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Harbinger by Shelley Puhak

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Harbinger by Shelley Puhak, 2021 winner of the National Poetry Series and chosen by Nicole Sealey, explores what it means to be an artist, how you become an artist, and what influences an artist. Opening with “Portrait of the Artist as Cassandra,” readers will see how frenzied artists can become with all that they see, experience, and feel: “I’m feverish with all the knowing. Full./I’ve gained ten pounds, easily.//” (pg. 3) Can you feel that sense of overwhelm?

Puhak’s poems explore the impact of motherhood and not fitting in as a girl on art through clear images and relatable experiences. From “Portrait of the Artist as a Twelve-Year-Old Girl,” “Sometimes the door opened and I joined the others. We prayed/over oatmeal. And then I walked to school. I had a red binder./The wrong kind. The rings never aligned. There was no/satisfying click.//After, I headed back to my tower, kicking a pebble./”

Puhak has captured so much nuance of an artist’s life, particularly of a parent. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Portrait of the Artist as Mommy”: “mommy of the stringy hair, of the jawing/mouth   mommy of the ruins    mommy down/the staircase under cobblestone, limestone,// (pg. 16) And later in the poem, “The language is lost./How do you lose a language?/mommy who is scared to answer     mommy//of the mimosa   mommy of the smartphone/” You again get that sense of overwhelm and the fullness of life, the hectic and the absence of language to articulate all that you are all at the same time.

In “Portrait of the Artist Telling a Bedtime Story,” she adds, “Let me tell you: of all I carry, you are the lightest./I was taught to call this a burden./I refuse it.//” (pg.17) And in “Portrait of the Artist, Gaslit” again the narrator is refusing to be burdened – no matter who is placing the onus on her: “I see your scorched earth &/now will raise my gas can//” (pg. 30)

Harbinger by Shelley Puhak is a forewarning to us all that more is to come from us and happen to us, as well as inform who we become. Her narrator is “like my own bird/dog in the brambles, pointing only/pointing.” (“Portrait of the Artist as an Artist” pg.45)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Shelley Puhak is the author of Harbinger, a 2021 National Poetry Series selection. Puhak’s second book, Guinevere in Baltimore, was selected by Charles Simic for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, and her first, Stalin in Aruba, was awarded the Towson Prize for Literature. Her prose has appeared in the Atlantic, the Iowa Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review, and her nonfiction debut, The Dark Queens, was released in 2022.

Country of Glass by Sarah Katz

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Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Country of Glass by Sarah Katz is a debut collection that speaks to the fragility of our own bodies in the greater context of society and countries. In the opening poem, “The Hidden Country, I,” is mysterious and familiar all at once as animals meet and are equally “luminous,” but there’s a standoff/”stillness” that is yet to be understood. Isn’t that how it is when we meet someone new? There is that sense of awkwardness in initial meetings about how we should speak or act toward or with someone.

Katz’s poems also contain people from the WWII-era and remind us of how long trauma can impact someone, from a sister whose lost brother stalks her mind even six years on from him saving her and telling her to run (“Portrait of a Brother and Sister, 1940”) and a father who is fading before the eyes of his children and wife (“The Beginning of Prayer”). In “The End of Being Delicate,” the narrator speaks to the anxiety of being gentle in approaching a less-than-forgiving society, one that fails to embrace difference. “I think I am being gentle, I think//I have gentle thoughts about gentle things,/but my awkward voice fumbles over skin//its mouth’s ridges jerking back/a layer over a hole of throat.//” (pg. 50)

Even with all of the harsh reality of life and the fragility of living, there are poems that celebrate sensuality, connection, and even our flaws. “He bites her lip/No, it can’t be/Licks the curves of her stomach like an icy spoon.//” (from “Portrait of My Deaf Body” pg. 9). But even in these moments, there is mystery, like in “The Sun’s Song” where “The sun wishes to be known the way I want to be hidden.” (pg. 31)

In this Country of Glass, Katz warns us “But now we blink/toward endings.” Perhaps it is this caution that should give us pause. We need to focus less on the end and more on the journey of being and evolving, less on outcomes and acceptance, and more on how we wish to be as our true selves and learn that difference is our greatest gift before it is too late and “Pompeii firmly/grasping our feet/with its many hands.” (“Beyond Reykjavik” pg. 59)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Sarah Katz is the author of Country of Glass, a poetry collection published by Gallaudet University Press in May 2022. She holds an MFA in creative writing from American University. Her poems appear in Bear Review, District Lit, Hole in the Head Review, Poetry Daily, Redivider, RHINO, Right Hand Pointing, Rogue Agent, the So to Speak blog, The Shallow Ends, War, Literature, and the Arts, and Wordgathering, among others.

