Bryan R. Monte – AQ31 Summer 2021 Book Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ31 Summer 2021 Book Review

Robert Hazel, Praise and Threnody, Circling Rivers Press, ISBN: 978-1-939530-15-8 (trade paper), ISBN: 978-1-939530-16-5 (hardback), 210 pages.

Recently it was my pleasure to discover the work of Robert Hazel, an influential, post-WWII American poet, who, unfortunately was never mentioned during my undergraduate lit. courses at Berkeley nor in my graduate writing seminars at Brown. As I read Circling Rivers’ recent edition of Hazel’s collected poems, entitled Praise and Threnody, I became fascinated by the richness of his poetic voice, which draws on the traditions of Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and Dylan Thomas, among others. I was also amazed to discover that this poet’s students included Wendell Berry, Rita Mae Brown, and Bobbie Ann Mason, and that he was briefly The Nation’s poetry editor.
      Hazel’s poetry harkens back to Whitman’s and Crane’s in his description of America and New York, especially, warts and all. In her Foreword, editor Jean Huets quotes Robert Buttel who says that Hazel’s ‘post-symbolist, surreal poems … are the most haunting, brilliant, dramatic and resistant.’ In addition, Huets mentions Wendell Berry’s citation of a section of Hazel’s ‘Celebration Above Summer’:

            Hear dark the priestly insects of my endless summer coast down to cells
                     of wax
           and kind weeds bend my flowers to their colors’ end

which she reports ‘can be read chaotic as an overgrown vacant lot in high summer, chaotic as a disintegrating love affair, chaotic as poetry can be.’
      Hazel is also good at character studies, especially those related to poverty and social protest. However, he also records the joy and beauty he finds in city- and landscapes. In addition, his social themes and their presentation styles also remind this reviewer of Muriel Rukeyser’s attention to the working class and the underprivileged, to John Dos Passos and Alfred Döblin sometimes newsreel or police blotter narrative techniques, to report of social problems, and finally of Allen Ginsburg’s wanderlust in his loving description of America, especially the South.
      In her expanded foreword to Praise and Threnody, Huets adds important facts about Hazel’s childhood and teens including his father’s academic background as ‘at Indiana University’ and later at Kentucky University, where Hazel developed ‘his great love for writing and poetry’. Huets also notes Hazel’s three-year military service in Korea, his Bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Karl Shapiro and where he met his first publisher, Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
     In her Afterword, Huets explains her organizing principle for Hazel’s collected poems. She decided not to order them chronologically or biographically, but rather thematically: to ‘gather poems loosely based on themes that carry through Robert’s entire corpus of work. I’ll leave it at that; it seems best to allow “who touches this” to discover (or ignore) what those themes might be.’
      I think this method has worked very well. I would divide the parts of Hazel’s collected poetry into four life stages, each prefaced by a prologue or poetic ‘Ceremony” poems I-IV as Huets calls them. The first section is primarily about childhood, youth, family and his early explorations of the world. The second is about young love and youthful adventures. The third section is about mature love and loss including the death of his parents, wife, and child. In addition it has a national focus containing for example, poems about the funeral of US President Kennedy. Finally, the fourth is about preparing for the end and contemplating the meaning of life, with a strong dose of naturalistic nihilism.
      As mentioned above, Hazel’s poetry owes an enormous debt to Whitman, Crane, Thomas, who are sometimes mentioned directly in his poems or in the dedications. This excerpt from ‘Ceremony at Dawn’ demonstrates Hazel’s debt to Thomas:

          east where my fathers worshiped a young dying god
          a chapel of shingles settles in a stillness of bells;
          the tombs on the hill spool fine spiders and ferns;
          immaculate bones turned salt are licked by wild mares

Hazel’s Hopperesque family home and his strict upbringing is described very well in his very short ‘The Pinched Face of Virtue’ quoted here in its entirety

          A correct parlor, a correct wall-clock, a 60-watt light
                   corrected by a plastic shade
          & the sofa dustless & on a dustless end-table
                   the Standard Revised Bible

          Suddenly my father’s bloodless face, legacy of privation
                   & endless correction

His strained family relations are further defined in ‘What Do I Know’:

          What is my knowledge? Parents I can’t find?
          Brothers I visit once a year?     A sister who
          is a Pauline Christian?      A wife anointed by pain?
          And a child who was taken away?

However, in this section is also included Hazel’s awareness of the deleterious effects of social and racial inequality in his poem ‘Who Touches This’, one of Hazel’s finest:

          crying, “Whore of Babylon!”
          Near sleep I heard something
          perfect as a dream
          so certain that I felt
          it would survive my waking.
          It was only the hoarse
          repetitions of a drunk man
          shouting, cursing, weeping
          how this nation was killing
          all his innocent children.
          Yet strangely when he stood
          pounding the garbage cans
          and imploring, “America!”
          the words sounded beautiful
          as if he believed it

      This description is very close to my almost weekly experience in Haight-Ashbury in the early ‘80s, when, in the middle of the night, someone went off his/her meds, or was just fed up with his/her marginal life, until someone from the Free Clinic, across the street, brought them inside.
      The second section begins after ‘Ceremonies II’, and describes his first loves and corporeal experiences in the world, and the changing role of his parents in his life. In ‘Not by Bread’ the poet laments: ‘My father and mother have become my own / children’ It also includes poems about his East Coast exploits such as ‘To A Young Woman of Twenty I Carried On My Shoulders at Five’ which I consider to be one of his clear-voiced poems, possibly influenced by the New York School, about adults exploring roles and costumes, perhaps in the funky dress up days of the Summer of Love:

          I was glad to see you
          despite your Cowboy boots
          Western jacket and hat
          and your air of being interested
          in nothing at all

and ends with:

          I might have said, “Timothy Leary
          loves Doris Day” and you would
          have had to run me through
          with your Army Surplus bayonet

      Praise and Threnody’s third section reveals a more mature poetic voice with poems that represent his grief over the loss of his parents, a wife, a child, some friends, and a president. It is a more earnest exploration of the world, including it social and political problems. His robust travels in the American South as a vagrant poet in the back of a truck, in ‘Shenandoah’ reminds me of Allen Ginsberg’s picaresque adventures.

          In the rack of a cattle truck
          calves scratch my hands with little tongues
          I make my own music
          I catch a hatful of whispers like old rain
          that will not fall as long as I

      It also contains six poems about President Kennedy’s funeral in the subsection ‘Guard of Honor’, parallel to Whitman’s reverence for President Lincoln including Hazel’s poem from ‘Riderless Horse’ with its iconic imagery

          Above the muffled drums, the high voice
          of a young soldier
          tells the white horses how slow to go

          before your widow and children, walking
          behind the flag-anchored coffin—
          and one riderless black horse dancing!

      Huets saves the best for last in the ‘Love, Thou, At Once’ section, when Hazel is at the height of his poetic insight and technique. His lines are no longer overgrown with Thomasesque natural symbolism, but rather pruned to short and powerful lines and stanzas where he has just the right amount of greenery to get his point across.
      This section has finely crafted poems which discuss such weighty issues as President Johnson’s foreign policy in ‘Lines in Praise of Myself, a Frederic Thursz painting in ‘The Red and the Black’, the British Empire in ‘Empire’, and Dachau in ‘Star’. Hazel’s famous ‘Letter to a Kentuckian’ dedicated to his former student, Wendell Barry, is also included here along with ‘Under A Florida Palm’ with a reference to Wallace Stevens and the Sermon on the Mount in ‘Consider the Lilies’. It also comes with a strong dose of naturalistic nihilism and honesty. One such poem, ‘Death Flowers Are’, I imagine depicts a suicide.

          My flowers fan tall on wrists, their fragrance
                    welcome
          as the odor of powder from a fired gun.

      In ‘For the First Day of Benjamin’ Hazel collapses all of the history of human aggression in three short lines:

          All times are evil
          From the first stone thrown
          To the high-blown atom

Finally, this section is crowned with one Hazel’s longest poem, ‘Clock of Clay’, which I think should be considered as his consummate achievement. Here, the poet realizes he is at the end of the road:

          I have no future                  The river
                    is flowing backwards
          My present is my past
          & retort to Charcot, Freud, Husserl
                Binswanger, Heidegger, Buber,
                You tone deaf piano tuners
He continues a few lines later with ‘I am becoming nothing’, and a few more lines after that with the observation:

          I am the man who cannot exceed himself
          Threnody is my name

He reports further that: ‘Christ isn’t there/only a dead Jew my people pray to’ and that ‘I run a treadmill / level with evil – no gain into good’. Hazel also refutes the Bible. ‘The last shall never be first’ and his imagined escape plan from end-of-life-care ‘Before my life is reinvented by tubes / in imitation of the living cord / I shall cut free’. He also mentions that he is grappling ‘in the handcuffs of language’, an appropriate image for the difficulty of the writing process and the limits of language.
      Praise and Threnody is an impressive collection that successfully recapitulates Hazel’s themes as well as his artistic journey. It adds another voice to the landscape of American poetry from the 1950s-70s, which is sorely missing. It is a book by a poet who merits renewed and further consideration. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ30 Spring 2021 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ30 Spring 2021 Book Reviews

Kim Addonizio. Now We’re Getting Somewhere, W. W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-54089-5, 96 pages.
Colin Bancroft. Impermanence, Maytree Press, 978-1-913508-09-8, 29 pages.

As editor of Amsterdam Quarterly I have the privilege of reviewing poets’ books whether they are just starting out, in mid-career, or have had decades of acclaim. Two poets, one each in the first and last categories are Colin Bancroft and Kim Addonizio respectively. Addonizio’s new book Now We’re Getting Somewhere, is scheduled to be released in March 2021 by W. W. Norton, a well-known, independent, American publisher, whilst Colin Bancroft’s pamphlet (Amer. English: chapbook), Impermanence, was released in October 2020 by Maytree Press, a small British publisher. Both, in my opinion, are well worth AQ’s readers’ attention.
      Now We’re Getting Somewhere is Addonizio’s fourth poetry book from W. W. Norton and her eighth poetry book in total. It is divided into four sections: ‘The Night in the Castle’, ‘Songs for Sad Girls’, ‘Confessional Poetry’, and ‘Archive for Recent Uncomfortable Emotions’, the third section being the most minimal, experimental, and incongruous, which immediately drew my interest due to my graduate school immersion in post-Modernism criticism which places the most emphasis on focussing on erasures, gaps, holes, or inconsistencies in the narrative style to identify the most significant parts.
      Now We’re Getting Somewhere is dedicated ‘To the Makers’ who Addonizio informed me in her interview in this issue, are the poets (from the Greek word poësis) or ‘those who make rather than break things’. It has two epigraphs—the first from Leonard Cohen song referencing a leader’s untrustworthiness and the second by Elizabeth Taylor referring to alcohol, beauty, and sex.
      The first section starts with a bang with the section’s title poem, ‘Night in the Castle’. Danger is present from the very first line with a ‘scorpion twitching on the wall’. The speaker, who is ‘on an artist’s grant’ to write in a medieval, Umbrian castle, wonders if she ‘should slam it with this terrible book of poetry’ (the one she’s writing or reading?) or ‘murder it with my sandal’ since ‘I gave up on mercy long ago’.
      However, in the sixth through eighth stanzas, the focus changes to the poet’s fantasy of what would do if she had the power. She imagines herself as ‘an underage duchess whose husband has finally died / of gout’ … or maybe ‘She might even have poisoned the duke’ to have ‘more secret liaisons with the court musician’. Then she fantasizes about what she would do as ‘a feared & beloved queen ordering up fresh linens & / beheadings’. Her fantasy is re-enforced by further punitive desires of ‘locking up bad poets in their artisanal hair shirts’ and ‘torturing academics with pornographic marionette performances’.
      The poem ends with an imaginative leap in its penultimate and final verses. ‘(T)he scorpion is still there twitching blackly / reciting something about violence and the prison of the ego’ and the speaker imagines ‘the clashing armies on the wide lawn outside / sinking down into history & then standing up again’ as does the castle to this day.
      It’s a good summary of Addonizio’s past themes and concerns, external and internal; her wider awareness of artistic, geo-political, and historical power which is reinforced in other poems in this section. These include the themes of the global travails of people of colour in ‘Black Hour Blues’, ecological, planetary degradation in ‘Fixed and In Flux’ and ‘The Earth Is About Used Up’, migrants working in dangerous conditions in ‘Comfort of the Resurrection’, and gun-toting, religious racists in ‘Grace’. In ‘Animals’, Addonizio explores and destroys Whitman’s naïve trope of the natural world’s beauty and deceptive harmony. However, six poems later she remarks on its surprising comforting in ‘High Desert, New Mexico’ where horses ‘stand outside and wait for you to come / with a single apple’. Moreover, ‘In Bed’ the poet realizes that sex and love aren’t worth as much as lying in a Proustian bed ‘between cork-lined walls / writing very long sentences in French’.
      The second section, ‘Songs for Sad Girls’, contains a series of poems about women’s search for sex and lasting companionship—from the gothic and exotic narratives in ‘Wolf Song’, ‘Ghosted’, ‘All Hallows’, and ‘AlienMatch.Com’ and highly imagistic on-liners in ‘Ways of Being Lonely’, (which I consider one of this book’s best poems), to the more realistic ‘August’, ‘Winter Solstice’ and ‘Small Talk’, the terminal line from which gives this book its title. ‘Songs for Sad Girls’ also contains one of Addonizio’s most well-known poems, the sonnet ‘To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall’, which is one of Addonizio’s most quoted poems on social media. ‘Résumé, is a tribute to Dorothy Parker’s poem of the same title about suicide. However, instead of listing the disadvantages of using razors, rivers, guns, etc., to kill oneself, this poem discusses the failings of rehab, lovers, and friends to help one stay sober, the poem ending with the couplet:

                  You’ll soon be subtracted;
                  You might as well drink.

