Category Archives: book reviews

I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast by Melissa Studdard

I ATEHardcover: 82 pages

Publisher: Saint Julian Press, Inc.; 1st edition (September 15, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0988944758

ISBN-13: 978-0988944756

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Reviewed by g emil reutter

Melissa Studdard writes of God as female birthing the universe, of what God could be, our reactions and creations. She writes in the poem, Naming Sky:

Kneel to the temple of wind. Listen to the voices
lingering in trees. When they moan,
it is your name they call. You can answer
with touch. You can call them God or sky or self.
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Studdard writes of truck drivers, Neruda, Van Gogh, of trees, animals and gatekeepers. She lives in the sunsets and stars, knows of shadows and lights. The opening of the poem, Those who See in The Dark, pulses with energy and images.
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So freedom would rain
In the ballrooms of their chests,
They entered sideways through the pulse
Of hands on imaginary dreams. One
Wore a wing beat in her eye,
The other, groves of laughter in her thumbs,
And all the while, they called it dancing.
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From Everything is so Delicious:
 
Sometimes
I feel so hungry, so thirsty,
I don’t want to die.
This desire to butter and eat the stars.
This desire to pack the sunset in my bag
and run home with her, to make
a terrarium for the moon.
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I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast is a fast paced creation of stars and sunsets of God and the images of the mind of Melissa Studdard. She is a poet of vison and sensitivity, of the perfect and imperfect, absorbing all around her.

 

You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Ate-Cosmos-Breakfast-Melissa-Studdard/dp/0988944758/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411651757&sr=1-1&keywords=i+ate+the+cosmos+for+breakfast+by+Melissa+Studdard

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g-emil-reutter-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) https://gereutter.wordpress.com/

Red Seeps – Droplets of Doubt, Destiny and Devotion in Verse by Sadia Riaz Sehole

a16284Publisher:    Authorspress, New Delhi, India
Language: English
ISBN- 978-81-7273-932-4
 
