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Category Archives: book reviews
Publisher: Aldrich Press (November 15, 2013)
Reviewed by: g emil reutter
Laura Grace Weldon has a gentle brutal voice in this exceptional collection of poems. It is reflected in the opening stanza and closing two stanzas of Ruminating, a poem about the family cow.
Animals are incapable
of higher thought and emotions
or so I was taught
She moves to the last two stanzas, the gentle Isabelle is observing the farm family as she relaxes in the pasture along the fence line, ruminating….
Isabelle regards us
from the nearby fence line
her soft lips moving
as she chews, ruminating.
Our breath hangs in the cold air
smelling of her son
roasted with onion, herbs, wine
In Santa Clara County V. Southern Pacific Railroad, Weldon reflects wealth traveling through rural poverty with images that pop from the page:
The day a car uncoupled,
spilling frozen beef,
armed guards arrived to destroy the cargo
but hungry people pushed onto the tracks
They bent gladly all the way home
Bearing suppers heavy promise.
Torn hillside nearly empty, still
those who know what it is to be broken
stand on crushed grass
staring at tracks
leading away from here.
The poem, Making it Work, concerning domestic strife, the wife is surrounded…
Where everything is beige and brown framed in flowered wall paper.
In these poems Weldon creates images that reflect not only the beauty of rural American life but of the brutal reality that it truly is.
You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Tending-Laura-Grace-Weldon/dp/0615913423
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) https://gereutter.wordpress.com/
Paperback: 104 pages
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (August 9, 2014)
Reviewed by: g emil reutter
Poet Sam Taylor’s Nude Descending an Empire is a collection driven by the moment with an occasional glance over his shoulder. Taylor writes poems that are created by surroundings and events, more often than not he avoids modern poetry’s preoccupation with self, although he dips his keyboard there every so often.
He brings us to old Europe into the dust and sand of places we may not want to be, to the heartland and swamps of North America. In the poem, Jataka Tales, he writes
I can’t stop dreaming of maps/ but from my life as a stone/ I have yet to speak.
And then there is his visit to China, when surrounded by locals he attempts to speak to them in their language, not knowing he was using the wrong tone. Poet and shit use the same structure but with different tones, so when asked what he does in the poem The Book of Poetry, he responds in the wrong tone, I am a shit man. I write shit and repeating it. A shit person, I write books of shit. Understand?
I am glad to say Taylor doesn’t write books of shit. A great example are a few words from the poem The Book of Winter, which knowingly or not, Taylor gives a nod to Sandburg.
In the pasture
heaven is falling
into the bare willows
and oaks, and cottonwoods,
over the vertical
of parked semis,
their white cabs
with painted blue
This collection of poems by Sam Taylor is worth the read, you should pick up a copy.
You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Nude-Descending-Empire-Poetry-Series/dp/0822963043
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA). http://gereutter.wordpress.com/
A look back…
Untermeyer begins the foreword of this anthology first published in 1922
“Modern” is, perhaps, the most misleading adjective in the dictionary. There is no term more fluctuant and elusive, that shifts its meanings with greater rapidity, that turns its back so quickly upon those ardent champions who defended it most stubbornly. The present merges so swiftly into the past that today’s definition of modernity may seem, after the shortest of intervals, an apology for some safely enshrined tradition.
In the preface Untermeyer offers a look at the changing American literary landscape, defining when American poets came into their own, reflecting the nation in words as opposed to the literary establishment that failed to embrace the changing nation and remained tethered to England. This history highlights the revolution that was Whitman and Dickinson to Sandberg, Amy Lowell, H.D., Langston Hughes, Frost, and western frontier poetry that enchanted the nation by the likes of Bret Harte, John Hay, Edward Rowland Sill and Joaquin Miller.
This first half of this anthology contains the work of 83 American poets with two distinct threads. The shooting stars and those who faced harsh criticism, endured, who even today influence poets. Untermeyer offers up a history of each poet prior to a set of poems. This in itself is worth the read, as history is a good thing to know.
