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Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Dear Almost: A Poem by Matthew Thorburn, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a book length poem exploring a year-long tangle with grief after a miscarriage.  Broken into the four seasons, the poem rises and falls with the ebb and flow of melancholy. It attempts to illustrate the loss of what could have been or what almost was or even what you wanted to be.  It’s the loss of potential … the loss of discovery of that being.

From "Once in Early Spring" (pg. 3)

"So that her flight is
flighty, a hop and flap
flutter skip from
branch to branch to
lower branch -- here-ing
and there-ing -- then
the branch dips"

Thorburn relies not only on the natural world to demonstrate fleeting life or the sudden drop off that catches us off-guard emotionally, but also the wider urban world he notices walking with his wife or when he is alone on the streets. Despite the emptiness the narrator feels at the lost one-ounce life he’d imagined taking flight, there are moments of creative imagining, a filling in of what could have been or might have been had things turned out differently. What’s absolutely stunning is how true it all is, particularly:

From "Once in Early Spring" (pg. 11)

"My own words fall

away now, sound weird,
off, odd jangle-clang
in the ear like when
we say something again
and again until
it slips loose of its mooring,
its meaning, so that
we wind up staring"

Grief often paralyzes us, makes us sound unlike ourselves and unable to articulate what is happening to us emotionally. It is even harder for us to connect with others who reach out to us to help us through that pain, and many times we choose to withdraw, to forget, to hold that grief unto ourselves because we don’t know how to express it, how to share it, or how to process and let it go.

From "Three Deer Beneath the Autumn Moon" (pg. 44)

"this hurt is like a burr
hooked in the haunch
of a deer: I carry it with me
all day.  I think of you still,

so still, not there anymore"

Dear Almost: A Poem by Matthew Thorburn is beautiful in its attempt to articulate that which we cannot explain or even deal with.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Matthew Thorburn is the author of six collections of poetry, including the book-length poem Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016) and the chapbook A Green River in Spring (Autumn House Press, 2015), winner of the Coal Hill Review chapbook competition. His previous collections include This Time Tomorrow (Waywiser Press, 2013), Every Possible Blue (CW Books, 2012), Subject to Change, and an earlier chapbook, the long poem Disappears in the Rain (Parlor City Press, 2009). His work has been recognized with a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, as well as fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His interviews with writers appear on the Ploughshares blog as a monthly feature. He lives in New York City, where he works in corporate communications.

The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park

Source: Academy of American Poets (purchased)
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park, 2014 Walt Whitman Award winner, straddles the line between myth and reality, as Park examines some global myths from China and India to Norway and Greece.  She uses phonemes to uncover the secrets in the words she’s chosen to get at the heart of their meaning to not only reach an origin but to generate a response.  Upon first reading, these poems seem like an exercise in word play, but reading more deeply encourages readers to see the similarities and differences inhere in the words chosen and how those nuances should be celebrated.

From "Bang" (pg. 3)

Just what they said about the river:
rift and ever.

And nothing was left for the ether
there either.

And if anything below could mature:
a matter of nature.

Here the interplay of words peeks beneath the surface of creation myths from the big bang theory to the story of creation in scripture. Rather than focus on the age-old battle between whether creationism or evolution is the correct theory of what happened, Park asks “to have left the world,/to what is left of it –/could you have anything left to cove?” Rather than battle for the correct theory and covet the glory of being correct, shouldn’t we be more focused on the awe of it all and our minor part in it? Park forces readers to question their perceptions of what is important about life, not just what happens in their own lives but also the life around them.

& A (pg 22)

Being a matter
of importance, there

is no mastering
this but to bind you,

thrash and all, to the 
mast.  O you won't reach

irresistible song,
but the rope will teach

you the body's give.
Go down to the bone,

then tell me again
there what matters.  It

will give you every
-thing you need to know

about what I cannot tell you and then,
just maybe then, could it be enough.

