Category Archives: book reviews

Love Highway by Stephanie Dickinson

lovehighwayPaperback: 230 pages

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil Publishing (September 5, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1941550169

ISBN-13: 978-1941550168

.

.

Review by Lillian Ann Slugocki

.

This is Feminist Noir

Love Highway by Stephanie Dickinson is a duet for two voices. It is a Rashomon-like narrative; two voices, two points of view, one story. A girl, Nylah, disappears after a night of clubbing in Manhattan. She is found in a trash heap, in New Jersey, strangled. A slight wisp of a girl, and a true story.  The first voice we hear is hers –the girl who is dead.  We walk with her on the last night of her life. The second voice we hear is Trinity, the girl who was there, who saw the whole story unfold, right before her eyes, and did nothing to stop it.

Dickinson has mastered the art of character; each voice is chillingly authentic. I recognized my 18 year old self, and the stupid choices I made. Hitchhiking on a highway at four in the morning comes to mind. A  miracle I made it home alive, and inevitable that Nylah does not. Interspersed in her narrative is a back story, a love story– one that reveals her naivete and her innocence, her privileged background which is a counterpoint or perhaps counter weight to the second voice– Trinity, a prostitute, paralyzed by love, bound to her pimp.

Dickinson is at her best when the story turns on the tiniest of details– how something smells, how something feels, what is sounds like, what it tastes like. I will forever see the overturned carton of Chinese noodles on the floor of the Weehawken Motel, and I will always know how hot it was the day the pimp and prostitute hauled her body to a dumpster in an abandoned lot. I will always know the color of the sky, and the weight of the gym bag that cradled her body, and the geography of the empty Manhattan apartment where Trinity hid out after the murder, the shower she took hoping to wash away the stain of her life.

Pacing and dramatic tension work best in the second half of the book. Without knowing this was based on a true story, I still understood Nylah wasn’t going to get out of this alive.  I knew that a girl walking alone on the West Side Highway, in a white mini-skirt, would come to no good. However, the fate of  Trinity was always in question. Her pimp could kill her, too.  Her foster parents could rescue her. Or, she could jump on a Greyhound bus and disappear. I wanted to see what happened to her. The epilogue is especially graceful  as Dickinson circles back to Nylah in the morgue; confused, but not especially afraid of the cold room and the smell of formaldehyde.

The book is dark, but this is redeemed by the humanity, and again, the authenticity of each voice. We might be frustrated and even angry by Nylah’s choice to strike off on her own at the impound lot, or Epiphany’s stubborn refusal to leave her boyfriend/pimp, but we do understand them. They are human, they are flawed, they are real to us, and Dickison renders each of them with language and imagery that is both lyrical and damned:

“When they reached Cooper Union the club girls were clustered in bunches. The fish girls in their slippery hair and mini skirts stood smoking cigarettes, their shoulders draped by fringed shawls. Like silken fins. Silken was the word for them.”

This was not an easy book to read, I had to put it down several times; especially when Nylah’s narrative takes us to the trash heap where her body comes to rest, or when Trinity smokes crack to ease the horror show of the hotel room, just as the sun is coming up. But Love Highway grabbed me, hooked me, and wouldn’t let go.  As a woman and as a writer, I recognize the need to tell these stories. I am happy that, in the hands of Stephanie Dickinson, they are authentic, even though as a reader, I am uneasy, discomfitted. This is not happily ever after. This is feminist noir, a real cold light shining on a real, cold story.

.

You can find the book here:  http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/love-highway.html

.

Lillian Ann SlugockiLillian Ann Slugocki  has been published by Seal Press, Cleis Press, Heinemann Press, Newtown Press, Spuyten Duyvil Press, as well as Bloom/The Millions, Salon, Beatrice, THE FEM Literary Magazine, HerKind/Vida, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Nervous Breakdown,  The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Blue Fifth Review, and Non Binary Review. Her novella How to Travel with Your Demons will be published by Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2015. She has an MA from NYU in literary theory, and has produced and written for Off-Broadway and National Public Radio. Follow her on twitter https://twitter.com/laslugocki

