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The Diary of Emily Dickinson by Jamie Fuller

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 224 pgs.
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The Diary of Emily Dickinson by Jamie Fuller is an ambitious project that recreates the life of Emily Dickinson, a hermetic poet from Amherst, with her poetry and from the letters that remain from her life.  Fuller has done her research, which is clear from the annotations that accompany poems and diary entries.  But what’s disappointing is that Fuller’s diary entries — while they mirror Dickinson’s style — do little to extrapolate from the letters or poems to create something new.  Readers will want a fictionalized Emily to be more revealing, not more obscure than what she left behind.

“A captured bird mutes its tune.” (pg. 95)

There are gems in some of the diary entries that allude to Emily’s views on marriage and how it would interfere with her poetic work.  She has been called to write poetry, and while she does household chores, she clearly had greater leeway with her family than she would with a husband or children of her own.  In this way, Fuller has called attention to an age-old problem many women face when they marry — how do you balance the expectations of being a wife and mother with your own dreams and desires.  This would be particularly difficult in Emily’s time.

The prologue is the most creative bit about the book in which Fuller describes the how the diary came to be saved when so many letters were burned by Emily’s sister.  After reading through the poems you remember, you wonder what do the diary entries add.  Unfortunately, they add very little and leave readers wondering if they should have spent their time reading her poems, creating their own narratives for Emily alongside what facts are available from the letters that have survived.

The Diary of Emily Dickinson by Jamie Fuller had potential, and while readers know that Emily was a hermit for much of her life and lived with her family and her poetry, Fuller has not taken the creative leap to bring us into the mind of a poet.  The novel feels flat and two-dimensional.  The saving graces here are Emily’s own poems and the annotations from letters and facts discovered in the historical record.

RATING: Couplet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Source: Jessica Piazza
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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With the media overload of the 21st Century, poets are bound to ask: How much of this information sticks and is it absorbed in the way that is expected? Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza, one of the best new authors according to CBS Los Angeles, explores that process by taking articles found in a variety of sections of The New York Times, including real estate and obituaries, and erasing words until a poem emerges from the detritus. Neither poet knew what the other created, and what has emerged is a collection that speaks not to ephemeral constructs but to concrete concerns and connections.

Most of us know that people who hear or read it at the same time never absorb information in exactly the same way, but what’s most fascinating about this collection is how many of the poems seem to respond to one another when placed side by side. Piazza and O’Neill’s poems for Education use the article “Varied Paths Toward Healing for Sites of Terrorized Schools” by Winnie Hu for inspiration, exploring the aftermath of school shootings. “Healing” provides a sharp, zeroed in image of red, a shade that cannot be forgotten because the memory of that violence is seared into the mind’s eye. In answer, “Toward Healing” takes a look at the broken pieces of the school, the touch of violence only to reclaim those terrifying memories to create a “shrine” of hope. Both poems parallel Hu’s article. Violence of this nature is deeply affecting, and people internalize it in different ways, taking from it a sense of hope for the future in those who survive or feeling that deep pessimism that comes from loss of young potential.

In these poems, Piazza and O’Neill are not only looking at how information is internalized and processed, but they are commenting on the information’s presentation by the journalists who wrote the articles. In most of these poems, it is clear that journalists no longer just report facts and data, but also offer a personal perspective on their subject matter.

For instance, the obituary of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the technical director of the Manhattan Project, explores the man’s career and his regret over how the atom bomb was used, but it also discusses the disconnect he saw between what scientists create and how it is used. “Bomb” and “Atom Bomb Pioneer” both pay homage to the creation of science but never shy away from the connection – both good and bad — between its development and its use.

