You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake by Anna Moschovakis

You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake by Anna Moschovakis, which was awarded the James Laughlin Award by the Academy of American Poets, is a collection of four long poems with a prologue and epilogue poem that discusses and assesses four books — The Tragedy of Waste by Stuart Chase, Death as a Way of Life by Roger A. Caras, The Human Machine by Arnold Bennett, and In Search of Wealth by Cyril S. Belshaw — from the twentieth century that the poet discovered in a used bookshop in South Kortright, New York.  The poems share the same titles as the books, and the title of the collection makes its appearance in the first poem.

Moschovakis makes a great many assumptions about the readers knowledge of the industrial revolution and their understanding of economics.  First she compares the lake to supply and the men and women entering the wood and approaching the lake as demand, but later, the lake becomes more ambiguous.  From the cycles of supply and demand in the markets and the growth of the workforce to the incessant bombardment of advertising, the narrator of the poem is questioning the capitalistic ways of society and whether those are not wasteful in terms of time and energy spent.  She also postulates that we are no different from nature in how we react to available resources, which begs the question just how civilized are we when we succumb to our basest instincts to use everything around us?

From "The Tragedy of Waste (page 27)

Behind the desk there is a window

A woodpecker is attacking the house
The sun is attacking the snow on the pavement

Everything helping itself
to everything else
 From "The Tragedy of Waste" (page 30)

dwarfed and shadowed by mighty buildings
subway trains wild as elephants

One goes blindly back to one's desk

In the second poem, death as a way of life is broken down into how it affects “the Other” and not necessarily the surface theory that death is merely a part of the life cycle.  In many ways this poem is about the necessity to kill and the pleasure in killing, and where are the lines to be drawn between animals and humans being killed or something more refined.  There also is speculation about what rights we have as humans to kill and is naming the “Other” just as violent as not naming it?  “I want to know about the ‘other birds’//Were they species unknown to the hunters/or insignificant birds not worth noting by name/or mutilated/beyond recognition/”

“The Human Machine (Thirty Chances)” poem is a bit repetitive and generates a sci-fi-like quality as chatbots talk to human machines.  Readers are likely to find this poem the most puzzling, though ultimately a kernel of understanding will emerge about the “people” we believe we are and who we actually are — in that we all have failings and do fail ourselves and others.  But it also touches upon what makes us truly human — an ability to empathize, which could mean that should a robot be able to do so, we would have to consider it a person worthy of saving and no longer “Other.”

“In Search of Wealth” is the final poem before the epilogue.  In this poem there are digs at a variety of religions, including Scientology and its ties to Hollywood’s elite, and there are ramblings on pay inequality that seem to go on incessantly.  In the collection, this poem seems to be more of a rambling and a rant then a well crafted argument.  If it were issued forth in a debate on wealth and capitalism, listeners would likely begin throwing rotten tomatoes if they had any in their pockets for the occasion.  The prologue sets up the collection to be poems that take up certain positions on the topics at hand, and while by all accounts they do, some are more well crafted than others.  The epilogue goes further to explain that the reason to take a position is to generate disagreement, which is closely linked with desire and ensures that life is anything but boring.

You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake by Anna Moschovakis touches on themes of wealth, “otherness,” conviction, and a host of other topics, but without having read the books mentioned in the acknowledgements, some of the references may be lost or misunderstood.

Poet Anna Moschovakis

About the Poet:

Anna Moschovakis is the author of two books of poems, I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone (Turtle Point Press 2006) and You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake (Coffee House Press 2011) and of several chapbooks, including The Blue Book (Phylum Press), Dependence Day Parade (Sisyphus), No Medea (a Tinyside from Big Game Books), The Tragedy of Waste (Belladonna) and The Human Machine (Dusie). Her translations from the French include texts by Henri Michaux, Claude Cahun, Theophile Gauthier, Pierre Alféri, and Blaise Cendrars, as well as the books The Jokers by Albert Cossery (New York Review Books), The Possession by Annie Ernaux (Seven Stories Press), and The Engagement by Georges Simenon (New York Review Books).

Currently a freelance editor and a visiting professor in the Writing department at Pratt Institute, she splits her time between Brooklyn and Delaware County, NY. Anna has been working with UDP since 2002 as an editor, designer, administrator, and printer.


***For today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop, visit Caribousmom.





This is my 32nd book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.



This is the 14th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Flies by Michael Dickman

Michael Dickman‘s Flies, published in 2011 and a possible candidate for the Indie Lit Awards if it is nominated in September, won the Academy of American Poets James Laughlin Award, which is the only award for a second book of poetry.  The collection is a dark look at family, but also takes a stark look at death and loss.  However, there are lighter moments in the book, like in “Emily Dickinson to the Rescue” (page 21) that was highlighted in the Virtual Poetry Circle.

Beneath the whimsical wordplay and imagery of playgrounds and imaginary friends, there is a deep sense of unrest and yet acceptance of how things have turned out, though the narrator has many regrets.  In “Imaginary Playground” (page 27), the narrator is playing alone with his imaginary friends, but as the scene fills in, it is clear that where there once were trees and places to play, there is concrete and change.  The narrator is nostalgic for those moments, even if they were solitary moments with imaginary friends — wishing there was a way to return to the innocence of childhood and the creativity that period imbued.  “The swing sets/aren’t really/there// . . . On the blacktop/we lie down in each other’s arms/and outline our bodies/in chalk// . . . There are no hiding places anymore//” (page 27-9)

The reading of “Flies” (page 50-4) is slightly different from the printed version in Flies.

Each poem strives to revisit a memory or a loved one and shine a light on their current state, whether that is rotting beneath the ground or in the sky as a star, but these juxtapositions serve to show readers that it is not crystal clear what happens after we die.   The flies come and haunt those that remain behind with memories, regrets, and happiness, but those that die . . . vanish, never to be haunted by the past or present again. The recurring image of flies transforms from something that is friendly to something that is annoying and horrifying.

Translations (page 64-6)

My mother was led into the world
by her teeth

like a bull
into the 

She only ever wanted to be a mother her whole life and nothing else
      not even a human being!

One body turned into 
another body

Pulled by the golden voices of children

A bull 
out of hell

Called out
her teeth out in front of her
her children


First I walk my mother out
into the field
by a leash
by a lifetime
she walks me out
our coats

I brush her hair

Wave the flies away from her eyes

They are my eyes

Who will ride my mother
when we aren't around

Turned from one thing into another until you are a bull standing in
     a field

The field
just beginning
to whistle us


I am led by the mouth
out into the 

Light turning
to water in the early evening
the insects dying
in the cold and 
in the morning

I put on my horse-head

Led by a bit

A lead

My leader is tall and the hair on her forearms is gold

We lower your eyes
into the tall grass
and eat

Dickman is relentless in his long poems with their ever-changing images that repeat and twist. Readers are exposed to the ways in which memories are recalled bit-by-bit and slapped together and rearranged until a full, clear image is presented. At first these lines are confusing, and some readers may step back from the lines, but only by pressing onward will they see the full impact of the memories he taps. Flies by Michael Dickman is a captivating collection that may require greater attention, but the sharp imagery and twists-and-turns will keep readers riveted even as the poems and memories expand over several pages. On a side note, the book cover is very indicative of the memory recall the poet experiences — it is haphazard and vivid.

About the Poet:

Michael Dickman was born and raised in the working-class neighborhood of Lents in Portland, Oregon. His first book, The End of the West, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2009. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and Field, among others. Dickman is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, and the Lannan Foundation. He has worked for years as a cook and has been active recently in the Writers in the Schools program.

This is my 20th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

This is my 37th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.