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Somewhere Over the Pachyderm Rainbow: Living in an Elephant-Controlled 2010 Election Diorama by Jennifer C. Wolfe

Somewhere Over the Pachyderm Rainbow:  Living in an Elephant-Controlled 2010 Election Diorama by Jennifer C. Wolfe, published by BlazeVOX, is a satiric look at the government today following the Republican take over of the U.S. House of Representatives.  However, readers with staunch Republican beliefs who do not have a sense of humor about politics are NOT going to enjoy this volume and may even be angered by it.  On the other hand, Democrats will nod their heads in agreement, while Independents will nod, smirk, and disagree with certain aspects of these poems, which read more like prosaic diatribes.  More than anything, Wolfe has written a collection of poems to get the nation energized and talking politics, just in time for the upcoming 2012 elections (because you know that elections are now tackled at least 12 months in advance, if not more).

The Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas Pledge of Allegiance (page 42)

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of our America,
And to the corporations, for which it stands,
One nation, under our thumb,
Poor invisible,
With liberty and justice, as dictated by the 5-4
Conservative majority of our Supreme Court.

As in the above poem, Wolfe twists well known moments and sayings from history and creates a new narrative to illustrate the “horrors” she sees happening in today’s government and society.  Vitriol drips from each line as she slices through the Republican rhetoric and policy to uncover the intentions of their decisions and desires.  Wolfe is clearly angered by the prominence of Fox News and Sarah Palin, but those are not her only targets.  George W. Bush, John Boehner, Tim Pawlenty, terrorism, and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords garner equal attention from Wolfe’s sharp pen strokes.

She uses clear language, current events, rhyme, and repeating refrains to maintain the attention of the reader, especially as she nears the point in which she’s ready to slice political platforms to shreds.  There are no puzzles to unwind and the approach to politics is as aggressive as commentary from Bill O’Reilly.  From flip-flopping on Second Amendment issues to hidden agendas in policies, Wolfe calls attention to the rhetoric that covers up the truth.  For instance, why is China our ally if they continue to ship toxic toys, food, and other items to the United States?  Is it related to the fact that they own most of the national debt?

Overall Somewhere Over the Pachyderm Rainbow:  Living in an Elephant-Controlled 2010 Election Diorama by Jennifer C. Wolfe is a jumping off point for further conversation, but it will leave some readers wondering what the references refer to as they lose their immediate meaning and newer events replace those within these pages.  Luckily, the Internet will enable everyone to look up some of these references, though many will wonder if this is merely a collection by a leftist angered by the victory of the right in a political election and what it, if any, significance, it will have on the political arena.  Only time will tell how this collection impacts thinking and action into the future or if it will simply fade into the background like the many scandals among today’s political figureheads.  Taken in small chunks, readers will digest the barbs in these poems and hunger for the next course.

About the Poet:

Jennifer C. Wolfe grew up in Maplewood, Minn., and studied fiction writing and poetry at Century College in White Bear Lake. Mississippi. Wolfe has five previous publishing credentials: a poem “If” included within the Century College (White Bear Lake, MN) Spring 2008 Student Lounge literary magazine along with three poetry manuscripts, Kick the Stones: Everyday Hegemony, Empire, and Disillusionment published as an eBook by BlazeVOX Books, New York, October 2008, Yukon Rumination: Great Fun for All in the Land of Sarah Palin’s Joe Sixpack Alaska, published as an eBook by BlazeVOX Books, New York, June 2009, and Healing Optimism, and Polarization, published as an eBook by BlazeVOX Books, New York, February 2010, and two poems “St. Patrick’s Day” and “Roller Coaster,” published within the online edition of Scrambler Magazine, Issue 39, June 2010.

 

This is my 17th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 26th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace

War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace, a Junior Library Guide selection, is set in 1969 in New Jersey just as the Vietnam War is beginning to rage and Woodstock is ready to rock suburban New York.  New Jersey brothers Brody and Ryan take a road trip to the concert of their generation as Ryan continues to avoid questions from his parents about his future, particularly college, and the draft.  Brody is just about to start junior high school and is eager to join the football team, but his world is insular in that his main focus is football, girls, the Mets, and the Top 40 hits.

“I grab the ball, make a juke to the right, and send a line drive over the clothesline and directly into the basket.  The bell rings.  Ryan puts his hands on his hips and stares at the ceiling.  I raise my fists and say, ‘Yes!’