She works as the Marketing Manager and Editorial Assistant for Day Eight, a DC-based poetry publisher and arts organization. She also works with Catch the Sun Media, a full-service digital marketing and social media consultancy, where she supports promotional efforts on behalf of John Barr, the inaugural president of the Poetry Foundation.

On a volunteer basis, Sarah is Poetry Editor of The Deaf Poets Society, a highly accessible online literary journal she cofounded in 2016 that features work by writers and artists with disabilities.

When she has free time, she works as a freelance editor and journalist covering disability rights issues. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Business Insider, The Guardian, OZY, The Nation, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Scientific American, Slate, The Washington Post, and other publications. She has edited for a variety of digital and print publications, including The Appeal, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Writer’s Center Magazine, Poet Lore, The Deaf Poets Society, NAD Mag (a now-defunct print magazine published by the National Association of the Deaf), and others.

Disbound by Hajar Hussaini

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Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Disbound by Hajar Hussaini explores the life once tethered and now adrift, mirroring its title. Imagine your life as it is now, and suddenly it is gone, ripped apart by war, and you are refugee in another nation. There is a degree of uncertainty that would make us all uncomfortable, and this collection provides us with that topsy-turvey feeling in verse. “when we are placed in a fragile expanse/do we not become broken; unhealable;//shifting positions; shake an immigrant/and scraps of paper fall out of reality//” (from “inventory,” pg. 5-6)

All at once, the tension of Kabul left behind and the Kabul that currently is are front and center garnering attention, and Hussaini is caught in the midst of it all even as his narrative voice seeks a new life in a new place.

simple café (pg. 23)

among the lost generation of Simple going    Café drinking
your former lover orders a cup of tea     whose current lover
                                   a lemonade

Kabul has only one place with close distant tables & chairs

the soundtrack a spaced repetition       between the introvert
on her smartphone                      & the extrovert thinking
                 about a thrown grenade

the unspeakable gerund of a suicide jacket

No longer part of the Kabul left behind but not quite part of the new location where the narrator lives, he says, “I’m peopleless. my/lungs are mushroom clouds. imperial boots march on my/margins. my mammals are unloved. I’m a government//of shame. my mouth is dry & my words are all &/forever out of tune.//” (from “peopleless,” pg. 42)

Disbound by Hajar Hussaini is at once a tale of escape from oppression and war and a look at the consequences of conquering peoples we do not understand, nor do we care to, effectively leaving them untethered and peopleless.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Hajar Hussaini is a poet from occupied Kabul. She translates Afghan literature and lives in Iowa City. Her work has appeared in Poetry MagazineMargins, and Pamenar Press. Disbound, her first book of poems, is forthcoming from University of Iowa Press in Fall 2022.

Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall

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Paperback, 90 pgs.
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Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall is a poetic conversation between friends and parents about parenting, their experiences in a society where Racism and toxic masculinity infect everyday life, and where they seek out the joy.

The collection’s first section is titled “Breaking the Mold,” and is a meditation on being a parent to young children and the sacrifices that entails. From “Parenting” about a parent sitting very still in vomit covered clothing as a baby sleeps to “Cash and Respect” where a son reflects on the dedication of a single working mother who raised them, Lawson-Brown and Bishophall paint a picture of childhood that is protected and unprotected at the same time, the immense strength it takes to raise children, and the full circle of respect and love when those children grow.

“Blank Space” follows this parenting section and reflects a search for fulfillment, whether that is through writing, love, friendship. It’s a filling up of space and search for contentment and solace, for love and understanding. But there is loss here too. One of the most emotional poems for me was “For Immortals That Live on Soundcloud” by Lawson Brown: “A simple ‘pardon me’ would have been nice/As you bumped your way to heaven/Showing up at the gates/Before anyone saw your invitation//” (pg. 20) It’s a meditation on a life gone too soon and how we struggle with the empty space left behind, the anger we feel at them leaving us so soon, and the sadness.

