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Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen

Source: the poet

Paperback, 88 pgs.

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Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen is a collection of poems that explore the spiraling, out-of-control nature our lives can sometimes take on and how to cope with that chaos and uncertainty. It’s a collection for the current times in that it provides us with a look at life amidst uncertainty, albeit unrelated to COVID-19. Through the art of words and the certainty of science, Hazen strikes into new frontiers with her poems, exploring divorce, motherhood, the turbulent nature of emotions. In “Chaos Theory,” Hazen establishes the unstable ground of these poems by grounding it into a personal moment of “rage [that] comes out of nowhere — the glass explodes/when it hits the wall, as physics says it must,//” (pg. 3)

Ghosts haunt in “Ghost Story” but are they just voices in the narrator’s head spilling her secrets? But the secrets won’t stop just because there are three or four fingers of warm liquid in the glass. Hazen calls us to face our own ghosts head on, not to dull the sharpness of their criticisms or their secrets. To understand the chaos, we must all start from the beginning. “…and no matter what you tell/yourself tonight, no matter what you tell//yourself in twenty years, you are still there,/” (pg. 10, from “Girls at the Bus Depot”)

Hazen’s poems are like an archeological dig, an excavation of the self. In “Extraction,” the narrator says, “…A body holds more mysteries/than the mouth can bring itself to speak./” It’s true that when we’re young and sometimes as we age, we don’t really know our true selves, unless we’ve taken that time to delve deep into who we are, what our desires may be, and what we’re passionate about. It is a journey we must take on our own, but also one that must be done. Without it, we can be lost and make many harmful and wrong decisions.

There are many losses along the way in our journeys, as we search for the truth of ourselves, but those losses are memories that can be recalled with the slightest scent or picture. “or a room holds the vibration of a voice,/a person’s scent, long after he has gone.” (pg. 43, “The Spectroscope”) While loss can be sad and make us feel empty, there are those losses that can bring joy at the happiness some moments held, like uncovering trilobites in the soil.

Chaos Theories by Elizabeth Hazen warns us not to get too caught up in the loss and the memories — “My memory is a haunted house that will/not let me leave.” (pg. 44, “When I Was a Girl”) We must learn to break free from the chaos — sometimes self-created — to find the right path, the calm, and the joy we all seek. At the heart, we’re all working against nature and the passage of time, like the house in “Erosion.”

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Elizabeth Hazen is a poet, essayist, and teacher. A Maryland native, she came of age in a suburb of Washington, D.C. in the pre-internet, grunge-tinted 1990s, when women were riding the third wave of feminism and fighting the accompanying backlash. She began writing poems when she was in middle school, after a kind-hearted librarian handed her Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. She has been reading and writing poems ever since.

Hazen’s work explores issues of addiction, mental health, and sexual trauma, as well as the restorative power of love and forgiveness. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, American Literary Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, The Normal School, and other journals. Alan Squire Publishing released her first book, Chaos Theories, in 2016. Girls Like Us is her second collection. She lives in Baltimore with her family.

Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, which was on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a map in the darkness like the map the mother reads in “Death Valley” because it outlines the roads women often travel and the bumps along the way that often scar us when the men and others in our lives think they are mere blips on the road of life. Repeated “Devices” often weigh heavily on our psyche — she’s a fox, he’s a dog, she’s a bitch. Hazen says in the opening poem, “We’ve been called so many things we are no,/we startle at the sound of our own names.//” (pg. 3) While our personal experiences may not be the same as those in every poem, the universal nature of being treated as “other” and “not good enough” and “a thing” will resonate with many women and men, minorities, and the disabled. Society has a strange fetish for calling out “other” when they fail to empathize or understand someone who is not neatly defined as “normal” or “one of us.”

There are so many ups and downs to life, most of us are blind to them when we’re young. In “After the Argument,” the narrator asks, “When did this space/around me deepen//into trenches?”(pg. 6) When we finally recognize the extent to which our circumstances have changed, it often leaves us baffled — what choices led us there? when did it become the point of no return? where do we go from that dark moment? how do we pick up again? Hazen’s existential questions are found in each image created and are universal. For this reason, Hazen’s poems will speak volumes to those who listen.

She tackles the big questions of where do we go from the bottom? How do we reconcile all the selves within us when society expects certain things of a gender? How do we move forward and why? Her poems do not hold all of the answers readers may need, but they will offer one look at how to struggle to the surface and move past the self-hate and the society expectations of us without destroying all that we are. “By the time I reach the h, the E/has disappeared//” says the narrator in “Death Valley.” We cannot linger too long in the past. It is carried with us, but it should not define who we become. Let that first letter written in the fog on the window vanish as you move forward, Girls Like Us have nothing to lose by doing so and everything to gain.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Voices Other Lives by Grace Cavalieri

Source: Purchased at Gaithersburg Book Festival
Paperback, 250 pgs.
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Other Voices Other Lives by Grace Cavalieri (listen to this interview), poet laureate of Maryland, is part of Alan Squire Publishing’s legacy collections and includes a selection of poems and plays, as well as interviews from her The Poet & the Poem public radio series.

I just had to get my hands on this collection when I was at last year’s Gaithersburg Book Festival and I had the honor of greeting her and escorting her about the local festival before her appearance was required on a panel and at the announcement of our 2019 high school poetry contest winners.

Selection from "Work Is My Secret Lover"

Work
takes the palm of my hand to kiss
in the middle of the night
it holds my wrist lightly and feels the pulse
Work is who you'll find with me
when you tiptoe up the stairs
and hear my footsteps through the shadows

I love that her poems take on a personality of their own and many of them are so different, tackling not only the angst of the writer’s life and the love we have for our work (which can take precedence over other things), but also the voices in which she speaks not for others but with them. From Anna Nicole Smith’s to Mary Wollstonecraft’s voice to poems styled after William Carlos Williams, Cavalieri’s imagination brings a new life to these women’s voices. Even the selections from her plays are lyrical and full of whimsy (in a way). Her persona poems imbue the public perceptions of women with a compassionate eye.

