Essays & Criticism on Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction
THIS MONTHâ€™S FEATURED ARTIST:
Silvia Pelissero Rome, Italy http://agnes-cecile.deviantart.com/
FOUNDER/EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Daniel Casey
Daniel Casey earned his MFA from the University of Notre Dame in 2003. In 2008, Gold Wake Press published his first electronic poetry chapbook, Well Enough. He created and has been editing Gently Read Literature since 2008. Rarely, other literary reviews will publish his poetry. He minds two cats and is the husband of a brilliant geologista. Feel free to email him.
DESIGNER/LAYOUT MANAGER Carol Jackson Carol Jackson earned her Postgraduate diploma in Arts Management from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, UK. Currently, she is working as Associate Administrator with the Norfolk ChamberMusic Festival/Yale School of Music. Gently Read Literature is her first design/layout project.
Announcing the publication of THE BEDS by MARTHA RHODES from Autumn House Press
Praise for Mother Quiet “. . . Weird, dark, hilarious, direct, otherworldly-these poems display a poet in command of every note the English language is capable of sounding. They will not be silenced: they are unforgettable.” -James Longenbach
For orders, review copies, course adoption examination copies, please email: info@autumnhouse. org or call (412) 381-4261. Click Here to Order Online or place a special order with your local bookstore. THE BEDS ISBN: 978-1-932870-53-4 54 pages | $14.95 plus shipping. Martha Rhodes is the author of three previous collections of poetry: At the Gate, Perfect Disappearance, and Mother Quiet. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Rhodes is a founding editor and the director of Four Way Books in New York City.
“The aim of poetry (and the higher kind of thriller) is to be unexpected and memorable. So a poem about death might treat it in a way that combines the bizarre and the banal: the Other Side as some kind of institution-a creepy hospital, an officious hotel or retirement home. Martha Rhodes takes such an approach in ‘Ambassadors to the Dead,’ from her abrupt, unsettling, artfully distorted, indelible new book Mother Quiet . . . Blending the matterof-fact with the surreal, as a way of comprehending the stunning, final reality, Rhodes is an inheritor of Emily Dickinson’s many poems on the same subject.” -Robert Pinsky, The Washington Post
An Explosion of the Young: Rusty Barnes on the flash fiction anthology Sudden Flash Youth
Pulling the Wool Over Our Eyes: Michael Boccardo on David Hernandez’s poetry collection Hoodwinked
Guidebook to an Unknown City: Mike Walker on Carsten Rene Nielsen’s poetry collection House Inspections
Wynn Yarbrough on Kristina Darling’s poetry collection The Body is a Little Gilded Cage
Succulent Lushness: Andy Linkner on Eric Baus’s poetry collection Scared Text
Style, Structure, Music: Jack Remick on Julene Tripp Weaver’s poetry collection No Father Can Save Her
Subtle & Pleasing: CL Bledsoe on Carol Novack’s Giraffes in Hiding
Frighteningly Alive: Collin Kelley on Steve Fellner’s poetry collection The Weary World Rejoices
The Chronic Search: Gerry LaFemina on Michael Waters’s poetry collection Gospel Night
An Excellent Prognosis: Cindy Hochman on Richard Berlin’s poetry collection Secret Wounds
A Few Pages of Intimacy: Lisa M. Cole on Margaret Bashaar’s chapbook Letter from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel March Contributors About Us/Review Copies Available
Rusty Barnes on the flash fiction anthology Sudden Flash Youth
Persea Books, 2011
An Explosion of the Young:
Editors with good ideas are often encouraged to repeat their former successes, and such is the case for Sudden Flash Youth, yet another version, an uppity child maybe, of the acclaimed flash fiction anthologies Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction. First published years ago and reiterated recently in an explosion of variations, these anthologies still, judging by the freshness of this book, are able to elicit that smashedchest quick-breathed moment of realization readers everywhere look for. The editors Hazuka, along with Mark Budman of Vestal Review, have done yeoman’s work in bringing forth these stories from their places of original publication into the dim light of the literary anthology again. There are bound to be disagreements about the quality of the work, one realizes after reading a few, and without getting into who’s who, it’s clear that among all these worthwhile stories some deserve more attention than others. We’ll talk about the latter. These stories move their audiences very carefully, by rote almost, shifting typical story tensions by ignoring—often to great effect, often not--the ideas that fiction must have clear forward momentum as well as plot, and as well must use the handy artificial shifts taught in fiction classes everywhere. In other words, the stories fall happily and completely by the wayside of typical longer fiction. More bang for your narrative buck, without having to sit through five thousand words or more. One rule for anthologies must be the dog story, or at least a dog story. In Erica Recordon’s How to Raise a Happy Dog,” we have a story that exactly opposes its title. “He [the veterinarian] may tell us we need to do something, her mother said. And though she did not say what the thing was, they all knew.” The last lines of this story carry a great deal of emotional weight when we all know what’s coming, whether from within the frame of the story or from without.
We can also see this emotional weight in Kathleen O’Donnell’s “First Virtual,” a lovely piece about cultural expectations embodied in conflict between the real world
and the cyber world. The narrator’s boyfriend, found through the online chat portal betterlife, pressures her to have sex both virtually and IRL. By eliding time skillfully--within a paragraph--the tension grows palpable and results in a satisfying jolt at story’s end. More important, perhaps, is the way O’Donnell revives the hoary tradition of the trick ending, a one or two sentence turnaround that can trip the brain’s pleasure center by imbuing this new perspective with understatement or irony. When done well, as it is here, it’s a neat pleasure, and when done badly half-tempts one to shoot the author. There will be no author murder in this review, though. Rest assured, may stories are calm, cool, collected and skillful. Maybe too much so. Rougher edges cut deeper, and who couldn’t benefit from a nice serrated knife? As well, too confident in their own tricks, certain pieces beg by their endings for more gravitas than their narratives would seem to support. Still, this is a book worth your time, worth anyone’s time. It holds up the banner of its forebears with pride. You won’t find an anthology of stories more teachable to the young, or more succinct.
conspiracy of silence
Just one in a thousand 5
Michael Boccardo on David Hernandez’s poetry collection Hoodwinked
Sarabande Books, 2011
Pulling the Wool Over Our Eyes:
At a glance, the cover of David Hernandez’s third collection, Hoodwinked, winner of the 2010 Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry, appears to be a sprawl of slightly crumpled squares of paper. But a closer inspection reveals from these strategic creases the emergence of several profiles in shadow. Like this illusion, many of the poems toy with the reader’s perception of memory and mortality. Herein, life is ordinary, but extraordinary. Hernandez depicts the normal, almost mundane events we endure on a regular basis: a trip to the grocery store, the barbershop, even the annihilation of a common household fly. There is no doubt that Hernandez takes these subjects seriously, but even poet, Carol Muske-Dukes agrees that this book “brilliantly fools with our expectations and inability to focus on what’s in front of us.” Themes of death and decay are no strangers here. Transformed through the deft utilization of figurative language, they lift the curtain to expose whatever rough beauty the reader will discover underneath.
Throughout this collection the speaker is offered up to us as witness, and the perception of their particular truth, often through the resource of memory. Never is this more prevalent than in the opening poem, “Questions about Butterflies”, where death is spread before the speaker “in the geometry/of butterflies jigsawed to canvas”. With so much life, such beauty, cut short and pinned back to admire, it is suggested of the reader to “Think/the shattered neon of church windows, mosaics/and kaleidoscopes. Think beauty blown apart/and pieced back together.” Although the speaker refers to a particular group of observers, the “we are” is inclusive here, provoking the intimacy of life, its brief flicker before death begs us to step back and ask the essential questions of our own mortality. The butterflies prompt those curiosities, those age-old questions: “Is there a heaven for butterflies and if so/how tiny the halos?” But at the same time, with those inquiries stirring at the forefront of the mind, we have no choice as a species except to recognize what we cannot answer and resume where we left off, “wingless, flying into our lives.”
