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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.
I am an Amazon Affiliate


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