      As mentioned previously, the third section’s, ‘Confessional Poetry’ is the most minimalistic and experimental. This poem, with a few lines spread over 13 pages, is a meditation on various subjects such as the real power of writing, the importance the poem’s space to the poet, self-pity, dealing with traumas, public bathroom sex at a conference on pornography, censorship and men’s criticisms, rape, pollution, drinking, and inspiration. Some of my favourite lines in this section are: ‘Writing is like firing a nail gun into the center of a vanity mirror’,… /‘or beating a piñata selfie… so you can pet the demons that fall out’, and five pages later… ‘Not wearing waterproof mascara while you’re being tasered’, as well as two lines, three pages later I quote in their entirety because of their resonance with most poets:

                  I really like feeling something when I stagger into a poem
                  & having a place to lie down & cry.

      Some lines in this section are more compelling than others, but that’s what one would expect in this rather experimental section. These poems are perhaps not as taut and strong as the surrealist, one-liners in ‘Ways of Being Lonely’ in the second section, but they are more urgent, naked, raw, and personal.
      The general themes of desire, decay, disease and death are interwoven in several poems in the fourth section. More specifically, this section addresses the themes of ageing, alcoholism, the impermanence of love, and the poet’s musings and concerns about her legacy. The poet repeats thrice in ‘People You Don’t Know’ that ‘early love is delusional,’ yet that does not keep the speaker from entertaining the thought of going with a ‘stranger’ at the bar to a room ‘with a creeping mold … with a parking lot view.’ In ‘Ex’ the poet says when she was younger she thought:

                  …nothing could ruin our love which is what everyone /
                        thinks at first
                  but it turns out everyone is wrong

In this section’s title poem the poet adds:

                  The I’m sorry I gave you those blow jobs and did you not understand the
                        meaning of “reciprocal” feeling.

Here the poet imaginatively catalogues other feelings of loss:

                  The trees are no longer my friends feeling

                  The my friends are no longer my friends feeling

                  The once I was a nineteenth-century Russian novel but now I’m a frozen
                        chicken entrée feeling

      Her poem ‘Still Time’ mentions Keats’ last days, and after his death how ‘they take his body out and burn the wallpaper.’, her own loss as a child of a plush lion, her parents, as an adult, and how she ‘finally stopping sobbing in the bathroom at weddings’ and then circles back to Keats’ again, and rues she ‘can’t go back to 1821 and invent streptomycin / or stop the poet’s kindly doctor from bleeding his patient’. She does however, ‘see the flowers on the ceilings, the same ones Keats held / for weeks in his fevered gaze.’, and realizes ‘That’s as close as you can get’.
      Mortality comes up again in ‘Happiness Report’ where the poet writes: ‘I hate the term bucket list’. She also regrets that ‘it’s too late to drink myself to death at a young age’.
      In ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You John Keats’, the legacy theme is especially strong. Here the poet, fantasies she could ‘fall through a wormhole or get knocked in the head or go though / some stones in Scotland… with medicines sewn into my in pantaloons’. She describes how she would make Keats ‘forget Fanny Brawne & the big difference in our / ages … (and) lie on the grass & drink French wine & you lay your / head on my breast’. Later she says she wants to be the ‘woman from the future … changing literary history forever…while you steer our little boat out of Lethe / & into the lilies / trailing my hand in the canonical water,’… and that she doesn’t want ‘to stay in this world watching Truth bound and gagged on the / railroad tracks’.
      This legacy theme is also mentioned in ‘Art of Poetry’ where the poet imagines her work discovered ‘sometime before the death of the sun’, which will be ‘display(ed) in a luminous floating interdimensional sphere’. Her mortality is reflected upon at the poem’s end:

                  The days and nights keep drunkenly arriving, the guests are all dying
                  & I’m starting to feel pretty sick.

Yet another poem, ‘Little Old Ladies’ begins with:

                  We know we’re supposed to shut up now and tremble off
                  Into the wilderness of a golf course on the edge of a retirement community’

      She describes the sight, sounds, and smells of the aged delinquents ‘pissing vodka in our bedpans / Pulling the fire alarm, wandering out into traffic’… no one ‘wanting to breathe us in.’ This fourth section contains poems attempting to imagine and perhaps negotiate the end before it comes.
      On a final note, two aspects of this new volume, of which I personally wanted more, were Addonizio’s inventive sonnets and more poems about Italy. Perhaps her investigation of the strictures of the sonnet and her Italian ancestry might help expand and define her sense of her past, present, and future, and help give the last section a more positive or at least more balanced perspective.
      A poet who first came to my attention when he submitted two poems, ‘Marsden’ and ‘Atmosphere’ to AQ27 is Colin Bancroft. As I read these two poems, the whole room and my usually whirring mind stopped as they captured my attention—which is my test of whether I want to publish someone’s poetry. The bio he sent noted an upcoming pamphlet, Impermanence,, which I requested from his publisher, Maytree Press in Scotland.
      I must say I am very impressed with this collection. Its Turneresque cover, by Kevin Threfall, depicts an autumnal landscape ablaze with soft focus swaths of green, yellow, orange, and red, and a long white house or barn at its centre, reminiscent of Turner’s lone ships in the fog. This cover is definitely an attention grabber.
      And Bancroft’s twenty-five poems inside are just as arresting. Though many are composed in rhyming verse, the range of subjects they cover, and the voices they include, are far from the usual fare. ‘Tethered’, the first poem, describes on one level a channel storm about to blow a couple’s tent down. On another level it addresses the couple’s relational tension. The next poem ‘Pheasant’ the speaker, parked in a layby to clear his head hears a pheasants call, thinks it’s a bit ‘mechanical’ and likens it to an instrument recording of a ‘your broken heartbeat’. The poem ‘Absence’, almost seems to describe the Impermanence’s cover. ‘Just a blank canvas / Of fog primed with rain…Trees loom as ragged patterns / In this fine cloth of mist.’
      ‘Mis-en-scène’ contains the thoughts of a young man waiting to enter an amusement park or museum he visited as a child, with his partner, who is a few weeks pregnant, planning his future family. He imagines ‘The cot, the pram, the bike, the toys, the pets / And all the untold stories that would unfold.’ Unfortunately, ‘Three days later / there was a change to the script and we were left / With our plotlines torn’. ‘Snapshot’ makes an interesting if not common comment on marriage. Set at a café reception in the Borderlands, the speaker comments how ‘that it’s all downhill from here.’ A few poems later in ‘Crown’, Bancroft’s poetic language becomes more inventive, where he compares a dead tree in a hedge to a skeleton. ‘And we let it lie there…Touching the earth at last, where its shadow once reached.’—a fitting elegy.
      His poems ‘Marsden’ and ‘Atmosphere,’ both at the centre of this pamphlet, about gradual and sudden change, the former about an abandoned village on ‘a windswept headland’ and the latter about the discovery of an overnight snowfall and its effect on the speaker, were originally published by Amsterdam Quarterly at https://www.amsterdamquarterly.org/aq_issues/aq27-beginnings-endings/colin-bancroft-marsden/ and at https://www.amsterdamquarterly.org/aq_issues/aq27-beginnings-endings/colin-bancroft-atmosphere/. These still have the ability to stop me in my tracks, which is why I decided to publish both in AQ27’s Beginnings and Endings issue. Other poems, such as ‘Overgrowth’, ‘Ambleside’, ‘The Clearing’ and ‘Criccieth’, all succinctly describe the feeling of the English country-, lake-, or seaside.
      Next however, come three poems, which were real surprises: ‘The Broken Tower’, ‘After Frankenstein’, and ‘Census’. In the first, the speaker steps out of himself and imagines the life of Hart Crane just before he committed suicide, in the second, a young woman who goes to bars, bringing various men with different physical attributes home to try to reconstruct a past, lost lover, and the last, the squalid scene a census taker notes a century or so before. It this ability to step outside of himself into different personae and eras, in addition to his description of natural scenery and relations closer to home, which set Bancroft apart as a true poet.             AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ29 Autumn 2020 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ29 Autumn 2020 Book Reviews

Hester, Diarmuid, Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper, University of Iowa Press, ISBN 978-1-60938-691-7, 319 pages.
Horn, Bernard, Love’s Fingerprints,, Circling Rivers Press, ISBN 978-1-939530-09-7, 134 pages.

