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Narrow Bridge by Robbi Nester

Source: the poet
Paperback, 96 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Narrow Bridge by Robbi Nester explores the degrees of fear we face throughout our lives as things change. The first section of the collection sets the tone for the whole, as each poem focuses on change — a desire to be something you’re not in “Mermaid to Woman” and a re-imagining of Beethoven as a whale in “The Making.” There is a certain fear in change, but Nester calls on the reader to see the beauty in being something different, something that evolves.

 From "The Making" (pg. 3)

If Beethoven were a whale, he would
groan a song as monumental as his bulk,
one the waves would write -- always
in suspension. They would take an hour
to break along a shore so distant
none of us could fathom where it was.

Nester explores the changes that happen during childhood, traveling miles and moving to a new home, and how scary those moments can be. But there are times where the reader still sees the wonder of change as the narrator plays “capture the moon” with a compact mirror. Imagination takes center stage in the second section, and my daughter really enjoyed these poems when I read them aloud to her. She was reminded of the tents we made in our old house’s living room, and she began thinking up her own games to play in the car.

Section three explores the darkest reaches of fear, including a poem for the Sandy Hook school shooting. There’s also a lament for what America has become.

Sandy Hook (pg. 33)

...The teacher tries
to hide us, but bullets fly
so fast. Now she won't 
wake up, no matter how
I shake her. No crayon
could ever be that red.

In the final sections, Nester explores the fears of the past and places them into context. She broadens the scope beyond the fears of a younger self about her unruly hair and the wiser self who sees those imperfections as par for the course of life. “My past/quivers beneath the lens of memory,” she says in “Picture of a Life.”

Narrow Bridge by Robbi Nester is an exploration of life — its bumps and moments of joy — to find the light. She reminds us to push through and “recognize the stranger” in ourselves. She calls on us to reach beyond our fears and ourselves into the unknown to find beauty in the vacillation and uncertainty of change.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Robbi Nester is the author of three other books of poetry: a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and two collections—A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014) and Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017). She has also edited two anthologies: The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an Ekphrastic e-book, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees—celebrating the photography of Beth Moon, published as an issue of Poemeleon Poetry Journal.

A Compass for My Bones by Diana Smith Bolton

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 39 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

A Compass for My Bones by Diana Smith Bolton, who read at the DiVerse Poetry Gaithersburg Reading, is a chapbook of poetry that examines identity by digging below the surface of the skin. The first part of her collection focuses deeply on faith and how it applies to our actions in childhood — begging us to turn away from curiosities that call us into temptation.

Communion

We might be sisters, she whispered.
The lines of our bodies were as empty

as the priest's gesture, wiping
the chalice's lip with white linen.
from "Three Scenes from Biloxi Beach"

I've seen black-and-white movies about sexy.
Like Lana Turner! she adds. I trot to the frothy water,
forbidden to touch it, and stare into the murky dark
as I stare at my life from four feet up.

There’s an ebb and flow in these beginning poems — a magnetic pull on the narrator leading them toward something and away from the child self s/he knew. When the section ends with “The Deer by the Lake,” the reader knows that the narrative has entered into an uncharted territory. Bolton uses the remainder of the collection to explore life through the eyes of characters and historical figures from Ophelia to Emily Dickinson, who had journeys into the dark and led to sadness.

A Compass for My Bones by Diana Smith Bolton is an exploration of the self and identity — the stumbles we take on life’s journey and how we handle them. Our internal compass is our guide after our parents have guided us through childhood. What of those who never made it through childhood or were never born alive? How do they find that compass. Bolton’s images are stunning.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Diana Smith Bolton is a writer and editor in the Washington DC metro area. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Bolton studied literature at the University of Southern Mississippi and creative writing at the University of Florida, where she earned an MFA. She writes poetry and prose, and her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and collections. As founding editor of District Lit, a journal of writing and art, she is passionate about publishing meaningful work and collaborating with other writers.

Mailbox Monday #517

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

National Geographic Kids: Make This! by Ella Schwartz and Shah Selbe for review.

This book is designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and supports all kinds of kid creators: those who prefer guided instruction, those who prefer to dream up and design objects on their own, and everyone in between. With thoughtful text and bright illustrations, kids get the tools and the know-how to tackle all kinds of exciting projects: building a kaleidoscope, designing a fidget spinner, planting a rain forest, creating a musical instrument, and more. Unconventional scenarios inspired by real National Geographic explorers give kids a chance to think outside the box and apply their maker skills to real life. Chapters are divided up by scientific principle, such as simple machines, energy, and forces. In each chapter, kids can start by following step-by-step activities, or get creative by tackling an open-ended challenge. Helpful sidebars explain the science behind what’s happening every step of the way.