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Reviewed by Shernaz Wadia
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Here I am, getting acquainted with Sadia Riaz Sehole’s maiden book of poems Red Seeps, Droplets of Doubt, Destiny and Devotion in Verse. The airy blue of the cover, with the title oozing red, belies the monochromatic visuals on the inside, both, together with the layout by Geetali Baruah. Striking! Will the 3Ds (Doubt, Destiny and Devotion) turn the readers into oysters that will nurture the pearl shown on the cover page? To find the answer, I obviously had to read the poems. 
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Poetry, to be good, should blend craft and magic; it should flow from the union of head and heart. All emotions can make a poem mushy…only hard-headed thoughts, without the mellowing edges of feeling and a poem can sound harsh and abrasive. 
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The back cover says, “For Sadia, writing is an outlet for a plethora of feelings, agony, dilemmas, chaos, evens and odds in life.” 
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Here’s what I found in Red Seeps.
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The poems are short, some of only four lines and simply crafted. They spew angst, screams, dumbed-down dreams, smothered passions, hidden trauma –   the exploration and revelation of the trajectory of a tempestuous emotional journey. A raw vein aches and pulsates through the book, interjected here and there by hope, prayer and courage. These try to balance the unnerving, unexpected harshness of the world with mature thinking. Each black and white image too is startlingly perfect…a stark reflection of the poem it illustrates, one complementing the other and making the book a visual delight despite its disturbing darkness.
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One could easily say the poems are ‘I-centric’ because almost every verse is in the first person but that would be over-simplifying and undermining their universal impact.  Though she is a woman and I can identify with her, let me clarify here that this is by no means a diatribe against men. Nor does Sadia whine in self-pity. Her quiet words give voice to all silent sufferers – male or female.
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One poem that haunts is ‘Silent Screams’.  
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“Alone and exiled/Disdained and assailed…..
…Soundless ache like boundless sands/and emptiness all around/Simply because I am too big to cry.”
That last line is a forceful lamentation on society’s collective conditioning where often we don’t let even children cry saying ‘Grown up boys/girls don’t cry.’
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‘Lament’ is another very relatable poem.
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“Mourning for the long-since-washed-away/Sand castles I had built on the beach/Eternally ephemeral/Evanescent/Ever-ending”
Hope, courage and self respect peep through ‘Torn Yet Not Worn’.
Yet little by little/A brave, relentless struggle/Regaining my pride/Carving my way…”.
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and again in ‘Courage’.
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The title poem ‘Red Seeps’ is about the cathartic value of writing – Inconsolable and insane/I picked up the pen/And here red seeps….
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Yes, the red of welts on the spirit, the red of passion, the red of open wounds and suppressed anger seeps on the pages of this anthology but there is also the incandescent colour of faith and devotion – “To the One and Only Invisible Being”, “Glory Unto You God, The Gracious”; if there is the blue of gloom there is also the glowing crimson of love – “Paean To My Parents”, “That’s What I’ll Be Without You”, “Dear Unseen Friend Across The Border”, “Brother, Brother, Oh My Brother”, “A Friend Like You”, “Nectar if Love”, “Absent”. 
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We also see the grey of doubt “Bewildered”; and the ambiguous hue of fatalism – “Me”, “I Wish To Die”, “This World”, “Time Ticks”.
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There are many more tinges and colours here, splashed from the spectrum that is life. I feel tempted to reveal them but I think it is only fair that I leave it to the readers to find those that blend/merge with/clash against the colours on their individual palettes, trickling through the vignettes of their life experiences.
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This is a fare bridled with the complexities and paradoxes of life. It is not so much Freud’s ‘play of childhood’ flowing into her creativity; it is the angst of youth. As Sadia weighs and processes her experiences and feelings we get glimpses into the twilight of a tormented soul; we see the ferret of fear gnawing; with her we also realise that there is hope – In my lonely world/Yet dawns a hope benign/An oyster may come/And make me its pearls. This is the complete   poem titled ‘Ray’.
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The preface by Vinita Agarwal is very sensitively discerning.
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A little more tightness of editing would not have left those hardly noticeable blemishes in an otherwise beautifully published work. Kudos to the publishers – Authorspress
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Before I end, a little about Sadia Riaz Sehole. She is a teacher and researcher, born and brought up in Lahore, Pakistan. After an early education in Science, she pursued Literature and is currently working on her PhD dissertation..
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Now  try and get to know her better, through her impressive book. 
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Shernaz-Wadia3- Shernaz Wadia, a retired teacher, lives in Pune, India. A free-lance writer, her articles, short stories and poems have been published in many online journals and literary magazines like Muse India, Boloji, Kritya and The Enchanting Verses etc. Her poems have been anthologised in Poets International, Roots and Wings and Caring Moments. Shernaz is in the process of publishing her poems in a book titled Whispers of the Soul.. She has also co-authored a book of poems titled “Tapestry”, with Israeli poetess Avril Meallem. It is an innovative form of collaborative poetry writing developed by the two of them.
 

 

City of Eternal Spring by Afaa Michael Weaver

citySeries: Pitt Poetry Series

Paperback: 96 pages

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (September 17, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0822963256

ISBN-13: 978-0822963257

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Reviewed by g emil reutter 

Afaa Michael Weaver, son of a sharecropper, soldier, factory worker, professor. He has traveled a unique road, a road carved out and built by Weaver himself.  He presents us with poetry that is grounded yet spiritual. City of Eternal Spring is the concluding book of a trilogy that includes The Plum Flower Dance and The Government of Nature.
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The poems in this collection present the reader with a blending of American rearing and Chinese spiritualism.
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From the 2nd stanza of the poem Recognition:
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I am you sitting in chairs, memories coming back
to fill my bones with you, inform the way I get about,
growing old little by little, trying to enlarge the circles
of mother and father and son, the circles my mother made
for me in the pain of bringing me back from breakdowns
so I can see my birth…
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A beautiful stanza reflecting life itself in Weaver’s view. In the chair, memories filling bones, growing old little by little, enlarging circles, freed from breakdowns, born again.
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Weaver’s poem MRT about trains and subways and travel gently brings us to another place, unexpected, our arrival not physical at all.
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From the 2nd stanza of the poem MRT:
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Being is filling the sack of something, knowing
yourself as a space, having mind take over
everything, ignoring the tubes and liquids
that give it something to drive, the mind driving,
stopped only by pain, and the train keeps pain
away from us, as perfect a machine as Chinese
genius can make, no undue slap against the rails
like Boston’s T, or the horror of underground
cities in New York. This is the Swiss ticking
of time in a life where I hide in the language,
bury myself in memorizing a writing that is
the opposite of abc, an American born color
like blackness, a curtain holding itself over me
a talking mirror that lets these staring eyes believe
what American hatred would teach them with
it disciples living here, the white minds who
spread the sickness of the place where I was born.
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City of Eternal Spring is a bold collection from Afaa Michael Weaver. As he embraces spiritualism, Weaver always has two feet firmly planted in the American experience as he has lived it.

