Mailbox Monday #424

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

National Geographic Kids: 125 Pet Rescues for review.

This is a collection of hilarious and heartwarming stories of dogs, cats, and all types of pets given a second chance, and the human animal lovers who rescued them.

From the dog who saved her owner from a fire, to the cat that plays the piano, to the cow that thinks it’s a dog, discover incredible stories of animals in need who went on to become beloved pets.

These uplifting tales are paired with amazing photos and loads of animal facts. Kids learn all about how to be kind to our animals friends and the importance of being a responsible pet owner. There’s tons of furry, fluffy, feathery fun on every page, including tips on how to help save animals in need!

Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman with a foreword by Mieshelle Nagelschneider for review.

We humans love our cats and these surprising true stories will prove our cats love us back! This collection of tales of playfulness, friendship, heroism, and inspiration is sure to touch the soul, tickle the funny bone, and inspire animal lovers everywhere to be the best kitty caretakers and companions they can be. There’s Bambi, whose owners taught her to respond to commands in American Sign Language; Millie, who loves exploring the outdoors and goes rock climbing with her owner; Leo, a rescued lion who changed the life of one South African family forever, and more.

Seasons of Joy: Every Day Is for Outdoor Play by Claudia Marie Lenart, a kids poetry book that I edited.

The pure and simple delight of children playing outside is captured in needle-felted wool paintings created by Claudia Marie Lenart in Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play. The picture book pairs dreamy images of multi-cultural children, animals, flowers and trees with verse that expresses the joy young children experience in nature’s seasons. Children can see themselves in the diverse characters and can be inspired to spend more time playing outdoors and connecting to nature.

Illusion of an Overwhelm by John Amen for review from the poet.

Poetry. John Amen’s ILLUSION OF AN OVERWHELM offers four distinct series: Hallelujah Anima, in which the poet explores desire, self- inquiry, and ambivalence, as well as the torturous journey of inner healing; The American Myths, highlighting the intersections between politics, religion, and archetypal dynamics, inspired in part by Black Lives Matter and other progressive forms of populism; My Gallery Days, which focuses on multiple characters and overlapping narratives, offering poetic commentaries on art and the fleeting nature of life; and Portrait of Us, the poet’s celebration of enduring love and romance, presented from multiple viewpoints and timeframes. While covering wide ground thematically and imagistically, Amen makes use of searing language, the book resounding on conceptual and aesthetic levels long after the final line is read.

What did you receive?

Strange Theater by John Amen

Source: John Amen
Paperback, 112 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Strange Theater by John Amen includes surrealism and introspection, as well as poems dedicated to individuals that speak to a broader scope of readers.  It is a peek behind the theater curtain at the backstage machinations of life and the true identity of the theater’s players.  Examining the roles of those on the stage, in the background, the understudies, and the roles that we take in our own lives, Amen takes readers on a roller coaster journey.

From "folk singer" (pg. 91)

of course you're suffering
that goes without saying
alone in yr own private tundra
staggering through the snow

Many of us feel alone with our suffering, and theater, movies, stories, and poetry often help connect us, creating tangential connections between our own suffering to that of others. Some of these poems often draw out the egoism we have about our own lives and suffering, like in “biography,” “ferry approaching in the haze/the monuments he built/he built for himself/for this reason are destined to crumble//” (pg. 17) Many of these players are haunted, haunted by their pasts, their futures, their missteps, and their inability to meet the expectations of others.

from "diaspora" (pg. 30)

last time we talked
I saw deadbolts turning in yr eyes
from light years away you demanded

Amen keeps his readers on their toes as they move from line to line and poem to poem, exploring the uncertainty in all of our lives as it plays out on the biggest stage. Strange Theater by John Amen is wonderfully disconcerting even among the most common of places and people. Imagine looking back on a body of work and seeing only a darkness — a future that hasn’t been written yet — and feel that insecurity that breeds alongside the wondrous possibilities, and you’ll know what it is to walk out on Amen’s poetic stage.

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.

Mailbox Monday #313

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow from the poet for review.

Mendeleev’s Mandala begins in pilgrimage and ends in pilgrimage, but nowhere in-between does it find a home. Logic is the lodestar, as these poems struggle to make sense out of chaos. Jessica Goodfellow reimagines stories from the Old Testament, Greek mythology, and family history by invoking muses as diverse as Wittgenstein, Newton, the Wright Brothers, and an ancient Japanese monk. In the title poem, Mendeleev’s periodic table, sparked by fire and by trains, sees the elements of the world come into focus as a geometric pattern that recalls the ancient mandalas, also blueprints of an expanding universe as a whole.

