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The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight with charcoal drawings from Terrence Tasker

Source: Altaire Productions & Publications & TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, with charcoal drawings by Terrence Tasker that resemble the one on the cover (who may be is Antigone), is unique in that it is inspired by the Sophocles play but that it is not explicit in its references.  Antigone is the third in the Theban plays written by Sophocles and she was a very stubborn character who fought for her familial duties.  She is not only stubborn but very passionate about her beliefs.  The Antigone we meet in these poems is very passionate and very torn, but there also is an underlying darkness to her actions.  Slaight brings out her inner fears of death, which she believes is imminent even as she continues to defy the authorities and the gods with her actions out of duty.

Slaight employs some fantastic imagery, like “If this perfume doesn’t burst/It will twist into venom.” (pg XVII) and “Silence and decline/And a veil of grey descending.” (pg. LXXIII)  Coupled with the stunning charcoal drawings from Tasker, which remind me of the Greek masks worn when the old plays were acted out, the collection evokes deep sadness, turmoil and concern.  One of my favorite images is a side profile in which just the face is shadowed on a cream background and the hair is left without definition.  There is a fierceness in the woman’s brow and chin, but sadness can be found in her down-turned mouth.

From pg. LVII

Carver
Twist
You mark
In flesh.

Sculptor

Smash
This stone
In death.

Your anguish sought this blackened veil.
Your anger wrought this iron hell.

The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, with charcoal drawings by Terrence Tasker, is a fascinating collection of passionate and terrifying poems depicting the inner turmoil of Antigone, who fought for what was morally right and what she thought of as her duty to her brother.  She gives up everything with her battle to bury her shamed brother, including her betrothal to the prince of Thebes.  Slaight has a deft poetic hand when it comes to this tortured and head-strong character.  Her poems are cryptic, but infused with strong emotion.  Some surface background on the character of Antigone may be needed to fully grasp these poems, but on the surface, they could be spoken by any such woman or man.

About the Poet:

MARIE SLAIGHT (1954-) has worked in Montreal, New Orleans, and Buenos Aires as a writer, producer, and performer. Now based in Sydney, Australia, her poetry has appeared in American Writing, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Poetry Salzburg, The Abiko Quarterly, New Orleans Review and elsewhere. Slaight is currently the director of Altaire Productions & Publications, a Sydney-based arts production company, which has been involved in such films as the award-winning documentary Bury the Hatchet, Kindred and Whoever Was Using This Bed.

About the Illustrator:

TERRENCE TASKER (1947-1992) was born in Saskatchewan, Canada. Raised in rural western Canada, he went on to become a self-taught artist and filmmaker. He co-founded and built the original Studio Altaire, a 90-seat theater and visual art gallery that also ran after hours jazz concerts in downtown Montreal. He worked as a set builder as well as working in construction, mining, finance, industrial installations, taxi driving and film projectionist. He created the artwork for The Antigone Poems in the 1970s, while living in Montreal and Toronto.

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Remember the Sun: Poems of Nature and Inspiration by Melanie Simms

Source: The poet
Ebook, 35 pgs
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Remember the Sun: Poems of Nature and Inspiration by Melanie Simms, published by Sunbury Press, features poems and Lawrence Von Knorr’s photographs of Sunbury, Pa., and other local areas in the region.  In many cases, the photographs give additional life to the poems in Simms’s volume, but in others it is unclear how the poems and the photos connect.  Despite that, the photos are gorgeous, particularly the local shops and the pictures of the Susquehanna River.  Simms’s poems are chock full of imagery from ghosts harkening back to the past journey of Edison to the shadow puppets on the walls, but her verse examines not only the natural world, but the relationships between mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, and lovers.

From "Mother's Ashes" (pg. 7)

I love Emilio
for driving the long way
He doesn't have to do this.
"She's your mother," he says.
"We have to honor her spirit."
(I'd kept her ashes for years
in the cupboard in the kitchen).
I don't want to let go.  I wanted to
wake up each morning, knowing
some part of her remained.