 

Check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/City-Eternal-Spring-Pitt-Poetry/dp/0822963256/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411581449&sr=1-1&keywords=city+of+eternal+spring+by+afaa+michael+weaver

 

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g-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) https://gereutter.wordpress.com/

She Had Some Horses by Jay Harjo

SheHadSomeHorsesPbkbig

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039333421X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393334210
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Reviewed by Stephen Page 
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Friday afternoon.  I take a taxi to the Buenos Aires Airpark.  On my flight to Uruguay I read She Had Some Horses, by Jay Harjo. The poems seem somehow familiar, something . . . I am trying to put my finger on it . . . yes . . . they remind me of poems I have read in workshops at university—there is nothing technically wrong with them, but there is nothing outstanding about them either.  They evoke some imagery, but little emotion.   My friend meets me at the airport and drives me to his home.  That evening, after eating grilled lamb on a patio in back of his house, I gaze over what he calls a “backyard”, which is a hundred acres of rolling land surrounded by barbwire fence with a small herd of horses that graze on the grass.  Once in a while one of the horses will take off running, and two or three will follow its lead, running, jumping in the air, kicking their hooves about, neighing like they are laughing, manes and tails flowing.  Running about, it seems, just to run about—to have fun—to be happy to be alive.  I note how gracefully horses move. How proud they stand when they stick their heads up from grazing to look about.  That night, I read the book again.  I begin to notice a subtle tugging from the poems, an evasive yet imperative beckoning.  The next morning, I read the book a third time.  The poems stun me. Each one dazzles me, has my full attention—like the way I notice a woman is beautiful and interesting in a way I did not on a first meeting with her, but upon a second and third encounter, moves me, enters me, will not leave me.  One of the better poems in the book is ‘The Woman Hanging From the Thirteenth Floor Window’:
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She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
 window. Her hands are pressed white against the
 concrete molding of the tenement building. She
 hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago.
 with a swirl of birds over her head. They could
 be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her . . .
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The woman hanging from the 13th floor window
 on the east side of Chicago is not alone.
 She is a woman of children, of the baby, Carlos,
 and of Margaret, and of Jimmy who is the oldest.
 She is her mother’s daughter and her father’s son.
 She is several pieces between the two husbands
 she has had. She is all the women of the apartment
 building who stand watching her, watching themselves. . .
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She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window
 on the Indian side of town. Her belly is soft from
 her children’s births, her worn Levi’s swing down below
 her waist, and then her feet, and then her heart.
 She is dangling.
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The woman hanging from the 13th floor hears voices.
 They come to her in the night when the lights have gone
 dim. Sometimes they are little cats mewing and scratching
 at the door, sometimes they are her grandmother’s voice,
 and sometimes they are gigantic men of light whispering
 to her to get up, to get up, to get up. That’s when she wants
 to have another child to hold onto in the night, to be able to fall back into dreams.
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And the woman hanging from the 13th floor window
 hears other voices. Some of them scream out from below
 for her to jump, they would push her over. Others cry softly
 from the sidewalks, pull their children up like flowers and gather
 them into their arms. They would help her, like themselves.
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But she is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window,
 and she knows she is hanging by her own fingers, her
 own skin, her own thread of indecision . . .
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The woman hangs from the thirteenth floor window crying for
 the lost beauty of her own life. She sees the
 sun falling west over the gray plane of Chicago.
 She think she remembers listening to her own life
 break loose, as she falls from the 13th floor
 window on the east side of Chicago, or as she
 climbs back up to claim herself again.
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The image of the woman hanging by her fingertips on the window ledge is vivid.  She is depicted metaphorically as EveryIndianWoman, but she could just as easily be EveryWoman, the poem is written that well. Every reader feels empathy with The Women, as do the spectators on the street below.  Thusly, EveryOne is up on the ledge with The Woman, right beside her, or as her.  The poem begins tragically but ends victoriously.  There is hope to escape the fall from the ledge in the sense of self-reclamation.  After all, hasn’t everyone been hanging from a ledge at least once in his or her life—at least some sort of a metaphoric ledge?
The rest of the poems are just as vivid as they are emotional.
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stephen-in-the-countryStephen 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. http://stephenmpage.wordpress.com/