I carefully move past the shirt — it looks more like polka dots than tie-dye — and smack hands with him.  ‘Champion,’ I say, patting myself on the chest.

‘Mr. Clutch,’ he says.  ‘ Best in the basement, for sure.'” (page 23)

Told in Brody’s point of view, the novel thrusts readers into the life of a teenage boy who only thinks about sports and girls.  But it’s more than that for Brody.  He’s worried about fitting in at junior high and whether his brother will be drafted into the Vietnam War in September when he turns 18.  The prose is clipped and focused, with breaks between scenes as Brody’s mind shifts from football worries to family concerns and between girls and the start of school.

Wallace’s style is no-nonsense, and he has a football announcer/coach’s way of describing football plays so that even a layman can picture the players’ moves.  He had a firm grasp of what kids in junior high are thinking and feeling, particularly during this time period in the late 1960s.  What’s interesting is that there are poems sporadically thrown in written by Brody, usually about his family, football, and the like.  They are not masterpieces, but they’re also written by a young boy entering the seventh grade.

Woodstock Flock
by Brody Winslow (page 50)

Marching
Not to battle
Marching
All night long
Marching
Past barns and cattle
Marching
To hear a song

Marching
With my brother
Marching
With thousands more
Marching
To hear another
Marching
Against the war

Wallace creates a childlike innocence in Brody that becomes marred by his brother Ryan’s unwillingness to take action — to decide between college and the draft. Their father continues to insult Ryan’s indecision, pushing him to apply to college, and while Brody may agree with his father that Ryan needs to act to avoid going to war, he also agrees with his brother that he should not be forced into making a decision he’s not ready to make.

War & Watermelon is a coming of age story in which a young man realizes that there are events and issues larger than his concerns about school, football, and girls.  The war, protests, and his brother’s indecision prompt Brody to make some choices of his own and gain the confidence he needs to remedy his own issues at school.  Wallace has a way of teaching lessons without lecturing, and young boys should easily relate to the story.  However, young girls in this similar age group (9-12) may have a tougher time relating to a young football player unless they have older brothers or are interested in what boys their age are thinking about.

Stay tuned tomorrow, June 14, for my guest post from Rich Wallace about his writing space and another chance to win War & Watermelon.

About the Author (From TLC’s Website):

Rich Wallace is the author of many award-winning books for children and teenagers, including Wrestling Sturbridge, Sports Camp, Perpetual Check, and the “Kickers” and “Winning Season” series. He lives with his wife, novelist Sandra Neil Wallace, in Keene, NH. (As an aside, my cousin when to college in Keene.)

A note from Rich : ”Bloggers might like to know that, like Brody in War & Watermelon, I was 12 years old in 1969 and living in suburban New Jersey, just becoming aware of the war and the music and the other world-changing events of that summer. I also had an older brother who was eligible for the draft, which caused considerable concern in our household and informed the events of this novel.” Please visit his Website.

Please check out the rest of the stops on the TLC Book Tour.

To win 1 copy of War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace (US/Canada Only),

1.  Leave a comment on this post about what other middle-grade books you recommend.

2.  Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, and the Blog about the giveaway for a second entry.

3.  For a third entry, read and comment on tomorrow’s (June 14) guest post from Rich Wallace.

Deadline is June 22, 2011, at 11:59 PM EST.

 

This is my 24th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence

The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence, published by Main Street Rag, is a collection lush in mystery as it is in setting and pulsating with dramatic domesticity.  Broken into seven parts, Pence begins the collection with the “ugly and the ordinary” and moves to the end of the collection with the infinitesimal.  Her images call attention to the darkness of the narrator’s family as they witness the drunken stupors, like in “Landing Space, 1970” (page 5-6), “Cutting too:/the eyes of the sunflowers/the swell of them, pulpy,/like my stepfather’s,/roused too soon//from an alcoholic stupor/for the graveyard shift.  Was it too much/what they saw or not enough? . . . ”