The Butterfly’s Choice by Joanna Kurowska

butterfly Publisher: Broadstone Books
PubDate: 3/15/2015
ISBN: 9781937968151
Binding: Paperback
.
Review by Sunil Sharma
.
The Butterfly’s Choice is a thrilling voyage across shifting sands of time. In this third book of her poetry, you become aware of the power of an international language harnessed creatively by a bilingual user and its dexterous employment in the hands of an accomplished writer. Here, the reader keeps on moving in different realms and contexts, guided by a medley of strange metaphors, images; twists and turns of a language mastered.
The poem,  On Talking,  leaves an immediate impact through the pithiness and implied message of creating values and meanings through human interactions by cutting down on the inanities of daily conversations in deadening societies by using words that are sincere and heart-felt:
.
Each person has one word to carve
but we don’t know it until
it’s almost too late
 
Until, too weak to say anything,
we see only dust
in a mirror
 
Then, knowing we have talked
too much, we hold
our breaths
.
The words and their implications need to be sensitively recovered in a consumerist age where language has lost its basic authenticity and got debased by the adspeak and overall duplicity involved in the public discourse. Dust in a mirror is a sensory image that conveys a lot—the inability to see fully and correctly the reflected self. Only distortions or the phantoms stare back at the hapless viewer! Such verbal shifts in emphasis, tones and articulation; quick movements in tenor, from one to another idea; such fast intellectual and imagist diversions constitute the core of her poetry. In the poem Vibrations, the same theme gets echoed but slightly differently:
 
Vibrations
 
Shards of words bounce
against my skin; some,
like seed, penetrate me
entering my bloodstream.
Long before my brain can
grasp the meaning, it crawls
up my veins and tells me
exactly who I am.
If I could trace that first word
like Helen Keller’s water.
Was mine, too, soft—or cold?
…..
The grappling with words, textuality, surfaces, linguistic resources and their varied functions in social and interpersonal communication contexts fascinate and engage the poet’s attention. She seems to be exploring the formalistic features of poetic artifacts and poses the question: Is her style/language mellow or harsh on the auditory faculty? In fact, it is a universal probe by every creative mind: Does the style imitate the artist? Is there proper balance between thought/idea and its verbal expression? The potential of words to create or destroy meaning/s is stated in the poem cited above. The most interesting observation comes in a mini poem that deals with the primary role of language as a communicative medium and rendering reality in a new manner, especially for a bilingual artist, experiencing objects differently due to the acquisition of the changed langue-position in the Saussarian sense of the term:
.
Coming Here
 
Coming here was a plunge in language
Words join houses and streets into a city
Like a film, they cover hands and faces
Fleeting dreams, they spawn the reality
.
History and memory get intertwined in the following poem that alters POV:
.
An Inkling
For Stephan A. Hoeller
.
A western autumn in Eastern Europe;
the sky’s deep blue, white knit-clouds;
a narrow street—maybe a back alley;
some grass, concrete, a garbage can.
The wind carries an ochre-colored leaf;
it whirls between the walls that separate
our compartments filled with dust.
The air is a mask. I have to stop.
……
 
Tackling her relocation in America, Joanna writes about existence becoming as some kind of a riddle and thus speaks for every re-located person:
.
On Familiarity—A Riddle
 
In foreign lands, we grow nearer to our friends
who begin to see we are not so very different
but the strangers grow uncomfortable when we
open our mouths and speak in accented tones
 
At home, we grow more distant from our kin
who perceive us increasingly strange and aloof
but the strangers feel comfortable since we
know how to greet the day in familiar tones
 
The whole book of poems is a collage of memories, experiences, past and present, of old streets and parental home left behind and current one found, and commentary on things philosophical or mundane, with an Alice-like tribute to a pet cat. In My Grandfather’s Suitcase or A House That Says Nothing, the personal histories intersect with national histories and references are made to the Nazi occupation and then fading away of the living into the dead and finally the eloquence of silence with its implied threat of erasure and amnesia. The poet is concerned with capturing such critical junctures, thresholds, intersections where individual and collective meet and collide and wish to record such individual encounters with history through acts of literary commemoration. In brief, The Butterfly’s Choice is a delicate tapestry of emotions, moods and contexts caught in broad and/or minimalist verbal strokes, thus creating a deeply enriching and satisfying totality. For Joanna, butterfly represents both profound beauty and fragility—and life-force and vitality. The lines describing the winged and tiny, pretty creature are equally valid for people as well:
 