Best Bones by Sarah Rose Nordgren

best bonesSeries: Pitt Poetry Series

Paperback: 88 pages

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (September 4, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0822963175

ISBN-13: 978-0822963172

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Reviewed by g emil reutter

There is a strange feeling as you turn the pages of Best Bones by Sarah Rose Nordgren. Something is out of kilter, unorthodox may be the proper term but I do believe original best describes the poetry of Nordgren. She is a narrative poet dwelling equally in the shadows and light of life.
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In the haunting poem, Exhumation, Nordgren contrasts shadows and light throughout the poem. A gray face, greasy windows, railroad ditch, sun rise. “When the lights die you disappear”. In this terrifying poem, Nordgren’s controlled use of images is remarkable. Wrapped by I am the woman lying on her side, to the last, My Face is an aluminum dish.
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Exhumation
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I am the woman lying on her side across the van seat,
wearing a gray face, apparitional through greasy
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windows as you walk past the railroad ditch
early morning on a whim, wanting to watch the sun
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rise like you haven’t in years. My life is under yours: in-
consolable, bathed in drainage, a midden of cracked
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bottles, swollen tampons, rusted metal sheets cast
from the clamor. You flasher of future, your liver and lung
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are fleshier, pinker. When they excavate me they will find
my many napkin writings, twenty rooms I built
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from twine, dictionary of waste in which I define
your failure. Meanwhile: I’ll retire to my atrium, washing
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my perpetually warm body, liquid touching liquid
as it cools. The pipes are beginning to freeze. The all-night
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factory shuts down at five. When the lights die you
disappear into a wooden structure and wonder
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what you’ve done. Even if you’d brought your camera,
you couldn’t click me. My face is an aluminum dish.
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Best Bones is a collection of poetry that is an intimate collection of gently dramatic poems that will alarm and haunt you.

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You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Bones-Poetry-Sarah-Nordgren/dp/0822963175/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410785016&sr=1-1&keywords=best+bones+by+Sarah+Rose+Nordgren

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g-emil-reutter-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA)  https://gereutter.wordpress.com/

Church of the Adagio by Philip Dacey

church-of-the-adagioPaperback: 98 pages

Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (July 1, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0989705145

ISBN-13: 978-0989705141

 

Reviewed by: Dennis Daly 

I don’t know about you, but lately life’s gales seem to gust past me toward the thin-lipped, unforgiving horizon. I’m always looking for that bloody slow button. Philip Dacey offers relief by setting up his Church of the Adagio in the artificial spaces that creativity engenders. His poetic moments linger until they don’t. Time stops and starts as anticipation surges through the connecting nerves as you climb over the profane and the sacred stanzas, easing into and then merging with the lines. It’s damn reassuring. He makes it so.
 
In Llama Days, a serendipitous poem plotted out in formal verse, Dacey considers the many facets of wonder encompassed in a brief meeting of unintroduced species, a parsed parley, which changes the very nature of time twice: first, the convocation itself suspends the protagonist’s disbelief, and second, the poem, itself emerges out of artistic (read daydream) time. Here’s the moment of decision in the heart of the poem,
 
But llama? I’d never noticed one before,
though no doubt my surprise at seeing him
was matched by his at seeing me—or more
then matched, he being lost, freedom become
 
a burden twice as bad as any bars,
so much so panic struck and he turned back,
high-stepping it onto the road, two-laned, tarred,
and I saw the headline, “Llama killed by truck.”
 
Dropping the rake, I raced to rescue him,
Who now stood frozen, straddling the centerline…
 
Attempts at political poems crash and burn all the time. The more self-righteous the poet the better the chance of failure. True believers rarely produce first rate art. There are exceptions however. Dacey’s poem News of the Day, for instance, takes three historical examples of man’s inhumanity to man, cedes some freedom to formalist techniques, slowing down a river of natural anger, and creates three hardened jewel-like pieces. He sets his inspired words into two rondels and a sonnet. The Hiroshima rondel is beyond exceptional. The last stanza burns into you,
 
The room reshaped itself around me, night
disguised itself as day, and words, undone,
turned ash. Gone blind by ecstasy of sight,
my eyes read fire. When spines began to run,
I turned the page and fell into the sun.
 