I picked up my copy at a used book store. It is in very good condition although well read. You can find a copy at Amazon for a whopping $.074 for a hard copy. An anthology and history of poets for under a buck, how can you beat that?
Next time we will have a look at the Brits.
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia. You can find him at https://gereutter.wordpress.com/
Publisher: Red Dashboard Press
(February 28, 2014)
Reviewed by Dennis Daly
I rode in with a posse of northeastern elites ready to make short work of any outlaw poet espousing a “cowboy” perception of all things human. Reckon us artsy-fartsy, highfalutin folk can’t abide shit-kickers, firing their guns in the air after writing a poetic memoir extolling the timeless and utterly personal importance of beans and cornbread.
Days after discarding the unused hangman’s rope and reading My South By Southwest, Elizabeth Akin Stelling’s collection of poems set in rural Texas, in its entirety for the second time I became a believer in, if not cowboy poetry, at least Stelling’s version of this genre.
Stelling writes with an odd poetic cadence. She mixes the expected caricature of popular movie legend with realistic country diction and then infuses it with jaw-dropping moments of complexity. The book’s front and back covers and its illustrations unabashedly build on the cartoon look. But through it all Stelling’s honesty blasts onto the pages with the withering candor of a west Texas sun.
The book begins with a prologue poem entitled Texas Skies. The piece is pure enchantment. White clouds shape themselves into dessert plants like mesquite and prickly pear, and then reform themselves into a woman encountering her universal cowboy. Flirtation follows with the predictable “scoot across a sawdust dance floor.” The poem ends transitioning from the messy personal to big picture beauty,
at night’s end,
morning light exposes a scene,
of rustled bed sheets and blankets
in a musky room
filled with far-flung recollection.
Down the road,
a prettier site to behold:
a backdrop of a country town,
under a big top called Texas,
a blue one
dotted with pretty white clouds,
scattered and taking on shapes,
of so many boundless things.
In Stelling’s poem, There’s A New Sheriff In Town, she describes her chemical makeup as a toddler in pretty funny terms and how it matches her Texas surroundings. The poem opens this way,
I drove my mother crazy
with my finger-sucking
(left-hand index barrel).
She would place me in a crib jail
and look down.
My “nasty habit” she called it,
crossing her chest
as if praying to ward off evil.
Her sister advised her
“buy really hot sauces”
like mustard, green chilies
dip my finger in them,
then when she lay me down
to sleep, guaranteed,
I wouldn’t touch them.
Aunt Grace was wrong.
The hotter the better.
Emotions attach themselves very readily to food I’ve noticed, remembered emotions from childhood even more so. Stelling makes good use of this phenomenon in her poem Corn-bread and beans. The poet details a family going through tough times. A mother prepares poverty’s breakfast in a cold house. The ending tugs at one’s heart,
Each felt the sting—one, two, three
cutting of onions,
a front door slamming
and a father gone.
Leaving them—one, two, three, four
frail bodies for eternity,
with a smell,
the burning aftertaste,
and a craving
for cornbread and beans.
Hearing the N Word In 1966 breaks through the surface texture of this collection. This poem delivers complexity, pathos, and a bit of thought provoking irony, all in five stanzas. The poet hits all the right notes. She has to. The poem begins harshly,
My father said nigger under his breath
toward some boys, coloured, and both
walking with scraps of lumber. They were dragging
wood along the school fence.
Huckleberry Finn did this jig,
And had fun.
Asking if daddy knew them,
supposing he worked with their fathers—
I was told to shut up
to remember my place.
Here’s another brief selection from the same poem, highlighting childhood pathos,
Sandra and I came walking down the street.
In a rage Momma flew out our front door,
telling me to go into the house. Watching
through the screen door, I saw my friend’s tears.
Her unkempt afro swung around, then
she had to walk back four blocks
to an empty school.