Like the pleasant and the darker aspects of the family, Pence juxtaposes the landscape of New Orleans to that of Las Vegas, with the darker elements of family life up in neon lights.  But there is darkness in New Orleans, a past that cannot be escaped and a past that can be touched only through the voodoo of memory and self-assessment.  In “The Waiting Room” (page 40), “Maybe/she’ll talk of a version of her self/decades before the cancer:  the Rose Bowl court in the 50s/or her years in New Orleans, to relate, she’d say/to the woman waiting.  In that/hazy B&W film, my mother/was one of the Golddust Twins,/the flashier one, running headlong out of Ohio, constantly/misunderstood by husbands, children, lovers./Maybe the black woman would begin/to resent my mother as most did, would/see her as merely another shipwreck in Vegas,/unmade by her own addictions.  . . . ”  Readers will find the new perspective on these mundane scenes fresh and captivating, as the narrator reveals the truth behind the surface interactions of women in a waiting room.  Pence has a number of these moments in her poems.  However, there are poems that will require more time, reading them several times and greater reflection for each image and line — a process that could bog down some new readers of poetry.  That being said, the collection is worth the effort.

Put Muse Here (page 22)

Dalí renders Dante’s Beatrice with
his beloved’s form, face obscured. Uses

grisaille, a netting & rivulet to dress her
ginger-crisp: a locust shell split. Then

there’s me: putting another face where the Dark
should be, like dreaming (an Emma Bovary),

of punctuation. The colon: two face one-upon-
one, the lock in the door, a figment well-oiled.

In the slash / my avarice: cut (an Emily Brontë)
window across which I rub my wrist.

Then there’s the period — the body’s
rush to an ending. The Thee (an Emily Dickinson)

through which the self moves —
finds the mouth, fills the face, enters in.

Sometimes cryptic, sometimes plain spoken, Pence crafts an inside look at family (those are her parents on the cover) and the happy dysfunction that can occur and often does.  Beyond that, she draws parallels between that dysfunction and the human condition, which we often attempt to control and fail to control.  The Decadent Lovely is a self indulgence worth wallowing in, if not to examine one’s own life but to understand that humans tend to be self-indulgent even though they espouse the shedding of ego.

 

This is my 15th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 23rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Bedtime Book for Dogs by Bruce Littlefield

The Bedtime Book for Dogs by Bruce Littlefield, published by Hachette Book Group in June 2011, is chock full of large, colorful illustrations that even catches the eyes of infants.  My daughter is only 3 months old and she was drawn into the book by the illustrations of the dog and the park with its bright greens and browns.  The story is short and sweet, which would make it easy to read for those learning and those wanting to read on their own.  Littlefield’s story is one about friendship — a companionship that dogs even have with their owners — and sharing.

Dogs will even love the story as well, with their ears perking up at familiar terms like “out” and “treat,” but be careful because readers may find that they’ll have to give them an actual treat or actually take them out!

The only drawback is that some of the text gets lost in the images, particularly the busy image of the inside of the house with its dog bone wallpaper.  But even that does not occur most often — it’s just on a few pages.  What’s great about the narration is that many of the words are written in large type, making them easy to recognize.

Readers will love how the story speaks to the listener — whether its a dog or a child — telling them to “sit” and “lie down” to listen to the story.  Its a good way to get them ready for bed.  The story is short, however, which means it could take several readings before a child will actually fall asleep, but that’s typical with any bedtime story.  The Bedtime Book for Dogs by Bruce Littlefield and illustrated by Paul S. Heath is a cute book that readers won’t mind reading again and again, as some of the lines rhyme like poetry, making the flow easy to remember.  It’s a colorful, happy story that should be added to any child’s shelf.

This is my 22nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Monster by David Livingstone Clink

Monster by David Livingstone Clink, published by small publisher Tightrope Books, is a collection broken into five parts and is dedicated to those who “dreamed of monsters under the bed.”  What an appropriate dedication, as there is an undercurrent of menace to some of these poems.  Beyond the shapeshifters, the aliens, and the other monsters that go bump in the night, Clink is drawing out the mischief and the darkness within each of us.  While we are human, there is a baser nature beneath the civility that he calls attention to, warning us to remain wary and yet accepting of that nature.

In “Pantoum for a Recent Kill” (page 36), the narrator highlights the need of humanity to categorize even dead bodies, to shape them within a context, providing them meaning even if no meaning exists.  While we want to examine these corpses (whether they are literal or figurative) in great detail and pose them as we see fit, we also shy away from the pleasure of it and of acknowledging this darker desire to get involved on our basest level.  “In putting an end to something braver than us/cut the corpse into small pieces.  Bury it deep/and turn away with relief that this isn’t you.//”  Additionally, readers may notice a slight disdain in the lines chosen by Clink; the narrator seems to be sarcastic about the actions of the denier who “buries it deep.”  Perhaps Clink is discussing the corpses of our past selves or the past selves mentioned throughout history and lore, but no matter which corpses he is referring to, it is clear that he wants to break through the fear of self-examination.

