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Ergon by George HS Singer

Source: George HS Singer
Paperback, 86 pgs.
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Ergon by George HS Singer, who is on tour this fall with Poetic Book Tours, is a debut with subtle power.  The collection is broken down into four sections — Visiting, Ergon, Our Quotidian, and Immensity — and each reveals a keen observer in Singer and each is infused with Buddhist sensibilities, but not overtly so.  In “Slipping Out,” Singer draws lines of connection between the Korean lady on the freeway and ourselves, as well as the bits of ourselves we find behind the eyes of our children. But there is so much more being said in this poem – we must savor our moments of connection because they could slip away before we realize it.

From “Slipping Out” (pg. 15-16)

But don’t be so sure the bell
won’t crack and the mind slip out
to meet itself in another’s face.

In this first section of poems, the lines call to mind the section title. We’re just visiting, our time is limited here and in these moments we have, and we must make the most of them while we can. For those moments we wish did not happen as they do, we can be comforted by their transient nature. We must learn to let go of the harmful memories and events and cherish those that imbue us with strength.

Throughout the collection, there are poems that recall wars and battles of the past, which can affect people and shape who they are. How do we deal with these changes? How do they? These are questions that only individuals can answer for themselves, and they must accept the choices they have made. Singer uses nature to illustrate his themes, including the movement of tides.

In the title poem, “Ergon”, the narrator concludes, “The ergon of strangeness in a household is silence.” The line is haunting and makes us wonder what exactly is strangeness? Is it the memories we do not vocalize, the traumas that we bury? Those are not really strange, but many often feel that they are set apart because of them. To stay silent is to deny the truth. It is these events that shape us and those around us, and they should also be what connects us and draws us closer to one another.

Ergon by George HS Singer is a collection that will push readers to think about their lives, their place in it, and those who have influenced them. Those who have inspired us, and those we have feared — all have left their indelible mark.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

George HS Singer, a former Zen Buddhist monk and student of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, lives with his wife of forty-two years in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he works as a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He was educated at Yale, Southern Oregon University, and the University of Oregon. He wrote poetry in college but took a twenty-year break before taking it up as a regular discipline. He has been a long term student of Molly Peacock and has had the opportunity to work with other marvelous poets through the Frost Place in Franconia, N.H. He writes about life in and out of a Zen monastery, trying to live mindfully in a busy and troubled world, his love of nature and of his wife. The arts have become more central to his life. Singer’s poems were published in the Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry

Saris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 46 pgs.
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***I consider Sweta a friend and her book is on tour with Poetic Book Tours.***

Saris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is highly emotional and raw.  It is clear that her mother’s sudden passing left a void in her life, and she was adrift with anger, despair, and confusion.  She spent time with family in India, people who she viewed as vampires (sucking the life from those around them for gossip), but respected her mother enough not to say anything.  There is a delicate balance in grief — when we want to cry out and shout out despair, we must be respectful that others are grieving in their own way as well.  At the same time, there are those who continue to lack compassion or empathy, making the grieving process even more difficult.

This collection made me cry on more than one occasion as I thought about those who have left my life — some suddenly, some after long illness — and each time the grieving process was different and difficult. My nana passed at a critical time in my life as a college student, and I carried a lot of guilt about her passing before I could make it to the hospital to see her after my classes. I procrastinated that day, wanting to eat dinner and rest after a trying week of classes and wanting to avoid the sadness of seeing her with tubes everywhere in an ICU where germs were kept at bay as much as possible. When I arrived just after she left this world, I was tormented by guilt. I wanted to know why she left before I got there. Sweta’s poem, “Why Didn’t You Wait for Me?” struck a chord. Can they see us after they have passed? Can they send us signs? I think it’s possible, and whenever I see a ladybug, I think of her.

From: JFK: Terminal 4 Airport Lounge (pg. 4)

At first I try to hide the fact,
but any passerby could look inside me
and tell it was fake calm that I was drinking
at the airport lounge in a wine glass.
But, inside that one glass,
I could become invisible.
Inside one sip of wine,
I could whisper my fears.

Like love, grief is an emotion that bonds us. Through these poems and mini essays, Vikram show us the entire grieving process and how it tears us down so we can rebuild ourselves. Saris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a tribute to a wonderful woman, who may have lived differently than her daughter, and while it comes after her passing, it signals to us to cherish those we have. We need to pay closer attention to our now and less to the past. We need to be better about showing our appreciation in the now, rather than when it is too late.

RATING: Quatrain

Other reviews:

Guest Posts and Interviews:

About the Poet:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram, featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Amazon bestselling author of 11 books, writing coach, columnist, marketing consultant, and wellness practitioner who currently lives in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, & mindful living to female trauma survivors, creative types, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Sweta is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, which helps you attain your goals by elevating your creativity & productivity while paying attention to your wellness.

