about the consequences of fear is hard to question. Creating an allegory is clearly a way to steer the poem away from topicality and toward universality, and Greenfield is successful in doing that. “American Parable” is not a political lyric of the kind I have been examining, but it serves the collection the way the pole of a circus tent serves the spacious area underneath it—a three-ring circus of political poetry that illuminates our current crises and points a way toward new forms of poetic discourse. That these poems will constitute acts of resistance and survival is a hope profoundly worth hoping.

You can find the book here:

http://www.autumnhouse.org/product/american-parable-sonia-greenfield/

Richard Nester has twice been a fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has published essays on social justice topics in The Catholic Agitator, a publication of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, and poetry in numerous magazines, including Ploughshares, Seneca Review, and Callaloo and on-line in The Cortland Review, Qarrtsiluni and Inlandia. He has two collections of poetry, Buffalo Laughter and  Gunpowder Summers, both published by Kelsay Books. His reviews of poetry have appeared in North of Oxford.

A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree

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By g emil reutter
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Darren Demaree is a singer of poems. His latest collection, A Fire Without Light, is a series of polemic poems aggressively written, contentious in nature, written in the present. Demaree walks into the fire without fear. The fire he writes about is the Trump Presidency.
 
He opens the book with a dedication.
 
This book is dedicated to every person that believes empathy is our most important strength, and that those that believe it to be a weakness are the weakest among us. Those people that rally against love and acceptance we will remember, but we will never raise their names in song without the anger
they forced into our hearts.
 
Demaree tells us in #3, I like song. I will get used to these short songs. I will learn what I need to do. I won’t waste a single breath. I will sing as often as I can.
 
Sing he does and often throughout this collection not in fear but in his view of the reality of the Trump Presidency. Such singing as this:
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A Fire Without Light #12
New sorrow, old accuracy, we all arrived outside the
community center to say his name without teeth, to
let bounce it around our mouths, to have it be chewed
up while it left that cave, to see it injured in the world
before it was ever heard by another soul. Such a chaotic
thing, his name, such a weight, a violence in image and
repetition, and now we’re forced to taste it. Nobody
wants to taste his name, but we must if we’re going to
mangle it properly
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In #30 he tells us … We know all of his moves. We know he waited for the darkness, so that he may be the light. We know he is not the light… We offered him the world. We know he means to consume the world. We offered him the world. We know he means to consume the world. We offered him the world. We offered him the world.
 
Demaree tells us that we are all responsible and in this no one is blameless. He continues throughout to yawp.
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A Fire Without Light #41
I didn’t have it in me, to seal my mouth like Berryman
suggested, keeping the air of my anger inside, and
dancing so little that I might be mistaken for a fearful
American. I am not afraid. I’m quiet. There is no list
making in my heart. I’m writing these poems all of the
time, and I’m smiling while I pile them behind every
Ohioan that voted for Trump. I won’t have to push
them over this horse-high collection. They will turn
naturally, and have to swim through the thousands of
pages. Most of them will give up, and turn back to my
stillness. They will hold me. We will never talk about
why. We will know, but we’ll never have to talk about it.
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In #76 he sings, The sweat of hate makes us all think we need to be
rewritten into elegy… Humanity for all. Humanity for Donald J. Trump.
May he find humanity before we are forced to rest against the zero.
 
Demaree is not one of those folks who talk of leaving, there is a strength to him to speak out no matter the strength of the wind, no matter the damage. He has his doubts but is holding onto his country.
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A Fire Without Light #655
How lucky I am to be greeted with the wind as I
smack back against the ribs of America. This is the
era of bruising. Those of us that survive will look like
survivors. Those of us that are buried will be buried in
numerous plots. This is the shredding of the tendons of
the American hopefuls. I have no intention of leaving. I
have no idea if I can hold on to my country.
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These poems are daring, dusky and intense. Demaree reveals a moral strength standing not wallowing in despair; writing of the ongoing fires lit by Trump over 2017 desiring to document and extinguish as many as he can. He boldly walks through the storm under the dark clouds that dwell above America telling us in these poems that there is hope, we can survive, and freedom of speech is the most powerful weapon we have.
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You can find the book here: A Fire Without Light
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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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100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings

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 Review by Stephen Page
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 I’ve been thinking lately how most of my life I dreamed I would live in a shack in the mountains without telephone or T.V., walk the woods, eat berries, drink snowmelt, and write about place.  I would of course visit a city on the weekends, for culture, you know, and sit on an unmade bed in an inexpensive hotel in the afternoon and watch soap operas on T.V.  Seriously though, the culture part of the dream includes art, ballet, theatre, cinema, fine cuisine, wine, friends, a love interest, a once a week teaching job—then back to the shack for a week of writing and communing with the natural world.  When I lived alone and single, which I have most of my life, it was easy to continue the shack dream, because by living alone, I was closer to that person on the mountain.  Since I have been married though, the hermit of me has hid, or should I say, reclused, but did not completely disappear.  He lurks among my cortical synopses, resides in my hippocampus.   He and the shack where he lives will be a part of my life’s work.  For a writer, there has to be a balance between writing and life.  Some writers need more of one than the other.  They way I see it, a writer may try to live a full life and write, but when the time comes to write, he needs to write, and only write.  The writing has to be more important than life when he is writing about life.  And (now I am getting away from the topic, but drawing a parallel), depending how private the writer is, a writer may want to edit, exclude, or delete his life from history and leave only his writings.  Sooner or later, though, someone is going to tell his story—that is, what he did, how he treated people—and that someone may be his mother, his sister, his spouse, his child, his friend, his enemy, or his dumped lover (any of whom may not be very kind); so why shouldn’t a writer keep a diary, talk to people, interview, write letters—tell his side of the story.  If he lived a good life (and that is, of course, a subjective phrase dependent upon cultural mores, subcultural trends, parental teachings, etc. etc.), he shouldn’t be ashamed about people knowing about his life.  He shouldn’t be afraid.  Not if he has courage.  Anyway, along those lines (and I have to focus on the shack—place), let’s see how life develops, you and I, the reader and the writer, let’s see how our poems appear, how we diarize and how we are biographed.  On those notes, let’s look at a book:
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Last week, I read e.e. cummings’s 100 Selected Poems.   He’s a god of course who visited this earth to show off and play with people’s heads.  Anyone could aspire to write half as well as him.  He breaks downs language only to rebuild it to high art.
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Stephen Page is a poet in Argentina via Detroit Michigan. He can be found here: Stephen Page