Not only does this poet have a good ear but she understands the times and how societal bigotry infests otherwise decent people. It’s not that the poet’s persona is throwing her parents under the bus, but rather she seems intent on presenting an honest picture and setting up an ironic twist in the final stanza.
Kit Carson’s name graces a stray boulder and Geronomo metamorphosizes into a wooden Injun in Stelling’s poem Outlaws Still Border Texas. Tourism pleads its case from desolation. On a family road trip the poet notes a number of these incongruities. The poem ends not unreasonably,
“Goyahkla” means “The one who yawns”;
it is one of many trading posts
and totem pole—
riddled smoke shops
along the old Chisholm trail.
When I listened to the wind blowing through my long
auburn hair as Daddy drove,
I thought I heard the Great Spirit
call out: How
on earth did this blasphemy
make it this far?”
Wasn’t this supposed to be
a new frontier?
Beginning her poem, History Calls Out, “A Bullet Gone Wild, Stelling quotes the gunfighter Bat Masterson, who said, “If you want to hit a man in the chest aim for his groin.” I know a bit about Masterson. He later became a sportswriter in New York and railed against the barbarity of football. Somehow that seems appropriate. Stelling mixes a dreamed up meditation with gross reality. Here’s the heart of the poem,
When a man walked out into the street,
his gun packed as tight as possible,
in his belt and not far from his crooked
finger, it might have appeared aggression
looked you square in the eye.
Walk and draw was still a dream.
Civilized men kept a one shooter
deep in the pocket of his trousers.
To prosper, whiskey, and boredom
Brought out the best in a man
In the wilds of the frontier.
Together, the blend of honesty and humorous caricature charm these poems of cowboy sub-culture. Try ‘em out. You’ll like ‘em. Maybe you’ll like ‘em alot. And, dagnabbit, keep your spurs on and watch your back.
You can check out the book here:
-Dennis Daly has been published in numerous poetry journals and magazines and recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. Ibbetson Street Press published The Custom House, his first full length book of poetry in June, 2012. His second book, a verse translation of Sophocles’ Ajax, was published by Wilderness House Press in August, 2012. His third book of poems entitles Night Walking with Nathaniel was recently released by Dos Madres Press. A fourth book is nearing completion.
Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (June 2, 2014)
Reviewed by g emil reutter
Paul B. Roth is a narrative poet who lives in the shadows. Existence is a challenge for this haunted poet who accepts what comes his way.
In spite of your head still held between your hands, all windows
disappear upon opening your eyes. You no longer need wait for what’s not
coming, nor for anyone to say you no longer exist.
Roth writes, “In the future, you’ll take your darkness elsewhere” An irony captured in one line from the poem Low Detection. He is a poet of maggots, hangnails, willows, of absent heartbeats. He is an expert on absent dreams and of light turning into dark loneliness.
The poet says, “Who passes by who doesn’t notice you, who never notices you or comes for you.”
His short narratives are constructed well, held together in images reflecting the dark and lonely side of life. These laments in Long Way Back to the End will bring you into the light and shadows of life, some you may recognize, and some you may fear.
Check out the book here: http://rainmountainpress.com/books31.html
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) http://gereutter.wordpress.com/
Seven Kitchens Press
Second printing: July, 2008 [100 copies]
19 pages, 4.625 x 6.75 inches
Reviewed by Diane Sahms-Guarnieri
UNDERGROUND SINGING (Winner of the 2007 Keystone Chapbook Prize) contains seventeen detailed narrative poems framed within Girardville, Pennsylvania, an eastern coal town setting. These poems are mined together into the larger scope of a story.
Harry Humes’s pieces of memories are stitched together into one reflective whole, where the center holds. It’s inspiring to read for its honesty and brilliant attentiveness to metaphoric detail. There’s not a word left dangling, rather a crystal clear recollection – like an underground spring sparkling in discovery, as underground consciousness streams its way into conscious realism, through his words, through his poems, through his singing of childhood memories. Breath breathed from coal dust – into life – and then returning once again to dust.
