Robert Brewer—by Elizabeth Nichols & Royce Hamel
David Caddy—by Royce Hamel
Helene Cardona—by Jonathan Beale
Helene Cardona—by Kitty Jospé
Susana H. Case—by Anthony DiMatteo
Rachel Dacus—by Ami Kaye
Nabina Das—by Tikuli
Lori Desrosiers—by Ami Kaye
Hedy Habra—by Elizabeth Nichols
Scott Owens—by Elizabeth Nichols
Connie Post—by Karen Bowles
Sweta Srivastava Vikram—by Rajiv Mohabir
Friendly Street New Poets—by Elizabeth Nichols
Solving the World’s Problems
By Robert Brewer
Reviewed By Elizabeth Nichols and Royce Hamel
From Matters of Great Importance
“what's more important
writing a poem
or building a bridge
or building a chair
for people to rest...
… or managing 1,000 trucks
that deliver chairs
and collections of poems
written by people
who appreciate their chairs
and the poems of other people
that inspires other people
to build chairs and
drive trucks and write poems
Robert Lee Brewer begins Solving the World's Problems with a rhetorical question. Is writing a poem more important than the nitty-gritty, every day workings of life? He answers this question by constructing a cyclical world that is run on symbiotic inspiration. That is, the poet is inspired to write by the chair he buys which, in turn, was built by the chair-maker who was inspired to build his chair by poetry he read. The poem is at once whimsical and engaging, serious and humorous, contrasting conflicting images: the lofty poet versus the truck driver. Yet, these contrasting images fit into a recurring, symbiotic pattern. Poets cannot exist without chair-makers and truck-drivers, and vice versa. In a world full of conflict, most often interpersonal conflict, humans are dependent on each other for more than just cold, economic reasons. Humans depend on each other for inspiration: the spark of art, passion, and emotional vitality.
Brewer's title, too, poses another question. One that is much harder to grasp and solve. Can poetry solve the world's problems? It is a lofty question, and one that seems out of touch with the real world. Yet, as matters of great importance shows, there is a strong, cyclical connection between art, inspiration, and the every day work of life. To start to see how poetry can address the world's problems, Brewer hits the reader with a splash of Cold Water:
“we spill ourselves all over ourselves
our excess light
our forgiving natures
of course we unraveled and marveled
at our unraveling
trying to put a name to it
when we failed we created a myth
passed it to our children
we ached for the creek and our futures
running across the wet stones
...but when we found
the water again we bent at the bank
all of us afraid to enter
Cold water poetically captures the human response to the unknown. Humanity unravels at the idea of trying to name, trying to understand the unknown. Without explanations, myths are created and passed on to the next generation. Yet, myths cannot truly satisfy the ache of a void of knowledge. But, turning away from the myth, and coming face to face with the unknown again, humanity stumbles. The myth is not as terrifying as the truth. Humanity spills its fear all over itself, and holds itself back from the truth. The only thing stopping humanity from solving the world's problems is humanity itself.
This truth recurs in i'm learning to listen, as well. The poem describes the modern condition: alienation in a sea of people. The speaker listens to the “swirling winds of [his] awkward life,” and tries to not be “held prisoner by the sound / of [his] own voice every time a ghost / takes [his] body.” In eloquent terms, Brewer is describing the commonly uttered phrase, what possessed me to do that? It is very human to wonder why a sudden emotion or physical or verbal reaction suddenly takes over. The speaker is a ghost, awkward and invisible in his world. He is the world's “phantom limb that dangles / when every other angle extends.” While others extend their hands and reach out to others, the speaker's hand is lame, ghostly and misses others. The speaker is made into the other, living outside the world while existing “every / where & no where.” He is learning to listen to the “swirling winds of [his] awkward life,” starting to understand the alienation in his modern existence. As Brewer concludes in the aptly titled poem this is modern living, “the end rushes / from us even / as it draws closer.” The answer, the end to this alienation, is farther and farther away even as time rushes forward and death draws near.
But, surely, that cannot be the answer. Brewer's title suggests that poetry can help to solve the world's problems. Indeed, in Brewer's last poem, there is a feeling of simultaneously hope and despair at the prospect of tackling the world's problems.
“we celebrated & sang ourselves & assumed everything
then we fell...
watching our best minds splinter
into a thousand networks
a million mega-pixel paintings
& this is when we started to break
the masks we wore
we heard the learned professor
& we read the transformed poet
& all of it made a difference
but none of it mattered
when the money & the food ran out”
As the poem opens, it has the exultation and energy of a new year's celebration. But, there is a quick turn in the tone as the assumptions and egos of the revelers fall and shatter. The best minds–the scientists, the poets, the leaders–turned into pixels on televisions instead of human faces: became talking heads speaking in sound bites. The egoistic, false makes slip off of the revelers, and the words of the professor and the poet fill in the void. Their words impact the revelers, make a difference. For a moment, poetry changes the world. But, in a stomach-dropping twist, the work of the professor and poet is reduced to nothing when the economic and physical needs of the revelers become desperate.
Has the whole of Brewer's work also been for naught? No. His treatment of the problems of the world through fantastic complimentary and juxtaposing images range from not just the hefty problems of the world like hunger or peace, but also the day to day problems in the inner worlds of people. A perfect example is you origami me. The poem describes a common metamorphosis: the lover changing to suit his love. In the particular metaphor at work in the poem, the lover is compared to a piece of origami paper, folded over and over again to please his love. There is also the complimentary metaphor of the lover depositing money in to his love's “account” of him so as to withdraw love. The lover accepts this relationship dynamic: “fold me as you will.” However, there is a dark undercurrent and complexity at work in the poem. The lover says, “i'm not a wolf save when / that's the only way you'll bend me.” Underneath the heart of the complacent lover, lies a warning: beware what shape you choose to fold me into. The inner world of this relationship matters. It matters as much as writing a poem or making a chair, as living in a myth and being afraid of the answer, and as heeding the words of the professors and poets but giving into baser needs. It matters because with Solving the World's Problems Brewer proves that in order to change the world, we first
have to understand ourselves.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor for the Writer's Digest Writing Community and author of the new poetry collection, Solving the World's Problems (Press 53). He edits books, creates blog posts, writes a column for Writer's Digest magazine, changes diapers, curates the insta-poetry series for Virginia Quarterly Review, manages a fantasy football team, dances around with his daughter, makes books with his boys, enjoys watching movies with his wife, and loves eating potatoes (whether they're fried, boiled, mashed, or baked). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.