Knowledge about ways of being eaten
is implied—if not conceived—
in a butterfly’s design,
time of death depending on which part a beak
captures first—a wing or a leg,
the head or the trunk.
…….
Does the butterfly have a choice? a life
yielding half-beauty to the world it fans
with a half-wing?
Death, life, satiation, hunger—for an insect
things can only be black or white,
even in shades
(A Butterfly Caught In The Frame Of A Harley Motorcycle)
 
It is book that lingers on, post-reading, like some beautiful sunset recalled on solitary evenings in a cramped Mumbai home…
 .
 .
s-sharmaMumbai-based, Sunil Sharma, a college principal, is also widely-published Indian critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writerHe has already published three collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction, one novel and co-edited six books so far. His six short stories and the novel Minotaur were recently prescribed for the undergraduate classes under the Post-colonial Studies, Clayton University, Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. Recently his poems were published in the UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree.
 
He edits online journal Episteme:

News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousnes

news ofPaperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Counterpoint; First Trade Paper Edition edition (August 29, 1995)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0871563681

ISBN-13: 978-0871563682

.

Review by: Robert Hambling Davis  .

News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness is an anthology of poems that support the premise that human consciousness is only one of the many forms of consciousness operating in the universe. The National Book Award winning poet Robert Bly selects and introduces the poems in this anthology, which offers a historical perspective that moves from an 18th century preoccupation with the human self in a time of alienation from the natural world, toward poems that celebrate the consciousness of non-human life species and even so-called inanimate objects. Hence the title, “news of the universe.” Bly contends that the poetry that matters the most today, or at least in 1980 when the anthology was published, illuminates the fact that we, as homo sapiens, must find our place in the world by acknowledging that we are but one of thousands of species, yet we have the power to destroy all species, including ourselves. Most of the poets in News of the Universe are western poets, including Milton, Blake, Whitman, Wordsworth, Keats, and Yeats, but Bly also includes poems by Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, and other eastern poets of a mystical bent.
 .
I bought this anthology soon after Sierra Books published it in paperback. I keep my copy on my nightstand, and like to read a few poems before turning out the light and falling asleep. The book helps me to remember my place in the world, by making me try to see it from an imaginary perspective: that of a bee, a horse, a rock, or a cloud, as I view the world around me each day, the world I don’t want to take for granted. To write this recommendation, I went through my copy of the book again, trying to find a short poem that best summarizes the gist of the collection, and chose this verse from Rilke’s Book of the Hours:
 .
    I live my life in growing orbits,
    which move out over the things of the world.
    Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
    but that will be my attempt.
.
    I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
    and I have been circling for a thousand years.
    And I still don’t know if I am a falcon, .
    Or a storm, or a great song.
.
.
rhdavis-1Robert Hambling Davis is a fiction editor of The Fox Chase Review. He has been published in The Sun, Antietam Review, Memoir (and), Philadelphia Stories, Santa Monica Review, and elsewhere. He’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and received three Delaware Division of the Arts grants, two for fiction and one for creative nonfiction. He was a fiction semifinalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest in 2002 and 2012, and a creative nonfiction winner in 2013. Robert helps direct the Delaware Literary Connection, a nonprofit serving writers in Delaware and surrounding areas. He is a member of the Delaware Artist Roster, and has given writing workshops and readings in the Mid-Atlantic.

Solitude and other poems by Rajender Krishan

solitudePaperback: 164 pages

Publisher: Cyberwit.net (July 5, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 8182534143

ISBN-13: 978-8182534148

 

            Review by P C K Prem                                

A journey into the ‘inner world’ works as a tranquilizer to a disturbed man the poet avers. Rajender Krishan, a product of Delhi University, a marketing professional since 1968, solemnized inter-religious marriage and is now, settled in New York, USA.    Before migrating to USA in 1989, he worked in poultry farming, advertising, and eventually entered sales and marketing.  Since 1989, he is engaged in work relating to antique reproductions and consultancy in Real Estate. Settled in USA, an admirer of Kabir, a great Hindu mystic, he believes in the freedom of expression.   Poetry, photography and visual art are passions. Unpredictable destiny of man and society, and its predicament worries him. He inspires writers through famous website Boloji.com, a notable endeavour.