This summer I received two interesting books for review by authors with completely different family dynamics. The first is Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper, about American enfant terrible gay author Dennis Cooper, by Diarmuid Hester, a rising star in LGBTQI literary scholarship. Cooper has long been the ‘bad boy’ of the American gay writing scene for the post-Stonewall generation. At polar opposites, is retired university professor Bernard Horn’s book Love’s Fingerprints, which describes the love and connections that held his family together through four generations and their experience of emigration, the Holocaust, family conflicts, and failing health, as well as Horn’s engagement in the natural and political worlds.
      Hester’s Wrong draws on archival materials as well as interviews with Cooper and those of his admirers. Spending ‘more than a decade’ on this project, Hester provides an excellent overview and summary of Cooper’s works from his early poetry and magazine Little Caesar, to his mid-life George Miles novel series, the deletion of his online blog by his provider due to a complaint, and ending with film collaborations with Zach Farley in the early 21st century.
      Hester’s biography includes interesting aspects of Cooper’s dysfunctional family and their lasting influence on Cooper’s writing. Hester outlines Cooper’s artistic pedigree from his painter grandmother to his alcoholic, former-concert pianist mother and his earlier aspiring writer and later aerospace manufacturer father. Hester documents Cooper’s education, public and private, his parents’ divorce, his circle of friends, their attendance at punk music and art venues, and their recreational drug use.
      Hester continues Cooper’s work as Beyond Baroque’s Director. Here, Cooper changed an open mike reading format to a programmed one. (I believe ‘curated’ is the word now used in British and American English). This caused lasting animosity with some of the earlier generation of poets and writers who had previously attended. This tension lead to Cooper leaving Beyond Baroque in 1983. In the meantime, he programmed punk and new wave writers and artists more closely affiliated with the LA contemporary cultural scene.
      Where Hester’s book really becomes interesting for me, however, is in Chapter 6 “If There Actually Is Such a Thing Like New Narrative…”, which describes the Small Press Traffic Bookstore workshops on 24th Street in Noe Valley, San Francisco and New Narrative Writing. I attended SPT’s gay men’s Tuesday night writing workshops from January/February 1983 until July 1984. During this time, I graduated from Berkeley, founded a gay magazine, No Apologies, and later won a fellowship to Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program. If this chapter is representative of Hester’s work in the remainder of the book, I think I should be able to estimate the overall accuracy of Wrong. In brief, the things Hester got right were due to his own scholarship versus interviewee information, sometimes obtained decades later, which almost always contains a few inaccuracies due to faulty memories.
      Hester’s description of the then competing New Narrative and Language schools of writing and their styles in San Francisco in the 1980s is spot on. His assertion that the New Narrative groups’ leaders talked a lot about gay community building as well as good writing is also correct. His description of the purpose of New Narrative writers versus the Language writers in San Francisco is also quite good. New Narrative promoted a self-critical, self-reflexive writing style, which was more like a conversation with the reader, as in the early novels. On the other hand, the Language school produced self-contained narrative entities composed of rapidly changing images from which the reader had to build his/her own narrative. New Narrative’s subject matter was the gay and lesbian community and its writing, which the mainstream press had not yet embraced. The New Narrative writers rightly saw Language writing as a privileged art form for writers who didn’t have to fight for visibility.
      Hester also correctly observes that practically the whole New Narrative movement was included in the second issue of No Apologies. I created this magazine in July 1983 after I discovered just how difficult it was for gay men and lesbians to find publishers for their work. I wanted to preserve and disseminate some of the good work I had heard in these workshops.
      However, there is one inaccuracy in Chapter 6 from information obtained from a Kevin Killian interview. On page 103, Hester quotes Killian as saying that when I went to Brown’s Graduate Writing Program, ‘he (Monte)…took No Apologies with him,’. Killian states further that ‘The materials I (Killian) had left over, gathered for No Apologies, I (Killian) used to start up a new magazine, Mirage,’.
      This is incorrect. The split between Killian and me occurred five months after I had left for Brown. Before that, Killian and I corresponded and telephoned each other regularly from August 1984 to January 1985 exchanging around 10 missives each to coordinate work on No Apologies #4’s upcoming East Coast-themed issue.
      It was Cooper, however, who unwittingly caused my break with Killian. On 8 December, after Cooper had read at my invitation with Olga Broumas for Brown University’s Gay and Lesbian Union, I walked him down College Hill to the train station. On the way, I asked Cooper if he had a piece I could add to the interview I had conducted with him in New York in October for No Apologies #4. He walked a few steps further in silence, then told me he had already sent one to Killian.
      It was for this mis- or lack of communication and other reasons mentioned in my memoir of Killian in AQ27, that I stopped working with him in January 1985 and published No Apologies on my own. However, Hester would have only known about this if he had read Killian’s correspondence with me (now at Yale’s Beinecke Library) or my Killian memoir in AQ27, which came out in March 2020, probably after he had already completed and submitted his MS.
      Overall, I found Wrong to be informative, scholarly, and accessible. It covers sixty years of Cooper’s life in just 319 pages (including a 20-page bibliography and a seven-page index). In addition, Wrong is not mired in technical or academic terminology and provides a good overview and generous excerpts of Cooper’s books so it felt as if I were reading them again. Wrong is an engaging book, which I found sometimes difficult to put down. Fortunately, the book is modular enough that it can be read one chapter at a time without losing the thread of Hester’s description and analyses. Many chapters also include conclusions with Hester’s suggestions about what each means to Cooper’s development as a writer specifically, and/or to LGBTQI writing in general. I believe any Cooper fan or scholar will certainly find Wrong essential reading.
      In contrast, Bernard Horn’s poetry collection, Love’s Fingerprints, is a work written from the right side of the tracks of family dynamics and in a more traditional thematic and stylistic approach to literature. The love and relationships between father, mother, son and siblings is tender, palpable, and binds his family down three generations despite anti-Semitism, emigration, a North American trans-continental relocation, and war. Many of these family links are reinforced thematically with Biblical and classical references, many in the poems’ epigraphs.
      Love’s Fingerprints is divided into five parts: a prologue ‘A Self-portrait with Music’, and four longer sections entitled ‘Hear!’, ‘Dreams of a Black Panther’, ‘Red Red’, and ‘The Ideal World’. In “Hear!’ Horn introduces his parents and grandparents. His father was a 1930s Polish Jewish soccer star and his grandfather was a butcher. They emigrated to Canada during the Depression. His Ukrainian mother also emigrated to Canada with her mother.
      Horn has many poems in this collection about his athletic father and his bright mother. These poems especially depict the strong bond between father and son and between his father and his grandfather. In ‘Sunday In the Park’ father and son are ‘clandestine in their complicity of watching each other,’ at sport, his father ‘showing off with a soccer ball to his European soccer buddies’…‘easily heading the ball between makeshift goal markers’ who lovingly though doesn’t say anything when his son ‘missed an easy pop up and a grounder too’ during his softball game. The Victorian rooming house, where his father played poker and rented a room to change into his swimsuit, is described in ‘The Porch’. On the beach, his son watches his athletic father swim ‘through and beyond breakers,/far beyond the rotted jetties, as the sun set, as you vanished in the distance and the darkness/ on a moonless Saturday night in July alone,/except for the eight-year-old-boy staring out to sea’.
      The bond with his mother can be seen in ‘The Work of Our Hands’ which describes how his mother rinsed gently his hair, even though ‘at ten she witnesses her father’s murder’… ‘at twenty,…brought her aging, half-willing mother/across Europe, the Atlantic, and half of Canada,’…and ‘at thirty-three, left her own beloved extended family there/and led her husband and three-year-old son/to New York…to escape a sister-in-law/bent on dismantling her marriage.’ ‘The Blue Corduroy Blazer’ describes his ‘math prodigy’ mother’s advice to ‘Save up,’ and ‘Buy one good suit,…a pair of pants, a couple of double stitched /shirts, top-of-the-line-ties, fabrics of/quality.’ This first section continues with additional family poems ‘To my Brother’, ‘Portrait of My Mother Knitting’ the long, prose poem/memoir ‘My Father, the Swimmer’, and ‘Wind Hair’ about three granddaughters, among others.
      Horn also addresses the Holocaust in ‘The Merit of Ancestors’, ‘Try to Remember”, ‘What My Father Revealed’, and ‘What My Mother Revealed’, and his own personal experience of anti-Semitism in ‘Jew Cap’.
      The second section contains more poems about Horn’s own family, friends, upbringing, and contemporary events. ‘Cinderella’ describes the reaction of two young girls watching the speaker’s daughter try on her wedding dress in Israel. They ask Horn if his daughter is Cinderella, and their mothers mouth “Say yes,”. ‘At Capo Vaticano’ he describes the rescue of his granddaughter as she fell from some rocks and was about to hit her head. However, Horn’s son-in-law, grabbed her by the ankle just in time. Later, the little girl is shown playing with her sisters oblivious to the danger she’d survived. Then follow two poems, ‘My Daughter’ and ‘Asphaltine’ also about the speaker’s daughters, as well as a remembrance of a grad school party in ‘Forty-Five Years Ago’ of a professor passed out on the living room floor and his wife weeping over the kitchen sink.
      This section also includes two strong, long poems: ‘Sappho’s Blues: Four Songs’ and ‘Dreams of a Black Panther’. The first mixes classical invocations and images with modern, musical, poetic modes The second is a pastiche of Horn’s childhood love of learning, which led him to speak out of turn for which he was punished, his college years discussing politics in a Boston coffee shop, the observation that all the metal in us is produced in stars, and the stony New England soil which still produces daffodils and homes for rabbits.
      Part 3 ‘Red, Red’ is about mankind’s engagement with the natural world. Whether swimming through it and admiring its beauty as is ‘The Snorkelers’ off a Red Sea reef, or coming eye to eye with a raccoon trashing his waste cans or with a great ape in a zoo rolling its eyes as children tap on the glass of its enclosure in ‘Raccoon’, Horn describes inter-species awareness and connectivity. ‘Above Leuk’ describes a medieval church’s walls built from human bones as expertly as ‘The master wall builders from Connecticut,…who worked /mortarless, as they tossed stone rubble/from a cleared field perfectly/into place’. ‘Sycamores’ describes Nature’s healing effect on Horn. Here he leaves ‘his perfect Cambridge apartment’ at 3 a.m. to ‘make my eight mile loop along the Charles’ to clear his head. In the title poem of this section, ‘Red, Red’, the phrase ‘Is that all there is’ is repeated twice to unite the surprise of a damaged, bleeding hand in the first stanza and ‘raspberry red stained lips and teeth in the second stanza, the first time as disappointment and the second, as a celebration of satiation.
      The book’s final section is ‘The Ideal World’, though I found this a bit misleading, because I felt much of its imagery, thoughts, and perceptions are part of the real world. Here Horn explores the topics of meditation in ‘The Silence’ and ‘Mind, Feel’; film and the human drive for sex and death in ‘Strange Love’ and ‘Death, Rothko Said’; the haunting memories some music brings in ‘Schubert’; and a selection of political poems mostly based on personal experience. ‘Hope. Heartbreak’ is about a remembered conversation with a hijab-wearing Palestinian woman in a hallway after a lecture. Here, the woman, who knew his work well, asks about the use of temporality in one of his poems. Unfortunately, Horn never heard from her again. At the poem’s end, Horn years later wonders if the woman still feels the same about his work due to the on-going conflict in Israel and Palestine. This terminal section ends with the section’s title poem. Here Horn writes that the strongest example of political/social change, is not ‘the fear filled bravery of those who face down the instrument of /tyranny’, but a child, no more than three in her mother’s arms yelling the contagious chant: ‘“The people demand social justice.”’
      Love’s Fingerprints is a varied, engaging, and accomplished poetry collection, another excellent book in Circling Rivers’ growing collection. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ27 Spring 2020 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ27 Spring 2020 Book Reviews

Claudia Gary. Genetic Revisionism. Loudoun Scribe, 24 pages.
Erin Wilson. At Home with Disquiet. Circling Rivers, ISBN 978-1-939530-10-3, 127 pages.
Margaret DeRitter. Singing Back to the Sirens. Unsolicited Press. ISBN 978-1-950730-28-5, 100 pages.

After my Augean task of compiling, editing, and posting the AQ 2019 Yearbooks to contributors, libraries, and friends, I finally had some time at the beginning of February to do a bit of reading, between selecting pieces for AQ27. Three poetry collections (two books and one chapbook), which really stood out were Claudia Gary’s Genetic Revisionism, Erin Wilson’s At Home with Disquiet and Margaret DeRitter’s Singing Back to the Sirens. Two are by previous AQ contributors and one was so interesting, due to its cover, subject matter, and author’s bio, I felt compelled to explore it.
      The first is Claudia Gary’s (AQ7, 11, 15, 26, & 27) chapbook, Genetic Revisionism, subtitled: Poems Inspired by the Sciences and Mathematics. True to its title, this is a brief collection of 24 pages with poems about intellectually engaging subjects such as medicine, maths, physics, acoustics, intrusive new communications technology, and humanity’s nascent ability to design its own future through genetic manipulation. The first seven pages are concerned primarily with medicine. The collections first poem, ‘Antiseptic’ is very engaging because it presents how the speaker first learned about the subject from her Air Force veteran father. ‘“…You will never be without / an antiseptic, if you use your urine.”’ Her mother, who wants her to be ‘pretty’ quickly objects with ‘“Hey! / Don’t tell her things like that!”’ as her father ‘dabbed peroxide on her foot’ to disinfect a wound. This juxtaposition of prettiness with science also makes the prescient, young speaker wonder what’s buried under the ‘bumpy-textured’ paintings by an alcoholic aunt, ‘what’s wedged below the prettiness’ and whether it was ‘buried too deep to tweeze it out and cleanse the wound?’
      The poems ‘Kidney Stone’, ‘Aloe Barbadensis Speaks’, ‘Toxoplasmosis’ and ‘Transcribing an ER Report’ continue this medical theme, but unfortunately, not with the same personal attachment. For example, in the last poem, when the transcriptionist hears the doctor say the patient ‘has a real bad cold’, she wonders if he’s being ironic or maybe just suffering from ‘long hours of work’. However, the poem ends with a note of detachment. ‘She never learns the end, which seems a shame. / But he’s the one who has to sign his name.’
      The maths section, pages 10-11, includes a long poem ‘In Binary’ about a couple attracted to each other because they can count in binary and a very short two line poem which mentions thinking about imaginary numbers to fall asleep called ‘A Cure for Insomnia?’ Other scientific poems include ‘One Small Step’ and ‘Music of the Missing Sphere’ about the 1969 moon landing and the NASA January 2018 video of the ‘Super Blue Moon Eclipse’. ‘Higgs-Boson Moments’ is about the observable six stages of this particle. Gary’s truncated villanelle, ‘Ripples in the Fabric’ compares waves in space-time to poetry: ‘they spring from meter and inherit rhyme.’ She compares ‘our galactic spiral’ to a ‘growing nautilus’s climb’. In ‘Ex Nihilo’ she uses Frederick Hart’s stone carving in the Washington DC National Cathedral of ‘”half-formed figures of men and women / appearing from the void”’ as an image of how the universe and human consciousness came into being. She uses a similar technique in ‘An Illumination’, where also in the epigraph, she compares Jan Beerstaten’s ‘The Castle of Muiden in Winter’ scene with skaters, a moat and a great castle to the cosmos and mentions ‘the Muiderkring, which was this heaven’s source.’ Her poems address the positive as well as the negative sides of technology: NSA surveillance, video calls, CRISPR (in the chapbook’s title poem), and the upcoming Singularity, when human and machine/computer consciousness shall merge. It is a short chapbook, which addresses a number of subjects in science, mathematics and being human.
      Although most of these poems present a somewhat detached, objective, philosophical or scientific perspective, some also relate back directly to the poet’s experience as in ‘Antiseptic’ and ‘Aloe Barbaensis Speaks’. These along with her poem ‘Guidance’ in this issue (AQ27), represent Gary’s work at her best: when theory and scientific observation are united with personal experience. I hope that Gary continues to write more poems in this vein.
      All in all, Gary’s Genetic Revisionism is an impressive, short collection of formal poems, (rhyming couplets and quatrains, sonnets, villanelles, etc.), about the sciences and maths, remarkable in its scope and artistry.
      At Home with Disquiet is a poetry book by Erin Wilson published by Circling Rivers Press. The collection’s setting is primarily the speaker’s rural Canadian home and it is divided into seven sections, the first six of which are introduced with a explanatory phrase about the activities of a jackdaw, which seem to intersect philosophically with Wilson’s own life. Many of these poems contain Wilson’s close observation of the natural and domestic worlds related to the weather, tending her garden, and her ancestry. Her revelations come not only from her observing the natural world, but also through raising her children. In ‘It’s Late’ her son records his sudden growth by saying: ‘remember when your moccasins were too big // for my feet? Playfully he demonstrates he can’t even / squish the width of his toes inside them.’ In ‘Lines from Movies—II. Spit from the Top of the Stairs,’ her daughter, who hadn’t been good before Christmas even though her mother had threatened to withdraw her presents, is surprised by the abundance of those she still receives repeating the phrase: ‘More than enough’.
      In the fifth section, Wilson also includes two poems called the ‘Cancer (Suite)’. The first one ‘Healthcare’ is about the experience of undergoing an MRI, a scan this reviewer has experienced many times over. In order to release herself mentally from the confining, narrow, noisy, hot space, (my words, not hers), ‘I visualize the swamp / I was in front of yesterday…visualize some / stable ice for those / starving polar bears…do what seems impossible, imagine a future for our kids.’ The next poem ‘RADIANCE’ innovatively narrates an internal medical examination in reverse order: first with the results, then the examination and lastly the symptoms that brought the speaker to her GP’s surgery.
      However, Wilson’s book is more than the usual combination of genealogy, cultural heritage, the creation of the self and a family, and mid-life retrospection. Reflections on her rural Canadian surroundings include also narrative forays into the art world such as ‘Lines from Movies (A Letter to Van Gogh)’, a shop in which a copy of Georgia O’Keefe’s Black Iris, 1926 in ‘Jacquard’ is being framed, in ‘An Untitled Rothko’ from the ‘Fishing Suite’ in which a river bank is compared to one of Rothko’s paintings, or the book’s penultimate poem, ‘Almost’ in which the speakers ‘reminiscing about the Chicago Art Institute’ as ‘Whistler’s muted Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southhampton Water, / still washes up at our feet),’ at ‘Misery Bay in May,’. Her poetry is also replete with epigraphs and references to well-known, maverick poets such as Constantine P. Cavafy, Bashō, Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Gilbert, William Everson, Charles Wright, or even Galway Kinnel’s little boy Fergus in ‘Statistics, 2012’.
      Her poem, ‘Gentrification’ about an old downtown, with its derelict shops boarded up windows next to hip, ‘Vegetarian fare and fair trade coffee shops, / a stripper’s club’ brings her poetry right into the present, now decade-long, economic malaise. The book’s final poem,‘Agrarian Landscape with Fanbrush’ in the eighth, and last untitled section, is set in a windy, March scene, with the poet: ‘Walking along between / the parcelled farm fields, / the windows of heaven / keep passing over me,’. The poem includes images of birches, a crow, and quote from Mahler, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, which close this book masterfully. It proves that Wilson is not just a poet of the Canadian countryside, but one deeply rooted in many poetic and artistic traditions. At Home with Disquiet is an excellent addition to Circling Rivers’ growing collection.
      Singing Back to the Sirens is a poetry book by Margaret DeRitter (AQ24), published by Unsolicited Press. The book is divided into three parts: Part I, ‘So Many Sang to Me’; Part II, ‘Singing Back to Her’ and an ‘Epilogue’, one poem entitled ‘Funeral Directive From a Serial Monogamist Who Never Stopped Looking for the One Who Would Last’. The first section begins with an epigraph by Walter Copland Perry about Homer’s Sirens, whose songs ‘though irresistibly sweet / were no less sad than sweet’. The poems in this first section are about family, her mother’s illness, childhood friends, mistaken gender identity based how she dressed and what she did with friends, and her introduction to a gay support group via a college newspaper—a lesbian Bildungsroman. These include the momentous experiences of her first entrance to a gay bar, her first girlfriend, and sexual experiences—one hot and sweaty and another with a woman who keeps saying she ‘likes boys’. The Siren motif is mentioned again in ‘Singing Back to the “Straight Girl”’, about ‘girls who fall for girls who / never look their way when it’s time for love, who keep on chasing them / anyway’, a common, LGBTQI experience of unrequited love.
      The form of DeRitter’s poetry varies from short to long lines, and includes prose poems such ‘Susie and Me and the Line in the Road’, and ‘Dream Sequence: The Roof Leaked When You Moved Back In’ and ‘After the Confederate Flag Came Down’ (the latter two poems both in Part II) and also a poem arranged around one colour, ‘Blue’, referring to the colour of ice cubes rolling down her belly, the colour of her girlfriend’s dress, and the azure skies of Arizona.
      In ‘Paddling the Wilderness’, she uses geographic and meteorological metaphors to describe her strained relationships. At the end of a summer holiday after enjoying a canoeing trip together, their close relationship falls apart. One ‘locked… (the other) ‘out of a hotel room’ and the other ‘threw a telephone at the floor’…‘like Michigan’s winters, your moods / turned gray and I drew stormy.’ In ‘Gone’ DeRitter describes her feeling of being deserted by a partner she’d kissed that morning before leaving for work and then coming home to find her partner’s belongings gone. The poem is most effective because instead of describing the speaker’s emotions at being abandoned, it is a catalogue of the missing possessions and the signs of their removal, such as the poem’s last lines: ‘The scratches on the wooden floor/ the only sign of your tall oak dresser.’ In fact powerful closing lines are one of the best aspects of DeRitter’s poetry. In ‘Shooting Angels: Mendon, Michigan’, the poet writes about her frustration at not finding someone with whom she can settle down.