Similarities and differences are looked at with new eyes, and in many ways, those differences can be dangerous. However, these poems suggest that even in these perceived dichotomies there is beauty, something to be savored and to be loved. In the final section of poems — Fear — the sum of the poems reads like a single force, gyrating and churning the seas of perception until the final lines. Park wonders aloud what it means to be the fear-driven species that strives to become the sole survivor and upon reaching the summit what is there left but more fear. From “Beyond the meadow, the horizon fails” (pg. 47), “what then to our victor’s highest marks?/Only fear regrouping in your heart of hearts.” And yet, despite all this dreariness and dark, Park leaves readers with a hope, a bleak hope — “everything in life is a placeholder.” The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park is stunning in its twists and turns, but it will require several reads and recitation aloud in some cases. But the gems within these lines and phrases are well worth the work.

About the Poet:

Hannah Sanghee Park was born in Tacoma, Washington and earned a BA from the University of Washington and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of a chapbook, Ode Days Ode (Catenary Press, 2011). She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from The Fulbright Program, 4Culture, The Iowa Arts Council/National Endowment for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her work has appeared in various journals and publications, including LVNG, Petri Press, Poetry Northwest, and Best New Poets 2013. In 2014, Park won the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award.

Park lives in Los Angeles, where she attends the Writing for Screen & Television Program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

 

 

 

 

Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen

Source: Academy of American Poets, part of the membership benefits, with no expectation of review
Paperback, 64 pages
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Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen, 2012 winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and recently added to the National Book Award 2013 long list, could not be more aptly named.  The light passing through this dark hole is that of the narrator’s brother when he commits suicide, forever changing his family and yet changing nothing in the wider world.  There is a balance Rasmussen tries to strike here between the irrevocable change the family, and in particular the brother, feel and the lack of change outside of their microcosm, even in nature where the hunters and sportsman arbitrarily continue to shoot clay pigeons or deer.

From After Suicide (page 4-5)

I wanted to put my finger
into the hole

feel the smooth channel
he escaped through

stop the milk
so he could swallow it

There is a deep sadness in these poems, but also a sense of confusion and desire to understand, even when understanding is beyond our capacity because we are not those who have taken their lives.  We have different experiences and different perspectives, and while we have the capacity for empathy, that is oftentimes not the same — or enough.  The narrator of the poems even acknowledges this when he says in “Elegy in X Parts,” “There is no refuge//from yourself.” (page 36)  It is because we are trapped with ourselves that suicide may seem like the only solution, especially if we are unable to see solutions outside of ourselves.

Rasmussen has some stark images, haunting pictures of death and lifelessness.  There is an emptiness in those vivid moments, which the poet captures with so few brushstrokes.  As the past slips further away, people and moments fade, but their impressions are still felt — as personified by “Monet as a Verb” (page 19).  And although a tragic loss can be scarring, scars fade and heal.  Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen examines the light that leaves our lives in a flash, often unexpectedly and without reason, and how we sometimes grieve for long periods of time afterward and in some cases, even want to follow our loved ones through the same dark hole to find peace, understanding and closure.

About the Poet:

Matt Rasmussen’s poetry has been published in Gulf Coast, Cimarron Review, H_NGM_N, Water~Stone Review, New York Quarterly, Paper Darts, and at Poets.org. He’s received awards, grants, and residencies from The Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Minnesota State Arts Board, Jerome Foundation, Intermedia Arts, The Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN, and The Corporation of Yaddo. He is a 2014 Pushcart Prize winner, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, and teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College. His first book of poems, Black Aperture, won the 2012 Walt Whitman Award and was published in 2013 by LSU Press.

This is my 25th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

This is my 59th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell, winner of the Walt Whitman Award, is a debut collection with two voices — two sides of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle — that demonstrates not only the pride of Palestinians, but also the pride of Israelis in their home.  The initial poem, “The Dream,” (which could be a preface to the following three sections) establishes the somber tone for the book, but it also cautions that choices must be made in dreams even as they must be made when awake.  A sentiment that is echoed again in “Notes from the Broken Notebook (part one):  “cover your mouth, you’ll still inhale the gas/dance in the shadow of the concrete wall/tell yourself the tiles are not bones/even in a dream you must still make choices.”  Bell is careful in her choice of language, but she does not shy away from the tumultuous moments in the region’s history, including the role of Arafat.