From “Bomb”, “Art was delicate work. Sciences,/a celebrated ivory-tower, almost/wholly divorced from its gravity.// A change of direction that added/sinister overtones to the awakening/world.// A love affair, now dead.// A continuing fury that unified/the immense, tension-filled world.” But in “Atom Bomb Pioneer,” we see Oppenheimer in a different way with the telling end line, “I have known sin,/ he offered.//” Piazza and O’Neill bring the full weight of that creation to the fore, asking us to consider the consequences not in retrospect but in the present. They also take up that mantle of perspective to show readers a new outlook on the subject at hand.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza leaves us with the digestible pieces that can be easily swallowed and endured. But within these pieces, we realize that the whole is not destroyed but enhanced in this innovative poetry collection.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza is the author of three poetry collections: “Interrobang” (Red Hen Press), “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (Red Hen Press, forthcoming). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in English Literature /Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University. She is co-founder of Gold Line Press and Bat City Review, and curates the Poetry Has Value blog, which explores the intersections of poetry, money and worth. You can learn more and read her work at www.jessicapiazza.com and www.poetryhasvalue.com.

About the Poet:

Heather Aimee O’Neill is the Assistant Director of the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and teaches creative writing at CUNY Hunter College. An excerpt from her novel When The Lights Go On Again was published as a chapbook by Wallflower Press in April 2013. Her poetry chapbook, Memory Future, won the University of Southern California’s 2011 Gold Line Press Award, chosen by judge Carol Muske-Dukes. Her work was shortlisted for the 2011 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Award and has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Time Out New York, Parents Magazine and Salon.com, and is a regular book columnist at MTV’s AfterEllen.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, is a delightful children’s book that meshes poetry and science.  Although some of these concepts may be tough for kids in kindergarten to understand, kids will enjoy the delightful illustrations and the fun verses that poke fun of critters and teachers.  My daughter particularly liked that the teachers are the reason dinosaurs died — of boredom, naturally — and not meteors.  She doesn’t really understand that dinosaurs are gone over in several grades or that they died because of meteors, etc., but she like the idea of the dinosaurs falling dead at the feet of teachers with their tongues hanging out.

My favorites were about the water cycle and amoebas, as well as the poems about evolution from apes and black holes.  Scieszka is creative and his verse is witty.  The rhymes make it easy for younger kids to follow along, and parents have something to work with when explaining the science concepts to younger children.

Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, is delightful and fun for kids and adults.  It’s a great way to introduce kids to science concepts from evolution to the water cycle.  Now all it needs is some experiments to get kids interacting, something parents could look into as supplements to the text.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jon Scieszka is a writer and teacher. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and two children. Occasionally he has been known to howl at the full moon. –from the dust jacket of “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs”

Jon Scieszka is also the author of the best-selling ALA Notable Book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, as well as Knights of the Kitchen Table, and The Not-So-Jolly Roger. He teaches as The Day School in Manhattan where he is known as Mr. Scieszka. He lives with his wife, and two children in Brooklyn where he is known as Dad. –from the dust jacket of “The Frog Prince Continued”.

About the Illustrator:

Smith was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but moved to Corona, California at a young age. He spent summers in Tulsa, however, and cites experiences there as inspirations for his work, saying that “[o]nce you’ve seen a 100-foot cement buffalo on top of a donut-stand (sic) in the middle of nowhere, you’re never the same.”

He studied art in college at the encouragement of his high school art teacher, helping to pay for it by working as a janitor at Disneyland. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, and moved to New York City, where he was hired to do illustrations for various publications including Time, Mother Jones, and Ms..

Smith is married to Molly Leach, who is a book designer and designed the Smith/Scieszka collaboration.

 

 

 

 

 

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 224 pgs.
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Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio is a memoir written as a series of personal essays that’s not only about the writing life, but also loving what you do so much that no matter how on the outside you are, you keep plugging away. Addonizio never shies away from her less than sober moments or her self-doubt.  She takes life on full force, and she makes no excuses for that.  It’s what life is for — living.  In “Plan D,” she talks about having a plan to give you some sense of control, but in all honesty, those plans don’t always work out.

As many of you know, I’ve written poems and submitted them and received a ton of rejection of late.  This book hit my bookshelf at the right time.  “How to Succeed in Po Biz” brings to light the difficulty with being a poet, what it takes is determination and a will to struggle through it all to achieve even just a modicum of success.  Royalties are small and many poets find other sources of steady income or work toward small awards and fellowships to keep working on their craft without the drudgery of a full-time job, or at least only requiring a part-time job.