Cycling After Thomas and the English
By David Caddy
Spout Hill Press
Reviewed by Royce Hamel
From Henry VIII to Orwell, England has given the world juicy, enticing tales and bloody wars. Now, contemporary writer David Caddy brings several hundred years worth English of poetry, prose, music, and cinematography to life in his book Cycyling After Thomas.
A hundred years prior to the writing of the Caddy's book, Edward Thomas biked through the wilds of England: over the hills and through the dales on a journey that might have taken multiple days or weeks. Thomas chronicled his journey and recorded his inner most thoughts and feelings in his book In Pursuit of Spring. Caddy explains that when he “reread this montage of stories, quotations, voices, literary criticism, digressions and odd juxtapositions, I knew I had to emulate the journey and see what was left,” (23). In Pursuit of Spring details a journey imbedded with references to English history and literature. Thomas' cycling was a “search for understanding” amidst a world arm's race and social, political changes (25). It was also, contends Caddy, “a spiritual journey with self-renewal as its ultimate aim,” (32). To Caddy, Thomas' cycling journey is worth taking in the modern world, because its search for understanding, and desire for self-renewal are the key to defining “Englishness:” the modern English identity.
Much like his predescessor, Thomas, Caddy wants to find “Englishness” in the nooks and crannies of the villages and paths he bikes through, the people he meets, and the history he encounters. But, there are many ways through England, and to “Englishness.” While Caddy cycles along Thomas' trail, he realizes that “most of the early part of Thomas' journey out of London” has been “annihilated by nondescript urbanization” (49). Caddy does his best to avoid motorways or keep to paths, and tries to find places, like the “Britannia” pub that still stand from Thomas' time (80). In fact, Caddy's journey is similar to the message in Robert Frost's poem The Road not Taken. In Frost's poem, it is understood that if the road traveled is clear and free from stumbling blocks, it can never belong to you, because someone else has already taken it. This is proven very well in a place where Thomas had been previously: Box Hill (55). In particular, Caddy notes that standing on Box Hill with his friend, they were “like a couple of stags, were leaving scents, footprints...adding our stories to those that had preceded us and for those that would follow” (56). Much like Thomas' In Pursuit of Spring, Caddy leaves his footprint with Cycling After Thomas and adds his story to the English voices of the past and present, renewing the search for personal and cultural identity.
Bicycling, as Caddy explains, is making a comeback in England, particularly in rural areas. Biking is good for taking in the scenery, and “the bicycle has a deep association with freedom and perspective” (15). Caddy argues that “Thomas shows that by walking and cycling the outdoors...we connect with self and the past in the present, and by doing so move forward” (38). Caddy's grasp of the physical, social, and emotional effect of bicycling combined with his past and historical knowledge make for a very personal, friendly read.
England is also known famously known for its pubs as places for gathering to share news and stir social commentary. Caddy makes a stop at the Britannia pub with his friend, Leon. Leon recalls the first and only female Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher, while in conversation with the pub patrons. “He [Leon] finished his drink,” Caddy describes, “and noted that the country hasn't progressed at all since the days of the milk snatcher [Thatcher]” (80). Leon's mixture of humor and politics drives home Caddy's point that “Englishness can be observed in a pub” (80).
Cycling After Thomas carries the overtones not just of Caddy's literary voice, but also of past writers and his own contemporaries. Each example, in its own way, describes a facet of “Englishness” and how to embrace it. The book is part autobiography, part multi-biography, and part geography. No knowledge of English history, or geography, is necessary. The names of the villages, pubs, and roads are enough to make one think they are right there with Caddy in England, on that magical route through the rough and tumble of the English countryside and to identity. It is a fantastic journey into England, and into “Englishness.” It is a great read for those that wish to, or simply cannot, go to England. It winds its way through several centuries of writing, music, religion, poetry, and does not gloss over even the smallest detail Caddy wants to emphasize. It is not simply about tracing Thomas's path: it is about the authors Thomas read, the next generations that read Thomas, and the future English men and women that will read Caddy. As Caddy takes the reader through the English countryside, tracing Thomas' steps, he becomes a poet, and heightens “Englishness” to a place beyond history and into an easily accessible, flowing vein of national identity.
David Caddy is a poet, essayist, critic, literary sociologist and historian. He lives and works in rural Dorset from where he edits international literary journal Tears in the Fence. His most recent books include a literary travel novella, Cycling After Thomas And The English (Spout Hill Press 2013) and a collection of literary essays, So Here We Are (Shearsman Books 2012). His poetry books include The Bunny Poems (Shearsman 2011), Man in Black (Penned in the Margins 2007), and The Willy Poems (Clamp Down Press USA 2004). David is a long-standing promoter of poetry and co-author of London: City of Words (2006), a literary companion, with Westrow Cooper. He founded the East Street Poets in 1985, which he ran until 2001, and directed the Wessex Poetry Festival from 1995 until 2002. He subsequently organized the Tears in the Fence Festival 2003-2005. A new book of poems and literary travel book are in the pipeline.
Dreaming My Animal Selves
(Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales)
By Hélène Cardona
Published by Salmon Poetry 2013
Reviewed by Jonathan Beale
This is a Bi-lingual collection of 23 poems in French and English translated by the author Helene Cardona. All these poems have been published in a broad range of journals and reviews. The themes in this collection are universal and the poems cover such, themes as; classicism, cosmology, psychology, philosophy, nature, and touching on areas of theism. There are personal poems following a death as in Notes from Last Night – ‘I just experience.-Talk about faith I don’t believe,-experience is cellular.’ This poem is subtle in how everyone is touched by death however, not in the same way. Helene Cardona’s poems are written in a definitive laconic linear style. As in Dancing the Dream ‘I rip the vine intertwined around - the umbilical, liberate the letters of- my name. We are taken on a long winding journey by an evocative descriptive ability. In Peregrine Pantoum there is an almost Haiku emotive style as the poem begins ’Begin with a dream, - snowcapped mountains and rivers of salmon. – Green rays cleave the heart of winter.’ The final poems offer more of a reflective style, as in; Lunar Standstill ‘The desire to move - to a place in my mind – where I’ve always been well -…’ Parallel Keys shows the poets struggle ‘I’m governed by the poetry of mathematics, - shadow when I lose form.’ And ‘forced to abandon the illusion – of the puzzle I inhabit ’. Helene Cardona adeptly shows her skill as a poet in this collection.
Dreaming My Animal Selves
(Le Songe de mes Ames Animales)
by Hélène Cardona.
Published by Salmon Poetry
Reviewed by Kitty Jospé
“A poet dares to be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily... A poet’s pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify it by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it.”
