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Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 36 pgs.
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Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce opens with an apt quote from Wallace Stevens, in which he says music is a feeling, not sound. Luce moves through the music of his collection like a man in love. He loves not only the music, but the music of love.

In the opening poem, “Music to It,” he reaches us through our souls, those moments we all remember when we wanted the music blaring as we moved through our day. He sways and glides on the Metro to an unheard music strumming through his headphones, and he’s unable to stop moving and tapping. Isn’t this why we all love the music we do? Because it moves us, even when we’re in public and perhaps shy about our love of music.

Luce pays homage to what I’ll call “music memory.” In “An air that kills,” he says, “I hear/you whisper underneath/the song, a memory/that pricks without/the power to console.//” Each of us has those songs or riffs of music that recall memories. I cannot get past a song without recalling some memory or moment or loved one who has passed away. There are so many songs that call to us for its melody, its lyrics, its rhythms, but they also are tied to our lives by memory.

From John Coltrain to Richard Strauss, Luce’s improvisations can leave you breathless, swimming in a sea of bourbon and memory swirling in a glass and chinking ice. And you know that there’s a playlist on Spotify for this collection — how could you not have one! I will definitely be listening as I read this collection again. The delightful rhythm of Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce will carry you away, allowing you to lay your head down and dream away in the “light of a love supreme.”

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Gregory Luce is the author of five books of poems: Signs of Small Grace, Drinking Weather, Memory and Desire, Tile, and Riffs & Improvisations (forthcoming in 2021). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Juke Jar, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, Buffalo Creek Review, and in several anthologies. He recently retired after 32 years from National Geographic and now lives in Arlington, VA. He is a volunteer writing tutor and mentor with 826DC.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 228 pgs.
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Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, is a bilingual collection of love poems in Spanish and English that touches the passionate hearts of us all. It is a love letter to lovers, friends, ourselves, and human kind. Amirthanayagam opens the collection with “On my Body,” exploring the weakness of the body to be fooled by love, whether that is the desire of the body to get close to another only to find out it is not love or a person who tattoos their body for love and be stuck with the reminder that it is a failed relationship. Love in this opening poem is both bliss and pain. How true that is.

I love that this collection is both in Spanish and English. It allowed me to reach back into my memory to find those Spanish words I recall from high school and attempt to live in the language Amirthanayagam wrote the poems in. While my translations did not always match what was written in the English poem, the feelings evoked by the poems were the same. The beauty of language is that it can transcend the barriers we have to create connections, much like love can connect us to one another.

There is a deep longing in Amirthanayagam’s poems. His poems are short but full of poetic longing – to embrace those who have moved, those who are no longer with us, the lovers we remember fondly despite the pain of those relationships ending, and even those we have yet to meet.

Keys (pg. 105)

I would have liked to have taught you
to drive, share the stage
when you presented your first book,

write its prologue. Your poems
accompany me to the rhythm of my pulse.
Cars will become more electric

and I will continue loving what
we could have accomplished
in that other time that was within

our reach and is still present,
an open-ended invitation,
the car ready to start.
Llaves (pg. 104)

Me hubiese gustado enseñarte
a manejar, compartir la mesa
cuando presentabas tu primer libro,

escribir el prólogo. Tus poemas
me acompañan al ritmo de mi pulso;
los autos se volverán más eléctricos

y seguiré amando lo que
podríamos haber logrado
en aquel otro tiempo que estaba

a nuestro alcance y sigue presente,
una invitación sin fecha de caducidad,
el auto listo para encenderse.

In “Between Google and Face, a Letter,” Amirthanayagam speaks to the digital distance many of us face now, making love or the cultivation of love more difficult. “Now when I surf the internet/I see that face like a country/behind the Iron Curtain/that’s now rather digital,//bytes of ones, zeroes and light blocking/Cyrano from his beloved. Who will become/his postman and who will make peace”

