Real Rhyming Poems

Real Rhyming Poems, by J.M. Allen

Published by Kelsay Books, 2022
Reviewed by Nikki Gonzalez

If you’ve ever held a poetry chapbook in your hands, you know their comparative lightness. They don’t have the physical heft of a novel or even most magazines. Yet their brevity–the majority no more than 50 poems–is what gives them their very weighty punch. The strength of a chapbook is in the concentrated emotion they deliver. And it can be quite a wallop.

J.M. Allen, with his collection, Real Rhyming Poems, delivers his strike in smart, witty rhyme. One could easily underestimate the impact of this style, brush it aside as just an observational comedian in couplets or Seinfeld-in-verse.  But I invite you to look beyond the humor and see the compilation that, while not taking itself so seriously, profoundly allows for connections. I don’t, for example, need to live in Minnesota to imagine just how cold my ears would be in winter and who wouldn’t laugh, albeit with a knowing little ache, at the experience of typing out a heated email. In “An Email Never Sent,” Allen rhymes:

I wrote an e-mail; it was how I reacted.
I was about to hit Send, but a text got me distracted.
The content came to me fast, as my anger slowly rose.
I just kept on typing, with the sharp words that I chose.

The email, of course, isn’t sent after an interruption forces him to re-read his words (and it’s probably for the best!), as Allen concludes, “And so after the delay/ my draft e-mail I re-read,/ And then it struck me–I should just call him instead!”

The poem “Acknowledgement” is perhaps the best example of Allen’s ability to share in the human experience as he writes specifically of the impact of connecting with others through smiles. This poem, a mere four lines in length, creates the emotional encounter of a simple nod or wave in passing–“a feeling that is priceless”:

If you smile and say hi, it might just brighten my day.
Or nod to me in passing, nothing you need to say.
When I’m driving my route, a wave to me would be niceness.
And you may make me smile, a feeling that is priceless.

Reading the poems in Real Rhyming Poems feels like taking a walk with J.M. Allen through his neighborhood, through the seasons, through various terrains–from beaches to hiking trails to the prairie, and through his daily routine as he points out all the details you might otherwise miss. As you synchronize your pace with his, page by page, learning his stride, becoming accustomed to his style, you begin to develop a sense of anticipation, knowing a smart twist will come at the end of each of his pieces. You expect it. You ready yourself for it. You’re giddy with the promise of a knowing, connecting laugh or “aha!” moment.

But the walk Allen takes us on, though it begins easy and fun and playful, begins a climb into observations of more adult issues. The poems go from airy Shel Silverstein-esque read-alouds and move gradually to weighty reflections.  I began to feel the gradation change in the poem “The Lawnkeeper” (published in my own literary publication, The Parliament Literary Journal), a reflection on “that” neighbor–the one who sprays chemicals on the lawn or whose landscaping machinery is loud and annoying and used way too early on a Sunday morning.

Chemicals are often sprayed on it,
and I think ants get it the worst.
No insects at all are tolerated,
even though they lived there first.

Many of us will relate; we laugh knowingly; we connect. But this time when we laugh along, there’s a slight sting. It’s not just disrupted weekend sleep that Allen’s rhymes go after; he also swings a pointed jab at the ignorance and ego that prefers an immaculate lawn over the damage it causes to the environment. We climb higher as Allen goes on to reflect on micro-managing bosses (who end up getting the promotions, incompetent as they are!) in “Eruption”; gun ownership in “Why I Bought a Gun”; and health issues in “Living at the Hospital”, a poem that begins:

I’m mostly living at the hospital,
sure wish I could be done.
I keep needing to give my birth date,
my life should be more fun.

Most likely, we’ve been there too, have given our birth dates over and over to nurses, and technicians, and doctors as well. It feels like an absurdity. And we also understand that, to be in that situation, something serious underlies.

Allen concludes with “Dragons,” perhaps the most serious poem in the collection. Masked in fairy-tale metaphor and layered with his trademark wit, this concluding piece closes our walk together with an undeniable parting squeeze. The final couplet unites all his strengths–the smart rhyme, the unique perspective, the ability to connect to us:  “To calm my nerves, a drink from my flagon / And I promise this time to slay my dragon.”

With each of the poems in the chapbook, we can find connections–with Allen and with each other, sharing common experiences of life that unite, and enjoying a little chuckle about them. These poems are seemingly simple, but impactful indeed.