When referring to memory, Hernandez makes no apologies about the way facts become skewed, but maintains an authenticity to those emotional factors that coincide with the subject. In “Remember It Wrong” he dictates his own insights into James Frey’s memoir, relaying quite a different set of events to the reader. “Memory is a murky thing,/always changing its mind” he reminds us. One can’t help pondering this almost tongue-in-cheek manner that questions where these poems will take the reader next. Who can mistake the nudge-nudge/wink-wink quality in “Trompe L’Oeil” when he writes, “This is how/every story telephoned from person/to person becomes after each telling/distorted”? Here, even his excellent use of line breaks references what many of us have committed at one time or another, this camaraderie of filling in the blank, a detail more vibrant than the original, strategically replacing a truth which becomes hazy over time. Yet amid all this jest, Hernandez can turn the tables on us and get serious. “Challenging Mud (1955)” is one of the few political poems that appears in this collection, but its content speaks to the ramifications of war, specifically the fallout from the H-bomb a decade after it was unleashed on Hiroshima. Instead of depicting a general devastation, the reader is forced to witness this atrocity on a more personal level: 222,000 is too abstract. Think one farmer, a soybean field, rows of green to the horizon. Stillness of his face that morning, salmon-colored in the salmon sun. Bootprints in the mist-dampened soil, a stitched line from home to shed, shed to field. Those barely-there impressions. Even after several reads there is still an alarming chill to this scene due to the initial setup. The first half of this poem describes a painting/performance piece by the avant garde artist, Kazuo Shiraga, in which he wrestled several tons of mud cocooning his body and the trail left in his wake. In contrast, Hernandez depicts a different challenge, one of a farmer before the impressions he made in life were obliterated by such a destructive force: the field, the farmer’s face, even the bootprints left in the soil on what was likely a daily basis. These specifics are 8
personal, precise. They are placed under a microscope so acutely we become aware of not just the farmer’s face, but the color of it. Not just the print of each boot, but the pattern these boots hollowed along such a path that may have been, in the life of such a man, a daily practice. The reader can’t help but associate their own rituals with this farmer, how they place a brand so specific it may not be noticed until life is cut short. For these poems to shift gears without warning isn’t uncommon and only heightens their unexpected singularity. Hernandez has a knack for lightening the mood, but still impressing upon the reader a statement as to how our behavior and perception speaks to who we are as human beings. Nearly perfect is the voice of the unknown speaker in “Retirement Home Melee at the Salad Bar”.
They say it began with an elderly man foraging through the icebergs and romaines.
They say another who prefers his salad without a stranger’s fingerprints
said Stop. From there, they say… The scene is not only a departure from the serious tone of “Challenging Mud (1955)”, as well as a hilarious depiction of a mishap among the elderly, but the reader can’t help sifting through their own memory of how many times, while recounting a story, the phrase “they said” has materialized. In fact, “they say” appears in seven of the ten couplets. Who is “they”? An orderly or nurse, a bystander or relative? Since the narrator has no definite identity how can we be certain they even exist, or for that matter, if the scene ever took place at all? That is the absurdity of it all: when fiction becomes a reality recounted secondhand. But absurdity is never a glass Hernandez lingers long over. In immediate contrast to the retirement home scuffle, the reader is again confronted with the question of mortality. “The Body You’re Suited-up In” reminds us that our lives are impermanent, that we are existing in “a body death is slowly unzipping”. But even through the seriousness of the topic, images temper that realization: layers of dust compared to hairpieces, a chest X-rayed, then taped to a window where the heart is exhibited as something innocent as a child’s balloon. Although death is a frequent guest in many of these poems, it is never taken serious enough to hinder its close, unequivocal relationship with humor and the ways the mind perceives it. So much of our lives depends on memory and the perception between truth and reality. In these poems, through spot-on imagery and humdrum examples of daily life, Hernandez excels at balancing that realm blurred so often: the admission of truth and how we fool ourselves into desiring a reality believed to be the truth. 9
Guidebook to an Unknown City:
Mike Walker on Carsten Rene Nielsen’s poetry collection House Inspections
Carsten René Nielsen has produced in this slim yet robust volume a collective view of everyday life in a Danish city via the physical and geographical elements that constitute a locality, offering his reader something between a social history and a personal tour via photographs—except the images here are textural and not visual. Nielsen keeps his poems short—most are a mere paragraph in their size and shape, with the names of items—simple nouns of objects—as their titles: “Mail”, “Clouds”, “Fitting Room”, or “Florist”. Using such plain titles as these—titles that could be part of the name of a business if a more personal or creative name came before them— Nielsen creates sketches of place and typical actions of the day as if his words were slipped off a journal’s page. These are personal words, ones that describe mundane experiences while seeking from the same some higher meaning but never forcing or under false lights placing lofty meaning on the everyday; when it manifests itself, it does so, but Nielsen never proceeds to weave such success into a broader story. He doesn’t need to, either, because the small portraits of life he offers us are enough in their own right.
David Keplinger’s translations of Nielsen’s poems are presented side-by-side with the originals: the Danish poems are on the left-hand page and the English translations on the right. As I am fluent in Danish, I very much appreciated this effort— something that is somewhat rare in translating poetry from less-commonly spoken languages into English as it is probably presumed in too many cases the American or other English-language reader will not care whether the original is provided or not. Having one translator instead of a group of them or the poems translated here and there over time, and at that a translator who worked very closely with the poet himself (Keplinger spent two weeks in Denmark with Nielsen working on the translations) provides us with a very cohesive, studied, approach to these translations and it shows. The inclusion of the original Danish thus makes the trajectory of Keplinger’s approach to translation clear to the reader versed in both Danish and English.
BOA Editions, 2011
In most cases, I felt Keplinger’s word choice and overall approach was far beyond simply sound and often superb, though in a few places the choice of English adverbs is not what I would have selected myself if given the task, and in other places a modifying “much” or “so” would help add emphasis to the point being made. Still, Nielsen could not have asked for better translations. Some of the compound structures of Danish and related meaning you can orchestrate in poetry in the language is understandably lost in translation but in most instances Keplinger does a stellar job capturing the tenor of Nielsen’s words. This is no easy feat, either, given how much Nielsen often is able to convey using so few words. The comfortable mishmash of casual conversation and sometimes nearly-official language (much like that of a police officer or other public servant speaking within his scope of duties) found in Nielsen’s Danish is harder to render in English, but Keplinger comes very, very close most of the time, “It was my birthday, it was time to blow the candles out, but one of the candles stayed lit.” With this line, opens Nielsen’s poem “Birthday”, and in these words is demonstrated the overall tone of these poems: short, matterof-fact, and yet inviting, personal, and fully charming in places. Nielsen’s purpose is pretty obvious even after reading only a few of the poems, as he provides us with examples of what life in a small city or busy town is like, how lives intersect, how buildings and other manmade aspects take on a life all of their own—such as the example of an odd building with an uneven, funhouse stairwell in it with stairs of mismatched sizes. In a community, such things are talked about; even after the building itself may be long gone, old men will speak of it. In another poem, the concept of built environment is made the focal point of Nielsen’s efforts: Down in the center of town all the new houses are constructed so that, within the length and height of every building element, an average person will always be able to stand in extension of one or more other average people, or, for example, in a pyramid of average people. There is a sense of fable in this language, plain though it may be, and the Danish is equally if not more balanced between story-craft and speech in its tenor. In both the Danish and its translation, you get the feeling of architecture taking over the people who built it and poking them along as if they were cattle. Or perhaps it’s the architects and urban planners who literally drew up the maps of how people are supposed to live? Perhaps it is the effect of janteloven—the longstanding Nordic trope that we are all equal and no one should be terribly outstanding or arrogant in himself. Perhaps it’s a slight attack on Nielsen’s part on what architecture has become, or perhaps (and if I was a betting man, it’s on this one I’d place my money) Nielsen is simply telling us of a fact, of something he has noticed. Nielsen, though not the youngest of fellows, often seems older than his years via these poems as there is a strong and constant coat of the colors nostalgia and sometimes irritation in his words as to what his city has become. He seems a man accustomed to 12
lunch-counters, to the same laundry or dry cleaners, the same faces around town and the buildings being ones that predated his own grandfather. Something of the whole of our social nature is slightly upset once we start to mess with the architecture; anything new, anything added on, displaces something that came before. As we age, there is probably a slight insult found in this, “It’s Saturday, and it’s Alice in Wonderland all over again, ‘Off with their heads! Off with their heads!’” Thus Nielsen opens his poem entitled “Florist”, and for those who know a thing or two about the work of a florist, the humor in this line is not lost, but Nielsen goes on to explain that he (or at least the poem’s speaker) heard these very words come loudly forth from a florist’s shop. “Someone has eaten one orchid too many, I suppose”, Nielsen offers in way of possible explanation for the strange things afoot at the local floral shop. The real beauty in this, even beyond the humor he pens in these few short lines, is his keen eye for the verisimilitudes of life. He can find the humor in our everyday work, the exceptional in the commonplace or even the banal. Once again, with the “Florist” poem, the translation is perfectly on-key in catching the tone of Nielsen’s words and the direction he provides with them: the Danish is perhaps a bit more cloying in places, but it is apparent every effort has been made to carry this quality over into the English and the results are superb. Perhaps no poem in this collection however quite sums up the overall impression of these works as a whole like the opening poem, “House Inspection” itself. The use of language as speech and language as external mechanism of description alike comes fully together in this poem as it sets the stage for the rest of this slim book: “And what’s the trouble here?” ask those of the police officers who walk on the house roofs or with both of their arms stretched out to the sides, balanced precariously on the cornices. “And what’s the trouble here?” ask those of the police officers down on the street, who, squatting in front of the doors, peer through the letter flaps. Such a commotion! Yet again, there is a sense of a muddle, a comic sense of the cops being clueless or at least over-reacting to the supposed crime. This poem perfectly sets us up for the other, often less-exciting though never less-nuanced places and ordeals we encounter elsewhere in Nielsen’s poems. The Danish original however is even more entertaining somehow; despite saying nearly the same thing as the translation and the translation being quite good, the Danish has a flow to it nearly impossible to render in any other language aside from perhaps Bokmål (the majority Norwegian language and thus very close to modern Danish):
“Og hvad foregår der så her?” spørger de af politibetjentene, som går rundt på hustagene eller med begge arme strakt ud til siderne balancerer faretruende oppe på gesimserne. “Og hvad foregår der så her?” spørger de af politibetjentene nede på gaden, som, siddende på hug foran dørene, kigger ind gennem brevsprækkerne.