Don’t we all want to keep a piece of our loved ones close, and we often very rarely realize how selfish that is. Is it better to honor their wishes or to keep them close? We all struggle with this dilemma at one point or another. Simms’s verse is historical and modern, and it is emotional and contemplative. There is something for every reader in this collection. Her collection also contains quite a few poems in which journeys are made — journeys to bury the dead, journeys away from and returning to loved ones, and journeys of emotion. When readers talk of place as a character in novels, there are moments like that in this collection as well, like in “Beauty and Magic at Barone,” about the Barone Beauty Academy in Sunbury.

From "The Suitcase" (pg. 3)

I watch you leave, but as the evening falls I imagine you
back in your chair.
I imagine that you have only stepped out for an evening walk.
How has it come to this?
All our dreams
packed away into one little suitcase
and carried off so easily?

Remember the Sun: Poems of Nature and Inspiration by Melanie Simms is a satisfying collection of poems and photographs that breathe life into the activities of a small town.  These people are no different than those that live in big cities; they still have dreams and big loves, and devastating losses.

 

About the Poet:

Melanie served as the Perry County Poet Laureate from 2005-2006 and has published in over 180 newspapers, magazines, and poetry journals; her poems have been featured on state and local television shows and over fifty poetry radio programs. She has been a featured artist at various Pennsylvania colleges, high schools, and landmarks including but not limited to National Poetry Month at the Degenstein Community Library with presentations by State Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver and Sunbury mayor David Persing.  Her awards include a Sophie Award, Finalist in the Richard Savage Poetry Award (Bloomsburg University), Perry County Poet Laureate (2005-2006), a Vermont Writers Studio Award, a Pushcart Prize Nomination, Marquis Who’s Who of The World, Cambridge Who’s Who of Women in Publication, Poet of the Week (Poetry Superhighway), and an Evvy Award nomination for Waking the Muse (best self-published book in the poetry category).

She is a President and Founder of the Association of Pennsylvania Poet’s Laureate (founded 2006) and a member of the World Poetry Society and The Daughters of the American Revolution.  To learn more, visit her Website.

 

 

 

 

Free Air: Poems by Joe Wenke

Source: Meryl L. Moss Media Relations
Paperback, 80 pgs
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Free Air: Poems by Joe Wenke is a satirical collection of poems that deftly plays with rhythm and rhyme.  These poems appear at first glance to be off-the-cuff statements and observations, but that’s if they are taken too seriously.  Take the “Lament of an Old Man” who is saddened by the passing of time and facing his own mortality where the narrator jokes about how he is just getting the hang of life and it is about to end.  There’s a self-deprecating humor at play here, but aren’t these many of the same observations we make as we age?

Readers will enjoy these playful pieces in which the narrator is tricked by his own brain in “I Think Without Thinking.”  Wenke is almost whimsical in his choice of words, ensuring that they rhyme or provide the necessary sing-song nature of these poems.  However, there are some beautiful poems as well that are less about being humorous, though they still may contain humor.  One of my favorites, “Star Stuff,” begins with a quote from Carl Sagan and how we are made of star stuff because our DNA is made of nitrogen, iron, calcium, and other elements found in collapsing stars.

From "Star Stuff" (pg. 33)

1

Billions of years ago,
millions of light years away,
we made a pact inside a star
to meet again.
Was it that distant memory,
a sweet explosion of wills,
that brightened your face
as you turned
to meet me again?

2

I've waited for you, my love,
in all the familiar, desolate places,
in train stations, bus stations, airports
and apartments.
I've waited for your return
from New York City, Hartford, Boston
and Rome.
I've waited across the vacuum of space,
across the emptiness of our former lives,
across distances beyond all
but our imaginations.

Free Air: Poems by Joe Wenke is a fine collection to pass a warm, spring day reading in the sun.  Stopping to chuckle at the lines or to reflect on the deeper meaning.  But there is much more beneath the surface of these lines, as Wenke seeks to raise awareness about how “free” we really are and how finite the time we have is.