J. M. Allen is an electrical engineer and parent, who enjoys writing rhyming poems. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, and has been a longtime resident of Rochester, Minnesota.


Real Rhyming Poems, J.M. Allen
Kelsay Books, 2022
ISBN 978-1-63980-128-2
40 pages, $16.50


Nikki Gonzalez lives in New Jersey where she is a professor of Psychology and publishes The Parliament Literary Journal.


Risa Denenberg is the Curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Ghost Moose

Ghost Moose, by Margo Taft Stever
Published by Kattywompus Press

Reviewed by Mary Ellen Talley

Margo Taft Stever’s poems in “Ghost Moose” are beautifully written even as they illustrate the cruel conditions to which humans often subject animals. These poems offer a window into current ecological concerns about the reduction of biodiversity among and within species as well as how deeply this poet values the lives of all creatures.

Some poems combine warning and lament. This poet writes both lyrically and precisely describing human-inflicted animal cruelty. However, when Stever’s poems refer to people within her circle, the poems suggest rather than recount personal details.

Stever sets the thematic stage in her first poem, “Three Ravens’ Watch,” a poem written from the perspective of ravens watching skaters in the painting, “Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Traps,” by Peter Bruegel. Such a poem reminds readers that there has always been human folly. With an air of superiority, representatives of the animal kingdom castigate humans of an earlier era, admonishing them about ongoing calamities:

This harshest winter attracts you to skate, to forget
your misery, scrawling icy patterns. Ravens,
three of us, stand sentinel, noticing
your slow-witted motions, your ugly sprawls.

//
You who now skate, do not forget that you will return
to your endless winter, bread riots, witch
hunts, old widowed women targeted, and frozen birds
falling from the sky. We know that you want to eat us.

In an easy transition from the first poem to the title poem, “Ghost Moose,” once again we see children at a river, this time during a mild winter when ticks multiply and afflict moose calves, as “their mothers / witness starvation from blood loss.” Such poignant description calls to this reader’s mind assorted contemporary news photos of mothers hovering near their own children dying of starvation and disease in impoverished or war-torn countries. Stever’s poems call for respect of all sentient beings as she sets animals’ survival and well-being on par with that of humans .

Stever’s poems stand alone as well as share themes and images that glide smoothly from page to page. We know the name of the mental hospital and the names of drugs in Stever’s “Locked Ward” poems. However, we don’t know names of the people confined. It seems intriguing that the first “Locked Ward” poem abuts one about a mother’s death in “Calling Mother After She Died.”

These and other poems abound with images from nature. Stever expands the meanings of her poems by interjecting intimate commentary. For example, in the midst of the above poem, Stever asserts “I have forgotten what bound // us together, mother to daughter.”

Confinement of humans and animals is a through line in this chapbook, as with the three “Locked Ward” poems arranged within the chapbook. In addition, the poem, “Birds at the Zoo,” contemplates how Inca terns appear struggling to exit captivity, whereas the double-wattled cassowary freezes as if in “multi-colored / contemplation of her lot.” This short poem may give a reader pause to reflect how such animal response tendencies inform the human condition, how humans deal with stress and conflict.

In a subsequent poem, it becomes impossible to ignore the stress and searing cruelty imposed by crate confinement of pigs in factory farms. “Litany of the Sow” juxtaposes childhood rhymes with statistics of piglets crushed by the weight of their mothers. The musical poetic devices serve both as contrast and to ease reader tension in a difficult-to-stomach poem. How to ignore the pain of:

Fourteen piglets suckle at her teats;
she shifts her body to keep from losing
limbs. Hear her moans,
                                        bones tear in her skin.

These poems combine anger, prayer, and plea. By following the poem, “Litany of the Sow,” with a poem given the title of a Christian hymn, “Agnus Dei,” Stever’s words allude to “Lamb of God” and invoke “mercy.” This poem describes encroachment of our housing and malls on animal habitat as well as how humans torment animals “just for fun.” Stever’s Biblical reference reminds us of a moral and spiritual call to be not only our brother’s keeper but to honor the lives of all sentient beings. We are called to keep them safe. Humans have inflicted “the sins of the world,” as the poem lists, such as “swamps bulldozed for sun / seekers, McMansions, / strip malls, five-acre “horse farms.’” The last verse of the poem begins lyrically as “Sunlight slants into the victim / pool, missing species, radiant / particles from the past” and ends by intoning, as in prayer, “Have mercy on us.”