2.  Bright Dead Things by Asa Limon from Milkweed Editions for review.

After the loss of her stepmother to cancer, Ada Limón chose to quit her job with a major travel magazine in New York, move to the mountains of Kentucky, and disappear. Yet, in the wake of death and massive transition, she found unexpected love, both for a man and for a place, all the while uncovering the core unity between death and beauty that drives our world. “I am beautiful. I am full of love. I am dying,” the author writes. It’s this narrative of transformation and acceptance that suffuses these poems. Unflinching and unafraid, Limón takes her reader on a journey into the most complex and dynamic realms of existence and identity, all while tracing a clear narrative of renewal.

3.  Lives of Crime and Other Stories by L. Shapley Bassen, an unexpected second review copy, which I will pass along to someone else.

These are great noir stories, with a very intelligent self-awareness that makes them existentially perplexing and entertaining at the same time. Kind of a guilty pleasure. Love the wry darkness.” -Susan Smith Nash, author of “The Adventures of Tinguely Querer

4.  The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen, an unexpected surprise from Algonquin Books.

Thirty years after her death, Alice Eve Cohen’s mother appears to her, seemingly in the flesh, and continues to do so during the hardest year Alice has had to face: the year her youngest daughter needs a harrowing surgery, her eldest daughter decides to reunite with her birth mother, and Alice herself receives a daunting diagnosis. As it turns out, it’s entirely possible for the people we’ve lost to come back to us when we need them the most.

Although letting her mother back into her life is not an easy thing, Alice approaches it with humor, intelligence, and honesty. What she learns is that she must revisit her childhood and allow herself to be a daughter once more in order to take care of her own girls. Understanding and forgiving her mother’s parenting transgressions leads her to accept her own and to realize that she doesn’t have to be perfect to be a good mother.

5.  The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay from Candlewick Press for review.

A toy soldier. A butter dish. A compass. Mundane objects, perhaps, but to the remarkable authors in this collection, artifacts such as these have inspired stories that go to the heart of the human experience of World War I. Each author was invited to choose an object that had a connection to the war— a writing kit for David Almond, a helmet for Michael Morpurgo—and use it as the inspiration for an original short story. What results is an extraordinary collection, illustrated throughout by award-winning Jim Kay and featuring photographs of the objects with accounts of their history and the authors’ reasons for selecting them. This unique anthology provides young readers with a personal window into the Great War and the people affected by it, and serves as an invaluable resource for families and teachers alike.

6.  Strange Theater by John Amen from the poet for review.

John Amen’s STRANGE THEATER takes the reader on a multifaceted journey, each poem a puzzle piece in a mysterious drama, a view onto a stage where dialogues and narratives shuffle and rotate, where characters improvise insights that blur the boundary between horror and the absurd. Offering a unique vision of contemporary life, Amen is a Virgil of sorts, navigating the unknown, plumbing the conscious and unconscious alike. Replete with compelling imagery and frequently shocking proclamations, STRANGE THEATER imprints itself on the psyche, Amen’s voice continuing to resound long after the final poem is read.

What did you receive this week?

The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris

The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is highly experimental and mixes poetry with photos and art, and much more.  It is broken down into five sections, preceded by a list of dramatic personas in a couple of instances, which in fact set the stage for what comes next.  While experimental in form, there are traditional elements as well, including references to Greek myths and the journey of Odysseus.  Through this experimentation, readers must pay closer attention to the words, phrases, fonts, and other elements in the collection to discern meaning or the story.  This is a thinking reader’s book, but it’s also a book of pure lunacy and fun as the personas take over and yell at one another in a banter that just generates smirks and laughs.

“‘You really need to figure out what’s next for you, Sadie.
Math, theology, whatever. Why don’t you put out a book?’ (Jughead)
‘Well, Jug, the truth is, you’re my first book.
I’ve been editing you since we met.’ (Sadie)” (page 17)

In many ways, looking at the verse on the page and the conversation often resemble the complex nature of compositions made by musicians.  When looked at in pieces, these compositions can befuddle casual viewers, but when put together and played in conjunction, the music soars and fills the soul.  In this piece, there seem to be elements of Jazz, a musicality that leaps off the page in a mixture of elements that like the collaboration of Amen and Harris works well.  However, the improvisation can be overwrought in some instances.

