Tag Archives: review

She Had Some Horses by Jay Harjo

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  • 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 . . .
 .
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. . .
 .
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.
 .
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.
 .
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.
 .
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 . . .
 .
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/

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My South by Southwest – A Cast Iron Tempo Recollection by Elizabeth Stelling

soouthPaperback: 130 pages

Publisher: Red Dashboard Press

(February 28, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1494475456

ISBN-13: 978-1494475451

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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,
always reminding
            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,
 
Tears streamed.
            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. 
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You can check out the book here: 

http://www.amazon.com/South-Southwest-Elizabeth-Akin-Stelling/dp/1494475456

 

dennis-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/

 

Mosquito Operas by Philip Dacey

 

A Review by: Diane Sahms Guarnieri*

Mosquito Operas by Philip Dacey is like riding a carousel – each poem either a stationary object or a horse that goes up and down while circling to the notes that make up the music, if you are listening.  Sometimes the carousel is roofless and you are looking up spinning through time, as one of the eight planets circling the sun.  Sorry Pluto!

Dacey’s  ideas are always moving, always circling, always spinning around you.  Starting with poems of one to three lines, he builds to long sequences by the last pages.

As for humor there are many instances of irony, starting with an eight word poem with a six word title: HOW I ESCAPED THE LABYRINTH – It was easy./ I kept losing my way.  to BUMPER STICKER HAIKUS – #5 – An unendangered/ species. The red-tailed/lane-switcher to many others of varying lengths.

As for a meditational poem, NOTES OF AN ANCIENT CHINESE POET (1 – 10), with # 6 as: Listen to the voice/of each dead poet as if/it were yours/It is.  Some others include – MEMORIZING POEMS and INSOMNIA, but these include Dacey’s sprinklings of wit mixing through the batter of thought.

As for common life experiences there are poems where Dacey is a keen observer of his mother hanging laundry, a son watching his father get a haircut and a son bowling.  These poems will give the reader a chuckle, but  a beautifully written poem, NEEDLE AND THREAD, has many fresh metaphorical images throughout it, especially stanza three: It’s the pleasure/of biting off the thread,/an animal with/an umbilical cord.

As for tribute poems, there’s one to Hart Crane,  mothers, a skinny man pumping iron, three prostitutes in East St. Louis, Illinois, but perhaps the most compelling one is his last poem in this collection, entitled ANGLES, describing  the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Washington, D.C.. Each stanza of the 14 stanzas can be read and pondered alone or woven into and out of the other stanzas.  This is the most powerful poem in Dacey’s collection.  

He’ll take you from one mosquito chapter to five, all of them biting your skin, leaving their marks on you, but not before buzzing by your ear and if you’re really listening – you’ll hear anything from one quick note to an operatic score.  

You can purchase Mosquito Operas at this link: http://rainmountainpress.com/books14.html

*Diane Sahms Guarnieri is the poetry editor of The Fox Chase Review