June 2014 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

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

June 2014 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri



Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

Congregation: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. William Meredith Foundation/Dryad Press. 17 pages.

This Way Out, by Terrence Winch. Hanging Loose Press. 90 pages.

Eye to Eye.  by Maria Terrone. Bordighera Press. 115 pages.

Twinzilla by Barbara G. S. Hagerty. The Word Works. 76 pages. Cover art, oil painting “Twinzilla” by Richard Hagerty.

The Tulip-Flame by Chloe Honum. Cleveland State University Poetry Center. 51 pages. Foreword by Tracy K. Smith

In Beauty Bright by Gerald Stern. W.W. Norton & Co. 125 pages. Paperback edition.

Letter Composed During A Lull in the Fighting by Kevin Powers. Little, Brown And Company. 96 pages.

Others on our BEST BOOKS LIST for June

Irresistible Sonnets, edited by Mary Meriam. Headmistress Press. 72 pages.

You’re Going To Miss Me When You’re Bored by Justin Marks. Barrelhouse Books. 71 pages.

Without Angels by Marjorie Stelmach. Mayapple Press. 79 pages.

Sheds/ Hangars. Jose’-Flore Tappy’s French poetry translated to English by John Taylor. 213 pages.

Plus June’s Best Anthology and Best Literary Magazines

Congregation: Poems by Natasha Tretheway. William Meredith Foundation/Dryad Press. 17 pages. 

From the wrecking ball of history, Natasha Trethewey pieces together fragments to create the church of poetry. Poems from her book Beyond Katrina have been memorialized in Congregation— the 2014 William Meredith Award for poetry. “…a love letter to the Gulf Coast, a praise song, a dirge, invocation and benediction, a requiem for the Gulf Coast.”

First, when we read these poems we know what Trethewey believes it— we see the blood in her veins. Next, we know how principled poetry can emerge from a darker world; and then, we see, when all around us crumbles, the complexity of the human spirit –and consequences of suffering that can be redeemed. When the poet liberates herself, she liberates others; and that is why we call writing a moral life. Trethewey reflects reality with lyrical force. She’s not afraid to live; she’s not afraid to carry the freight of knowledge; she creates carefully from the boundaries of loss and turns it to poetry. Out of cultural disorder comes Congregation, a celebration, so get your God on. Poetry is holy work.

The beginning of the poem Liturgy:

To the security guard staring at the Gulf

thinking of bodies washed away from the coast,

    plugging her ears

against the bells and siren— sound of alarm –

     the gaming floor

on the Coast…

                              Trethewey ends her poem:

This cannot rebuild the Coast; it is an indictment,

     a complaint,

my logos – argument and discourse – with the Coast.


This is my nostros – my pilgrimage to the Coast, my memory,

    my reckoning –


native daughter: I am the Gulf Coast.

This Way Out by Terrence Winch. Hanging Loose Press. 90 pages.

You can put your chips on Terrence Winch, if ever you are blue – or used up – or too used to poetry. He comes from the land of leprechauns and is endowed with magic. I tried to follow the pathways of his mind but at every turn on the road to Damascus was a tiny explosion that changed my brain.

Winch anthropomorphizes his psychology and reduces its myth to concrete stories where humans think in an original way. Winch has one poem titled:

Almost Invisible Poem                         (And in its entirety is quoted below)

Only one line of this poem is visible.

Terence Winch’s innovative poems operate at the highest level of humor, meaning his timing sets the dynamic for the poem. Just when you think you’re prepared for a non-sequitur, he does you one better and audits your expectations. There’s a poem titled, The Emptiness; we are drawn into a very funny exposition, dour musings on time and death. The last four lines are:

My son is reading the Sunday funnies. He is the light

in the cave. Not emptiness, she says: empty nest.

Oh, I see. That I am absolutely not ready for.

Attacking poetry’s status quo is a good thing and one of the ways which Winch accomplishes this is by not taking poetry seriously; but by writing about it very seriously –

How I Lost My Virginity. This poem ends

…. As for my virginity, I lost it/ a thousand times, once in an apartment, /and once outdoors at the beach, with a /full moon above, the two of us pretending/to be in love. And on one other occasion, /I never lost my virginity at all, /as far as I can recall.

Winch creates a sense of immediacy by propitiously setting the poem around his psyche, and because Winch is a musician by trade and talent, his direct lines, although linear, have lilt and lift, and could not be mistaken for prose. This is because the lines, juxtaposed, are arranged to stir the evolution of the poem. Each line leads us essentially, in a planned archaeology, so that we are never disappointed or lost. Here is the beginning of the book’s last poem.

Never Say Die

Dear World: I am going to eat you alive.

Swallow you whole. Take you to the cleaners.

Clean you out. Thank you for everything you’ve got.

Mop the floor with you. Fuck you till your ears fly off.

Never let you go. Never say goodbye. I will cry,

me, a grown man, before I’ll say goodbye…

Terrence Winch pushes the frontiers of anecdote and makes it functional poetry. And he creates a space for love in everything he pokes. Something special happens when we are reading This Way Out. We are happy. 