Make This! is perfect for curious and STEM-loving kids, families looking for a fun way to play together, and anyone else who’s ready to get creative and start tinkering!

Narrow Bridge by Robbi Nester from the poet for review.

Carefully crafted, beautifully written, these poems are a bridge indeed between this world and the one that shimmers just beyond us. In one poem, the narrator is a small child trying to capture the moon in her mirror; when that fails, she catches it in a net of words, and that is what Nester does throughout this book in poem after gorgeous heart-breaking poem. These are poems that “sing for the joy of being heard.” ~Barbara Crooker, author of Les Fauves and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems

In Robbi Nester’s Narrow Bridge, we are urged to be more open and fearless— Consider how a mirror tipped toward the sky captures the moon, if fleetingly; how “The voice of the bird/ in the maple/ is bigger than his body.” There are still passageways we can widen, if only we allowed wonder to make a bridge between our sense of fixity, and that refuge and home we could make again in each other. ~Luisa A. Igloria, author of The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis and Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser

What did you receive?

101st Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 101st 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 2011 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry.  Please contribute to the growing list of 2011 Indie Lit Award Poetry Suggestions, visit the stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour from April.

Today’s poem is from The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence, which I reviewed earlier this month:

Life’s Dry Crushed Scorpion (page 25)

Had been there for some time, flattened
among the dust and fur, the cast-off
little girl toys under my daughter’s bed.
Had once reddened its claws to polish,
once wandered fractious and solitary —
red to signal the foxes, a trail
of bright delicious strawberries,
the red a slicked on waxy lipstick.
Stained red for every month
it will bleed its silent rust, will needle
her slender spine, will catch
her unawares in the hood she’s wandering
in. If she’d known it was there, she said,
she would have been afraid.

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions. Let’s have a great discussion…pick a line, pick an image, pick a sentence.

I’ve you missed the other Virtual Poetry Circles. It’s never too late to join the discussion.

Interview With Poet Amy Pence, Part 2 & Giveaway

The Decadent Lovely, which I reviewed and is published by Main Street Rag, is a collection that strives to uncover the love beneath the grime, and Amy Pence‘s style ranges from the straight narrative to the more abstract.  If you missed part one of my interview with her, please head on over to learn more about her, the collection, and her obsessions.

Without further ado, we’ll take a look at her thoughts on writing, poetry’s accessibility, and more.

Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

Poetry is powerful in various ways and there’s a flavor for everyone, thankfully. For me, it’s the difference between poetry as a public performance with a strong social message and poetry as a private experience with the page about the interior event. I am personally most moved by the poem as artifact, as an involution of word, form, and sound. That was my first experience with poetry and the kind of poetry I am moved to write. I like familiarizing my students with poets and performance artists like Daniel Beaty and Patricia Smith to show and celebrate their successes, but the challenge as a teacher these days is to show that an Emily Dickinson poem (for instance) is not precious or flowery—it is a complex sonic creation that briefly but deeply can show us what it is to be human.

Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

I don’t think we have an obligation to dispel it (and it’s not always a myth). As I said, I like to bring my younger students into the world of poetry’s richness that they may have thought of as stuffy or inaccessible. Last night in class we lingered over Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird,” putting meaning aside to revel in the language and the modernist disjunctions. I don’t know if I inspired much rigorous thinking, but I try to do my small part in encouraging art appreciation as a value. It’s unfortunate that the word “elitist” has obscured what art can enact in the human.

Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I mentioned leading a workshop, and beginning about a decade ago, I’ve met with a small group off and on in Atlanta (hats off to Kiki, Gelia, Marianne, Sam, Sandi & Sunny). I like to set up themes and then we read relevant texts, write in-class, and workshop their poems. They know that they are teaching me as much as I “teach” them, yet they have the grace and generosity to pay me (hardly seems right). Two stellar writing books I return to again and again: Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches by Chad Davidson and Gregory Fraser (amazing poets and generous friends who teach here in Carrollton at the University of West Georgia).