“The patio party:  I’m tired of these spoiled suburbanites.
I prefer back-river ingenues and trailer-park bullies
brimming with rage and remorse,
perhaps a seance staged at twilight,
blood on a pool deck,
blood on the geraniums and forsythia;
the runaway’s bones, buried beneath the mad-blossoming magnolia,
suddenly singing to my neighbors.
I prefer a final showdown with the cops,
the proverbial shootout in the cul de sac —
everything at stake, all the time.” (page 35)

Many of these vignettes are about seizing the moment, stopping the procrastinating, and relishing the exuberance and exhilaration. There are moments about the aftermath of love affairs and tales about strange personalities. Arcana is a well used word here for indeed some of these verses and tales are mysterious and hard to understand, but these lines and mixtures of text and art require additional discernment on the part of the reader. However, readers also must keep in mind that not all of these vignettes are true or to be taken seriously — there is a bit of dry wit and sarcasm here in these pages.  The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is unique, confusing, fun, and even mysterious; well worth reading for a challenge, but definitely something that will take more than one read through.

About the Authors:

John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.

Photo by Charles Weinberg

Daniel Y. Harris holds a Master of Arts in Divinity from The University of Chicago, where he specialized in the history and hermeneutics of religion and wrote his dissertation on The Zohar. He is the author of Hyperlinks of Anxiety (Cervena Barva Press, 2013), The New Arcana (with John Amen, New York Quarterly Books, 2012), Paul Celan and the Messiah’s Broken Levered Tongue: An Exponential Dyad (with Adam Shechter, Cervena Barva Press, 2010; picked by The Jewish Forward as one of the 5 most important Jewish poetry books of 2010) and Unio Mystica (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009). He is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

For another perspective, check out Shiny Book Review.

This is the 29th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

173rd Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 173rd Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today, we have a poem from John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris’ The New Arcana. The collection “is a multigenre extravaganza featuring verse, fiction, mock journalism and academic writing, drama, and art. Both referencing and transcending various literary precedents, the book is a pronouncement for the 21st Century, an exploration of and commentary on the fast-paced and mercurial nature of life in the 2000s”:

From Section Four: I (page 85)

I have built a panic room in order to insulate myself
    from all random reminders
       of the inevitable indignities to come.
    I play hopscotch;
I count marbles in the darkness.
    Give me chalk and geometric proofs,
    barely legible crossword puzzles,
    medical reports printed in red:  I'll prove my loyalty,
my commitment to the American dream,
by skipping through perturbations with dismissive
    hilarity -- the very locus of a psychic compost
       filled with rotting onions.

What do you think?

Mailbox Monday #197

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the Mailbox Monday blog.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris, which I received for review from the poets.

THE NEW ARCANA is a multi-genre extravaganza featuring verse, fiction, mock journalism and academic writing, drama, and art. Both referencing and transcending various literary precedents, the book is a pronouncement for the 21st Century, an exploration of and commentary on the fast-paced and mercurial nature of life in the 2000s. Co-written by poets John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris, the book presents a compelling, jazz-like, and satirical style, a third voice born from the mingling of two distinct individual voices. THE NEW ARCANA is a memorable literary statement—a manifesto for our time—as well as a proclamation regarding the transformative qualities of true collaboration.

2.  Judging a Book by its Lover by Lauren Leto, which I received for review from HarperCollins.

Want to impress the hot stranger at the bar who asks for your take on Infinite Jest? Dying to shut up the blowhard in front of you who’s pontificating on Cormac McCarthy’s “recurring road narratives”? Having difficulty keeping Francine Prose and Annie Proulx straight?

For all those overwhelmed readers who need to get a firm grip on the relentless onslaught of must-read books to stay on top of the inevitable conversations that swirl around them, Lauren Leto’s Judging a Book by Its Lover is manna from literary heaven! A hilarious send-up of—and inspired homage to—the passionate and peculiar world of book culture, this guide to literary debate leaves no reader or author unscathed, at once adoring and skewering everyone from Jonathan Franzen to Ayn Rand to Dostoyevsky and the people who read them.

3.  When All My Disappointments Came at Once by Todd Swift for review from Tightrope Books.

This poetry collection explores the journey of recovery from depression after a man’s diagnosis for extreme male infertility. Dreams are destroyed and slowly rebuilt with the help of a loving wife and the healing force of the poetic art. As it touches on the topics of childlessness and mental health from a male perspective, this compilation will appeal to a wide readership.

What did you receive?

More Poetry Events . . .