-- E. B. White
Hélène Cardona, poet, translator, polyglot, wrote Dreaming My Animal Selves, first in English, then translated the 23 poems into French. The introductory praises and Foreword give ready inspiration to any serious poet, along with a full-page list of acknowledgements for further reading. The epigraphs for each section (not translated into French) reminds me of Hutchins’ “Great Conversation”. They act as thresholds on which to pause and reflect, before entering each section. To wit, Rilke “... making real the dream of the one its living roots embrace” introduces the seven-line prologue. William Blake and Jane Hirschfield “prepare” the next section of seven poems; Kahil Gibran the second section of seven; Rumi and Emily Dickinson the final section of eight poems.
When dealing with the word “dream”, indeed, a poet is entering a reality that is not readily understood, that leaves the taste of the wild “almost” to be completed in the imagination. “Dream” in French can be translated in two ways: le rêve as in “sweet dreams” or “nightmares” (mauvais rêves), the impossible projections of Man of La Mancha or le songe as in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream which is more a poetic vision/art form.Cardona has chosen the latter to capture curiosity, imagination, images of water and sky dependent on winds and physical states. In the tradition of Baudelaire who tempers a system of “correspondences” between the physical and spiritual, so Cardona transforms as she equates sound and movement into visual/auditory harmony.
One of the advantages of a bilingual version of poems is to draw attention to the syntax,
and to intensify the mystery of seeming discrepancies. Titles shimmer somewhat differently in the French translation. Here are a few questions:
Why “dancing” in English, but the imperative “dance” in French?
What is implied in the multiple ways of translating “Life’s Curiosity or “Curiosity of Life” in French but “Inquisitive Life” in English?
How does the precision of a dreamer’s gender change the tone?
Instead of “dreams like water/rain” the French implies dreams “made of” water/rain,
why dreams like water in English, but dreams of or about water in French?
Diglottism deftly works the fine line of the collection’s title as well: self, in the English and soul in the French. What is a self? What is an animal self (with the sound of Jungian anima)?
Why the present participle of “Dreaming” in English, yet, the noun, Le Songe in French?
A bilingual book, produced by one author, has a unique opportunity to play “in between” the languages, so that a third reading that falls in between the languages falls into place.
Even if one only reads the 23 poems, written in English, without the enhancement of the translation, the flow and musicality of the English stand on their own to create a blend of dream and myth. Largely free form, aside from one pantoum, there is often a different
lineation in the translation.For instance in “Diapositives de Pensées” (which refers to the image of old fashioned slides, translated in English as “Transparencies of Thought”) the line breaks are different in the two languages.
the challenge to recognize my face / in the crowd (in French is on one line)
surprised not to have followed/ myself (in French, on one line)
and also the expansion /of architecture (in French on one line)
It is enjoyable to read both versions in the flow of each language, with their individual logic, rather like trying to capture the language of dreams in our everyday speech.
Kitty Jospé, retired French teacher, is an active docent at the art museum, Memorial Art Gallery, in Rochester, NY, and leads a weekly poetry appreciation session, started during her MFA in creative writing poetry at Pacific University. As teaching artist, she enjoys leading courses in Ekphrastics. She is involved with multiple collaborations with dance, music, art and word. Kitty Jospé, retired French teacher, is an active docent at the art museum, Memorial Art Gallery, in Rochester, NY, and leads a weekly poetry appreciation session, started during her MFA in creative writing poetry at Pacific University. As teaching artist, she enjoys leading courses in Ekphrastics. She is involved with multiple collaborations with dance, music, art and word.
Hélène Cardona is a poet, linguist and actor. She is the author of Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry, 2013), The Astonished Universe (Red Hen Press, 2006) and Life in Suspension, forthcoming from Tupelo Press. She attended Hamilton College, where she also taught French and Spanish, the University of Cantabria, Spain, and the Sorbonne, where she earned a Master’s in American Literature. She’s widely published in numerous journals and anthologies, notably in The Dublin Review of Books, The Irish Literary Times, The Warwick Review, Washington Square, and Poetry International. Hélène translated the Lawrence Bridges film Muse of Fire for the NEA and What We Carry by Dorianne Laux, and received fellowships from the Goethe Institut and the Universidad Internacional de Andalucía.
Salem in Séance: Poems
By Susana H. Case
WordTech Editions, 2013.
By Anthony DiMatteo
Dr. Susana Case's book Salem in Séance is a fascinating gathering of voices. It deserves reading because of a crucial but often overlooked function that its poetry serves. In simulating the voices of the people of seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, involved in the infamous witchcraft persecutions, Case's book realizes the ethnographic power that poetry has had almost as its ancient right through its use of prosopopeia, a figure of speech arguably foundational to what poetry does in giving voice to the not-there, to who or what is purely imaginative (Paul de Man held this theory, for example). In bearing a ghostly witness, poetry is "first to testify" as the first phrase of Case's book indeed has it. Read in this way, her book's first lines, imagined spoken by Sarah Good, light up with a special power of poetry as well as illumine the plight of its impoverished speaker soon accused of witchcraft:
First to testify, I shove my unruly hair
underneath my white bonnet,
clean for the occasion. Mindful
As is her usual practice, Case has the poem speak for and as the character that it brings
into being, but more like an act of embodiment or a possession than a bearing witness. The
"unruly hair" easily stands in or for the lines of poetry materializing before our eyes. And
indeed poetry traditionally has been more associated with the experience of carrying a voice than
any other genre of literature. The voice of the poet, be it lyric, dramatic or epic, in the typical
understanding of it, addresses the reader through something like an act of séance, through
impersonation and ventriloquism, with the poem a speaking puppet or mask. Case
demonstrates poetry's ability to perform this way both because she is a fine poet and in a special
position to do this work, having earned a doctoral degree in behavioral science with her
dissertation featuring a conversational analysis of auction talk. There is a kind of witchcraft at
work in the cadences and formulas that auctioneers - and poets - use.
Case's free verse shows itself attuned to the resources of poetry as séance to induce the experience of being someone else, of being transported elsewhere through a rhythmical use of words and the images and figures they summon. The three sections of her book - Detentions, Accusations and Authorities - enact a prolonged apparition along with a sense of unreality as the wraith-like characters of the accused, mostly women, and the accusing, mostly men, stumble and bristle across 89 pages of poetry, "their fits and babbling, strangling / as if declaiming..." Voices in misery and trance leap across centuries towards us. In one poem, a "Gospel witch" momentarily quickens with life: "They say they see a yellow bird / that attends me as familiar." Even "a hanging tree" twitches on the page with its dizzying perspective: "No one knows where they go / after the fall." Third-person perspective also serves Case's goal of getting the dead to shimmer before us as in this description of the likely experience of Tituba, an enslaved woman, one of the first to be accused of witchcraft and called in the archives quoted by Case, an "Indian Woman Servant": to "the consolidation of power," Tituba" is a scatter of leaves in autumn wind."
