October 2019 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

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

October 2019 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

Dear Readers,

This is my last “Exemplars.” I’ve loved reading poetry books each and every day for my monthly column and reviewing poetry for more than seven years for the Independent. Thank you (and them) for being with me.

~ Grace Cavalieri

Things come and go
Then let them

                                          – Robert Creeley



Love and I by Fanny Howe. Graywolf Press. 80 pages.

While They Sleep (Under the Bed Is Another Country) by Raquel Salas Rivera; art by Mariana Isabel Ramos Ortiz. Birds, LLC. 96 pages.

Heed the Hollow by Malcolm Tariq. Graywolf Press. 88 pages.

One Less River by Terry Blackhawk. Mayapple Press. 64 pages.

Salt to Taste by Lindsay Young. BoardHouse Publishing. 64 pages.

The Honey of Earth by David Graham. Terrapin Books. 92 pages.

The Shape of Regret by Herbert Woodward Martin. Wayne State University Press. 92 pages.

Love and Kumquats: New and Selected Poems by Kathi Wolfe. BrickHouses Books, Inc. 70 pages.

Felon by Reginald Dwayne Betts. W.W. Norton & Company. 96 pages.

Night Angler by Geffrey Davis. BOA Editions. 112 pages.

come see about me, marvin by Brian g. gilmore. Wayne State University Press. 104 pages.

Best Anthology:

The Mind Has Cliffs of Fall: Poems at the Extremes of Feeling, edited by Robert Pinsky. W.W. Norton & Company. 256 pages.

Best Chapbooks:

Twenty Questions by John Delaney. Finishing Line Press. 44 pages.

American Herstory by Celeste Doaks. Backbone Press. 22 pages.

Other Best Books for October:

Scratches on the Moon: A Haibun Collection by Alexis Rotella. Jade Mountain Press. 58 pages.

Nervous System by Rosalie Moffett. Ecco. 96 pages.

…And more!


Love and I by Fanny Howe. Graywolf Press. 80 pages.

Howe says everything for the first time; this originality sets a high bar for modern language. Her connections connect with electric currents. What makes us grateful is that she trusts the reader; she’s always the diver on the highest platform; she uses the edges of language; she demonstrates loss and “the human condition”; she writes our attempts to touch and be touched — and shows the deterrence at these junctures.

Children wander through the pages. They need sugar, they are dreaming, they are skateboarding, they carry firearms: “Up stood a child, dirty and loud, and her boots furry./An immigrant from the United States.//She went everywhere with me, this disgrace with no money.//She had the power of say/Someone who never passed through the God phase.//Silvery gray is its weather.//Soft char rubbed off a gun barrel or an eyelid./She didn’t want others to see the way she saw herself” (from “The First Church”).

And love, too, is always waiting somewhere offstage — in a faraway land — lovers who are always nearly meeting. The book is about expectations as a way of expiating suffering. The poems are quick, witty, off-center, surprising, profound and indefatigable. There are real people and real ideas featured too: Katherine Litz, Charles Olson, John Cage, John Dewey, Josef Albers — and God, although it’s “the wrong God” and “the left God,” it’s God. (from “Black Mountain Boston”): “I wanted to go to their planet with them. /But she said, “you have to be tough to live the spiritual life.”

This is the book we’ll be talking about all year and puzzling over. It’s Howe at her fierce best; and in the reading, you may be dazzled, like the first time you found poetry. Snap, crackle, pop. She has the moves. She does us right.


The clatter of rain has a personal meaning.
This is the time to meditate or write down your dreams.
But the lover can do neither, can only wander
From room to room trying not to spill what’s so precious.

Around the lover are myriad sounds.
Thoughts shine through like water.
Forms, shapes, colors, stations are glorified in the morning.
Indecipherable, almost transparent.

Fear of loss takes root in the blood of the lover.
Words form, interpretations.

Miracles: no one there where someone was.
Someone here where no one was.

The stars that shine are sparks and coal
As if to show experience purifies existence.