About the Poet:

Joe Wenke is a writer, LGBTQ activist and the founder and publisher of Trans Über, a publishing company with a focus on promoting LGBTQ rights, free thought and equality for all people. Wenke received a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in English from Penn State and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Connecticut.

 

 

 

 

 

Banned for Life by Arlene Ang

Source: the poet
Paperback, 81 pgs
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Banned for Life by Arlene Ang is a collection of poems in which all is not as it seems.  She is an inventor of transforming verse in which death takes on a new life and ghosts are the living.  The collection begins with a quote from Anatole France that sets the tone: “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”  Whether we are looking at the crime scene and all the parts except for the dead girl at the center or considering the mass extinction of pigeons in Venice, Ang has caused us to pause and rethink our perceptions.

Death is a clear preoccupation in these poems, as the narrator examines what it means to be a dead woman floating down the river in “The Model Particular.”  She examines how that minutiae serves as a sign to a larger picture, like the bracelets that become scars on the girl floating in the river, revealing more about her past and how she may have ended up there.  “When a red shoe finds/the silt, it may take up to thirty years/before it reaches the ocean.//The girl is wearing bracelets/of scars. She is purpling under both eyes./She is all poise and dead leaves.”  (pg. 15)

Her poems speak to not only the temporary nature of life in the body, but also the temporary nature of the impressions we make while we live and interact in society.  Ang juxtaposes the beautiful and the horrifying, challenging her readers to see the gruesome allure of death, murder, and more.  In “Field Trip,” “The man under the bus was previously dead.  … The smell of rot became his speech and, towards the end, we were all talking about it … There was oil all over him and oil all over the dead man in the manner of really good excuses to start a war.”  Stories within stories unfold in these poems as the characters tell lies to themselves, to the narrator, and the reader.  It is up to the reader to uncover the truth.

From “Process of Forgetting” (pg. 19)

That’s how we knew mortality is all
about forgetting.  Even as we observed each other,
the holes were already in place: the skull is structured
around them, the senses merely tenants
who might suddenly choose to go for a swim
in something as absurd as ballet shoes and plastic gloves.

Banned for Life by Arlene Ang is filled with the beautiful moments of sitting by a dying mother in her last days to offer comfort in any way the narrator can (“To Sweat”), which are then juxtaposed with the deaths of women and men who may or may not have had the same comfort (“Pictures”).  Stunning in many ways, readers will want to read every last poem to reach “Rediscovering Paris Through Female Body Parts,” which is by turns exquisitely sensual and unsettling.

***Another contender for the best of 2015 list***

About the Poet:

Arlene Ang is the author of “The Desecration of Doves” (2005), “Secret Love Poems” (Rubicon Press, 2007), and a collaborative book with Valerie Fox, “Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon” (Texture Press, 2008). Her third full-length collection, “Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu” was published by Cinnamon Press in 2010. Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Caketrain, Diagram, Poetry Ireland, Poet Lore, Rattle, Salt Hill as well as the Best of the Web anthologies 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books). She lives in Spinea, Italy, where she serves as staff editor for The Pedestal Magazine and Press 1.

 

 

 

 

 

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote

Source: NetGalley & Grayson Books
eBook, 82 pgs
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Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems from a retired U.S. Navy physician, who also is the director of the Warrior Poetry Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Beneath the carnage depicted in many of these poems, there is a compassionate undercurrent.  Some of these poems are about the battle scars — physical and emotional — that shape today’s warriors, but they also are about sacrifice, discipline, and human comfort spawned from work on the hospital ship Comfort and the care of sick and wounded Americans.

From “Mountain Burial”

knowing we can’t retrieve
this well that’s now gone dry.
She lives in a field of green
whose thousand blades wave free,
scattered from us by war,
the ender of destinies.

From “Uncle Jim”

They say everything’s been written; it hasn’t.
Darkness and light are vast, and poets have barely begun.
Even when it hides, the hand knows when it’s writing a final death.