One of my favorite poems in the collection comes in the back third, “Sustainable Love,” where the longing is ever present from the man who will not cry for his love or clean the office or check the email hoping for messages, as the oceans continue to erode the shore and the man has little choice but to get back to life and his work. “To Wake Up with Moon and Sea” also explores this longing, but instead of another person, there’s a longing for a home country left behind.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, pays homage to love’s beauty, its heartbreak, its longing, and its desire. Fall through Amirthanayagam’s ventana azul and revel in the beauty of love. A collection you’ll turn to in times of sadness and in celebration.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Indran Amirthanayagam is a Sri Lankan-American poet- diplomat, essayist, translator and musician in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. A member of the U.S. Foreign Service, he is currently oa a domestic assignment in Washington D.C. Amirthanayagam has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), when he was eight years old Amirthanayagam moved with his family to London, England, and at age 14, he moved again to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he began writing poetry. He studied at Punahou School in Honolulu and played cricket at the Honolulu Cricket Club. He then studied English Literature at Haverford College where he also captained their cricket team during his last year. He has a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Amirthanayagam writes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. His Spanish collections include Lírica a tiempo (Mesa Redonda Editorial, Lima, 2020), En busca de posada (Editorial Apogeo Lima 2019), El Infierno de los Pájaros (Resistencia, Mexico City, 2001), El Hombre que Recoge Nidos (CONARTE/Resistencia, Mexico, 2005), Sol Camuflado (Lustra Editores, Lima, May 2011), Sin Adorno, lírica para tiempos neobarrocos (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Mexico, 2013), and Ventana Azul (El Tapiz del Unicornio, Mexico, 2016). His first collection in French, Aller-retour au bord de la mer, was published in 2014 by Legs Editions. Legs also published Il n’est de solitude que l’ile lointaine in 2017. Sur l’île nostalgique was published by L’Harmattan in Paris in 2020. His works in English include BLUE WINDOW (VENTANA AZUL) (DIALOGOS/Lavender Ink, 2021), THE MIGRANT STATES (Hanging Loose Press, 2020), UNCIVIL WAR (Mawenzi House/TSAR Publishers, 2013), THE SPLINTERED FACE: TSUNAMI POEMS (HAnging Loose Press, 2008), and THE ELEPHANTS OF RECKONING (Hanging Loose Press, 1993). Check out The Poetry Channel he runs.

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon

Source: the poet
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon is a phenomenal collection and likely one of the best I’ve read this year. You probably won’t read on if that’s all you wanted to know, but please take the time to explore this amazing book with me.

I love that each section of this collection has calls to the sea from “cross rip” to “breaksea.” The opening poem, “Hunger,” calls to the changing tides with “We are all trying to change/what we fear into something beautiful.” There are so many things to fear in the world from the political climate to the climate’s rapid heating and change and the breakdown of society. How do we change our hunger into something beautiful? Agodon further explores this tension in “String Theory Relationships” in which she tells us what we all know — “everyone wants a window or aisle seat and no one wants to sit//in the middle. Call it deniability. Call it the flashlight you keep/by the door never works in emergencies. We are all connected//

Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror (pg. 8)

The evening sounds like a murder
of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs
because we can’t change the world but we can
change our hardware. America breaks my heart
some days and some days it breaks itself in two.
I watched a woman have a breakdown
in the mall today, and when the security guard
tried to help her, what I felt was all of us
peeking from her purse as she threw it
across the floor into Forever 21. And yes,
the walls felt like another way to hold us
and when she finally stopped crying
I heard her say to the fluorescent lighting,
Some days the sky is too bright. And like that
we were her flock in our black coats
and white sweaters, some of us reaching
our wings to her and some of us flying away.

If this poem doesn’t scream America and humanity, I don’t know what does. There are all of us who watch and those of us who act, and those of us who fly away from pain, emergencies, and the struggle. But part of this stems from the fact that we cannot plan for the apocalypse, as Agodon so aptly notes comes to the party “uninvited with a half-eaten bag of chips.” (“I Don’t Own Anxiety, But I Borrow It Regularly”). These are all in the first section of the collection, and you’ll be floored by not only her imagery but her keen observation of human reactions.

Another powerful poem, “How Damage Can Lead to Poetry,” in this collection tackles a family history of suicide. “Damage creates the thought/of brokenness: my ocean never has enough/songbirds, my life never has enough//song. It’s morning and there’s a whisper in my family/history—I know the suicides, the stories/of strange deaths: brother choking/on a balloon, sister tripping on the church steps/and hitting her head so perfectly//her arteries became a celebration. Bastille Day, New Year’s Eve. And she was. And he was. Gone.//” (pg. 16) Agodon also tackles bigger questions like why we choose to kill what we do, whether that’s an animal, a person, a relationship, her lines boil it down to fear. Because as she says in “Hold Still” she would not kill a butterfly for a million dollars, but “things that frighten us/are easier to kill.”