Experience was everything to me.
(This is what the uneducated would say.)

Every word must come from my acts direct.
But I know the difficulty too.
Who will believe what I do?


While They Sleep (Under the Bed Is Another Country) by Raquel Salas Rivera; art by Mariana Isabel Ramos Ortiz. Birds, LLC. 96 pages.

This is a gorgeous book in meaning, content, and infrastructure. The writing is a synergy of English and Spanish contrasted with page space, illustrations, and interesting layout. The conventions of poetry are all here with a new daring — both warning and challenge about the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico. “The hospital has been shut down/because of the smell of corpses.” That country’s destiny was radically changed because of a paucity of help for Puerto Rico’s restoration.

“fema box contains:
one can of beans
one packet of cookies
one oatmeal bar
a small ricebox”

Clearly, poetry makes a difference on the granular level and in elevating the conversation, so Raquel Salas Rivera takes on America and its culture for a fakery of assistance and sympathy. The book is a condensed process presenting a novel position about bitter change and the lack of U.S. integrity “coming to Puerto Rico’s aid.” On its merit, poetry is communication, and this is one that moves us forward.

appendix (that optional organ)

we heard somewhere that a supplement defines the boundaries

 of the original like a no sets the boundaries of sexual non-

sexual exchange, like an aluminum panel on a window is meant

to keep out a storm, but also like a storm produces a storm

economy: dominoes, medallas, canned goods, diesel, clean

water (mary magdalene kneels to wash our feet out of a bucket

brown and translucent from reuse). an appendix is forgiven

for latching on to its parasitic parent. an appendix is the

dependent you list for tax purposes. beauty is this appendix,

since it uses up our pain to make objects that admit they feed

off suffering. v unironic. sincerely cruel. so what use do i

have for you, beauty, when you’ve made me depend on you by

stripping me of everyone and everywhere i love? are you my

medicine or my abusive substance of choice? to be prolific is to

pretend there is such a thing as language to — as some would

say — perform it.


Heed the Hollow by Malcolm Tariq. Graywolf Press. 88 pages.

History, erotic and cruel, true and powerful. Tariq chronicles the South like no other poet has. This is proud (and haunting) work that multiplies the horizon for what we know of human conduct. The poem is a sanctuary for passion and truth and sometimes condemnation. “Race and the south” are taken on without apology changing pain to lyric, chilling us with the mastery of language.

Excerpted from a two-page poem: “Bottom Power”

Praise the bottom of the black bottom,

            everything lost and lingering, our bone

            of brick still breaking, our emptiness,

            our backward lick of life, our distant

            desire, our queer quiet, our will and want,

            our silent sighs exalting the cleft clit

            still singing in the labor of love…


One Less River by Terry Blackhawk. Mayapple Press. 64 pages.

Poets are noticers of the world, and Blackhawk proves this with her look at the lovely accidents we call nature; combining geography with philosophy, she makes poetry. Blackhawk is a silky writer and makes it seem easy, encountering moments fastened to language. Michigan and Detroit feature large in the story — places of origin — but that’s only part of her journey inward. A favorite section is the six-page poem “And Somewhere a River,” an existential journey in four-line stanzas, four stanzas per page, conveying a sense of flight over rubble — the past — ruin and decay seen from a distance, yet simultaneously giving feeling that something seeded there will rise. Blackhawk has masterminded a good new book.

Ice Music

ice melt ice lace ice
breaking up upstream
coming down from up
north in variegated
quilts of floes
no instant’s act this
crumbling an entire
season sends broken
continents our way
once-miles-wide chunks break
and bob or push up
against the shore
in spun sugar turrets
they rise fall glistening
dissolving ice lace
ice music I seem
to hear a tremolo
in the trees

but it’s March no leaves
no breeze just the score
for the scene
before me silvery
glissandos rising
from a streaming swarm
of glinting
creatures herded
by the current
in a living touching
clinking singing surge


Salt to Taste by Lindsay Young. BoardHouse Publishing. 64 pages.