Foote’s narrator is a compassionate medic, but he is well aware of the carnage of war, facing it daily in surgeries and helping soldiers come to terms with the losses they have suffered. There is compassion for the soldiers as well as for the enemies, particularly those also marred by war. These poems are less trying to make sense of war, but geared toward demonstrating compassion and understanding. They pay homage to the dead, a way to honor their collective and individual sacrifices. Foote also includes some great notes about the different terms used, including Fedayeen, which refers to a generic fighter, and Mujahadeen, which refers to someone fighting for a religious cause. There also are great tidbits about events that occurred during the war that many may not know, including villagers who tossed unwanted children — particularly those with cognitive disabilities — onto Medevacs to get rid of them (“The War Child”).

Wife on the ICU

I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird
the monitor shows a thin green line
I walk at night and watch at dawn
not knowing the end of the road I’m on
down which, possessed by a voice unheard
I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird.

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems that is less focused on battles and who the enemy is and more on the compassion necessary to treat those men, women, and children who are scared by war — whether they are soldiers, bystanders, or the enemy. Some poems are better paced than others, but there are some gems that will have readers looking at war with a new perspective.

About the Author:

Frederick Foote is a poet and physician who lives in Bethesda, MD, USA. His work has appeared in Commonweal, JAMA, The Progressive, and many other journals. Click the tabs for a sample of these poems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs
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Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is a stunning collection that explores the vessels we are given to travel through the world in in a literal and figurative sense.  We are born and given a name, but what do those names come to mean to us and how is that different from the meaning of the name to our parents?  Jones explores the meaning of her own name in “Definition,” after the poetic narrator introduces the girl she believes herself to be at the beginning.  She effectively juxtaposes this carefree and fun-loving girl with the expectations of the name she is given.

From “Girl” (pg 3-4)

daydreaming, pretend out loud
Girl.

Singing off-key, flowing T-shirt hair,
microphone brush and missing front teeth.

From “Definition” (pg.7)

Parnassus …
2. (Literature/Poetry)
a. the world of poetry
b. a center of poetic or other creative activity

Parneshia …
I. 1980–daughter of high school sweethearts (prom queen and football captain).
2. (Woman/Poet)
a. rooted in her Midwest, in her poetry
b. growing up in Mama’s kitchen and stacks of dusty books
3. (Woman/Poet) twenty years later, the Poet searches the
definition of her name … who knew

While she is young, the narrator is content to just be, but as she grows older, she seeks a part of herself that she was unaware of, only to be surprised by how connected she already was.  And as the collection continues through its stages, so too does the evolution of the narrator from a child seeking a fair trade with her friend to switch names because her friend’s name is shorter, until she realizes that names often reflect who we are on the inside.  In this tale of growing up, the narrator becomes a young woman who fondly remembers those who helped her grow, like her grandmother who “lifts the quilt/sewn fifty years ago by her mother, signaling me to join her.”  And that girl slid “into the pocket of the quilt,/letting my grandmother’s hands/cradle me back to child,” ultimately “creating a human quilt.” (page 14-5)  These are the memories she can hold onto when the reality of life hits her hard, and she begins to realize that love and other things are not as they are in the movies.

Jones includes poems that explore what happens when we come of age, but also what we remember about our pasts and how important it is to keep the patchwork of our own family histories intact, just like those in a quilt.  While the larger world remembers the bigger stories of poets pushing the envelope and Blacks who became president, we have to be the ones to record our own histories and remember that we, as vessels, carry all of those stories inside of us and that they are part of who we were, are, and will be.  Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is beautiful, nostalgic, questioning, and lyrical.  Like in “Legend of the Buffalo Poets,” “There is a rumble in his roaming./ Part bison, part thunder,/ he is a stampede of words,/ raising mountains from rooted earth.//” and we should “Love our delirious souls/running wild in this concrete jungle.”  (Litany: Chicago Summers, pg. 60-1)

One of the best poetry collections I’ve read in 2015.