Addonizio has always been a fresh poet to me, and as she writes in her essays she remembers those very low moments when she met failure, thought about giving up, and went forward anyway.  This perseverance, sheer will is what poets need.  She’s by turns vulnerable and well shielded from the barbs that come with writing poetry — the title of the book stems from one critic’s comment about how she was Bukowski in a sundress.

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio is utterly absorbing.  I read it in a day, and I’m still thinking about everything she said and how it applies to my current struggles with poetry and the publishing industry, especially as someone outside academia.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

She’s the author of several poetry collections including Tell Me, A National Book Award Finalist. My latest, My Black Angel, is a book of blues poems with woodcuts by Charles D. Jones, from SFA Press. I published The Palace of Illusions, a story collection, with Counterpoint/Soft Skull in 2014. A New & Selected, Wild Nights, is out in the UK from Bloodaxe Books.

Due summer 2016: Mortal Trash, a new poetry book, from Norton. And a memoir, Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life, from Penguin.

I’ve written two instructional books on writing poetry: The Poet’s Companion (with Dorianne Laux), and Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within. Visit her website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Calazaza’s Delicious Dereliction by Suzanne Dracius, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson

Source: Tupelo Press
Paperback, 114 pgs.
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Calazaza’s Delicious Dereliction by Suzanne Dracius, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, is a collection of poems written in French and Creole that have been translated into English. Dracius’s poems are very musical, and that musicality is carried over from the French and Creole by Carlson’s English translations.  Looking at the poems sitting side-by-side, readers can see similar rhythmic patterns.  French and Creole are very similar languages, which probably makes translation a bit easier.

Carlson, who I had the privilege of introducing, was at the 2016 Gaithersburg Book Festival to talk about her work in translation.  She creates sound maps of the poems using her limited skills in French, and from these sound maps she seeks out the best English words to use for the translation, keeping with the subject matter and feel of each poem.  Listening to her speak about the translation process she uses was fascinating, and audience members were thrilled to learn more about it.

From "Pointe des Nègres" (pg. 13-17)

"... from my rod driven
deep in the depths of the sea,
Negroes in lots, in piles were born
over and over again,
cargoes of Negroes
for the auction block,
from my seed in the fizz
of the ocean's womb
when I raped, without shame,
the immense Caribbean expanse."

Dracius’ poems speak to the experience of Calazazas, people who are of mixed race and have read or blond hair.  Dracius, a Calazaza herself, is considered too light to fit in Martinique but in Paris, where she spends some of her time, she is considered too dark.  It is this displacement, a feeling of not fitting in that permeates each of her poems. Her poems also talk of history and mythology and relate those to the experience of displacement, living without a home or somewhere to fit in.

From "To Cendra's Ashes" (pg. 85-89)

Cendra, her name was Cendra.
When he had consumed her in fires of false criminal love, did he look at her face?
The only object of his thoughts was Cendra:
Reduce Cendra to ashes like one is reduced to a slave.

There is unbound love, there is obsessive love, and there is profound loss in these pages, but Dracius handles these with care, shedding light on the darkness and the hope. Calazaza’s Delicious Dereliction by Suzanne Dracius, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, is puzzle of emotions that will churn in the seas of the reader’s mind, only providing glimpses of hope in a stormy expanse.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Born in Martinique, a writer and professor of Classics graduate of the Sorbonne, Suzanne Dracius published in 1989 her first novel, L’autre qui danse, finalist for the Prix du Premier Roman (Seghers ; Editions du Rocher 2007. English translation by Nancy Carlson, Seagull, London, 2015). Her stories, which feature strong, rebellious women characters, have been published in her collection of stories, Rue Monte au Ciel, Coup de coeur FNAC (Desnel, 2003 ; English translation by James Davis Climb to the Sky, UVA Press, USA, 2012). In 2008, Dracius published Exquise déréliction métisse, collection of poems who won the Prix Fetkann (English translation by Nancy Carlson, Tupelo Press, USA, 2015 and Spanish translation by Verónica Martínez Lira, Espejo de Viento, Mexico, 2013). In 2010, Dracius won a Prix de la Société des Poètes Français (Prize of the Society of the French Poets) for its whole work. In 2014, she published Déictique féminitude insulaire, poems.