This is essential reading. Poems are titled “Black Women in the Kitchen,” “Black Suburb,” “For the Tired Black Girls,” etc. — the writer lets us into her life, and she knows how to use words of yearning and play; words woven through; and the poet also knows the importance of each. Her masterplan is simply to let the reader know how it feels, and Young gives us private entry to known experiences. Young, the poet, is not afraid of form, process, or truth. In this way, the overall effect benefits society.

For the Tired Black Girls

I am speaking to you through clenched teeth
From underneath my pillow
And between your closed door and mine

I can feel you through the wall

I flinch
When they call
us Invincible



Enough strength to spread us thin like butter. Tastes like chocolate. Eat us
alive like food. Tired Black Girl, they tell you rest does not belong to you.

That unclenched fist means surrender. And not an act of self-mercy. For the
strong, and the sad. For the so strong
Nobody believes that we can break in half

Sad, sad Black Girl
They say our skin swallows sun
Our hair can fly
Our hands can hold

I want you to find peace in surrender
I want to surrender with you.


The Honey of Earth by David Graham. Terrapin Books. 92 pages.

Graham writes an epic poem, “Why I Love America” — but that’s not why I call him a true American poet. It’s because his other poems chart robust narratives, high-minded with cultural overlaps to the American life of an American poet. Every page is an area of great interest with the strength and weaknesses of an ordinary world that’s turned wonderful by poetic form. If we take away ideologies, what does it mean to rethink America via poetry? It’s the way Graham finds the currents that flow through the day that could not happen anyplace but this, of national origin; poems that flesh out experience via language as a sense of place.

In Line at the Post Office

Here comes a woman with one of those helmet hairdos,
a lacquered orange object of stunning ugliness
riding her head, a petrochemical mote in my eye —
so I stare and stare like a toddler until good grace kicks in.
This scene could go two ways, and thank the wind
it is the sun filling my eyes next, not grit or tears
of derision, and I nod politely, a smalltown St. Francis
here on the mottled official stone, here under
the dazzling commemorative posters, and just two steps
from a limp flag. Bless us all, I’m thinking,
in our transparent disguises, bless our skinny thoughts
escaping this grungy world far and wide.


The Shape of Regret by Herbert Woodward Martin. Wayne State University Press. 92 pages.

Martin is a known and beloved American author. Once he made public Paul Laurence Dunbar’s unpublished works, and now we have his own. Beneath the word, and moving beyond our world, Martin’s moral convictions are messages beautifully distilled. Through the knowledge of classics and the fruits of our culture, he moves the dissonance of our daily life to harmony.

On Reading Lucille Clifton’s “Homage to My Hips”

I am here to praise ungainly women
the ones with large pork chop hips
that sway with the motion of the earth
and with the intrigue of wind and shadows
alternately moving and bending with the
leaves on the vines, and subsequently to
tickle the hipbone which maintains that
heavy abundance which allows women
to dance on the arms of the sun or to
swing so low that they hear the earth cry out:
Choose me: take me home!

My mother has similar hips;
they beckoned when she encountered
men of her choosing:
their eyes appreciated what they saw.
All men of color say they must pay
strict attention when they receive
such personal invitations.


Love and Kumquats: New and Selected Poems by Kathi Wolfe. BrickHouses Books, Inc. 70 pages.

Now we can have all we want of Kathi Wolfe. Kathi has delighted her followers for years with newspaper columns, poetry, essays, and the smartest dialogue since Dorothy Parker took steroids. Those familiar with her nationally acclaimed “Uppity Blind Girl Poems” and “Helen Keller Poems” can luxuriate in those and then have something new with “love and kumquats” in section four. We have too few humorists who are real poets in this country, and this brand is brought alive to last as long as Kathi is throwing these snowballs at the world from the Tropics. Poems are at once mournful, sweet, self-effacing, yearning, and mischievous; and, because Wolfe is a film and music aficionado (circa 1950s), we are all the better for it.

