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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 56 pgs.
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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan is a Newbery Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, and the author notes that he was inspired to write about the 11 slaves listed as property for the Fairchilds estate in 1828. The slave-related document only listed the slaves as “woman” and “boy”, etc., and no ages were given.  Bryan ascribed ages and names to these slaves and gave them jobs on the estate, and the stories he tells in a free-verse poetry format are telling.  My daughter and I read this together in February for Black History Month, but it is a book that has lessons that should be taught to kids everyday.

Bryan’s illustrations aim to breathe life into the dreams of these slaves, those who are bound to an estate with little hope of freedom, except in their minds.  They have skills praised by their owners, and any money they earn from the neighboring plantations enriches their owners.  It’s hard to see how this life could not make the slaves feel hopeless, but Bryan’s free verse poems recall the inner freedom their skills and accomplishments can bring — they have dreams of something more, if not for themselves, for others who they teach and mentor along the way.  From musicians to architects and doctors, these slaves had dreams that out shined their current situations.

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan demonstrates the harsh realities of slavery, while still providing children with a glimmer of hope and joy.  It speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit, as well as the darker drive to control others and deem them less worthy for arbitrary reasons.  The illustrations are bright and dreamlike, and kids will be drawn in.  My only complaint is that the free-verse is very narrative, and less rhythmic than expected.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Ashley Bryan grew up to the sound of his mother singing from morning to night, and he has shared the joy of song with children ever since. A beloved illustrator, he has been the recipient of the Coretta Scott King—Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award; he has also been a May Hill Arbuthnot lecturer, a Coretta Scott King Award winner, and the recipient of countless other awards and recognitions. His books include Sail Away; Beautiful Blackbird; Beat the Story-Drum, Pum Pum; Let It Shine; Ashley Bryan’s Book of Puppets; and What a Wonderful World. He lives in Islesford, one of the Cranberry Isles off the coast of Maine.

Essential Readings & Study Guide by K.V. Dominic

Source: Anna at Diary of an Eccentric
Paperback, 284 pgs.
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Essential Readings & Study Guide: Poems about Social Justice, Women’s Rights, and the Environment by K.V. Dominic is a compilation of Dominic’s published poetry to date. It includes three books of previously published poetry and some unpublished poetry in one collection, as well as discussion questions at the end of each poem for those who want to go deeper into the meaning of the text. In “Helen and her World,” we’re introduced to a child whose light shines bright, but she cannot see the light herself. “She is the light of the class,/light of the family,/light of the village,/but alas the light never sees itself” Her blindness does little to impede the hope that she exudes to those around her. And like in “A Nightmare,” Dominic juxtaposes light and dark, as a lavish wedding feast is held while girls outside are fighting with dogs over trash to eat and sustain themselves.

Dominic’s poems use simple language and imagery pulled from the news or events around him to draw larger connections with others. Rather than divide by declaring someone or something other, he strives to bring together people around common causes, such as ending poverty.

Hunger’s Call (pg. 122)

A startling news with
photos from Zimbabwe!
Carcass of a wild elephant
consumed in ninety minutes!
Not by countless vultures
but by avid, famished
men and women and children.
Even the skeleton was axed
to support sinking life with soup.
Impact of globalization,
liberalization and privatization?
Or effect of hyperinflation
and economic mismanagement?
Billions are spent
by developed nations
on arms and ammunitions.
Isn’t poverty the greatest enemy?
Why not fight against it
and wipe out destitution,
pointing guns, rifles and missiles
at the chest of the poor?

While plain-spoken, Dominic also employs sarcasm to get his point across. From class struggles and poverty to global warming and globalization, Dominic seeks a greater balance, a world in which we care for the world that sustains us without succumbing to the greed of materialism and capitalism. But it doesn’t stop with how humans treat one another and instead continues to evolve this notion of balance and care to all living beings. Essential Readings & Study Guide: Poems about Social Justice, Women’s Rights, and the Environment by K.V. Dominic is a comprehensive collection of poems that speak to our maternal instincts and our desire for belonging and balance in the modern world.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Internationally acclaimed poet Prof. K. V. Dominic (Kerala, India) is the author of three major volumes of poetry about the natural world as well as social and political commentary: Winged Reason, Multicultural Symphony, and Write, Son, Write.