A maiden poetic venture ‘Solitude and other poems’ a collection of more than fifty poems, he communicates experiences with intensity, notices every incident, watches man’s movements closely and gives aesthetically pithy and perceptive lyrical treatment.  RK’s curiosity in mysticism and philosophy amazes as he looks beyond worldly limits. Understanding of mysterious power determines human life and destiny he believes in a straight and forthright manner.

He believes in the indestructible inner self –soul/ Atma and realizes that ‘the ethereal/apparently caged/ behind the skin’ is eternally free.  A thought of oneness with the world grants freedom when one abandons incarcerated existence. Eagerness to probe the mystery of life continues even in routine acts, ‘That’s why /on a chosen path the lines on the soles/keep treading and digging /the labyrinth of life /-Maya-/in quest of Nirvana (salvation) 12  Wholesomeness in acts grants freedom minus sufferings.

              Inner self is a mirror giving true image of the central man and reflects individual interior and exterior, ‘with a motley/ of pretenses and beliefs/ wearing different hats… cannot conceal /reality from /the mirror’s revelation (Mirror 42) The nature in fury, thoughtfully offers glimpses world’s origin and the ultimate end.  The principle of creation and devastation with inkling of lethal inundation in ‘Deluge’ as if sage Markandeya witnessing the spectacle of devastation is quite apparent. Anarchic life after the great creation, preservation and the ultimate dissolution is the eternal divine plan of the Lord a man should understand. Deluge’ and ‘Realization’ 14 unfold a cosmic plan.  Solitude is transitory and ethereal but saves a man from a distressing existence and he says –

.

…cannot let go

this singularity of life

where I experience

the essence of freedom…

of you perpetual presence. 4

.

             Invisible power is the fountainhead of energy outside worldly subjugation without dogmas and thus, anarchic living no longer disturbs, as identity is integral.      Unhealthy, sordid and detrimental living conditions make peace illusive.

Without ever thinking salvation beyond bondages, a man lives within the limits of self-dictated rules of life. What a tragedy and contradiction!  Despite chaotic living conditions, man can live a better life if he understands the message of nature.

****

If a man comprehends ‘self’, he knows God’s (divine) plan. Living in silent areas of existence, bestows serenity.  He is conscious of life’s rationale and transience but forgets the eternal truth of life and death.  Past does not enlighten but distracts growth.   A wanderer’s life infuses meaning, for it is away from the feelings of ‘dead yesterday’ and ‘unknown tomorrow’ and tries to ‘Look beyond /the dichotomy of life.’ 40

A man should comprehend the celestial design and utilize inherent energies realistically without gridlock. Nature reveals ancient wisdom.   Man must understand the intrinsic energies, listen to inner voice, know the ambiguity of inscrutable existence, choose the right path, pursue a principled life, live in harmony and it will lead to a wisdom phenomenon and so he tells,’…awaken and arise/ Listen to your inner voice.’ To know self –who am I, ‘A naked Self /clothed by masks /of thoughts, relationships /…the dual of opposite/what really I am?’ 27 is an eternal question and a journey perturbing a man and answer leads to freedom ushering in renaissance.

Cleanliness, truth, dignity, right attitude bereft of hate and greed give purpose if a man follows teachings of virtuous saints like Buddha, Christ and Kabira, and wise people.  A man goes beyond confusion of ‘this or that’ with the power of ‘self preserving silent prayer’ as quietness of the imploring words soothes, creates understanding and infuses resolution and faith.

****

Knowledge of social realities and system grants identity and existence to man and he moves towards a collectively predestined objective.   Questions on destiny and life, creation, annihilation appear disquieting and efforts to get out of ephemeral joys and sorrows fail, for man’s choice is incorrect.   Man suffers from ‘great insecurity, permanent crisis and the absence of any kind of status quo’ says M. Sturmer, ‘We do not know where we are going. We only know that history has brought us to this point…if humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on that basis, we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say, the alternative to a changed society, is darkness.” (Age of Extremes 585, London: Abacus, 2002)

The poet shows awareness of the social deadlock where man has uncertain joys and sufferings abundant. Embedded in the eternal plan, hunger, material hunger and greed are born of desires unlimited but the man fails to satisfy the inner man.