This poet is not one to harangue. Let the reader intuit from powerful depiction. One of the last poems, “Beloved Child,” is composed from a letter by the poet’s great-great grandmother, as she lay dying, to her infant daughter. This poem resonates with earlier poems about the poor sow and the mother moose. Contrast this poignant epistolary poem of love with cruelty depicted in the couplets of “The Ballad of the Dolphin”:

Fishermen did not want to compete
with you, but killing you was not enough.

How they used the screams
of several to slaughter more.

Other soothing and ironic poems serve to lighten the harsh truths of this chapbook. Stever’s poems invoke concerns about loss of biodiversity, sometimes called the sixth (mass) extinction. She has written a brief elegy of the Anthropocene. Several poems speak of birthing, of motherhood, and of children. Species, even the human species, seek continuity, and we cannot live without hope and/or mercy.

The final poem of “Ghost Moose,” “End of Horses,” is written “from the end / of the time zone” when “nothing survived after // the horses were slaughtered.” Does this reference anticipate the end of the Anthropocene? One might read the poem as a cautionary premonition.

Reading this gem of a chapbook illustrates Stever’s own dictum. In an interview at The Chapbook Interview, she says, “The poet must have something to say. The poet must write out of passion and necessity rather than an attempt to showcase the latest craft trend.”

Stever’s chapbook is a moving example of ecopoetic literature that deserves wide reading. However long our civilization lasts, poems like these bear witness, inspire, and give us pause to do what we can to make a more positive impact for all species.


Margo Taft Stever’s poetry collections include Cracked Piano (CavanKerry Press, 2019); Ghost Moose (Kattywompus Press, 2019); The Lunatic Ball (Kattywompus Press, 2015); The Hudson Line (Main Street Rag, 2012); Frozen Spring (Mid-List Press First Series Award, 2002) and Reading the Night Sky (Riverstone Press Poetry Chapbook Competition, 1996). She co-authored Looking East: William Howard Taft and the 1905 U.S. Diplomatic Mission to China (Zhejiang University Press, 2012). Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including Verse Daily; Prairie Schooner; Connecticut Review; “poem-a-day” on poets.org, Academy of American Poets; Cincinnati Review; upstreet; Plume; and Salamander. She is founder of the Hudson Valley Writers Center and founding and current co-editor of Slapering Hol Press. She lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York. For more information: https://margotaftstever.com/.


Title: Ghost Moose
Author: Margo Taft Stever
Publisher: Katywompus Press, 2018
Price: $12



Mary Ellen Talley is a former speech-language pathologist. Her poems have appeared widely in publications including Raven Chronicles, Flatbush Review, and Banshee, as well as in several poetry anthologies. Her poems have received two Pushcart nominations. Book reviews by Talley appear online and in print journals, such as Compulsive Reader, Crab Creek Review, Entropy, Sugar House Review and Empty Mirror. Her chapbook, “Postcards from the Lilac City,” was published in 2020 by Finishing Line Press.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Sharon Waller Knutson

Sharon Waller Knutson is a retired journalist who lives in Arizona. She has published several poetry books, including My Grandmother Smokes Chesterfields (Flutter Press, 2014), What the Clairvoyant Doesn’t Say and Trials & Tribulations of Sports Bob (Kelsay Books, 2021), and Survivors, Saints and Sinners (Cyberwit, 2022). Her work has also appeared in Black Coffee Review, Terror House Review, Trouvaille Review, One Art, Mad Swirl, The Drabble, Gleam, Spillwords, Muddy River Review, Verse-Virtual, Your Daily Poem, Red Eft Review, The Five-Two and The Song Is…

Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion

Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion, by Kelly Sargent

Published by Kelsay Books, 2022
Review by Sharon Waller Knutson

Kelly Sargent’s powerful memoir in verse, Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion is a profound love story of twin sisters, Kelly, hard of hearing, and Renée, deaf, born in a world they didn’t understand and that didn’t understand them, and the loss felt when they separated at the age of twelve.

I met Kelly when she made her debut on Verse-Virtual in February with two poems about her twin sister and I emailed her to tell her how much I enjoyed the poems. She sent me a copy of the manuscript and I was charmed and impressed with her wonderful writing.