To My Eyes

Jeepers Creepers…where’d ya get those peepers? Jonny Mercer

Queens of myopia
you rule with mirages —
half faces, black ice,
strobe lights.
Insouciant divas,
muscles sashaying,
retinas moonwalking,
you don’t care
if I trip the light
or grab the spotlight.
You only want
to shut down the bar,
devour the night.


Felon by Reginald Dwayne Betts. W.W. Norton & Company. 96 pages.

This is a necessary read for every citizen, for even those who don’t like poetry can recognize courage and truth, pain and harmony. It’s a masterwork of human endeavor chronicling prison life, reentry after prison. From “HOUSE OF UNENDING,” stanza 6: “Whiskey after prison made me crave amber,/ Brown washing my glass until I’m smacked./ The murder of crows on my arm an artifact/ Of freedom: what outlasts even the jailor…”

Some poems are redacted sending the chilling message of what cannot be heard; from “GHAZAL”: “Them fools say you can become anything when it’s over./Told ‘em straight up, ain’t nothing to resurrect after prison…” Oh, yes, there is, we want to answer, and this book proves it. They can’t kill genius, even behind bars.


 for JB

There walks a man, somewhere,
Wanting the touch of another
Man & somewhere people know
That desire; name the walking man after
You — Jericho, because G-d once
Promised to bring a city to its knees
For the man circling you with
His trumpet. Going down from
Jerusalem a man broke another
Man, they say, those men lost in
Gospel & what G-d can’t fathom:
Odalisque & outstretched arm. They
Don’t know every love is a kind
Of robbery. And sometimes hurt
Is a kind of mending. A body only
Broken by death. Every moan ain’t
A cry. This is always about vulnerability.
How others afraid to touch a man
Who touches a man have need to
Imagine hips & the flesh they flank
As a confession: the body threatens.
Call that fear of suffering. the heathen
Is always afraid of a warm body
Against his own. & while some say
Things always return to a man
& his desire to be touched, & touch,
That want to be known, governs us all.


Night Angler by Geffrey Davis. BOA Editions. 112 pages.

“The Father” is a predominant theme in literature and, although a subtext here, pervades the sensibilities through this stunning compilation of poems. Davis has a quiet dynamism, a magnet that brings us close in. His crafted poems ache with truth, and in their thoughtful coherence connect us to the soul of art.

The Fidelity of Water


Thousands of miles from home, you wake
in a cheap hotel with thirst so urgent you have
no choice but to find the bathroom faucet
with your mouth, drink deep, and understand
the daily sigh made by bodies everywhere
in this small town. Your new cushy job gives you

bottled artesian water, which you consider
as you taste the tap. Used to be there was
no good distance between the river tang
and your fluid desires. Used to be you’d shove
aside a sweaty friend or jab a sibling
for the first shot at placing lips to the only

neighborhood source. Used to be no future
In yearning. Feel how far you’ve come?


come see about me, marvin by brian g. gilmore. Wayne State University Press. 104 pages.

He sizzles with energy. He pops with meaning. There’s a lot of Michigan in this book, but much, much more. Start with the poem to “Lover” and you’ll see the heart. Keep on to see the politics, the love of a culture honored; don’t stop until you find the fight for justice, the call for peace. And by the end, you’ll know a man worth knowing, smart and sweet, a poet you’ll love.

Distant lover # 7

 Dear marvin.

i am reading thich nhat hanh’s how to love, because I have failed at

            love again, just like

i have always failed science courses in school. Especially chemistry.

            this explains why i

sleep alone at night after night. This must be some government-

            funded science experiment.

like I am all alone in some petri dish being stared at by people in

            labcoats, mouths covered, gloves on to protect them from

            something that might make them feel awfully lonely all of a

            sudden. i would like to see what they have written in their

            notebooks when they leave the room & talk. perhaps it will

            make my lover return sooner or visit more often. lie here in

bed w/me in this cold, dark place, listening to some of your

most beautiful songs, & feeing loved again, at last…


Best Anthology:

The Mind Has Cliffs of Fall: Poems at the Extremes of Feeling, edited by Robert Pinsky. W.W. Norton & Company. 256 pages.