There is a great juxtaposition in the poem “Refugee,” which is about Ramla in 1948, between the new inhabitants of the house and the ones who have left.  The refugees are entering the house with hope, a feeling of belonging and settlement on their minds, but there is this observance of what has come before — the quick ejection of the former residents, leaving the cupboards full and a few cans rolling on the floor.  It is just one illustration of how something can symbolize hope and a new beginning to one person, but be the symbol of loss and an ending for another — much like the foreclosure can be for two different families.

There is a great reverence to the land and its cultivation, but there also is a reverence paid to the building of communities and the brokering of peace between the warring nations of Palestine, Jordan, and Israel.  In many ways, the poems open up an unsaid dialogue about the possibility of not only understanding but even co-existence, maybe even peace.  “You are not a place my love./You come from where/there are no names.  You enter/as breath and drop/onto our sleeping tongues//” from “Charter for the Over-Sung Country” should remind readers that they are more than just their home country or the place where they live.  In more than one poem, the narrator references the smell of dirt or soil after the rain, which could signify not only a cleansing of the past and a fresh future, but also the possibilities that the future holds.

There are a few poems that are letters to certain places in the region, and in “Letter to Jerusalem” the narrator talks of not crushing the bird too quickly, perhaps a reference to how the city grew out of the sand without regard to the consequences.  In “Letter to Hebron,” the narrator wants to illustrate the truth of the city not the dream of the city.  With its foul smells and the flies, but no matter how much or how long something is beat down into submission or sculpted one way, it can only be what it is — “That wooden doorway, hung without a house.”  Does this mean one town is better than another or that one is more beautiful?  No.  It simply shows that there are dreams for these cities, but oftentimes reality falls short of those dreams, leaving the inhabitants looking through a doorway into a rough landscape.

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell connects the struggles of these two peoples not in the traditional opposing sides, but through their similar perspectives of loss and hope.   The collection also links the Holocaust survivors to the promise of Israel as the new homeland and incorporates biblical story with historical activists.

About the Author:

Elana Bell is a bridge builder, able to walk compassionately through this complex world where many things are true at once. Whether through her soul-stirring poetry, her dynamic performances on the stage, or through her inspiring talks & workshops, she creates a space where all people’s voices and stories are heard and deeply valued.

Elana’s first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award and was published by Lousiana State University Press in April 2012. Elana is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, the AROHO Foundation, and the Drisha Institute. Her work has recently appeared in Harvard Review, Massachusetts Review, CALYX Journal, and elsewhere. Elana has led creative writing workshops for women in prison, for educators, for high school students in Israel, Palestine and throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as for the pioneering peace building and leadership organization, Seeds of Peace. She currently serves as the writer-in-residence for the Bronx Academy of Letters and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

 

This is my 4th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

This is my 3rd book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

What the book club thought:

There were mixed reactions to the book with one member not sure they understood many of the poems at all to one member that really loved the book.  Several members thought the narrator did a pretty good job of demonstrating both sides in the Israeli-Palestine conflict through the eyes of those who had lived there and tilled the land for centuries to the Israelis seeking refuge and a new home after WWII.  The poems of “Refugee,” “Visiting Auschwitz,” “Visiting Aide refugee camp,” and “On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm” were among some of the poems talked about more in depth during the meeting, as well as the section of poems beginning with “God” and “What Else God Wanted.”  In particular, it was noted in the religious section of poems that the “God” poem demonstrated a bit of bitterness, that was followed by the story of “Ishmael,” which seemed like it was being told to Ishmael as his poem comes first before the story of his conception.  One poem that I found a bit cliche, but that touched something in the other members of the group was “In Another Country It Could Have Been Love.”