About the Poet:

After studying creative writing at Chicago State University, earning an MFA from Spalding University, and studying publishing at Yale University, Parneshia Jones has been honored with the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. Her work has also been anthologized in She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, edited by Nikky Finney. A member of the Affrilachian Poets, she serves on the board of Cave Canem and Global Writes. She currently holds positions as Sales and Subsidiary Rights Manager and Poetry Editor at Northwestern University Press. Parneshia Jones lives in Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 80 pgs
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Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny is a collection of prose poems in which cave drawings, pictographs, and petroglyphs the poet found in Montana come to life.  Readers are looking over her shoulder as she looks closely at these images while she wonders about the people who created them.  We begin near a cave in “Outside the Live Cave Spot” where we observe the opening as “lopsided, irregular dripping down like a lock of hair over someone’s eye.”  Things here are obscured from view, like the picture is not full.  It is just like the narrator of the poem, we get a glimpse of the life that was here, but something has been lost as humanity has moved away from pictorial communication to words on a page and online.  Many of these prose poems examine this sense of loss, a part of our culture that has disappeared into the ether, but it is still with us, as we can imagine and remind ourselves of what those lives must have been like.

From “Pictograph: Bird Site, Maze District” (pg 16)

“We recognize a figure, a brother, a twin, who is punished
for our disabilities, our own strangeness.  We are removed from
our families or we remove ourselves.”

From “Sign With Convergent Nested Elements” (pg 28)

“Sometimes things shine forth with their own
magnitude. Brushstroke of the mountain above the bank. As one ages,
it seems to me, one begins to separate from the body. One sees its frailties, it needs at a remove. Dimly lit, not important to return to.”

The narrator continues on this journey of discovery, which leads her to self-discovery. She examines not only the past, but also the faith it must have taken for those people to have lived and continue onward — a faith that she finds wobbles in herself.  The narrator is discovering more than she bargained for, making connections not only with the past but with the nature present before, like the mountain chickadee who wobbles before her in “The Wounded Bird.”  Here she is identifying with this bird’s struggle for life and noting her own inability to come to terms with god.

Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny contains some really stunning images and examinations of human evolution and struggle, but readers may connect with just a few poems in the collection at first.  “Kayak,” for instance, is the most removed from the idea of studying these ancient drawings in that the narrator is in the water surrounded by nature, but the effect is similar in that we have the power to blend in or to disturb or even to merely stand out by being ourselves, which can cause others to take flight.

About the Poet:

Melissa Kwasny is the author of the acclaimed poetry collections The Nine Senses (Milkweed Editions, 2011) Reading Novalis in Montana (Milkweed Editions, 2009), The Archival Birds (Bear Star Press, 2000), and Thistle (Lost Horse Press, 2006), which won the Idaho Prize in 2006. She is also the author of Pictograph, forthcoming in 2015. She is the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800–1950 (Wesleyan University Press, 2004). Widely published in journals, including Willow Springs, Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, and River Styx, she was recently the Richard Hugo Visiting Poet at the University of Montana and a Visiting Writer at the University of Wyoming. Kwasny received the Poetry Society of America’s 2009 Cecil Hemley Award for a series of poems that appears in The Nine Senses. She lives in Jefferson City, Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Source: the poet
Paperback, 82 pgs
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The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey, which will be on tour with Poetic Book Tours this month, is a collection that blends invention with a cautionary tale.  Imaginary friends and close connections we make as children often help fill in the holes we have because of our own family dynamics, and the robot scientist and his daughter are no different.  While the scientist experiments for the pure joy of discovery, the consequences of his actions often take a backseat even if those consequences are widely devastating.  In the author’s note, Gailey says, “One reason I wrote this book was to raise awareness that nuclear research is never harmless; that the half-life of the pollution from nuclear sites is longer than most human lifespans; that there is, from reading my father’s research as well as my college classes, no truly safe way to store nuclear waste.” (pg. 6)