.

Hunger departs
with the sensory cessation
the Sovereign
leaves the corpse
moves into a new abode

.

Hunger is the cause of human activities, joys and sufferings insatiable, for the mortal frame does not recognize satisfaction. It refuses to accept truth of hunger and the singularity leads to sufferings where conflicts govern.  The poet is disturbed at the multifaceted hunger a man nurses, for it is the origin of unethical life and living rejecting a virtuous and principled life.  Mother earth is immaculate in its movement, and moves in a fixed free pattern but man refuses to recognize the phenomenal truth of freedom and loves to work under restrictions. He loves living in ‘society/hoodwinked/ and disillusioned’ discarding ‘universal freedom’. 94

Man philosophizes on life but fails to restrain feelings and thoughts, prefers ubiquitous, disgusting and appalling social system. Russell said long back, ‘The modern-minded man, although he believes profoundly in the wisdom of his period, must be presumed to be very modest about his personal powers. His highest hope is to think first what is about to be thought, to say what is about to be said and to feel what is about to be felt; he has no wish to think better thoughts than his neighbours…’ (In Unpopular Essays 66 London: Unwin Books, 1968)

****

‘Politics’ enters human relations and hurts warmth, gives birth to distrust and lies. Politics and lies in relations sow seeds of dishonesty. A modern man manipulates relations and consequently, it results in hatred, loss of confidence and faith. Relationships also suffer in an appalling and rash materialistic contemporary structure and credo of earning and amassing.  A tragic and biting ‘Irony’ it is where parents are apathetic.  Parents are the elders who should guide and teach youngsters the art of life or else –

.

…parental neglect

Mutates the toddler

Into a disgruntled person

Discarded to live a life

Stuck in the grooves of

Coercive and manipulative societies 102

.

A lackadaisical attitude of parents destroys children’s future.  Elders must offer quality life to children.  He feels upset, for the American society has little hopes to offer to future children. Apathy of parents and American society shocks bringing psychosomatic disorder in the children.

.

… dead children

Leave behind

Devastated parents; grieving

How to console them?

The surviving children

Still in their formative years

Are they doomed to swallow

the venom of traumatic afflictions? 112

.

A deplorable and perilous living pattern is also entering Indian society, and he   cautions against the lethal ambush.

Questions of life and death perturb, and the poet falls into metaphysical ponderings. The self-righteous thought of merger of ‘self’ and ‘the inner self’, the image of the Supreme Lord assures as he finds deliverance and harmony in solitude, and discovers fresh meaning. He is sincere and frank, and anxieties about existence seem strongly genuine. In an unobtrusive way, he establishes a mute relationship with every lover of verses, and it speaks of bona fide elegiac power and still stays away from moralistic perspectives.

.

You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Solitude-Rajender-Krishan/dp/8182534143

.

pckAn author of more than forty-five books in English and Hindi, P C K Prem (p c katoch) a post-graduated in English literature from Punjab University, Chandigarh   has brought out nine volumes of poetry besides books on criticism in Hindi and English.  Katoch Prem is a poet, novelist, short story writer and critic in English from Himachal Pradesh, India

 

 

 

 

 