One would think that nothing more could be done with the Salem witch trials given Arthur Miller's masterly play The Crucible, which of course was composed partly as an allegory of the red scare of McCarthyism. But besides her adept phrasings mimicking the words and gestures of her historically based characters, Case layers her poetic presentation with snippets of language taken from actual depositions, warrants, and examinations as well as jarring interruptions of her simulation of the discursive world of late-seventeenth century America. These interruptions come in various forms of interpolations such as a passage taken from Germaine Greer advising the "old crones" of today not to shy from the ancient power of this identity or a mock diagnosis set in brackets of "neurotic, anorexic" leveled against the Salem girls. They break the illusion of the reader's transport back in time even as they remind us of how in many ways the prejudices and fears of Puritanical America burn among us today. These discursive fractures and linkages effectively remind us, in the words that end the book with a warning against the "paranoid leadership" of a Salem minister, "there will be / a new century, new world. It will not be his world." Nor is it ours - yet - but the ethnographic powers of poetry are arguably crucial to its realization.
Anthony DiMatteo is a poet, translator, and critic whose poems, essays and reviews have
regularly appeared in dozens of scholarly and literary journals. A new book of poems
Beautiful Problems is forthcoming from David Robert Books.
Gods of Water and Air
By Rachel Dacus
Aldrich Press, 2013
Reviewed by Ami Kaye
Upon reading Gods of Water and Air it is clear that Rachel Dacus is a formidable talent for her writing transcends the ordinary. Dacus’ range of poetic expression is impressive: her phrasing can be fiery and elemental, or it can be evocative and lyrical, but wherever she goes with language, she is first and foremost, a poet of substance. This masterful collection opens with “Flight,” a poem that expands our dimensions and enlarges the capacity for love:
When you said it, my bones
filled with desire and my arms
stretched out so we could glide
on your wish.
You said you were lost.
You said never
to leave again like that.
Never, I said. My heart unzipped
and let out a large pair of wings
The poems in this collection immediately pull the reader into the poet’s mindscape and embody a heightened awareness of life and its vagaries. In her poem “You Are Always Plural,” there is creation, ecstasy, heat. Dacus is on fire and language becomes passionate witness to an intimate, private joy as all the elements fuse together seamlessly:
I see that look of a god in the act
of creation, overpowered
by his artistry
Dacus displays a searching intelligence in her explorations of the psyche. Many of her poems such as “Inked” unfold in delicate layers as one reads on, and with each successive theme she offers the gift of insight, “I toss away/ What I can for a journey into the fault. / But the ground coughs me up. / A shiver and I straighten, /and then again bow/ to all the gods of upheaval.”
In a number of poems there is an intersecting arc between Dacus’ father and Monet as her artist father succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease. As he retreats further from life, she is forced into becoming the parent: "Now I hold the brush, painting the past, leaving/ out his daily scaldings. I tell him his own stories—" In these poems Dacus takes us back into the realms of memory, underscoring the hold memory has on us, how our beings emanate from our memories, and how our lives are fully contained in those memories. Dacus confronts her feelings with a courageous honesty:
I’m frightened of how much he forgets,
this new breeze that unzips our history,
but I say, Don’t fight the wind. Be a net.
Catch the world by letting the knots slip.
In Gods of Water and Air, Rachel Dacus bends language to light with an uncanny precision, and examines the hues of love, pain and loss through her prism. Dacus closes the collection with a poem that is both visionary and profoundly meditative:
prayers as beautiful as dolphins
leaping and twisting, prayers
freed from gravity’s pull
to fly glistening in the air.
Dacus gives us poetry she has plucked from the fire of her imagination and heart, imparting warmth and sustenance to its readers, reminding us what is sacred in life. Her finely rendered, compassionate voice guides us through the space inhabited by the Gods of Water and Air. Rachel Dacus’ language fills and rounds our perceptions, and she plies her extraordinary talent, urging us to live life fully and in the moment.
Rachel Abramson Dacus is the author of Gods of Water and Air, Earth Lessons, Femme au Chapeau, and the spoken word CD A God You Can Dance. She is a widely published poet, dramatist, and writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her poems, stories, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in Atlanta Review, Boulevard, Drunken Boat, Fringe Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Rattapallax, and many other journals and anthologies. She is currently working on a play, The Impresario of Ecstasy, a time travel romance involving the great Baroque sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. She lives in Walnut Creek, California where she raises funds for nonprofit organizations. You can read more Rachel on her website racheldacus.net.
By Nabina Das
Les Editions du Zaporogue, Denmark
Reviewed by Tikuli
Blue Vessel by Nabina Das reveals the author’s impish charm, her love for the music and culture of land where she grew up, her multifaceted cosmopolitan life, and shades of her feminine self. It is haunted by the memories of childhood and takes us on a slow journey with the nostalgia, the anticipation, the displacement, the ordinary and the extraordinary enveloping you in a subtle way. Her poems carry a certain poise, and the teasing foreplay in her love poems is far from clichéd; they invite the reader to explore that which is concealed in the spaces in between. There is a delicacy in the following sets of lines from the erotic poem ‘Her Love’:
Love was when he lettered his fingers
Across the keys of her body…
…Before that love was just a pretense
Of a rounded vowel pressed by the lips…
…She knew too, love was almost gleaming at last
When she lay covered only by her bracelets
The collection is divided into two segments `Water on Ink’ and `Still Lives." These 58 pages of poetry contain seasons, vibrant colours, sounds, visuals that are so vivid that they instantly teleport you to some unknown and yet strangely familiar place. There is a child like simplicity that runs through the book.
The transient flow of life and myriad emotions of a feminine heart is portrayed throughout the book which has a global appeal with an Indian undercurrent. She talks of a New York woman and her "Bihu waisted sister" with an ease that few can. While her earlier poems focused more on socio political issues, these are personal. However, Das brings the reader's attention to the world crisis and the tragedy of the political upheaval in her own homeland at some places. These lines from "A song for the Bihu-waisted sister" tell the story of many women of the state of Assam where Nabina was born and grew up:
Something about the Flame trees tells us birds are still home
But, it’s also the news of someone missing.
The description of a woman in ‘New York Woman: a Ballad,’ ends abruptly with “Her anxiety showers commotion in the city . . . more / than ever what the rains bring on Gaza’s blights.” The only directly political reference in this collection.