Naturally, “Fill In My Blank” follows up this section with a set of poems about crushes, texting after breakups to rekindle the past, and more. Some favorites in this section include “Three Little Words” and “Honestly” for their sensuality and tenderness. But there are so many others you could fall into.

Playground Pause by Rebecca Bishophall (pg. 54)

Cops
near
playground
turn laughs to
silence. Adults still
until the lights turn the corner.
Pain Per Due by Dwayne Lawson-Brown (pg. 55)

...
Embarrassment and prejudice
Go down easy
With blueberry compote
The French toast
Sweet as erasure
The tab
covered in the price of my past.

In the final sections, “Breaking the Cycle” and “Breaking the Rules,” our poets are here to resist societal norms and demonstrate to readers that breaking rules and cycles of the past does not spin the world out of control, but brings us closer as a people. These sections are full of power and must be read.

Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall asks readers to pause their own lives and perspectives and listen. Just listen. Similarities will emerge, and we need to learn that pain and love are universal and essential to everyone’s well-being.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poets:

Rebecca Bishophall and Dwayne Lawson-Brown met each other as juniors in high school in the late 1990’s and have been literary colleagues, and friends, ever since. Rebecca Bishophall has featured at Spit Dat, Afrocentric Book Expo, and others, and works in member services for a non-profit organization. She graduated from Trinity University in 2006 with a major in Communications. Dwayne Lawson-Brown, aka the Crochet Kingpin, is co-host of Spit Dat, the longest running open mic in Washington, D.C. Their poems were recently published in 2022 Pride Poems, they co-authored the Helen Hayes nominated play, From Gumbo to Mumbo, and they are an editor of the literary magazine Bourgeon.

Check out this interview with the poets.

Seed Celestial by Sara R. Burnett

Source: the poet
Paperback, 92 pgs.
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Seed Celestial by Sara R. Burnett, winner of the 2021 Autumn House Press Prize, blends myth and motherhood in its reflection of the exasperating uncertainty of our modern lives, particularly with regard to how we treat one another and our very own planet. It also highlights the struggle of immigration and what it means to be a child of immigrants in a world less forgiving of differences.

Each of the five sections opens with a quote from Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things that mirror the section headers: Seed, Animal, Word, Earth, and Celestial. Rightly, Burnett opens her collection with “Ab Ovo” (i.e. “from the egg”) musing on the sharing of a single body by two and what it means to be unprepared and prepare for birth at the same time. It is that comfort of belonging and not knowing what comes next that readers find themselves in. Isn’t that the crux of being alive, trying to be prepared for the next thing and yet never being fully prepared for it?

In “Primary Source,” she reminds us that as a parent she has a “better understanding of terror/and the miraculous.” This echoes later in the collection where gun violence and the upward trend of school shootings makes its mark. A topic many parents worry about and that I continue to write about.

While not all connected back-to-back, there are emotional echoes throughout the collection to this great sense of loss and destruction. “Endling” (pg. 15-16) the narrator says, “When a species is the last of its kind,/it’s called an endling, a word//that reminds me of changling,/such a fairy-swapped child//” How do we reconcile the ability to adapt and change with the last species of its kind? Is it the end of that species? Or is it that the species is evolving into something necessary, something that can survive its environment, much like the communal fish in the “Fish (in) Tanks” poem that follows.

Throughout the middle of the collection, loss plays a predominant role, as do questions of how can we keep things that we really don’t possess, especially when we cannot see our own shortcomings or predict future destruction based on past actions? Read, “Demeter’s Wager,” to see this dichotomy at play.

Seed Celestial by Sara R. Burnett circles back in on itself, finding the seed of ourselves and our world and noting that sometimes we don’t have the power to stop what we don’t want to happen. Life happens and we must take what we can from it, move into a celestial place where we can observe, join, and serve the people we were, are, and will be as best we can. There is no manual for this life.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

ara Burnett is the author of Seed Celestial, winner of the 2021 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, forthcoming in fall 2022. She is also the author of Mother Tongue, a poetry chapbook (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and has published several poems and essays in Barrow Street, Copper Nickel, Matter, PANK, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland, and an MA in English literature from the University of Vermont. Previously, Sara was a public high school English teacher in both Washington D.C. and Vermont and an educator at a non-profit immigration organization working in and with schools. In addition to writing poetry and non-fiction, she also writes picture books. She lives in Maryland with her family.