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon asks us to look closer at our own actions and reactions to buck social norms, like keeping our emotions tight to our chests, and reach out more often to those around us. We are all connected, we are all affected by the “rising tides,” and we all could use a little more understanding and love, including love of ourselves. This is a must-have collection.

Also, read “Queen Me” in The Los Angeles Review.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kelli Russell Agodon is a poet, writer, editor, book designer, and co-founder of Two Sylvias Press, living in the Seattle area. Her collection of poems Hourglass Museum was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and was shortlisted for the Julie Suk Award honoring the best book of poems published by a small press. She is also author of the bestselling The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice, which she co-authored with Martha Silano. She was the winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award in poetry, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, New England Review, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is a co-director of Poets on the Coast, a writing retreat for women. Visit her website.

The Collectors by Alice Feagan

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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The Collectors by Alice Feagan is a delightful book about young naturalist explorers seeking the unique and extraordinary things in the forest for their collection inside a tree house. Winslow and Rosie are two young girls who love to explore and be outside. Winslow’s adventurous spirit is coupled with Rosie’s unique ability to describe and draw each forest find in her field journal.

The illustrations in the book are simple and focus on the girls as they take to the forest in search of their last greatest find. I do wish the colors were less muted. We loved looking through their treehouse collection of shells, butterflies, leaves and plants, and bugs. It is a vast collection — they need a ladder to reach the top shelves. My daughter took this book to her room, just to look at the pictures, and while it was published in May, she’s had a long time to linger over these images.

I love that Feagan is encouraging kids to explore the natural world, though my daughter’s first question is where are the parents. They should be watching their kids, especially since they explore so far from the treehouse. She was clearly worried for them. I told her it is fiction and you just have to imagine a world in which these girls know what to do and how to get home – I mean they do pack a compass, a field map, collection jars, and trowels, etc. in their backpack. These are young archaeologists in the making.

The Collectors by Alice Feagan was a fun adventure that shows kids that nature is something to be explored but also something to be cautious of, esp. when they encounter a not-too-happy bear. What these girls learn is that sometimes the extraordinary is not always far from home. Really enjoyable adventure for kids age 5-8.

RATING: Quatrain

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long, is an anthem for change and its images will inspire kids to take action now, rather than think change is something adults have to do. I loved how this book opens with a young girl and her guitar, humming a song – a song of change.

The illustrations in this book are colorful and full of depth, really well shadowed and highlighted. With the opening pages, the young girl is alone on a white background — the white signifying the possibilities around her that aren’t realized and she’s alone, demonstrating that changes starts with each person. This young girl walks by MLK in a mural about dreaming and change, meeting a young musician on the street.

Together, they start small, cleaning up a local park and then helping another young boy, and with each moment of aide they provide, they bring the music of change with them. Gorman’s words speak to the courage it takes to be tolerant and patient with others who are not nice to you; how it is better to build bridges, rather than fences; and all the while building communities of change, hope, and empathy.

Gorman brings together words with Long’s images to create a beautiful picture book about loving yourself, your neighbor, creating community, and making changes in your own hometown. Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long, is a delight and I love the simplicity of the words to convey a complex message to kids. It empowers them to take matters into their own hands, creating change in their own backyards.

RATING: Cinquain

American Software by Henry Crawford

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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With the increased reliance of society on technology and computers, American Software by Henry Crawford speaks to readers in programming language, a poetic device that transcribes everyday life to magnify its societal implications with precision. The collection even opens with a quote from The C Programming Language, 2nd Edition by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie.

I wan intrigued by this collection for one reason, my day job has me writing some technical pieces about mainframes. While I didn’t spy any specific references to mainframes, Crawford does rely on the formats of computing language to craft his poems about life in America. The collection’s opening poem, “Hello World!,” where readers are taken on a trip to one of the most tragic moments in someone’s life (Jackie Kennedy) and they’re whisked away to the automated check out line and the canning of soup, etc., all in the blink of a minute. Comparing that tragic moment in which someone could feel suspended in time and to be moving in slow motion to the current time where automation has taken over demonstrates Crawford’s look at society’s revolution toward speeding up everything.