Above Us (page 50)
-after Julia Hartwig’s ‘Above Us’

Running until they are tired, out of space,
boys cast shadows in the dwindling light

of a vast square, the soccer ball bouncing,
ending this day with awe and consolation.

This completes another cycle in dying–
the boys turn home, talk excitedly,

the soccer ball having its own language
that had to be kicked out of it to be heard.

Moving through the parts of the collection, readers will note a progression in the narration from the fantastical to the more concrete, but even in these different poems the undercurrent of menace and darkness continues.  However, the narration changes from a questioning of its existence to a denial of its existence to an acceptance.  From “The Airships Take Us, Even as We Blow Out the Last Candle” (page 27), “The darkness did not come on like a tarantula./It was always here./It is penetrated by man-made machines/muscling into the night,/by two young women on a downtown bus/with blue streaks in their hair, whispering,/Calvary, and, Hosanna.//”

Through playful language and use of creative poetic forms (from pantoum to cross-reading — “Weathered Remains” on page 24 being one of the best cross-reading poems in the collection), Clink will make readers take pause to rethink each line and their own preconceptions about their humanity, while at the same time celebrating what makes us human in the darkness.  Overall, Clink’s use of language and poetic form in Monster creates a surreal malaise that readers will swim in, searching for an exit but enticed to stay to uncover the dark truth about themselves.  A dark truth that is worth knowing so that they can move beyond it to a more mindful life.  Another winner in poetry for the year.

David Clink; Copyright Geoff George

About the Poet:

His first book of poetry was released from Tightrope Books in the Spring of 2008. It is called “Eating Fruit Out of Season.”

David is a member of The League of Canadian Poets.  Check out his Website, Poetry Machine.

 

 

 

This is my 20th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 


This is my 13th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

The Beach Trees by Karen White

Karen White always crafts novels that are full of engaging characters and intricate story lines, and The Beach Trees is no exception.  Shifting from the present to the past and between two first person accounts, the novel tells the tale of rebirth and rebuilding.  Set in the South — New Orleans and Biloxi — Julie Holt and Aimee Guidry’s stories are told in tandem and are more entwined than readers first think as a mystery is solved.

From the disappearance of Monica, Aimee’s granddaughter, to the disappearance of Caroline Guidry many years before, White crafts a unique story of family, love, and forgiveness.  Both stories are riveting and filled with mystery, which readers will have to sweep aside the sand to uncover.

“When we got closer to the memorial I could see a curved cement wall with a mosaic wave in the center of it rolling from one end to the other.  At the far end sat a taller wall of black granite, columns of names marching in block letters under the word KATRINA and the date August 29, 2005.  A glass case filled with small objects protruded from the marble wall, its base filled with empty oyster shells.

‘What is this,’ I asked, leaning forward to study the sun-bleached artifacts:  a broken china plate, a ceramic angel, a trophy, a police badge, an American flag folded neatly as if unaware of its position over a pile of rubble.

‘That’s debris found after the hurricane.  . . . ‘” (page 150-1)

New Orleans was plunged into the depths of the ocean by Katrina’s storm surge, and like the city these two families — the Holts and the Guidrys — are unmoored, drifting toward one another in the search for more than just shelter, but for a home and connections.  Aimee’s story unfolds piece-by-piece as she tells it to Julie, who decides to stay in the city and Biloxi to fulfill the dying wish of her friend.  In addition to the haunting images of Katrina’s devastation, White incorporates the more recent toxicity brought on by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which coated numerous miles of coast and created yet another disheartening chapter in the city’s history.  However, like its people, the city continues to rise from the ashes much stronger than before.

The Beach Trees brings to life not only the main characters in the novel, but the southern setting, ensuring that its scars and healing are intertwined with that of White’s characters.  She has created a story of rebirth and perseverance.  Through alternating points of view, White draws connections between Aimee and Julie using emotion and setting in a way that too few authors can accomplish.  With deft hand, she has created an emotionally charged narrative that takes on a life of its own.