In all, House Inspections is unique: it is certainly poetry, but it works on the level of both a guidebook to an unknown city and at once also as a personal journal. Its overall feeling is personal yet through the poems it contains we do not get a very deep, private, or especially intimate view of the poet/speaker. This translation comes very close in the majority of the poems to replicating the tone and feel of the original Danish and the inclusion of the Danish by BOA Editions is a nice touch that adds greatly to the bookâ€™s value for scholarship. This book is a perfect example of what a book of poetry translated into English should be as the ideal, as it provides the casual reader, the scholar, and the bilingual reader each everything they need to appreciate and enjoy it as a work of literature. As for Nielsen, he has proven once again that he has his own very distinct voice and one that he dedicates to very worthwhile writing on topics he makes come to life and illustrate the beauty and complexity we can find in every the most mundane things.
Kristina Darling’s poetry collection The Body is a Little Gilded Cage
Gold Wake Press, 2012
Wynn Yarbrough on
One of the tricks, it seems, in trying to express anything new and exciting is how to make the medium become more plastic and less didactic. Certainly transparency and clarity can work a spell on a reader, and being a fan of art that affects me at an emotional level, I can be put off by the cerebral fireworks which disappear after first viewings. Were the world full of one type of poetry, especially fragmentary poetry which seeks to do as much through elision and suggestion as through narrative or confessionalist impulses, I would find myself clamoring for Sharon Olds or James Wright. But, thankfully, we can have both, even in the same writing. In Kristina Marie Darling’s collection The Body is a Little Gilded Cage: A Story in Letters and Fragments, postmodern aesthetics and compelling imagery unite, as Morrissey famously sang, and take over.
The collection is organized in different sections with poems and fragments in each: City Walk, Soiree, Soiree II, City Walk II, City Walk III, Soiree III, Aviary, Appendix A: Notes & Other Misc., Notes to a History of Bird Keeping, Footnotes to a History of the Corsage, Footnotes to a History of Psychoanalysis, Footnotes to a History of the Cathedral, Footnotes to a History of the Chandelier, A History of the Phonograph: Glossary of Terms, Notes on the Fin de Siecle, Appendix B: Correspondence, and Appendix C: Posthumous Fragments. I mention all of these and give their titles to invite the reader to see what directions their reading will take. These are poems which are often gorgeous, disruptive, opaque; yet, the poems, particularly in reading through the collection, accrue into meaning, into a voyage through not only night, but attraction, lust, impulse, love, and self-consciousness. I felt there was symbolic work or work that Darling was doing that used her imagery, but that imagery’s extension into the imagination had to be grounded elsewhere. It was only at the end of the book where Darling reveals a method of composition: “The prose poems in the first section of the book, as well as the section titled ‘Correspondence,’ take liberties with H.D.’s letters to Richard Aldington, as well as the letters sent during her
psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud.” I could imagine excising images from letters and rearranging these images in syntax and rhetorical address that would allow an artist complete freedom but also a profound richness of images. In my mind, this method of composition is a use of cut-ups, but can you imagine cut-ups that work with the mind and images of a brilliant poet- herself given to images, in fact, one of, if not the principal poet of Imagism? Who wouldn’t love a chance to re-engage with H.D and her well-chiseled, imagistic lines and phrasings. The rearrangements, synthesis, and reconfigurations are eye-opening, sparse, and stunning in many ways. Her task is no small one: how to create something original, compelling and clear within this pre-configured setting? I was intermittingly floored by some sections, just repeating them to myself as I read, while others cluttered my reading, like a room where the glass doors to a cabinet shine from the corner, but you lose interest when the bric a brac crowds the space and the room. And this is, in a large part, my one criticism of the collection: with such an abundance of imagery, some poems lost their luster when I felt I had too much on my tongue, oversaturated when the simplicity worked so well in so many poems in this collection. With that said, a quick journey through the book might be worthwhile, so the reader can see just what kind of “walk” Darling takes. The first section of poems, the seven prose poems, contain the usual “leaping” from place to place we find in many prose poems. Think Anne Carson vs. Tomas Transtromer. While Transtromer’s prose poems digress into the mind and then out into the visible, sensory world, Carson’s work, especially a collection like Short Talks, consistently privileges a story. Darling’s work is more along the lines of prose poems that ephasize storytelling even in the elision and elusivity of her syntax and choice of imagery. I can use City Walk II to demonstrate much of what takes place in this part of the collection: We take a walk through the city to observe its rituals, their intricate structure. The cathedral heaves with its nightly choral exultation & I begin to imagine us kneeling beneath the towering white arcades. Our eyes adrift along their beveled iron trim. Now the windows darken & every statue seems to shudder. Your hymnal flies open & I see its psalms are written in a dead language― The generosity of imagery, the baroque quality of these ilages and detached voice (even though many of these poems use the first person) continue the placement of images which repeat and scenery which links scene to scene. At their best, these poems evoke so much sensuality, I was overwhelmed and “went back to the well” to taste again. When I felt my mind meander, it was because of summative wording like “its rituals, their intricate structure:” I felt like I was being told to assume this looked like something, though it wouldn’t be expressed, just assumed. There are other places where I felt like this abstract language jarred with more specific imagery, but these incidents were few and far between. More important is the richness and voluptousness of the imagery, leading towards a haunting quality and an aching that finds its voice in so much imagery 16
of the throat and voice. As Darling writes in “Aviary,” You smile as the song rises,/ hesitant, in my cool white throat—.” The second section of the book (though not formally divided that way) is the various Appendices and Notes. Fragments, footnotes and defined terms fill out these sections. Again, there is a sense of the accrural of European sensousness and the nervous attentions of a female character/narrator. In the prose poems, there was a nice juxtaposition of societal and populated scense (soirees, etc.) with intense couple scenes paralleled and juxtaposed with a narrator’s internal unfolding. In these notes, Darling runs the risk of writing “the most bourgeois ribbons” because of the imagery which has a patina more than a sound of solid wood- meaning the imagery graces the surface but is absent of the scars of experience. The she/female characters in these sections seem liminal and in limbo, almost observed cinematically, in their explorations of the world, but not fully inhabited. But this is really the ruse—Darling is outside with an expert’s attention to cinematography. As I said early, if you want narrative neatly tied together, saccharined with platitudes, and consumer- friendly framed, you will not only miss out on great art, but really miss out on what this collection does best- cycle and recycle compelling imagery. The recurring images of throats, corsages, lilies, smiles, and the smallest body gestures suggest not only a dance, but really a pageant. And the pageant is called life. Swirling around and returning on top of each other, the reopening of past images worked some sense of surprise on me. Through mood, state, neurosis, Darling connects, not merely cataloguing, the historicized places, objects, and buildings of a European past, but she interweaves a “luminosity” into the development of this female narrator. A compelling reason to read this collection is also the use of this female narrator and the female characters in the collection. In a day and age where half the crowd avoids anything approaching a Romantic “I” and the other half may be saturated in how to voice this I in opacity, Darling seems to me to take a middle-path- there’s certainly a twenty-first century woman in here, but there is a sense of continuity (and this sense of continuity between womanhood is something I look for in more of Darling’s work). Are her heroines passive? Are they backdrops for the objects to unravel and reveal themselves? Is this whole collection an unguided “bildungsroman” of a woman, women in their development? Answers could be that the heroines don’t have to follow a neat development, but a more fragmentary awareness. Or that awareness depends upon reflection and projection, dream-driven tasks that hint at the shape of the journey our narrator and we, as readers, must make. I can quote various sections and their beautiful images and lines: the “erratic foxtrot,” “the ache of melancholy,” or “when she unpinned the lilies , a quiet upheaval.” Lyrically, there is much to recommend here. As I read through the fragmentary Notes and Histories, I felt the intersection of machine and flowers, categorization and chaos compelling. Sometimes these 17
portions could be a mouthful, but I became more aware of the rhythmic quality that Darlings syntax provided (as well as the internal rhymes): “Now the century as gilded. As a field of blue lilies.” Finally, the Correspondence and Posthumous Fragments deserve their own space. The letters, in the Appendix B: Correspondence section felt open-ended and overwrought, though they did return to several images where repetition was reinforced but a new associative, emotive or psychological meaning was lacking. And the Appendix C: Posthumous Fragments reminded me, in a invigorating way, of the falling apart, division, cracking, opening up and re-emergence of new self. These themes dominate most of the collection. If there was a fault here, it would only be that some of the images were commonplace to my reading (though Darling could have took some of the language from the letters of HD and Aldington?): “ a dream of red lilies” or “my heart/locked away/ with a silver key,” or “I begin to/ smolder/& burn.” With Darling’s collection, a reader won’t be disappointed with the luxuriousness of the lines and the baroque European imagery and its reminiscences of La Belle Epoque. But please don’t be fooled into thinking these are set pieces and this is a nostalgic romp through this period. Darling has framed, quite beautifully, transformations and collected, like still life photos, the objects and people in their various guises, from dinner party to street scene to confessional note. The dreams, disturbances, states, neuroses, and manners Darling depicts in The Body is a Little Gilded Cage: A Story in Letters and Fragments will stay with you long after reading, like the best dreams, and will send you back for a second reading (which is the highest praise I can offer).