This collection begins with “Man With a Yellow Pail.” The man is walking somewhere… up the hill / toward a house, maybe his own house. Planned or unplanned, what a great way to start a small collection, the arduous climb upward – life’s many hills and then the sound of the pail squeaking. The reader is drawn in to this first poem by sensory perception: visual, auditory, and tactile. The continuation of visual description plays on as Time has passed, It was late March, and a naturalistic setting with mallards or wood frogs quaking on the vernal pond. An enigma pursues as the contents inside the pail are unknown, dandelions or forsythia beautiful springtime yellows, these harbingers of spring juxtaposed with or fish worms? Yes, it’s fishing season and sure it could be worms. And then Humes adds his own personal adaptation (something that I as a reader had no former knowledge of, something uniquely Humes to his familial upbringing) – maybe animal guts for some cheerless reading. In addition, to adding the sensation of smell, that is, scent of flowers and stink of worms and animal guts, the reader may ask – Who reads animal guts? (The poet answers this question, with a different twist, his father a reader of pigeon bones in lieu of animal guts in “The Bone Reader,” which will be addressed later). For now, the reader is freed from that question, because in the next lines the man in Humes’s poem is raising …his free arm / into the sky, palm and fingers tilted upwards, / as if expecting something to land there. Again the reader questions – What would land there?
Then, the unanswered question, followed by rain as cleansing, rain as an breathed in, an olfactory sensation: The air smelled like rain pocking dusty weeds,/ and the moon floated low in the west, and the careful and perfect placement of the last line –
everything on edge, waiting to spill.
This is a hook of an opener, to a chapbook of poems loaded with detailed sensory perception, a lived-narrative of life in a rural setting. Another poem “Polka for Three Dancing Elephants” is about Polish women dancing together “The Beer Barrel Polka” or “The Pennsylvania Polka” …at wedding receptions / at Ranger’s Fire House or St. Vincent’s Hall. This is a throwback to receptions once held in fire halls, and there is no political correctness here, as there wasn’t any then. Just life for life’s sake, the way it was growing up in “Ash Alley,” Humes a survivor of those by-gone days, destined to sing its underground music of the days of freedom and despair, from “Ash Alley:”
… I know there was always coughing / and wasn’t there always someone calling our name.
to “Slush Dam:”
…You’ve been at that sulfur-stinking place, haven’t you, haven’t you? our mother would shout. If you sink in it, we’ll never find you. Mummies is what you’ll be. Do you hear me?…
There’s this romantic nostalgia of looking back in Time and realizing what kind of place it really was, while growing up, and that you lived through those days to come back years later in your mind and write about it, for others to understand where you have come from – the beautiful and the ugly, the pain and the joy, and that special something that was rather unique to you and your family, community. “The Bone Reader” (is the poem I referred to earlier) of which, the entire first stanza cannot be spared here for that reason:
Down in the cobwebbed dirt cellar
With coal bin, buckets of nails, crosscut saws,
Down there was a shoe box filled with pigeon bones
That my father would spill out on the kitchen floor
And read things in the tangle
Of breast bones, ribs wing bones, skulls
And then the final stanza:
But not a hint or click of movement,
and me remembering that moment my father
turned to us and asked if we had heard
and we said yes.
Why lie, because Humes understood in innocence, in childhood wisdom, that his father’s dangerous and long hours of hard work, underground, in the darkness was one of life’s worst occupations, and because Humes respected his father, …and because he(Humes’s father) was a man skilled with darkness, / an underground man effortlessly finding his way / through coal veins…. His father told them…Oh yes, / I hear things down there / in creaking and drop of water, / we believed him.