Nabina’s subtle treatment of homosexuality in 'Khajuraho Longings,' and her description of what emotions the erotic sculptures of the ancient temple stir in the two men are remarkable:
The monk and the layman
laugh at their own sculpted forms
sculpted by another lover layman
the art softening their moment together
on that ancient temple wall:
my hand on your chest looks great
your arm around my waist.
The poems in Blue Vessel are feisty, playful, full of life: there isn't a sign of melancholy, the gloomy dark clouds on the horizon. The collection offers a glimmer of hope—one can feel the grass, bees, birds, river, flowers, fields, morning dew, even clotheslines pulsate with life. For Das "metaphors are sometimes stars and a common sun" as in the lines from her "Never Poem”:
Hear. If you can from there
Wispy flutters inside the ears
A bug stuck, wings of sheer
Silk dying in a verse-like throb
Blue Vessel is a nomadic journey across cities, states, continents taking in the scenic fields, rivers and hills, breathing in the aromas, textures sounds and sights of everyday living. As you read her poems, you become the vessel.
Nabina Das also has a novel titled “Footprints in the Bajra” from Cedar Books, India. Her second poetry book and debut short fiction collection are coming soon.
The Philosopher’s Daughter
By Lori Desrosiers
Salmon Poetry, Cliff of Moher
County Clare, Ireland
79 pages, 2013
Reviewed by Ami Kaye and Elizabeth Nichols
In The Philosopher’s Daughter, Lori Desrosiers traces a personal history stitched together with bittersweet remembrances. It is a literary quest to rediscover her past experiences: growing up with her parents and siblings, her parents’ divorce, her father’s illness, and his subsequent death.Desrosiers moves seamlessly between the inner and outer states of our psyche, and poses some uncomfortable questions about life. She echoes the questions her philosopher father would ask–speaking of fate wielding its own baton–and reminding us we are not in control over greater forces. Desrosiers has perfected the art of understatement with a surprising economy of words as she presides over the realms of everyday life, imparting significance to ordinary objects. In the opening poem of this collection, “Conducting in Thin Air,” she speaks to the reader about missed connections, of trying to make sense of what is ultimately incomprehensible:
When someone on high waves
his or her baton, is that that?
Is your symphony over,
your song sung, are you done, finis, kaput,
even if by some trick of Karma
you missed the flight that crashed?
For Desrosiers, the power in the poem is not derived from verbal calisthenics. She gives us philosophical thoughts in clear, simple language. Now she becomes the philosopher, merging her identity with her father's. Desrosiers uses her family situations to explore matters of life and to delve in the tenuousness of our existence. In “Last Seat, Second Violins,” Desrosiers melds the present with the past: “My violin sits in the closet now, bridge broken / rosin in crumbled fragments. / But the case still smells like early mornings, / holding it, I feel the bruise under my chin.” The language is deceptively simple, as is Desrosiers’ forte. The broken bridge is singled out, symbolically broken, permanently leaving the past behind. She melts into the background, dissolving in the shadow of the stars who are at the front.
Desrosiers’ attention to detail is meticulous and her well placed metaphors add a degree of authenticity to her narrative. In “The Room at the House in Croton,” she invites the reader into a series of small vignettes. In vivid images we see her orderly tea party in shambles after her brother drags his bath towel through the room. Through her memories, we experience the sweetness and innocence of childhood memories: “Record player in the corner / scratched out thirty-threes. / My brother and I danced / on oak floors.”
She also speaks of the overwhelming effect of loss, as it pertains to her mother: “When your tongue is quiet / There will be no more stories.” With silence, she underscores the finality of that loss, which finds an echo in her readers' hearts. The realization is stark and sobering when it concerns the person who is your anchor to the world, your point of reference. In “Closer to God,” she writes:
My father used to say,
“Children are closer to God.”
When I was very small
before there were words
coursing through my mind,
there were sunbeams
filtering through my nursery window.
In “Star Cancer” she bravely confronts a deeply personal pain: the awe-inspiring force of a devastating disease, especially when the person suffering is her father. She vividly paints the shock of its speed. The swift deterioration is difficult to comprehend in human terms, so she turns to celestial and astronomical terms to help verbalize its immensity: “Faster than a red dwarf swell, / sudden as a super-nova burst.”
In contrast, “No Wind–”another poem where her father is featured–Desrosiers shows the dichotomy of youth versus old age, frailty versus vitality, certainty versus uncertainty, and invulnerability versus vulnerability. She draws a memorable, poignant picture, recalling a safer, more optimistic time: “No wind could take us then.”
Desrosiers confronts bigger issues in her poem “From the Porch,”using a deceptively conversational tone to deal with the deadly nature of the topic. She recalls a letter her neighbor gets from her son:
He writes the countryside of Iraq is lovely
But soldiers leave trash by the side of the road
Perfect place to hide a bomb
Desrosiers goes on to describe how her friend comes over to garden and notes that “The gladiolas’ bloomed this week, blood red.” One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Call,” which demonstrates her knack of capturing a strong emotion within a casual narrative. She is adept at identifying and working with an emotion, allowing the reader to feel its full force:
I could stand on the edge of chasm
colored like the Grand Canyon, orange
In sunlight, blue as the sky darkens,
call your name, hear the echoes
resounding back to me off the cliffs,
“Only then does/ your name curl before me in air/ invisible to all but me.”
She closes the collection on a surprisingly sensual note with “Night Writing.” After going into the past, the poem calls the reader back to the philosopher’s daughter who is now a poet: a mature, fully rounded person. She thinks deeply, but lives life to its fullest. Here, we experience the physicality of poetry: the poem is lush, delicious, and sexy. She shows us how integral the act of writing is to a writer, and how the act of writing gives her a sense of release that is visceral: “I come quietly beside you, / a flutter of breeze, a small wave. / My body freed of words, / your breath lulls me to sleep.” This poem is a perfect way to close the collection.
Desrosiers’ effectively captures a vanished time through her pilgrimage, taking us into her pain and loss. She shows us how these untimely occurrences impact many other lives, but offers consolation and hope with her calm reflection and compassionate voice. In The Philosopher’s Daughter, we see her determination to explore conflicting emotions, and the effort to understand and accept the realities of our complex lives. In this collection, the courageous honesty and grace of her poems propels her personal narratives into a more universal theme from which we can all find inspiration.
Lori Desrosiers has a book of poems, The Philosopher's Daughter (Salmon Poetry) and a chapbook, Three Vanities (Pudding House). Her poems have appeared in New Millenium Review, Contemporary American Voices, BigCityLit, Concise Delights, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene's Fountain, The New Verse News, Common Ground Review, and many more, including a prompt in Wingbeats, a book of writing exercises from Dos Gatos Press. Her MFA in Poetry is from New England College. She is editor and publisher of Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry.