risorge, trema, si spegne
my purity is in accepting all the flaws
Andy Linkner on Eric Baus’s poetry collection Scared Text
Opening up a book of poems by Eric Baus is, more than any other in my experience, like walking into an Italian bakery specializing in desserts: a hedonistic assault on the senses. This is because a Baus poem invariably plays with and delights in the sounds and rhythms of words and word combinations purely for their own sake. The fact that he does so with startlingly imaginative juxtapositions of image and idea makes a book like “Scared Text” nothing if not a rollicking fun read. The sensual qualities of Baus’ poetry are, naturally, best appreciated read out loud. I found hearing Eric himself read them (as for example here) particularly influential on how I heard the poems in my head and the sounds as they came out of my mouth. They’re written in the form of prose blocks and primarily in short, simple declaratives with intermittent longer sentences as contrast. The similarities in rhythmic patterns from sentence to sentence create a deliberate incantory quality which is particularly effective in throwing into relief the surrealistic oddnesses: “f” is a forlorn purr. It beguiles dull sentries. The rooms in the fort fit together in a series of steel forgeries. Vials emit a mist of yes. If the clang from the hall revolver dies, hordes unite inside tombs. (pg.28) My river cannot swim. And I, the bodies it encounters, am found by a lion. It has a mechanical mane, but I force it to forget its story. I pause above its body. I forest it for water. (pg.48) The “I” in the above is an example of the poet seemingly injecting himself as an additional character into his “narrative”. Baus loves to luxuriate in the sounds his words make: 21
Center for Literary Publishing, 2011
A molting asp erodes a ghost’s gowns until the corpse is absorbed. (pg.51) There are sophisticated structural elements at work beneath the seeming simplicity of Baus’ language in the form of an extensive web of interconnected and interrelated images within and across each subsection of the book. This unifies the whole into what is clearly a single poem (even if parts originally appeared in separate chapbooks.) Mirrors, clones, doubles, twinning, splitting, etc, are recurring ideas: The clone strummed. I fled immersed in flames. The mirror chimed. Dove. Oud. Field. The bloomed membrane’s array split.... (pg. 6) A second split occurred when its eyes bloomed red. (pg.17) Note too here the important recurring image of blooming. One could go on almost indefinitely cataloging examples of this intricate interconnectedness throughout the book. It’s a testament to Baus’ skill that the constant recycling of his material never comes across as repetitive but rather seems to work just below the level of consciousness, creating a satisfying sense of cohesiveness amidst the profusion and variety of images. The imagery is largely taken from the natural world, especially the realms of animals and insects, the book cover showing a variety of beetles feeding on a rat carcass being entirely appropriate. All manner of insects, birds, mammals, fish and reptiles make their appearance with beetles, bees, puma, doves and oxen being of particular significance. These critters are made to act out and be acted upon in very strange ways: Two horses climb a tree. The plumage around their waists retracts. (pg.16) Which is immediately followed by: I ate mace, one thinks. No one knows I ate mace. (pg. 16) Here again, (the italics being in the original), Baus apparently injects himself into the proceedings but in the surreal world he’s creating it’s just as easy to see this as a completely abstracted “I” adding a contrasting perspective. Further unification is achieved by the use of an intermittent, quasi-narrative with recurring human characters: Iris, Minus, the Ur-Mane, et. al. Their “stories” cycle through the book adding the elements of human volition and desire to the impersonal domain of nature though to be sure, these figures are every bit as surrealistically played around with as the tree climbing horses: 22
Minus’s speech returned to worms. He smeared a gram of his lips on the ground. He tried to sing them A RUPTURE OF SOD but two ox tongues blocked that breath. (pg. 50) Baus’ subtly unifying weaving of disparate yet interrelated materials is an impressive creative feat. More impressive still, is his combining this with both an exuberant joy in the succulent lushness he gets with his word choices and the fun of letting the imagination run wild. “Scared Text”, for its technical bravura, is a blast.
Jack Remick on Julene Tripp Weaver’s poetry collection No Father Can Save Her
Plain View Press, 2011
Style, Structure, Music:
The first time I read Julene Tripp Weaver’s No Father Can Save Her, I read it as a reader taking in the experience the poet seizes on this coming of age journey. I was excited, as a reader, to track the poet’s life because in so many ways it paralleled my own—the music, the rituals, the places, the people. Tripp Weaver was, in a phrase, there when it happened. We hear and see Hendrix, Joplin, Sly, Led Zeppelin, and Jim Morrison. We see the nascent drug culture, the mad men on the streets, the lights, the craziness of a time which now, in our 21st Century of wars and death and sickness of soul, mind, and spirit, seems quaint, even idyllic. This poetry is a chronicle of an age. When the writing is so immediate that you, as reader, lose yourself in the evoked memory, you sometimes ignore the craft and the skill the poet brings to her work. As I read the volume the second, third, and fourth times I put aside my readerliness in favor of a critical, more writerly examination of the techniques—stylistic and structural—that Tripp Weaver has developed in the creation of this extraordinary collection. I needed to look at this volume as a poet because I wanted to see, as every poet must, just how she did it. To that end, I discovered that Tripp Weaver has given us work that breaks cleanly into three areas: 1) the broken line poems 2) the linear poems 3) the musical poems Three distinct yet thematically related types of poetry. I want to look at these poems in the light of some history.
The Broken Line Poems Tripp Weaver’s broken line poems shatter our expectations of the smooth, flowing line with its beat and its meter and all that we know about poetry. The lines jump, the lines break for no apparent reason—stylistic, metaphoric, rhythmic. The broken line poems take the reader to the experimental side of modern poetry. Or do they? These poems call into question the nature of poetry: What is a line? What is form? What is a stanza? What is rhythm? What is image? All of the foregoing are elements of poetry from the past. If we look at the evolution of poetry from the high-formal work of the Greeks and their heroic, dactylic hexameter through to the blank verse of Matthew Arnold down to the free verse of modern/postmodern writers we see a gradual loosening of and a calling into question of the nature of poetry—Poetry isn’t just meter, it’s not just rime (yes, rime is an alternative form of rhyme), it’s not just stanzaic—quatrains, or couplets, or octaves or sonnets—clumps of words. With the Imagists (Lowell, Pound, HD) it became clear that the image was and is important if not the sine qua non of poetry. Relinquish the image and what do you have? Emptiness at the center of the line. But that asks the question: what is the line? The skalds and the bards of early English poetry relied on the split line with its hemistich built on three part alliteration. Here is Seamus Heaney’s translation of a few lines of Beowulf with facing text: Hwæt. We Gardena in gear-dagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon. “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaign” Here’s a piece of Tripp Weaver’s Beginning to Understand: Always we travel to visit Mother’s family In the city, trapped with nowhere to escape From this woman who made me, the sweet smell of bus exhaust my antidote to a world changed. Dad’s death shifts everything. Upstate, old fishermen slide their hands down my mother’s shirt. In the broken line poems, Tripp Weaver blows into the 21st Century by going back to the origins of English poetry—the skaldic/bardic line with its hemistich. We see that the broken line isn’t a broken line at all, but a return to the formal line of the ancients without the requisite alliteration. Experimental, yes. Out of the evolutionary sweep of English poetry? No. 25
Truant Sophomore year we flattened pennies on old railroad tracks Best friends we longed for lovers traded used boyfriends Back in those no soap no radio easy-over days Tapping into the freedom of free verse, Tripp-Weaver sets up an interesting form that can be read horizontally or vertically: We flattened pennies on old railroad tracks We longed for lovers traded used boyfriends (in those) No soap no radio easy-over days. And in strong voice, the poet gives us two strong verbs Flattened/Longed at the center of this set of tercets—an unexpected aspect to the broken line disguised as free verse but obeying still the older need for some kind of formal arrangement of the lines leading to a coherent poetics. With much care for the placement of the broken line poems in the book, Tripp Weaver doesn’t overwhelm us with a barrage of similar poems that, if presented as a unit, might be numbing, but instead she balances them with graceful linear and musical pieces that result in an easy flow for reading. The Linear Poems We can call then narrative poems, linear poems, straight line poems—expected poems. In the linear poems strung throughout No Father Can Save Her, Tripp Weaver comes down in a familiar landscape, one we recognize and feel at home in. The linear or narrative poems link back to the breaking of chains that gave us Modernism. These are story poems laced often with an emotional charge which lifts Tripp Weaver’s work into a special place. She doesn’t hide at a distance behind a mask of 20th century irony, but instead she plunges into the blood and guts of growing up in a crazy stinking world that contains everything that has ever been and will be so long as human beings come of age. Look at this poem, Abandonment To Pleasure: In my blond Afro wig I’m not myself, my legs spread around his shoulders, my body enfolding his flesh.
