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Ache by Joseph Ross

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 108 pgs.
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Ache by Joseph Ross, one of the readers at the fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a collection that will gnaw, get under the skin, and force readers to review the world around them through new eyes. Whether taking on the persona of Nelson Mandela or John Coltrane, Ross has a knack for demonstrating the persistent, dull pain alive in this country and throughout the world. It is not just the pain of racial bias, but also the pain of immigrants searching for better lives and crossing hell to get there.

from "Nelson Mandela Burns His Passbook, 1952"

You thought you might eat
its ashes for dinner. The blue

flame, tiny and cautious at first,
crawled up the paper like a 

well-dressed thief, about to steal
what is already his.

Ross demonstrates a deep empathy with his subjects and begs readers to understand the point of view of others, even if they are vastly different from their own. He pinpoints the absurdity of violence that erupts from fear and the lasting ache it leaves behind for not only mothers and siblings, but for those yet to come into being. The history of their lives informs our present, and should be remembered.

from "When Your Word Is a Match"

When your word is a match-
head, hissing into flame,

testifying aloud but blown
out as soon as you speak.

Ross leaves readers with powerful images that speak for historical figures, those lynched in Birmingham or bombed in a church or even those who merely followed their dreams to make music. Listen. Can’t you just hear the Coltrane in these lines:

from "On John Coltrane's 'Lush Life'"

A saxophone needs
supple, lush. When human

breath swims through its
golden canyons it sings

only if the player bends.

Ache by Joseph Ross is a balancing of both sides of ache — a deep-seated, persistent pain — running through the country’s past, present, and future. Unless, we’re able to absorb the beauty around us, forget the misconceptions we use as shields for poor decisions, and move forward and “believe everyone/deserves forgiveness.” (pg. 89, “For the Graffiti Artist Whose Tag Covered the Last Cool ‘Disco’ Dan Tag in Washington, D.C.”)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Southern Quarterly, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together; Imagine Peace. He recently served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington, D.C. He is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee and his poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize.

Mailbox Monday #475

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 we received:

The Hunger by Alma Katsu, which I purchased from One More Page Books.

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy…or the feelings that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it’s a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains…and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

Effortlessly combining the supernatural and the historical, The Hunger is an eerie, thrilling look at the volatility of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

Ache by Joseph Ross, which I purchased.

“Walt Whitman writes: I am he attesting sympathy. Joseph Ross could say the same. The poems in Ache flow from a fountain of compassion for those so often denied these sacred waters: immigrants crossing the border at their peril, people of color murdered by police now and half a century ago, the martyrs whose names we know–from Trayvon Martin to Archbishop Romero–and whose names we do not know. In one breath, the poet speaks in the voice of Nelson Mandela, addressing the mother of lynching victim Emmett Till; in the next breath, he speaks of his own high school student, a young Black man spat upon by an officer of the law. In clear, concise language, Joseph Ross praises and grieves the world around him, the music as well as the murder. He also engages in prophecy: If you leave your country in the wrong hands, / you might return to /see it drowning in blood, / able to spit / but not to speak. Yes, indeed.” – Martin Espada

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock, which I purchased.

ON THAT ONE-WAY TRIP TO MARS is a version of the Voyager’s Grand Tour, if the spacecraft had skeletal dysplasia. It is a space journey that includes sexual encounters with astronomers, the increasing warmth of the sun, and zero gravity to give aching bones a break. These poems travel the solar system. Blast into orbit and head on that one-way journey with them.

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock, which I purchased.

With frank humor, Chertock takes on varied and critical aspects of identity―femininity, gender, sexuality―as they relate (or don’t relate) to her disability, somehow succeeding in making them familiar and universal. Her poetry is one that challenges us to see our limitations, not as individuals but as people together, all of us, ultimately, crumb-sized. Born in 1991, Chertock’s is an exciting and contemporary voice―brutally honest, deeply humane and ultimately triumphant.

PR For Poets: A Guidebook To Publicity And Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey, purchased for myself since I was interviewed for this book!

PR For Poets provides the information you need in order to get your book into the right hands and into the worlds of social media and old media, librarians and booksellers, and readers. PR For Poets will empower you to do what you can to connect your poetry book with its audience!

What did you receive?

4th DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading Recap

Unfortunately, I missed the 3rd reading due to other obligations.

However, this past weekend’s DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic at the Gaithersburg Public Library had a spectacular lineup with Marlena ChertockKateema LeeJoseph Ross, as well as special guest Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, who spoke about the upcoming Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 19.

Ross kicked off the reading with poems from his collection Ache, many of which are written in the voice of famous civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. The collection touches on a great need for empathy and highlights some of the most horrible events in recent history, particularly the murder of black young men. I did want to ask how much consideration he gave to the community he was writing about when writing in these voices, but I’m not one to start controversial arguments in public settings. I did enjoy what was read from the collection and thought it well done. One beautiful thing about poetry readings is you can directly buy books from the poets you hear — no waiting, no forgetting their names (I’m horrible at remembering names) after the reading when life gets in the way…

Marlena Chertock’s poems were definitely different in that they exposed pain and suffering with the help of science and space exploration. Her poems immediately reminded me of the science-based poems of Jeannine Hall Gailey and others. Chertock’s style carries a very personal voice, a perspective from a short woman with bones that are older than her chronological age. Crumb-sized: Poems was the collection she read from the most and her “Application to NASA” had me hooked. Even the cover suggests “space” or at least “planets.” (my review forthcoming)

Kateema Lee has a new collection of poems, Musings of a Netflix Binge Viewer, coming from Finishing Line Press that I just pre-ordered on their website. Her poems from this collection really caught everyone’s attention, especially with her rhythmic lines and humor. She also read from Almost Invisible, her first collection, and these were more sobering poems about her relationship with her Vietnam War veteran father. I had hoped to speak with her about the collection and her father, as well as buy a copy but she disappeared before I got to it. It was simply a busy reading. I know that she and Chertock will be at the 2018 Split This Rock Poetry Festival April 19-21 in D.C., so perhaps I will run into her again.

Lucinda Marshall, who has been the point person for these readings, solicited ideas from the audience about how to spread more poetry to the community. My daughter even filled out her notecard. You can find those ideas here.

Some of them are already being used in D.C., and it would be fantastic to see some of them used in Maryland’s Montgomery County.

For the special Mother’s Day poetry reading, check out the 2018 calendar of events. See you at the next reading.