Abandoned at birth in Luxembourg and adopted at age three months by an Air Force couple, Sargent writes about deep feelings of responsibility for her younger, smaller twin who cannot hear her own cries because she is born deaf. Kelly takes on the roles of teacher and sign language interpreter.

With exquisite imagery, striking symbolism, and spellbinding storytelling, Sargent expresses a range of emotions, from helplessness, frustration, and sorrow to delight, pride, and joy as the twins become mirrors and learn to rely on each other. When Renée enters the Austine School for the Deaf in Vermont when they are twelve, Kelly feels a loss as deeply as a death and must search for her own identity.

Each poem is powerful and poignant with lines as sharp as a slingshot that propelled me into each one, beginning with “Seeing Voices”:

My twin sister used to shut her eyes
to shut me up when we argued.
Born deaf, she held the advantage in any girlhood fight.
I had no choice but to be instantly
muted;
her eyelids,
a remote control when static sounded like me.

I was mesmerized by an introduction to another form of communication in “Her Voice”:

One day, she would hear
with the nut-brown eyes, then lidded shut,
and speak a language that was already foreign to them.
foreign because they had four ears that weren’t broken,
    or because
they had four ears
that were broken
.

In “Fruits of Labor,” I was fascinated by Sargent’s demonstration of how she taught her deaf twin to form speech:

I wrap your tiny hand around my throat,
size identical to your own,
for you to feel the sounds vibrating within.

blue-ber-ry
ba-nan-a
straw-ber-ry

In “Rumors of Spring,” there is the bittersweet letting go and pride as Sargent watches her deaf twin find her place by attending a special school for the Deaf:

Sunlight illuminated you
and struck you
luminescent.

I watched you play in teal-tinted rains
and marveled as your auburn hair
absorbed autumn’s last dusk.

“Kissing the Horizon” tantalizes with exquisite imagery as Sargent experiences separating from her twin:

Barefoot on the beach swings,
we used to watch the horizon bob —
where sunset unfolds in sleepy, dusty-rose hues
and sunrise yawns,
stretching golden limbs to greet the day.

Cradled in wispy silver threads
cast by a spool of smattered stars, we were
wrapped securely in a vast, uninterrupted galaxy.

Rich in symbolism, “The Quaking Aspen” powerfully speaks to Sargent’s mourning the loss of her twin and beginning her journey of self-discovery:

Dawn curtsies, and I weave the woods, recalling the ghost of my twin sister
by my side, gauzy fingers fluttering in a brittle breeze
.

I shuffle at stubborn crabgrass long covering trails
once carved by four leather sandal soles.
She always wore red.
Parents too easily hoodwinked by identical, ten-year-old imps
had colored me blue.

I seek her still.
My mirror.
I seek it, still. 

“My Voice” is stunning as Sargent shows the beauty in deaf self-expression:

I am Deaf.
My fingers speak

A coiffed paintbrush in my grasp,
my voice streaks turquoise and magenta
across a parched canvas.

In her swan song, “Poetry in Motion,” Sargent reveals the utter joy and excitement of the twins’ reunion and reveling in each other’s company:

Sipping from crystals imbibed
with rosé for me and white for you,
we grow giddy between samples of moonlight,
creamy and smooth on crisp linen.

Fingers spin tales before firelight
as silver-bangled spools unwind syllables
and pastel-polished nails paint on invisible canvases
.

Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion enlightens on the profound power of love, what it means to hear and be heard, and the mirrors through which we see, lose, and find ourselves again. I didn’t want to put the book down, and will be begging for the sequel.


Born hard of hearing and adopted in Luxembourg, Kelly Sargent grew up with a deaf twin sister in Europe and the U.S., and worked with deaf students in educational settings. She also wrote for SIGNews, a national newspaper for the Deaf. She is currently a Vermont writer and artist whose works, including a 2021 Best of the Net nominee, have appeared in more than fifty literary publications. She is the author of Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion (Kelsay Books, 2022), also a finalist in the Cordella Press Poetry Chapbook Contest. She also authored Lilacs & Teacups (Cyberwit, 2022), a book of modern haiku, and a poem recognized in the international 2022 Golden Haiku competition was on display in Washington, D.C.  She serves as Creative Nonfiction Editor of The Bookends Review, as well as a reviewer for an organization whose mission is to make visible the artistic expression of sexual violence survivors. Visit at http://www.kellysargent.com.