In 1995, Dracius stayed in the USA as a Visiting Professor, lecturing about her own books at the University of Georgia, and in 2006, at Ohio University. In 2009, Dracius is invited to a writer’s residency at Cove Park (Scotland). Dracius is FFRI (France-Florida Research Institute) Visiting Professor in February 2012.

About the Translator:

Nancy Naomi Carlson, Ph.D. has won grants from the NEA, Maryland Arts Council, and Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County.  Poet, translator, and associate editor for Tupelo Press, her work has appeared over 350 times, including Poetry and Prairie Schooner, and forthcoming in APR,  The Georgia Review, and FIELD.  She is the author of three collections of poetry and three translations, including The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper: Translations of Abdourahman Waberi (Seagull Books, distributed by U of Chicago Press).

Straight James/Gay James by James Franco

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 60 pgs.
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Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is a chapbook of poems, though many of these read like notes left on napkins and goofy missives that would be in a diary, never to see the light of day.  Initially, the collection seems to start off with an examination of isolation and being different in poems like “Dumbo” and “Mask,” exploring the struggle to fit into the boxes we see around us.

Dumbo

Dumb is me,
As a young elephant I was shy,
From too much attention,
So, speak I didn’t.

A young animal:
At age thirteen, life plunked
Me down in junior high,
Like Dumbo in the circus.

As I grew,
Isolation followed me
And the only recourse
Was to drink hard with the clowns.

Pink elephants
Paraded and sloshed
Through my youth
Until I became a sinister clown,

With a smile painted
So thick
I looked mad-happy, always.
And I never flew, 

I never flew.

Evoking a pop culture icon from childhood — Dumbo from Disney — readers will be drawn into the comparison, showing a poetic sophistication and a knowledge of how poetic devices can be used. As an actor and a director, the choice is not unexpected. In “Mask,” he dons a persona, one that earns him money, and it is this persona that he has a love-dislike relationship with. It is not that he dislikes the persona, but the fact that it is so loved by the media and even fans — those who pay him, providing him with the money he uses to make art. It is this art that he pushes through the envelop of preconceptions and those categories that he sought to fit into in the first poem of the collection.

I want to stop here for a moment. Anna pointed me to this article in The Washington Post, which asks if it is “possible to be fair if we simply, irrationally just don’t like” a certain actor? In my case, this is James Franco. I don’t dislike him per se, but I don’t really like him either. Perhaps I don’t understand his art or his humor, but for a poetry reviewer, it’s hard to set that aside when his poetry is another form of art.

With that being said, a lot of this collection is inconsistent, reads like nearly stream-of-consciousness scribbling, and in some cases, it is the ravings of a drugged out person (or so it seems). He’s trying to be avant-garde, at least that’s what it seems like. Some of this is even merely backstage commentary.

The title poem, “Straight James/Gay James,” is an exercise in the ridiculous, in which his sexuality is not really explored, but skirted, and his main focus seems to be how much he loves himself. Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is an oddity that might have needed more editing and/or focus.

RATING: Epitaph

About the Author:

James Franco is an American actor, film director, screenwriter, film producer, author, and painter. He began acting during the late 1990s, appearing on the short-lived television series Freaks and Geeks and starring in several teen films. In 2001 he played the title role in Mark Rydell’s television biographical film James Dean, which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film.

The Seven Ages by Louise Glück

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Seven Ages by Louise Glück is a book about transformation and, by extension, aging and death — the battle between faith and the fear of mortality.  The title opens with a cryptic tale of a human who arrives on Earth even before the Garden of Eden, when it is just dust.  The narrator loves it all the same, even in its barrenness, but like many humans she wants to possess it.  How do you hold onto something that changes and is going to continue changing? The short answer is: you can’t.  Except maybe in a dream but even memories change.