Hot, like when Juan primed me to wet and sloppy, Still a virgin. Or when Ernie creamed me hot and wanton But I said no. 26
But now ripe fruit I’ve fucked many men Silently until tonight in this new persona, in a house where no one will hear— he spoils me to screams ruins me forever to lovers With no edge for thunder. When she’s not laying out her life—raw and rich and energetic—for us to see, she tells us gentle stories of another shade: Smell of Mother There is a smell that reminds me of Mother. It drifts from between warm thighs opened in heated bathrooms where privacy begs forgiveness on warm nights. Certain skirts hold that smell and basins in kitchen sinks forever try to wash it away—it is a woman’s smell the essence of Mother. Occasionally a whiff knocks me down, when I encounter it somewhere unexpected, a public restroom, a woman on plane stands suddenly to search the overhead, the natural musk I travel to escape. The Musical Poems Here, Tripp Weaver lays out for us the complete return to form that the Broken Line Poems and the Linear Poems avoid. Why musical? What’s the form? Each of these poems I’m calling musical begins with a Theme followed by Variations and Development (this can be the turning from Personal to Universal characteristic of some sonnets), a return to the theme with a crescendo to a climax and finale. So are we talking Beethoven, Mozart, and Scarlatti or are we talking poetry? Is there a difference? Poetry at one time was music. We sang it. We chanted it. We memorized it. We accompanied it with instruments. Lyric poetry was sung to a lyre. The troubadours sang poetry to a lute. Music and poetry are one and the 27
same and we have paid a price for our freedom and the ripping away of all form in favor of the individual and democratic expression of our inner and personal lives. Poetry has become witness to our anguish as well as our hopes and dreams. Tripp Weaver brings us back home. Her broken line poems give us ultimate freedom. Her linear poems planted us in a familiar world. Her musical poems take us back to form—but with that most cherished of all wants—a modern, contemporary subject matter. Here is one of my favorites from Section Two of the book: Catalyst To Manhattan He was my catalyst, introducing me to his Manhattan, Knew every back alley, down a flight of stairs restaurant in Chinatown Took me to Kung Fu movies, then we ate snails in black bean sauce I drank plum wine, he ordered native speaking in Korean haunts He knew back alley downstairs restaurants hidden in Chinatown The night we met he took me to an after hours jazz joint Turned on to him and plum wine at his favorite Korean Haunt I learned to love hum bow, sushi and kimchee We left that after hours joint smiling in bright sunlight Tae Kwon Do black belt, he invited me to take classes After workouts, we noshed on sushi, hum bow, or kimchee High kick workout-sweat sessions, he was a strict teacher Tae Kwon Do black belt master, I loved his classes Over mussels in white wine he handed me a Tiffany blue boy Sweat dry on my brow proud of my earned yellow belt He slid a friendship ring on my right index finger Our favorite fish joint, his gift, a friendship ring from Tiffany In love with Kung Fu movies, snails in black bean sauce His ring a permanent fixture on my finger He was my catalyst out of Queens finally to Manhattan. In Tripp Weaver’s linear poems, there is often an urgency, a speed to the lines that push you faster and faster down the page. In the musical poems, there is a relaxed, high-image style that depends on the repetition of certain lines that ease us down the page. You don’t have to know that the musical poems in No Father Can Save Her are pantoums because you can see the parts: Theme: He was my catalyst
Variation: Took me to kung fu movies He invited me to take classes Tae Kwon do black belt Development: He slid a friendship ring on my right index finger Return: In love with Kung Fu movies, snails in black bean sauce Climax and Finale: His ring a permanent fixture on my finger He was my catalyst out of Queens finally to Manhattan. Tripp Weaver honors tradition by bringing back the pantoum. You can sing the poems. All you need is a lute or a lyre. At first read, this volume tells a coming of age story in a modern world. In Section III of No Father Can Save Her, the poet is in full voice, full development, in command of everything. She can do what she wants to do, say what she wants to say. But the book is also a journey through poetry. It harkens back, points to the future, lands in the present. In the end, the poet isnâ€™t afraid of anything. She is no longer that little girl looking for a savior. She is on her own and ready to take what come as she writes in All I Want: I want a day not on the calendar a minute devoid of tomorrow. Let us sit peeling walnuts across the table. Make a list, careful, each minute counts. â€ƒ
Subtle & Pleasing: CL Bledsoe on
Carol Novack’s Giraffes in Hiding
Spuyten Duyvil, 2010
Carol Novack is probably most well known as the editor for Mad Hatter’s Review, a journal that focuses on surreal and underground literature. She’s a very public figure on the underground writing scene, having a reputation as a vocal proponent of experimentation over convention, for the joie de vivre in literature. I remember once sending a response to a submission of hers for a journal I then edited, requesting a tweak of a story for more clarity. She responded with a playful warning to the effect that I better not be asking her to dumb the piece down. (I wasn’t; I was simply confused about one section). Giraffes in Hiding is her first fiction collection, which is a bit surprising, considering how prolific she has been, and, as expected, it revels in the anarchic playfulness readers have come to expect from Novack. According to the title, this is a collection of nonfiction, but it also happens to be “mythical memoirs.” This tells us right away that Novack’s collection is something different. These pieces are meta-non-fiction; Novack is considering her past not through the lens of memory but through the lens of meaning, which is more primal and mystical. And, after all, consider how untrustworthy memory is and what a number it does on reality. Many of these stories are separated into triptychs or more sections. Some are presented as being things other than just stories – lyrics for songs, for example. Novack employs humor and a kind of manic energy to explore complicated and, at times, troubling situations in prose that veers from stream-of-consciousness to more accessible narrative. At times, she communicates with the reader, daring us, even, to give up, if we aren’t interested in the challenge of reading something that isn’t straight literary fiction. One story, “Cluck Cluck,” is subtitled, “Being my mini-memoir for readings at which everyone but my two friends is younger than 32.” She dedicates one story to the literary editor of “The New Yakker,” for example. 30
The collection begins with “Minnows” whose child narrator describes her ‘wonder book’ which came with “six vanilla minnows in satin pockets.” There is a kind of magic in this, as the child squabbles with her sister and her father dotes on her. Many of the stories are linked through repetition of lines, images, and themes. “What To Do with the Babies,” echoes a line from “Minnows,” for example, though this story is about babies “flying around my bedroom looking for a breast.” Fish pop up again and again, as do babies, and any number of other images, though Novack recreates them, twists and skews them, so that each time they are a surprise. Novack’s prose feels like long-form jazz. She shifts from subtle, pleasing riffs to more difficult experiments with ease. It’s a shame that Novack died shortly after the release of this, her first fiction collection, because there are moments of real insight and passion, here.
Gerry LaFemina on Michael Waters’s poetry collection Gospel Night
Re-reading Gospel Night, the latest collection by poet Michael Waters, is to take a poetic journey in both time and space. Waters’s poems engage a dramatic array of landscapes (Romania, Malta, Costa Rica, Florida, New Hampshire) and timescapes (1806, 1523, the 1970s, today) in a desire to engage the reader in what it means to be human, that nexus of the sacred and the profane. For Waters, the poetic endeavor is one both spiritual and human, both appolonian and dionysian, and starting with the epigraph by Williams, Gospel Night reaffirms Waters’s poetic mission: “We live in filth, we eat, drink and bathe in it; as we can we thrive on it. We are suffocated by the primitive and the pure.” Poetry becomes a way to breathe, to thrive in such a world. No poem better articulates this mission than the book’s third poem, “The Bells,” which begins with altar boys from the neighboring church standing in the bell tower so they can watch the speaker’s wife sunbathing naked on their roof. Those boys watched Until the priest appeared to knell their shame The precise moment–punctual sinner– I opened up the rooftop door, bearing In each fist a flute, orange fizz daubing The blistered tar, the riotous mimosas Two more slender flames expanding the near Suburbs of hell where she sprawled, naked, stunned Speechless on gaudy towels, below breathless Boys, riding the pitch, not so far from God.
There’s a “complicitness” in the speaker, a self-admitted, “punctual sinner” in the boys’ behavior. He doesn’t blame them–he allows the priest to do that with the great metaphoric phrase “knell their shame.” Hell and heaven (symbolically located in the church) co-exist in the human in this poem.