Eye to Eye by Maria Terrone.
Bordighera Press. 115 pages.


Whether philosophically, politically, or personally, Terrone reveals our vulnerabilities with intellectual fire and a hope for the future. That’s a lot to accomplish in poetry, along with the right way to present a poem. Terrone tells compelling stories, whether re-creating an elder relative’s embroidering; or recalling her own young life in a” plaid jumper” “watching a violent rain.”  A poet’s choice of themes, topics, and preferences are always a portrait of the poet so we feel we know Maria Terrone and her connection to society with all its possible endings. Her poem titled E. R. bombards us with reality as it opens, 

The prisoners from Rikers arrive shackled, /seems like five cops to one.// Their caretakers in blue shoot/ the breeze with one another/and their charges –sports mostly,/the usual stuff, and read the Post,/check smart phones, poke their mouths/ with fries from crackling waxed bags…

A patient with a bruised brow/dreams aloud in Chinese.//… The Denzel Washington–look alike/shakes his shackle, demands/a ”nurse administrator” …//  The night reels./More patients are wheeled in./This negative space is more crowded/than eight hours ago, but now only machines speak.//Some enshroud their heads/with rough muslin sheets, motionless and silent/despite what brought them here.

It seems relevant that, clearly, at the center of each poem is a woman speaking.  Women want to succeed first of all by answering the questions within themselves. The woman wonders, the poet answers, and these internal human propulsions make the poem. Maria Terrone, like other good poets, keeps us from the danger of ruining language— and it seems as if she writes not motivated by personal gain, but because she cannot contain her mind-thoughts without expressing. Therefore we have a repurposing of language which is at once clear, thoughtful, and beautiful.


Not a diminishing—

the body’s way of forcing me

to look closer.


If I lie eye to eye

with these blades of grass,

I may see what they hide:


insect, feather, pebble,

maybe the cameo

that came unpinned


as I walked here decades ago:

that once noble face

framed by wild green hair.


Twinzilla by Barbara G. S. Hagerty. The Word Works. 76 pages. Cover art, oil painting “Twinzilla” by Richard Hagerty.

Barbara Hagerty’s poetry could get mail on Valentine’s Day from the metaphysical poets. How they would love her transformations, resilient lines, emotional adaptations. In fact I think I’ll send her a love letter myself. This is a book of intended purpose and unintended consequence, meaning that the startling impact of poetic thought begins; but then the poet  takes us into conflicting histories and alternative narratives, all within a single poem. This is the kind of poet where everything is possible. It’s the daring. There are prevailing myths (sisters in competition, guiding mothers, remote relationships,) but what the metaphysicians would have loved is her paradoxical parallels —although  not known for word play ,they’d use words to say one thing and mean another. The poem ABCDs ends “…Let’s put the nature back in nomenclature. / Time to take doggerel for a walk.” 

Twinzilla Grist starts, “Some grateful bastard says God controlled/the bullets path, another claims randomness…And twirls into …” So what if the whole Vatican vacations in the Poconos,/and I need to take out a second mortgage on my disbeliefs?/ What comes around is no joking matter for comedians,/and what’s kosher may just be grist for your candy bar,/so many laps around the rumor mill. It’s just me again, aliasing as you. Twinzilla—so go, go, configure.”

And she can draw a character like nobody’s business. In Grounded, “He is mired in oldness, the body’s effrontery, / dappled in brown spots, as though// he created his own shade, camouflaged/ from even himself, the agile man// who vanished, leaving this birdcage of flesh, / two plastic hearing aids in a chipped saucer.

And is there pain? Longing? Memory? You bet. This is poetry, isn’t it, and delicious to read because the humorist knows exactly what well draws water. And is there love? This is poetry, isn’t it?

Twinzilla Two-Faced ends, “…she was barred from birthday party games, / To the disassembling ark came, two by two, / yin-yang, black-white, pepper-salt, lovers-friends./ Close I hold my hand—and yours.”

She’s a dervish for the reader,

the kind of writer who makes you want to write. And that is my love letter. 

The Tulip-Flame by Chloe Honum. Cleveland State University Poetry Center. 51 pages. Foreword by Tracy K.Smith

The Tulip- Flame is the winner of the 2013 first book award from Cleveland State Poetry Center. Chloe Honum was a ballet dancer and this is important to know, for dance depends upon music, and control – and so does poetry. All those years of practicing gave Honum a fortunate advantage and a courtesy to the perfect line. It is hard work being a ballerina. Just think of the body’s morality in motion and the unselfish ethic of dedication. Chloe Honum takes these and makes new moments on the page via a mother’s suicide, a sister’s relationship, and a lost love. The future and the present feel the same in this world where gardens flourish and birds complete Honum’s spectrum. You will read one page after the other where you can visualize – as if through crystal - a life. Poetry has always been somewhere and is always going somewhere else; it is technique that turns words into the truest information. Chloe Honum has technique in her bones.


Tonight, I listened to

the applause of small waves

and need you here. LOVE


stands on the bedside table

majuscule letters. Branches

in a waterless vase hold out


their berries like pricked fingers.