As promised, I’ve been posting about poetry-related events on the Savvy Verse & Wit Facebook page, but I’m also posting information here on the blog about similar or the same events.  I hope that if you get out to see any of these events that you’ll stop by the blog and tell me about them or share them with your own readers if you have a blog.

John Amen, a poet who has appeared on this blog before and whose poetry I’ve reviewed before (At the Threshold of Alchemy and More of Me Disappears — click for my reviews), will be touring parts of the eastern United States and reading his poetry in honor of National Poetry Month.  Check out the schedule below:

04/07/2011: Reading and Workshop at Coker College: Hartsville, SC
Workshop at 3:30PM (in-school/closed event); Reading at 7:30PM (open to public)
Reading to be held in the C.W. Coker Auditorium in Davidson Hall; 300 East College Ave; Hartsville, SC 29550

04/12/2011: Reading in Wallingford, PA
Stage One; 101 Plush Mills Road (Route 252 & Plush Mills Road); Wallingford, PA.

04/14/2011: Reading in Lake Katrine, NY
Bohemian Book Bin; 85 Carle Terrace; Lake Katrine, NY 12449.

04/17/2011: Reading in New York, NY
Bowery Poetry Club; 308 Bowery; New York, NY.

04/19/2011: Reading in Fanwood, NJ
The Carriage House/Kuran Arts Center Series; 75 N Martine Ave; Fanwood, NJ 07023.

04/22/2011: Reading at Towson University in Towson, Maryland
More information available soon. For more info, email pedmagazin[email protected].

Also, he’s got a special going for his books:

I’m still running the special, until April 15. My first two collections (Christening the Dancer and More of Me Disappears) and my two CDs (All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire) are on sale for $5 each. My latest collection, At the Threshold of Alchemy, is marked down to $10. All purchases can be made easily and securely through Paypal via my website (www.johnamen.com). It is also possible to make purchases via check.

The Bethesda, Md., based Writer’s Center also is holding a series of great poetry events this month.

Open Door Reading with Erika Meitner and Candace Katz
Sunday, April 10, 2:00 P.M.

Erika Meitner reads poems from her latest collection, Ideal Cities. She is joined by novelist Candace Katz, author of Schaeffer Brown’s Detective Observations. Register here.

Poet Lore Vol. 106, No. 1/2 Launch Party
Sunday, April 17, 2:00 P.M.

Celebrate the launch of Poet Lore’s spring/summer issue! The nation’s oldest continuously published poetry journal, at 122 years old, hosts readings by local poets Janice Lynch Schuster, Melanie Figg, and R. Dwayne Betts. Register here.

Here are some other local Maryland and Washington, D.C., events:

Annapolis Book Festival
Saturday, April 9, 10:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M.

The ninth annual Annapolis Book Festival will feature nationally renowned authors from a variety of fiction and non-fiction categories. This Festival is free and open to the public, and will be held on the campus of The Key School at 534 Hillsmere Drive in Annapolis, Maryland. Check the schedule for TWC-sponsored events on writing and publishing. For more details, visit their Web site.

Bethesda Literary Festival
April 15th-17th

Celebrate literature at Bethesda’s weekend-long festival. Highlights include the Poet Lore Launch Party on Sunday (see above).

Just for Kids
Saturday, 1:00 P.M.
Bethesda Library

See award-winning children’s book author, poet, playwright and songwriter, Mary Amato (TWC workshop leader), as she reads from her most recent book, Edgar Allen’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook. Children ages 6-12.

Poetry Readings and Awards
Saturday, 8:00 P.M.
Hilton Garden Inn

Hear from award-winning poets David Keplinger and Michele Wolf (TWC workshop leaders), and the winners of the Bethesda Poetry Contest.

See the festival Web site for more details.

Also, please check out the latest Shelf Awareness article on poetry, which I really enjoyed because it is about the casual reader of poetry.

D.C. Literature Examiner Goodies

I know we’ve all be busy with the holidays and reading our new books.

I’ve been busily interview poets and authors on D.C. Literature Examiner again.  You knew I couldn’t resist.

Please check out my latest interview with Poet and Musician John Amen!  We talk about his writing habits, his thoughts on how music and poetry are similar, and what poets he recommends.  Check out the interview here and here.

One of his books, More of Me Disappears, made my 2009 top poetry books list.

I’ve also had the pleasure of talking about John Shors’, author of Dragon House, charity efforts in providing books to street children in Vietnam.  If you’d like to see how well his project has gone or how his book sales are connected to the charity, please go here.