Tea in Heliopolis
By Hedy Habra
Press 53, 2013
Reviewed by Elizabeth Nichols
Hedy Habra's Tea in Heliopolis explores the intense connection between place, memory, and human emotion. She encourages the reader to “go every day a little deeper,” and find the “roots” of ourselves in the places and evoked emotions of the past and present. Habra accomplishes this with enchanting imagery and description. A native of Eypt, Habra plumbs the depths of her childhood and adulthood to paint not only the atmosphere of time and place, but also to tease out hidden meaning. In Tea at Chez Paul's, for example, Habra asks the reader:
“Isn't there a geography of every emotion?
...a trail of forgotten footsteps, mapping
every heartbeat, every emotion?
Take the poppy, for instance. It will only breathe
and give joy at its birthplace.”
There is something inherently valuable in retracing one's steps, remembering places and people, such that emotions are felt again. And, not only felt again, but felt in such a way that the very nature of the emotion itself is understood.
Habra showcases this philosophical exploration of emotion and self through the metaphor of painting. In the titular poem of the collection, Tea in Heliopolis, the speaker describes a woman “bent over” a “canvas,” whose “youth was all painted / not lived.” Further, in Waiting in a Field of Melting Honey, Habra's speaker lives in a VanGogh painting and relates to the artist how it feels to exist in such a surreal, impressionistic world:
“When he remembers me, the tip of his brush releasing me, … I am everywhere, hear our voice and you now understand what lies in each swirl, your life, mine, his, together in the dance of stars.”
The sharp regret felt by the speaker for the woman who painted and not lived stands in sharp contrast to the euphoric existence of the speaker living in a VanGogh painting. It is a comparison of a woman who merely painted, and a person who lived. Through art, the speaker in the VanGogh painting has reached an epiphany of feeling and existence. By living in the painting, the speaker understands the emotion of the artist, and their lives intertwine. Indeed, by reliving memories with the aid of art, the feelings of the past are rediscovered and understood anew. “You live with us, Nonna,” writes Habra in The White Brass Bed, “I sleep in your bed, Nonna. / In my warm flannel, I feel / the softness of your silk nightgown.” Through painting, Habra can show that the lives of loved ones past can be understood in such depth as to make them live within us, and feel the emotion anew. It is a self discovery through art.
Of course, Habra's exquisite tour of places and people past and present is through the artistic medium of poetry. And, in true poetic fashion, she self-reflexively explores the power of poetry through her writing.
From How the Song Turns into a Legend
“Watch words form lines, notes, scripts, scores written in scrolls,
in parchment in manuscripts folded in folio,
in quarto, ...
until only names are left untouched.
When so many variations deafen then original song,
then, and only then,
the images retain their spell,
art legitimizing what could never endure.”
Certainly poetry and art make immortal what fades in oral language and one-time printings. It takes a chorus of voices and an ocean of ink spilled to make sure that the message and emotion of a poem or piece of writing endures. By writing of memories and emotions rediscovered and redefined, then, Habra attempts to make those memories and emotions immortal: the messages they invoke endure through art. The discovery of the nature of emotion and of the self is also set on the page to try for immortality. With Tea in Heliopolis, Habra has written a book that takes on memory, emotion, and the discovery of self with unparalleled richness of imagery and style. It takes the reader on a journey beyond Egypt and to the inner world of places, people, and art.
Hedy Habra is the author of a poetry collection, Tea in Heliopolis (Press 53 2013), a short story collection, Flying Carpets (Interlink 2013), which is the2013Winner of the Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention in Fiction and a book of literary criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa (Iberoamericana 2012). She has an MA and an MFA in English and an MA and PhD in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University where she currently teaches. Her multilingual work appears in numerous journals and anthologies, including Connotation Press, Nimrod, The New York Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Diode, Cutthroat, The Bitter Oleander, Puerto del Sol, Cider Press Review, Pirene’s Fountain and Poet Lore. Please visit www.hedyhabra.com
Eye of the Beholder
By Scott Owens
Reviewed by Elizabeth Nichols
Scott Owens is not the first poet to write about the complexities of love in Eye of the Beholder. He touches the typical nuances of loss by enduring “sleepless nights” and living through “days of fog” without the lover that his poetry address longingly. Yet, it is to Owen's great skill that he transforms love into something at once familiar and unfamiliar. This shift is sharp in the opening poem, First Tool, which sets a grand tone:
From First Tool
The poet would like to think
The old ones got it right,
that in the beginning was the word
wedging itself between
the tightly shut lips of being
to pry open meaning.
More than likely it would have been
simply sound, grunt
Owens transforms the first actions of man–using sticks and rocks as tools–into a metaphor for writing. Writing, the creation of ideas, is old, well-traveled. It is tangible in the pages of history that the “old ones” occupy: it was they who first wrote of love and human life. The phrase “in the beginning” takes the act of writing into the realm of the religious, the sacred. For, religion, like all ideas, is transmitted through words: through the poet. But, as soon as Owens lifts writing up to towering heights, he brings it down to the bare bones of the earth, equating the beginning of writing, communication, to grunts. In the first poem, Owens struggles with the act of writing, and in doing so connects religion, evolution, and human experience with the poet's pen. Eye of the Beholder will not be a typical discourse on love.
Indeed, Owens even combines writing with the sensual. Approaching the lover in Getting There, Owens makes the act of intercourse one of more than just pleasure or progenation:
From Getting There
When he gets there he says,
Let's make words...
...Let's make words
like sound only our bodies remember.
When he gets there he feels
the lines swelling inside her.
He feels her leading him to them....
Again, the act of writing is integral in human experience. In an act meant to create life, Owes imagines the creation of words. Words become physical, transcending the cerebral nature of the poem. Owens shows the writing and love can be as tangible and present as the sense of touch.
In an effort to reach the reality of love and human experience, Owens even tears down the lauded, unreachable icons of love:
The Problem with Role-Playing
I could have been Antony
to your Cleopatra,
but I had no armies
and you were afraid of snakes.
...After all the faces we've tried,
all the models have failed.
Like two people in a landscape
we dwindle to insignificance.
The poem ultimately questions whether the models that humanity has given itself accurately capture the experience of being in love. And, if a typical pair of lovers, that do not reach the pinnacles literature, can still feel significant in the shadows. If not Antony and Cleopatra, what are The Things We've Become?
You are not a river.
I am not the sky.
We have less time
than that to live
and much less ground to cover.
...You are not my security.