These poems will definitely make you think deeper about nuclear research and the effects of not only disposing of waste, but also the impact of atomic bombs and nuclear meltdowns.  Some of Gailey’s signature references to comic book characters and myths are present in these poems if you know where to look, like Dr. Manhattan who found himself transformed by an accident in a lab — an accident that resembles one caused by physicist Louis Slotin — and his modified outlook on humanity, which resembles the attacks of conscience felt by Oppenheimer.  While there are references to the Manhattan nuclear project, the bulk of the collection focuses on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

America Dreams of Roswell

The forbidding sugar of hot desert sand
and hallucinations of mushroom clouds

linger in a city where you can still get pie
with a fried egg on top, where you might catch

a glimpse of UFO dazzle, even the lampposts bloom
into alien heads, where barbed wire might keep out enemies

of the American dream, where the tiny famous lizard’s legs
cling to sad, solid rock.  On the Trinity site, that sand

turned to green glass.  The scientists were unsure
about igniting the whole earth’s atmosphere, nevertheless

the violet light demanded goggles; the shadows
of ranch houses burned into the ground.

Like most young girls, our narrator tries to fit in, which is hard in a secretive community where the government has sought waivers from its workers and those living and working in the community cannot speak to anyone about the research being done. Even children get a sense of being cloistered, being penned in.  While some poems are about the past and the nuclear research at the Tennessee labs, some poems take a more recent approach in examining the fallout from the Fukushima disaster, the direct result of a earthquake-generated tsunami.  From butterflies born without eyes to the beautiful disaster that is the art of an explosion, the poet calls into question human curiosity and the vanity that sometimes comes with that, in which the scientist believes only good will result from research and experiments, despite historical evidence to the contrary.

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey has a gift of putting the bigger questions into a more manageable world within her poems.  From “They Do Not Need Rescue,” “No one needs rescue here in America’s Secret City./…/Not the children/dying of leukemia quietly in hospitals funded/by government grants, uncounted because/their numbers might seem damning.//”  We want to bury our sins and hide from the truth, but it cannot be secreted away, no matter how hard we try.

About the Poet:

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, WA and the author of Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers, available spring of 2013. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches part-time at National University.

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust

Source: Press 53
Paperback, 114 pgs
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Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust, selected as the 2015 winner of the Press 53 Award for Poetry, is a collection of contemporary sonnets in which a pilgrim tackles the challenges of the modern world, including debt, divorce, addiction, and more.  Sonnets are one of the more challenging forms of poetry because of their rhythms and rhyme schemes, but Foust is never shy in her word choice nor the selection of each poem’s topic.  Her pilgrim is like Dante in the Divine Comedy, who searches for truth, beauty, and love, but unlike him, those concepts can manifest in very different ways.  In Foust’s modern version, the Pilgrim comes from a place of instability in which her father “smelled like failure because/he could not pay the bills.” (“The Prime Mover,” pg. 15)

From the seven deadly sins overheard at a party to party etiquette, the shallowness of Pilgrim’s cloud is seen through judgmental eyes, even as the Pilgrim seeks solace in the bathroom with the newspaper.  She buries her head in the sand to avoid the realities of the world around her — the lack of depth and mindfulness — and she’s paralyzed with fear and inaction.  The juxtaposition between her upbringing with the new life of high-end parties, among the elite with their own yachts and mansions, is stark.

From “Wrath, Talking about ‘The Change'” (page 10)

‘Menopause is a bitch and, trust me, not
one in heat. Black cohosh and primrose,
soy, and those compounded creams
you rub on your belly. Yuck, and none of it
works–I still hot-flash like a neon sign
in a full grand mal fir, I still rail

From “Indentured” (page 14)

Pilgrim’s own teeth, like her parents’, are soft
as chalk and will not bleach quite white.
She recalls how her father used to swoop
into the room, vanting to suck her blood,
his bridge boiling Polident blue in a cup

The search for more begins as a slow burn as Pilgrim recognizes the folly of the high-end Fifth Avenue “subway coat” and the use of the Escalade to drive the kids to sports.  There is the danger that she will fall in love with that life and all that it offers, even if it is shallow and unfulfilling.  With references to Hamlet and other classics, Foust has created a ripe mixture of classic and contemporary poetry within a classic form, which readers can and will spend hours ruminating over.  The urgent need to undergo a pilgrimage is tempered by Pilgrim’s awareness that the journey will take an emotional, spiritual, and moral toll.  In spite of those challenges, she sets off.

