Ami Kaye—The Carcinogenic Bride by Cindy Hochman
Royce Hamel—Driving Montana, Alone by Katie Phillips
Royce Hamel—For One Who Knows How to Own Land by Scott Owens
Nikolus S. Cook—The Abandoned Eye by J.P. Dancing Bear
The Carcinogenic Bride
By Cindy Hochman
Thin Air Media Press, 2011
Reviewed by Ami Kaye
Cindy Hochman’s energetic, pun-filled poems zoom with frenzied velocity in The Carcinogenic Bride. The topics covered in this slim volume are not for the faint of heart as Hochman travels through some of the more hostile climes in life, including her battle with cancer and a marriage breakup. The book is filled with quirky syntax, zany images, and surreal sequences of daily happenings. The rhythm is contagious, and while the tone of this book might be playful and its poems delivered tongue-in-cheek, the author’s insouciance and passion for life pull the poems together:
From: Self-Portrait in a Concave Knife
There goes my stale mate
We once lived in an altared state
He cleaned my slate, I cleaned his plate
Here is love in fission
body in remission, missionary position
Here is my inner elf,
my quirky self, my non-existent wealth,
in sickness and in health
Hochman’s strength lies in her ability to think on her feet; she clearly enjoys taking liberties with language, inviting the reader to participate. In the next section, titled “Love is a many-splintered thing,” the following poem reads almost like a limerick:
I’d rudder not talk about it, but since you aft: it was duned
from the start, trawling away from each other with plank stares,
crying (yes, a river!) all the way to the bank. Mama told me not to play with buoys!
We yearned so little but learned a yacht, the boat of us, shore we did. We
said I do. I should have said canoe. I’m a good woman but a very nautical wife,
and you are a man o’ war, a Pirate of Penance. I wouldn’t dare say our marriage was “on the rocks” (too cliché) but when I could no longer take your ship and our dinghy life,
I came strait home with my sail between my legs. But I don’t harbor any ill will. You sea? This is not a tributary to either of us, nothing to be prow of.
In the next poem, Hochman captures the knee-jerk reaction to a diagnosis of cancer:
News like this is always a 10 on the Richter scale. From epicenter to aftershock
everything I owned fell off the shelves, funny how my walls did not come
tumbling down too.
When you’re nervous and small everyone wants to shield you but this one shook
my bowels in three-quarters time. I had to banish all the “C” words from my
thesaurus — no more Coughing, Catastrophes or Coffins — here, take my C-name.
I can see my corrugated tongue has left everybody squirming.
The author does not sugarcoat things; she is honest, almost blindingly so, about her own feelings:
This is about what happened to my body. Sometimes the soil stagnates
and sometimes things grow where they ought not grow. So why be
euphemistic? I refuse to hide under my hat and pallor.
She is resolute in going forward and not giving in to anxiety and fear, using her sense of humor as a shield:
Now is the time for books, sabbaticals and hibernation. The Pope is dead
but no one told me to put my papers in order. This is a no-panic zone.
If you park it here, your anxiety will be towed away.
One does not have to read between the lines to sense the speaker’s pain and ambivalence. The lines below highlight the feeling of betrayal from one’s own body:
From: The Breast and the Brightest
They used to be precious and loved, now I treat them like bastard children,
the terrible twos, troublemakers, twins gone bad, truly out of hand, spitting
pureed peas at mommy, burning their training bras, defying their curfews,
smoking Virginia Slims (and Lord knows what else) on the corner with their
lowlife friends. Where did I go wrong?
The passage below underscores the vulnerability of someone who is ill, receiving treatment, or dependent on others:
From: Under Anesthesia
Doctor, I am curled up in the fetal position, under latex hands and competent sheets, in a calm room, with a thousand fears, my tongue tied in a Gordian knot. The cat is throwing up on the floor and I am furiously licking my paws. The Irish nurse, like a new mother, whispers “heal” in my cauterized ear. She is laying pink ribbons in my hair as my palms open like a benign child’s. I am dreaming of lost teeth and follicles dying on the vine. Doctor, I don’t see heaven yet, only some cirrus clouds. This must be cirrus, then. Cirrus of the liver? Hush, don’t cry,
God mends all His drunken children.
The Carcinogenic Bride is not to be taken lightly, to dismiss, to ignore. It faces life (and death) head on, very much “in your face,” with a winner’s attitude. Pummeled by a series of bad hits, Hochman gets up sparring, and throws the first punch. Her joie de vivre is infectious in words that crash, bang, and sparkle, and you can’t help but want to cheer her on!
Cindy Hochman is a proofreader/copyeditor and legal transcriptionist from Brooklyn, New York. She is the editor-in-chief of the online journal First Literary Review-East, and the associate editor of Poetry Thin Air, a local cable show in Manhattan. Her poetry has been published, or is forthcoming in, the New York Quarterly, Nomad’s Choir, The Stray Branch, Lips, The Cancer Project Anthology, and Rhyme & Punishment (an anthology of humorous verse). Her book reviews have been published all over the place. Her work has recently been translated into Turkish, and her latest chapbook, The Carcinogenic Bride, has been featured on Winning Writers.