BOA Editions, 2011vv
The Chronic Search:
This is a book filled with the chronic search for a “sanctum of solitude and ruin,” one in which the pomegranate with “its 600 seeds/ Red as vowels” is an “exhalation/ Whooshed from Eden,” one in which the ruminations on the cannibalism of the Donner party and Jeffrey Dahmer becomes a poem of desire for the taste of the beloved. Its energy comes from these inherent contradictions and how poetry creates a place harnessing the friction between disparate things. The book’s third section looks particularly at the ways in which poetry helps make a home for this, looking historically at the lives of poet John Clare, of engraver Geoffrey Tory who helped standardize the alphabet, of Johnny and June Carter Cash and at the speaker’s own poetic biography. In “First Poem” he talks about writing a poem “To please the red-haired, Keats-smitten classmate” and follows the young poet’s attempt to make understandable one simile and his own emotions: “like the eyes of a creature seen through...fire.”
Keats died young. Sixth grader, I too was sick, Lovelorn consumptive, bumbling sonnetteer, As each spark from that feather-fueled fire “Yclept that maiden’s name with sweet despair.” She was the Muse whose eyes were like the eyes . . . . I was the boy whose name was writ in the air.
Note how the boy is at the edge of growing up, falling in love, falling in desire, the age, perhaps, of those altar boys mentioned earlier. Waters the poet, though, is not far removed from that young sonneteer: he has always been a poet who approaches the free verse poem with a formalist sensibility. In the above quote we see how “First Poem” is composed in lines of five metrical feet, and how not only does the poem close with the “despair/air” end rhyme, but how Waters uses the half rhyme of “fire” and “eyes” to set the pure rhyme up, allowing the “Ir” ending of fire to transform in the “air” ending of the poem’s final rhyme. We see Water’s fine tuned sense of craft in all these poems. The 10 syllable line (often, but not exclusively iambic pentameter) is a constant in these poems, creating a blank verse poetics that threads between apollonian formalism and dionysian free verse. This blank verse sensibility also allows the poems a tonal reserve from some of the more ‘shocking’ content of certain poems, as in “HDTV,” in which the speaker and his wife find themselves at the home of someone who puts on softcore porn and then asks if they mind if he “takes it out.” Some men wore masks. Some women brandished whips. “Um yeah,” I choked, as my wife shot a look 34
First at me, then at the undone buttons Of his jeans, then back to the pixeled screen As though a warning of coastal flooding Had begun its beep beep fiery flashing Our heroine was again unfrocking The shock of it all is mediated by the line and the craft (note the internal rhyme of “jeans” and “screen” and how the last three lines of the sample have a final trochaic foot ending “F-ing.” In the few poems that break this blank verse line, Waters gives us his strong musicality and a sense of rhyme, as in these closing lines from “Distant February”: How hardscrabble any season of love can be. This clamor of consonants Still surprising In such a distant February. Beyond the rhyme of “be” and “February,” I love how playful these lines are: the alliteration of “clamor of consonants” which enacts a clamor of consonants, and how the word “consonants” sets up the consonance of S sounds that follow. Beyond his line and its relationship to manage and mediate content, Waters is also an expert image maker: boys wave “skinny arms like burnt tindersticks”; the old men at the “Black Sea Spa” are “pajama’d in mud”; how “one egg sealed” has “a milky galaxy inside.” Waters is a poet of the eye and ear, a poet of the world in all its sublime and profane beauty. “All objects having their place in the world,” Waters reminds us in “Dogs in Space,” might be the clearest aesthetic statement of the book. In this poem the speaker recalls being an adolescent recording the hit songs on WINS each week during the space race. He was “A boy who loved the idea of order” and he’s a poet who loves the idea of order. But order is complicated in a world that refuses to be logical, among people who refuse to be ordered. Perhaps that’s what Johnny Cash is in this book to remind us: one can sing gospel and “Folsom Prison Blues” side by side. “No heaven but in the momentary/ Glimpse of sunlight on iridescent breast.” The line break on “momentary” says it all, doesn’t it? In Gospel Night Michael Waters gives us the momentary glimpses of heaven we need in a profane world. “This lapsed Catholicism leading/ Nowhere” reminds us of the inherent duality in being human: Yes, the gospel with its promise of salvation. And yes, the night, with everything its darkness can cloak.
An Excellent Prognosis: Cindy Hochman on Richard Berlin’s poetry collection Secret Wounds
BkMk Press, 2011
The precedent of medical practitioners writing poetry was of course set by William Carlos Williams. And Dr. Williams was one hell of a poet, but let’s face it, he mostly wrote about wheelbarrows, plums, and asphodels. Richard Berlin is a psychiatrist who writes poetry like a surgeon—clean, careful, deep, and incisive. In “Secret Wounds,” he too writes a fair number of poems about flowers, but he also takes us on rounds with him—from bedside, to operating table, to madhouse, to morgue, with a side trip into the poet’s gentle heart, where his own secret wounds reside. Berlin offers up a fever chart of human misery and vulnerability, reminding us how the blood often boils in rage or passion, and how all of us are steadily marching towards our inevitable demise. But just when the reader and the good doctor have had their fill of blood and guts, Berlin invites us to go on vacation with him, where the doctor’s orders are to eat, drink, and party. These poems scan every facet of the mind-body connection, with a detour to the soul. “Secret Wounds” is at once dramatic and riveting, intriguing and discomfiting—frenetic, but surprisingly, serene. If this book is about death, then it is just as surely a celebration of life. Under less capable hands, some of these poems might have been downright maudlin, but there is a humbling beauty that emerges from this harrowing catalogue of human ills. This sensitive poet-healer succeeds in putting a kind face on the medical community; if you have a healthy dose of cynicism about the motives of his profession, Dr. Berlin might very well dispel some of those notions. Fifty years later I remember this scene
like Joseph foretelling the future: that I would become a son who loved his dying father
from the far end of a rock,
that I would become a doctor, comfortable with decay . . . It does not take Sigmund Freud to note that all roads lead back to the poet’s beloved father, whose presence, sometimes subtly and sometimes prominently, looms everywhere throughout the poems. By his own admission, the impetus to studying medicine, and probably for writing poetry as well, is rooted in his desperate desire to go back and save his father from “bad doctoring.” In obvious homage to his dad, he recalls various mentor-fathers who have guided him on his path, and whose approval he constantly, and unabashedly, seeks: Gold droplets of spinal fluid dripping into a sterile tube, the look Dr. Daniels flashed me, just like my father’s that day he pulled over and handed me the keys. Berlin dreams of preventing the suicides of Paul Celan and Virginia Woolf, and luckily for his patients, he approaches them too with the singular goal of fixing them. One of the many refreshing aspects of this book is the poet’s tone of utter humility and lack of arrogance which we rarely associate with physicians, especially psychiatrists, I remember the first time my fingers burrowed the swamp where belly joins leg to feel an artery throb. I was so scared by the sweat and scars I wanted to call in sick, wanted to call my mother and cry.
Although there is some acknowledgment of the doctor as super-hero, Berlin takes pains to also assume the role of low man on the totem pole; these poems are rife with memories of his days as a young, green intern being condescended to by his supervisors, and, yes, even his helplessness as submissive victim to love and lust. He is all too aware that the gift of being able to comfort and cure people comes laden with the heavy burden of responsibility, and sometimes failure: Because to be a doctor means a life of shame – for every complication, missed diagnosis, treatment failure, or death, that airsick, empty, sour, sinking sense, we feel when responsibility gnaws and we struggle against our helplessness clothed only in white coats that have no wings. Indeed, that immaculate white coat appears as a talisman in many of these poems, but is all too often spattered in blood, and even guilt: And I felt like a killer cornered on a dead-end street,
cops and canines closing in, thinking confession, still holding my gun.
While life as a medical man is of course at the heart of these poems, Berlin is also a family man, a musician, a gardener — and a reveler. While it has been said that “there’s no rest for the weary,” even busy doctors get to relax now and then, and for Berlin, that means a peaceful ride in a car filled with music, or a few heavenly days in Tanglewood under the stars. And if you really want to know “How a Psychiatrist Parties,” just pack up your flask and follow him to the Greek Isles: At 4 a.m. I link arms and dance barefoot with Nikos, Maria, and Georgia, the lute and lyre mourning in a minor key, the singer drunk with long-lost love. We knock back shots of raki until dawn ... I carry a folding chair into the shade of an ancient olive tree to watch the world twirl from a distance, my toes curled into cool earth, leaves rattling, the morning breeze blowing out the stars. But, alas, reality is never far away; Dr. Berlin knows that a scenic mountain top, while a breathtaking vista to him, for some is a venue for “Jim Beam and a bottle of Oxy, a well-oiled shotgun or a length of rope.” And his bursts of pride for a daughter who has gone into the family business are tempered with first-hand knowledge of the brutal demands this noble profession entails; his fatherly concern is palpable, and touching. Each wound contains its own beauty
blunt trauma indigo walled below pale blue eyes,
the gnashed leg filigreed with blood.
an abdomen scored by a surgeon’s blade
... Each wound speaks its own language,
every incision, slash, cutdown and scar
in this hospital where bruise is not a metaphor. Yes, there is a long litany of secret wounds in this powerful book, some of which are the poet’s and some of which are ours. But there is also comic relief in the form of some truly hilarious doctor jokes, and some black humor courtesy of Julia Child, God rest her soul, who declared that “if you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up” (Berlin wonders whether the same rule can apply in the operating room). Death is the great leveler, but despite a heavy emphasis on our frailties and foibles, these poems are remarkably life-affirming. In fact, as to both the state of poetry and the state of humankind, Dr. Richard Berlin predicts an excellent prognosis, with no need for a second opinion.