In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

I have two very close friends from graduate school (fiction writer Sue Stauffacher and poet Val Martinez) who are writers and I know—even with our ups and downs—we will always be friends. And I’ve met so many wonderful writers at conferences, writing residencies and here in Carrollton. But it’s not a prerequisite, and the writers that I know typically don’t “talk” writing. I have to say I like Facebook for the way I’ve reconnected with friends from my MFA program in graduate school (University of Arizona) and to see what a vast network of poets are posting (but then, it’s very distracting). Their little obsessions and conundrums sometimes crop up, and I find that interesting. I admire so many writers and enjoyed interviewing Barbara Kingsolver, Li-Young Lee, and Paul Guest (published in past issues of Poets & Writers). I hope to do more because I learn so much from the process.

Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

I’m extremely lucky to have my ideal writing space that I couldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago. But I dreamed it, and my husband sacrificed some beloved trees so we could add my writing space to his house when we married. I write in front of a large window that overlooks a hard wood forest of thousands of acres of rolling hills and creeks. I have a courtyard planted with my favorite flora (the fauna are the 2 dogs, 3 cats, and a dwarf bunny) in all seasons. My writing studio has windows on all four walls. Needless to say, I’d just sit here and write or just gaze into the distance if I could. But there’s that thing called a paycheck to pay for this fine mess.

What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

That Emily Dickinson novel, as mentioned earlier. It may take a lifetime. I’m not sure whose.

Thanks, Amy, for answering my questions.

For the giveaway, I have 1 copy for a US/Canada reader:

To Enter, comment on this post with either a question for Amy or something you enjoyed about the interview.

For a second entry, spread the word about the interview on Twitter, your blog, and Facebook, and leave a link in the comments.

For a third chance to win, enter on yesterday’s interview.

Deadline June 22, 2011, at 11:59PM EST

The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence

The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence, published by Main Street Rag, is a collection lush in mystery as it is in setting and pulsating with dramatic domesticity.  Broken into seven parts, Pence begins the collection with the “ugly and the ordinary” and moves to the end of the collection with the infinitesimal.  Her images call attention to the darkness of the narrator’s family as they witness the drunken stupors, like in “Landing Space, 1970” (page 5-6), “Cutting too:/the eyes of the sunflowers/the swell of them, pulpy,/like my stepfather’s,/roused too soon//from an alcoholic stupor/for the graveyard shift.  Was it too much/what they saw or not enough? . . . ”

Like the pleasant and the darker aspects of the family, Pence juxtaposes the landscape of New Orleans to that of Las Vegas, with the darker elements of family life up in neon lights.  But there is darkness in New Orleans, a past that cannot be escaped and a past that can be touched only through the voodoo of memory and self-assessment.  In “The Waiting Room” (page 40), “Maybe/she’ll talk of a version of her self/decades before the cancer:  the Rose Bowl court in the 50s/or her years in New Orleans, to relate, she’d say/to the woman waiting.  In that/hazy B&W film, my mother/was one of the Golddust Twins,/the flashier one, running headlong out of Ohio, constantly/misunderstood by husbands, children, lovers./Maybe the black woman would begin/to resent my mother as most did, would/see her as merely another shipwreck in Vegas,/unmade by her own addictions.  . . . ”  Readers will find the new perspective on these mundane scenes fresh and captivating, as the narrator reveals the truth behind the surface interactions of women in a waiting room.  Pence has a number of these moments in her poems.  However, there are poems that will require more time, reading them several times and greater reflection for each image and line — a process that could bog down some new readers of poetry.  That being said, the collection is worth the effort.

Put Muse Here (page 22)

Dalí renders Dante’s Beatrice with
his beloved’s form, face obscured. Uses

grisaille, a netting & rivulet to dress her
ginger-crisp: a locust shell split. Then

there’s me: putting another face where the Dark
should be, like dreaming (an Emma Bovary),

of punctuation. The colon: two face one-upon-
one, the lock in the door, a figment well-oiled.

In the slash / my avarice: cut (an Emily Brontë)
window across which I rub my wrist.

Then there’s the period — the body’s
rush to an ending. The Thee (an Emily Dickinson)

through which the self moves —
finds the mouth, fills the face, enters in.

Sometimes cryptic, sometimes plain spoken, Pence crafts an inside look at family (those are her parents on the cover) and the happy dysfunction that can occur and often does.  Beyond that, she draws parallels between that dysfunction and the human condition, which we often attempt to control and fail to control.  The Decadent Lovely is a self indulgence worth wallowing in, if not to examine one’s own life but to understand that humans tend to be self-indulgent even though they espouse the shedding of ego.

 

This is my 15th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 23rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.