About the Author:

Known for award-winning novels such as Learning to Breathe, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance 2009 Book of the Year Award finalist The House on Tradd Street, the highly praised The Memory of Water, the four-week SIBA bestseller The Lost Hours, Pieces of the Heart, and her IndieBound national bestseller The Color of Light, Karen has shared her appreciation of the coastal Low country with readers in four of her last six novels.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a storyteller by birth, Karen has made her home in many different places.  Visit the author at her website, and become a fan on Facebook.

Also check out my reviews of The House on Tradd Street, The Girl on Legare Street, and On Folly Beach.

Check out the other stops on the TLC Book Tour by clicking the image.

Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager

Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager, published by small press Cherry Grove Collections, is a collection that gives voice to the thoughts, the events, and the split seconds before tragedy or fateful decisions are made that are only heard in silence.  The silence is a voice, quick to speak and die out without stalking across the stage and declaring itself.  Secrets are revealed in these poems, like the undiscovered joy “Deborah Sampson” (page 11) — a woman who enlisted as a man in the Army during the Revolutionary War — felt posing as a man and disappearing from her real self.  Or in “The Moment Before the Moment” (page 19), where the narrator comes across the hidden beauty of a sunrise before the actual sun rises above the horizon.  Each poem illuminates the in-between, the edge, the precipice before the collision of events or moments in time.

The Space Coast (page 14; click the poem title and scroll the page to see this poem and others in the collection)

An Airedale rolling through green frost,
cabbage palms pointing their accusing leaves
at whom, petulant waves breaking at my feet.
I ran from them. Nights, yellow lights
scoured sand. What was ever found
but women in skirts folded around the men
they loved that Friday? No one found me.
And how could that have been, here, where
even botanical names were recorded
and small roads mapped in red?
Night, the sky is black paper pecked with pinholes.
Tortoises push eggs into warm sand.
Was it too late to have come here?
Everything’s discovered. Everything’s spoken for.
The air smells of salt. My lover’s body.
Perhaps it is too late. I want to run
the beach’s length, because it never ends.
The barren beach. Airedales grow
fins on their hard heads, drowned surfers
resurface, and those little girls
who would not be called back to safety are found.

At times, the images seem thrown together haphazardly, but readers must let themselves go, meditate on the words in the context of the moment presented, before the “truth” is revealed.  What is not said explicitly about certain moments can be as violent as the moment that remains unspoken — what happens between walking through a park after dark following a mother’s rejection and when the narrator wakes up with his pants around his ankles in “Rohypnol” (page 34).  What this style shows is that there are numerous ways to tell a story and to uncover “truth,” and it does not always have to be explicit or harrowing, though there are moments of violence on the surface of some poems.

Ager spends a great deal of time exploring the hidden spaces in our minds, our secret desires and thoughts, and even the thoughts we didn’t know we had.  Like a mother who has no husband or children to take care of for the evening in “Alone” (page 38), and all she can think of is the next task on the list or when the next task will come for her.  But beyond that, her personification of inanimate object, such as a telephone, can convey those unspoken desires in a way that a mere narrative involving a man and a woman cannot.

Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager is a personification of silent whispers in dark corners, where the secrets and mysteries of ourselves lie in wait — wanting to be revealed and not.  Readers will take a journey into these recesses and uncover their own hidden secrets, smile at the camaraderie these poems produce, and search for more.  One of the best collections I’ve read this year.

About the Poet:

Deborah Ager’s poems appear in New England Review, The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, New South and in the anthologies No Tell Motel and Best New Poets. She’s received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and she received a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

She is founding editor and publisher of 32 Poems Magazine. Many poems first appearing in 32 Poems have been honored in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. Ager codirects the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Reading Series in Washington, DC and teaches at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.

 

This is my 12th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 19th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 11th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since the poet sent it to me for review, but life got in the way.

Lit Windowpane by Suzanne Frischkorn

Suzanne Frischkorn’s Lit Windowpane is a slim collection of poems, published by small press Main Street Rag, that examines what humanity has done to the environment and yet at the same time praises the unfettered beauty of nature.  Like the men in the tavern of “The Mermaid Takes Issue With the Fable” (page 3), humans have “blackened” the Earth and “laughed” along the way as we’ve entertained ourselves without a single moment’s pause about what our actions have caused — and in some cases irreparably damaged.

