thaddeus rutkowski

Tricks of Light – New and Selected Poems by Thaddeus Rutkowski

tricks

By g emil reutter

Thaddeus Rutkowski is a man of small town America and a man of urban America. His poetry is written from the lens of his unique experience in both places at a time in the nation when small town and urban are in constant conflict. Yet, Rutkowski is not in conflict as he equally embraces both in his poetry in honest, forthright and at times humorous verse. He is an observer of life and these poems are the embodiment of what he has witnessed and thus an immediate connection with the reader and we are better for it.
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He tells us in the poem, One-Tenth:
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A Chinese philosopher said:
“Live to an old age.
There remains three-tenths that cannot be known”
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I am on my way to old age, I am still studying,
And I don’t know one-tenth of what can be known.
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I inch ahead, adding, bit by bit, to what I know.
But as I add, other things slip away.
I hope I add more that I lose.
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Who knows? Maybe the sand in the hourglass
is running out faster than I’m replenishing it.
There isn’t much I can do about that,
except to turn the hourglass over.
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He writes of riding his bicycle in Manhattan and of people yelling for him to move out of the way of their cars, tells of us his daughter’s marathon run, of his wife and him dumpster diving for candles from a corner shop. He turns to the rural in the poem, Farmers and Dove, of the harvest of corn by the farmer, husking as they travel in a small pickup and of the Dove on the wires above, cooing, For those of us who know what’s missing, the sounds of the bird remind us of what’s lost. And again in the poem, Claw Marks:
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The trunk of this beech tree
is scored with dents just far enough apart
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to indicate fingernails, or an animal’s nails,
or the claws of a bear, hungry for beechnuts.
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The small, oily nuts, covered in burrs,
will help sustain a bear through winter.
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The nuts are high up in the tree,
but a bear is a good climber,
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with claws that can pierce the bark
on a smooth, iron –like trunk.
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The bear is long gone. It’s winter now,
too cold for bears and other hibernators.
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The bear’s marks remain in the bark,
at just the right distance to mark its reach.
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Rutkowski the observer is clearly evident in the details in this poem, description of the iron-like trunk, oily nuts covered in burrs, the trunk scored with dents just far enough apart. Although the bear is gone, the reader can still see the bear in the tree.
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He returns to the urban in the poem Noise to my Ears. Of the street musicians who populate subway concourses, of how he admires their talent, that they make him happy and of the posers who randomly blow in horns or beat on drums until he feels trapped in the unpleasant. In the poem, Hit Again, Rutkowski writes of his adventures riding a bike in Manhattan and the indifference of a cab driver who he has encountered:
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I drift to the left to avoid a biker
coming the wrong way, toward me,
and a car hits me with its side door.
It’s a yellow cab that was speeding past
as I drifted toward it.
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I hear and feel the impact against my arm,
And I think, “”Not again”
It is the second time
I’ve been hit in a couple of weeks;
the first was on my other arm.
But I can use the arm that was hit now.
I can lift and move it. I feel nothing
beyond a dull pain in the elbow.
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I see the cab has stopped.
Maybe the driver heard the impact, too,
and wants to see if I am all right,
or maybe he has stopped for a traffic light.
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Tricks of Light is an eclectic collection of poems about family, about life in the city and life in small towns. It is a collection of poems about the forgotten, the found, of birds and fisherman, of loss and aging and of nature.
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Yellow-Green Hills of Pennsylvania
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The mountains—the hills really—
are yellow-green, in transition
from bare trees to leafed trees.
I don’t know how long this color will last.
If I were fishing now,
I could walk to the water and cast my line
without getting it tangled in leaves.
If I want to see something distant, a house, say,
I can see it through the trees.
These yellow-green constellations
are only buds, and when the sun hits,
the whole mountain lights up.
That is, assuming the mountain—a hill, really—
is not covered in fog.
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You can find the book here: Tricks of Light — great weather for MEDIA
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g emil reutter can be found here: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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Poetry Videos to Get You Through the Weekend

We searched YouTube for some of the poets we have published and our staff over the years to provide you with some live readings to enjoy during these turbulent times. We hope you enjoy!