      Nesting was her specialty, her safety net,
      her terror. She flew back from California once.
      We sat in a car outside my house.

Other geographic and outdoor images include Lake Michigan, its dunes, winter snow, rivers, and hiking. Like many later-in-life poetry collections, this first section is a list of regrets, a list of loss about those who died, and those who disappeared, but also the maturity that comes with surviving these losses.
      The second section begins with an ode to a former partner in ‘The Alchemists Had Nothing On You’. It’s one of only a few outtakes from the speaker’s primarily North American and specifically Michigan settings. ‘Novices at Sacré-Coeur’ describes a happy visit to a prominent Parisian landmark and ‘We Left our Love in Lourmarin’ is about being haunted by her ex- and her memories of their holidays. In ‘Wedding Cathedral’ the speaker describes her outdoor wedding under arching trees, with a flower in her partner’s hair, just like ‘that San Francisco song’. ‘Avalanche’ is about personal tragedies coming in threes: the deaths of her mother and her dog, and the loss of her job, all in quick succession. ‘Dateline: Kalamazoo’, (I assume about the job she lost), was first published in AQ21 in its Media issue. It’s about the struggle to keep a local newspaper alive, an issue common to most towns in the early 21st century, as younger readers turn more to digital instead of print media. In ‘Thanksgiving Explosion’ the speaker describes her emotional outburst after she asks her partner to call her family, who had not attended their wedding. The speaker becomes angry and vents in front of her partner’s family, all present for the Thanksgiving dinner. The speaker imagines ‘every grievance splattered on the kitchen’s walls / the stove, the floor, the cupboards’.
      In the next poems, the speaker relates her feelings of loss due to their breakup. In ‘That Day In January’ she describes the feeling of waves crashing against her chest, when her partner told her, ‘I have to leave’. In ‘Uncoupling’ the strangeness of her partner ‘coming in through the front door,’ when they’re no longer together, and in ‘I Had a Granddaughter for Seven Months’ the loss of a briefly shared feeling of progeny through caring for her partner’s granddaughter—the physical contact, photobook, and FaceTime, which ended when her partner broke up with her. And finally, the tears in ‘Closing Our Account’, when she and her ex- went to the bank to close their joint account—‘the paper all wet / and see-through’. It is this attention to detail, the use of just the right metaphor to translate her feelings, which makes DeRitter’s poetry so striking and arresting.
      Stylistically, DeRitter’s poetry takes a turn when her poems talk about digital media. In the Whitmanesque long lines of ‘If Friend Had as Many Variations as Arctic Snow,’ she takes exception to Facebook’s ‘Friend’ designation. The poet writes: ‘I’d have a word for the friend who shows up on my Facebook list / but never on party invitations…(who) tells me Happy Birthday online, but never in person.’ A few poems later, in ‘Awaiting Word at Mission Control’, her thoughts are separated structurally by days and smartphone ‘dings’. On the first day, there’s a text to her ex- about a movie she’s just seen, the next day, another saying she ‘heard you were having surgery / at Mayo’. On day three there’s a report on millions of ‘women marching / all over the world’ and a photo of the ‘ex-granddaughter’ she hasn’t seen in four years’. On day 5, a message from an old friend, who watched the moon landing with her in her living room 48-years ago, and then disappeared, and on day 6, the poet wondering when her ex- will stop resenting her and get in touch again.
      The epilogue poem, the book’s summation, ‘Funeral Directive from a Serial Monogamist Who Never Stopped Looking For the One Who Would Last’ reminds me of the ninth of W.H. Auden’s ‘Twelve Songs’, at least in its refreshing combination of details. Mourners are instructed to bring their ‘boxed-up / photos, useless house keys, sad CDs’ and lay them at her feet, to place their ‘grievances on pure white / paper, fold them into mourning doves / or cut them into snowflakes and let / a blizzard fly’ and to pile a column of rocks to express their sorrow. The speaker also asks for ‘a preacher who’s heard of Meg Christian / or at least the Dixie Chicks’. Lastly, she asks the mourners to ‘take off my glasses and lay them on the casket’ as they sing her to sleep. Such a moving poem, such a moving collection from birth to death, such an ending.
      There is much to praise and recommend here. Singing Back to the Sirens is an excellent poetic compendium of the joys, sorrows, and wisdom gained through this lesbian poet’s experience in the post-Stonewall/pre-Marriage Equality Act generation.         AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ26 Autumn 2019 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ26 Autumn 2019 Art Review

Wim Crouwel: Mr. Gridnik, 28 September 2019–28 March 2020,
Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum.

Mr Gridnik

It seems as if the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum had read my mind, or maybe the AQ 2018 Yearbook and/or the AQ 2019 websites, because its Wim Crouwel: Mr. Gridnik exhibition, which opened this autumn just after AQ26 went online, is a perfect match for this issue’s Borderlands theme. Wim Crouwel, who unfortunately just passed away on 19 September, had the nickname of Mr Gridnik because he invented a simple, New Alphabet typeface based on grids and points, presaging the digital revolution’s display and print capabilities.

Without knowing it, I had become acquainted with Crouwel’s work in America as an amateur philatelist when I added his 5- and 25-cent postage stamps to my collection, years before I ever imagined emigrating to the Netherlands. These stamps’ monochrome backgrounds which fade in and out in intensity from top to bottom and their straight up and down san serif letters and numbers, certainly made them stand out from the other more exotic, flowery, or patriotic stamps featuring nations’ flags, colours, wildlife, fruit or flowers in my collection.

The exhibition includes Crouwel’s sketches for the New Alphabet. Its letters are formed using a square’s four sides and are composed of only lower case letters with a few short ascenders and descenders. There are no italics and no capital letters in this font and m’s and w’s are created by underlining n’s and u’s. In addition, Crouwel’s paper sketches of raster, letters made up of what most know as pixels, are also on view. Some might find Crouwel’s simple, clean, techno, democratic, signature style lettering and design a bit unimaginative, sterile, and restricted. Nonetheless, this style of signage was easily readable and reproducible in various media such as electronic stock market ticker tapes, train station and airport arrivals and destination boards, and early computer monitors.

In addition to typefonts, Crouwel also designed museum exhibition posters, catalogues, and books (dozens of which are on display in gallery 0.13). True to his minimalist tendencies, he abbreviated the Stedelijk Museum’s name to SM and used the same sort of monochrome backgrounds, lettering and numbers as on his stamps. In the collection of the dozens of Stedelijk posters he designed is one example of a concept board with measurements and notes for a 1970 Claes Oldenburg exhibition which features a sculpture, with a leather-like texture, of some sort of red fruit being juiced on an old-fashioned, hand juicer. Another is a Marlene Dumas exhibition poster from 2014. Posters for the Berlage’s Haagse Gemeente Museum are also included and feature architectural drawings and the type placed diagonally across the poster.

His love of drawing and typefonts, is described lovingly and in detail in Lex Rietsma’s 2019 video for the Dutch Broadcasting Corporation in gallery 0.11. The documentary tells of Crouwel’s years at Groningen’s Minerva Academy, where he studied fine arts and his years at Amsterdam’s Rietveld Academy. The film also mentions Crouwel’s houseboat in Amsterdam moored nearby the Olympic stadium, this house’s minimal Danish design, and its ’50s style furniture featuring a white formica-topped dining table, which Crouwel regularly covered with pencil drawings and then later scoured away. One of this son’s in the video also mentioned his father’s tendency towards graphiomania. He said that if they went out to eat in a restaurant and there was a paper tablecloth, the tablecloth would be covered with his father’s sketches by end of their meal. The video ends with nonagenarian Crouwel showing a woman of a similar age how to make his New Alphabet fonts with a stylus on a smartphone. On the facing wall of this gallery are examples of the more than dozen corporate logos Mr Grid created in his minimal, lineal style including those for Auping, the cities of Rotterdam and Groningen, the Rabobank, the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, and Teleac.

The last gallery, 0.10 features one wall with articles about Crouwel in Dutch newspapers such as the Books section of de Volkskrant, and an NRC Handelsblad article about his work with London Design Museum. Included with these clippings is a photo of the man himself sitting in his library surrounded by floor-to-ceiling walls of books, where he looks happy and at home.

