They Become Stars: History as Poetry

They Become Stars by Liz Marlow was the Slapering Hol Press’s 2019 Chapbook winner.

A Conversation with Deborah Kahan Kolb

When I first held Liz Marlow’s chapbook They Become Stars (Slapering Hol Press, 2020) in my hands, I was struck by the beauty of this finely crafted book. It’s a work of art to be carefully read and absorbed. The haunting photos, on the cover and throughout the slim volume, demand to be noticed, as Marlow’s poems about one of history’s darkest eras demand space in the reader’s heart and mind.

I reached out to the author to ask her about her inspiration and process for this work.

Deborah Kahan Kolb: First of all, congratulations on winning the 2019 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition. How would you describe your experience working with the editors of Slapering Hol Press as they shepherded your chapbook into being?

Liz Marlow: Thank you! I had an incredible experience working with the editors of Slapering Hol Press. They believed in my chapbook and provided solid suggestions for revision but gave me the creative license to revise as much as I wanted. However, I found that all of their suggestions and questions helped elevate my work in one way or another. Even if I thought that one of the editors might have misunderstood a line, I took it to heart and saw that the entire line or stanza was weak and needed to be revised. Even though the chapbook was published over a year ago, I have applied their general suggestions (such as playing more with enjambment and connecting images more thematically) to poems that I have recently drafted. I honestly could not have imagined a better experience.

DKK: Your work touches me deeply, not only because of its evident merit but because the subject speaks to me personally, as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors. Many Holocaust poems I’ve come across treat the topic in overarching, all-encompassing terms. Yet you manage to individualize the general atrocities, even to the point of making this brutal time in history accessible, in a way, by detailing specific places, names, and dates. What inspired you to delve into the particular historical figure of Chaim Rumkowski?

LM: My great-grandparents’ brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and cousins did not have the means to come to the United States before World War II. As far as we know, all of those family members perished in the Holocaust, because my great-grandparents stopped receiving mail from family members in Europe shortly after Germany invaded Poland. I wanted to piece together what happened to them. As I researched towns in which I know for certain my family lived and potential ghettos where they might have been deported, I stumbled upon Chaim Rumkowski: Judenrat Chairman of the Łódź Ghetto. What drew me first to him was the fact that he was both a victim of Nazi exploitation and a sexual predator. Some historians believe that had the war ended a year before it did, he would have been considered a hero for how many Jews he saved, because the Łódź Ghetto was the last that the Nazis liquidated due to him establishing more than a hundred factories inside the ghetto for Nazi supplies. As arguably the most powerful Judenrat Chairman in Nazi Germany, there is no way of knowing exactly how many women and children he sexually molested. Therefore, as I read about him, I wanted to give those powerless children a voice in my work. My goal was to get as specific as I could so that a reader could not walk away without remembering what happened to these children. I wanted these dead children to regain power. Even though he was an extreme personality, there were many extreme situations during the Holocaust, and over two hundred thousand Jews were sent to the Łódź Ghetto throughout World War II. Since he was Judenrat Chairman of the ghetto from its establishment in October 1939 until its liquidation in August 1944, his influence and power affected all of those people.  Additionally, even though these poems are detailed with specific dates, the experiences are universal in many ways in how some people in power exploit the powerless and in how some individuals will do whatever it takes to survive difficult situations while others give up.

DKK: Throughout the collection, but especially for speakers Miriam and Shayna, you use strong, colorful images of candy and fruit: “green gummy bears,” “tart apples,” the colors and flavors of “candy pebbles” in “Miriam Arrives at Chaim Rumkowski’s Orphanage”; and “plump/like plums” and “overripe cherries” in “Shayna Sees Chaim Rumkowski for the First Time.” Can you describe the connection of these images to the work as a whole?