Lisa M. Cole on Margaret Bashaar’s chapbook Letter from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel
Blood Pudding Press, 2011
A Few Pages of Intimacy:
It is extremely difficult to stop reading Margaret Bashaar’s newest chapbook, Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel. I have read it from cover to cover multiple times, and I still do not want to come back into the so-called “real” world where ghosts do not speak and you will not find a woman who bends from woman to rabbit to sparrow and has a mouth full of needles. Since the chapbook is published by Blood Pudding Press, the object itself is just as enchanting as its juicy insides. Hand-bound with gray textured yarn, sky blue pages, blue flower petals, and small photographs taken by the “darkly delicious Kevin Ross” inserted between the pages, Letters from Room 27…is literally bursting at the seams with unexpected treasures. Part of what makes the chapbook work well as a cohesive whole, is that the poems continue to visit a cast of recurring characters, including Claire, Mary, and the hotel’s proprietor. Reading the chapbook is almost like reading a novel. By the end, we feel like we have personally conversed with all of the book’s inhabitants. Bashaar produces the intimacy of a novel in just a few pages, packing quite a punch with relatively short poems. Not only does the reader feel connected to the characters, but we get the sense that they are inextricably connected to each other because of their ties to the hotel, the physical setting which serves as the backbone of the entire collection. To read this chapbook is to straddle multiple planes of existence, and to look at both the corporeal world and the underworld from multiple perspectives. Ghosts and their haunted places become friendly and familiar, and at the same time we are given searing images like a violin carved into the back of her skull, dead monkeys/ and little girl ghosts, and hurricanes and tornados we can hold in our hands. We are transformed by the text just as the characters are transformed. In the poem “The Girl Who Lived at the Hotel,” Claire fears a day when she will hear people talking / and will understand everything they say but by the last poem in the collection, she 40
swallows morning glories/until something bursts inside her and she speaks/ suddenly in tongues and understands it all. Claire understands it all, and so do we.
Rusty Barnes lives and writes in Revere MA. Heâ€™s published two collections of short stories via sunnyoutside press and two chapbooks of poems via MiPOesias. He is proprietor and founder of Fried Chicken and Coffee, a blogazine dedicated to fiction, poetry, essays and book reviews of Appalachian and rural concerns.
A resident of High Point, NC, Michael Boccardo has published poems in various journals such as The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, The Journal, and Jabberwock Review. He is the recipient of two Dorothy Sargent Poetry Prizes, as well as a recent Pushcart nominee, and serves as an editorial assistant for Cave Wall. When not writing, he is employed as a full-time merchandise manager for Barnes & Noble.
Mike Walker is a Slavist, software engineer and journalist. He has published reviews and literary criticism in Coal Hill Review, CutBank,The Tottenhill Review, North Florida News Daily and other publications as well as original research germane to linguistics and applied translation science in The ATA Chronicle, Translation Journal, Multilingual Computing & Technology and elsewhere. Currently, he is writing a book chapter on poetry in the Soviet Union during Stalinâ€™s rule for an anthology edited by Dawn Potter and forthcoming from Autumn House Press. He lives in High Springs, Florida.
GRL Wynn Yarbrough teaches Children’s Literature, Culture and Interdisciplinary Humanities, and Creative Writing at the University of the District of Columbia. He is the book review editor for Interdisciplinary Humanities and serves as an associate editor for the California Arts and Letters Magazine. He also has published poems, reviews, interviews and articles in several notable literary magazines. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Louisiana College Composition Poetry Prize in 2005. His book, A Boy’s Dream, is available from Pessoa Press (2011). He currently teaches in the English Department, the General Education Department, and the National Center for Urban Education. He serves as a trainer for the Jumpstart Program at UDC. . He lives in Mount Rainier, where he is a member of the Anacostia Watershed Society as well as the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council.
A lifelong denizen of the Arizona desert, currently based in Scottsdale, Andy Linkner’s days are spent sleeping so he can stay up all night helping others with their sleep disturbances. He manages to fill almost every spare moment between these two activities in pursuit of the delights of the written word and intermittently blogs about it at andylinkner.blogspot.com. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Denver.
Jack Remick is the author of the novels Blood, The Deification, and Valley Boy. He co-authored The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, with Robert J. Ray. He has two collections of short fiction, Terminal Weird (Black Heron Press), and Throwback and Other Stories (Quartet Global). His poetry appears in The Seattle Five Plus One, an anthology (Pig Iron Press) and in Josie Delgado, A Poem of the Central Valley as well as in national magazines such as Carolina Quarterly, Portland Review, Big Hammer, Café Noir Review, and Northwind. Coffeetown Press (Seattle) is publishing his California Quartet in 2012.
CL Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel, Sunlight, three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at http://www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe . A minichap, Texas, was published by Mud Luscious Press. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South’s Million Writer’s Award. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 3 times. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings, http://clbledsoe.blogspot.com
Gerry LaFemina’s many books include Vanishing Horizon (2011, Anhinga); he also edited the recent anthology Token Entry: New York City Subway Poems (2012, Small’s Books). He directs the Frostburg Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University where he is an Associate Professor of English. He divided his time between Maryland and New York.
Cindy Hochman is a legal proofreader and poet from Brooklyn, NY. She is the co-host of the Green Pavilion Poetry Event, the editor-in-chief of the online journal, First Literary Review, the associate editor of Mobius Poetry Magazine, and a contributing book reviewer for Pedestal Magazine and Coldfront Magazine. Her newest chapbook is The Carcinogenic Bride.
Lisa M. Cole is a full time writer who holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Arizona’s Creative Writing program. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Tinder// Heart” and “The Bodyscape” both of which are forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Her poetry has appeared in various online and print publications, including Gloom Cupboard, Sawbuck, Snow Monkey, the Foundling Review, and Bluestream, among others. She also has book reviews forthcoming in Bone Bouquet and Press 1.
About Us Gently Read Literature publishes monthly in-depth reviews of contemporary poetry and literary fiction as well as the occasional original essay pertaining to aesthetics, writing, or culture. Gently Read Literature is always looking for reviews, criticism, and essays on contemporary poetry and literary fiction. Although we are open to examining all styles of poetry and fiction (and, therefore, all poets and novelists) we prefer those authors/presses that do not typically get the attention they deserve. Our guidelines are simple: 500 words minimum with no maximum, with as much direct textual analysis as possible. Contributions should be emailed to Daniel Casey, editor, (email@example.com). “GRL submission” should be in the title of email, and must be in the body of the email or attached as a MS Word document. All contributions should be plainly formatted—12 point font, Times New Roman or the equivalent, single spaced. Because GRL publishes monthly, contributions are consid-ered on a rolling basis. Gently Read Literature is edited and maintained by Daniel Casey, all comments or questions can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Daniel Casey, 223 Eastern Ave, Oberlin, OH 44074.