However, this is where the exhibition literally dead-ends. Crouwel’s New Alphabet could have provided an interesting, interactive activity for school children, (similar to the 2017 Amsterdam School’s ‘Build Your Own Clock’ activity), many of whom were present during my visit to the exhibit. These students could have spent time using Crouwel’s New Alphabet to write their names or brief phrases. A few might have considered (a few years later) a career in design as a result of such an exercise. In addition, what also was a bit disappointing was that there didn’t seem to be a catalogue for this exhibition available in the Stedelijk’s bookshop. Fortunately, there was one last copy of The Monocelli Press’s The Debate: The Legendary Contests of Two Giants of Typography by Crouwel and Jan van Toorn, which I purchased to help remember some of the artefacts in this remarkable exhibition about the design and the art of a remarkable man.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ26 Autumn 2019 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ26 Autumn 2019 Book Reviews

Lee, Donna J. Gelagotis, Intersection on Neptune, The Poetry Press, ISBN 978-0-9967779-9-5, 106 pages.
Goswami, Amlanjyoti, River Wedding, Paperwall Media & Publishing, ISBN 978-93-82749-86-8, 106 pages.
Cutler, Juliet, Among the Maasai, She Writes Press, ISBN 978-1-63152-672-5, 289 pages.

This summer I received an unusual and interesting combination of books describing life in three different countries and continents — the US, India and Tanzania. Two are poetry books; one, a memoir. Two are by previously published AQ writers; one by a new writer with a book blurb written by another AQ contributor.

With such an interesting combination, I couldn’t wait to dive in and explore these books especially during the (again) record-breaking temperatures this last summer. I am happy to report these books all ‘transported (me) to a better world’ as Franz von Schrober wrote in his lyrics to Franz Schubert’s ‘An die Musik’.

Donna J. Gelagotis Lee’s poetry book Intersection on Neptune, won the Prize Americana in 2018. It is a collection of poems based on the experiences of three generations living in Coney Island, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey. Lee’s poems describe her great-parents emigration and difficulty of setting up businesses in their new country, their experience of xenophobia and the push to assimilate, and also the natural beauty and cultural hegemony of both these landmark locations important to America’s history.

Lee’s book is divided into two parts: New York and a second, three-times-as-long section, about New Jersey. The New York section is set in Manhattan, Brooklyn (mostly Coney Island), and in New York State. The New Jersey section is set in Elizabeth, Central New Jersey including Trenton, Hamilton, and the suburbs, rural New Jersey, along the Northeast Corridor, near the Pine Barrens, and at the shore. Intersection on Neptune describes the lives of three generations in these places.

The Brooklyn section includes poems about geography ‘On the Edge of a City’, sociology ‘Kings Highway, Brooklyn’, ‘Solly Salamander, or Life in a Fishbowl on Avenue U’, and ‘Intersection on Neptune’, culture ‘Visit’, ‘Sylvia’, ‘Tea at The Plaza’, ‘Dinner at the Club’, and ‘T.S. On Stage,’ religion ‘Prayer for Gil Hodges’ and ‘The Fast’, national holidays ‘Coney Island, Thanksgiving, 1996’, family ‘Your Father’ and ‘Sylvia’. One of the best poems in this section and one of its shortest and thinnest is ‘21’ in which the poem’s speaker revels on the day of securing a ‘First // job, / best job // I could ever / want.’ This short, light lines dance on the page. I would hope that Lee would experiment more with this short line, which is quite different from the longer lines and stanzas in her other poems, ‘Tea at the Plaza’ excepted. The short two to five stress lines in ‘Your Father’, which describe the speaker’s father in a row boat, also mimic the oars’ motion and rhythm and the calmness of the setting.

One of the best qualities of Intersection on Neptune is Lee’s descriptions of her neighbourhood, the New Jersey countryside, and the pressure to assimilate. In the first poem in the second New Jersey section, ‘What’s American?’, Lee describes that after her grandfather’s shop window with a Russian name is broken, it’s replaced by one with an Americanized name. (Although the poem suggests a later softening of neighbour’s feelings during the Depression when her grandfather delivered the day’s unsold fruit and veg to needy families). ‘Hunger and Money’ also explores the equivalence of food security with money. The poem’s speaker imagines how her mother ‘saw how hunger / and hope intertwined.’ This second section includes poems about the old and new world related to home births, ‘Between Two Women’, the post-WWII boom, ‘At the military institute, c. 1945’, and the haste at which new highways were built in ‘He Built the Turnpike’: ‘The future had no patience. There were cars waiting / on side streets. Hurry. Build quickly.’

A significant number of poems in this section are devoted to the speaker’s home, school, and religious upbringing. Her love for learning and intellect can be seen both in ‘In First Grade’ for about penmanship and in ‘In Sixth Grade’. In the second poem, the speaker daydreams during class because she already knows the answers to her teacher’s questions having worked ahead on her assignments. ‘What We Knew Then’ and ‘Record Player’ are about the speaker’s socialization and awareness of the value of popular culture ‘Albums made money — sometimes / lots of money.’ On the other hand, ‘The Earth’s Provision’ is a poem about the wealth of suburban insect life before the neighbourhood-wide spraying with insecticides and light pollution in the ’50s and ’60s. ‘we believed in heaven — no wonder/ we could see the stars at night // as the smell of the earth filled our lungs and no one would question// how far we had come.

As always, two of my favourite of Lee’s poems, ‘Circa 1968 Auction’ and ‘My Horse had the On-screen Persona of James Dean’ have equestrian subjects. The speaker’s love for these animals and riding shows through in details such as ‘The chestnut had a slight limp. / The Appaloosa, a sway back. The bay / was handsome but wiry’ in the former and ‘Young riders on frisky ponies / preteens on lumbering horses / … Too close, and a kick could fly out’ in the latter. It was a poem about a riding a horse in a ring for AQ’s Education issue (AQ20), which first brought Ms Lee’s writing to my attention. The speaker goes on to mention disco of the ’70s in short-lined, columnar-shaped poem entitled ‘Remote’ and her adult awareness of the world in ‘Condo Morning in the Suburbs’ and ‘At the Shore’, where she compares the seaside of her youth to that of the present: ‘The ocean smells of landfill. / I sense erosion.’

The poems in Intersection on Neptune have the sweep of almost a century of American culture and history. It is a splendid book which captures the kinetic vibrancy of New York, Coney Island and New Jersey. In addition, it is an honest book that is not always positive about the post-WWI & II goals of assimilation and financial progress in the suburbs.

Amlanjyoti Goswami’s River Wedding is an interesting mix of East and West with the border between the two sometimes vague or missing entirely. This book’s colourful orange, green, and yellow cover, with a blue round quarter sphere, reinforces its global perspective. River Wedding’s poems have a millennial sweep of history from ancient Indian myths, to the British Romantic poets to last year’s KKK torch-lit march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Other locations visited and depicted by this world-traveller poet include India (‘Looking for Matthew Arnold in Chandni Chowk’, ‘Basanagar’ ‘Landour’ and ‘The Weather in Benares’), London (‘Reading Tibetan on the London Tube’, ‘Terminal 3’, ‘Whitechapel Dreaming’, ‘Bethnal Green’, and ‘Mind the Gap’), Washington D.C. (‘D.C.’) the Caribbean (‘A Caribbean Summer’). In addition the book has about a half dozen typographically unconventional poems including one concrete poem. In these poems about East and West are various heroes, writers and gods from each such as Ulysses, Derek Walcott, Shelley, Matthew Arnold, Leonard Cohen, Krishna and Karna, as well as family members, ancestors and neighbours. It is a busy, fully populated world Goswami explores physically and metaphysically.

Although the book is not physically divided into sections (something perhaps against-the-grain of a collection that wants to be all-inclusive), I feel the first 34 pages are primarily set in the poet’s homeland and among family. Most appropriately and perhaps as a sort of prologue, the first poem is entitled ‘Bard’. It depicts an older relative’s ‘ferocious bitter shout, … no soothing tongue for melting,’ and how in it the poet ‘search(es) for heart/(to) Find tender feeling.’ The poem ends, however, with this relative, in her wishes, ‘sending her daughter/ Pistols for dowry’. Weapons are present again in ‘Places’ two pages later, where the poem mentions ‘Arrivals’ and ‘Departures’ in ‘This play, / ‘Human amidst the guns,’. Gun violence appears later in ‘Re-member-ing’ in which ‘our teacher’s husband’ was killed when ‘Bullets (were) ringing the street next door’.

In ‘City Smoke’, Goswami describes a death with the metaphor: ‘You left by the window one morning’. In ‘Grandmother’ he likens this relative to a renovated house ‘of new paint / shakes in vain while stripped bare / for ceremony of coat and plaster’. In the book’s title poem, the speaker describes his mother’s antlophobia ‘afraid of water after dark’ because of a story about the rivers coming together across the village huts for a marriage. In ‘A Strange Man’, Goswami describes a neighbourhood man who Speaks to trees, scribbles / On newspapers, sells them cheap.’

The poet reveals perhaps a bit of his own personality in ‘The Blind Flautist of Panbazar’ when he writes in the title character’s voice: ‘But I like / Silent afternoons best. / When it is all /quiet around me.’ The desire for quiet and attention to light is also mentioned in other poems such as ‘Sunlight’ and ‘Away’.

The scene changes with ‘Reading Tibetan on the London Tube’. Here is a second ‘section’ with poems about London, Charlottesville, New York and Washington D.C. interspersed between religious, mythological, and philosophical poems such ‘Landour’ and ‘Rain Shelter’, ‘Diwali’, ‘A God Grieving’, ‘Abhimanyu’ and ‘The Face of Evil’ and ‘Of Goodness’, ‘The Philosopher Meets His Match’. Here, Goswami is out in the wider world, but also, as in the poems ‘Landour’ and ‘Rain Shelter’, on a pilgrimage for wider meaning as he describes his literal ascent, the ‘monkeys for company’. The next day ‘on the way home’ he sees a vista ‘green deep inside the jungle’/Not a soul in sight / And I, a traveller on the / edge of nowhere.’ The next poem, ‘Rain Shelter’ is also in this vein.

The third ‘section’ of Goswami’s book includes poems, which are certainly typographically more experimental. The first certainly would be ‘Injured Bark’, a poem in the shape of a tree. Goswami tells the tree, whose limbs have grown ‘spine-broken’ to ‘Keep going, one day, they will find in your tender bark / A home for the birds.’ Some of the poems I would include in this section have very short lines such as ‘GPS’, ‘Outsider’, ‘Canvas’ and ‘The Weather in Benares’. ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Witness are poems with two parallel columns of description which in the case of the former, readers can put together lines from the left and right columns to construct his/her narrative of a neighbour. In the case of the latter, the left hand column is composed only the repeated word ‘We’ and paired with the description of waiting out a riot because the speaker and his companions wouldn’t run and leave their grandfather behind. The last of these poems would be ‘End notes’, itself River Weddings’ ultimate poem. This is Goswami’s Ars poetica. In six notes he describes the source of his inspiration ‘that little / light that comes peering from a hole near the window.’, his ‘quiet joy’, the familiar and economic place ‘being middle born’, his awareness of signs ‘in remembrance of Priam’, his regard for poetic and philosophical traditions ‘Eliot’ and ‘Heidegger’, and lastly his respect for a ‘sixth sense’. River Wedding describes an Asian poet’s embrace of the world through the lenses of both Eastern and Western cultures.

Juliet Cutler’s Among the Maasai, describes her two years as a teacher in a Tanzanian secondary girls school. Although her book is labelled as a memoir, it includes not only about her experience as an American in Tanzania, but an account of the parallel world of new students from the Rift Valley for whom toilets and Swahili at the school are as equally as foreign as the Tanzanian heat and food are to Cutler. I am particularly proud of this memoir as portions of it, the description of the Morogoro Market, was previously discussed in the AQ Writers’ Group and published in AQ8. This market passage is typical of Cutler’s Tanzanian experiences. Cutler nervously leaves the safety of her Range Rover to explore the Morogoro Market alone. She becomes alarmed, however, when she notices she has caught the interest of a group of boys, who follow her. Anticipating perhaps a request for money, she’s startled to find that instead, one of the boys offers her a piece of his orange.

Parallel to her own story, Cutler describes the story of Neng’ida, one of the Rift Valley scholarship students. Her education is endangered at the very beginning when the man, to whom she has been promised in marriage, comes to the school with her mother to take her back home. However, the headmistress and the Neng’ida’s mother convince the man to let Neng’ida stay because they argue an education will make her a better wife and mother. Another student, whose development Cutler tracks, is Miriam. She left her home and travelled to the capital to ask the minister of education to help her escape from her family and attend school. Cutler describes Miriam’s friendly smile in the classroom and mentions how it lifts her spirits. Cutler also describes in detail the challenges she faced being thrown into the deep end as a new teacher with an unfamiliar curricula, replacing the twenty-year veteran, who wrote it.

Some practical household matters she describes include learning how to take a bucket bath and to reuse this water to flush the toilet, and how to purchase and prepare unfamiliar local food for her meals. In addition, there is the adjusting to the outdoor and indoor wildlife; snakes and rats, especially. Cultural issues Cutler wrestled with involved the role of the school as an institution of empowerment versus acculturation, interacting with her Tanzanian colleagues, and the Maasai practice of female genital circumcision. Cutler describes these subjects in an informed, sensitive manner, aware of her privileged, economic, outsider status. This is demonstrated in her thoughts about a visitor’s complaint at a Tanzanian national park:

I’m sorry ma’am, that you don’t like anything on the breakfast buffet, but did you know that just outside the boundaries of this national park, there are children who won’t have enough to eat today?