In terms of the book’s title, the members were not really thrilled about “Eyes, Stones.”  While we see the references in several poems, we felt that another title might have been better suited to the collection.  Perhaps, stones refers to the takeover of anger and other hard emotions that can shut out empathy, love, and understanding.

Later we had a discussion of how many of us read some or all of the poems aloud and whether that was helpful in understanding the poems, and I recommended that if we did do another poetry collection that it should be read aloud, at least the poems that do not generate an immediate impression.  Secondly, we discussed how to read poems, particularly poems in free verse and how much pause should be given to the end of the line and to punctuation.  Overall the discussion was all over the place, and some of us agreed that the collection was probably not the best selection for a beginning poetry reader or a group with little background knowledge on the Israeli-Palestine conflict and its beginnings, though Bell does offer some notations in the back to provide an anchor point for most of the poems.

163rd Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 163rd 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’s poem is from Elana Bell‘s Eyes, Stones:

Flags  (page 41)

Everywhere, in the fertile soil of this land, 
we've planted flags. Flags sprout like the hair
from an old man's nostrils. Blue and white 
or red, black, green and white, they shroud 
windows, standing in for a family 
you can't see: a flag instead of the mother 
who hums and spices the lentils, a flag 
for Father, who runs the blade against his cheek
each morning with the rooster's kukuku. 
Later, in the dark, he holds his wife 
while the children sleep wrapped in flags. 
Flags grow in the garden, flags from the beaks
of muted birds. Shredded flags drape phone wires, 
flags hang from the pines like dead hands—

What do you think?

Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick

Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick uses an economy of words to address the harrowing moments of life and the happier moments.  His images are unique and playful, but his subjects are sometimes dark and eerie, like the barren tree with its barely there spinal column of vertebrae on the cover.  From “Even Though” (page 1-3), “I felt the deep bruise of a sentence/and wanted to eat/at the banquet of silence.”  Which are the curses and which are the wishes is left up to the reader, but some poems are clearly laments for those dying in the Holocaust (like the poem “The book of Nelly Sachs“) or lost by other means.

Adamshick clings to the moment, a snatch of time and draws out the undercurrent of meaning, creating a story from the unknown.  Unlike, Whitman, who used nature in his poems to extrapolate wider philosophical realities of transcendentalism, Adamshick’s poems combine industrial elements from street lights to chessboard pieces and cameras to evoke emotion and recognition in the reader, creating an Aha moment.  “The corner utility pole/holds a cone of light/to its mouth// and is screaming/at the pavement.// We are almost here/”  (page 38 from “Almost”)  However, like Whitman, there is a sense of moving beyond, gaining insight into humanity and stretching ourselves further.

Junkyard (page 7)

I never visit my younger self.
Any change I elicit
would be just that: change.
Something different in a world
of differences. A shifting
from memory to dream. Snow
falling in a barrel of rusted
engine parts becoming a day
of lightning and old fallen oak:
one life or another, mine or yours.
This is the last outpost before
things become what they are.
I was eleven when an older self,
the lord of my childhood, appeared
above the chair in my room
splendid and silent like a planet
rotating, spinning in its ellipses,
but, also, unmoving by the headboard
and the one pillow full of feathers.

There is a quiet power in these poems and this slim volume, which leave readers waiting to devour more from Adamshick.  Many of the poems are about change and what it means to be changed and keep moving onward and upward.  However, “Junkyard” raises another question about change — is change always beneficial and new or is it just a reincarnation of something that came before?  Can we really transcend the present and these bodies we inhabit?  Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick is a clear winner and would be an excellent candidate for the Indie Lit Awards.  Another one for the Best of List of 2011.

Copyright Jessie Sue Hibbs

About the Poet:

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Carl Adamshick grew up primarily in Harvard, Illinois.

Adamshick currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his partner of many years, Jessie Sue Hibbs.

Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and was published by independent press Louisiana State University Press.  It is Adamshick’s first poetry collection; please check out this Oregonian article about his win.  (I received this book as a member of the Academy of American Poets, but not for review.)

 

This is my 33rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 18th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.