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Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor

Source: the poet
Paperback, 220 pgs.
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Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor, which is book 2 (see my review of To Join the Lost), that modernizes Dante’s Purgatorio. The poems are told in cantos and the entire book can be considered an epic poem. Readers who have never read Dante’s epic poems or have no knowledge of his work should at least get the Cliff Notes version before reading Steinzor’s books, just get the basic idea of what happens.

Following in Dante’s wake is an apt reference, as Seth (the narrator, not the poet) is mostly on his own in Purgatorio and interacting with modern inhabitants, including Abraham Lincoln. The arc may be similar between the two, but Steinzor’s work is very modern and can be followed from a contemporary viewpoint. Emerging from Hell, Seth and Dante witness the miracle of birth and, in this first canto, it is both beautiful and painful to watch. In this experience, the narrator calls to mind the connections we all share with one another through this miracle and how despite the severed umbilical cord we remain connected like the roots and branches of a larger tree (one not always visible to the naked eye).

In this way, Steinzor draws in the reader to a more personal journey, allowing us to recognize are own struggles with the seven deadly sins and the decisions and situations we make for ourselves. Even as some of the more modern references to Bush and war, Katrina, and other events are now in the past, the struggle to see the humanity in decisions made by leaders and others reflects the continued struggles of our own modern society, which appears ready to rip apart under the current administration.

From “Canto VIII: Delinquent Leaders”

but I barely paid attention: the room
had begun to spin, and I was drawn –
it must have been up, but it seemed like down – into
the darkness welling in Lincoln’s eyes.

Seth (the narrator) is looking to reunite with his lost, first love, Victoria, who has tapped Dante to be his guide to her. While he’s unsure what motivated his love for Victoria, he strives onward through purgatory — observing and interacting. With Dante less than attentive, Seth is forced to find his own way with little direction from his guide, and in many ways, this mirrors the modern world in which children are forced in many instances to navigate the world on their own as their parents are working more than one job or are inattentive themselves.

From “Canto XVII: Smoke and Morals”

“‘Mountains of faith erode much faster than those
pushed up by plate tectonics,’ I say.
‘The mountain formed by Satan’s falling through
the core of the earth might better be likened
to an igneous intrusion than an
upthrust plate,’ comes his rejoinder,
‘but, you’re right, yet it erodes'”

Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor is rich in modern story and, having read the first book, it seems bleaker than the trip through hell as an almost hopelessness pervades each canto as Seth (the narrator) makes his way to his lost love. Readers will be forced to look at the modern world in which we live and decide whether their role in it should change, just as Seth is so challenged.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

To Join the Lost

About the Poet:

Seth Steinzor protested the Vietnam War during his high school years near Buffalo, New York, and his years at Middlebury College, advocated Native American causes after law school, and has made a career as a civil rights attorney, criminal prosecutor, and welfare attorney for the State of Vermont. Throughout he has written poetry. In early 1980s Boston he edited a small literary journal. His first, highly praised book, To Join the Lost, was published in 2010.

Magnesium by Ray Buckley

Source: MindBuck Media
Paperback, 98 pgs.
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Magnesium by Ray Buckley is an independent poetry film that explores the dark moments of breakups and the struggles people have with lost attachments to people they relied on in their lives. “Stay with me. Assure me of things I know I can’t be assured of. Press your will against the arguments which mortality makes against us,” the narrator says in “Assure Me”. “Say to me the work I do will keep us persistent through the years we were not allotted.”

Artists often want their work to stand the test of time, but it’s more than just the art or the poetry or the words, it’s us, a part of us, that can live on and demonstrate that we were here. Our time is precious and to create a lasting impression is something many of us want for ourselves, even if it is to just be remembered fondly by friends and family. However, we can never truly be assured of our place in others’ lives, no matter how much they assure us of their love, devotion, and care.

Many things are left unsaid between people, even close family, and these unsaid moments become an obsession for those left behind when someone passes away. Like the narrator tells Ray in “Untitled” (pg. 21), “I’m sorry that there’s nothing I can say to you ever again. I’m sorry that we’ll never know each other.”

However, there are digressions and movements in time that are not linear, and readers will just have to go with the flow and ponder the events after taking the journey. Digressions into politics and the need of politicians not to have their own opinions and not care about things but only do what the people of their area tell them is particularly poignant in today’s times (“A Minor Digression”, pg. 54-5). However, it also speaks to the ridiculousness of this expectation. People have opinions and emotions and those are what guide them daily.