Pinsky is the curator who earned our love and respect with his “FAVORITE POEM” Project. As U.S. poet laureate, he traveled the country asking ordinary people to recall a poem they held close. The results were dazzling, and now, when we see these poems he’s selected and anthologized, personalizing our deepest emotions, we listen. The sections are: “The Sleep of Reason”; “Grief”; “Love and Rage”; “Despair”; “Guilt, Shame, Blame”; and “Manic Laughter.” It looks as if our poets range from 560 BC to the 21st century, proving poets are the stewards of “feeling” without interruption; yet the dialogue changes on every page, and that’s the gift. An anthology is to coordinate ideas, weigh the nature of words, and — in this case — synchronize the passage of time. Heading each poem, Pinsky offers an editorial signpost. Poets are living things, Pinsky tells us, through his acts of public devotion. And he provides a silver thread that runs through centuries, 130 poems, each confronting the heart with good stories of what was lost and what is found. And now, what is saved.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637), “On My First Son.” TREMBLING YET calm: exactly between the impossible extremes of total bereavement and Christian consolation…RP

On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy:
Seven years thou ‘wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O could I lose all father now! for why
Will man lament the state he should env’y,
To have so soon ’scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and asked, say, “Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.”
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.


Best Chapbooks:

Twenty Questions by John Delaney. Finishing Line Press. 44 pages.

This is a sweet delight in self-reflection. And, of course, the deeper the well, the better the water. These poems benefit from a life spent in service to clarity and order, and it shows in crisp, pristine poems that reveal imagination, interesting subjects, and the writer in bright content.

Orbis Canis

What can you learn from an old dog you loved?

That food is a reason to jump for joy at any time.
That morning can never come early enough.
Never to shun a stranger at your door,
nor stop fawning over your friends.
To follow your nose to the source.
The contagion of enthusiasm.
A companionable silence.
How devoted subjects train their masters.

True to your breed, now you run to fetch
something that’s irretrievable.


American Herstory by Celeste Doaks. Backbone Press. 22 pages.

“Childhood scents are the rungs of a ladder we climb every day.” There’s that, and more, in this chapbook that brims true with energy and passion. Here are poems, first of their kind, with ekphrastic responses to the art that Michelle Obama hung in the White House. Conversations with the poet and Michelle O. expand horizons beyond the garden, changing ideas to poetic realities.

American Herstory

Tell them it's always under attack. Tell them there's no cure
for the disease, or answer to the riddle. Tell them you asked many
before you, some who won, some who lost.

You consulted Assata, Roe vs. Wade, Harriet and Jocelyn Elders
to no avail. Her words on contraception twisted into a bitter pretzel.
The bits broken off, used to destroy her.

Tell them it’s always under attack, its predators everywhere. They lurk 
behind Mississippi clinics or around Georgetown blocks dressed
in blue uniform. Tell them you have the cure, somewhere at home,

deep in your cabinets, mixed in a mason jar, Don't tell them
it consists of breast milk, dreams, butterflies, civil rights marches,
burned bras, a piece of Madame CJ Walker's hair, prayers,
Amelia Earhart's drive, hot-water cornbread, and Sally Ride's fearlessness.

Lie to them, tell them it's rosemary oil, then bottle it. Sell it
to every woman in America who will drink it. Then watch all
the piranhas disappear.


Other Best Books for October:

Scratches on the Moon: A Haibun Collection by Alexis Rotella. Jade Mountain Press. 58 pages.

Fallen Star

Dressed in antique lace and ribbons, strands of pearls reach to
her waist. She looks like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to
Baby Jane?
Her skin is ghostly white, lips and beyond smeared
with fiery orange lipstick. Under her left eye there’s a mole
painted in the shape of a heart. Hair dyed to a shade of
anthracite, she’s happy to be the center of attention on this
busy Kyoto Street.