Some Days the Bird by Heather Bourbeau and Anne Casey

Source: the publisher
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Some Days the Bird by Heather Bourbeau and Anne Casey have created a poetic conversation across continents and a pandemic. Over 52 weeks, these poets faced significant isolation and weathered a number of disasters even with COVID-19 lockdowns.

Readers will not be surprised as Heather Bourbeau’s opening poem, “The letting,” begins the collection with “People have become numbers, corridors are morgues/” and “Some things cannot be forgiven. The cheapening of human life,/” Whether in America or Australia, these poems are struggling with the pandemic but finding solace in nature and their own gardens. “The startling grace/of a rainbow’s full cascade,” says Anne Casey in “Coastal descant.”

Casey and Bourbeau’s poems read like the topsy-turvy, emotional roller-coaster many of us were on during the lockdowns and pandemic. “There are moments I’m consumed/by the jolt/of how our world has veered,/others bewitched by the hum/of wildness overcoming concrete.//” (“Some days you’re the seed, some days the bird,” pg. 16)

Casey also reminds us in “The stillness of dying,” “a hint there may be a whole world/of attachment beyond/our narrow understanding.” (pg. 19) Both poets look to their backyards to find some connection and in their poetic conversation, their poems speak to a need for calm, moments to be grateful, and to slow down. The poems call to us: “There is only so much outside I will let in./The dirt under my nails. The echoes of fog in my hair.” (“Some days you’re the seed, some days the bird”, pg. 16-7)  Some Days the Bird by Heather Bourbeau and Anne Casey is beautiful and lyrical and miniature snapshots of moments.

RATING: Cinquain

EVENT ALERT: TONIGHT 12/14 at Beltway Editions Anne Casey will be reading in Rockville, Md., Click for Details.

About the Poets:

Anne Casey is an Irish poet/writer living in Australia and author of four previous poetry collections. A journalist, magazine editor, legal author and media communications director for 30 years, her work ranks in leading national daily newspaper, The Irish Times’ Most Read, and is widely published and anthologised internationally. Anne has won literary prizes in Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, most recently American Writers Review 2021 and the 2021 iWoman Global Award for Literature. She is the recipient of an Australian Government Scholarship for her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney.

Heather Bourbeau is an American writer whose creative work has appeared in 100 Word Story, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, Meridian, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and SWWIM. Her work has been featured in several anthologies, including America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience (Sixteen Rivers Press) and RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music (Michigan State University Press). She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia. Her forthcoming collection “Monarch” (Cornerstone Press, 2023) is a poetic memoir of overlooked histories from the American West she was raised in.

Everything Is Normal Here by Alison Palmer

Source: the poet
Paperback, 33 pgs.
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Everything Is Normal Here by Alison Palmer explores the normality of life with its slivers of joys, its heavy grief, and the struggle of maintaining an open heart when the world can be scary and cruel. In her first poem, “Spark,” Palmer’s narrator calls “Here” as she looks for the joy she sees between the “one-man band” and the “silver lady.” She’s here and she’s wishing and waiting for her spark, a touch that will bring the softening and the explosive joy of unfettered love.

“Blazes, in gifts of heat lightning; electrical thoughts — she can break/the sound barrier, but your love has never come as easily//” (from “Point of Touch” pg. 4) and “We’re designed to break after only years.” (from “Portrait” pg. 5) reflect not only the normal pressures of making connections with lovers and others, but also the devastation that can come quickly and unexpectedly. Portrait, in particular, is striking in that there is a cataloguing of what one person may be or is to another, while the other person feels as though they are drowning and at the same time the narrator is trying to assure them that change is normal. This multi-layered poem is like a self-examination of the rush of emotions we feel in new and old relationships — a jumble of anxiety and calm, a convincing of the relationships joy, and a reassuring that change can be beneficial and that we won’t lose ourselves completely.

From "The Rescue" (pg. 8)
...
Often, it feels good to look back and miss seeing yourself.
A pigeon on the sill pecks at glass to test its own reality.
Oh, to find buttony eyes and the fastening language of wings.