Ami Kaye serves as publisher for Glass Lyre Press. She publishes and manages Pirene’s Fountain, and is currently co-editing “The Best of Pirene’s Fountain, Volume 1.” Ami’s poems have appeared in various literary journals, and she is the author of What Hands Can Hold. Her work was nominated for the James B. Baker award and included in anthologies. Ami has also written features, reviews and essays, and has interviewed various literary personalities. Visit amikaye.com
Driving Montana, Alone
By Katie Phillips
River King Press, 2011
Slapering Hol Press of New York, 2010
Reviewed by Royce Hamel
There are, in life, too many times we stride alone in the wilderness - be it through the death of a loved one or the breaking of a heart. Katie Phillips has a wonderful story to tell with her recent poetry collection "Driving Montana, Alone." There is a comma there for a reason, to remind us that though we might feel as if we have friends numbering in the hundreds, or the thousands, or the millions, we are islands in the midst of the sea, hoping to find the one, and possibly never finding them at all.
The poems involve driving, though whether through Montana, towards Montana or away from it is up to the reader, and stopping, every so often, in a house, or on a hill, and taking in the loneliness that sometimes we would love to forget about. There is a main character in these poems, and she (or he) twists herself through life, "Having dated all the men", hoping for something to save her, another character, someone else. The poems speak to you, whom she hopes will take her from her current life of what seems like misery but can sometimes be a godsend, and she waits. Sometimes through the solitude, we find hope, but it can come crashing down in an instant, like a leaf falling from an oak tree.
The title poem, halfway through the book, is chilling but friendly, where the speaker’s yearning comes across:
I smile at the stack of Bob Dylan CDs
you are not holding in the passenger seat…
…I pat my raincoat, loosely folded
where your lap should be…
…And it's only when I get just south of Philipsburg
that your not being here feels like absence.
But it's not all bad - “First Night in a New Place” is about putting your feet up, becoming complacent with life, and that's all right, because she/he might now have something to live for:
From here, I cannot discern osprey
or point with certainty the direction
of downtown, but my possessions
are already settling in.
The lamp is wearing a ring
into the carpet. From the corner,
the fourth packing crate calls out
for a curio, and even I
have relaxed a bit, resting
my feet on a box, leaning
back into the lone chair.
The philodendron brushes
against my arm – a welcome.
It's calming, almost, living in a new place without anyone to tell her what to do, or how to behave, or what to wear, or what to eat, and besides, her own things have settled in – what else is there to do? How else should she live, without her personal things...material objects can be helpful in life, by looking or feeling like they belong.
There is a sensational poem entitled “What We Knew” that involves an analogy to the monkeys in Harry Harlow's experiments – the ones involving the bottles and the wire mesh where baby monkeys would have to figure out how to survive. It might seem randomly chosen for such a collection, but it fits perfectly into its own niche: it provides insight into what happened to the relationship. Though it's not explicitly stated, it's a subtle nod to perhaps all relationships, whether they survive or not.
From being alone to being at home, these poems about love and loss are likely to resonate with readers. Along with photos expertly taken from the mighty wilderness of Montana, this book will touch the lonely hearts of many.
Katie Phillips lived in Montana before moving to a suburb of Chicago. Her poems have been published in Cider Press Review, The Raintown Review, White Pelican Review, and elsewhere. She won the 2010 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition with her collection DRIVING MONTANA, ALONE and was also a finalist in the 2009 SHP Chapbook Competition, Byline Magazine's 2006 Silver Anniversary Chapbook Contest, and for a 2006 Illinois Arts Council Grant. She has studied with Eamon Grennan and Joyce Sutphen.
For One Who Knows How to Own Land
By Scott Owens
FutureCycle Press, 2012
Reviewed by Royce Hamel
Every human being dreams, at least once in their lives, of wide open plains, cornflower blue skies, and friendly neighbors. We dream of moths at night, swimming holes, and lazy days in the sun. Working hard, living off the land, and never having the need to complain.
Scott Owens has hit these dreams right in the heart, with a bullet a mile wide. In this book, For One Who Knows How to Own Land, he proves that not only do these dreams exist, they are directly under our noses. Most of the poems in this book are narratives. They cover acres of generations, or a simple bare foot's worth of a day, and again, the poet displays his considerable range as he takes us through poems tiny and delicate as a "candle bat," to pieces with the might of a tractor pulled by oxen. In this collection, Owens weaves stories in and around gossip and family life, they're about the lifestyle of the people in the southern Carolina fields, and the way they accept the land.
There are a number of poems in this anthology that allude to not Owens's love of the land but his absence from it, and how he looks at it through different eyes. Poems like "The Land Above this Line is Oak and Hickory; Below is Pine," wherein:
…The difference between sandspur and beggar lice,
mistletoe and muscadine, plateau and sandhill
running out to plain, between names like Frogmore
and Clover, Soul's Harbor and Hard Labour Creek.
Each day they meet at the line like old friends,
shake hands above it, share the earth below.
