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On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock is a collection of poems broken up into sections named for the planets and the sun in the solar system. Blending scientific fact about the planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto — and the Sun, and grounding it into a more personal experience is a balancing act that Chertock does well. But her poems also have a child-like wonder and humor to them that many can appreciate, especially as she tackles some tough issues.

From "70 Million Years Ago" (pg. 10)

The Milky Way spat out 
the Smith Cloud
from its edges,
a brussel sprout it couldn't swallow.

Now that unwanted green
is on its way back, a giant fart
of gas hurtling towards the galaxy.
From "Find Us" (pg. 19)

When they find us
we'll be long dead.
When they find us,
the chosen or rich frozen,
faces intact,
they'll wonder why
we're a people that don't move.

From those who were split from families by an invisible demarcation line after war in “An invisible middle” to a struggle with prematurely decaying bones in “Short curve II” and others, Chertock inserts wry humor to ease the hurt. In “On that one-way trip to Mars,” the narrator speculates about how to apply to become an astronaut and turn her disability of decaying bones into an asset:

"Don't worry
about my bone deterioration rate,
I had arthritis at 13. Walked like an old lady
at 20. It'd be nice to float
and give my bones a break." (pg. 42)

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock begs readers to look beyond the visible to see the potential inside. Remove the bias that comes with the outer surface of someone and rely instead on the inner strength and power of the person. Chertock’s poems explore both inner and outer space; take a trip on this rocket — you won’t be disappointed.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. She regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals, serves as a judge or reviewer of creative work for contests, and reads her own work at open mics and reading series. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider

Source: Purchased (Rattle subscription, bonus)
Paperback, 31 pgs.
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A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider won the Rattle Chapbook Prize in 2017 and provides a glimpse into the nation’s struggle with immigration and insight into the working class for those who are unfamiliar. Schneider’s poems are beautiful in their simplicity. The chapbook opens with “Hot Iron,” and explores the residual effects of emotional and physical abuse. Even the most mundane and routine actions of people, like turning on the flat iron to straighten one’s hair, can be a symptom of something deeper.

From "41st Birthday" (pg. 24-5)

A mile later I hit a train.
The long arms descend
like at a border crossing
with dramatic clanging and the hysteria
of the lights.
I move up, nose in real
close
and I just can't help
but be afraid sometimes

Many of his poems are this way, little stories from the lives of two people spending time together, supporting each other, and more in a way that reflects larger issues of immigration and abuse. There is beauty in the little moments of watching hummingbirds reach a feeder or the last living tree of a certain species. In “Chasing the Green Card,” Schneider explores the raw emotion of a man and his wife who love one another and must face government scrutiny in their immigration hearings with little guarantee of a solid decision.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider tackles some raw subjects and emotions. It’s a solid chapbook that explores a part of America that is solidly in the news and looks at the human side of the debate. Readers will connect with the plight of this tax cab driver and his wife, but they also will see the beauty in their struggle.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Mather Schneider is cab driver who writes poems. For many years, he and his wife would get up together and drive in to work, and he got a few good poems out of those commutes. He writes poetry and prose.

Point Blank by Alan King

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Point Blank by Alan King, who read at the second DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic, opens with the poem “Hulk,” and there are a number of references to the comic book universe. In “Hulk,” the narrator believes he’s like everyone else able to walk where he wants and do what he likes as any other teenager, but given the hour and his skin color, reality begins to seep in, shattering the illusion like the hulk stomping through the city on a rampage.

King’s poems are like this — musical, dreamlike, and nostalgic — only to be abruptly shattered or altered by forces beyond the narrator’s control. Isn’t this the essence of life? It sometimes upends us without our consent.