The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher By Wilga M. Rivers

ThePsychologistAndTheForeignLanguageTeacherCvrHardcover: 220 pages
Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr (Tx); 1St Edition edition (June 1964)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0226720950
ISBN-13: 978-0226720951
.
 .
Review by S. M. Page
 .
Halfway through the second chapter of The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher, I began having flashbacks.  Putting on a coat and tie.  Walking to class on a clear bright day, carrying a briefcase.  Walking to class on a rainy day, whistling, holding an umbrella.  Entering the classroom and being called “Prof” and “Teach.”  The scent of chalk-dust, the sound of books opening and pens scribbling.  The satisfaction I feel when I am helping somebody learn something and I see the look on their face when they realize they have learned something.  The cortical sensation I get from stimulating conversation with my advanced students.  Having students come up to me after a class and saying, “thanks.”  I haven’t taught in two-and-a-half years, but I realize how much I miss it.  The book is intelligently written and the “audio-lingual” method is clearly outlined and explained.  She is correct in believing that the translation method does not work well.  It makes the student lazy and creates too many steps in the neural pathways.  The only comment I would make to the author is that the drilling method is only appropriate for the beginner student.  I taught many methods, Berlitz style drilling, grammar methods, and natural-speaking methods.  The latter seems to work the best, but only on the post-beginner levels.  After the first few months the drilling becomes unnatural and a bore.  She does bring up a lot of clever points, most notably:
Language is speech . . .Language is a set of habits . . . Teach the language, not about the language . . . listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  These four skills must be learned “in that order” (that is the way children learn). . . mastery of the skills must be accompanied by familiarity with the culture the language represents, as well as a larger view of life resulting from the realization that there are many cultures and value systems, some far different from our own . . . Learning to make responses in situations which simulate “real-life” communication situations . . . When language is in action, there is always a speaker.  He is always somewhere, speaking to someone, about something . . . and word-lists pairing foreign-language words with “equivalents” in the native language should not be used for teaching purposes.
The book is a technical but good read, and I would recommend it to anyone teaching a foreign language.
 .
 .
S. M. teaching Engilsh2No one knows where S. M. Page came from or where he is going, but it rumored he likes Motown music, and that he is part Shawnee and part Apache.  It is also reported that he was recently been seen riding his Harley through a mountain pass, wandering a patch of woods with a notebook in his hand, sitting on a beach watching a sunrise, entering a movie theater with his wife, walking his son to school, cheering in the stands of a football match, teaching English to employees in a South American corporate bank, and standing on a stage playing bass in a rock-n-roll band.

The Gold Cell By Sharon Olds

The Gold Cell coverSeries: Knopf Poetry Series (Book 25)

Paperback: 112 pages

Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (February 12, 1987)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0394747704

ISBN-13: 978-0394747705

.

Reviewed by SM Page

Last week I picked up Olds book, The Gold Cell. Jeez. I was devastated. Her writing is riveting, dense, stark, brave. With titles like, “The Abandoned Newborn,” “The Pope’s Penis,” and “Outside the Operating Room of the Sex-Change Doctor,” she tackles topics not normally taken on by other writers–and if they are, not tackled as well. Her poems are snapshots come to life, with vivid scenes like this:

..

The young man and I face each other.

His feet are huge, in black sneakers

laced with white in a complex pattern like a

set of intentional scars. We are stuck on

opposite sides of the car, a couple of

molecules stuck in a rod of light

rapidly moving through the darkness. He has

or my white eye imagines he has the

casual cold look of a mugger.

The collection is nicely organized, starting with the narrator’s childhood and passing through her adolescence into adulthood. She observes her parents aging and watches her children grow. She is graphic and real, and withholds no feelings or character description even if it is taboo. When Olds covers topics written by a million other poets—first kiss, first love, first sex, alcoholic father, anorexic mother, and abandonment—She handles them deftly and newly. Most writers can only dream of being the same caliber as Olds.

 

Check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Gold-Cell-Knopf-Poetry-Series/dp/0394747704

S. M. Page foto (1) SM Page is from Michigan. He has Shawnee-Chickasaw genes from one side of his family tree, and Apache-Mexican from the other side.  He is the author of The Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. His critical essays have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald and the Fox Chase Review. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, family, friends, travel, and adventure.

 

 

Asking My Liver for Forgiveness by Rob Cook

liverPaperback: 70 pages

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

Language: English

ISBN-10: 098970517X

ISBN-13: 978-0989705172

.

Review by Dennis Daly 

 One part obsession, one part surreal, one part experimental, Rob cook’s new collection of poems, Asking My Liver For Forgiveness, delivers a consummate parable of medical terror. According to the book’s Afterword Cook contracted an obscure liver disease back in 2010 which in turn triggered the ravages of cirrhosis. Until an official diagnosis surfaced in early 2014 the poet and his world spiraled into a maelstrom of unpredictable physical pain, emotional ennui, and psychological denial. Through it all he kept writing.
 
Cook’s poems themselves leak pus, blood, and sweat off the page and into a syringe-fired dreamscape of alternating hopelessness and healing. At the same time the patient’s offending liver becomes independent, animal-like, and even sentient. Poetic order imposes itself on the havoc and illogic in a calming, almost climatic, way.
 