If you listen to her interview, at about 5:06, you’ll hear her read “Moderation,” which is my favorite poem from this collection. It’s deeply moving. A moment where a man knows it is time to pass into another world, and he hopes to never inconvenience anyone with his death. This silent man who doesn’t live outside the lines. Cavalieri displays her keen observations about her father and others, but she also observes herself as an outsider, an observer full of emotion. Other Voices Other Lives by Grace Cavalieri is a deeply emotional journey through her work, and it always rings true. I’ll be seeking out her other collections in the future.

Grace Cavalieri needs no introduction in Maryland as our state Poet Laureate, but damn she is smart, observant, kind, and deliciously cognizant of how to imbue others with humanity through her own compassionate lens.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Grace Cavalieri is an Italian American writer and host of the radio program The Poet and the Poem, presented by the Library of Congress through National Public Radio. She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Poems: New and Selected (1994), Pinecrest Rest Haven (1998), and Greatest Hits, 1975–2000 (2002). Her collection What I Would Do for Love: Poems in the Voice of Mary Wollstonecraft (2004) was awarded the Patterson Poetry Prize; Water on the Sun (2006) won the Bordighera Poetry Prize. Further collections include Anna Nicole: Poems (2008) and Sounds Like Something I Would Say (2010).

Mailbox Monday #572

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, which I purchased and will be on blog tour with Poetic Book Tours in May.

Girls Like Us is packed with fierce, eloquent, and deeply intelligent poetry focused on female identity and the contradictory personas women are expected to embody. The women in these poems sometimes fear and sometimes knowingly provoke the male gaze. At times, they try to reconcile themselves to the violence that such attentions may bring; at others, they actively defy it. Hazen’s insights into the conflict between desire and wholeness, between self and self-destruction, are harrowing and wise. The predicaments confronted in Girls Like Us are age-old and universal—but in our current era, Hazen’s work has a particular weight, power, and value.

What did you receive?

Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 130 pgs.
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When you have fate kick your butt and keep you from getting a poetry collection you’ve been eager to read (especially when you want to be at a reading), does that lead you to enjoy the collection even more when you finally get a copy?

This is my question because this was my journey to getting Reuben Jackson’s new collection. But I digress.


Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson is like a best hits record, but it’s also a deeply personal look at Washington, D.C., love in all of its incarnations, and the power of music (in this case Jazz). “Fingering the Keys” is a section of previously published poems by Jackson, giving readers some initial flavor of his work as he reflects on his younger years, roadtrips with his father, the harsh realities of being black in America. But as a kid you don’t always understand why you can’t do certain things like stay in that roadside teepee shaped motel in South Carolina. In “on the road,” the narrator speaks about the bargain struck with his dad to stay the night, but then says, “it worked,// so why did he return without/room keys?”

Each of these line breaks and pauses are like an interlude in which the undercurrent of the head in the music of Jackson’s poems comes to the fore full force, knocking the reader off their feet and sending their mind into overdrive. There are many of these “aha” or “Mmmhmmm” moments where readers are like I understand and I see where you are and what’s going on, even in the most innocent of moments. When we’re young and trying to find out who we are and want to be, we experiment, but there are those of us judged more harshly for experimenting outside “the comfort zone.”

a lonely affair

even the most die-hard liberals
have their moments;

like the man wearing the
end apartheid button
who followed me across his bookstore;

Jackson is well aware of the power of word choice when he speaks about the man’s bookstore, knowing full well that though this man is liberal, the narrator is from outside his known community and should be followed. Is he following him because he wants to talk, to share, or simply to monitor, to prevent, to presume? In “a lonely affair,” our narrator continues along his path, lonely as it may be, to ensure revolution does not fizzle out. By being there, out in the world and reading his poems, he’s affecting change.

“sunday brunch” has to be my favorite poem in this collection. The matter-of-fact response and sarcasm is priceless. I refuse to ruin the surprise, but how would you answer “Where do your parents summer?”

The section of “city songs” will transport you D.C. and beyond in ways you don’t expect. Readers are thrown into the deep pit of tragedy and sorrow, of borrowed breaths, and deep loneliness even in urban landscapes. The intimacy of the first section gives way to the wider world — it intrudes upon the intimacy and wrenches away the slightest sense of shelter. We’ve moved into a world where culture bears heavily down on those who do not fit neatly in it. Rather than change the tone, Jackson’s language almost lulls the reader into each situation, letting the reality of them seep under the skin.

“sky blues” is the crescendo of the collection, exploring the beauty of late-in-life love — a mutual respect and passion for the fullness of who we are. In the poems of the “Amir & Khadijah: A Suite,” Jackson becomes lyrical with love, the kind of love that can buoy a spirit in rough tides and become a lift of spirit. It’s Jackson’s song of hope, either for himself or for all of us. His heart is full of love and it is reaching out to us in line after line searching for connection.

Here, too, we find Jackson’s poem for Trayvon Martin as an angel guides the young boy home, away from danger. These final poems nod to the past and the struggles, with a hope for the future. Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson is the balm for the sting of “real” American life, laced with a hope that we can overcome, persevere, and take the lessons we’ve learned from those lost to us and apply them to our future selves to create a better tomorrow. It’s the coverage we need away from the storm without forgetting that storms do come.


I cannot urge you enough to buy these collection. Rarely do I outright tell you to buy something, but if you buy one poetry collection this year, let it be this one.


RATING: Cinquain