LM: Because most people who have read about the Holocaust remember images of Muselmänner—starving humans reduced to skin and bones, I thought that the juxtaposition of starvation with descriptions of types of food that Jews had little or no access to in the ghetto world (such as fruit), would emphasize that hunger. In my mind, a person like Shayna, in her hunger, would be obsessed with food and see it everywhere—even in people’s faces. Additionally, Chaim Rumkowski was known for sexually exploiting women and children in the ghetto and in the orphanage where he worked before the war. To me, that was an extra layer of horror during an already horrific time for Jews. As I read about him, what struck me the most was the fact that he had control over who received the limited special food items (such as candy and fruit) and used that control specifically for the exploitation of children. Therefore, I was drawn towards using candy throughout the chapbook to highlight that exploitation.

DKK: Music—its sound and texture, its instruments, its connection to memory—is another powerful vehicle that drives many of your poems. How do you use music to convey ideas as they relate to the sounds of the Holocaust?

LM: It was extremely important to me that music be a driving force in the chapbook, because I had based the character, Miriam, on a real young musician Holocaust victim who loved music and played extremely well for how young she was up until Rumkowski molested her. Because she haunted me while I wrote the chapbook, there were times that I tried to imagine how she would describe the world around her. For example, even though the child that Miriam was based on had already died (via a Nazi guard) when the Vel d’Hiv roundup took place, I had her in mind when I wrote the “sound” section of “Vel d’Hiv Roundup of 7,000 Jews Detained in a Cycling Arena.”

DKK: The ghostly photographs included in the book add an element of otherworldliness to a collection rooted in the specifics of the young victims’ lived realities, their suffering and terror. What do the photos of these children express and how do they add texture to your poems?

LM: Lynn Butler created the double exposure photographs used for the cover and pages in the chapbook, which include a Jewish orphanage in France where all but three of forty children died in Auschwitz, overlaid with those child victims. Because the first three poems of the chapbook take place in a Jewish orphanage in Łódź, I thought of Lynn Butler’s work as photopoetry to accompany my poems. Since the photos of the children are negatives, they are ghostly. Even though her photos are from a different orphanage than the one I wrote about, they are appropriate to me because out of over 10,000 known school children from the Łódź Ghetto, there were only 27 known survivors. Miriam is a ghost. Shayna is a ghost. The children dancing on the cover of my chapbook are ghosts. I tried to do what Lynn Butler did with her photos—put faces to child victims from the Holocaust. Lynn Butler’s photos of the children were originally included in The Children of Izieu: A Human Tragedy by Serge Klarsfeld. I am extremely grateful that she worked with Serge Klarsfeld and the editors at Slapering Hol Press so that those photos could be included in my chapbook.  

DKK: Tell us about the Stars in the title of your book. I suspect there’s more to the title than the obvious connection to the yellow “Jude” stars of Nazi Germany.

LM: The title came from a poem that was originally published in Wilderness House Literary Review. This poem was included as an introductory poem in earlier drafts of They Become Stars, but I ended up taking it out, because its form did not fit with the rest of the chapbook.

Exits

cities’ stale facades crumble
like stacks of crackers
roaches, rats got into
everyone
exits

on never-ending roads
made of death
marches
cattle cars
gas
vans

each pebble forming roads
represents a lost man
woman child stars
become them
as they
become
stars

I wanted readers to make connections to celebrity, since I am sure that a large part of why Chaim Rumkowski did what he did was to survive the war and be praised as a hero for saving so many lives due to the choices he made (or rather, the choices that Nazis encouraged him to make). He wanted the power and status that people associate with celebrity—this is why he rode through the ghetto in a horse-drawn carriage while other inhabitants were crawling and starving to death. Another reason for Stars was the obvious association with celestial bodies: 6,000,000 people who wore yellow stars died. That is such a large number that is like looking up at the sky in the desert and trying to count the stars.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this interview. I am extremely grateful for you giving They Become Stars such a close read and coming up with such insightful questions.