Magnesium by Ray Buckley burns the oxygen around it, and while some poems are brighter than others, they call attention to the emotional baggage we all carry.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Ray Buckley is an American author, actor, and cinematographer from Portland, OR.

Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 42 pgs.
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Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen is a slim and powerful chapbook of poems that not only examines the emotional side of breaking up but all of its practicalities in a way that’s fresh and modern.

In the opening poem, “How to Leave Things Behind Without Even Trying”, the speaker talks about leaving his laptop at an airport and is aghast at how this could be accomplished given its significance in his life. This is then juxtaposed with his boyfriend’s exit from his life and the way in which the apartment was cleaned and staged as if he had never been there at all. The speaker struggles with both losses, trying to interpret their meaning in an effort to understand their absence, but he rightly says, “you wait to learn//anything about what was lost./You wait for the phone call,//which only comes if you’ll be/happily reunited.//” (pg. 8)

There are several poems in which the speaker is taking selfies with beloved literary and pop culture icons from Miss Havisham in Great Expectations to Molly Jensen from Ghost. In each of these poems, Jensen unravels the inner mysteries of loss felt by each of these characters. Havisham’s sadness over lost love is really her belief in true love and that caged birds set free will return but, in the meantime, she’s left wondering who she is without that caged bird to love and protect. The loss of an affair leads Alex in Fatal Attraction to extremes, but even if you don’t go to those extremes after a break-up, you can certainly understand where they come from.

Jensen’s couplets are powerfully crafted so that readers will feel each gut-wrenching loss, like “Everything we’d placed//inside those years spilled out/like blood escaping from a vein.//” (pg. 13, “Disruption”) But lest you believe this collection is all sadness and woe, Jensen has a sense of humor about it all, which one might expect comes with a bit of distance from the actual breakup events.

From “On the Night Gays Across America Celebrate the Marriage Equality Ruling, You and I Divide Our Possessions” (pg. 17)

We shake loose our lives like a braid
untwirling at the end of a long day.

I want everything and nothing
that belongs to you, that holds

a memory of you like an urn
full of ash, the kind of thing

you never open but have to
keep on hand because it means

Yes, I’m leaving you hanging with the above quote from this poem, but it’s one I don’t want to ruin for you. What the selected quote shows you is the humor and the lightness that Jensen brings to his couplets even in the midst of a breakup moment. There’s something to be said about bringing a bit of levity to loss. Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen is a commentary on the modern breakup and the swiftness of it, which can leave each of us stunned and empty. But what it teaches is resilience and growth, a move toward letting go, even if not complete. In order for new things to begin, the old must be broken down, and Jensen does that here with aplomb.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Charles Jensen is the author of The Nanopedia Quick-Reference Pocket Lexicon of Contemporary American Culture (2012 MiPOESIAS Chapbook Series) and The First Risk, which was published in 2009 by Lethe Press and was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award. His previous chapbooks include Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press, 2007). A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Field, The Journal, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. He holds an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University, where he also did graduate work in nonprofit leadership and management. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis, and is active in the national arts community by serving on the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts. He lives in Los Angeles.

Poetry Reading Challenge 2017

  • Haiku Level: read 1 book of poetry or 20 poems
  • Cinquain Level: Read 2 books of poetry, 40 poems
  • Sonnet Level: Read 3 books of poetry, 60 poems
  • Rondeau Level: Read 4 books of poetry, 80 poems
  • Villanelle Level: Read 5-10 books of poetry, 100 poems

If you want to challenge yourself this year, feel free to try a new form of poetry — Sonnets, Haiku, Pastoral, Limerick, Elegy, Tanka, Ghazal, Epic, and others.

Please sign up and let me know what level, and leave your review links in the linky below:

Happy 2017!

Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer explores our emotional responses, particularly what it means to be happy and how we account for happiness. This is Cayer’s third collection of poetry, and while I haven’t read others, it is clear that Cayer views the world in complex and unusual ways.  She looks at emotions with a practical and razor-sharp precision.