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From the Poetry Editor

Diane March        From North of Oxford, this windy March issue blows us in two directions: backward into childhood, i.e., the past and upward into a distorted heavenly sky.

Rustin Larson’s poem, “Slap” conjures up Stanley Kunitz’s slapped check in “The Portrait,” but Larson’s metaphor literally moves us into confusion with his opening lines: “It was confusing. It’s / like getting on the wrong / bus and arriving at / the wrong school.” It’s as if childhood were a treacherous journey for the speaker, which leads the reader to his second poem, “Bats and Spiders,” where the end lines of his first stanza are “Your / mother would never have / aborted you’ says my aunt. / Things like that get me / thinking.” There is a mastery and magical craft to this poem that you will want to read and re-read, complete with…”The witch’s hand / felt in her shaggy purse for / a coin.”

Wesley Scott McMaster’s “Gypsy Blood” has Romanian blood running through this poem’s veins. Dedicated to his father, who he cried with, when the speaker, I, “watched my grandfather’s body / weak and frail / carried out to be burned / to be made into dust.”  Not traveling on a bus like in Larson’s first poem, McMaster is wearing “shoes that are worn out / soles worn thin.” Walk with him and you will feel “rain or snow”, “the shit in city streets”and you will hear the voices of his ancestors “soaked in blood…gypsy blood.”

Thaddeus Rutkowski’s mode of transportation to the past, in his poem, “Where I’m From” lists several ways of getting around as a child: “I used a bike, my feet, or skates” never making “it more than a mile or two / from my childhood home.” With mixed maternal and paternal lineage his “goal was to learn to drive. / …and blow out of there.” His next poem, is where the winds of March blow upward, even inward, as we enter, “In the Buddha’s Tooth Temple,” and “We walk into a temple in Singapore to see the relic: / a tooth of the Buddha.” Led by walking, the speaker, more like a tour guide, helps us to see inside the temple, maybe even inside the winds of time, and in arriving, “No one is in the room. / There is no crowd around the pedestal.”

As wind circles, we are blown into the cross current poems of Howie Good.  Not quite Nietzschesque as in “God is Dead,” rather possessing a drier wit and sarcasm, Good’s poem, “God Is a Joke That Nobody Gets” puns on the resurrection, in a modernistic way. “Your god” (with a lowercase “g”) “tumbles/ to the ground dead, then / gets up and dusts off his pants.” Good’s speaker reduces god into an unsympathetic human, someone like an uncaring boss, who is a lot of hot air / a wind bag, that “does a crap job intervening / in human affairs.” Believe it or not, a lot is seen and said in a minimalistic way; how ironic to condense a poem about god into only nine lines—the speaker bringing down the mighty powers of god. Good’s defying humor ensues in a “little snippet” of his squirrely poem, “Against Narrative.”

Check out this month’s issue, stay grounded, and “Beware the Ides of March.”

With much respect & admiration for these our March Madness poets,

Diane Sahms, Poetry Editor, North of Oxford

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https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

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Two Poems From Thaddeus Rutkowski

town
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Where I’m From
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I don’t think anyone outside of a ten-mile radius
has heard of where I’m from.
The one-street town lies downstream
from another one-street town.
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I never made it more than a mile or two
from my childhood home.
For transportation, I used a bike, my feet, or skates.
Surrounded by nature, I had no choice but to appreciate it.
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I was raised as white, but I’m not white.
My father saw no difference between races,
while my mother never forgot hers.
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My goal was to learn to drive,
then climb into a car with a full tank of gas,
floor the accelerator, and blow out of there.
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In The Buddha’s Tooth Temple
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We walk into a temple in Singapore to see the relic:
a tooth of the Buddha found in Myanmar,
long after the Buddha was alive.
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We stop at a series of altars,
one for each sign of the zodiac.
In each section are a hundred tiny Buddhas,
each with a unique hand gesture or facial expression,
like those of the soldiers in China’s old capital,
whose terra-cotta bodies are identical,
but whose faces are individual.
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We proceed upstairs, as all around us
the chants of monks
come through an amplified system
and fill the temple.
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We pass a giant prayer wheel
and reach the room with the relic.
(I wonder if it is a molar or an incisor.)
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No one is in the room.
There is no crowd around the pedestal
holding the tooth of the prince
who gave up everything he had
to gain everything he needed.
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Thad at Red Room
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of six books, most recently Border Crossings, a poetry collection. His novel Haywire won the Asian American Writers Workshop’s members’ choice award, and his book Guess and Check won the Electronic Literature bronze award for multicultural fiction. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
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Reader Picks for the Holidays 2018