Another curiosity in this book is the way Dacey moves almost seamlessly from formal poetry of the strictest type ( rondels, villanelles, sestinas)  into languid free verse and then back into formality. The relaxed prosy narrative of Dacey’s free verse poem White Trash lures you into an ongoing joke with very serious undertones. The poet opens his piece matter-of-factly,
 
When middle-class blacks
moved into my family’s neighborhood
in St. Louis in the Fifties
and we and all our neighbors
moved out, the property values
soared. Lawns greened, junkers
disappeared. I realize now
I was white trash.
 
Maybe I’m still white trash.
My parents never told me.
Did they know? Do they know now?
I like having a clear identity,
if not the one I’d have chosen for myself.
I’d long ago accepted the notion I was
gutter Irish…
 
My Allen Ginsberg Story, Dacey’s humorous poem of admiration, rocks one with fastidious details of stage props and prescribed paraphernalia. One doesn’t usually associate the word fastidious with Allen Ginsberg. And here lies the rub. Ginsberg apparently acted as a diva before readings with assorted ecentric demands. The myth of artistic spontaneity slows down and breaks into component parts in this piece. Ginsberg leaves nothing to chance when it comes to adding honey to his tea. The piece’s form, free verse lines, as Ginsberg might have written them, almost adds another layer of irony to the poem. Here are some lines from the heart of the composition,
 
Ginsberg saw me looking at the traffic jam
of paraphernalia and smiled. No doubt he knew
the effect of his phone call—beyond bizarre, honey
as an emergency. But now it seemed the act
of a consummate pro, perfectionist even, showman
not about to let an accident break a spell.
I thought of Whitman, whose “spontaneous me”
didn’t stop him from revising some poems for decades.
He’d agree that to place a honey jar and spoon
amidst that crush would ask for a disaster.
Still smiling, Ginsberg said, “You see what I mean.”
 
Leaping between the arts of dance and writing Dacey’s poem Nijinsky: A Sestina  describes both the medicinal and the madness inherent in the famous dancer’s life. It turns out that Nijinsky was also a talented diarist whose words soar as they detail ruin and degradation.  Dacey’s sestina in homage to Nijinsky is a short-lined poem with odd end words that Najinsky sputtered out nonsensically at one point in his life. But there is no nonsense in Dacey’s poem. The piece is a triumphant pas de deux between the poet and his subject.
 
One of this collections unusual pieces, The Cockroach Ball, skitters in with beautiful phrasing and organic unhesitant rhymes. Dacey uses the villanelle form here and it is lovely. Along with the obvious humor, the poet expresses his rather wondrous sensitivities. The poem works! Cockroach love in the midst of poverty—who would have thought it possible?
 
My advice: worship at Dacey’s Church of the Adagio for the very best in contemporary poetry. And do it as soon as possible.

You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Church-Adagio-Philip-Dacey/dp/0989705145

 

Dennis Daly-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. http://dennisfdaly.blogspot.com/

The Undermining of the Democratic Club by Rob Cook

underminingofthedemocraticclubPaperback: 138 pages

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil Publishing (August 18, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1941550177

ISBN-13: 978-1941550175

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Reviewed by g emil reutter 

Recently on NPR, Juan Vidal, said, “For centuries, poets were the mouthpieces railing loudly against injustice. They gave voice to the hardships and evils facing people everywhere. From Langston Hughes to Jack Kerouac and Federico García Lorca — so many — verse once served as a vehicle for expressing social and political dissent. There was fervor, there was anger. And it was embraced: See, there was a time when the poetry of the day carried with it the power of newspapers and radio programs. It was effective, even as it was overtly political. What has happened?”

Well, Juan, they are out here hanging on the fringes, writing poems against what they perceive to be injustice, hardships and evils facing people everywhere. One such poet is Rob Cook. The Undermining of the Democratic Club is slated for release in August by Spuyten Duyvil Publishing.

Cook’s finely crafted poems rage against injustice providing his voice to hardships and evils facing people everywhere while railing against the American lie. These poems will not leave you in neutral territory. You will either embrace Cook’s view of the world or you will strongly disagree with Cook. There is no room for moderation, there is no gray twilight for Cook.

You can check out the book here: http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/the-undermining-of-the-democratic-club.html.

g-emil-reutter-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA). https://gereutter.wordpress.com/