In “Acts of Confiscation,” the narrator commits new crimes to fill the emotional gaps left when the high from the previous ones wears off.  “I commit new crimes      to push/down the line     the unbearable ones/” she says, noting “I’m going in the red     direction/commit acts the size of ( )    always/some hole with fallen edges/a same-shaped desire waiting to fill it/” (pg. 23)  Cayer uses each poem to illustrate a different kind of happiness, and if readers look closely, they will see the happiness tied to mental illness or instability in some cases.  For instance, “Travelling without Moving” seems to illustrate an obsessive-compulsive who always works in a particular way — rearranges things to relax — and does these actions in a way that they are routine and unrecognizable as his/her own actions.  “it relaxes me to sort and rearrange, I’m pretty sure it was me/in the cupboards and boxes,”  (pg. 28)

Through the lenses of psychology and other sciences, Cayer looks at what it means to emote, to feel, and to strive to recreate those moments of happiness.  And beneath these studies is a certain trepidation about the future and whether the happiness will run out or be lost.  Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer is a complex collection that requires rumination and exploration beyond the page into the self and the world around us.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Lori Cayer is the author of two volumes of poetry: Stealing Mercury and Attenuations of Force. She serves as co-editor of English poetry for CV2 and is co-founder of the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie. Lori works by day as an editorial assistant for a scientific research journal.

Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson edited by Susan Snively, PhD, illustrated by Christine Davenier

Source: QuartoKnows
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson edited by Susan Snively, PhD, and illustrated by Christine Davenier is ideally for ages 8-13, and the illustrations are gorgeous and can be appreciated by readers of any age. Davenier uses a watercolor technique to illustrate the 35 poems in this volume, which Snively curated. Some, if not all, of the poems included have been modified from the original poem. In some cases, the em dash is removed and replaced with other punctuation, and in other cases, words that she capitalized are not in these versions. Dickinson readers will notice these changes very easily, and if these changes bother you in a kids book, this is not the volume for you.

I loved how the poems were presented here, and although this is a little old for my daughter, she listened as I read. The terms she would not be familiar with are defined on the pages where the poems appear. She may not have understood everything I read, but the lines and words Dickinson used — especially as nature is front in center — are things that even younger kids can relate to. She really loved the colorful pictures. They’re wonderful.

Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson edited by Susan Snively, PhD, and illustrated by Christine Davenier breaks down the poems by season and in the back, there is a list of what Emily Dickinson might have been thinking at the time the poem was written. For the age group this book is curated for, it is well presented and could be a stepping stone for deeper discussion of Dickinson, her unconventional life and writing, and what she was “thinking” as she wrote.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Emily Dickinson was an American poet who, despite the fact that less than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime, is widely considered one of the most original and influential poets of the 19th century.

About the Editor:

Susan Snively grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and now lives in New England where she is a guide, discussion leader, and film script writer for the Emily Dickinson Museum. She was the founder and first director of the Writing Center at Amherst College, where she worked from 1981 until 2008. She taught courses in writing and autobiographies of women, and has published four collections of poems: From This Distance (1981), Voices in the House (1988), The Undertow (1998), and Skeptic Traveler (2005). View her complete bibliography. Susan Snively has received numerous Prizes and Awards for her writing, and continues to lecture and give readings.

About the Illustrator:

Christine Davenier is an author and illustrator of children’s books. She has illustrated a large number of books, the authors of which include Jack Prelutsky, Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, Madeleine L’Engle and Juanita Havill, and has received critical acclaim.

Hermit Thrush by Amy Minato

Source: Inkwater Press
Paperback, 92 pgs.
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Hermit Thrush by Amy Minato reconnects us to the lives of animals and the movement of nature around us. Her poetry is infused with a raw passion and a deep sensuousness. From “Textural”, “Of course a moose/relishes the ooze of mud/in the tender center/of her hoof.//” and “Maybe to a snake/the slide of slick grass/over smooth scales feels/like a careful kiss.//” demonstrates the silky lines of Minato as she sets the poem’s foundation. The images are tactile and easy to imagine, and when reader’s reach the end of the poem, they become as breathless as the narrator waiting for the touch of a lover on their arm.

One of the most erotic poems, “Estuary,” caresses the reader with its language, teasing out the desire for connection from the reader as Minato’s lines weave an image of a new spring sprouting and curling with life, reaching for the mouth of the river in a kiss. It’s beautiful, simply beautiful. Even as love and connection can be lovely and desired, it also can be transient, being snuffed out in a “rain of fire” like those of the “Persieds”.

Even as love and passion turn to sadness and despair, Minato shows us the beauty of loss. From “Lament,” “while salmon lay eggs/on gravel beds in the slow/currents along the shore/and then turn over/onto the glass plate/of water to die.//” Life continues even after we have loved and lost and left generations behind us. It is that moment in which we create that our beauty is revealed to the outside world. Minato has raised the curtain on the seductive fern and the determined spirit of the creative spider, as well as many others in this collection.