With “point blank” precision, King tackles issues of race, poverty, stereotyping, and uncontrolled anger. His poems often begin with stereotypes of race and as the poem unfolds, he teaches his readers to see how ridiculous those generalizations can be. In “Swarm,” he asks, “That’s when I wonder/if Insecurity’s the biggest instigator./The one constantly egging you on/to prove yourself./”

King’s poems speak with frankness about living in America, a nation that pretends to be equal in so many ways, a nation that is still younger than it thinks it is, and a nation rebelling against the world even now. The beauty of these poems is that frankness and how he mixes it like a song with rhythm and firecracker lines like “to scorch my boss/with her fire-bottle words/” and “my veins and arteries are the blood’s highways/and interstates, that too much of what I love/will slow traffic like an accident.”

“Booth Seat” is one of the most moving poems in this collection in which Death is racing around the city seeking out and getting his prey. Understanding the murder rates here in the D.C. area, this poems strikes very close to home. It reminds us that life is fleeting, and that even the most anonymous of us is at risk. Point Blank by Alan King is a stunner, and you’ll never forget it.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alan King is an author, poet, journalist and videographer, who lives with his wife and daughter in Bowie, MD. He writes about art and domestic issues on this blog.

He’s a communications specialist for a national nonprofit and a senior editor at Words Beats & Life‘s global hip hop journal.

As a staff writer for the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper, King often out-scooped the Baltimore Sun when covering housing and the Baltimore City Council. His three-part series on East Baltimore’s redevelopment and the displaced residents brought together stakeholders (community leaders, elected officials and developers) to work out a plan that gave vulnerable residents a role in helping to build up the city’s blighted neighborhoods.

He’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. His poems and short stories appear in various literary journals, magazines and are featured on public radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock, who read at the Fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a short and powerful collection about body image, space, and pain, but it is also a collection of exploration. She explores the strength within herself to do more and cope with more, to “push” through the pain in physical therapy, and to stand tall among those in the forest who are “healthier.”

One of my favorite poems is “I am rotting log of wood,” in which the tree is rotting and seemingly weaker compared to the others in the forest, but the tree realizes she can breathe her own oxygen and feel the sunlight on her leaves — finding strength inside.

Through her descriptions, readers are plunged knee deep in the narrator’s pain. In “Rikkud,” the narrator’s health condition renders her on the sidelines of a dance while those her age continue to party. She says, “my hips and knees are kindling/and I can’t give them more air/or my bones become crisps –” Many of her poems explore debilitating pain and the absurdity of telling a narrator to push through chronic pain, Chertock forces the reader to not only empathize but to be in those moments and live them.

The poems are not all dark and many of them churn on a word or phrase in a poem. In “Application to NASA,” she explores how strong the narrator is despite being below the standards the space agency seeks in potential candidates. Chertock turns the negative into positive, takes a leap of faith into the unknown and creates her own nebulous reality where anything is possible.

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock is the perfect combination of science and poetry. These poems are Earth-bound until they are launched into outer space to explore life beyond the pain.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. She regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals, serves as a judge or reviewer of creative work for contests, and reads her own work at open mics and reading series. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 248 pgs.
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The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur is an equally strong collection of poems in the same confessional style. Dealing with similar issues of love, loss, abuse, and more, Kaur is still graphic in her poems. I would consider this also for a more mature audience, but here Kaur is more like a mother offering advice to the flowers springing in the garden. She’s looking to help others bloom in their own sun. To have the best life they can.

this is the recipe for life
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too
must wilt
fall
root
rise
in order to bloom
      --back cover