Owens' lyrical revelations allow the reader to share his experiences, fully immersed in the moment:
In winter even the river stands up like a line.
It may now slide off the bed it has made
and not spread or fade into earth,
but splinter, shard, run like a great tongue
across your doorstep, dividing your house in half.
One of the best poems, entitled "7 Haiku," is a series of smaller poems:
after three days of spring rain—
hum of cicada
as if heat could sing
wildflowers in bloom
the tractor stops a moment
then plows them under
tractors sow the field
into one fabric
dream of green leaves
all day heat lightning
flashes on the horizon
still no rain
strops the much-stropped edge
yellow porch light
swirl of candle bats
Owens's skill with imagery and exceptional use of language is evident as we enter the place he is trying to create for the reader. This book opens the door to living in the American south, where life is about working on the family farm; where days are long and the nights are beautiful, with the sadness of a meadowlark melting into a whippoorwill and butterflies becoming candle bats. The book's three sections mirror the progression of the day: morning, noon, and night, each section replete with its own set of poetry. The cast of characters are people we might meet anywhere, and we recognize ourselves in them. The land itself is also a character, and epitomizes the ultimate human dream. Does the land belong to the people or do the people belong to the land? These age old questions are considered by Scott Owens in a book that speaks to the heart.
Scott Owens is the author of ten collections of poetry, including collaborations with poet Pris Campbell, and photographer, Clayton Joe Young. His work has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the NC Poetry Society, the Poetry Society of SC, the NC Writers Network, the Poetry Council of NC, and the Next Generation / Indie Book Awards. He is Editor of "Wild Goose Poetry Review," and "234," author of a monthly column on poetry, a writer of reviews, and a college English instructor. His work is archived in the South Carolina Poetry Collection at Furman University. His personal website is www.scottowenspoet.com, and he maintains a blog at scottowensmusings.blogspot.com Born in Greenwood, SC, he now lives in Hickory, NC.
Royce Hamel is a cum laude graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a B.A. in Fiction Writing. She is a freelance writer and novelist. When not writing, she reviews and edits for Glass Lyre Press & Pirene's Fountain, and she is currently working on several novels involving sci-fi, fantasy, and survival at all costs.
The Abandoned Eye
By J.P. Dancing Bear
FutureCycle Press, 2012
Reviewed by Nikolus S. Cook
If you subscribe to any poetry magazines, chances are you've already read some of the work of J.P. Dancing Bear. Many new readers know him as the author of the “Birthday Poems,” which consist of 1,400 poems written in the space of a year. Some of these were collected and published in his previous book, Family of Marsupial Centaurs (and other birthday poems), with many hundreds more getting picked up by poetry magazines around the world. As you can surmise from his numerous accolades, he is an accomplished poet, and there's reason. His new collection The Abandoned Eye shows real verve, and a Zorro-like ability to make his mark in a few quick strokes. A great example of this are the opening four lines in his poem “Nocturne”:
I am stolen horses for you.
My body no more
than a wooden dingy
and dropped lines.
One of the first things readers will notice about the style of J.P. Dancing Bear, is that he blurs the line between nature and the self, and internal and external worlds. Take, for instance, these lines from “Knot”:
Even as the last red tongues of our tree
cling to a colder life, I see you bones
among the naked branches
where even my smallest prayer
falls to mulch.
However, because his talent is clear, I find it safe to point out a few less-than-perfect examples as well. Tweedy professors will still have enough to grumble about. There are a handful of generalities that could have been avoided with a little more editing. Take these opening lines from the poem “Tempt”:
I was afraid of their tempting rain
and the lusting flowers in my heart
When you read Tempt, you might assume that he's referring to women in general when he says "their tempting rain" but a poet doesn't have much to gain from referring to anything "in general". Still his energy and clarity show careful consideration for the reader. Jewels of metaphor still glitter throughout, and many fine descriptive passages make The Abandoned Eye a pleasure to read, and worthy of the bar he has set with his earlier books, Conflicted Light and Inner City of Gulls. I'll close with an excerpt from the poem “Raised by Coyotes”:
Mice skittered and darted among the crumbs
of commercial breaks and station identifications.
Mother loved the taste of books--chewed page
after mysterious page.
I stayed under the coffee table, content
to close my eyes and listen to the dull banter
and the sitcom laugh-tracks and paint
the flickered scenes on my eyelids.
J. P. Dancing Bear is the author nine collections of poetry, most recently, Inner Cities of Gulls (2010), andConflicted Light (2008) both published by Salmon Poetry. His poems have been published in DIAGRAM, No Tell Motel, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, Verse Daily and many other publications. He is editor for the American Poetry Journal and Dream Horse Press. Bear also hosts the weekly hour-long poetry show, Out of Our Minds, on public station, KKUP.
Nikolus S. Cook is unsure of what to say when asked “where are you from?” and is likely to answer “Coach.” He currently lives and works in Seattle, Washington, after spending years with his missionary family in Costa Rica, earning his Masters Degree in Creative Writing in Scotland, working as a laborer in California, and living in Connecticut.