Liz Marlow’s debut chapbook, They Become Stars, was the winner of the 2019 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition and was published in 2020. Additionally, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bitter Oleander, The Rumpus, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Yemassee, and elsewhere. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband and two children. Find more at lizmarlow.com


Title: They Become Stars
Author: Liz Marlow
Publisher: Slapering Hol Press, 2020
Price: $15


Deborah Kahan Kolb is the author of Escape of Light and Windows and a Looking Glass, a finalist for the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Contest (Finishing Line Press). Much of her work is informed by the unique experiences and challenges of growing up in the insular world of Hasidic Judaism. Deborah is a two-time recipient, for poetry and fiction, of the Bronx Council on the Arts BRIO Award, and her work has been selected as a finalist for the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award and an Honorable Mention for the 2019 Glimmer Train Fiction Open. Deborah is the producer of the award-winning short film Write Me, adapted from her poems. Her writing is published in 3Elements Review, Lunch TicketMom Egg Review, PRISMRise Up Review, The New Verse NewsVerse Daily, and others. Deborah is currently at work on a novel of linked short stories. For more, please visit deborahkahankolb.com.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Deborah Kahan Kolb

Deborah Kahan Kolb is the author of Escape of Light and Windows and a Looking Glass, a finalist for the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Contest (Finishing Line Press). Much of her work is informed by the unique experiences and challenges of growing up in the insular world of Hasidic Judaism. Deborah is a two-time recipient, for poetry and fiction, of the Bronx Council on the Arts BRIO Award, and her work has been selected as a finalist for the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award and an Honorable Mention for the 2019 Glimmer Train Fiction Open. Deborah is the producer of the award-winning short film Write Me, adapted from her poems. Her writing is published in 3Elements Review, Lunch TicketMom Egg Review, PRISMRise Up Review, The New Verse NewsVerse Daily, and others. Deborah is currently at work on a novel of linked short stories. For more, please visit deborahkahankolb.com.

Breaking

Breaking by Brittney Corrigan

Review by Risa Denenberg

Brittney Corrigan is a woman trying to make sense of the world using every power that blending breaking news events with imagination and metaphor will afford. In Breaking (Word Tech Editions, 2021), Corrigan displays a sensitive balance of empathy and craft while superimposing global trauma with details from her own life. These twenty-one poems are paired responses to events that occurred during the years 2013-2019; yet they seem timeless.

When I first opened Breaking, perusing at random, I ignored the postscripts included with each of the twenty-one poems, indicating which global event the poem was written “after,” such as “After the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park at the hands of trophy hunter Walter Palmer on July 1, 2015.” None of these poems actually need these postscripts, they are strong stuff on their own.

When I picked up Breaking again, with the goal of reviewing it, the dedication struck me:

For Angie Rinaldo Crowder,

my 8th grade social studies teacher,
who taught me the importance
of paying attention to the events of the world.

To be needlessly repetitive, this is a dedication to a social studies teacher, not a poetry mentor. This early lesson was not only internalized but considered, examined, and transformed by a poetic consciousness. And what better way to comprehend the bombings, mass murders, separation of children and families at the US-Mexican border, endangered animals, and catastrophic floods and fires? And, I should add, some wondrous events: “the female pilot who safely landed Southwest Airlines flight 1380;” the escape of “Ollie a female bobcat” from the Smithsonian National Park Zoo; or “the first all-female spacewalk.”

Floating above “After the suicide bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England that killed 22 people on May 20,1917,” is the poem “Put Your Hearts Up,” in which a “cousin’s 12-year old daughter / is dying.” This close-to-home tragedy is lined up with the mass murder. “This world in which freak accident / and planned evil turn out the same.” It goes on,

But patching up one hole leaves another gaping.
Hearts are fracturing all around us, all across
this organ of our earth. Our fear, our grief, is audible
and persists. And yet our bodies cleave us together,
quicken and pulse.

Other poems also carry the weight of tragedy mixed with credible hopefulness. “Unflap” is written in the voice of a person surviving a harrowing emergency plane landing who feels,

The gravity of our hearts plunging
for what we’ve lost. Gripping onto
each other, remembering what’s worth
saving as the mess of us lands.  