Throughout the book, Glück touches, tastes, and experiences a variety of things, but in “The Sensual World,” she says, “I caution you as I was never cautioned:// you will never let go, you will never be satiated./You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.//” (pg. 7)  We have entered that garden and we have tasted the forbidden fruits, and even as we are punished, we still want more.  We cannot get enough sensory input, which leads to emotional attachments that continue even as we age, even if they are not acted upon.

In “Birthday,” the narrator remembers “that age. Riddled with self-doubt, self-loathing,/and at the same time suffused/with contempt for the communal, the ordinary;…” (pg. 20) The narrator is on the outside at this party, watching those who are wrapped up in making friends and making connections, but also vividly aware of the solitary member who prefers their own counsel.  Here again, the narrator cautions that in silence it is difficult to “test one’s ideas.  Because they are not ideas, they are the truth.//”  She speaks of this again in “From a Journal”: “how ignorant we all are most of the time,/seeing things/only from one vantage, like a sniper.//” (pg. 25)

Once we come away from ourselves and view the world differently, usually after years of a narrow focus, we come to realize that we want more time.  We want “to extend those days, to be inseparable from them./ So that a few hours could take up a lifetime.//” (“The Destination”, pg. 28)  The Seven Ages by Louise Glück is an exploration of aging through the lens of an observer, someone who has experienced life and who has separated herself from it when necessary.  Things we see are not as we expect, things we obtain do not satiate our appetites, and in our haste to achieve things, we break them.  Human frailty cannot be escaped, and we cannot return to our youth.  Glück attests to these stages and says that appreciating what has come before is hard, especially when we are hungry for more and have run out of time.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Louise Glück was born in New York City of Hungarian Jewish heritage and grew up on Long Island. Glück attended Sarah Lawrence College and later Columbia University.

She is the author of twelve books of poetry, including: “A Village Life” (2009); Averno (2006), which was a finalist for The National Book Award; The Seven Ages (2001); Vita Nova (1999), which was awarded The New Yorker’s Book Award in Poetry; Meadowlands (1996); The Wild Iris (1992), which received the Pulitzer Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award; Ararat (1990), which received the Library of Congress’s Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry. Louise Glück has also published a collection of essays, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (1994), which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction.

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

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Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, emphasizes what we already know about Santa Claus and his life as a gift giver, toy maker, husband, and reindeer trainer.  But he has one more talent, a secret talent — he’s a poet who write haiku.  Inside this book, there are 25 haiku poems that illustrate life at the North Pole, giving young readers and inside look at what it is like to be Santa Claus.

Although some of the haiku are not perfect, and one or two are a bit simplistic, overall the haiku are fun to read, and would make a great addition to the holiday reading list with little kids.  My favorite haiku is the one in which Mrs. Claus becomes a young girl again, making a snow angel.  My daughter loves the part when Comet and the white fox return from the woods with their own Christmas tree, helping Santa with his preparations.

Some of the haiku will have readers thinking about the stories they know well, and others will have readers looking at things a little differently.  Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, is a cute book with short poems that could be read one day at a time beginning on Dec. 1.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Bob Raczka loved to draw, especially dinosaurs, cars and airplanes, as a boy. He spent a lot of time making paper airplanes and model rockets. He studied art in college, which came in quite handy while writing a series of art appreciation books, Bob Raczka’s Art Adventures. He also studied advertising, a creative field in which he worked in for more than 25 years. Bob also discovered how much he loved poetry and began writing his own. His message for today’s kids is to make stuff!”

Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean

Source: Akashic Books, Peekash Press
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean, with a preface from Kwame Dawes, features poems from Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, Danielle Jennings, Ruel Johnson, Monica Minott, Debra Providence, Shivanee Ramlochan, Colin Robinson, and Sassy Ross.  There is a variety of poems in this collection that speak to the culture of the Caribbean, but also to the loss of culture among those who move away to the United States or other locations.  Some poems beautifully capture the dialect of the language and the beat of the culture without detracting from the readers’ enjoyment, but there are a few poems that can be difficult to understand and will require additional attention if readers are unfamiliar with the Caribbean dialects used.

Kwame Dawes says in the preface, “It is important and admirable that this gathering of poets allows us to explore the meaning of these ides of home.”  This is an apt description of this collection because in it are poems that range from finding a place in a college classroom, even among those with a similar culture, to a mother explaining to her child that she is not a home or a mother, though her “womb” knows her.  These narrators are looking for that feeling of belonging, being able to settle down and be content.  Their lives are in flux, and some are embroiled in violence or destructive behavior, but all of these voices are strong and determined.  They rely on their heritage from the cultural nuances they were taught by family to the ones they have learned on their own.

In “The Haunting of His Name” by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné’s narrator talks about how the love of a man can be haunting even if that man is abusive or not good to you.  There’s prescription here for how to get over him: “You must not love him,/so you bind yourself/with hunger and smoke,/sing hard against/your body’s silence.”  This is a man who will not leave you, so you must  wash “him from the temple of your heart.”  In her poem, “Learning to Breathe in Luminous Water,” the narrator explains that you only need to teach yourself to breathe underwater, learn to deal with the hardships and transform or overcome the obstacles ahead.  Almost by a matter of sheer will, the woman can find a way through.

Like Monica Minott’s “Penelope to Calypso,” women must learn to accept what has happened or how the world has come to pass, but they have the power to move forward or accept a new path that they carve on their own.  Penelope says to Calypso, “Odysseus is like driftwood;/long before he met you and me/he belonged to the sea./When driftwood wash up,/they make interesting furnishings/and conversation piece/”  It is clear that these women are strong enough to stand on their own.  On the other side of the coin, when the connections are right, women should know how that feels, even if it is a little like the snapper trapped by the “Fisherman’s Net.”

Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean is a collection of empowerment for women and men alike, for the immigrants searching for new opportunities.  Like all opportunities, there are challenges that must be met and overcome, but seeking strength from the outside is not always the best solution.  Inner strength can ensure the path is endurable and that opportunities are not lost.

Rating: Quatrain

Field Work by Seamus Heaney

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Field Work by Seamus Heaney is a collection of poems that follow his removal from Belfast, Ireland, to the country south of Dublin in the County Wicklow.  It’s clear that even as his family has been away from the troubles in Northern Ireland, they are still foremost in his mind and poems.  Some of these poems are elegies to the friends and family he has lost along the way, but these poems are less focused on the political and more focused on his internal, emotional struggle with the issues in Ireland.  In “Oysters,” the narrator talks of himself as an estuary in which the oysters atop, and as he tastes the saltiness he recognizes that the oysters are “alive and violated.”  As the poem evolves, it is clear that the oysters are Ireland, split in two — ripped apart violently.  As the narrator eats, he recognizes that he must be deliberate in his actions or he will be forced into action, actions that could be reckless.

In “Casualty,” the narrator wants to supply a full picture of the Irish struggle — a man sits at a bar and continues to drink from the high shelf and he’s a “dole-breadwinner.”  But soon we see him through the eyes of the narrator, a man with a quick, observant eye.  His death is swift and among the other 12 in a Derry blast, in which “Everybody held/his breath and trembled.”  A man that questioned and raised concerns, simply swept away by a random decision to enter an bar that was not his usual.  How many times can we say we have deviated from our routines and how soon before we find ourselves the next casualty of a decision we had no idea was bad.

The downtrodden, the working class, and others are here between these pages.  “The gunwale’s lifting ear –/trusting the gift,/risking gift’s undertow–/is unmanned now//” (“In Memoriam Sean O’Riada”)  In a nod to Yeats, Heaney examines what the artist and musician means to him, but cautions that he is not the same as the fisherman that Yeats held in esteem.  There are several references and allusions to Yeats in this collection.