Several of Crawford’s poems play a bit with perspective — whether as a president in “Lyndon Johnson” you could know every angle of a situation or as a husband and wife in “Living Under Roofs” could you even know your partner’s every thought and desire. Crawford masterfully plays with his poems to create something new, like in “When [Box] Met <Diamond>” where there is an internal conversation about the art of poetry within a conversation between the box and the diamond who meet inside the poem and begin their own conversation and plot to escape.

One of the best poems in the collection, “100 Years of the First World War,” in which references are made to “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae while the poem itself becomes like a play in which the poet is performing alongside McCrae and his “Soldier’s Song” moment.

The use of computer programming tags and symbols can make it harder to decipher the meaning of these poems, but discerning readers will enjoy the play in these poems. Let’s talk with the computer before the screen goes out. American Software by Henry Crawford tackles a lot of America’s societal issues in an automated world — the disconnect between people, the death penalty, wonder, and the pull between life and death.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Henry Crawford is a poet living and writing in the Washington, DC area. His work has appeared in several journals and online publications including Boulevard, Copper Nickel and the Southern Humanities Review. His first collection of poetry, American Software, was published in May of 2017 by CW Books, his second collection, The Binary Planet, is to be published by The Word Works in 2020.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 5+ hrs.
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The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by the author, is a collection of short stories, with some seeming to be autobiographical or at least inspired by his own life here in the United States. Some of these refugees are seen through the eyes of another, and in this way, Nguyen provides us with a dual perspective — how the narrator views the refugee and how the refugees view themselves.

The narration was satisfactory as read by the author, but some of it could have been better served by a more practiced audiobook narrator who could have breathed life into the characters and helped readers “feel” the tensions a little more deeply. The author’s narration really didn’t add anything to these stories, like a trained narrator would have.

Despite the narration falling flat, these stories explore what it means to leave one’s homeland for another and be caught between them — between what happened in that other country and what is happening now as a result of those experiences. But not only has Nguyen given us stories that explore that rift in identity and culture shock of entering a new country to call home, he also explores the family bond and how it can be frayed by the past in Vietnam, dementia, sibling jealousy, and so much more. What are the dreams of these refugees and immigrants, will they be achieved, have the given up, are they settling, can they feel at home in a new country that is so different from where they came from? These are the kinds of questions explored in theses stories, and many of these characters seem to stem from Nguyen’s own experiences and family history.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen is probably best read in print or in ebook, rather than on audio, so the nuance of Nguyen’s stories are not lost on the reader. I did enjoy spending time with these characters, but I’ll likely revisit them in print.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

Billy Summers by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 16+ hrs.
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***trigger warning for sexual violence***

Billy Summers by Stephen King, narrated by Paul Sparks, is beyond the supernatural, horror that this author is known for, but it brings to life new horrors — those of real life. Billy, a former soldier, is a murderer for hire, and he’s looking for one last job so he can begin a new life. The set up for an assassination job is detailed and slow going, but readers will delight in the character building of Billy’s alter egos — the plants in various towns to hide what he is really doing. Masquerading as a writer in an office building, a computer IT guy, and his own Billy Summers’ shtick, which isn’t really how he acts.

In many ways, the face of Summers is similar to King’s characters created in years past — Billy is almost a stand-in for King, one of the ultimate character creators. King does give a nod to his previous writings here later on in the novel with a sneak peak atop a ridge at The Overlook. It is almost like this novel is an homage to all the risks he’s taken in his career and a middle-finger to the industry that counted him out and pigeonholed him. But I could be over-analyzing here.

Paul Sparks does an excellent job with every face of Billy Summers, and the narration is back and forth into Summers’ past in Falluja when he was a sniper. What I’ve always loved about King’s novels is his attention to detail, his ability to create well-rounded characters, and the settings that mirror real, small town life that is often considered pale in comparison to large, city life (a perception that he blows out of the water every time).

The most troubling aspect of the novel, however, is the obligatory rape of a young woman who becomes an acquiescent victim with Stockholm syndrome.  But even here, King is stretching this trope as he builds the sad relationship between her and Billy Summers into a morally ambiguous argument that not all snipers are bad guys. Perhaps, there are some who do draw a line in the sand, and Billy does rationalize his actions.

Even as I say that Billy is a mirror for King, so is the young woman by the final pages. It almost made me wonder if King may be done writing, but then there’s something more to this young lady that makes me confident that King is not done with his fictional worlds quite yet.