Early in the collection the poet objectifies his body parts in an effort to understand the disease darkening his consciousness. In the poem entitled Your Body That Led This Far Cook asks some pertinent questions,
 .
Is your sugar flu at least one moment’s
true loneliness? Is your liver a frightened
animal huddled near your tummy
that reads the notes inside the harsh breads
and chilis you send it? Does your heart
already know the direction of your grave?
How do you know which kidney
Can be trusted? Which arm?
Which leg? Which eye?
 .
Courting sleep at the Marion Hotel in his poem entitled Blackness Over Motel Country, the poet concocts a nightmare conversation with the dreamed up visage of a hospital nurse who once tended him. The coordinates of terror reduce “the best possible sleep” to a blend of anxious confession and jaundiced lunacy. Cook explains,
 .
“I got sick without once leaving my childhood,” I tell her.
 .
“The pine needles will not hurt you from there,”
the woman says through her conduit of ash tray static.
 .
It is not my own voice, the despair of the television
that doesn’t end. “I am always watching from
the livers that came before you,” she says
when the sleep creatures pass like a blur of doctors
and their searchlights of mist. Maybe she discusses
my elevated comet count with the man selling
 .
the letters left in the vacancy sign …
War metaphors monopolize commiserations on diseases. Cook’s immune system turned on its own vital organ, the liver, considering it an alien force bent on mischief. Brigades of soldiers were sent to destroy the offending party. The poet employs this battlefield metaphor in order to comprehend his internal chaos. He uses his title poem, Asking My Liver For Forgiveness, to reconcile with his former ally. Cook explains,
 .
… it’s taken
how many years  to remember you
slogging without faces
through my liver’s venereal swamps?
 .
To walk with precision
through my liver that cannot be
comforted from the snake-hard cold,
 .
its dark churches where monsters pray,
 .
the ones I let in who will never stop
stalking us, my friend, my liver,
my friend.
 ..
I will always be sorry—for both of us—
 .
The poem Cryptogenic Cirrhosis chronicles a very bad diagnosis. Cook’s persona spelunks his way through gothic caves of anxiety and medical unease. Facing the unknown of one’s mortality forces the artistic mind to focus and refocus its imaginative powers on the minutia of whatever is at hand, presumable scientific certitude (or not). The wording evokes a strange and soaring elegance. Cook opens his poem with dissolution,
not one doctor could diagnose
each day i wanted  
a different angel to die,
so they pillaged
all the terrors in my body,
which was a virus now,
though not yet pain.
“you have cryptogenic cirrhosis” –
meaning the hypothetical afterlife
will become, in the days of
the impending panic transplant,
more than just a child who nourishes a distant cancer.
 .
Still, one can feel dollars
Of damnation denominations
Pasted to the kidneys’ Egyptian ceilings
 .
End of days bring panic, religious fervor, and great expectations. Cook’s poem entitled 11:59 chronicles all three using a mixed combination of Christian and medical imagery. The result both impresses and scares the hell out of you. Here’s the heart of the piece,
 .
It is time to track god, digging
with his enormous cross in the wrong
direction, toward the thousand basements
of the last crucifix company between
jerusalem and the day after.
It is time for everyone to stay silent.
It is time to hear where the trees and the water
have stopped praying for us.
It is time for a hospital
without the cruel voices that arrive
from the center of the evening pills.
It is time for a breakfast without scalpels,
a nurse without tourniquets that monitor the liver’s fear,
a doctor without the elimination of names.
 .
Notice the repetition of the phrase “It is time.” Cook seems to work himself up to a crescendo of control and hope that greatly tones down the panic and pessimism created by earlier pieces.
 
Exceptional artistry originates from diverse experiences, many of them disconcerting and even degrading. One’s flesh follows its own genetic and environmental script in spite of our better, often antiseptic, angels. Wherever Cook may be on mortality’s time span, his poetic work inexorably advances before him with its surgical candor and its strange, unblinking imagery. If you harbor even a modicum of belief in the curative power of words, read this marvelous poet.

 

You can buy the book here: http://www.amazon.com/asking-liver-forgiveness-Rob-Cook/dp/098970517X

.

Dennis Daly

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/