February 2014 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

A monthly feature that looks at books of and about poetry.


FEBRUARY FEATURES:

 

Poetry of The First World War: An Anthology, edited by Tim Kendall, Oxford University Press. (UK) 232 pgs.

Painting The Egret’s Echo by Patty Dickson Pieczka. Bitter Oleander Press. 81pgs.

The Earth Avails by Mark Wunderlich. Graywolf Press. 67 pgs.

The Antigone Poems. Poems by Marie Slaight, Drawings by Terrence Tasker. Altaire Production& Publication (Australia) approx. 40 pgs.

A Shed for Wood by Daniel Thomas Moran. Salmon Poetry (Ireland) 104 pgs.

No Need of Sympathy by Fleda Brown. Boa Editions.80 pgs.

Plus a new anthology FIRST WATER, edited by Ami Kaye, Mark McKay & Lark V. Timmons. Glass Lyre Press.166 pgs.


 

Poetry of The First World War: An Anthology, edited by Tim Kendall, Oxford University Press. (UK) 232 pgs.

 

After watching a trailer of the US Navy Seals Story “Sole Survivor,” during the time I was reading WW 1 poets, it became even more manifest that systems of war change but the facts remain. I was not prepared for the impact of these poems; and no single anthology brings home the vigor of death and the elegance of death’s statement like this does.

50 years in the lit field, and I am still trying to understand poetry and society—what poetry means—so there’s satisfaction in Tim Kendall’s masterful introduction about ‘the barometer for the nation’s values: the greater the civilization, the greater its poetic heritage.’ Of course Kendall is speaking about his soldier-poets—war poetry and ‘the British national character.’ Yet the book goes much further than to record/present poems. It’s a mirror of our humanity, especially in that these poets felt their enemies wanted war no more than they did, and so they wrote without barbarism or ’savagery.’

I’m sure if we ask what British poets are remembered from WW 1, we might come up with Wilfred Owen (the first always) Robert Service, Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, and on a good day, remember Siegfried Sassoon. But here are all the poets, most died in battle; and women war poets we never before had the honor to know. The music hall and trench songs will make you sad, knowing these may have been the last sounds sung and heard. (Chorus: Oh! Oh! Oh! It’s a lovely war…) Taste a little of these poets, the lauded and the little known, and then read the book fully. And please let it be brought to the Peace Tables.

Wilfred Owen (from Dulce et Decorum Est)

Gas! Gas! Quick Boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

Charlotte Mew: May 1915“ Let us remember Spring will come again/ To the scorched, blackened woods, where all the wounded trees/ Wait, with their wise patience for the heavenly rain,/ Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,” …

May Sinclair: After The Retreat. If I could see again/ The house we passed on the long Flemish road/ That day/ When the army went from Antwerp. Through Bruges to the sea;/ The house with the slender door,/ And the thin row of shutters, grey as dust on the white wall./ It stood low and alone in the flat Flemish land,/ And behind it the high slender trees were small under the sky.” …

Issac Rosenberg: Dead Man’s Dump. “…Here is one not long dead:/ His dark hearing caught our far wheels,/ And the choked soul stretched weak hands/ To reach the living word the far wheels said,/ The blood- dazed intelligence beating for the light,…”

Mary Borden: At The Somme. “ Where is Jehovah, the God of Israel, with his Ark and his/ Tabernacle and his Pillars of Fire?/ He ought to be here—this place would suit him/ Here is a people pouring through a wilderness—/ Here are armies camping in a desert—…

May Wedderburn Cannan: ‘After the War.’ “After the War perhaps I’ll sit again/ Out on the terrace where I sat with you,/ And see the changeless sky and hills beat blue/ And live an afternoon of summer through.//I shall remember then, and sad at heart/ For the lost day of happiness we knew,/ Wish only that some other man were you/ And spoke my name as once you used to do.” (February 1917)

———-

Housman, Hardy and Yeats, are here. Kipling too, among these 26 This is a fine collection; and if you weren’t an anglophile, you’ll become one; you’ll love reading the biography of each soldier-poet preceding his/her poems.

As a bystander of Viet Nam, and a recipient of the PTSD syndrome that would come home to me, I thought I was toughened up, but these poems knocked me out.


 

Painting The Egret’s Echo by Patty Dickson Pieczka. Bitter Oleander Press. 81pgs.