 

The following list consists of 15 book reviews published in 2018 that have generated the most interest from our readers as of November 2018. Click the links and consider a purchase for your holiday gift giving.

Gessner

The Conduit and other Visionary Tales of Morphing Whimsy by Richard Gessner

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/the-conduit-and-other-visionary-tales-of-morphing-whimsy-by-richard-gessner/

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Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/border-crossings-by-thaddeus-rutkowski/

mailer

The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/the-gospel-according-to-the-son-by-norman-mailer/

appearances

Appearances by Michael Collins

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/appearances-by-michael-collins/

young

The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/the-infinite-doctrine-of-water-by-michael-t-young/

attic

A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/a-look-back-antic-hay-by-aldous-huxley/

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Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/leaning-into-the-infinite-by-marc-vincenz/

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Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/monte-carlo-days-nights-by-susan-tepper/

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The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/the-gates-of-pearl-by-jill-hoffman/

ornaments

Ornaments by David Daniel

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/ornaments-by-david-daniel/

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A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/a-bright-and-pleading-dagger-by-nicole-rivas/

thieves

Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/thieves-in-the-family-by-maria-lisella/

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Logos by Gil Fagiani

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/logos-by-gil-fagiani/

fire-without-light-copy

A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/a-fire-without-light-by-darren-demarre/

Lasater Philosopy of Ranching by Laurence M Lasater cover photo

The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/the-lasater-philosophy-of-cattle-ranching/

 

 

Long Day, Counting Tomorrow by Jim Feast

long_day_counting_tomorrow_rgb_2

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By Thaddeus Rutkowski

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Jim Feast’s new novel, Long Day, Counting Tomorrow (Unbearables Books/Autonomedia), is basically a murder mystery, told in brief, nonsequential chapters identified by date. Set during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the fall of 1998, the story follows Raskin Trask, a former drug user (and Wall Streeter) who is undergoing treatment for the virus. Though Rask is not gay, he gets involved in the politics of gay rights—demonstrating, for example, with the group ACT UP. At a crucial point, Rask suspects something is up with the doctor who manages the treatment in a hospice for a AIDS patients. When Rask’s roommate dies of questionable causes, Rask realizes he could be next. He works to get evidence that will implicate the doctor in charge.

Around this storyline, the author (who wrote the book with the editorial assistance of Carol Wierzbicki) brings in a number of other characters, some more important than others. Rask is a member of a downtown New York group called the Neo Phobes, and many of his fellow phobes cross paths and socialize with him. One of the more interesting of these people is the radio personality Mac, who works at the station WPHEW. Mac is described this way:

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There was something about his libido, something that both got him into bad fixes (like the one-nighter that cost him his marriage) and into some of the most indefinably sweet moments of his existence. … More than once, he’d met someone at a party and, locked in the toilet, used the shag rug for … shagging.

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This description of Mac reminds us that there was a time—in the ’90s—when urban youths didn’t think much about risky behavior or the need for recovery from such behavior. It was OK to “wang chung” all night.

Elsewhere, Feast brings us deep into the world of AIDs treatment centers. Here, Rask meets his new roommate in the infirmary, Yardley Chu:

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Five or six bodies—not people, department store dummies—were grouped around one of the beds. … Rask went to the covered shape on the bed to introduce himself, but then stopped in surprise, jerking his head to the left. What he took to be Chu was a seventh dummy, prone on the bed. His new roommate sat beyond the bed in a wheelchair. Hanging over the back of his chair was a minor poet Rask had seen hanging around Mac.