Title: Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion
Author: Kelly Sargent
Publisher: Kelsay Books, 2022
Price: $17.00
Also available in Kindle format


Sharon Waller Knutson is a retired journalist who lives in Arizona. She has published several poetry books, including My Grandmother Smokes Chesterfields (Flutter Press, 2014), What the Clairvoyant Doesn’t Say and Trials & Tribulations of Sports Bob (Kelsay Books, 2021), and Survivors, Saints and Sinners (Cyberwit, 2022). Her work has also appeared in Black Coffee Review, Terror House Review, Trouvaille Review, One Art, Mad Swirl, The Drabble, Gleam, Spillwords, Muddy River Review, Verse-Virtual, Your Daily Poem, Red Eft Review, The Five-Two and The Song Is…


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Lori Green

Lori Green

Lori Green is a Canadian writer who has been writing poetry and dark fiction since she first picked up a pen. Her work has been accepted in various publications including Ghost Orchid Press, Dark Rose Press, Black Hare Press, and more. She studied English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and now lives along the shores of Lake Erie. She is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter @LoriG1408 or on Facebook.

All Forgotten Now

All Forgotten Now: Poems by Jennifer Mariani

Published by Off Topic Publishing
Review by Lori Green

Home.

It is such a difficult concept for some to wrap their head around, especially if one has spent most of their life in a state of constant disconnection, untethered yet still bound to a distant time and place. In Jennifer Mariani’s All Forgotten Now, she brings us on a very personal journey as she explores the world around her, struggling to belong, unable to let go of a country that is an integral part of her soul.

I first became familiar with Jennifer’s poetry through a mutual writing group and at Off Topic Publishing, where I have served occasionally as a guest judge for their monthly contest. Jennifer has taken home their poetry prize twice, and she continues to impress with her ability to draw me right into a poem with only a few words, taking me with her on a fresh path of discovery.

The first poem in this collection “They Call Me Africa” uses vivid imagery to describe all the beauty that is Africa, bringing to life the rhythm and tribal beat of her words, especially when read aloud. The alliteration and subtle rhyme flow naturally from one stanza to the next throughout the entire poem.

                                                                                                  

“I am the savannah and the Sahara,
the Serengeti and the sun.”

I am the drumbeat and the heartbeat,
the blood that bled
upon this place.”

Jennifer then thinks back on a difficult childhood, unable to fully appreciate the intricacies of a country divided by racism and bloodshed. In “When We Were White” she recalls her love of a young boy, where she inherently knows that their friendship would be frowned upon even though she doesn’t understand it. I loved the last line, it really brings home the basic humanness that we all share, no matter the color of our skin.

I knew just because
that white girls didn’t love
a small black boy
. . . and laughter that sounded
like we were just the same.

A more biting reprove of the brutality of racism and the war in her country can be found in her poem “The Good Racist”. Her word choice is paramount here. Again, in this poem, she seeks to blur the lines between us and them, the prejudice and bigotry of this place leaving a bad taste in her mouth.

They told us of the A-T-R-O-C-I-T-I-E-S

The word swirled through my brain

I tasted it on my teeth…

The children murdered

The bodies littering the bush

no grave marker/no epitaph

No place to lay flowers for their dead. . .

Not since John McCrae has a war poem ever really affected me. Within Jennifer’s poem, I could envision this beautiful landscape bloodied by combat so clearly, so effectively. It truly speaks to her talent as a poet.

It was exceptionally difficult to choose the best piece from this collection, but I would have to include Jennifer’s title piece “All Forgotten Now” as one of my favorites. In it, she circles back to a forced exile from the only home she’s ever known. It struck me as almost lyrical in the way that Wordsworth described a deep connection with nature in his work. Lines like “the fire sun sinking behind jacarandas was etched into vivid memory / miasma of colour / We took the Kariba sky in August and msasas in September” are like brushstrokes of color forming across the page as her words morph into a resplendent canvas of flowers and trees that I can see almost perfectly in my mind’s eye.

As Jennifer leaves Zimbabwe, she is filled with nostalgia, grief, and a sense of deep sadness for leaving the country of her birth and the unknown that looms before her.

We took the pieces of home that we could not carry with us
and stuffed them into our souls. . .

We shivered in new skins and wondered
if the drums would ever beat
for us again.
We took cicadas singing grasped the sweet fragrance of thatch
and woodsmoke. . . .