That’s why; because this underground singing is a childhood memory and yes, Harry Humes lived on to read the bones of his father’s death with a beautifully sad innocence – with love – never sparing life’s darkness, never sparing America of its dirty coal dust lung: a sound of singing and/or coughing? This is “American Realism” …down there in the muck, / down there steadily finding its way.
The last four lines of the last poem in Humes’s prized chapbook, “My Ravine,” …putting my hand against the cool walls / for a kind of direction, maybe asking / one last dumb question, and eating / a little dirt so I would never forget.
UNDERGROUND SINGING, a written testament of a life, of a time, he remembers.
You can find the book here: http://sevenkitchenspress.com/our-authors/harry-humes/
Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back
Publisher: Hebrew Union College Press
. University of Pittsburgh Press
Reviewed by g emil reutter
Rachel Izvia Back sets the tone for this collection in the first sentence of her introduction to this work by Poet Tuvia Ruebner. Loss defines the crossbeams and chronicles of Tuvia Ruebner’s life. His first collection of poems was published in 1957 and this selected poetry collection published in 2014. Ruebner at age 90, continues to write much as the American poet Stanley Kunitz continued to do late in life.
Ruebner as a teenager was on the abyss of the holocaust. In 1941 with a ninth grade education, (the Nazi’s prohibited Jews from attending school), Ruebner’s parents arranged and paid for his transport to Palestine thus escaping the death camps. His wave goodbye was the last time he would see them in this life as his entire family was engulfed in the flames of Nazi genocide. He would carry this heavy loss of family throughout his life.
He began in Palestine as a farmer in a communal setting. Loss again tagged him when his young wife was killed in a bus accident that left Ruebner seriously injured. After a three month recovery he returned home and due to his injuries, became a teacher in the local school. Ruebner focused on poetry and teaching, became a university professor, received early acclaim in Europe yet it wasn’t until the 1980s that Israel began to bestow acknowledgment upon the poet. Loss again hit the poet as his son traveling in South America disappeared never to be heard from again.
The poet, surrounded by violence and loss for almost a century found comfort in his art of poetry. He has taught us that creating brings comfort, no matter how heartbreaking the subject matter. His words sing from the page rescuing beauty from the horror that has surrounded him. A master of German lyrical poetry in his early years he turned to writing in Hebrew with the same intensity and attention to detail. His poems, his journey, his life are an inspiration. Tzvia Back noted Ruebner’s attention to language, form and sound in her splendid introduction. She has with great success brought this attention to the English translations of Ruebner’s Hebrew poems, no small task.
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadlephia, Pa. (USA). http://gereutter.wordpress.com/
Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (August 4, 2014)
Available for pre-order
Reviewed by g emil reutter
The poet Andrew Kaufman has attempted to capture paradise and jail in a series of 47 sonnets compiled in The Complete Cinnamon Bay Sonnets. Kaufman sets the stage in the prologue with his poem Two Hours After My Brother Called. The poem is set in Central Booking of the NYPD in Manhattan where he is incarcerated for interfering in an arrest. In vivid detail he describes the holding tank and environment with a loneliness and as boisterous as he sounds, a fear. He deals with his condition through an imaginary brother until his father arrives to bail him out.
The sonnets in this collection are haunted by this experience even as he writes of his paradise, the Virgin Islands, handcuffs, beat downs haunt him through each poem. Each of these sonnets captures theatrical drama and the use of this form speaks not only to the patience of the poet but to his craft.
He leaves us in Sonnet # 47, last two stanzas
These forty plus poems leave me free
to return, thoughtless as a tourist
to the air and sun. But then it starts
again, the blankness careening toward fear
and want that are treacherous as damp scree,
as I slog through the slush and mud of March.
In this collection the poet leaves us with an appreciation of the air and sun, (freedom), and an awareness of the slush and mud of the world.