Finally, I had the pleasure of interviewing Into the Beautiful North author Luis Alberto Urrea.  We discuss how movies influenced him, particularly with this novel, his writing, his playlists, and more.  Don’t forget his recommended reading.  Check out the interview here and here.

Urrea’s book made my best of audiobooks for 2009!

I hope you’ll be checking these interviews out in your down time.

John Amen on Writing, Revision, and Submitting Work

Please welcome, poet, musician, editor of The Pedestal Magazine, and guest blogger John Amen, author of More of Me Disappears and At the Threshold of Alchemy (click for my reviews).

Serena was kind enough to invite me to write a guest-post for her blog, suggesting that maybe I could offer some thoughts regarding the submission process and my own experiences with editing The Pedestal Magazine. A couple of basic things to start with: it is really important, I think, to read a journal’s guidelines. Pedestal, for example, accepts work via a submission form; throughout our guidelines, we mention that we don’t accept submissions via regular mail or email. Still, though, we receive quite a few submissions by both mail and email during each reading cycle. We always respond to the person, asking him or her to resubmit via the form, but this is time-consuming for everyone involved. Also, with some issues we are looking for specific work; for example, we tend to publish only flash fiction in one of our summer releases. We’ll post this in the guidelines, but sure enough, a few submissions will be full-length stories. So, again, it is really important to read and comply with a journal’s guidelines.

Beyond these basics, the real question is not so much a matter of protocol, but rather a matter regarding writing itself. I mean, the mechanics of actually getting published in a journal are not that complicated: write, find the proper magazine to submit to, adhere to various guidelines, and submit your work; if the editors resonate with what you’ve sent, the work will be published. So the real issue has to do, I believe, with one’s relationship with one’s own writing. I’m not a fanatic about revision: I think each piece needs to be approached on its own terms; some pieces need more revision than others. Universal mandates or prescriptions are not the way to go, in my opinion. However, I do think it pays to be patient, studious, reflective, contemplative about one’s writing. 

People say, “At some point, you’ve got to just let it go, quit revising.” Well, if you’re reading the piece and something clearly isn’t working for you, then why wouldn’t you want to continue editing? It often occurs to me that editing is really just observing one’s reactions and responses during the reading process. While I’m reading, is the experience fluid? Or am I hitting bumps, so to speak, points where I get hung up, where the language doesn’t flow? Are there spots that undermine the “blooming” of the piece? Is something missing? Is the piece as a whole being compromised in some way? If so, how? One can practice conscious editing by reading one’s piece and simply making notes about the experience. As you read your work, simply note where and when you have reservations, where and when something seems unclear or ineffective for whatever reason, where and when you become aware that something seems to be missing or lacking. Don’t necessarily try to revise on the spot, just makes notes. Then you can come back and begin to address these areas; you may repeat this process several times. Developing a sense of neutrality and objectivity with one’s own work is quite helpful. Sometimes things fall into place quickly; sometimes the process can be prolonged. I do think that it’s often a good idea to postpone attempts at publication. It’s easy to be results-oriented; i.e., wanting to see the piece “out there.” But all said and done, the process of writing is really what’s important; and revision is as much a part of the creative adventure as a stimulating first draft or the sweetness of publication.

Thanks, John, for a wonderfully informative guest post.  I hope that writers will find it useful when they feel uninspired or that they haven’t made any progress.  Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with John Amen on my D.C. Literature Examiner page as well.

FTC Disclosure:  Title and image links will bring readers to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are necessary, but are appreciated to cover the costs of international giveaway shipping.

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen

the woman in the shower (Page 36)

the woman in the shower washes herself constantly and never ages.  she
scrubs her nails, shampoos her hair, lathers her body.  she’s attractive, and
many serenade her, offering love songs in various languages.  newspapers
send interviewers to ascertain her greater mission.  she receives letters from
admirers around the world.  political and religious leaders pay a visit.  a few
crazies try to break into the shower stall and molest the woman, but guards
throw them out.  one man masturbates, shooting his seed onto the glass
before he is arrested.  nothing, though, distracts or fazes the woman in the
shower.  she keeps lathering and scrubbing and rinsing.  generations pass;
the woman is considered a saint of sorts, her shower stall a mecca.  it’s 
assumed, finally, that the woman in the shower, the woman who never 
stops washing, has always been, always will be.  she’s a timeless fact, like air
or war or hunger or god.

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen conjures profound statements about the human condition often from unusual or incongruous elements in nature, pop culture, and religion.  Many of these poems comment on the darker side of humanity, and the narrator tends to seek out destruction and mischief.  There are some longer poems in the collection that could become tedious for certain readers, but taken in slowly — one section at a time — readers can delve deeper into the verse.