 Today, I stepped into a morgue

to see my dearest friend. I placed


my gloved hands on the plastic

 over her cold hands. Oh, God,

oh, yes, I want to hear you say


as you push into my flesh,

deepen  my heart,  like pink light

 above the ocean turning red.

In Beauty Bright by Gerald Stern. W.W. Norton & Co. 125 pages. Paperback edition.

Gerald Stern takes his place at the head of our table as our grand Mensch of poetry. He sees rapture, and what’s fallible, in everything. Among his many successes is an ability to pull the reader in with non-stop phraseologies which are really divinations. The world is food for his feast— garbage cans, Stalin, plaster pigs, rats, Nietzsche—and they are all made holy in the name of moral argument. There is righteousness in restoring the past, and the search to understand it, through writing. Stern brings us a little more into our senses with his colloquial conversational confrontations with everything he sees and hears and thinks. He has a sideways look at the world around him, and in him—with humor for its universal angst.



Fleabane again and I have another year

to take up its redness and what the wayside is like

with or without it and I have another year

to charge across the wooden bridge and shake it

again and take on the animals and fight

the stupid bikes and the bikers who ride across

with their legs spread out instead of walking their bikes

so we didn’t have to be pushed against the rails,

they are so dumb and their bikes have so many dumb

and useless gears like a dumb idiot box

with 2,000 stations, only dumb ancient

boxing and ancient movies worth anything.

Jack Johnson or Marciano, even

Orson Welles too much, give me the unself-

conscious, Karl Malden or Jean Harlowe,

for this is an old flower, it hates whatever

it wants to, it grows where it wants and it

loves goats because of their flattened eyes.


Letter Composed During A Lull in the Fighting by Kevin Powers. Little, Brown & Company. 96 pages.

I was afraid to open this because of my husband’s pain from Viet Nam and the years that followed, but he turned to sculpture—Kevin Powers turned to writing.  His novel was a National Book Award finalist— and now comes this stunning collection. Please, someone, bring this book to the peace table. These poems are negotiations.


I want the boys at the end of the bar

to know, these Young Republicans

in pink popped-collar shirts, to know

that laughter drives me mad

and if one must be old

before one dies, then we were

old.  Nineteen or twenty-three

and we were old and now

as the fan spins and the light

shines off their gelled hair and

nails, I want to rub their clean

bodies in blood. I want my rifle

and I want them to know

how scared I am still, alone

in bars these three years later when

I notice it is gone. I want the boys

at the end of the bar to know

that my rifle weighed eight pounds

when loaded and on my first day

home I made a scene in a bar,

so drunk that I screamed and

wept and  begged for someone

to give it back. “How will I return

fire?”  I cried. I truly cried.

But no one could give it back

because it was gone and I felt

so old: twenty-four and crying

for my rifle and the boys

at the end of the bar

were laughing.

PLUS MORE!  Best Poetry Books Listed for June!

Irresistible Sonnets, edited by Mary Meriam. Headmistress Press. 72 pages.

Now there is absolutely no reason for not teaching the sonnet. After we present Shakespeare, what better way than to present 70 contemporary sonnets by the finest of our writers—some traditional, some jazz— even some freed by verse. 

You’re Going To Miss Me When You’re Bored by Justin Marks.  Books. 71 pages.

As you can tell by the title, an irreverent approach to life/ fatherhood/marriage. A searing wry honesty that lights every page.

Without Angels by Marjorie Stelmach. Mayapple Press. 79 pages.

This knocked the breath out of me. Every page about angels, and every page a new illumination. “The Angel Under Interrogation” is one of the great poems of our decade, if you can imagine angels at Abu Grab, you can imagine anything. May the Angels award every prize on this miraculous book.

Sheds/ Hangars. Jose’-Flore Tappy’s French poetry translated to English by John Taylor. 213 pages.

It is becoming clear that Bitter Oleander Press is the place to go for the most current poetry in translation. This is a contribution to Letters – presenting poets we would never have known. It is what W.S. Merwin calls “Making the impossible possible.

A Black Fire: Eulogy for my Father Imamu Amiri Baraka by Ras Baraka. Opening Note by E. Ethelbert Miller. Black Classic Press. 24 pages.

Power. Logic. Philosophy. Beauty. The sound of struggle. A record of glory.

Aquamarine by Yoko Danno. Glass Lyre Press. 71 pages.

Yoko Danno is Japanese and lives in Kobe. She once said that she wrote poetry in English because there is more freedom. This book proves it with its limitless imagination of pure silk.


The Great Falls, An Anthology of Poems about Paterson, New Jersey, edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan. The Poetry Center. 64 pages.

In observance and memory by 43 poets.


Poet Lore, Vol. 109 Number 1/2 , edited by Jody Bolz and E. Ethelbert Miller. The Writer’s Center. 137 pages.

Celebrating its 175th birthday this year.


December. Vol. 25.1, edited by Gianna Jacobson. December Publishing Inc. 201 pages.

A literary legacy rejuvenated after a 32-year publishing hiatus.

Grace Cavalieri is a poet and playwright. She produces “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress” for public radio, now celebrating 37 years on-air.

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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