You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Cinnamon-Bay-Sonnets/dp/0989705153
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA).http://gereutter.wordpress.com/
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: University of Michigan Press (January 1, 1982)
Reviewed by Stephen Page
While I was reading the introduction of Living Off the Country, I thought, Oh no!, this is just another treatise by an egotistical writer filled with ego-driven philosophy; but I soon changed my mind. By page seven I knew I was reading a good book. Haines’s perception of the evolution of language is keen: “one of the consequences of having a language and a culture is that these begin to exist for themselves in place of the original things we once lived by.” Our minds manipulate language, but mostly, language is manipulated by the powers-that-be to take on meanings other than the idea or thing. “Go West young man,” or “conquer the last frontier,” are a couple of examples. The statement is also an introduction into the main theme of the book, that is, place. For Haines, place is Alaska; moreover the land, the natural world, the things in the natural world. We must get back to nature and be a part of it. This is sound advice, for the natural world is important and the human race has lost sync with it. We build cities that wall out animals, and make noise that scares away more. We give names to things so they fit our conception of the world (reminds me in a parallel sense of Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines). Haines believes we must get into the “spirit of place.” Try not to let the names of things block our perception of the world nor our sense of being one with the world. And most of all, we shouldn’t allow our culture or leaders to manipulate our thoughts and feelings about things and ideas. The natural world is where the spirit of the universe can be felt best, and since people are natural beings, they should try to “be” with nature in order to “be” with themselves. All places have different characteristics, different versions of the spirit. Haines goes on to say in other essays: not everyone is in love with nature, nor can he or she be in tune with it all the time, the world has progressed and changed too much for that. So a writer must be in tune with his surroundings wherever he may live. A writer’s job is to write literature that takes on place. Place must be in the writing. I also liked how he emphasized in the latter half of the essays, especially in “From the Beginning,” that writers should be concerned about concepts larger than themselves. He says that poets today lack grand ideas because they are only inwardly tuned, catharsizing and thinking that is all they need to do. Writers certainly need to be inwardly tuned, to get in touch with themselves, but they should also be concerned about larger principles. Worldviews that concern humanity and the environment are some examples that poets might tackle today. I still dislike introductions of books written by the authors, and I felt Haines’s autobiographical sketches at the end only turned the book around to himself again, which is defeating the purpose of many of his essays. In all though, the meat of the book is informative and world encompassing, and I am going to return to it many times, and recommend it to other writers.
You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Off-Country-Essays-Poetry/dp/0472063332
Stephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan. There he worked in factories, gasoline stations, and steel-cutting shops. He always longed for a vocation associated with nature. He now lives in Argentina, teaches literature, ranches, and spends time with his family.
Publisher: lulu.com (October 15, 2013)
Doug Holder is a poet of place and family with a keen eye to a time that has passed. A sense of loss is contained in the words of this chapbook, Holder’s loss and the loss of places and time current generations will never know. Of beat tables, cracked cups, mustard sandwiches as in the poem Eating Grief at Bickford’s.
There are no places anymore
Where I can sit at a threadbare table
Pick at the crumbs on my plate . . .
The old men
Who used to spout
The cracked porcelain of their cups
The boiling water
The mustard sandwich
These used to relish
In one simple stanza Holder captures the façade of the 1950’s family, the perfect family that never really existed but on television, the all-knowing father and submissive mother. The poem Father knows Best-Mother Does the Rest.
The bland tyranny
of the cardigan sweater.
creased in brutal condescension.
Holder writes of his own father in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, of how Holder is haunted by the image of his father’s loss of the normal use of his left hand.
I thought of my father
As he gripped
His left hand
Prying it open with his right
A hand curling
Into a callused fetus
Holding on to
For dear life.
Eating Grief at 3:00 a.m. is just 36 pages of poetry. Yet Holder packs this slim volume with images that will stay with you for some time. In Abandoned Warehouses he writes,
Sometimes you must follow
The rat’s path
The scrawled invective of the graffiti
You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Eating-Grief-at-3-A-M/dp/1304528995
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA). You can find him at : http://gereutter.wordpress.com/