There are six sections named after various birds — Sandhill Crane, Mourning Dove, Winter Wren, Scarlet Tanager, Great Horned Owl, and Cedar Waxwing — in Hermit Thrush by Amy Minato. Grab your binoculars and let Minato show you the truth inherent in nature — its beauty, its vices, its creativity, and its exquisite deaths. Each moment is to be savored and to be held in homage.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Amy Klauke Minato is author of a poetry collection, The Wider Lens, published in 2004 by Ice River Press and a creative nonfiction book, Siesta Lane, published in January 2009 by Skyhorse Press. She holds both an MFA in Creative Writing and an MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon. Her poetry has been recognized with a 2003 Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship and her prose with a Walden Fellowship. Minato’s writing has been published in Wilderness Magazine, Poetry East, Windfall, Cottonwood, Cimarron Review and Oregonian Poetry Corner, among others, and in several anthologies including From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry and Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon.

Amy teaches writing in schools through Literary Arts and Community of Writers, and in writing workshops throughout the Pacific Northwest. Amy reviews children’s picture books and young adult novels for Publishers Weekly. She also acts as a private writing coach and tutor. She hails from Chicago, although she and her husband, Joe, and her children Mateo (age 14) and Ruby (age 10) currently split their time between Portland, Oregon and the Wallowa mountains of eastern Oregon.

United States of Books: Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 180 pgs.
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For Illinois, Entertainment Weekly says, “Sure you can always go with Saul Bellow’s Chicago, but if you’re looking for another view of the windy city, pick up this challenging, essential look at urban black life, with all its beauty and pain.”

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks is her only novel, and despite being familiar with her poetry for a long time, I’ve never read it. Maud Martha is darker than her sister, and this is a shadow that follows her throughout the novel until she eventually learns that it is not about her outward appearance but the well of strength she has inside. As a child, she looks at the world around her and finds the beauty everywhere, like the dandelions she calls “yellow jewels for everyday.” (pg. 2) Maud is very observant, even as she enjoys every moment, she does note that things are not as merry as others make them seem. In her own family, she notes that everyone is “enslaved” by her sister’s beauty (Helen), but Maud is never bitter because she knows that they cannot help it.

Like many, New York City becomes a symbol of dreams and greater things, but like many symbols, they can be tarnished. Maud meets Paul, and she knows that he could have a prettier, lighter woman as his wife. Even as he marries her, she does not delude herself. Leaving her mother’s home for her own with her husband, Maud discovers that her dreams are much different.

“But she was learning to love moments. To love moments for themselves.” (pg. 78)

Brooks’ style is very different from the traditional novelist, where things happen but not necessarily on the page before the reader. She leaves a great many plot points unobserved, while at the same time, enabling the reader to hear directly from Maud. Her observations, her thoughts … providing readers with an inside look at how life of an urban black woman truly was. Through these observations, Brooks provides a window into the racial divide within even the black community, as well as how tough it was during the depression and the beginning of WWII. At the same time, Maud has opportunities to work outside the home, and these moments provide her with insight into how her husband is treated in the workplace.

“When they sat, their heights were equal, for his length was in the legs. But he thought he was looking down at her, and she was very willing to concede that that was what he was doing, for the immediate effect of the look was to make her sit straight as a stick.” (pg. 131)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks paints a stark picture of urban life within the black community, the differences between how the community perceived the use of the n-word and how it was perceived by whites, and the plight of women in the community. Maud says, “What was unreal to you, you could deal with violently,” and isn’t that true of all of us. What is real to us is harder to deal with head on, but we must push aside our fears. “On the whole, she felt, life was more comedy than tragedy.” (pg. 165) Maud is a pillar of inner strength from whom other women could take lessons.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Although she was born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas–the first child of David and Keziah Brooks–Gwendolyn Brooks is “a Chicagoan.” The family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and despite her extensive travels and periods in some of the major universities of the country, she has remained associated with the city’s South Side. What her strong family unit lacked in material wealth was made bearable by the wealth of human capital that resulted from warm interpersonal relationships. When she writes about families that–despite their daily adversities–are not dysfunctional, Gwendolyn Brooks writes from an intimate knowledge reinforced by her own life.