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust is a masterful work about the search for meaning in meaninglessness and the search for fulfillment in a world abound with distractions and shallowness.  Foust is a rare talent and her sonnets are masterful, but modern and fresh.

About the Poet:

Rebecca Foust‘s book Dark Card, won the 2007 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook and was released by Texas Review Press in June 2008, and a full length manuscript was a finalist in Poetrys 2007 Emily Dickinson First Book Award. Her recent poetry won two 2007 Pushcart nominations and appears or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Margie, North American Review, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others.  She also is the new Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change, which will feature a different woman poet (over the age of 40) each week in its “Poetry Sunday” column.

Check out this interview with Rebecca in SFWeekly.  Here’s another review.  For your viewing enjoyment, Foust reads “the fire is falling.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doll God by Luanne Castle

Source: Poet Luanne Castle and Poetic Book Tours (my online tour company)
Paperback, 82 pages
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Doll God by Luanne Castle reflects on the passage of time and the impressions we leave behind.  Imagine the dolls you or your sisters or friends had as children and how much they were loved and cared for … imagine the stories that were created for them and the lives they shared.  Now, imagine what has become of those dolls, where are those talismans of hope and joy?  Are they buried in an attic or a closet, were they left behind in a field to become so much detritus?  Is that all they are?

from “Debris” (page 57)

And now, I can’t get the image
out of my mind:
dried paint chipping,
the spread of mold pockmarks,
velour paper edges fraying, canvas rips, a gradual
flaking into sand, then dust sifting down
to be layered over by debris
of another generation
always the shifting sand
like a dust storm

Castle asks these questions and more in her collection, seeking answers to how our pasts are shaping us even now and how those pasts have faded with the passage of time.  From large toddler dolls to doll gods, Castle evokes an adult sensibility within a child-like wonder, and the anxiety that raises up in the verse is tangible, just as the fear of time passing too quickly can hit us when we least expect it.  She causes us to reflect on our triumphs, our past joys and innocence, as well as to let it go into the ether to be rewritten by future generations.

This emotional collection will take a toll on its readers, but the journey will leave them changed in terms of perspective and renewed in that they will want to live more fully and enjoy each moment in the moment.  Reading these poems once will reflect one meaning, but upon subsequent readings, the poems leave readers to ruminate on their own lives.  Doll God by Luanne Castle is multi-layered, with bright spots in the darkness of loss.  Castle has a wide range and more great things are sure to come from this poet.

About the Poet:

Luanne Castle has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside; Western Michigan University; and Stanford University. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Barnstorm Journal, Grist, The Antigonish Review, Ducts, TAB, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, Wisconsin Review, The MacGuffin, and other journals. She contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.  Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Crow-Work by Eric Pankey

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 71 pgs
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Crow-Work by Eric Pankey is a collection that pushes the boundaries, rooting itself in the now to seek out the past and more.  The past is so far back and unreachable, yet many of us stretch ourselves as far as we can to reach the past only to fail.  Returning again and again to the birds and the fox, Pankey weaves verse anchored in nature so that it can reach out for artistic beauty and something more ethereal.  Like the crow cleaning up after death and failures, Pankey is searching through the detritus looking for the something of beauty or hope.  There is a shadow hovering in this collection, weighing down the narration — a sense of depression that lingers.  In “Crow-Work,” the crows are “scavenging” what they can efficiently after thousands of innocents have been slaughtered by a comet.