In her book, Cutler frequently asks her herself and her partner: ‘How could we live responsibly as people of relative wealth in the midst of poverty?’

Cutler’s memoir also describes how she grew as a teacher and how she ardently worked to prepare her students for their yearly and final O-level exams which could make the difference between returning home to their villages or to have the choice to go out into the wider world. She describes the long, song-filled, hour-long graduation ceremony attended by Tanzania’s first lady.

Cutler’s also mentions her generosity towards some street children, for whom she became known as ‘the orange lady’, by giving them oranges occasionally. Cutler also describes navigating the interesting changes in her life with her colleagues and students first, as an unmarried teacher with her boyfriend Mark, and six months later, as a married woman. These included a new house with a guard and being wary of the bats and rats that wanted to call her new home, their home. After living in Tanzania for six months, Cutler also describes the disorientation and sensory overload she experienced upon her return to US during the Christmas season to prepare for her wedding. Even shopping in a US supermarket with all its abundance and food choices in comparison to food scarcity in Tanzania proved to be an unexpected challenge.

Cutler’s memoir continues back in Africa and describes the prospects of students who did or didn’t pass their O-level exams; the former continuing on to the next form and the latter going off to trade schools or returning home, their hopes of continuing their education at the Maasai Girls School ended. Cutler’s narrative of pupils Miriam and Neng’ida continues. Miriam must stop attending school when she becomes pregnant (the law then in Tanzania) even though the pregnancy is due to rape. However, the head of the boys’ school finds a way for Miriam to continue to her education after she gives birth is seclusion. Neng’ida graduates not only from the Maasai school, but also from Concordia University in Minnesota, which Cutler witnesses.

Among the Maasai is certainly a book worth reading for those interested in Maasai culture in general and women’s education in Africa in particular. In addition, while writing her memoir of living in another culture, Cutler was careful to note her cultural biases and limitations while documenting her life Among the Maasai. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ25 Summer 2019 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ25 Summer 2019 Book Reviews

Susan Lloy, Vita: Stories, Now or Never Publishing, ISBN 978-1-988098-76-0, 151 pages.
Jennifer Clark, A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven, Unsolicited Press, ISBN 978-1-974021-44-0, 124 pages.

Unexpectedly and delightfully, Amsterdam Quarterly received two outstanding books in the post, one fiction and one poetry collection, by past AQ contributors. I would like to pass these books onto AQ’s readers, without reservation, as worthwhile additions to their summer holiday reading lists.

Amsterdam Quarterly’s readers will find something both familiar and new in Susan Lloy’s most recent, short story collection, Vita: Stories. One thing that will be familiar is that four of this book’s stories, which were first published in AQ from 2015 to 2018. Whether Lloy is discussing struggling writers and real estate in Canada’s maritime provinces, the grittiness and the increasing cost of maintaining an urban space to live and write, mental health issues or her characters attempts at a life in Amsterdam, her situations and characters are always memorable.

In this collection’s first and title story, ‘Vita’, Lloy deftly describes the mind of a dying man, Arthur, who recollects revels and romance from decades ago, which he relives through medicated dreams. Arthur states somewhat disappointedly that the reported film that flashes before one’s eyes at the end of life is more like a reedit made ‘from scraps on the floor put back together with the plot and characters all mixed up in one last fusion.’ He has flashbacks of meeting women at concerts, ‘corrupted by percussion and screaming guitars,’ in his younger, wilder years, then comes back to the present and discovers soup left by his housekeeper, Hazel. Hazel also brings Arthur Berlin Alexanderplatz and ‘I, Claudius and all the Cassavette’s films, with sagas of murder, poison and treachery;’ at his request ‘to remember New York when it was down and dirty.’ And the story’s final paragraph which describes the man running through a field of red poppies, trying to catch a woman called Daleighla, as he feels ‘everything little piece of me making a break for parts unknown’ is one of the most subtle, yet powerful descriptions of dying I’ve ever read.

Vita also includes two stories about frustrated and financially strapped writers who have spent their life savings for a place of peace and quiet in the country, but don’t find it without doing things they wouldn’t normally do. In ‘That Screaming Silence’ Edie escapes from a noisy, working class, crime-ridden, neighbourhood in Montreal to the quiet Nova Scotian countryside to write. However, she soon discovers her anti-social, criminal neighbours constantly make noise playing music on boom boxes and/or repairing cars. In addition, under the cover of night, they dump waste on her property, which she doesn’t discover until spring when the snow melts. Edie tries to make peace with these neighbours, but they don’t change their noisy ways so, in the end, she is driven to take a desperate measure.

In ‘Sailor’s Rest’, Olive, another writer who escaped to the country, discovers she can’t live alone when a tree comes crashing through her uninsured house during a storm. Coincidentally, her friend Uta, has to get out of Montreal, and a local sailor, Gerald Blackburn, and his cat, Harriet, can no longer live on his boat alone and all three are looking for a place to live. Due to the financial pressures of home repairs, Olive must invite all three into her home even though Uta is a Hare Krishna, Gerald is a womanizer, and Harriet likes to claw Olive’s Persian and Afghan carpets and furniture. It also sets the neighbours tongues wagging with two single women and one single man under the same roof. However, Olive makes her peace with it because it keeps her, as a homeowner, financially afloat.

Other themes explored in this volume’s stories are health and sanity in “Voices’ about a woman, who sees a young male, subway suicide and then jumps from a roof wearing a dress and heels, ‘Mademoiselle Energy’ one of the most realistic stories I’ve read recently about an locked, observation ward and its schizophrenic residents, and ‘Layla Was Here’ about a repressed female artist whose inspiration comes primarily from the poetic voice in her head. In each of these stories, Lloy is not just an observer. She takes you directly into the minds of her characters in a way that is sensitive and accurate.

Something new in Vita compared to But When We Look Closer is Lloy’s interspersing of short, psychological, horrific vignettes, which sometimes read as prose poems and/or exercises in characterization, in-between some of her ‘longer’ short stories. These include ‘Mama’, ‘Monster’s Laugh’, ‘Underground Thoughts’, ‘Rubber Rage’, ‘Wishful Thinking’, ‘Abode’, ‘Mammaries Speaking’, and ‘Capture’. ‘Mamma’ includes the voices of a teenage and/rebellious son or daughter, and his/her mother, who has emotionally withdrawn. ‘Monster Laugh’ is about a monster in a mirror, who haunts a woman to have plastic surgery and in the end cover her mirror in red velvet. ‘Underground Thoughts’ is about a woman, who is hypersensitive to the sound of another woman snapping gum on the subway and who wants to ‘knock it out of her mouth,’ but is prevented from doing so from a sudden crushing influx of passengers. A departure from Lloy’s human psychological narratives is ‘Capture’, which is about the thoughts of a captured, baby elephant. This last story shows Lloy’s versatility and willingness to experiment. I hope she continues to experiment with narrative techniques and subjects in future stories and books.

Jennifer Clark’s A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven includes poems in different meters, lines lengths and subjects all of which wrestle with the theme of the real boundaries between the corporal and spiritual and the very small and the very large. Its approach can be seen most clearly in her poem, ‘If You Could Stand on Saturn’:

A speck of light we are
A smudge of brilliance
Amidst ever expanding darkness

This poem reminds me of William Blake’s ‘To See a World in a Grain of Sand.’ Only in Clark’s poem, our 21st-century, non-sustainable, earth-bound civilization is that grain of sand, as seen from Saturn, a ‘not yet even a blue marble’.

A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven is divided into three parts: ‘In the Beginning’, ‘The Holy Family’, and ‘In the Meantime’ with inter-related themes that bridge these physical divisions. In the first section, Clark sometimes confuses the natural with the human world such as in her poem ‘A Field Guide to Crows and Widows’. This poem compares crows to women who can or who had to live without men. Clark warns of the damage widows could cause if they ever flocked together, like crows. In ‘Like the Parents They Never Knew’ Clark reports the mating habits of an unspecified arthropod, her sensuous description, seeming to bridge for a moment, the difference in mating between the two worlds:

The moment his feet touch her silk
She shudders and shudders, feels her weight
Three times his size, she is golden, her abdomen
can hold a thousand eggs. He shudders.

Clark reveals some of the mystery and the fierce beauty of the natural world in this poem. In its last stanza she describes the male’s death, offering up his life, after the impregnation, for the future of his progeny and species.

The first section also contains poems about the speaker’s youthful Catholicism including the nuns with their strict discipline in contrast to a forgiving, living Christ riding the breasts in ‘Fourth Grade Place Settings’. In ‘Grieving the God of My Youth’ Clark depicts the parishioners struggle with the Vatican II replacement of a dead, crucified Christ up front versus a representation of the living, risen, Christ: ‘A piece of art, it makes you think’ (the speaker’s mother’s words) brought by the new priest, that is taken down and again replaced by the crucified Christ: ‘eyes-closed-can’t-hold-you-now-I’m-busy dying Jesus’ once the new priest retired. In ‘On Good Friday, Walmart Wants to Save You’ in the section three, shopping for bargains is described as America’s new religion due to superstore’s abundant variety and slogans such as ‘More Easter for your Money’ and ‘Live better’.

In section two, Clark addresses subjects such as Alzheimer’s, ‘Zombie Mommy’, mothers-in-law and their antagonism, and other domestic problems including families and our unfortunate genetic inheritance such as skin problems in ‘Psoriasis Siren’. ‘I Want A Church’ in section three uses metaphors of a boat for a church and sailors for priests, brave enough to step onto dry land and ‘chisel watery souls with love.’

Life specific to the Midwest is also covered by some poems in the first two sections. For example, Clark’s explanation of which part of the ‘hand’ of Michigan where she grew up is described in ‘A Concise History of Michigan Cartology.’ Homeless or lost people are also described in ‘Cotton Candy Lady, Corner of Fifth and Wood.’ ‘The Trouble with Reading in Your Hometown’ describes the advantage and disadvantage of small towns where ‘everyone knows your business’. And driving during the harsh, changeable weather is described in ‘Winter Kudzu of Kalamazoo’.

References to popular culture and its influence on Clark are made in ‘Castaways’ (Gilligan’s Island), and in ‘Longing for Dynamite Days’, (Road Runner and Tweetie Bird comics). The American obsession with materialism and holding onto things is discussed with wit and humour in ‘What We Do With Our Stuff’ along with what her mother-in-law saved from her partner’s childhood years in ‘Lists’. The subject of space is also addressed from a radically different perspective in Clark’s concrete poem, ‘How to Become a Virgin, which is in the shape of a woman’s pregnant belly. Here the poet affirms that anyone can conceive something great, they just need a ‘space’, no preconceptions, a source of impregnation or ‘irritation’, to be ‘patient’ and the foreknowledge that what they bear will not make them ‘lucky’.

‘Oberon, Rock of the Ground Where Sleepers Be’ is a nod to Shakespeare and to a Michigan beer that’s sold seasonally and signals the return of spring in a part of the country that can be snowed under anytime from October to April. It joyfully affirms: ‘We’ve survived another winter. We’ve survived each other.’ This makes a good ending for this collection of poems about faith, courage and hard-won happiness from America’s Midwest, familiar territory presented from a new perspective. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ25 Summer 2019 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ25 Summer 2019 Art Review

Maria Lassnig — Ways of Being, Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 6 April to 11 August 2019.

I was pleased but somewhat perturbed to make my first acquaintance with the work of painter, sculpture, and animator Maria Lassnig at the Amsterdam Stedelijk retrospective April last. I was pleased by the depth and artistry of the work on display. I was perturbed that I had not heard of her previously.

Stedelijk curator Beatrice von Bormann helped explain at the press viewing why perhaps I hadn’t previously heard of Lassnig. The Stedelijk only owns two of her works and Lassnig had had only one show there, back in the 1990s. In addition, Bormann put the difficulty of being a female artist in context by quoting the statistics that in the US museums, 87% of the artists are male and 85% are white. Furthermore, according to artist Jacqueline de Jong, quoted in an article entitled: ‘Onsporen en verdraaien’ in the VPRO Gids #22 (1 to 7 June 2019), only four per cent of the Amsterdam Stedelijk’s collection is by female artists.

Despite this level of discrimination, however, Lassnig during her lifetime produced a large body of work, represented in this retrospective by 250 pieces including 80 works on paper and eight videos/films/animations, many on loan from the Albertina Museum in Vienna. Lassnig called her style or technique ‘body awareness’ which to this reviewer appears in her portraits as more of an ‘out of body experience’ as her torso floats above the New York City skyline in Woman Power, (oil on canvas, 1979). Other disembodied images including one of the exhibition’s promotional images, a painting of a woman with a white face with no hair and the back of the head missing such as in Selbst met Mehrschweinchen, Eng: Self with Guinea Pig, (oil on canvas, 2000). These facial images are chillingly reminiscent of the recent Sophia AI interface created by a Hong Kong technology firm.