However, one of the best rendered sections may be the “Glanmore Sonnets” where Heaney turns his keen eye to the country around him.  Here he demonstrates his love for the people in the country and their welcoming nature, though his thoughts do turn to other times, especially during a “first night … in that hotel … ”

X

I dreamt we slept in a moss in Donegal
On turf banks under blankets, with our faces
Exposed all night in a wetting drizzle,
Pallid as the dripping sapling birches.
Lorenzo and Jessica in a cold climate.
Diarmuid and Grainne waiting to be found.
Darkly asperged and censed, we were laid out
Like breathing effigies on a raised ground.
And in that dream I dreamt -- how like you this? --
Our first night years ago in that hotel
When you came with your deliberate kiss
To raise us towards the lovely and painful
Covenants of flesh; our separateness;
The respite in our dewy dreaming faces.

There is a dream-like quality to many of these poems, as Heaney meditates on the past and the present issues facing Ireland. The narrator says in “High Summer,” “On the last day, when I was clearing up,/on a warm ledge I found a bag of maggots/and opened it. A black/and throbbing swarm came riddling out/life newsreel of a police force run amok,/sunspotting flies in gauzy meaty flight,/the barristers and black berets of light.//” It’s clear that the struggles are ever-present, even in the country, and there is no escaping their dark shadows even in Field Work by Seamus Heaney.

About the Poet:

Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Derry, Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

Ghost Sick by Emily Pohl-Weary

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 150 pgs.
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Ghost Sick by Emily Pohl-Weary is a collection of poems that witness. They are testimony, commentary, and emotional responses to the crime, drugs, loss of innocence and more in a Toronto neighborhood and other places where lives are wasted and lost too easily. In “World of Sorrow,” the narrator says, “I had no way of comprehending/it only takes a second to tear/the spirit from a young body//” More often than not, young people believe they are invincible, and it is this naivete that leaves them especially vulnerable to waste, decay, and death. Pohl-Weary laments these losses, and she struggles to come to terms with those who have been lost and the potential they may have had under different circumstances.

Her images are playful, but then turn sinister, like in “Falling Angel,” where the narrator says, “Our honey gigolo, haloed, wary/Smiling at women, the boy who would kill//Carried disaster in the tilt of his chin/tightness of his shoulders, heavy droop of eyelids//”  What causes this young man to become a murder, and what does it mean for those around him.  Growing up in this neighborhood, the young must be forever watchful of how they are perceived by others and ensure that their actions cannot be the cause of another’s death or harm.  As the narrator in “Never Say Goodbye” indicates, “life is a process of hardening//” and it can even happen when you’re young and having a good time.

Nearly a third of the way through the volume, the poet asks, “How many candlelight vigils/will it take to light the sky/with grief?” (“The Gentle Giant”)  But in the same section, the narrator says in “Those Who Died,” “Remember that you live where they did not./You are the survivor and the advocate./You must live for those who died.//”  It is the pressure many surviving family members and friends place on themselves — to advocate for those who can no longer speak for themselves.  In many ways, these are the people who are “ghost sick” because they are the most haunted by those they have lost, and they are unable to escape that pressure.

Craft Supplies (pg. 51)

a wise woman once told me
you can't expect miracles
from dollar store markers
though they're often realized
in the most unusual, tawdry places
like the bottom of a bin

Readers will find that not all is dreary in Pohl-Weary’s world, as hope remains an eternal spring even in the darkest places. It can be held by a child with potential, a community that listens and acts, or even in the depths of a dream resurfacing for someone who has been lost. We, the living, are the ones that are haunting the dead with our emptiness at their leaving. We need to fill those holes and move on, so that they may do the same, as the narrator in “Meaning” suggests.

Ghost Sick by Emily Pohl-Weary is a profound collection that will have readers looking at their own losses to determine if they have filled those empty holes.

Rating: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Award-winning author, editor, and creative writing instructor Emily Pohl-Weary has published seven books, a series of girl pirate comics, and her own literary magazine.