In “home,” which is one of my favorites from this collection, speaks of home in a metaphorical sense but also in a physical sense. The narrator looks back on a rape incident in which a sense of unspoken trust is broken. Blind trust can be foolhardy, but should we shut ourselves off completely from connections with others? Kaur says, “No.” Her narrator says it is time to reclaim our homes. Reclaim our bodies and ourselves. Is a home a physical place like the body or a house? Or is it more than that? Sometimes, we just need to freshen it up or redecorate.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur is path toward rebuilding. Rising up from the ashes to create a home that is no longer crumbling and making sure that the garden grows brighter each spring. There are walls that need to be broken down and rooms that need to be rebuilt.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

rupi kaur is a #1 new york times bestselling author and illustrator of two collections of poetry. she started drawing at the age of five when her mother handed her a paintbrush and said—draw your heart out. rupi views her life as an exploration of that artistic journey. after completing her degree in rhetoric studies she published her first collection of poems milk and honey in 2014. the internationally acclaimed collection sold well over a million copies gracing the new york times bestsellers list every week for over a year. it has since been translated into over thirty languages. her long-awaited second collection ‘the sun and her flowers’ was published in 2017. through this collection she continues to explore a variety of themes ranging from love. loss. trauma. healing. femininity. migration. ‘revolution.

rupi has performed her poetry across the world. her photography and art direction are warmly embraced and she hopes to continue this expression for years to come. Follow her on Instagram.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 204 pgs.
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I heard a great deal about Rupi Kaur and her InstaPoet fame before I picked up a book, and much of the criticism runs the gamut about how her poems lack substance without her illustrations or that her poems are really just motivational comments, etc. I’ve also heard that her poems are overlooked merely because they were written and shared on social media.

Much of this talk had me put off my reading of her books and even buying her books because I didn’t want my experience colored by the words and perspectives of others. National Poetry Month has begun and it is time to share poetry, and poetry has no boundaries.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur reminds me of a modern confessional poetry in which Kaur reveals her darkest secrets and her pain. This collection is raw and wears its emotions on its sleeves, though I would say it is for more mature audiences. She discusses rape, abuse, and the emotional harm that rocks her to the core. Like many abused women, the poet’s narrator internalizes the shame and the hatred, creating a cycle of self-hatred. In many ways, these poems are like diary entries enabling the narrator to work out the tumult of her feelings.

the next time he
points out the
hair on your legs is
growing back remind
that boy your body
is not his home
he is a guest
warn him to
never overstep
his welcome
again
   - pg. 165

Other poems read more like motherly advice that either the narrator was given or learned and is ready to pass onto others to help them avoid the abuse or to get through the darkest moments. Kaur also has poems that speak to the abuses and harm that others may have endured. These poems vacillate from self-hate to regret at the loss of the abuser to taunting anger at the abusers actions.

There were moments when the smaller poems felt unfinished and just part of a larger whole, but Kaur has created a living poem with each new small poem. It is a greater story of humanity, loving oneself, and moving past the hurt of the past. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is not for everyone, but it is a brave collection of poems calling for self-love, equality, and a better life for all of us.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

rupi kaur is a #1 new york times bestselling author and illustrator of two collections of poetry. she started drawing at the age of five when her mother handed her a paintbrush and said—draw your heart out. rupi views her life as an exploration of that artistic journey. after completing her degree in rhetoric studies she published her first collection of poems milk and honey in 2014. the internationally acclaimed collection sold well over a million copies gracing the new york times bestsellers list every week for over a year. it has since been translated into over thirty languages. her long-awaited second collection ‘the sun and her flowers’ was published in 2017. through this collection she continues to explore a variety of themes ranging from love. loss. trauma. healing. femininity. migration. ‘revolution.

rupi has performed her poetry across the world. her photography and art direction are warmly embraced and she hopes to continue this expression for years to come. Follow her on Instagram.

How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Source: Wunderkind PR
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is emotionally arresting and a love letter to the past and the passing of a mother. How many times have we said, “I’ll get back to that in a few days” or “It’s only for a year.” Many of us have said these things and others when speaking with friends, parents, and others. In this busy world, we often forget to go back to those events or people. This leaves an emptiness. How do you deal with that emptiness or learn to love that emptiness?

In “My Mother Wants to Know If I’m Dead,” Aptowicz’s narrator finds an email from her mother asking if she’s died because she has not let her know that she’s arrived safely. These are real life situations that come to life in poems throughout the collection. She points out the inanity of these emails if the receiver is in fact deceased, but she also acknowledges the sentiment and the anxiety and the worry behind the contact. These are moments we all can relate to, understand, and lament.