 

Her collective mindset is of nature—with an emotional imprint we cannot turn from. Minutia is important: the way a leaf turns, and the disclosure of truth about this leaf, tells the worth of the poem. This is a peaceful set of readings with reconciliation between the natural world and our human apprehension. Self discovery is seductive and is the very nervous system of the book. Ultimately, the most natural world of all is the one of relationship. And through all which grows and blooms, Pieczka remythologizes with skill. She also honors great artists with poetry’s insight.

A PAIR OF SHOES

after Vincent Van Gogh

Laces too frayed

to hold a life together,

soles bruised to the tongue,


your shoes slump

into halos of light.

Road dirt and chaff


smudged into their leather,

trails of sunflower pollen,

a trace of blood


blend with paint,

spilled and stroked

into shadows,


into deep grooves

so creased and so dark

no color could lift you out.


The Earth Avails by Mark Wunderlich. Graywolf Press. 67 pgs.

 

Poets will get their intellectual equipment wherever they can find it. Wunderlich bases these poems on 18th and 19th century documents from the Pennsylvania Germans. Other material comes from a 19th century book of prayers written in German. Updating these legacies to present-day puts new meaning into prayer, prophesy and charms. The original (anonymous) writings were strong measures used to assure a safe and happy life through powerful statements. Embracing the originals, but with a poet’s set of skills, the texts are a convergence of old articulations and new poetic form. This is a unique group of poems that are of today but supported by an old fashioned template. It’s the equivalent of taking a biblical text or fable and focusing it into a contemporary work; and these poems tend toward formalism, as they should. Whatever the originals offered, we can be grateful that Wunderlich honors magical calculations of the past to sweeten our day. The content is primarily from testimonials to a life of ethics that came from the land, labor, and articles of faith. These are sharp poems of honest depth and all the more stirring for having been found, restored, remade, with unprecedented care. There is more than one world in these poems, and Wunderlich, through the hourglass, has found a treasure and made it his.

It’s worth getting this book for the poem Heaven-Letter, a wonderful prayer made of 17 couplets. Here are the beginning 6, and then the final end-couplet.

You, looking down upon us from your canopy of air, to you

I commend my body and my brain, and that of my beloveds.


all that I own—stonepile of a house, tilting barn, garden and beloved beasts,

orchards, woods, my sweet furred animals,


the goats with their worldly eyes,

let it all rest in your giant hand.


You hang your lantern in the far window for me to see

until the cool blue of night burns and all the world is awake,


With your sorghum broom you sweetened my path, pulled

The woolen shawl around me while I slept.

Stay with me, here in this house.

Urge, with your holy claw, the scratching of my pen.


The Antigone Poems. Poems by Marie Slaight, Drawings by Terrence Tasker. Altaire Production & Publication (Australia) approx. 40 pgs.

This is the most strangely beautiful book to come across this desk in a long time. First, it’s always interesting to have a publisher print a work 40 years after it’s written without disclosing why. All that we know is that the writer and artist lived in Montreal and Toronto in the 1970’s. I guess Tasker’s death in 1992 has something to do with this premiere.

First we should know something about Antigone in literature. Well it’s an ancient Greek tragedy where Antigone, the female protagonist, is ultimately jailed and sentenced to death, and all you need to know is that everyone—all the principles— die in the end, except for the prison guards. I’m not being flippant, but truthfully, to read these poems, that’s all you need to know.

And I ADORE these weird little poems. They are surreal and wild. The charcoal drawings are terrifyingly brilliant. They scare the bejesus out of you and you can’t stop turning the pages. It’s like bingeing on BREAKING BAD and WAKING THE DEAD both at once. I deem this a holy book—written in ecstasy and the madness of genius and I hope it’s reprinted and lasts forever. The poems are untitled. Check this out:

We live our lives

The instant between life and death

To touch death always,

That is the sun.

This copy I hold in my hand—no one will ever get from me. This is ART you cannot buy or sell. It is the flaming center of the volcano that makes us create.


A Shed for Wood by Daniel Thomas Moran. Salmon Poetry (Ireland) 104 pgs.

 

We all know a writer is someone who says what other people think and don’t say. A poet is one who does it with image, sound and feeling. And so what did you think today that you didn’t say? Could you have turned a poem about the girl at the coffee counter who didn’t get your order right? Friends who fear the doctor’s report? A two week cruise on a ship? A stay at the hospital? All of us experience these moments, but American poet Daniel Thomas Moran bothered to put his hand to them to make them permanent. Fierce argument is not his motive for writing poetry, but more a wish to repair and preserve time—with all the risks and opportunities that implies. For a writer the options are many, and the lessons never end, so the poet takes the ordinary and sees it like a child and describes it like a metaphysician. The benefits depend on high velocity from within—the desire to get it right. Moran looks at the moment straight-on and makes it worthy of our attention. We are taught that unity, symmetry and beauty are judgments for art; I would add clarity, intensity and sincerity. These are real words for real people. Here, following, are the beginning and end stanzas of a poem:

The Book of Prophecy

I have been given

A datebook I cannot use.