The sorrow and regret are almost palpable in these lines and the sentiment is repeated throughout her work as if without Africa, she is a fish out of water. Again, in these poems, her word choice throughout drives home the fact that this place is “cleaved” into her very being. Perhaps I feel so strongly about her poems because I too, long for a place that was once my home.

So, I find in Jennifer’s poetry, she speaks to the need in all of us to belong; to something, someone or someplace. She reminds us that the true meaning of home is felt in the heart yet cautions us that though most of us are yearning to go back, we can never truly go home again.



Jennifer Mariani was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. At 17, she moved to Manchester, England, to continue her ballet training. After three years, she returned to Zimbabwe, briefly working with National Ballet and Tumbuka Dance Company. In 2004, Jennifer moved to Canada. She has been a guest judge for Off Topic Publishing’s monthly poetry contest and launched The Poetry Box with editor-in-chief Marion Lougheed. Jennifer writes about Africa, both the landscape and being white in post-independent Zimbabwe. She also writes about women’s issues including domestic violence, body image and eating disorders. Jennifer currently resides in Calgary, Alberta, with one partner, two daughters, three cats and numerous volumes of Pablo Neruda’s poetry. She teaches ballet at Alberta Ballet School. Her favourite poems are written for her children.


Title: All Forgotten Now: Poems
Author: Jennifer Mariani
Publisher: Off Topic Publishing
ISBN: 9781777988821
32 pages   $12


Lori Green is a Canadian writer who has been writing poetry and dark fiction since she first picked up a pen. Her work has been accepted in various publications including Ghost Orchid Press, Dark Rose Press, Black Hare Press, and more. She studied English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and now lives along the shores of Lake Erie. She is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter @LoriG1408 or on Facebook.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Ruth Crossman

Ruth Crossman is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in publications including Litro, Flash Fiction, sPARKLE + bLINK, The Fabulist, and Maximum Rock n Roll. Her auto-fiction collection All the Wrong Places was published by Naked Bulb Press in 2022.

Ruth Crossman

Phoenix Song

Phoenix Song, by LD Green

Published by Nomadic Press
Reviewed by Ruth Crossman

LD Green’s chapbook may be called Phoenix Song, but the reason the cover is adorned with unicorns is discovered in the book’s foreword. Green spent their childhood watching and re-watching the animated adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s novel The Last Unicorn. With its lush, haunting animation and its decidedly adult, existentialist flavor, it’s easy to understand why Green jokes that they saw this movie so often its themes imprinted into their psyche.

Beagle’s unicorn is a perfect symbol for genderfluid identity. She’s not allowed to remain a unicorn; she spends the middle of the movie unhappily trapped in a female body before breaking a spell and returning to her preferred form. It also turns out that she’s not really the last of her kind. At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that her community has been literally forced underground, driven into the ocean by a violent, menacing creature known as the Red Bull.

Green concludes the foreword by reflecting on how, as an adult, they  came to identify this bull as the symbol of cis-hetero-patriarchy. “He wants the unicorns (marginalized genders) trapped forever for his amusement and under his control in the ocean near his tower,” they explain. But in the end the Bull’s plan is thwarted by an act of solidarity. Green describes how, in the movie’s climax, the titular unicorn does battle with the bull and frees her kin from his control, allowing them to rise from the ocean and return to the land. This vision of the unicorns surging together is one that Green has carried into adulthood as the defining image of the movie.

Reflecting on the lived experiences Green shares in the collection, I understood why they connect so strongly with this image. Their poems describe what it’s like to live in a body that battles to take up space in the world in its true form because of the forces of patriarchy, ableism, and homophobia. And yet, like the unicorn surging through the waves in triumph, Green also writes of the times their body has known joy and been in communion with the bodies of others. Their work does not pull punches when it comes to describing trauma, but it also finds space to celebrate love and joy.

The collection begins with a series of meditations on queer and bi+ sexuality. In “Apples and Oranges” they describe the confusion of having teenage desire for both boys and girls and the journey towards accepting that they have a taste for both. “Event Horizons” is a set of prose poems about their changing gender identity. They are heckled for using the women’s bathroom because of their male presentation. They are asked to help with Women’s History Month and squirm at reading the Vagina Monologues:

Remember when I suspended my misgivings with suspenders?
Remember when I uttered ‘cunt’ but it exploded like a bizarre supernova?