She was the 2015 writer-in-residence for Queen’s University, where she mentored students and facilitating a workshop for people affected by incarceration. She has also been the University of the Fraser Valley’s Kuldip Gill Writing Fellowship Writer in Residence in B.C., and the Toronto Public Library system’s eWriter-in-Residence for Young Voices. She was also fortunate to be Dawson City, Yukon’s writer-in-residence at the Pierre Berton House.

Her most recent book is a collection of poetry, Ghost Sick, which was released in February 2015. Her novel for teens, Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl, was published by Penguin Razorbill (Canada) and Skyscape (U.S.A.) in fall 2013. Her five previous books include Strange Times at Western High, Girls Who Bite Back, A Girl Like Sugar, Iron-on Constellations, and Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril.

Emily is also a current creative writing instructor at the University of Dalhousie. For more than a decade she has also facilitated creative writing workshops that focus on advanced writing skills, learning tools for conflict-resolution and processing trauma, and finding your unique voice.

 

 

Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow

NPMBlogTour2016

Source: Mayapple Press
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow is broken down into five sections, mixing in elements of mathematics, science, and various poetic styles.  Dmitri Mendeleev is considered the father of the periodic table, and like Mendeleev, Goodfellow carefully crafts each poem with a larger picture in mind, and in these poems, she strives to capture all the necessary elements for her own mandala to create a microcosm of her own struggles.

In part one, she lays down the foundation, uncovering hidden truths in a variety of stories from Iphigenia and Isaac to theories of gravity and continental drift. Each are treated similarly in that they are picked apart for their weaknesses, but also used to demonstrate the categorization and delineation that continues to occur now, as humans seek to understand the unknown.  Like in “Imagine No Apples,” the apples fall from the tree but never too far from the Omega, which in many ways is the end.  Even as we begin, we are never far from our ending, and the circle continues in a loop.  What would happen if there were no apples — no alpha, no beginning?  Would there be an omega?

“of what use is this thirst for things
resembling other things, this endless trying
to wring milk from a two-headed cow.” (pg. 26, “Burning Aunt Hisako”)

Humanity has a hard time reconciling reason with the unknown; and in many ways, we presume that because we reason that everything is knowable. This is not the case.  Section two of the collection is a rumination on time — time as it passes and our place in it.  It is the strongest part of the collection in terms of cohesion.  We want to be the candle flame, but we are more like the melting wax, the narrator notes in “In Praise of the Candle Clock.”  And as the narration continues regarding the development of the clock to its modern form, so too does its function and our perception of time.  Goodfellow has beautifully rendered this transformation from the shape-poem “Ode to the Hourglass” to “The Invention of the Clock Face.”  But most heart-wrenching is “Three Views of Mars” where perception is broken down by one who can see, one whose field of vision has narrowed considerably, and to one who is innocent and just beginning to see the world.

Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow is a look beyond the world of facts and science into the world of emotion, spirituality, faith, and more.  These poems remind us that even as we reason, we can view things completely wrong.  The mandala is larger than any one of us, but we all have roles to play, and we should do so to the best of our abilities, even if it all does seem rather random.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Jessica Goodfellow grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but has spent the last twenty years in California, Florida, and Japan. She received an MS degree from the California Institute of Technology and an MA in linguistics from the University of New England. Her first book of poetry, The Insomniac’s Weather Report (three candles press), won the Three Candles Press First Book Prize, and was reissued by Isobar Press in 2014. Her new book Mendeleev’s Mandala is available from Mayapple Press (2015). She is also the author of a poetry chapbook, A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (Concerete Wolf, 2006), winner of the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in the anthology Best New Poets 2006, on the website Verse Daily, and has been featured by Garrison Keillor on NPR”s “The Writer’s Almanac.” She was a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, and her work has been honored with the Linda Julian Essay Award as well as the Sue Lile Inman Fiction Prize, both from the Emrys Foundation. Her work has appeared in Motionpoems Season 6. Jessica currently lives in Japan with her husband and sons.