Loving oneself is the hardest gift we can earn. It’s a struggle with the external pressures of society, our partners, our families, and it is the internal struggle with our own demons and who we think we should be. Don’t we all need a little rescuing?

“We wouldn’t hear the wind if not for the trees; on each limb a collection of/crackles like embers. Me mind, not entirely safe inside its bone house.//” (“Overtaken”, pg. 29) are among some of my favorite lines. The beauty of Everything Is Normal Here by Alison Palmer is in the cracks between the lines.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alison Palmer is the author of the forthcoming full-length poetry collection, Bargaining with the Fall (Broadstone Books, March 2023), the recently published poetry chapbook, Everything Is Normal Here (Broadstone Books, 2022), and the poetry chapbook, The Need for Hiding (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). To read an interview with Alison visit: www.thepoetsbillow.org. She was named a semi-finalist for 92Y’s Discovery Poetry Contest 2021 and was chosen for a 2022 Independent Artist Award (IAA) grant by the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC).

Alison received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and she was awarded the Emma Howell Memorial Poetry Prize from Oberlin College where she graduated with a BA in Creative Writing. Currently, Alison writes outside Washington, DC.

I Rode the Second Wave: A Feminist Memoir by Fran Abrams

Source: the Poet
Paperback, 88 pgs.
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I Rode the Second Wave: A Feminist Memoir by Fran Abrams is a unique look at what it was like to live in America gradually moving toward providing equality for women. While it is still moving toward equality, this memoir provides a perspective on how far the country has come. Unlike the first wave in which women fought for the right to vote, the second wave emphasized the need for equal pay and opportunity. “Before the Revolution” opens the collection, setting the scene in which women’s job opportunities and men’s job opportunities were separated by gender in the newspaper. Then came Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique.

Abrams’ memoir is divided into three sections and each provides a glimpse into this second wave pioneer’s life. Through her current perspective, Abrams provides a look at the children of now and the children of her growing up years and how things were less scheduled, more free. I can see how things have changed through her eyes. But don’t be fooled that America was equal for all, despite its laws, race and other topics were talked about in whispers, rather than aloud.

“A Girl’s Education” and “It Doesn’t Add Up” will bring to light just how long the phrase “boys will be boys” has been around and enabled young men to take advantage of girls and women alike. It’s a reminder that further education and change is necessary. Abrams’ poems are a story of her life, but they are also reflective of America’s continued struggle to live up to its credo of “Land of the Free.”

"Seeing Myself" (pg. 34)
....
The words typical and average
rattled around my brain like expletives.
I was studying art and architecture.
Being unusual, no, unique,
was part of my self-image.
I was not a typical co-ed!

Abrams reminds us that like children growing into adulthood, identity evolves and changes. Identity is multi-layered, nuanced. Like America, our identities do not have to be stagnant, they can change. I Rode the Second Wave: A Feminist Memoir by Fran Abrams is a wave you’ll want to catch. Be sure to buy a copy for yourself and for someone who may need a reminder that freedom requires work. Complacency has no place in America’s revolution.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Fran Abrams lives in Rockville, MD. She holds an undergraduate degree in art and architecture and a master’s degree in urban planning. For 41 years, she worked in government and nonprofit agencies in Montgomery County, MD, where her work involved writing legislation, regulations, memos, and reports.

In 2000, before she retired, she began working as a visual artist. Then, after retiring in 2010, she devoted the majority of her time to her art. After attending a poetry reading in 2017, she realized she missed expressing herself in words and began taking creative writing classes at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, where she concentrated on writing poetry. In September 2017, she traveled to Italy on a poetry retreat that strengthened her commitment to writing poems. She now devotes the most of her time to writing poetry.

Since 2017, her poems have been published online and in print in Cathexis-Northwest Press, The American Journal of Poetry, MacQueen’s Quinterly Literary Magazine, The Raven’s Perch, Gargoyle 74, and others. In 2019, she was a juried poet at Houston (TX) Poetry Fest and a featured reader at DiVerse Gaithersburg (MD) Poetry Reading. Her poems appear in more than a dozen anthologies, including the 2021 collection titled This is What America Looks Like from Washington Writers Publishing House (WWPH). In December 2021, she won the WWPH Winter Poetry Prize for her poem titled “Waiting for Snow.” Her first chapbook, titled “The Poet Who Loves Pythagoras,” is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her first full-length manuscript, titled “I Rode the Second Wave: A Feminist Memoir,” is out now from Atmosphere Press.