“. . . Mary plants clematis and bougainvillea.
I’m writing ballads on a ’71 Gibson.  We’re purchasing
mulch, two tons of soil.  We’re collecting ripe moments,”  (Portraits of Mary, Page 43)

Vivid images and situations permeate these pages, and Amen is a poet prepared to comment on the taboo or the elephant in the room.  Several poems titled “missive” address unknown recipients and offer harsh criticisms in which the sarcastic undertones is palpable.

“Had I known you were more concerned with baubles
than the outcomes of the election, I’d have planned
to craft a wreath for the occasion.  Bless tabloids
and puppet governments, I take my salvation as
I can get it.”  (Missive #12, Page 68)

Musical elements also weave their way into the poems, much like they did in Amen’s More of Me Disappears (click for my review).  Entwined with these musical lines, readers will note an atmosphere of self-deprecation created by the narrator’s repentance or observations.

“Forgive me for eating this bountiful meal.
Forgive me for sleeping beneath this roof.
Forgive me for making love to my wife.
Forgive me for everything I fail to see and do
and avenge.  Forgive me for this insular life.”  (Rampage, Page 24) 

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen is a collection that readers will need to let simmer, breathing in each line like an exotic incense.  Readers can read each poem in this collection more than once and still uncover new layers of meaning.  From short poems to long poems, this collection has a variety to please a multitude of readers. 

***On a side note, At the Threshold of Alchemy is published on acid-free, recycled paper.***  Ever since the Green Books Campaign, I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on my books to see what their “green” properties may be.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of At the Threshold of Alchemy from the poet John Amen for review.  Additionally, title and image links will bring readers to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are necessary, but are appreciated to cover the costs of international giveaway shipping.

I read this book as part of the recent Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge.  Did you participate?  Which books did you read?  I only read two.

This also qualifies as my 8th book for the Poetry review challenge.

More of Me Disappears by John Amen

John Amen’s More of Me Disappears is broken down into three separate sections and each poem in each section is accessible, vivid, and explosive.  In a number of poems, Amen’s musical and song writing talents permeate the lines.  However, these are more than rhythmic dances, his work gradually moves toward a vanishing point. 

From Verboten (Page 17)

“They are drinking wine and speaking
of French-U.S. relations when the long
sleeve on her arm falls down.  Before
she can clutch it, I see the faded blue
tattoo on her flesh.  “What are those
numbers?” I ask.  A silence explodes
through the room like spores.”

Each poem in this collection tells a story, reflects on a bright memory, and picks these events apart to reveal the truth beneath.  There are times in this volume when the narrator is sure of his path and at other times ideas run contrary to one another.  Some of my favorite lines will leave readers squirming or gritting their teeth.

From Walking Unsure of Myself (Page 65)

“The fortune teller is battling a migraine.
Wind has swallowed my itinerary.

A man in blue goggles is on his knees outside the bank.
The rape victim is scrubbing herself with a steel brush.”

Readers will enjoy the music of these poems and how these poems pop off the pages, with an in your face quality.  Subtlety is not a prevalent style in Amen’s work, but readers will appreciate his frankness.  From poems where the narrator takes an active role to poems to observances from a distance, Amen draws the reader in with immediate and concrete details.  One of the best collections I’ve read in 2009.

New York Memory #3 (Page 36)

“When I get to my dead father’s apartment,
Liz emerges from ruptured planks and exploded plaster.
She is covered with soot, like some pagan baptized
in refuse.  The wrecking crew has come before
we had a chance to vacate the place, stripped the loft
to its skeleton.  My father’s furniture has been destroyed,
a lifetime buried beneath an avalanche of wood and iron.
Beds have been gutted, paintings raped by protruding nails.
A fast-food cup rises from the ruin like a conqueror’s flag.
The apartment is quickly remodeled, rent raised;
the revolving door of humanity spins.  Over the years,
I make a point of knowing who is living there.  I see tenants
come and go.  I accept that we’re not so unlike animals.
I mean, I have this friend who tells me all about bees,
how the queen is revered and protected, ultimately
replaced in a savage deposition, how the mad
hive continues, greater than any one member.
And everything he says sounds familiar, and stings.”

I want to thank John Amen for sending me a free copy of his book More of Me Disappears for review.   For additional examples from this book, visit John Amen’s Web site.

Also, clicking on images and text links to books will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page.  No purchases are required.

This is my 6th book for the poetry review challenge.