When told about an event open to anyone who identifies and presents as a woman, they contemplate their options:

Neither, no
Yes, both, if it means I get to speak

Then, in “Lady Macbeth to Octomom” they give Shakespeare’s most maligned villainess a one-sided conversation with a tabloid fixture of the early aughts in a riff on murder and fertility that weaves high culture, pop culture, and gender critique together skillfully. “Neither of us can escape,” they conclude.“Our body counts will not make up / for the power we lack.”

 With “Body to Machine” the theme of embodiment goes even deeper, as Green compares traveling around in a body that has been molested to driving a car that doesn’t always start and describes the loss of control and unpredictability of response which both states provoke. This loss of control escalates in “Sometimes I Slip,” where Green describes the loss of bodily autonomy they experienced when they were institutionalized after being molested.

In the center of the book, Green points us towards the origin of their phoenix’s fire with memories of abuse and their struggle to make meaning from it. “I Forgot I Remembered” captures the chaotic, dissociative nature of trauma memory, while “Phoenix Song” documents their process of taking the shards of this trauma and using them to heal through writing. Positioned after this sequence of poems is a pair of essays, “The Mental Health System Fails, Mutual Aid Transforms” and “Not Confused, Not Crazy: On Being a Nonbinary Radical Mental Health Advocate,” in which Green mixes the personal and the political to describe how the medical system dehumanizes people with mental health diagnoses as well as people with marginalized gender identities. The pairing of essays with poems has the effect of giving multiple perspectives on the same series of events. We see Green-the-poet, a wounded unicorn trapped in the hospital, and also Green-the-intellectual, weaving their own lived experience into a damning argument about the roots of social injustice.

But there is a happy ending of sorts. The phoenix that rises from Green’s ashes is a dapper, enthusiastic, and decidedly sexy beast who has built a way of seeing and loving out of the pain of its past. The last pieces of the collection celebrate sexuality as a multiplicity of desires which can encompass genders of many kinds, and springs forth from multiple bodies overlapping in space.  “A Letter to My Dildo,” describes this as “a body that goes in with you / and will take you in too.” 

This is a book of multitudes: from shades of pain to shades of love to expressions of gender, and Green mixes genres skillfully to make meaning of their lived experience. Taken together it’s a collection of work that invites the reader to go beyond the binary of either/or and embrace a both/and which can hold dual, and even contradictory impulses and labels within the same space. It is collectivity and inclusivity which offers mutual healing to all who have been marginalized and victimized. As Green states in “Benediction,” the final piece in the book,

I am not alone
You are not alone


LD Green (they/them) is a non-binary writer, performer, college educator, and mental health advocate living in Richmond, California.  They co-edited and contributed to the anthology We’ve Been Too Patient: Voices from Radical Mental Health, with Kelechi Ubozoh, published by North Atlantic Books in 2019.  Their first solo book, Phoenix Song, was published by Nomadic Press in February 2022. Their work has been published on Salon, The Body is Not an Apology, Sinister Wisdom, PULP, Foglifter, sPARKLE + bLINK, on truth-out.org and elsewhere.  They have been featured at dozens of reading series, slams, showcases, and workshops in schools, colleges, and open mics locally and across the country.  They were heavily involved in the national poetry slam scene for several years.  As a playwright and writer/performer, they have had their work performed at multiple local and national theater festivals.  They were runner-up for the Princess Grace Fellowship in Playwriting.  LD received their BA from Vassar College and their MFA from Mills College in Creative Writing.  They have received fellowships for their writing from Lambda Literary, Tin House, and Catwalk Artists’ Colony.  LD is a tenured professor of English at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, California where they teach composition, creative writing, literature, and LGBTQ+ Studies.  They are developing a portfolio of screenplays with their writing partner Salaams, and also adapting a script into a graphic novel. 


Title: Phoenix Song
Author: LD Green
Publisher: Nomadic Press
Publication date:02/05/2022
ISBN:9781955239202
pp 119  $13


Ruth Crossman is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in publications including Litro, Flash Fiction, sPARKLE + bLINK, The Fabulist, and Maximum Rock n Roll. Her auto-fiction collection All the Wrong Places was published by Naked Bulb Press in 2022.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Water Lessons

Water Lessons, by Lisa Dordal, (Black Lawrence Press, 2021)

Review by Risa Denenberg

Three years ago, I wrote a review of Lisa Dordal’s first poetry collection, Mosaic of the Dark.  In that review I wrote, “The narrative arc in Mosaic of the Dark follows ‘girl transformed into woman.’” And knowing that Dordal has both Masters of Divinity and Masters of Fine Arts degrees, I added, “Dordal, in her acquired wisdom, has produced a book of poetry that transcends a woman’s story to become a spiritual awakening.”