“Rabbit Hole” is the poem in this collection that brings the whole together. It hammers home the connections between the poems and the struggle with emptiness.

Holding your mother's hand
while she is dying is like trying to love
the very thing that will kill you.

Similarly, “Text From My Sister, June 2015” expresses how this loss that seems so singular is broader and encloses everyone who was connected with her mother.

Definitely have had lots of
sadness lately. The passenger
seatbelt in Dads car smells like
her. But the house is starting to
forget.

There are days when there is a hole in our lives that doesn’t seem like it will ever be full again. How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is not as tough to read as you’d expect. It’s funny, it’s witty, it’s sad, but it’s also content in the empty moments of life.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is a New York Times bestselling nonfiction writer and poet. She is the author of six books of poetry (including Dear Future Boyfriend, Hot Teen Slut, Working Class Represent, Oh, Terrible Youth andEverything is Everything) as well as the nonfiction books, the >Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, which made 7 National “Best Books of 2014″ lists (including Amazon, The Onion’s AV Club, NPR’s Science Fridays and the UK newspaper The Guardian, among others) and Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam, which Billy Collins wrote “leaves no doubt that the slam poetry scene has achieved legitimacy and taken its rightful place on the map of contemporary literature.” On the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) podcast Art Works, host Josephine Reed introduced Cristin as being “something of a legend in NYC’s slam poetry scene. She is lively, thoughtful, and approachable looking to engage the audience with her work and deeply committed to the community that art (in general) and slam poetry (in particular) can create.” Cristin’s most recent awards include the ArtsEdge Writer-In-Residency at the University of Pennsylvania (2010-2011), a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry (2011) and the Amy Clampitt Residency (2013). Her sixth book of poetry, The Year of No Mistakes, was released by Write Bloody Publishing in Fall 2013, and would go on to win the Writers’ League of Texas Book of the Year Award for Poetry (2013-2014). Her second book of nonfiction, Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, was released by Gotham Books (Penguin) in Fall 2014, debuted at #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List for Books about Health.

Daphne and Her Discontents by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Source: the poet
ebook, 86 pgs.
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Daphne and Her Discontents by Jane Rosenberg LaForge begins with the dancing tree on the cover. It sets the tone for her latest collection, as Daphne was a nymph turned into a tree as she sought to escape Apollo. She uses the tree and the myth to explain the flexibility of being a woman with responsibilities, but how that flexibility can have its limits in “My Mother the Tree.”

LaForge explores motherhood, being a daughter to a harsh father, and a sister in her poems. Readers are taken on a journey in a myth as it is made and as the narrator is transformed and relationships are modified. In “Goddess of Water,” she says, “We are bodies of water so of course/What controls the tides/Conquers us.”

There are juxtapositions between Christianity and her Jewish heritage as she speaks about the Christmas tree business her father owned. She speaks to the past, the present and the rest, and how it is internalized to generate new growth if we allow it and do not hinder it with our own doubts and criticisms and dwelling upons.

Daphne and Her Discontents by Jane Rosenberg LaForge is a woven history and myth rolled out over several poems. She re-engages readers with old myths to create new ones. Not to be missed.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

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 lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Said Not Said by Fred Marchant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 78 pgs.
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Said Not Said by Fred Marchant differs from his previous collections that focused heavily on the Vietnam War and the effects of war on soldiers and those nations caught in war. His poems here tow the line between direct speech to the reader and remaining deafeningly silent, requiring the reader to parse out the meaning of his lines and over-arching themes. In this collection there are poems about the Vietnam War, the Benghazi issues, and the deterioration of his sister.

The poet is both witness and subject, and Marchant has an uncanny ability to not only empathize with “the other” but to inhabit their suffering in a way that makes it his own and requires the reader to take their own ownership of that suffering.