                         Lunchtime crowd
                         a rhinestone pin
                         catches the light


Dancing the Tarantella: Short Poems by Alexis Rotella. Jade Mountain Press. 91 pages.

After the coal miner’s bath

he puffs his face
with pink powder

and his wife’s silk robe
he paints his pinky nail
bright red


The Wayward Wind

I belt it out
With all I got

ignored by friends
I walk home
a tiger tail between my legs


Nervous System by Rosalie Moffett. Ecco. 96 pages.

She made two of me — twins, of which
     only I survived, which is why
she doubled me again.

     every time I left the house,
saying, Take care of Rosi, as if one of me
     could watch over another of me.

There are many things one can make seem
     to happen with words.
I felt I was being followed

     by the faithful dog of myself, as if
I had stepped half out of my body.
     Little perfections exist.

For instance, that by myself endures
     in clear opposition
to alone. It is possible

     to be content
like this. It is impossible to imagine
     how to go about thinking

in the absence of language.


On the Shores of Welcome Home by Bruce Weigl. BOA Editions. 120 pages.

A Small Song for Immigrants

The immigrants ride bicycles through town.
They blend in now and mostly work behind the scenes
for wages most Americans would never take,
and think they live in paradise. How bad
it must have been to have to run away
from home and family, the poor lined up

along the dust clogged road to nowhere,
their hands held out to passing motorcars
as if someone could help. No one can help
you from the damage to your soul that being
hungry means, that living under bloody rule,
not free to even say the names of someone dead.
The immigrants ride bicycles through town.
They blend in now and mostly work behind the scenes.


Tracing the Horse by Diana Marie Delgado. BOA Editions. 112 pages.

House of the Stars

Maria’s standing like a man,
one hundred pounds

poured into a slippery T-shirt
the color of mushrooms,

helping Joey tune the
’67 Pontiac

he’ll sell for two thousand
the year he’s out of work.

They build pyramids
in our home, teach

why the Aztecs
held so many hearts.

In the bathroom,
a motor roars,

Dad’s body
constantly oiled.


Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise. BOA Editions. 112 pages.

Beside You on Main Street

We were stepping out of a reading
in October, the first cold night,
and we were following this couple,
were they at the reading? and because
we were lost, I called out to them,
“Are you going to the after-party?”
The woman laughed and said no
and the man kept walking, and she
was holding his hand like I hold yours,
though not exactly, she did not
need him for balance. Then what
got into me? I said, “How long
have you been married?” and she said
“Almost 30 years” and because
we were walking in public, no secret,
tell everyone now it’s official,
I said, “How’s marriage?” The man
kept walking. The woman said,
“It gets better but then it gets different.”
The man kept walking.


Bodega by Su Hwang. Milkweed Editions. 96 pages.


binding a

                                                 series of tiny

Mom let me lie                                     digs.

on her lap

when she


not too spent

after fifteen

 hour shifts

to crane

a lamp over

my head,


my earlobes

like taffy

to get a better

look into

the snail

cave to mine

canals with

a wooden pen.

I dozed while

her breath

and naked

bulb warmed

my cheek.

She burrowed

deep, this

was our

only touch

when I let

her study

me — our


The Rumi Interview Project : 99 Poems from the Methnewi: Form-faithfully Translated from the Lyrical Versions of Tholuck with Original Sonnet Replies by Martin Bidney. Dialogic Poetry Press. 298 pages.

Reply to Rumi 98

What’s the meaning of the saying of a pray’r
Both by God and by the lips entreating there?
Though the words may, one by one, not always be
Uttered by the two at once — yet All is He.
Prayer, lyric, hymn of exultation, laud —
All’s direct it to — and from — the living God.
Love is everywhere — is many, being One —
Flowing in the sea, exploding in the sun.

If the Lord of pardon so can pray within
Those who He’ll assist in freeing them from sin,
When we feel forgiven, surely that, as well,
Of a pardon wrought by soul and God can tell.
Pardon then your heart — ‘tis he forgiving you:
Love your neighbor as yourself — they’re one, not two.