The Arranged Marriage by Jehanne Dubrow

Source: Gift
Paperback, 57 pgs.
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The Arranged Marriage by Jehanne Dubrow reads like mini-memoirs of marriages on the rocks, marriages marred by abuse, marriages that require covering up.  These arrangements are made consciously and sometimes with little say by the women engaged in them.  Much of the truth about these women is concealed, but even that concealer is thin and, in many cases, see-through.

“Wait long enough and anything takes on a
sheen of sharpness. Mustn’t leave her hands
untied. She could stare the whorl from
fingertips. Cut him with her eyes.” (from “All the Sharp Things”, pg. 7)

In “The Handbag,” the speaker examines the contents of a wife’s purse at the back of the closet and how it hides things from her husband.  She leaves to buy groceries, and while her husband may control what is purchased, there are so many possibilities outside that she can take advantage of if she so chooses.  Does this woman choose to go to the police station?  Does she read and improve her mind away from her husband? The possibilities are endless.

In “House of the Small Dictatorship”, cigars are clipped, pages of a newspaper are opened, and many other things get done without the husband lifting a finger. But the woman’s efforts are rarely mentioned. In “Domesticated Fowl of the Sula Valley”, birds fly away and the girls are given little explanation. Dubrow uses this poem to shed light on many of the missing girls and women and how their fates are never known. Even as these compact poems resemble the cloistered lives of these women — some controlled by their spouses — they also espouse a sense of hope in between the lines.  A freedom they can see but that they will need the courage to take ahold of it.

The Arranged Marriage by Jehanne Dubrow is harrowing and sad. The poems leave an indelible mark on the reader, and her verse is chock full of imagery that surprises. Many of these poems will be long remembered, a lasting testament to the women who have suffered — many in silence.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of five poetry collections, including most recently The Arranged Marriage (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), Red Army Red (Northwestern University Press, 2012) and Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2010). She co-edited The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume (Literary House Press, 2014) and the forthcoming Still Life with Poem: Contemporary Natures Mortes in Verse (Literary House Press, 2016). Dots & Dashes, her sixth book of poems, won the 2016 Crab Orchard Review Series in Poetry Open Competition Awards and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2017.

In Remembrance of the Life by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Source: Jane Rosenberg LaForge
Paperback, 44 pgs.
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In Remembrance of the Life by Jane Rosenberg LaForge is a chapbook of elegiac poems. While many deal with tough subjects from death to illness and loss, LaForge cautions that these things are inevitable and to deal with them is universal and part of the human condition. However, these moments should not stop us from living; they are a cause for reflection and transformation.

In “Ode to the Homeopathic” (pg. 1), the speaker talks about the awe of believing in lost cures for what ails you, but also warns how quickly those hopes can be dashed “as sickness moved from mass/to liquid…” Beauty is held as a virtue because it is created from something pure, unlike jealousy and other emotions that are reactive and cultivated in certain climates by actions of others and ourselves.

In “My Mother’s Skin” (pg. 5-6), the speaker wonders aloud at the state of skin and how it comes to get the look it does. Is it from illnesses, abuse, or just the simple process of aging. “I cannot write/about the pattern until I master it/” the speaker says. Discovering the pattern of a life can be difficult from the outside, and even as doctors argue “about what to put on the death certificate/”, readers are left wondering why must we pin down that pattern.

Many of LaForge’s poems require careful attention and could require readers to take second and even third looks, but this does not mean the poems are hard to understand. They are in fact packed fully with imagery and meaning that are interconnected to provide readers an overall sense of the inevitability of death. We should not focus on the end result, however, but on how we have lived and how others have lived — savoring each moment and memory.

“The past is never so long ago/that it cannot be refined … ” (from “I Learned It From a Mormon Girl” (pg. 10)

It also asks the question about medical intervention and whether it is for the patient or ourselves that we prolong lives with tubes and wires? “My father said a lot of things,/like how death took much longer when he/ was a child, not so many tubes in the patient/as the hospital floor covered in trunk lines,/more for show than purpose.” (from “How It Works For Others” pg. 21-22) In Remembrance of the Life by Jane Rosenberg LaForge is a slim and powerful collection remembering life in all its beautiful confusion and ugliness.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women

About the Poet:

Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s poetry, fiction, critical, and personal essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry Quarterly, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Boston Literary Magazine, THRUSH, Ne’er-Do-Well Literary Magazine, and The Western Journal of Black Studies. Her memoir-fantasy, An Unsuitable Princess, is available from Jaded Ibis Press. Her full-length collection of poetry, With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women was published in fall 2012 by The Aldrich Press. She is also the author of the chapbooks After Voices, published by Burning River of Cleveland in 2009, and Half-Life, from Big Table Publishing of Boston in 2010. She is a poet and writer living in New York.

Follow her on Twitter: @JaneRLaForge. And see her author page on Facebook.

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!”