From these paintings there’s no mistaking Lassnig’s message and her realization of the difficulty of her struggle. If one enters the exhibit at gallery 1.1 at the end of her career, instead of at gallery 1.15, at the beginning, the first image one is confronted with is that of Lassnig with a gun in each hand: one pointed directly at the viewer and the other pointed at her own head entitled Du oder ich, Eng: You or me, (oil on canvas, 2005). According to Bormann, the exhibition has been organized in reverse chronologically, and thematically. One starts here in the 2000s and works one’s way back through time, room by room, to the 1940s, when Lassnig began painting.

However, if one begins at 1.15 with her paintings in the 40s and 50s, it is easier to see Lassnig’s development and what she achieved during her sixty-five year engagement/struggle with painting, sculpture and animation/film. Her work in galleries 1.15 and 1.16 includes paintings with cubist blocks Flachenteilung, klein, Eng: Field Divison, small, (gouache on cardboard, 1953), and abstract strokes of colour next to or on top of each other such as the rectangular white with green centre Body Housing (oil on canvas, 1951) and orange and ochre rectangular brushstrokes of Tachismus 4 (oil on canvas, 1958). These rooms exhibit her exploration of cubism, expressionism, and abstract expressionism.

In the ’60s and ’70s, she would later abandon these non-human styles for her own more realistic, but somewhat disembodied ‘body awareness’ technique in which she would paint her body with a variety of quite realistic but dramatic physical complications, for example, Zelfportrait mit telefon, (oil on canvas, 1973), with her head at table height, the phone off the hook and the cord wrapped around her neck.

In this period Lassnig also created a series of animations and films. These provide some comic relief in this otherwise very serious exhibition. One animation is entitled Self-Portrait (1971). It begins with a woman’s face obscured by dresser drawers, which then fill and drip with foam. Next, her face is obscured briefly by a wooden beam, then a camera, and after that by a device that covers just her mouth, nose and eyes. Finally, her face is freed from these blockages and she begins to imagine herself as a more beautiful and idealized film star, first with her hair up like Audrey Hepburn’s, and then in waves like Marilyn Monroe’s until a Monty Pythonesque fist and a thumb comes down from above and pushes this idealized face back into a more realistic representation of Lassnig.

In the mid to late-1970s, Lassnig also painted partial, disembodied imaginary self-portraits, one with her body entangled by the mythic snake Woman Laocoön, (oil on canvas, 1976) similar in style to the Vatican’s Laocoon and his Sons sculpture. However, unlike the Vatican’s work, Lassnig’s female figure in the painting battles alone with the serpent. Other portraits in this time period include a move into disembodied torsos, including one with a hand covering a vagina and another with a head, with its mouth wide open, shouting, with hands coming from the back of its head covering its eyes Ohne Titel, Schreiende Frau, Eng: Untitled, Screaming Woman, (pencil and watercolours on paper, 1981).

Another method she used to depict her struggle as a woman artist was to paint human forms trapped between different planes such as in With My Head Through the Wall, (oil on canvas, 1985). In the ’80s she would also paint anti-militaristic subjects such as Rocket Base Missiles #2 (oil on canvas, 1987) and Atommütters (oil on canvas, 1984), with two women holding small, dead children wrapped in black shrouds in their arms. In the early 21st century she would continue to create such confrontational paintings such as Profitanski (oil on canvas, 2001) which includes images of green birds laddled into her head and her hand over her vagina and the Du oder ich painting mentioned previously.

Time will tell if Lassnig’s struggle will yield more female artists’ works in the Amsterdam Stedelijk’s collection. If Touria Meliani’s, Amsterdam city councillor for the arts, comments about Reins Wolf, recently appointmented as the Stedelijk’s new director, in a Stedelijk press release from 7 June 2019 are any indication: … heb ik alle vertrouwen in dat met hem de verschillende verhalen die nodig verteld moeten worden, een plek krijgen. (‘I completely trust that with him, the different stories that must be told, will receive a place.’), perhaps an increase in the percentage of women’s works at the Stedelijk is finally on the cards. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ24 Spring 2019 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ24 Spring 2019 Book Reviews

Jean Huets, With Walt Whitman: Himself, Circling Rivers, ISBN 978-1-939530-06-6, 192 pages.
Scott T. Starbuck, Carbonfish Blues: Ecopoems, (with art by Guy Denning), Fomite, ISBN 978-1-944388-53-9, 93 pages.
Jacob M. Appel, Amazing Things Are Happening Here, Black Lawrence Press, ISBN 978-1-625577-05-4, 152 pages.

These past six months I have received some interesting books from publishers concerned with three different subjects — a Walt Whitman documentary biography, a book on ecological poems with paintings of war and climate refugees, and a collection of short stories, which are strangely and memorably linked to each other due to their images and themes. These books are extraordinary due to their new treatment of old subject matter, their manner of presentation, or their ability to capture and hold one’s interest. Two of the three use visual media such as paintings, photographs and reproductions of historical documents to reinforce their points. The third’s fiction writing style is so explicit, its characters and images that will remain with you long after you have put the book down.

The first book is Jean Huets’ With Walt Whitman: Himself from Circling Rivers. This book is a beautiful, multi-media documentary of Whitman’s life and times and includes gems this reviewer was previously unaware even though he thought he knew Whitman’s biography fairly well. Its multi-coloured texts and reproduced images also make it suitable for instruction in secondary and tertiary schools. These gems include a reproduction of a draft of ‘Live Oak with Moss’ and pages from his journals. One early 1860s journal entry includes a sketch of a soldiers’ hospital ward, the location of the men’s beds and also list of some of the men’s requests for reading material or for contact with clergy.

Having read over a dozen books about Whitman and his written works, this is the first book I’ve seen which adequately describes Whitman’s immediate family and his ancestors, their influence on his life, and his parents’ and siblings’ response to his writing. (For example, Whitman moved away from New York at least twice in his life to be with family in St. Louis, Missouri and in Camden, New Jersey). The book also provides an interesting selection of paintings, drawings and photographs of the places Whitman worked, lived and frequented and also of Whitman and his friends and associates. This includes paintings of then rural Long Island, where Whitman’s father tried twice unsuccessfully to farm.

Walt Whitman: Himself also explores Whitman’s participation in literary circles and their New York hangouts and patrons such ‘Pfaff’s Chop House and Beer Cellar’ and ‘Henry Clapp’, who ran ‘the weekly literary magazine Saturday Press’. The book also mentions Whitman’s early artistic supporters such as Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta and Anne Gilchrist. It also mentions Whitman’s attendance at musical and theatrical performances in New York influenced his work, with specific references to his poetry.

Colour plates, paintings, drawings and photographs are beautifully reproduced and take up a significant portion of the book’s pages making it suitable for use in secondary and community college settings, although I suspect many scholars will also appreciate many of the documents, paintings or photographs Huets has assembled in With Walt Whitman: Himself.

The second book is Carbonfish Blues: Ecopoems by Scott T. Starbuck with artwork by Guy Denning. His book includes poetic observations of sequoias and spruces which live hundreds of years longer than humans, displaced Pacific Islanders who remember the ease of their ancestors, how rising sea levels will effect the world map and species, and the deaths of boat refugees. As he cleans a bluefin he’s caught in ‘Breadfruit’ he meditates on the four things that human beings really need to do to survive: ‘eat, mate, avoid predators, / three ways to give Thanks / to the Source of all.’ Thanks.

Opposite ‘Breadfruit’ is one of Denning’s 12 artworks. This one of a face in blue grey colours with an open, downturned mouth entitled Requiem 2 (for the now forgotten) and another face, Opposite Starbuck’s poem ‘One Raven’, about the Sitka Spruce’s more expansive sense of time, is a copper, brown face with eyes open looking out towards the reader on in a background of what appears to be books and newspapers. Denning’s art underscores the importance of Starbuck’s warnings about the destruction ahead due to global warming. In ‘Climate Reality’ Starbuck places the blame for global warming on schools and employers who: ‘said / if you followed the rules / you would be okay. …. The truth is …. they lied.’ ‘Rosetta Poem’ emphasizes mankind’s and Nature’s common ancestor. Starbuck reflects: ‘is it possible distorted language / has been (the) real enemy / all along?’In the next two poems, ‘Titanic Radio and the book’s title poem, ‘Carbonfish Blues’, Starbuck compares the sinking of the Titanic and the drowning of its passengers, especially those in ‘2nd and 3rd class’, to what will happen to those people (the poor) for whom no ‘lifeboats’ were even planned and others like Esther Hart, who stayed up all night fully dressed, ‘ready in a way / none can be for abrupt climate change’.

Immediately after these poems follows a double page spread of Denning’s The disasters of war 11 showing a woman holding a child on the left looking upward, and a man holding a child and a woman on the right looking downward. The words GRACIAS and MUSEO DEL PRADO appear printed vertically just to the left of both women. The artwork is reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War. However, it could also reflect the apocalyptic world soon to come if climate change is not halted. In a very short poem, ‘Soon’, Starbuck relates how dear things will soon become: ‘salmon cans will be opened like rubies. / Oranges will be as rare a diamonds.’

Starbuck’s poems also discuss the floating plastic waste in the world’s waters ‘Floating Plastic Jesus’, the endangerment and extinction of species in the last century ‘Warrior’s Story of The Last Wild Otter’ and ‘Invader’, and the price, according to Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan ‘per person per year in the top one billion people’ to save billions of people from death by heat, is ‘$450’. His dire poetic descriptions of habitat destruction due to over-harvesting, fishing and hunting, pollution and global warming are placed beside Denning’s artworks that depict warzone/ climate refugees or the faces of the dispossessed, such as in Denning’s sketch on a grey background of an expressionless face entitled Your opinion is worthless. Is our opinion and action worthless when it comes to global warming? Starbuck’s poem ‘Stepford Congress’ is ‘bought / by oil companies, / and dying / with them.’ doesn’t seem to show much optimism. In ‘Observer Post 9’ he imagines Earth’s epitaph written by an alien civilization. Students there ask their professor if the reasons humans drove every week to ‘‘poison stations’ / with many other options’ were “Convenience?” and “Insanity?” Their professor unfortunately answers: ‘“Yes and yes”’.

The last book is Jacob M. Appel’s Amazing Things Are Happening Here, his ninth book of short stories and his fifth with Black Lawrence Press. This collection of stories, with their snap endings, are set on the East Coast in Appel’s favourite fictional town of Creve Coeur, Rhode Island, in Manhattan or in Florida. One of his returning character types is the shy, male protagonists in ‘Canvassing’ and ‘Embers’, who despite their goodness and devotion, do not get the gal, and, in the first story, is also not as nice and as patient as he seems.

One thing that I find also enjoyable in short story collections are stories which are connected with each other thematically over time. Passion rules the day. The heart knows what the heart wants — and in the case of three female protagonists in ‘Canvassing’, ‘Grappling’, and ‘Live Shells’ — the heart wants bad boys. It isn’t interested in the logical suitors with steady jobs, from the right side of the tracks. It wants passionate and/or burly men from the wrong part of town.

Three stories with plot lines that for me are departures from Appel’s previous subject matter include ‘Helen of Sparta’, ‘Amazing Things Are Happening Here’, and ‘Dyad’. The first story involves the black sheep of a family returning drunk to her old high school to visit her old drama teacher, (long deceased), who almost gets herself and her nephews arrested for entering without permission. In ‘Amazing Things are Happening Here’, the collection’s title story, the head nurse at a Manhattan psychiatric hospital covers the disappearance of a patient for weeks by falsifying his file with fictional meds, treatments, consultations and ultimately a discharge. The story’s tension is due to the fact that someone, probably the narrator, will lose his/her job if the patient isn’t found, so that the falsification of the discharge is preferable to revealing the truth. And in ‘Dyad’, a childless, female ocean park ranger, contemplates leaving her husband for a French oceanographer and his eighth-year-old daughter, as they both urge the ranger to use her boat to keep some whales from stranding. She changes her mind, however, when one of the whales they had ‘saved’, suddenly and unexpectedly beaches itself anyway.

My criticism of this collection includes the following observations. ‘Bigamist’s Accomplice’ has a storyline I’ve read before in at least one other writer’s fiction work. A man and woman, who have Alzheimer’s, find each other in a senior home and their real partners decide to let them have each other (a rabbi even performs a fake wedding) because their partners with memory loss no longer recognize them and they realize these partners will be happier together.

My second criticism would be that some of the narrator’s vocabulary in ‘Live Shells’ occasionally seems not to be her own such as when she mentions ‘ersatz windmills’ and ‘inertia.’ Perhaps, however, I’m being unfair to working class, shop-operating, triple divorcees. Lastly, in ‘Grappling’, Jeb Moran, this story’s 1920s bad boy, who has spent time in the state penitentiary, uses the ‘N’ word once when reporting from whom he had won money through gambling and cockfights.

These reservations aside, however, Appel’s collection of short stories, brings to life the lives of American bad boys — gator wrestlers, machinists, murderers, bigots, and even a homicidal teenage wallflower — and the women who have been attracted to them or who have failed to notice their dangerous presence. Appel’s stories in Amazing Things Are Happening Here create a world where unfortunately, fabricating the truth, is often preferable and less complicated than telling the truth or facing it.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ23 Autumn 2018 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ23 Autumn 2018 Book Reviews

Jennifer Clark, Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman, Shabda Press, ISBN 978-81-930523-2-7, 2018, 139 pages.
Jayne Marek, The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling, Finishing Line Press, ISBN 978-1-63534-363-2, 2018, 67 pages.