Many of these poems are like gazing through a lit windowpane at the wildness of nature, watching it from afar and not interacting or obstructing it — enabling it to just be.  Frischkorn’s lines are short, yet powerful in that readers immediately picture the scene and the action.  Upon further reflection, they come to see the message beneath the lines — from preserving nature to decrying the harm that has come to nature at the hands of humanity.

Youth Drowns in Housatonic River (page 4)

He swam across
+++ the inlet near Beard’s Island,

and I was lying in my river bed
+++ watching light ripple the surface.

I saw him swim a straight line
+++ through the sun. I had no choice

but to eat fish from the river,
+++ and the soil, it finds its way into

my skin. I am the river and the river
+++ is contaminated. The river is dying

and I am dying. His body was lean
+++ and strong, yet the cold shut down

his circulation. His arms. His legs.
+++ Please tell his mother I brushed

the hair from his forehead and sang
+++ sweet songs until the divers came

a day later. Tell her, he swam a straight line.

In “Youth Drowns in Housatonic River,” the narrator not only becomes the river, but also tells the tale of a drowning youth and the interconnectedness of humans and their environment. “The river is dying/and I am dying,” shows this connection, as do the lines in which the narrator is eating fish from the contaminated river.  Frischkorn’s images grown up and out, twisting around the reader, weaving a scene that gets under the skin and causes readers to rethink their own actions toward the environment.  A perfect example of this is her poem “‘A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door,’ T. Wolfe.”  The narrator talks about being reincarnated as a stone, a leaf, and unfound door, and through each scene readers see how easily a stone or a leaf can be treasured one moment and either discarded or forgotten in the next moment.

Overall, Lit Windowpane by Suzanne Frischkorn is a collection that seeks to quietly raise awareness among its readers, while cultivating a new appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the natural world.

About the Poet:

Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of Girl on a Bridge (2010), and Lit Windowpane (2008) both from Main Street Rag Publishing. In addition she is the author of five chapbooks, most recently American Flamingo (2008).

Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Ecotone, Indiana Review, Margie, Verse Daily, and other publications. She has new poems forthcoming, or in the current issues of Barn Owl Review, Copper Nickel, North American Review, PALABRA, Printer’s Devil Review, and Puerto del Sol.

From 2001 to 2005 she served as an editor for Samsära Quarterly and is currently an Assistant Editor for Anti-.

A 2009 Emerging Writers Fellow of The Writer’s Center, her honors also include the Aldrich Poetry Award for her chapbook, Spring Tide, selected by Mary Oliver, and an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.

 

This is my 11th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 18th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 10th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since the poet sent it to me for review, but life got in the way.

The Poets Laureate Anthology Edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt

The Library of Congress recently collaborated with Elizabeth Hun Schmidt to collect a select group of poems from the 43 U.S. Poets Laureate in The Poets Laureate Anthology, which lays out the poems in reverse chronological order (click for a list of the poets laureate) from the current laureate W.S. Merwin through the first poet laureate Joseph Auslander.  The table of contents also points out that poems in brackets listed for each laureate are considered their signature poems.  The collection contains a foreword by former poet laureate Billy Collins and an introduction by the editor, Elizabeth Hun Schmidt.

In the foreword, Billy Collins reveals the ceremony or lack thereof that comes with the office of U.S. Poet Laureate, noting that there is no formal naming ceremony, simply a phone call from the Librarian of Congress who selects the latest laureate.  The post does come with an office in the Jefferson Building, but each laureate approaches the appointment differently, though former laureate Howard Nemerov explained that the laureate spends more time explaining the duties he or she performs than actually accomplishing much.

Elizabeth Hun Schmidt’s introduction discusses the placement of the poet laureate’s office in a remote wing of the Library of Congress near the rooms used by U.S. House teenage pages, “You might think our country wants to both flaunt and to hide the fact that the only official job in the arts in the United States is for a poet” (page xiv of The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress).  The office of Poet Laureate actually receives mail, and appointed laureates often travel the country exposing new people and communities to poetry, but only Robert Frost was asked to read at a presidential inauguration.

It is clear that some laureates were more active than others, engaging the community either through “brown-bag lunches,” educational projects, or through Websites and lectures.  Billy Collins is the most well-known for his work on Poetry 180, but Ted Kooser also began a project to garner a wider audience for poetry — American Life in Poetry.  Readers will applaud these poets for their commitment to a wider audience, including students, to erase the wall between readers and poetry.  Other laureates focused more on helping amateur poets hone their craft.  But each approached the office as differently as they tackle their verses, and it is this variety that makes the anthology unique, resembling a history of U.S. poetry.