Billy Summers by Stephen King, narrated by Paul Sparks, is a multilayered story about a stone-cold, calculating assassin for hire who continually wrestles with his morality. King takes you on a journey that will leave you wondering about your own morality and mortality. Things in real life can run astray at any moment, even in a small town.

RATING: Cinquain

A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 46 pgs.
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A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta is the migration of the Parsi, the immigration of a young woman from India to America and the feeling of exile and belonging. Several centuries pass in this slim collection of poems, but like the book cover, each person in these poems is on a journey, one that seems to take them away from where they were to a new destination. However, these journeys end up being very circular, bringing them back to the culture and the past they have tried to leave behind. The past is integral to who they are, as is the migratory journey they embark upon.

In the opening poem, “Refugees,” readers are taken to the migration of Parsis in 917 AD in which “the boat is too small” but the past recedes until “the joy and blood that had come before/already turning to myth./” But even in this flight from one place to another, there is a deep-seated worry that things will not change for the better, but Mehta leaves us on the shore of the white beach with their hope. In “Sleep,” we spend time with this family in its new land, leaning into the hope that they can belong on this land, even with the traditions they carry. But their “Welcome” is not as comforting. While they can retain their traditions and the myths of the past, as well as their religion, they are unable to share that with those outside their group.

Mehta is taking us on a journey from her ancestors to the present day, and woven throughout these poems is the angst created by holding onto tradition and letting go to belong somewhere. In “The Towers of Silence,” the narrator says, “But there are places/that I long to describe/in a language I do not know./And the Towers, by our not being in them,/that is our sacrifice.//” These poems speak to the deep sacrifices of migrants as they move from the home they know to a new home that pushes back against their history and traditions.

from "Decorum" (pg. 12-14)

...
I do not know what I should do in a desert;
You cannot assume anything of yourself
Until you have experienced fire.

A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta is just one look at migration and the sacrifices that entails, as well as the need to belong in a new home. There is a fencing off of the past and culture that occurs internally in some migrants, while there is also the fencing off of cultures and groups of people in their new home — separating them from others and preventing them from sharing their own stories and cultures. Mehta is a master storyteller who takes her poetry into the past to demonstrate the richness of a future in a new country.

RATING: Cinquain

I Dream of Empathy by Marianne Szlyk

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 48 pgs
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I Dream of Empathy by Marianne Szlyk is a slim collection of poems that search for empathy, an understanding of how others feel.Her poems speak to the hurts of the past, to the environment, a mother, a husband, and a self. She reflects with sadness for the past and present, but with a sense of hope that things can be better as long as we strive to connect with one another and our environment. There are some poems that are deeply sad, like “She Wonders What Will Become of this City,” in which the narrator says, “She wonders what will become of this city/once the oceans rise and ghost towns form like coral reefs.// The real coral reefs will have crumbled,/all color leaching away into the corrosive sea.//”

Szlyk is an artist of words. She paints full pictures and creates poetic stories to give readers an internal monologue, but also a painting of a life. Like in “Cabin Fever,” she helps the reader see the hopeless feeling of cabin fever, how there is the desire to do something, but nothing inside the home. There is an immobility in that fever. The narrator of the poem is sitting and replaying saxophone songs in her head, while the laundry piles up and the use of the dryer worries her about the impact it will have on the environment.

One of the best sections of the collection are the “Scene from the Blue Room,” where Szlyk explores the relationships between a grandmother, granddaughter, and mother in a series of poems. The love of the sea/lake is passed from generation to generation. The passage of time is distilled into melting ice cream in a cereal bowl and the wafting big band music in the first poem in the series. In the second poem in the series, the granddaughter has made it to the bedside of her passing grandmother, missing her father and their times by the pond/lake, and wishing her relationship with her mother would improve. In the third poem, the granddaughter has grown up and had to sell the house she loved to visit. There’s a sense of closure in that she understands that walls can be painted over.

I Dream of Empathy by Marianne Szlyk is full of surprises and sharp observations about human relationships and how to find empathy or at least understand where others are coming from. She conjures a story where the reader has little choice but to fall in and follow her lead.