In “Steller’s Jay the Week of the Boston Marathon Bombings,” Corrigan considers her own culpability when,

The young cat whose life I saved carries
a Steller’s jay in his mouth, the blue
form limp on either side of his jaws.

            . . .

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Somewhere behind
him in the trees the little jays call from their nest:
their blue mouths open.

And then she juxtaposes her “responsibility for this rending” with that of the mother of a murderer,   

She would still run to him now, still gather
him into her arms, rock him like a child—
no matter what is lashed to his chest.

Corrigan finds a special place in these poems for wildlife: the bobcat escaping from the zoo; Cecil the lion in Nairobi’s National Park; the mother orca, Tahlequah, “who carried her dead calf for more than two weeks” while “immigrant families were being separated at the United States border with Mexico.” Here she muses, “The orcas are better than we at buoying up our own.”

In “Truck Carrying Live Eels Overturns on Highway 101,” she pictures the eels ultimate fate “not to be shipped off to Korea,” but instead becoming roadkill—

xxxxxxxxxx[a] viscous mass of lives
across the pavement, racing the bulldozer,
the push of its knobby, rolling track
folding them on top of each other
as if they were no more than snow,
clearing a path through the wreckage
in which no one was injured.

The irony of that quiet last line is heartrending.

We each bear awful news in our own way, pay attention to the things we feel moved to respond to, try to protect ourselves from becoming overwhelmed, suicidally depressed, or callously disconnected. I am particularly sensitive to images of trauma and for this reason, after the events of 9/11/01 in New York City, I gave away my television, and have not owned one since. In Breaking, Corrigan paints dreadful images with words and puts forth a response (something I’m not always able to do) while making a valiant effort to not overwhelm, depress, or paralyze her readers. There is a feminist consciousness here as well, sharing fears and yearnings for a young daughter in “On Telling My Nine-Year-Old Daughter that Hillary Won’t be President,” and in praise poems such as “Astrosisters,” where, “two women navigate the Space Station in weightless / calm.”

I suspect that this practice of responding swiftly to events by writing poems (three of these were published in Rattle: Poets Respond) is a source of emotional self-care as well as a challenge to connect one woman’s life with larger events going on simultaneously. This engenders a sort of humanity on all things, large and small, human or fauna.

Corrigan can say, “The tide is against us. The children slip and slip and slip away,” but also,

From this ruin, we knead kindness
into loaves, then break them. The fishes
slip and slip from our outstretched palms.


Photo credit: Nina Johnson Photography

Brittney Corrigan is the author of the poetry collections Navigation, 40 Weeks, and most recently, Breaking, a chapbook responding to events in the news over the past several years. Daughters, a series of persona poems in the voices of daughters of various characters from folklore, mythology, and popular culture, is forthcoming from Airlie Press in September, 2021. Corrigan was raised in Colorado and has lived in Portland, Oregon for the past three decades, where she is an alumna and employee of Reed College. She is currently at work on her first short story collection and on a collection of poems about climate change and the Anthropocene age. For more information, visit http://brittneycorrigan.com/


Title: Breaking
Author: Brittney
Publisher: Word Tech Editions
ISBN: 978-1625493736
Price: $16


Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state where she works as a nurse practitioner. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and curator at The Poetry Café. Her chapbook, POSTHUMAN, was the finalist in the Floating Bridge 2020 chapbook contest.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Submit Anytime!

Small independent presses that accept poetry chapbooks on a rolling basis:

Bottlecap Press

Bottlecap Press is a millennial publishing outfit dedicated to authors’ rights and fair pay, on a constant journey to explore the infinite possibilities of literary multimedia. Founded in Skagway, Alaska in 2014 and currently located in Joshua Tree, California, we are here to showcase the best in artistic talent through the works of visionary authors whose wonderful books speak for themselves. We are publishers of poetry and fiction, chapbooks and full lengths, and all of our books are lovingly handcrafted on demand.