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At first, I took this scene as an example of surrealism, without a realistic corollary. Why would mannequins be set up in and around a hospital bed? It seemed a metaphorical comment on the impersonal nature of hospitals. There is no flesh and blood here. The live person is “beyond the bed,” in a wheelchair. Then, on second thought, I saw the situation as Yardley Chu’s attempt to physically hide from those in power, from the staffers who can—and will—do him in.

There are a number of subplots in this novel—having to do with drug dealing, corporate spying, file stealing—that add to the atmosphere of shadowy doings and hidden motivations. To say that all is explained by the end might be an overstatement. Long Day, after all, is only the second installment in the Neo Phobe Trilogy (the first volume is titled Neo Phobe). The forthcoming third volume promises to provide more excitement, more details, and more answers.

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You can find the book here: https://www.akpress.org/long-day-counting-tomorrow.html?___SID=U

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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of five books of prose. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

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Appearances by Michael Collins

appearances
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By Thaddeus Rutkowski
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The title of Michael Collins’ new poetry collection suggests more than one way of seeing things. “Appearances” could indicate things that come into view or into existence. It also could mean the superficial or surface look of things, the way things merely seem. Both of these ideas are at work in these poems of life among people and life lived next to nature.
Near the beginning of the book (published by Saddle Road Press in Hilo, Hawaii), I found this brief poem, titled “Creation”:

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The fleshy snowflakes
twisting blissfully down
through the faint breeze

seem to have been made
in the image of the paperweight
I would gaze at as a child,

a tiny half world upended
in beautiful flurry, set down at will
by a suddenly gigantic hand

to quiet and awe the eye.
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Each stanza, save for the last, is constructed almost like a haiku, and like the classical Japanese form the poem concerns nature, starting with a reference to snow. But the thought turns inward as it becomes a memory of a paperweight owned in childhood. Another shift occurs in the third stanza, with a reference to a “gigantic hand,” as if a supreme force could cause the fall of snow—and could “upend” the world. By juxtaposing the very large with the very small, the poem asks how big we are, or how important we are, in the whole of the world and beyond. We have only our perception, our “eye,” to answer that question, and at the end we arrive at a state of “quiet and awe.”
Nature is in the process of being tamed in “Portraits of Soul,” a poem placed later in the collection:
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The harbor’s a flurry of work:
juggernaut mowers crop the lawn,
bushes are trimmed, the sand is combed
and brushed away from the walkways,
a team sweeps and lines the clay courts,
boats bustle with gossip and cleaning—
Spring is here!
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This excerpt offers a fairly straightforward description of a beach being prepared for human activity as the weather gets warmer. There is a feeling of excitement and anticipation. The area will become a spot of play and recreation. However, the poem takes a detour toward the philosophical in the following stanza: “Forms must be in things / and beings ever shaping space, / and these eyes that we have seen through, / must return to their visions’ graves.” I read this as meaning that “forms,” or objects that we see, are always changing with the forces that shape the space we live in. And all must come to an end, if our eyes, or what we see with, return to the “graves” of their perceptions. The poem ends with a kind of Zen koan: “Make something of what can’t exist.” The paradox of being and nothingness, of existence and nonexistence, cannot be resolved through reason, though it can be accepted through enlightenment. In this way, the last line of the poem functions as a koan. (I use the words “Zen” and “koan,” but to my recollection organized religion isn’t mentioned in this book.)
            Many of the poems in “Appearances” contain a visual element. “Harbor Mandala,” for example, consists of blocks of type arranged in a circle, with a block of type in the center. This pattern allows you to read the poem in different directionstop to bottom, side to side, or around the border. The effect enhances the contemplative quality of the words. As the eye wanders around the poem, certain phrases pop out (I could say “appear”): “i apprehend the amorphous dream,” “your skin creating visions,” “invited you into my soul.” It’s up to the reader to put these thoughts into more coherent order, or not. That “not” might be Collins’ message.
            You can find the book here: http://saddleroadpress.com/ appearances.html
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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the prose books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and RoughhouseHaywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.