Collins, like many readers, approached this anthology as a way to familiarize themselves with poetry piece-by-piece, dipping back into it over the course of their lives.  Anthologies are often created with this purpose in mind, and many are crafted to provide a reference for the best selections of a certain genre.  In this case, it’s poetry.  Each anecdotal comment from the laureates and their biographical snippets provide a backdrop for the poems that follow, but which, if any, of these poems were written while the laureates were in office is unclear.  Readers may have found it interesting to see which laureates wrote poems during their tenure and to read those poems for themselves.

Overall, The Poets Laureate Anthology edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt is a collection worth adding to anyone’s library shelves.  Whether looking for poems by a particular laureate or searching for a particular poem, the anthology provides a broad look at each poet’s efforts to define their moments, their lives, and humanity.  Reaching into history or dealing in the present, these laureates earned the title and executed the office with aplomb, and this anthology celebrates their accomplishments.  Readers looking to dip into poetry will enjoy this volume as much as those who dive deep into verse on a regular basis because it offers something for everyone.

 

 

This is my 9th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


 

This is my 15th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 


***This is a part of the National Poetry Month 2011 Blog Tour.

City of Regret by Andrew Kozma

City of Regret by Andrew Kozma is broken into five parts and each section is named for some element of the city — entrances, walls, living spaces, alleys, and exits.  (You can check out my 32 Poems Magazine interview with the poet, here. And please visit Saturday’s Virtual Poetry Circle –link will be live April 30 — for a look at one of his poems).

As a prologue to the collection, Kozma begins with the poem “Dis” (page 1), which is a fictional city in Dante’s The Divine Comedy containing the lower circles of hell.  Like Dante, Kozma goes on a journey through hell, but the poet is traveling through these circles to find his father who has died and with whom he has unfinished business as he says in the final lines:  “When a ravine splits the sky, Earth’s muddy light/unearths my father.  We have much to talk about.//”  This poem sets the tone for the remainder of the collection with its melancholy and mournful tone.

In the first section — entrances — Kozma uses individual poems to explore the various ways people and other beings meet, greet, avoid, and rush toward death.  In “That We May Find Ourselves at Death” (page 8), he echoes the lines of Emily Dickinson, who could not stop for death, when he asks where you go when you are late for death?  He questions how death is confronted when it has already happened and there is no way to turn back the clock.  But in other poems — such as “Night Meeting” (page 6) — the poet evokes violent images of a dead squirrel’s body pulsating with ants to demonstrate not only the sudden impact and violence of death, but the messy aftermath that often follows.  However, death need not always be violent and unexpected, it can come silently . . . gradually like in ” Your Sketch of the Church in Mourning” (page 13):  ” . . . You step with silence,/walking out, and walk slowly.  Navigate the marble floor/softly, or you will not hear the dead/call after you.//”

The poems in the second section — walls — all seem to personify the denial that comes with the stages of grief.  In “Blood Perimeter” (page 25), the narrator speaks of embracing the grief like one would embrace rust, an illustration of how tough it is to come to terms with grief.  In many cases, the poems speak of vanishing moments and people, events that are baffling yet make sense when impermanence of relationships and life are examined and understood.  Kozma uses rhyme and repetition in these poems to ensure the narrator’s meaning is not lost among the vivid images like that of the Acropolis or the hunting dogs.

In the third section — living spaces — the stage of acceptance is discovered beyond the walls of denial, but acceptance is not as tame as the word suggests.  Accepting death means letting go of the person you lose to death and in a way the narrator suggests that you have to rip free from the notion that they are still present by figuratively setting it afire, like in “Quarantine” (page 31).  These living memories and moments of joy and anger with loved ones often resurface during the grieving process, and it is these fragments that will ease the pain of acceptance, but they also become painful.  In “The Butcher” (page 38), accepting the loss and remembering the lost one is like slitting the wrist and letting the blood flow — tortuous but necessary to purge the immediate pain of grief.  Kozma’s images in this section are both violent and jarring, but effective.

In the final sections of the collection — alleys and exits — Kozma’s poems become darker, more melancholy as the loss sets in and becomes consuming.  Whether the darkness in these poems is tied to the narrator’s lack of faith in an afterlife or merely the deep emotional scarring of grief is unclear.  However, there are tinges of hope that death brings about a renewal as the ashes of a cremated body are returned to nature.