Manuscript submission guidelines:
We’re accepting chapbook submissions for Bottlecap Features, a weekly chapbook series from Bottlecap Press. All genres are welcome, and the maximum page count is 36. Please send submissions to bottlecappress@gmail.com

Sylvia Byrne Pollack

Sylvia Byrne Pollack, a scientist turned poet, has published in Floating Bridge ReviewCrab Creek Review and Clover, among other print and online journals. A two-time Pushcart nominee, she won the 2013 Mason’s Road Literary Award, was a 2019 Jack Straw Writer and will be a 2021 Mineral School Resident. Her debut full-length collection Risking It is published by Red Mountain Press (2021.)

Sylvia Byrne Pollack

Postcards from the Lilac City

Postcards from the Lilac City, by Mary Ellen Talley

Review by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

Mary Ellen Talley and I have attended many of the same workshops over the past decade, and I was already familiar with her work when I learned of the publication of her chapbook, Postcards from the Lilac City (Finishing Line Press, 2021).  I’ve heard her describe this chapbook as “nostalgia-based,” but if nostalgia/memory is the seed from which this collection of poems sprouted and thrived, then I say keep on tending this tree. The fruit is delicious.

I also was drawn to this book because my mother loved lilacs. When I was growing up in Western New York, we drove to Rochester, NY each spring to the Lilac Festival in Highland Park. That park was the source of the lilacs that now flourish in Talley’s birthplace of Spokane!

Postcards from the Lilac City is an homage to place and era. However, it is not limited to Spokane, WA, known officially as The Lilac City, or to Talley’s school years. There’s a wide range of topics, from eating yak butter while traveling to baking shamrock cookies for the family.

The book is prefaced with a poem describing Pan’s infatuation with the wood nymph, Syringa, whose name is the genus name for lilacs. Three sections follow: “Bike Riding Before Helmets,” “Spokane Postcards,” and “After Vietnam.”

“Bike Riding Before Helmets” focuses on the poet’s early life. In “End of the Trolley Park,” we encounter the carousel where her parents first met. Strong sounds and dense details such as “two Chinese dragon benches / breathe fire” enhance the visual effects. They pick up the reader, carry us to another time, but by the end of the first section of the poem “The stallions are sleeping” and “The cemeteries are full / of riders.” The rebirth of the carousel in 1975, is told in declarative voice, rich with physical and emotional details, “as memories glisten spinning counterclockwise.”

The memories are mixed. For example, there is the contrast of a bomb shelter vs. the protection provided by the presence of the Poor Clare Monastery in “faith in the lilac city” –with the all lowercase title adding an ironic twist. A sometimes-troubled relationship with her father resolves into understanding in “As I Pursue You”:

what I most recall is your steady hand
grasping the back of my bicycle

and running beside me until I could not fall.

Talley uses various poetic forms—even a duplex. In a Jericho Brown-inspired poem, “Duplex: We Had a Real Fred and Ethel in the Lilac City,” we meet Talley’s parents, the real Fred and Ethel, to whom the book is dedicated.

The final two poems recounting the speaker’s childhood relive teenage years. A Stone Man on a festival float brims with not-so-latent adolescent sexuality. My favorite of this group is “Butterfly” which captures teenage brio in the speaker’s casual description of herself:

I, in my herringbone pleated skirt,
blue anklets and white Peter Pan collar,
history and French books tossed in the back seat.

The poem includes the maneuvers required to start her hand-me-down car: opening the hood, flipping up the butterfly hinge, getting into the car to turn on the ignition, getting back out to flip down the butterfly, then idling in PARK while listening to the radio and watching her classmates head off to the bus. She then has an hour to spend with her boyfriend under a lilac (where else?) before picking up her mother. So much of a teenage life is captured in 34 lines.

The poems in “Spokane Postcards” contain the eponymous postcard poems. The first stanza of each is a description of place, the postcard image, followed by a message, generally from Mary Ellen but sometimes from her grandma. They have the feel of a flipped over haibun.  The descriptions include place, season and senses. The messages use the casual voice of postcards to family and friends.

“Shadle Park” extends the teenage romancing of “Butterfly” with brief declarative and imperative lines: “Kiss the space between his teeth.” And, later, skin evokes the omnipresent lilacs:

pull petal soft sheer layers
from burnt skin.
Drop it all on an ant hill.