Iron into Flower by Yvette Neisser

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Iron Into Flower by Yvette Neisser is a journey into memory and identity shifts, following the passing of loved ones and divorce and even the journey of motherhood. In her opening poem, “The Arc of the Sun,” a mother takes a trip to Mexico and comes back changed, full of stories she didn’t want to share, and a new perspective, living life moment to moment. Travel can do that to us, inform our perspectives, shift our beings, and move us into a place where we are changed.

Travel weaves in and out of these poems like a teacher providing new perspectives and changing people profoundly. In “Compass Points,” the narrator stumbles “into adulthood,/veering from crevice to crevice,/scraping for my own space,/” reminding us that to traverse the world is to find oneself, carve out our own spaces, while being rooted in family and home like the rings of a tree — “the years … etched rings around my life/first with you, then without you.”

In “Nonfiction,” readers will learn how memory can be parsed out to new generations, even if the entire past is held back. A grandmother shares Holocaust through songs sung in barracks, but she also instills a mantra of “Never again” to the generations that follow. The narrator asks, “Have I borne it well?/Should I wield it/or hide behind it?” only to remind us “It’s not easy, you know,/clamping the lid/on the revolution.//”

By the final section of the collection, Iron Into Flower by Yvette Neisser, the poet has traversed through memory, history, culture, and so much more, to emerge into the flower she is today.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Yvette Neisser is the author of Grip, winner of the 2011 Gival Poetry Prize. Founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT), her translations from Spanish include South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri and Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio. She also contributed to the anthology Knocking on the Door of the White House: Latino and Latina Poets of Washington, D.C.

Yvette has taught creative writing, poetry translation, and literature at numerous institutions, including the George Washington University, Catholic University, and The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD). She has lectured on translation at venues such as the Library of Congress, the Embassy of Argentina, and Georgetown University. For several years, she was a roving “poet in the schools” in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

Her passion for international affairs and cultures has been a driving force in both her writing and her professional career. After studying in Egypt and Israel, her work in international development and research has taken her to Africa, the Middle East, South America, and Europe.

Watchman, What of the Night? by W. Luther Jett

Source: the poet
Paperback, 46 pgs.
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Watchman, What of the Night? by W. Luther Jett is a collection that records events as they happen, yet asks the reader to consider what could be done to modify current outcomes and change fate. Opening the collection with “The Builders,” Jett reminds us of all those who have come before us, who have build the societies in which we live and who have left us now responsible for its direction. We cannot simply be the watchman on the sidelines; we must be active participants.

Yet, even in the early poems, like “With an Army at Our Gates,” Jett points to those who still maintain their routines even when things are dire: a mother calling children in to lunch, someone running to the subway, and a man washing his socks. It is to say that life continues on as it has even when danger is ever present. Is this our way of ignoring the danger? Coping with it? These are just some of the questions we should consider.

A War Story

Here is the book
with torn pages.
Only half remains
to be deciphered.

And here is the house
with burnt rooms,
and a few fading photos
scattered across the floor.

And here, here — Forgive me
but these are my bones.
This is the face I was using
Wrap them all tenderly.

Sing of me as you sleep.

There is much to lament in this collection, but there could be hope at the edges that we can change and move in a better direction as a society. This is particularly evident in “Promise” when the snow falls and covers “all that was” and a “a new world/revealed.”

Watchman, What of the Night? by W. Luther Jett traverses history and the present, outlining the struggles of people and even though they may not impact us directly, they are a symptom of societal neglect. Like watchman we stand too idle on the sidelines (complaining, shaking our heads, etc.) and doing little to effect change. Perhaps we need to step down from that watchman’s post and into the fray.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

W. Luther Jett is a native of Montgomery County, Maryland and a retired special educator. His poetry has been published in numerous journals, such as The GW Review, Beltway, Potomac Review, and Little Patuxent Review as well as several anthologies, including My Cruel Invention and Proud to Be. His poetry performance piece, Flying to America, debuted at the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival in Washington D.C. He has been a featured reader at many D.C. area venues. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Not Quite: Poems Written in Search of My Father, released by Finishing Line Press in 2015, and Our Situation, released by Prolific Press, 2018. A third chapbook Everyone Disappears is now on sale, to be released in late November, 2020. Kelsay Books will be releasing Luther Jett’s fourth chapbook, Little Wars, in June 2021.