Overall, City of Regret by Andrew Kozma is a deeply moving homage to a deceased father and acts as a guide through the journey of grief.  While a different journey than the one taken by Dante in The Divine Comedy, Kozma’s journey does take the poems’ narrator through hell and more.  This collection is deeply evocative and will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

 

This is my 8th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 14th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

***This is a part of the National Poetry Month 2011 Blog Tour.

Bone Key Elegies by Danielle Sellers

Danielle Sellers’ Bone Key Elegies is a collection of poems published by Main Street Rag Publishing as part of its Editor’s Select Poetry Series.  (You can check out my previous 32 Poems Magazine interview with the poet, here, and one of her poems in the 81st Virtual Poetry Circle).  Unlike eulogies that praise someone upon his or her death, elegies are a lament for the dead and are often mournful.  In this vein, Sellers excels at creating memorable elegies for her sister, a lost family, and happier memories.  However, many of these poems will deceive the reader at first, beginning with scenery or a happy moment in time before turning melancholy.  Sellers’ style echoes the turn of line expected in haiku or the final couplet of Shakespearean sonnets.

However, some poems, like “The Bridge Fishers” (page 16), are less full of despair than the other beginning poems in the collection and more mischievous, especially as the narrator drives away in a boat beneath a bridge where fisherman are waiting for their first bite from the fish, only to have the engine of the boat scare the fish away.  Sellers’ poems are filled with surprises:  some shocking, some full of dark humor, and some violent.  In “Welcome to my Father’s Showroom” (page 26), readers are given a quirky picture of the showroom as a sort of maze through which the father navigates or hides to peer at customers secretly, but in the final lines, ” . . . He watches them.  In case one should step out of/line, a shotgun leans against the metal filing cabinet.  On its shaft,/his hand-print is outlined in dust.” (please check out some sample poems).

What’s surprising is that each poem has its own depth of despair and melancholy, like an elegy is supposed to have, but the depth of that sorrow generally corresponds well to the connection the narrator has with each subject.  Losing a father can be very devastating to a daughter, but is it more or less devastating to a daughter who has seen her father cheat on her mother or leave her mother?  Losing a sister at a very young age can be tragic and life changing, but is it more or less life changing than if you were to lose a sister after having lived half your life with her by your side?  These are just some of the emotional questions tackled by Sellers’ poems, and Bone Key Elegies is an excellent examination of the various levels of melancholy and despair that individuals can experience at different intervals in their lives. It is clear that the poem about the death of a sister sets the tone for the entire collection, a tone that deepens and thins out in a see-saw of emotion.

Through rich language and vivid imagery from the Florida Keys, Sellers’ illustrates not only the brackish nature of woe, but also the desperate fight against that emotion — leaving readers breathless.

 

This is my 7th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 13th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

***This is a part of the National Poetry Month 2011 Blog Tour.

Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy

Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy is a slim volume of 17-syllable poems called haiku, which is a Japanese form of poetry.  Rather than celebrate the joys and beauty of nature, these haiku celebrate the joys and frustrations of new motherhood.

These little poems, including the one featured in the 91st Virtual Poetry Circle, not only will make mothers chuckle, but they also contain a bit of truth that will have them nodding “yes, yes, yes.”

The poems are cute, quick reads for busy moms and the book contains illustrations on a number of pages, though readers may wish for more apt illustrations considering some of the topics addressed in the haiku.  For instance, one haiku discusses the typical technique of pretending the spoon or fork carrying the food is an airplane entering the hangar (aka the child’s mouth).  An illustration of the airplane and hangar method and its food-splattering results would pack even more of a punch.

However, this volume of poetry is not meant to be analyzed too closely, but merely taken for what it is . . . a way to decompress, laugh with another mother who has experienced the same thing, and look back on raising a child with some whimsy.  Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy is just the break a new mother needs.

About the Author and the book:

Quirk Books, an independent publisher, makes this volume of haiku poetry available from Kari Anne Roy, the perpetrator of Haiku of the Day blog.  Please check out her blog and her bio.

As part of the National Poetry Month 2011 blog tour, please stop by Rhapsody in Books for today’s tour stop and review of I Wanna Be Your Shoebox.

 

 

This is my 4th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 10th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.