Available Review Copies POETRY I Was There For Your Somniloquy, Kelli Anne Noftle, Omnidawn Aerial, Bin Ramke, Omnidawn Harm, Hillary Gravendyk, Omnidawn Chinoiserie, Karen Rigby, Ahsahta Press Sancta, Andrew Grace, Ahsahta Press My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Ahsahta Press Engima and Light, David Muschlecner, Ahsahta Press Obedience, Chris Vitiello, Ahsahta Press The Cupboard Artist, Molly Tenenbaum, Floating Bridge Press The Folding Star, Jacek Gutorow, translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk, BOA Editions The Reindeer Camps & Other Poems, Baron Sutter, BOA Editions Litany for the City, Ryan Teitman, BOA Editions Pointed Sentences, Bill Yarrow, BlazeVox Books Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, George Kalamaras, Elixir Press Soutine: A Poem, Rick Mullin, Dos Madres Press Secrets No One Must Talk About, Martin Millitts Jr., Dos Madres Press From the Viewing Stand, Dos Madres Press Call the Catastrophists, Krystal Languell, BlazeVox Books One Sunday Morning, Anne Whitehouse, Finishing Line Press Make Yourself Small, Michelle Brooks, The Backwaters Press Glass Harmonica, Geoff Bouvier, Quale Press Book of Fire, Cary Waterman, Nodin Press Pomegranate, Sister of the Heart, Carlos Reyes, Lost Horse Press 53
Vanishing Horizon, Gerry Lafemina, Anhinga Press Kibbe, Suan Azar Porterfield, Mayapple Press The City She Was, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Center for Literary Publishing (Colorado State University) Our Lady of the Ruins, Traci Brimhall, WW Norton Night Chant, Andrew Demcak, Lethe Press Uselysses, Noel Black, Ugly Duckling Presse Forage, JoAnn Balingit, Wings Press Into the Snow: Selected Poems, Gennady Aygi, translated by Sarah Valentine, Wave Books Notational, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Otoliths Field Work: Notes, Songs Poems 1997-200, David Hadbawnik, BlazeVox Books Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation, Amal Al-jubouri, translated by Rebeca Gayle Howell with Husam Qaisi, Alice James Books Road of a Thousand Wonders, Jeffrey Joe Nelson, Ugly Duckling Presse Indios, Linda Hogan, Wings Press Pith & Amber, Carah Naseem, Fugue State Press Afterimage, Damon Krukowski, Ugly Duckling Presse Little Winter Theater, Nancy Kuhl, Ugly Duckling Presse Re-, Kristi Maxwell, Ahsahta Press No Grave Can Hold Me Down, Aaron McCollough, Ahsahta Press Slot, Jill Magi, Ugly Duckling Presse One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t, Jacqueline Waters, Ugly Duckling Presse True Stories from the Future, A. Molotkov, Boone Dock’s Press Heavenly Body, Leah Stenson, Finishing Line Press The Way We Live, But Kimmelman, Dos Madres Press Ennui: From The Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders, Deborah Hauser, Finishing Line Press One Bird Falling, CB Follett, Time Being Books Unexpected Shiny Things, Bruce Dethlefsen, Cowfeather Press Melons and Memory, Helen Peterson, Little Red Tree Publishing The Book of What Stays, James Crews, Bison Books She’d Waited Millennia, Lizzie Hutton, New Issues Poetry & Prose Say Sand, Daniel Coudriet, Carnegie Mellon University Press After the Firestorm, Susan Kolodny, Mayapple Press Still, Matthew Cooperman, Counterpath Press Absence is Such a Transparent House, Aby Kaupang, Tebot Bach The Hands of Strangers, Janice Harrington, BOA Editions Transfer, Naomi Shihab Nye, BOA Editions Concertos, No Collective, Ugly Duckling Presse Cursivism, Will Hubbard, Ugly Duckling Presse The Hermit, Laura Solomon, Ugly Duckling Presse 54
Journal of American Foreign Policy, Jeff Hoffman, New Issues Press Underdog, Katrina Roberts, University of Washington Press Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You, Lea Graham, No Tell Books Flies, Michael Dickman, Copper Canyon Press Remains to be Used, Jessica Baran, Apostrophe Books The Disinformation Phase, Chris Toll, Publishing Genius Memory Future, Heather Aimee O’Neill, Gold Line Press Downtown, Lee Meitzen Grue, Trembling Pillow Press Flower Chart, Lisa Fishman, Ahsahta Press Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley, Joshua Ware, Furniture Press Books The Crows Were Laughing In Their Trees, Peter Conners, White Pine Press The Open Light: Poets from Notre Dame, 1991-2008, edited by Orlando Menes, University of Notre Dame Press What’s This, Bombardier?, Ryan Flaherty, PleiadesPress Kingdom Come, John Estes, C&R Press The Illustrated Edge, Marsha Pomerantz, Biblioasis The Cold War, Kathleen Ossip, Sarabande Books As Much As, Allan Peterson, Salmon Poetry Naked Woman Listening at the Keyhole, Sophia Rivkin, Mayapple Press Left Glove, Mac Wellman, Solid Objects Fully Into Ashes, Sofia M. Starnes, Wings Press About the Author, Larry O. Dean, Mindmade Books (chpbk) The Yellow House, Robin Behn, Spuytend Duyvil Stranger Air, Stacie Leatherman, Mayapple Press Tropicalia, Emma Trelles, University of Notre Dame Press Pretend the World, Kathryn Kysar, Holy Cow! Press Track This: A Book of Relationship, Stephen Bett, BlazeVox Books Dreamlife of a Philanthropist, Janet Kaplan, University of Notre Dame Press Undone, Maxine Scates, New Issues Poetry and Prose Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered, Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Plain View Press The Relenting: A Play of Sorts, Lisa Gill, New Rivers Press Fishing for Myth, Heid E. Erdrich, New Rivers Press Birds of Wisconsin, B.J. Best, New Rivers Press Kings of the Fucking Sea, Dan Boehl, images by Jonathan Marshall, Birds LLC Rust or Go Missing, Lily Brown, Cleveland State University Poetry Center Say So, Dora Malech, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Firestorm, Zach Savich, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Girl Without Arms, Brandon Shimoda, Black Ocean Ennui Prophet, Christopher Kennedy, BOA Editions At the Bureau of Divine Music, Michale Heffernan, Wayne State University Press 55
Grief Suite, Bobbi Lurie, CW Books The Body, The Rooms, Andy Frazee, Subito Press Historic Diary, Tony Trigilio, BlazeVox Books Born Palestinian Born Black & The Gaza Suite, Suheir Hammad, UpSet Press Strata, Ewa Chrusciel, Emergency Press Breathing in the Dark, Howard Schwartz, Mayapple Press Faulkner’s Rosary, Sarah Vap, Saturnalia Books You and Three Others are Approaching A Lake, Anna Moschovakis, Coffee House Press Mapmaking, Megan Harlan, BkMk Press I & We, Joseph P. Wood, CW Books Annulments, Zach Savich, Center for Literary Publishing/Colorado State University FICTION Pot Farm, MattGavin Frank, University of Nebraska Press Small, Economies: Stories, John Palen, Mayapple Press Twelfth & Race, Eric Goodman, Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar, Daniel Pyne, Counterpoint The Infernal Republic, Marshall Moore, Signal 8 Press Niagara Digressions, E.R. Baxter III, Starcherone Books The Innocent Party: Stories, Aimee Parkison, BOA Editions Tales from the Dew Drop Inne, Kenneth Weene, All Things That Matter Press Insomnia and the Aunt, Tan Lin, Kenning Editions Make It Stay, Joan Frank, The Permanent Press The Keepers, Mike Maggio, March Street Press All the Roads that Lead from Home: Stories, Anne Leigh Parrish, Press 53 All Her Father’s Guns, James Warner, Numina Press The Silver Wind, Nina Allan, Eibonvale Press The Louisiana Purchase, Jim Goar, Rose Metal Press Hystera, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Fiction Studio Books Feather, David Rix, Eibonvale Press (PDF) Access, Xu XI, Signal 8 Press The Cisco Kid in the Bronx, Miguel Antonio Ortiz, Hamilton Stone Editions Destroy All Monsters & Other Stories, Greg Hrbek, Bison Books The Tiger’s Eye: New & Selected Stories, Gladys Swan, Serving House Books Inheritance, Jane Lazarre, Hamilton Stone Editions Hassie Calhoun, Pamela Cory, Scarletta Press Our Jewish Robot Future, Leonard Borman, Scarletta Press Janet Planet, Elanor Lerman, Mayapple Press Insomnia and the Aunt, Tan Lin, Kenning Editions A Marriage of Convenience, Andrew Plattner, BkMk Press 56
Green Gospel, L.C. Fiore, Livingston Press Trigger Man, Jim Ray Daniels, Michigan State University Press Instructions for Living, Laurie Blauner, Mint Hill Books/Main Street Rag Sensation, Nick Mamatas, PM Press Love/Imperfect, Christopher T. Leland, Wayne State University Press Funeral for a Dog, Thomas Pletzinger, WW Norton Events Film Cannot Withstand, Zach Savich, Rescue Press At Home Anywhere, Mary Hoffman, New Rivers Press American Fiction: The Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Authors, Volume 11, Kristen J. Tsetsi, editor, New Rivers Press This New and Poisonous Air: Stories, Adam McOmber, BOA Editions Death-in-a-Box, Alta Ifland, Subito Press Halal Pork and Other Stories, Cihan Kaan, UpSet Press The Cosmopolitans, Nadia Kalman, Livingston Press/University of West Alabama Calendar of Regrets, Lance Olsen, FC2/University of Alabama Press The Wonderful Room, Bryan Woolley, Wings Press Color Plates, Adam Golaski, Rose Metal Press 3/03, Chuck Wachtel, Hanging Loose Press The Underbelly, Gary Phillips, PM Press Pike, Benjamin Whitmer, PM Press Yield, Lee Houck, Kensington Books Fort Da, Elisabeth Sheffield, FC2 We Know What We Are, Mary Hamilton, Rose Metal Press How We Move the Air, Garnett Kilberg-Cohen, Mayapple Press Dream Fishing: Stories, Scott Ely, Livingston Press Under the Small Lights, John Cotter, Miami University Press In the Time of the Girls, Anne Germanacos, BOA Editions Attention Please Now: Stories, Matthew Pitt, Autumn House The Kasahara School of Nihilism, Ben Brooks, Fugue State Press Robot 9 in Wonderland, Louis Phillips, World Audience The Rat Veda, James Chapman, Fugue State Press Flashing My Shorts, Salvatore Buttaci, All Things That Matter Press (pdf copy) Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows, Leslie Scalapino, Starcherone Books Bartleby, the Sportscaster, Ted Pelton, Subito Press From the Hilltop, Toni Jensen, Bison Books University of Nebraska Press The River Road, Tricia Currans-Sheehan, New Rivers Press
April 2012 Issue