Probably the funniest line in the book is in the poem “Wandemere” in a message to a friend about experiences while traveling in Asia: “I am still so Spokane.”

The final section, “After Vietnam,” includes poems of marriage and maturity.  In “The Things We Carry,” memorable lines, such as “you and I carried desire / like youth’s cranking jump rope” are juxtaposed with dense descriptive passages. Later in “Fabric of Worry,” we find Talley’s judicious use of white space.

An homage to Gertrude Stein, “Occupation of Lilacs,” overwhelms the senses with the sight and smell of lilacs, in true Stein fashion. The lilting “Prism” delights with its nursery rhyme rhythms and nonsense, e.g., “Old onions cry out once pumpkin seeds twinkle.”

The poem, “Since you ask how do we love a sibling (enough)” uses a clever device. Lines are divided into two columns and lines in the right hand column in each stanza begin successively with H,E,L,I,X. The poem further explores and pulls together family stories we heard about earlier in the book. It is a moving tribute to family and the DNA ties that bind.

In the final poem, Talley considers “the movie of my life” in a taut, beautiful series of images of a tapestry,

ripped
in those years of hanging
beside a stone staircase.

There is much to savor in this eclectic collection of poems. Talley takes us on a carousel ride through time and space and in her quiet voice returns us a little more grounded, more appreciative of family, more aware of the beauty that leavens life.


Mary Ellen Talley was born and raised in Spokane, Washington, the Lilac City, and then migrated to Seattle where she and her husband raised their two children. She earned degrees at the University of Washington and worked for many years as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in Seattle area public schools. Her poems have been published in numerous journals including Raven Chronicles, Banshee, What Rough Beast, Flatbush Review, and Ekphrastic Review, as well as in six anthologies, among which are All We Can Hold and Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workplace. Her poetry has received two Pushcart Nominations. She reviews for several journals including Compulsive Reader and Asheville Poetry Review.



Title: Postcards from the Lilac City
Author: Mary Ellen Talley
Publisher: Finishing Line Press
Price: $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-64662-317-4



Sylvia Byrne Pollack, a scientist turned poet, has published in Floating Bridge ReviewCrab Creek Review and Clover, among other print and online journals. A two-time Pushcart nominee, she won the 2013 Mason’s Road Literary Award, was a 2019 Jack Straw Writer and will be a 2021 Mineral School Resident. Her debut full-length collection Risking It is published by Red Mountain Press (2021.)



Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Happy Birthday, a little late …

The Poetry Cafe Online turned 2 years old on 3/19/21 !!

The cafe has published

58 Chapbook Reviews
6 Poet Interviews
Reviews by 29 Guest Poets

If you’re reading this, send The Cafe a little love, keep those chapbooks coming, write those reviews, and celebrate poets, chapbooks, and small independent presses.

Kudos to presses whose books have been reviewed or are forthcoming at The Cafe! And let me know if I’m forgetting someone!

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Winter Texts



The Oriole & The Ovenbird

The Oriole & The Ovenbird by Angela Patten

Review by Jeri Theriault

Like an experienced birder, the speaker of the poems in Angela Patten’s The Oriole & The Ovenbird (Kelsay Books, 2021), practices patience and careful observation while amassing an impressive list of species—nearly 30 in these twenty-one poems. The poet moves far beyond a lyrical description of birds, however, as she examines a human’s place in nature’s rich tapestry.

Patten delights in painterly descriptions, presenting such images as a “cardinal fully incarnadined,” in “Spring Comes to A Dying Decade”; and a swallowtail settling on a “feathery dill stalk,” in “Slow Time.” She captures the mystery of birds’ “inscrutable errands” and their music—“teacher teacher, peter peter, pretty girl” in “Evening Light at Oakledge”.