RATING: Quatrain

Escape Velocity by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut and Giveaway

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 90 pgs.
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***full disclosure: Kristin is a member of my poetry writing workshop group***

Escape Velocity by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut forces you into motion with each poem, starting with “You Say We’re Like Magnets.” She illuminates the tension — the push and pull of magnetism — between lovers even if the relationship is not quite in sync. There’s a joy in the tension, the figuring out how pieces fit, how they push each other to grow, and so much more. Ferragut’s poems have a ton of depth, but they are equally smart, beautiful, and witty (with a bit of dark humor).

from "Intermittentamorous" (pg. 20)
...
Identifying as intermittentamorous is exhausting
The on and off, yin/yang, dream
of love versus hope of freedom.

Feels like a long practice to learn to be done,
a sigh and unplugging. Skin intact, space for sleep
and a nod to the vast possibilities in silence.

The first section focuses on reactions and the movement that results from those reactions. Ferragut’s poems are intimate and relatable, whimsical, and a spiraling kaleidoscope of science, love, frustration, and moving forward in life. “A Twenty-Four-Year-Old Getting Two Dozen Roses at Forty-Nine: A Dialogue with Myself,” is a delightful examination of aging and changing perspectives.

from "Drowning" (pg. 39)

What was the cause of death?
What is the difference? When
life is terminal and living on
                  so 
                          long.

Ferragut doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff of life; she meets it head on. “Escape and Loss” explores the sadness and regret that comes with the passing of family and friends. “Guilt hides beneath fingernails;/sorrow clings to laughs’ underbellies,/they will escape despite you./But you might leave regret…” (pg. 41) Her poems will turn the world upside down for you, force you to look through a new lens to find the beauty even in darkness. There is an undercurrent of joy and hope in her poems, and perhaps this is what gives her collection the velocity it needs to let readers escape into the real world and see it through Ferragut’s eyes.

Escape Velocity by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut is a journey through life but it’s a window into the darkness to find hope and a way forward when things don’t quite go according to plan. There’s magic in these pages, and I beg you to discover the worlds created in these poems.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kristin Kowalski Ferragut teaches, plays guitar, hikes, supports her children in becoming who they are meant to be, and enjoys the vibrant writing community in the DMV. She is author of the full-length poetry collection Escape Velocity (Kelsay Books, 2021) and the children’s book Becoming the Enchantress: A Magical Transgender Tale (Loving Healing Press, 2021). Her poetry has appeared in Beltway Quarterly, Nightingale and Sparrow, Bourgeon, Mojave He[Art] Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Fledgling Rag, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. Visit her website.

To Enter the Giveaway:

Leave a comment on this post with an email so I can contact you if you win a copy of Escape Velocity. Deadline to enter is Sept. 10.

Incandescent Visions by Lee Hudspeth

Source: the poet
Hardcover, 68 pgs.
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Incandescent Visions by Lee Hudspeth is a collection with big aspirations, exploring where creativity comes from and how it evolves. It also pays homage to several important people in his life. The collection is laid out in chapters, not sections, much like a memoir would be. One drawback for me was the prologues of each section and the explanation of the poems in the sections; those would have worked better at the end. I prefer to read and reread poems to sit with them, suss out meaning, absorb the feelings they generate.

From Mom

...
Sometimes it's easier to step back and be right here
On the sidewalk
From Stronger

...
In the moment, it's not about the moment
Ghostly priors, messy entanglements
Hanging like links of a heavy chain

There are moments in the collection where the reader will be beside the poet and looking at their own life and the past that haunts them. These poems aim to provide a look at how those pasts can shape us but also at how we have to let them go. There are strong moments in many of these poems, but if the aim is to explore creativity, the strongest poem in the collection is “Framework.” Imagine a blank sheet of paper with a red dot: “I hold the framework in my hands/The framework embraces me in return/It is a portal to other lands/”

Incandescent Visions by Lee Hudspeth is a debut collection with big ambitions that fall a little short, but if the poet’s explanations and prologues were kept out of the collection or to the end of the book, the poems could have stood on their own. Some poems need to be refined. Rhyming poems are generally not something I enjoy, but in this case, Hudspeth does an admirable job. If you’re looking for a collection with heart, Hudspeth opens his to you.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Lee Hudspeth is an award-winning author and poet, musician, and fellow human being. Incandescent Visions is his first book of poetry. He is the co-author of ten nonfiction books in the field of Information Technology. He has written articles for professional journals like PC Computing and Office Computing. He is the author of over one hundred articles in the online magazine The Naked PC, which he co-founded and co-published. He lives in Southern California with his wife, two sons, and their cat. Find out more about Lee, his books, and his music at LeeHudspeth.com.