I have never been an answer.
...Between midnight and waking
none of the things
we've never been can come between
what we've become together.
Although human lovers are not what they wax lyrical to be–“the moon” to a lover's “sun,”–they are still important in that they have shared a unique human experience. More than that, it is an experience that has been the subject of poets throughout human history and, as Owens proves, is more than stereotypical.
If a lover finds himself “tired of holding his face like a mirror / before him,” “rubbing / the violin of his own right arm” as he looks for meaning in the experience of human love, he need look no further than Scott Owens' Eye of the Beholder. From the lines of his poetry, Owens proves that there is meaning in the search for, and finding of love, and loss. He shows that this cyclical act of writing about love connects our past, present, and the future yet to come. “For every line that he makes / to find the life of an eye that watches,” Owens makes love a shared human experience that is tangible, vibrant, and real.
Scott Owens is the author of ten collections of poetry, editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review and 234, vice-president of the NC Poetry Society, coordinator of Poetry Hickory and The Art of Poetry at the Hickory Museum of Art, and a writer of reviews and articles about poetry. His published work has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Next Generation/Indie Lit Awards, the North Carolina Writers Network, the North Carolina Poetry Society, and the Poetry Society of South Carolina. He holds degrees from Ohio University, UNC Charlotte, and UNC Greensboro. Born and raised in Greenwood, SC, he now teaches at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, NC.
By Connie Post
Glass Lyre Press, January 2014
Reviewed by Karen Bowles
In Connie Post's Flood Water, readers are given the choice of submerging themselves into a universe all too aware of the fragility of existence, and the perseverance needed to continue sallying forth when you "know the support beams will fall someday." Post sees the cracks in the world with haunting clarity, tallying them up in abundance. Whether it is a physical or metaphysical object that is splintering, Post is eyeing them up to sleuth out secrets:
I hide under rickety door frames
find cracks in places nobody knows about
trying to tell you
how hard it can be
to hide inside a body.
Flood Water is a rising tide in ode to the absence left behind by loss, by the loved one who has rejected you and moved on with their lives, leaving a hole that is glaring in its emptiness. Excuses are given, such as the feeling of being tired as an excuse for not engaging with loved ones and friends, but in the end you end up yet again awake through a gaping night, as it consumes your feelings. Repetitive imagery abounds, shaking readers through different visceral needs: Hunger, Sound, Maps, Breathing. A search is on to make these things come together in a way that makes sense, where one might be fearing that there is none to be had:
You may find torn maps
all over your yard
you may hide them from yourself -- again and again
but they always lead you
to the same moment
parked in front of your own misery.
Readers are offered a respite in the form of the loving acceptance of a dog who has found his way to the author, as she sits on her back porch listening to him breathing, trying to find the sounds that only he can hear. He has pushed his way into her life, despite her repeated insistence of making walls through various incarnations of poetry. He has broken through this, a stray vagabond himself who is also looking for a sense of home and companionship:
I wonder how
he has so easily
found his way beneath the fences
the gates I thought I had closed.
Post continues on in an effort to find "the midpoint between gratitude and rage," but there is hope given in how her "whole self / can be found in the fur / at the underside" of her dog's neck. He may not believe, as she does, "in the truth / in the cracks of the night," but he is happy to pull all he can from the "mercy" in her "broken hands." The citadel of this poet's heart is one that has asked readers to come inside, much like her stray dog, and ignore the walls. Instead, look for that which is still on offer, from a soul who listens to the birds and counts her steps and hopes that it is all leading in a direction that makes sense, that will bring her to a renewed and uncracked image of home and the chance of amnesty, when
forgiveness finds a small
a thin slat
to glide through.
Connie Post served as the first Poet Laureate of Livermore, California (2005-2009). She created two popular reading series during her term. Her work has appeared in The Aurorean, Barnwood International, Calyx, Cold Mountain Review, Crab Creek Review, Comstock Review, Dogwood, Iodine Poetry Journal, Kalliope, Karamu, Main Street Rag, Pirene’s Fountain, The Pedestal Magazine, Up The Staircase, Spillway, and Slipstream. She was winner of the 2009 Caesura Poetry Award and has been short listed for theComstock Review Muriel Craft Bailey awards five times. Her chapbook “And When the Sun Drops”(Finishing Line Press) won the Fall Aurorean 2012 Editor’s Choice award.
Karen Bowles is the founder, publisher and editor of Luciole Press. She gained the nickname "Firefly" from a friend for her enduring love of the glowbugs in the South; "Luciole" means firefly in French. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Literature, and loves photography, reading, writing, theatre, and painting. After spending many years moving around, this military brat has laid down roots in Northern California, where you can find her gazing at stars and arguing with the bossy blue jay in her backyard.
Connie Post served as the first Poet Laureate of Livermore, California (2005-2009). She created two popular reading series during her term. Her work has appeared in The Aurorean, Barnwood International, Calyx, Cold Mountain Review, Crab Creek Review, Comstock Review, Dogwood, Iodine Poetry Journal, Kalliope, Karamu, Main Street Rag, Pirene's Fountain, The Pedestal Magazine, Up The Staircase, Spillway, and Slipstream. She was winner of the 2009 Caesura Poetry Award and has been short listed for the Comstock Review Muriel Craft Bailey awards five times. Her chapbook "And When the Sun Drops" (Finishing Line Press) won the Fall Aurorean 2012 Editor's Choice award.
No Oceans Here
By Sweta Srivastva Vikram
Modern History Press, 2013
Reviewed by Rajiv
I first met Sweta Srivastva Vikram at a reading that we both gave for the REZ reading series in 2011 and was taken by the clarity and even tone of the poems that she read there (from her Pushcart nominated book Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors). I was struck by her journey through linguistic associations and vibrant images that were striking and altogether accessible—tracing her journey through her cultural inheritance using the colors associated with various ashrams as a metaphor.
Vikram’s work has been described as “sparse and powerful, evoking reflection and a grander examination of the world around us” containing “fresh imagery and delicate linguistic craftsmanship.” After reading No Ocean Here, published in 2013 by Modern History Press, I would like to add to this by commenting on accessibility to the narrative that inspired it. Vikram uses clear and direct images to propel the reader into a visceral understanding of the trauma indicated by her words. As witnessed by her poetry, there doesn’t need to be anymore obscuring the issues that she delineates. The reader is shocked by the candor as well as the content of the text, which illustrates her form and style as specifically crafted to fit the themes of the work. Thematically this book centers on the untreated traumas suffered by women worldwide, from Sri Lanka, to India; from The Congo, to the myriad plights of women of the developing world. For example in her poem “Heavier, Holding Her”
Ceaseless is her pain:
like rocks picked, beaten
by the waves in the seas,
thrown beyond geographies;
A rope tugs a boat,
a rope chokes her neck.