Enter the Giveaway:

Leave a comment with your email by Dec. 10, 2022, for a chance to win 1 copy of Watchman, What of the Night?

Fixed Star by Suzanne Frischkorn

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Fixed Star by Suzanne Frischkorn is an amalgam of found poetry and structure poems mirroring the culture and identity that many of us have over time. We find that there are fixed points in our culture and identity and that there also are found parts of those segments of ourselves that we incorporate willingly. There’s a deep restlessness in each of these poems as they deftly move from one to the next, when reading in succession, and it is a skill to be admired.

Frischkorn’s opening poem, “Cuban Polymita,” begins the collection with: “Birth cleaved me in half” If that line alone doesn’t give you a sense of restlessness, the rest of the collection certainly will. It is from this instant of birth in which the narrator begins to move away from her origins: “A lace dress. A first language./All myths once we move north./” (“II”, pg. 2) In these earlier poems, the narrator is looking for the truth in those myths, unraveling the mystery of her heritage. But the narrator is keenly aware that to unravel these hidden pasts is also likely to reveal “what is tarnished,” and to question is it worth the risk?

Once I Dove Into the Caribbean Sea (pg. 36)
Isla de Cozumel, ’93

Cuba, its tide strove to draw me towards you and failed. I departed with a smooth shell and wisps of surrogate sky. How cool marble caressed my bare soles, how heat plied my skin bronze. Not until I slide the silver bracelets from my wrist will the strains of your shore ebb.

Frischkorn’s Fixed Star is an attempt to excavate the movement from past to present to pinpoint the evolution, to understand something that was lost. In that adventure toward discovery, a restlessness propels each of these poems forward and back into the past again, signaling the push and the pull of who and what has birthed us to who and what we become.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Poet:

Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of Fixed Star (JackLeg Press, September 2022) as well as the books, Girl on a Bridge, and Lit Windowpane (both from Main Street Rag Press), and the chapbooks American Flamingo, Spring Tide, Red Paper Flower, Exhale, and The Tactile Sense.

She is the recipient of The Writer’s Center Emerging Writers Fellowship for her book Lit Windowpane, 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.

Why We Never Visited the Elms by Marianne Szlyk

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Why We Never Visited the Elms by Marianne Szlyk are poems that explore what could have been to what is now. Each poem is a journey, a microcosm of the larger journey the collection takes the reader on. The journey begins with the narrator and her mother and why they never visited Our Lady of the Elms, where her mother went to college. She reminisces about the stories she heard and how the college was nestled into a neighborhood. There’s almost a romanticism in these stories, but Szlyk reminds us that not all is rosy in that past, just like it isn’t in the present. “Every Friday the cafeteria would serve/slices of greasy hamburg pizza/that Mom would have pretended to eat//had we stopped by her old school.//” (pg. 3-4)

Just as in “Fishing,” the narrator says, “The surface hides mud, weeds, a murder victim./No one fishes now …” (pg. 5) We look back on our own histories with fondness, even if there is darkness in those old streets and rivers. We can look at those places now with a distance, glossing over a darkness and lifting out the good parts. Szlyk has a knack for exploring the what ifs and that what weres and the what ares. Time slips easily in these poems, and readers can slip behind the curtains to explore places in different times to see change and what stays the same.

Why We Never Visited the Elms by Marianne Szlyk is a time slip. Readers will love the optimism Szlyk imbues her poems with, reminding us that we should focus on the light we have and not the darkest parts of our lives.

RATING: Quatrain

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About the Poet:

Marianne Szlyk’s most recent book is Poetry en Plein Air (Pony One Dog Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared in Verse-Virtual, the Red Eft Poetry Review, the Trouvaille Review, and other journals/websites. Some poems have been translated into Polish, Italian, and Cherokee. She lives in the D.C. area with the wry poet and flash fiction writer Ethan Goffman and their elderly cat.