“Twin Tulips” is particularly powerful as the narrator is running his finger down the stem of tulips painted in watercolor that falls down the page like tears she shed as she struggled to hold onto her memories and herself even as her mental faculties stripped them away. There is significant beauty in the sorrow, but there is a longing that remains with the last words — “as long as” — because we often feel the same. We want to hold on as long as we can, even though we know that time in finite for each of us.

This theme is carried through the collection and appears in “Forty Years”:

How the sound of the rust-bucket trawler named Memory followed her
wherever she went, its torn nets dragged across the floor of her being, the
silt clouds and debris fields, a stern winch sounding a lot like pain.

Said Not Said by Fred Marchant is wonderfully rendered and deeply emotional. It tracks the sorrow tied to mortality, but it also demonstrates the connection we share as a humanity. This connection needs to be cherished and never forgotten no matter how we age. It is this connection that imbues us with empathy and understanding — something we need more of in modern society.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Couldn’t resist sharing this old gem.

About the poet:

Fred Marchant is the author of four books of poetry, including Full Moon Boat, The Looking House, and his most recent collection, Said Not Said, all from Graywolf Press. His first book, Tipping Point, won the 1993 Washington Prize from The Word Works, and was recently re-issued in a 20th Anniversary Second Edition. House on Water, House in Air, a new and selected poems was published in Ireland by Dedalus Press. He is the editor of Another World Instead, a selection of William Stafford’s early poetry, also published by Graywolf Press. With Nguy?n Bá Chung, he co-translated From a Corner of My Yard, poems by Tr?n Dang Khoa, and published in Hà N?i. Emeritus Professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, Marchant is the founding director of that school’s creative writing program and Poetry Center. He lives in Arlington, MA.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 61 Haiku (1,037 Syllables!) by James W. Gaynor

Source: the author
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 61 Haiku (1,037 Syllables!) by James W. Gaynor is an ambitious undertaking in which the poet takes the first lines of each of Pride & Prejudice’s chapters and turns them into a haiku that reflects not only the first line, but major happenings within the chapter.

Chapter 2:

In pastoral terms,
Bingley was breakfast for the
Bennet early bird.

Gaynor provides the first line of each chapter as written by Austen and his haiku on the following page. It is a labor of love for him to incorporate her wit into his haiku and still maintain the main highlights of each chapters. I can only imagine how long it took to get each haiku to fit not only the form, but also the intention of the project. In many of these haiku he succeeds well in highlighting ironic twists within Austen’s chapters in just one line of verse. In the back, Gaynor also includes a summary of each chapter in the back of the book to highlight the what, the where, and the when that are on display in his preceding haiku.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 61 Haiku (1,037 Syllables!) by James W. Gaynor is a fun collection of haiku for poetry and Jane Austen lovers alike. It’s size even lends itself to the stocking stuffer gift for your literary friends and relatives.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet: (#HaikuJim)

Author of Everything Becomes a Poem, James W. Gaynor is a poet, artist, editor, and writer. A graduate of Kenyon College, he lived for years in Paris, where he taught a course on Emily Dickinson at the University of Paris, studied the development of the psychological novel in 17th-century France, and worked as a translator. After returning to New York, Gaynor worked as an editor at Grosset & Dunlap, Cuisine magazine, Scriptwriter News and Forbes Publications. His articles, book reviews, poems and essays have appeared in The New York Observer, OTVmagazine.com, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, and The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide. As #HaikuJim, Gaynor publishes a daily haiku drawn from current newspaper headlines and is the creator of Can You Haiku? – a corporate communications workshop based on using Japanese poetry techniques to improve effective use of today’s digital platforms. He recently retired as the Global Verbal Identity Leader for Ernst & Young LLP. A silver medalist in the 1994 Gay Games (Racewalking), Gaynor’s found-object sculpture has been exhibited internationally. He is a member of the Advisory Board of New York’s The Creative Center at University Settlement, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the creative arts to people with cancer and chronic illnesses (thecreativecenter.org) Gaynor lives in New York City with his canine companion, Emily Dickinson Gaynor, and the cat who oversees their entwined lives, Gerard Manley Hopkins Gaynor. #HaikuJim jameswgaynor.com

Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Source: gift
Paperback, 30 pgs.
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Kin Types by Luanne Castle, which is touring with Poetic Book Tours, is more than poetry. It is a breathing history of ancestors and how their lives impact the present long after they have left the earth. The poet opens the collection with “Advice from My Forebears,” in which readers are greeted with much the same advice they probably heard from grandparents and others about not spending what you do not have, etc. And much of this is advice about risks we may encounter in life and it sets the tone for the collection. It demonstrates how the past can inform the present and even guide it toward better decisions, but it also calls to the rebels within us who want to go against even good advice.

Castle’s narrative poems leave the reader with a sense of the past, and through detailed accounts, she places us where she wants us to bear witness to the hard lives of these ancestors. Many of these people are immigrants leaving their homes for a better life, or at least what they believe will be a better life. But not all that befalls these men and women is good, and not all of it is bad.

From "New Life, New Music" (pg. 15)

The boy in knee pants didn't notice
the many wrinkles
or if he did they created that comfortable
space between his own raw starch
and her eyes and smile that were only his.

Like us, there are dreams held close by these ancestors. They may have a sense of loss that these dreams were not achieved or even lost, but they never let that stop them from living their lives. In “What Lies Inside,” Castle asks how well we really know our closest family members and speaks to the secrets we hold unto ourselves, as a self that we protect from the outside hardships of our lives. It is one of my favorite poems in the collection, with this haunting line: “If I don’t have this one space, where can I go to protect this self/kept inside only by my thin twitching skin?”

Kin Types by Luanne Castle is haunting and deeply emotional, allowing readers to wander off and discover their own ancestral stories. Perhaps they too will re-create the past and see how it mirrors the present or has shaped who they are.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle‘s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Published by Finishing Line Press, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne 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 (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Visit her website.

As Close As I Can by Toni Stern

Source: publicist
Paperback, 85 pgs.
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As Close As I Can by Toni Stern looks deeply into what it means to live, presenting the reader with both the good and bad. She begins her collection with “Hwy 154-Between Two Fires” to demonstrate the in between, first calling to mind the adage that “a man alone is in bad company” and juxtaposing it with “hell is other people.” This initial set up allows Stern to call acute attention to appearance of the now versus the individual reality of now.  Like the “towhee” that tweets a song that is enjoyable to the listener, who may find it beautiful, but the listener is unaware that she is a widowed bird longing for someone who has left this life.

Stern has a wry wit, which appears in a number of her poems. I loved the wit on display in “Pine Sol.” Each poem showcases how our life experiences shape us as people, and how not all of these experiences necessarily are good. The title poem speaks of a mother making room for her child in her full life, carving out a space for this young person whose name is like music.  From our first moments, we are given a name, and even just this name and its sounds will shape us.

As Close As I Can by Toni Stern is a collection of life’s beauty, the tarnished and the shiny.  There is life in between those moments that is lived, and those in-between moments are just as precious as the others that are burned into our memories.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Toni Stern enjoyed a highly productive collaboration with singer-songwriter Carole King. Stern 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. The album has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, and received numerous industry awards.  In 2012, Tapestry was honored with inclusion in the National Recording Registry to be preserved by the Library of Congress; in 2013, King played “It’s Too Late” at the White House. That song and Stern’s “Where You Lead” feature in the Broadway hit Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  “Where You Lead” is also the theme song for the acclaimed television series Gilmore Girls.  Stern’s music has been recorded by numerous artists throughout the years.

As Close as I Can is her second volume of poetry.  She lives with her family in Santa Ynez, California.  Her website is https://www.tonistern.com.