Sadly, she doesn’t want this long life
where the breeze becomes heavier
Vikram uses the image “A rope tugs a boat,/ a rope chokes her neck.” to allow the reader to draw subconscious parallels between the tugging of a boat and the hanging/choking of a woman to further the inspection of the themes at large in this collection. In this way the poet is able to balance the horrors and atrocities she writes about with an earnest and straightforward approach that commands attention and refuses to be sequestered under patriarchal mandates and hegemonies that silence women. The reader wastes no time arriving at horrors that should be fully illuminated.
What makes Vikram essential is her ability to bring these various stories collected from first hand accounts and true stories required a reckoning with humankind’s darkest of inclinations. In this way the poet becomes a researcher, using her privilege and voice to no longer ignore ubiquitous patriarchal oppression. Speaking with Vikram about the process of her writing has illuminated the complexity of the issues she writes about, and the poet’s determination to produce art that resists erasure. In her work she delves into the darkest of places and lights a candle of words—holding a vigil to the continuance of the human spirit despite abject despair and ultimate horror. Another point worth considering is Vikram’s use of I throughout the book. She is able to take the stories out of her own voice and set them comfortably into her poetically conversational tone. She reminds us in the end of her book to “Listen” as she does to the morsels of story that are served to you even in your own home, therefore implicating the reader’s complicity in oppression if their own ears and mouths remain closed.
Rajiv Mohabir is the author of three chapbooks: anandamritakarshini, the raga that brings the rain, (EOAGH, forthcoming), na bad-eye me (Pudding House Press, 2010) and na mash me bone (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Published in literary journals such as Drunken Boat, Great River Review, Assacarus, Chicago Poetry, Lantern Review, Four Way Review, Kartika Review, and Saw Palm he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010. Rajiv is the Editor in Chief for the Ozone Park Journal run by the MFA students at Queens College. An American Institute of Indian Studies fellow (2011-2012), he currently hosts the radio show KAVIhouse on JusRadio, a program devoted to poetries of South Asia and its Diasporas.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com) is an award-winning writer, two times Pushcart Prize nominated-poet, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, and educator whose musings have translated into four chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a book-length collection of poetry, a novel, and a nonfiction book of prose and poems. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, literary journals, and online publications across seven countries in three continents. A graduate of Columbia University, she reads her work, teaches creative writing workshops, and gives talks at universities and schools across the globe. Sweta lives in New York City with her husband.
Friendly Street New Poets—14
Reviewed by Elizabeth Nichols
The fourteenth release of the Friendly Street New Poets features M.L. Emmett, Rob Hardy, and Thom Sullivan. In doing so, this collection showcases the value of poetry and its ability to plumb the depths of human life. The order of the featured poets and their respective poems flows beautifully, and compliments the inter-related themes that this collection probes.
M.L. Emmet opens the collection with Snatching Time, which is also the title of her collected poems in this edition of Friendly Street New Poets. It argues that a poem takes time away from the reader, fighting for human attention:
From Snatching Time
Now, while you're reading...
it snatches a few seconds–
a tiny grasping, clawing animal...
blocking the way...
and the next minute.
You can never get it back.
The poem is one of many things in the contemporary world straining to capture human attention. It competes with the old advances like television, and struggles to stay afloat in the sea of new siren mini-screen that blare with color and sound in human hands as phones, tablets, and music players. Life becomes a wealth of mixed messages that are instantly accessible and gratifying. Why should a poem be worthy of any attention? Emmett answers with brilliant images and haunting physicality in The Forensic Science of Grief:
Each moment of everyday
we shed ourselves
shed dead cells and renew–
a cycle of shedding
until the last shedding of ourselves.
What a poem offers is a compact, in-depth image of life and death that lets the reader find themselves. That is, by allowing poetry to snatch time from her tech-laden hands, the reader finds a way to discover meaning and identity in the chaotic din left by modern devices.
Next, Rob Hardy applies a different lens through which to understand human life. Where Emmett explores the forensic science of death, Hardy examines an electronic death:
From The Electronic Death of Len McCreedy
Len died mowing the back lawn....
...Gwen signed the appropriate forms....
His name was removed from the credit card....
And the lady from the insurance company
entered 'deceased' into the status field
took her jacket off the chair
and went for a coffee.
As opposed to Emmett's examination of death, Hardy's approach seems oddly detached. Whereas Emmett imagines a constant renewal and remaking of one's self until death, Hardy creates a world that is clinical, examining a life with data and records, and ending in a trivial coffee run. Where is the meaning, the identity that poetry is supposed to show us? Hardy explains with a Centre Console Cleanout:
Start with the small stuff
pen lids, five cent coin
expired furl vouchers.
Move up to bigger issues
receipts, unsent letters....
life is chaos
you can't control it.
You can't even
control an area
smaller than a milk carton.
accept your lot.
Digging through the errata of life, the conclusion is chaos. But, even in the chaos that is discovered as an accepted state of being, the reader can still find meaning. There is humor, and something essentially human, in the attempt to control and name that chaos.
The collection draws to a close with Thom Sullivan. Sullivan's poetry lets the collection end on a tranquil note. He uses natural imagery to find life and death in idyllic scenes, as in Loch and Gorge:
...So timeless a place that visions
of a storm-wrecked ship, burning lamp-oil
and two survivors washing into the gorge,
are as tangible still as the few brief rays of sun.
inscribed with with initials and avowals
by generations of lovers and travelers....
...And out beyond the gorge,
the rolling snap and groan of tide–
the full force of the ocean
whispering the rock from its resolve.
The scene of an eroding rock formation reveals a story of human tragedy and that echoes into the present. With graffiti-ed messages, human create meaning and preserve themselves in the seeming permanency of rock, not unlike the poet scratching ink into a page. The poem, then, has come full circle. Poetry demands human time and looks for the meaning in life, death, and chaos, ultimately allowing its readers to find themselves. And, now, humans use poetry to preserve themselves, as well. As Sullivan puts it in Homecoming,
We come at last to familiar hills,
quickening, sensing an urgency,
...we're still a mile or two from home,
reappraising each familiar form anew
and recasting them with splendor.
In familiar images, the reader finds a sense of themselves. Indeed, through poetry new meaning is given to the familiar images of life. Through Emmett, Hardy, and Sullivan, Fourteenth Street New Poems 14 shows the need for poetry in human life to not only understand complexities like life and death but most importantly ourselves.