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is certainly a worthy adage to keep one for being deceived by surface appearances that cover underlying flaws. However, sometimes a good book does have an equally good, appealing cover. This is certainly true of Jennifer’s Clark’s Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman, a poetic history of John Chapman and Jayne Marek’s The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling. Both books’ covers feature trees, but these are depicted in ways perhaps not seen before. Clark’s book’s front cover illustration, ‘Colony Farm Orchard Script’ by Ladislav Hanka, is a ‘drawing over hand-tinted paper’ of tree branches reaching upward on a tan, almost light, leather-coloured background. Marek’s front cover (see her photos in the summer 2018 AQ22 issue) includes darker, dense almost thin, vertical brown blocks on a green and blue background reaching up towards a yellow, pink and white speckled light. Both covers include organic growth reaching upwards. And this is what the poems in their books do. They are poetic journeys toward light and growth.

Clark’s book is an exploration of Chapman’s ancestry, his own history, including his travels through the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana wilderness to plant apples trees for future settlers and even some details about arboreal husbandry. It begins with a ‘Prologue: come with me into the forest,’ in which describes Clark’s motivation and inspiration for writing her book which began with Clark’s then third-grade son asking her: ‘Was he real?’ Clark’s uncertainty about the answer leads her on her own journey of discovery. Her son’s question was further piqued by Clark’s chance find of a book about American folklore, which she later purchased at her local library. She then sifted through this ‘treasure of both truth and historical inaccuracies.’ After reading it, Clark remarked: ‘Even during Chapman’s lifetime, he was already turning into a walking myth’.

For example, Clark found evidence that contradicts the myth that Chapman was a teetotaller and vegetarian. And while she didn’t find direct evidence that Chapman was an abolitionist, his personality, Swedenborgian beliefs, habit of frequenting pioneer homes (including some, which were Quaker), and the conversations she had with Denver Norman, (descendant of the former slave, Mr “Cajoe” Phillips), all lead her to conclude Chapman was, at the very least, an abolitionist at heart. She ends her prologue hoping her poems will help ‘part the forest of time’ to enter a world that is ‘young and old, terrible and beautiful, bountiful and dying, all at once.’

The uplift of Clark’s poems begins with the first phrase of the first line of her first poem, ‘John Chapman (1774-1845)’ with a poem that could be a prologue for the entire collection. ‘To sow hope,’ and his simplicity of his mythic attire and purpose: ‘slip into a burlap sack….With a tin pot/ on head for hat, set bare feet to soil and go forth/ into the wild frontier.’ The poem further describes Chapman’s travel method, ‘following the rivers’ West in his ‘Search for a clearing in the woods’ and ‘Stoop, then furrow soil with a finger, …pull seeds…and one by one press down. Cover lightly with loam.’ The poem also describes Chapman’s diet of ‘cornmeal mush and coffee’ and how he slept ‘on the forest floor.’ It also mentions how he …‘Return(ed) each year to tend the saplings,’ and continued along the Maumee River, ‘leaving a trail or thirsty pioneers, drunk now/on the sweet juice of sermon.’

The following poem ‘Grafting has always been in fashion’ emphasizes Chapman’s preferred mode of planting apple trees from seed instead of the traditional method of ‘grafted shoots/dragging with them the seeds/of old Empire.’ Clark writes how Chapman’s mother delivered him whilst his father fought in the Revolutionary War and then died a year later delivering her third child, which also died.

Further poems discuss Chapman’s “marriage” ‘John meets a woman’, his abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, including one of its conductors, ‘Micajah “Cajoe” Phillips 1736?-1861’, and the voice of one of its enemies, ‘Ten dollars for my woman Siby’. Chapman’s mistake of planting Stinking Chamomile to ‘keep malaria at bay’ is mentioned in ‘Anathemus cotula aka Stinking Chamomile’, as is the extinction of native birds during his lifetime for food and fashion in ‘Wings, The Breast, The Bird’, and ‘Common Tern, 21. Scarlet Tanger, 2.’ respectively. In her poem ‘Ledgers from dry goods stores’ Clark offers a brief glimpse of the real Chapman found preserved in one of his grocery lists: ‘three pairs of “mockasins,”/brandy, whiskey, chocolate,/ sugar, gunpowder, tobacco,/ and pork.’. Through her research, Clark separates the myth from the man, but she also gives readers a good glimpse of both.

Appropriately for this issue on genealogy, Clark’s poems focus not only on John Chapman, but also his relatives. ‘Summer of 1776’ mentions his mother, Elizabeth, near death and his father, Nathaniel, away fighting in the Revolutionary War. Nathaniel is also mentioned later as a tenant farmer in ‘One Tree Orchard’ and he later moves with the rest of the family from Longmeadow, Massachusetts to Marietta, Ohio. Chapman’s visit to his youngest sister, Sally and her husband, John Whitney to their Washington County, Ohio farm is mentioned in ‘Every Strike We are Hewn’. But it is Chapman’s sister Persis and her husband William Broome mentioned in ‘Persis Waiting’, who provided the most support for Chapman’s apple planting. According to Clark, in her well-researched reader’s notes, the Broome’s ‘probably served as an ever-moving base for her brother’s seed operation’. Clark quotes that ‘Robert Morgan notes…(Chapman) employed his brother-in-law to help with the nurseries…the couple moved to Perrysville and Mansfield, Ohio’ … (and that) When around 1834, John expanded into Indiana, Persis and William Broome followed’.

As mentioned above, I found Clark’s historical notes and the illustrations she includes just as interesting as her poems. Her book’s illustrations include sketches of John Chapman from 19th century magazines. There are also maps of the US indicating how far one could travel in a day, of the Underground railroad, of Mount Vernon, Ohio near which Chapman owned land and planted trees, and of the spread of the invasive stink week mentioned above. In addition are illustrations on grafting, a women’s hat decorated with with stuffed birds, the Blennerhassett Mansion, as well as historical photos of Deborah and Enoch Harris, Rosella Rice and the 5 cent US first class Johnny Appleseed commemorative stamp issued in 1966 (a treasure in my own boyscout stamp collection). Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman is surely a treasure-trove of information for poets, teachers, historians, etc., and could be used in primary to tertiary schools to teach how history is transformed into folklore and then into art.

Jayne Marek’s The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling, is another outstanding book worthy of mention in these pages. Marek, both a writer and a graphic artist, whose photographic work was featured in the AQ22 this past summer, brings these skills together to create a memorable poetry book. Its fifty-four poems are divided into three sections: ‘Just Out of Reach’, ‘Pacific Rim’, and ‘Of Grace’.

The first section is devoted to grief, loss and regret. The first poem entitled ‘Prognosis’ sets the tone for the rest of the book: ‘Raking and raking/ But the long tines cannot gather up grief/ That waits beyond the fence.’ This physical intervention is not enough to keep the natural world and death at bay. In the next stanza, Marek remarks: ‘Grief is like fear/Seen from another direction. The two hunch over,/ stare like stone monsters guarding a stoop.’ In the next poem, ‘Mistakes’, we see how hard the narrator is on herself regarding loss: ‘I’m unable to do over and find shelter.’ In the prose poem, ‘Drowned Mole’, she describes the discovery and removal of a dead mole from her garden. It is with regret that she moves and discards something so beautiful: ‘your fur sleek as a rich matron’s coat on opening night,…Forgive this stick that lifts at your ribs and hips.’ She meditates further on the meaning of life when she describes a jellyfish in a tank,

as if drifting meant nothing indecision
a turn in darkness toward an inaccessible shape
the purpose of lives mine

In ‘Fable’ Marek declares that her poems are not for those ‘who pine for a story that says life is simple/as this scalped green yard’. This poem describes how she sees two birds attacking a third bird as she drives by and wonders if she should intervene. ‘Clay’ is about a potter who dunks her fired pots in the same creek from which Walter, whom she identifies from a silver burn scar on his neck, … ‘is pulled… in the spring.’ ‘Deepest Snow’ is divided into two sections which takes its title from a line by Naomi Shihab Nye: ‘That was the deepest I ever went into the snow.’ Its first section is about the narrator being unexpectedly buried in snow up to her neck after losing her balance from a Norwegian ski path. The second uses ‘Flying snow’ to describe dementia ‘everything slippery and grayish white—’. There are many poems with malevolent winter scenes in this section in which glass shatters from the cold, ‘Cut Glass’ and snow hides tracks and seeds in ‘Winter Ruins’. In ‘So Late Winter’ it finally relents ‘two weeks into spring’ when a child lies in a closed casket. In ‘Elegiac Unsonnet for My Cat’ the poet writes of her cat “lost in the cold of winter, at the foot of a renewed/ Year, in a collapse of snow”. In ‘Would the Good People Please Stop Dying’ she describes the dangerous drive down a barely-visible, ice-and-mist covered road just before dawn.

The second section, ‘Pacific Rim’, is about the poet’s spiritual journey and observations in Asia, especially in Japan, India and China. The first poem, ‘Hands in Temple Smoke’ begins with a sort of purification ritual in an old wooden temple right ‘tucked between concrete walls’ where urban school children and uniforms and gray bicycle riders pass by. She observes how a woman in the temple: ‘reaches into the bitter wisps / of silver and white, waves them / toward her face, her heart’. In ‘Buddha Touch’, the poet enters seeks spiritural contact in the temple. ‘Panda Mania’ describes the ‘sweet smell’ of panda pancakes at the zoo (and all the surrounding merchandising of panda shoes, bags, etc.), which intrudes into the temple. In ‘The Woodturner’s Shop, Itsukushima’, the poet buys a small bowl from a traditional craftsperson. It is the first in a series of craftsperson poems others being ‘Nishijin Textile Center’ about the making of kimonos, ‘Grass Writing’ about traditional, carved Japanese script and landscapes, and ‘The Art of Teeth’ about traditional masks on display in a Tokyo museum.

With the poem, ‘Postcard from Assam’ the poet continues on her Asian travels in India’s Northeast. Here the poet comments on the ‘heat…in the morning dust,’ the ‘orange clouds in endless scarves/ too long to wrap up.’ She describes herself and her fellow travellers as “pale foreigners’ and as plants ‘who need water’ and who need to be ‘Lift(ed)…over the plains, over the spice plants for which the airliners of our escape are named—’. In ‘Lotus Eaters’ she’s in the Punjab; in ‘Her Feet’ at Mother Theresa’s tomb in India. The last four poems in this section, describe her experience and observations of a Ming section of the Great Wall, a ‘Carp Mobile’, ‘Kite-Flyers’, ‘A Coal Spill, Yunnan’, and looking at the flora and fauna in ‘Blue on Cang Shan’. The poet’s attention to detail helps the reader zoom into unforgettable details in each location. The last poem in this section about the mountain is especially poignant due to its description of details both small and large: the shadows created by butterfly wings and ‘a cable car ride / that swung over green/ windy-pine fingers’ and the ineffable: ‘thin air/ scraped by clouds.’

The last section of Marek’s book, ‘Of Grace’ details her removal to the West Coast after a teaching career in the Midwest. She writes about the island ferry, ocean waves, the emptying out of her former home. In ‘Woods Path’ in the Northwest, far from her former life, the poet asks: ‘what is best, what is death, what matters?’ Then by a ‘fallen trunk,’ the poet sees ‘the hollow under its feet filled with mud.’ — perhaps a meditation on ‘from dust to dust’.

Further poems in this section of special interest to this reviewer include ‘Sweet Spots for Owls’ with its syllabic count which captures the bird’s pauses and bursts of energy and which imitate the flow of the poet’s thoughts. ‘Of Grace’, the third section’s title poem describes the regeneration the poet feels as the natural world reaches out to her. In ‘I Miss My Life in Another Dimension’ the poet is transported back in her imagination to a house and a neighbourhood in the Midwest where she’d lived and taught for years. Here, the speaker talks about the house’s familiar ‘scuff marks at the doorway’, its ‘old oak trees in the yard…Deep-rooted in the black farmland earth.’ It was a house with ‘frequent gatherings…Of artists, friends, professors, students…who read my books, have my art photos mounted.’ ‘Of Grace’s’ intimate details show poet’s painful separation from what’s left behind as she moves forward in a new place, ‘six hundred miles from here.’

The title and final poem of the entire collection brings the book’s themes together. The tree surgeon as the poet, has feet planted: ‘one on a limb’. The natural world has its own character and power with a ‘tree-hand…(and) twigs with five leaf fingers…(that)slap…when I lift / the cutting tool and let it bite.’ These branches force the tree surgeon to hold his chainsaw back as if he were ‘standing / at the line, one arm cocked and heavy/gripping my favorite bowling ball.’ His swaying movement in the tree personifying the poet’s thoughts perhaps about the sometimes dangerous reductive art of poetry ‘going nowhere but cutting away/things I wish I didn’t need.’

I highly recommend both of these books due to their artistry, both poetic and visual, and due to their regenerative themes. I’m sure they will keep your lamp of inspiration burning during the shorter days and longer autumn and winter nights ahead. AQ