In “After Cataract Surgery” the speaker’s observations grow more metaphoric. Though she sees more clearly the “deeper yellow” goldenrod and the “tiny basket” of Queen Anne’s lace, the removal of a “gauzy cataract” also triggers a deeper understanding of her Irish father who lost an eye “to clerical brutality.” She hopes her clearer vision might restore “some crucial balance / in the universe.”

Another poem featuring the speaker’s father includes one of several references to corvids. In “Crowtime” a mass of crows gathers “into a solid-color jigsaw puzzle.” The crows’ impressive reliance on community reminds the poem’s speaker of the ritual of pub musicians, especially her father, who,

showed up night after night
to take his place in an ancient ritual
to play his fiddle, not by standing out
but by fitting in

“Crowtime” also suggests that death is part of nature’s great “jigsaw puzzle.” By the poem’s end, the narrator’s father has settled into the “collective darkness,” echoing my own quiet settling in among the birds throughout these poems.

In “Tracks,” surgery scars on the speaker’s arm are raven tracks that lead backward to the “battlefields of childhood” and forward to “my mother’s crowsfeet / inching toward my eyes.” This poem calls to mind the twin corvids in another poem, “Ravens, with one raven “forward-thinking” and the other, “memory” looking back. The speaker places herself squarely into this continuum.

“A Cacophony of Crows” contrasts the community of crows– “the sky full of their feathered shapes”– with solitary humans who “choose condominiums” to indicate their “place in the pecking order.” “Species-ism” also shows humans keeping their distance from one another and from the natural world behind “invisible fences.” “The Thing with Feathers” offers a non-corvid image of avian community. A greedy starling at the bird feeder “ascends to almost holiness” when he joins “a murmuration of thousands.”

Full of vivid description and quiet introspection, The Oriole & The Ovenbird offers a strong message about the power of stillness and observation, awareness of the creatures around us, and above all, the importance of realizing we are already a part of nature’s “jigsaw puzzle.”


Angela Patten’s publications include four poetry collections, The Oriole & the Ovenbird (Kelsay Books), In Praise of Usefulness (Wind Ridge Books), Reliquaries (Salmon Poetry, Ireland) and Still Listening (Salmon Poetry, Ireland), and a prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories From An Irish Childhood (Wind Ridge Books). Her work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she now lives in Burlington, Vermont, where she is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Vermont English Department.


Title: The Oriole & The Ovenbird
Author: Angela Patten
Publisher: Kelsay Press, 2021; 40 pages
Price: $16


Jeri Theriault is a Maine poet. Her publications include the award-winning In the Museum of Surrender (2013) and Radost, my red (2016). Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Texas Review, The American Journal of Poetry, The Asheville Poetry Review and Poets Reading the News. She has published reviews in The Collagist, The Adirondack Review and The Rumpus, among others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Rise Up Review and a reader for Vida Review. A Fulbright recipient and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jeri holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.Her thirty-four- year teaching career included six years as English department chair at the International School of Prague. She won the 2019 Maine Literary Award for Poetry (Short Works). www.jeritheriault.com


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe online.

Jeri Theriault

Jeri Theriault is a Maine poet. Her publications include the award-winning In the Museum of Surrender (2013)and Radost, my red (2016). Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Texas Review, The American Journal of Poetry, The Asheville Poetry Review and Poets Reading the News. She has published reviews in The Collagist, The Adirondack Review and The Rumpus, among others.She is an associate poetry editor for the Rise Up Review and a reader for Vida Review. A Fulbright recipient and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jeri holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.Her thirty-four- year teaching career included six years as English department chair at the International School of Prague. She won the 2019 Maine Literary Award for Poetry (Short Works). www.jeritheriault.com

Jeri Theriault

Suzanne Simmons

Suzanne Simmons’ poems, essays and photographs have been published in the NYTimes, Fifth Wednesday, Rattle, Smartish Pace, The Baltimore Review and numerous other journals. Her chapbook In September They Draw Down the Lake was released by Alexandria Quarterly Press in 2020. She volunteers for Monarch Watch, The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, and lives in Eliot, ME. Visit her at http://www.suzannesimmons.net