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Disinheritance by John Sibley Williams

Source: the poet
Paperback, 77 pgs.
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Disinheritance: Poems by John Sibley Williams seeks to address the natural privilege of passing down traits, memories, and more to another generation in light of recent deaths and miscarriages. But we can take solace in that things that happen to us now have happened before. Like the narrator says in “Salmon Run,” the salmon are moving upstream toward places that their great-grandfathers had gone, which he says is a “temporary holiness of knowing” that “all my mistakes have been made before.”

From "A Dead Boy Martyrs His Mother" (pg. 32)

With a sanctified blade
to behead or slip between
ribs like a love letter
returned to sender.

Many poems use elements of nature — animals in particular — to illustrate the absence of connection or connections that are denied. Williams’ verse will leave some readers agape, like in “I Sit My Grandfather by the Mouth of the Columbia River,” in which the narrator says, “I remember the cornfields as so far from here,// the flat, arid valley that drowned us/and for which we drew blood,/how full a silo feels when emptied of everything but our bodies.” It’s as if the flesh of bodies is inconsequential to what is locked inside them — the memories, the soul. To lose these at once or gradually is disheartening to say the least. In “A Room for Listening,” there are echoes reverberating throughout the stanzas, like the echoes of lives that almost were or that are no more. Williams’ lines are vastly haunting.

There is a sense of longing and deep sadness in these poems, and through this darkness, the narrators attempt to name what is missing even though it cannot be named. Disinheritance: Poems by John Sibley Williams is deeply affecting.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Controlled Hallucinations (2013) and Disinheritance (forthcoming 2016). A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the American Literary Review Poetry Contest and Vallum Award for Poetry, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Midwest Quarterly, december, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, Nimrod International Journal, Hotel Amerika, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Night Ringing by Laura Foley

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 108 pgs.
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Night Ringing by Laura Foley speaks to the risks we take, no matter how small, and the reverberations they generate in our lives. Each action has a consequence, even if those results are not seen immediately. Her simple observations are similar in that they quietly call attention to a moment and decision, and the effects creep up on the reader. Even the organization of the poems in each section seems to build upon the last, creating louder echoes of the ringing throughout the narrator’s life.

In “Daddy’s Girls,” the narrator talks about a father who wanted boys but had four girls. His actions toward them taught them to shy away from his attentions, eventually leading to the collapse of their own self-esteem. “Quickly, we learned/to turn away, duck his gaze,/but still he broke us,/” Her poems are short, but that makes them no less powerful. The girls are not the only ones broken, so too is the returned Viet Nam soldier in “The Staff of Life” who wakes from a dream with his hands around his girlfriend’s neck. “Driving Route 95” is the worst nightmare of any mother, the loss of family — a family that abandons you, not one that you leave behind. But it is true of all of us — we all fear being left behind, alone. This is a poem that will sear that fear into the hearts of readers. These are frightening images, images that will call up readers’ own histories of traumas past. How do you suppress those images? Do you knead the muscles until the pain subsides? do you meet those images head on?

Many of our memories are filled with regret, and these regrets often haunt us if we let them “I’m stumbling through/the dark, winding down a circular stair, to the place where the/ringing doesn’t end.”, the narrator says in “Night Ringing.” It is how we react to these traumatic moments and regrets that defines who we are — are we the moaning and yelping animals in a panic in “The Sounds Oblivion Makes” or are we swimming along even as we appear to be drowning, like the narrator in “Not Drowning”?

Night Ringing by Laura Foley examines a life led on its own terms in spite of the disappointments and the obstacles. A life that may look as though it was faltering and a person who seemed to be drowning, but a life that was lived with as little regret as possible. Foley expresses a wide variety of emotion in these compact poems, and readers will feel the crescendo when it hits.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Laura Foley is an internationally published, award-winning poet, author of five collections. She won First Place in the Common Goods Poetry Contest, judged by Garrison Keillor, who read her poem on “A Prairie Home Companion”; and First Place in the National Outermost Poetry Prize, judged by Marge Piercy. Her poetry collections include: Night Ringing, The Glass Tree and Joy Street. The Glass Tree won a Foreword Book of the Year Award; Joy Street won the Bisexual-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared in The Writer’s Almanac, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Pulse Magazine, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review, in the British Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, and many other journals.

A certified Shri Yoga Instructor and creative arts facilitator in hospitals, she is the mother of three grown children and has just become a grandmother. She and her partner Clara Gimenez live among the hills of Vermont with their three big dogs.