The Threshold of Light by Michael S. Glaser. Bright Hill Press. 54 pages.

Light-bringer, Light-seeker Glaser makes our lives better. That’s a good enough reason to say poetry DOES MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

Sweet Morning

This morning I imagined
that God woke up saying, again,
“I am who I am.”

Me? I couldn’t even
face myself in a bathroom mirror.

Instead I poured some coffee
scooped up a spoonful

of my wife’s all natural raspberry jam,
and slurped it down like an oyster.

Sweet morning!

I thought, moving finally
toward the mirror

what I will find there

and who?


Hansel & Gretel Get the Word on the Street by Al Ortolani. Rattle. 39 pages.

If we really want to know the heart and soul of a public-school teacher, who has an abundance of each, this book is for you — and me — and everyone who wants a fascinating read.

Daddy’s Car

5 a.m. in the cold —
a girl warms the Cherokee
before emptying the remaining
Xanax down her throat.
She doesn’t want to fall
asleep shivering, ice crystals
up her nose. She wonders
if she has enough gas
to keep the motor
running. She depends
on the car, the reassuring
timing of the engine, the heater
on full, even a little
light from the dash.
It would ruin everything
if the car died, the engine
pinging as it cooled
to silent steel.


Best Translation:

Frayed Light by Yonatan Berg. Wesleyan University Press. 88 pages.

Taken from the best of three published books, these poems are now premiered in English. In the shadow of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sorrow and introspection fill the pages. Politics could be changed by this reading because the heart of a divided country is here, broken into language that broadens our understanding and has the ability to make the world less cruel. Each line shows the groundwork of a seasoned poet with confidence maintained by careful translations. Every poem is a moment encountered, a greater emotional engagement, expanding thought, with Berg’s commitment to bitter, beautiful truths.

Best Writing Help:

Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets, second edition, edited by Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin. Blurb. 146 pages.

The value of these prompts, and poetry samples, is that they jog the writer awake. That’s all creative writing teachers hope to do — give some poetic reference and let the writer put his/her own identity to it. The editors have done a good job starting the engine, especially for beginners, and by living through these first explorations, one hopes the writer will find the riches within.

Best Young Writers’ Work:

I Am Me: Teen Artists and Writers Speak out on Being Yourself, edited by Tom Worthen. Creative Communication Inc. 104 pages.

Poems of self-awareness give us hope for the restoration of sanity on earth for a while. These beginning poets and artists claim “the self” as source, where they find what there is to love. The endgame is to let poets be seen and heard in a book; but the real event is the poem on the page, accompanied by art that could rival any adult’s work — interpersonal and profound, this book makes the day.

 I’ll Prove You Wrong

Don’t tell me I’m not good enough,
Because I’ll prove you wrong.
The more you say I’m a bad singer,
The louder I’ll sing my song.

The more you say my hair isn’t long enough,
The shorter I’ll cut my hair.
The more you say you hate my style,
The crazier clothes I’ll wear.

So yell at me, beat me up,
I’m used to it, immune.
Tell me I’ll never achieve my dreams,
It means nothing coming from you.

Because the more you say I am a bad singer,
The louder I sing my song.
So don’t tell me I’m not good enough,
Because I will prove you wrong.

                                                                                                                                                             – Emma Kobb, Grade 8


[Editor’s note: At the top of this piece, Grace Cavalieri thanked us for allowing her to write for the Independent. As fans of "Exemplars" surely know, however, it’s we who should thank her. Grace’s wisdom and insight about poetry are remarkable, as is her endless support of fellow poets. It’s been our honor to work with her for so long, and we eagerly anticipate the occasional pieces she has promised to pen for us in the future. And while we will continue reviewing poetry in some form each month, “Exemplars” retires with Grace.]

Grace Cavalieri is Maryland’s 10th poet laureate. She founded and produces “The Poet and the Poem” from the Library of Congress for public radio. Her new book of poems is Showboat (Goss Publications, 2019).

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