It’s a handsome thing.

Unpretentious, portable

and prepared for utility.

I even like its deep red cover,

which encases a future

I hope to see.

In a year’s time, it will be

worthless and worn, papers

curled and consumed by

the totality of one man’s

blue scribblings, and his hope

of making the future unforgettable.


No Need of Sympathy by Fleda Brown. Boa Editions. 80 pgs.

 

The title comes from an interesting quote by Robert Creeley. “Poetry stands in no need of sympathy or even goodwill. One acts from bottom, the root is the purpose quite beyond kindness.”

I’ve enjoyed Fleda Brown even before she wrote her famous Elvis Presley poems. I can best describe her work as “classic technique,” hiding shadows and pockets of tiny universes within each poem. If you take a lid off, you’ll get history, popular culture, society, childhood—and all as if she’s just learning something new about herself by the writing. This is her poetic capital—a cultivated writer with the gift of intricacy/enrichment imbedded in a poem so you never even see the seams. Brown’s topics may include fixing a toilet. Here’s Breath ends this way: “…did the quarks and leptrons have to increase/ over antiquarks and antipeltons to let matter// win out over antimatter, to bring us here,/ to the flushing of toilets, filling of tanks?

Or a vulnerable poem, Dancing at Your Wedding:…” There I am on the old VCR tape, flouncing with my new man,/ your ex-stepfather crazily lurking/ in the background. I’m wearing a filmy,/ matronly mother-of-the-bride-thing, grief/and joy thrashing in me like sumo wrestlers…”

And what I see as her “signatures,” 10 sonnets, one for each grandchild. Each is brimming with a child’s life and, by that virtue, our own mortality. Somewhere she uses the word ‘fading.’ That’s a painful word. Brown can find cosmic meaning in a felled tree; or observing ridiculous ‘relationship therapy’ that ends seriously:”…. The mind/ swings yes and no, grabs for the present moment,// makes up metaphors like crazy, a circus of them, links/unlike things in bed, to see what happens next.”

In every move she makes, she works the extremes in poetry, to combine passive thoughts and active situations to create a polarizing tension of intellectual excitement. In poetry, our thinking comes first – then with Brown, come the complications and layers. Her brand is weaving disparate thought forms. Sylvia Plath called poetry “a tyrannical art.” Brown is meticulous at it. For her, nothing but the best will do.

Pointillism

Before the camera,

there were portraits

and landscapes

to show how it was.

It was a mass of molecules

like tadpoles in a pool.

No, it was the space between,

and the colors were only

light tossed through

the hoop of the eye

into the brain.

How it was, was nothing

you could name,

which is why

when, for a moment,

it came out, and was clear

to you, it was so dear.


 

BEST Anthology of the Month

First Water, Best of Pirene’s Fountain, edited by Ami Kaye, Mark McKay & Lark V. Timmons. Glass Lyre Press. 166 pgs.

 

70 poets, many include our best writers. Here are two among them:

For You (KIM ADDONIZO)

For you I undress down to the sheaths of my nerves.

I remove my jewelry and set it on the nightstand,

I unhook my ribs, spread my lungs flat on a chair.

I dissolve like a remedy in water, in wine.

I spill without staining, and leave without stirring the air.

I do it for love. For love. I disappear.


fire realm (YOKO DANNO)

mountains are ablaze

a fire god awakened

by a slash of lightning

at the rock.


memories of minerals revived

when the earth sakes

revealing red chasms

like slit eyes.


a woman stumbles to her knees

as she senses the tremor,

her teeth chattering

with cold.

a shudder slides along

the nape of her neck

when she feels remote heat

beneath her feet.


at the back of her eyes

lives a salamander—

when will it be consumed

by its own fire?


Grace Cavalieri holds the” Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award” for 2013 and the 2013 Associated Writers’ Program’s “George Garrett Award” for Service to Literature. She founded and still produces “The Poet and the Poem,” now from the Library of Congress distributed nationally to public radio, celebrating 37 years on-air, THIS MONTH! Feb 1977.

Review copies should be sent to:

Washington Independent Review of Books, attn: Becky Meloan
311 Tschiffely Square Road,
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878.

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