Pankey examines the fault of memory and its inability to maintain the true nature of the past, but there is always that longing for something that has been gone.  “If he’s my brother he’s a faded forgery,/Fleshed out in dust motes, an embodied loss,” the narrator explains in “My Brother’s Ghost.” And in “Depth of Field,” “Once, to my footfall/On an icy wooden bridge/Carp surfaced, expecting to be fed,/Hovered a moment,/Then descended into the murk.//”  The narrator is looking for that thing of beauty to anchor himself in the moment so that he too does not descend into the murk.

The Other Side of the Argument (page 43)

But she prefers the morning glory,
How slowly its bloom unfurls,
How its curl of vine
Catches the flaw in masonry
First, then the crosshatch
Of kite string we hung
From the porch
As a makeshift trellis,
How it needs only a foothold
To fill half the day with blue.

However, these poems are not all darkness, as a young boy sits on the edge counting the seconds as he turns the pages of a book he does not want to end in “Beneath Venus.” The narrator of these poems also reminds the reader that s/he is not the one that alters the space or brings change, but that the space changes them, especially as readers interaction with the poems themselves. There is a continuous, inner struggle in Crow-Work by Eric Pankey, but it is a struggle with which we all can relate. Another contender for the Best of 2015 list.

About the Poet:

Eric Pankey is the author of nine collections of poetry. TRACE, published by Milkweed Editions this year is the most recent. Two new collections, DISMANTLING THE ANGEL, and CROW-WORK are forthcoming. He is the Heritage Chair in Writing at George Mason University.

WET by Toni Stern

Source: Wiley D. Saichek Publicity
Paperback, 76 pgs
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WET by Toni Stern begins with poems close to home and the latter half of the collection is about the wider world as the narrator explores contemporary life.  Some of these poems display humor, like in “Greetings Issa!” where the narrator speaks to a spider and assuages her fears that she could be squashed with a broom.  In “Turn Off,” the narrator laments the deaths of insects she watches flying into the lamp even as she continually attempts to get engrossed in a book that is clearly not grabbing her attention.  Other poems read like lyrics from songs, which makes sense given her history as a songwriter with Carole King.

From "Natural Resources" (page 58)

In this winter of 2013-14
California's stricken,
a drought-ridden
Eden.

Edible California,
I am your homegrown daughter,
I fill my mouth with water,

bittersweet.

Stern’s verse is vivid on the page and lyrical, particularly in “Jamming” — a poem that could remind readers of The Beatles more whimsical songs like “I am the Walrus.”

From "Jamming" (page 38)

Ragged euphorbias
tall as a man,
weather this tight-fisted,
iron-poor land.
Pink floribundas
jockey for space,
poise and predation
adorn every face.

Stern is open and honest in her poems, and had fun with her verse and rhymes. Each poem brings a freshness to its subject. “True Love” was one of my favorites because it demonstrates in so few words what true love ought to be.  WET by Toni Stern is delightful, fun, and energized.

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Toni Stern enjoyed a highly productive collaboration with singer/songwriter Carole King. Toni wrote the lyrics for several of King’s songs of the late ’60s and early ’70s, most notably “It’s Too Late,” for the album Tapestry. Listed among Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” the top-selling album of its day, Tapestry has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, received numerous industry awards, and, in 2012, was honored with inclusion in the National Recording Registry to be preserved by the Library of Congress. Rolling Stone named “It’s Too Late”—Tapestry’s biggest hit—as one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In 2013, King performed the song at the White House. “It’s Too Late” also features in the hit Broadway show and soundtrack album Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Stern’s music has been recorded by many artists, including Gloria Estefan, Barbra Streisand, Faith Hill, Amy Grant, Andy Williams, the Carpenters, the Isley Brothers, the Stylistics, Helen Reddy, Dishwalla, Drag On, and many others. She has published several illustrated books and has also enjoyed success as a painter, studying with Knox Martin at the Arts Students League in New York. Wet is her first volume of poetry. She lives with her family in Santa Ynez, California. Photo credit: George Scott