In her recently released collection, Water Lessons, Dordal builds on Mosaic of the Dark, while expanding and deepening both the narrative and the spiritual quest. The narrative arc is not linear, it curves in and out of the past and the present. It is a layered reappraisal of what it has meant to be a daughter.

In the title poem, Dordal reports that her “mother loved the beach at 57th Street / where she’d stand at the water’s edge, / her head bent to a magazine. / I never saw her swim.” If there is an irrepressible image in the book, it is of this mother, who changes her hairstyle every week, and hides bottles “in bookcases throughout // the house.” We see the mother clearly in the poem, “My Mother Arriving”: “She’s wearing cat-eye sunglasses, / a navy blue pantsuit, and a pewter peace necklace.” Later in the title poem is this mystical stanza:

Inside the Titanic,
there is a glass of water
still sitting on a bureau—
the strange physics
that allowed drowning,
not breaking.

This is the sort of slyly breathtaking extended metaphor that Dordal is capable of. A mother who drinks herself to death without skipping a single week at the hairdresser. In an elegy to her mother, in the poem “Grief,” she says:

And there is no such thing
as a half-life for grief.

Even oceans contain waterfalls
and your mother is inside

everything that you write—
sometimes as melody,

sometimes as mountain
or bone.

What a lovely way to hold grief—it changes, but never goes away. Dordal holds a Master’s of Divinity. I imagine that words of comfort come readily to her.

In “Ars Poetica,” Dordal resists covering over the truth of the mother’s alcoholism, saying “I wouldn’t call her death “natural,” while her father persists in telling a lie: “And my father still insists her liver was fine.’”

The father has a supporting role in Water Lessons, in the sense of being a secondary character, certainly not a consolation. We learn later that he has some dementia, and even though it is a tiny bit funny, these lines are painful for me to read: “Now, when my father says: Your mother and I, / he gestures towards his new wife.”

The mid-section of poems, “Postcards from the 70’s” reverts back to Dordal’s childhood, growing up with liberal parents in what appears to have been an upper middle-class home and attending public schools in Chicago. Among recalled episodes (the naivety of agreeing to pose for a neighbor; driving her boyfriend’s yellow station wagon: being happy whenever it snowed) are memories from the distance of maturity in which she acknowledges the casual racism she participated in (“We were good people. / The good kind of white”), and offers a mea culpa in hindsight.

The book’s penultimate poem, “The Life I Live,” is an aching summation of sorrow and regret, mingled with Dordal’s characteristic equanimity. There is sorrow for what she has lost and musing over what she never had—a daughter.

My daughter, neither born nor conceived,

Splits my life in two directions. I like my life,
who I’ve become and who I love. Still my mind

bears a creek deep enough for swimming,
children’s shoes piling up by the back door.

When Dordal says, “I like my life, / who I’ve become and who I love,” she is speaking as a lesbian. As an older lesbian who lost custody of my son in the seventies, I’ve experienced the sorrow of lesbians I know who fought custody battles or never had children. It portends a tracing of loneliness as we age. She says, “Sometimes I imagine myself at ninety / forever cold, cradling a doll—my mind // as demented as my father’s is now.” The poem ends in this vulnerable reflection:

I’m happier than this poem says I am.
And also sadder. Maybe this will be enough: at ninety,

walking through snow, holding what isn’t there
until what isn’t there calls my name.


Lisa Dordal holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Fine Arts (in poetry), both from Vanderbilt University, and teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Mosaic of the Dark, was a finalist for the 2019 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets University Prize, the Robert Watson Poetry Prize, and the Betty Gabehart Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Best New Poets, New Ohio Review, The Sun, Narrative, RHINO, Ninth Letter, CALYX, The Greensboro Review, and Vinyl Poetry.


Water Lessons
Lisa Dordal
Publisher: ‎ Black Lawrence Press (April 1, 2022)
‎pp. 77 $16.95
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1625570314


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, Reviews Editor at River Mouth Review, 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 Online.