The Optimist Shelters in Place

The Optimist Shelters in Place, by Kimberly Ann Priest

Published by Small Harbor Publishing, Harbor Editions, 2022
Review by Maria McLeod

The significance of bearing witness

The Optimist Shelters in Place, a poetry chapbook by Kimberly Ann Priest, is an account of survival during a plague. The mundanity of daily routine provides a setting for existential angst which appears to the reader as universally familiar. Published during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, Priest’s chapbook chronicles the early days of isolation as if intent on creating a public and personal record of our adaption to a previously unfathomable circumstance.

The reader can imagine a future historian turning to Priest’s writing to learn the scope of the pandemic’s impact, as it reads as a reliable narrative, an unembellished account. Priest records this new and unwelcome homebound existencebeginning in March of 2020 as a quarantine of unknown durationin order to signal her intent to the reader through the construction of 24 themed poems, all written from third person point of view, each title beginning with “The optimist” followed by an action taken by the optimist (or someone in her life). For example:

“The Optimist Scrambles Four Eggs for Breakfast”
“The Optimist Cuts a New Plant”
“The Optimist Takes a Personality Test”

Opening with a scene of a woman (the “optimist”) talking to her plants, Priest places us in that moment—pre-vaccine —when it seemed the only way to survive an isolated present was to hope for an “inhabited future”:

The plants feel it too.

She tells them to think about new sills to adorn
in some inhabited future,
not to imagine this will be their final resting place. She tells them

what her daughter told her before leaving was deemed essential:
this is all temporal.

Although confronting and combating loneliness rides the surface of these poems, the more salient theme expressed is the significance of bearing witness. Evidence is presented to the reader in the form of the book’s dedication, “for the spider,” a reference to the tenth poem in the collection, “The Optimist Leaves a Dead Spider Dead on the Carpet.” Here, the spider serves as a metaphor for our existence as measured by our significance, or insignificance, to others:

From underneath her coffee table a lone spider
plans a route of escape.

Quarantine is difficult for all sorts of creatures.

At dusk, when shadows brush the carpet a semi-cloudy grey,
he leaps out from under swimming over its follicles,
but not fast enough.
His smushed dot remains on the carpet for over three days.

The choice of third person point-of-view provides readers with both a comfortable perch and an active part. If one is to transcend loneliness and the resulting feelings of insignificance, one’s existence requires recognition. The reader takes the witness chair.

Amidst the details of daily life—the grocery shopping, the scrolling through Facebook, the phone calls, the tending to (or ignoring) domestic chores—the pandemic facts and stats are placed throughout the book. These are actual news items. Their inclusion provides both a reality check and a foil to the “optimist” whose survival tactics include moments of personal indulgence that allow a form of escape: a glass of expensive wine, a walk on the beach, a hand in the sand.

In North Carolina the Death Toll is 507.
But no one is talking much about North Carolina,
and she wonders what it’s like not to be talked about so much.

Again, it’s being talked about, being recognized, that Priest asks her readers to consider; this comes not as a directive, but an emphasized remark. It’s as if she’s raising her eyebrows at the end of sentence, inserting a pregnant pause. Descriptions of being seen represent moments that serve to buoy the speaker: the interested glance of a grocery store worker; her daughter’s brief but pleasant visit. But there is also a concern expressed over the opposite, to be unseen, unrecognized:

Not essential, no one has called her in weeks;
she’d rather die somewhere else than right here, alone.

Perhaps the most pointed lines in the collection come from the poem, “The Optimist Remembers What is Needed to Feel Essential.” Here the reader learns that a contributing factor to the optimist’s isolation is divorce, the dynamics of which are indicted by the following two lines, “The last thing her husband said to her is no one will want you / after this. Maybe he was right.” It is the words the poet sets in italics, representing the now ex-husband’s stark remark, that lift off the page like a slap, followed not by a refutation but a deflated concession by an omniscient narrator, “Maybe he was right.” These lines double the impact of the loneliness and isolation presented by this collection, an existential crisis expressed in the need to be seen, heard, loved and recognized in order to feel human and present in this world—needs that were challenged during the pandemic. 

It makes sense, then, that the last poem, “The Optimist Sleeps Through the Night,” is about survival, focusing on the act of breathing as recognition of one’s existence. The poem’s subject is someone apparently unknown to the “optimist,” someone ailing and hospitalized. The speaker imagines the patient’s revival after what we can only assume has been a harrowing hospital stay, a near-death experience. In doing so, she uses her omniscience as a means of harnessing the power of positive thinking, as if her ability to see him helps bring him to life. Here Priest ends, as an optimist would, on a positive note:

… Somewhere/a fever has broken

Somewhere a young man wakes
to discover the sounds of his own breathing—how much like love it is.

An exhale of carbon monoxide
and hope.

Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird, the American Best Book Awards finalist. She is also the author of four chapbooks: The Optimist Shelters in Place, Parrot Flower, Still Life and White Goat, Black Sheep. She is winner of the Heartland Poetry Prize 2019 from New American Press. She teaches writing as an assistant professor for Michigan State University. She also serves as associate poetry editor for the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry.

The Optimist Shelters in Place
Author: Kimberly Ann Priest
Publisher: Small Harbor Publishing, Harbor Editions, 2022
ISBN: 9781957248011  |   43 pages  |  $12.00

Maria McLeod is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Mother Want and Skin. Hair. Bones. She’s won the WaterSedge Chapbook Contest, Indiana Review Poetry Prize and the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Prize. She works as a professor of journalism for Western Washington University.

Risa Denenberg is the curator of The Poetry Cafe Online.

All Forgotten Now

All Forgotten Now: Poems by Jennifer Mariani

Published by Off Topic Publishing
Review by Lori Green


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.

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.

Time’s Apprentice

Time’s Apprentice, by Sarah Stockton

Published by dancing girl press & studio, 2021
Cover design by Kristy Bowen
Review by Risa Denenberg

I looked forward to reading Time’s Apprentice, knowing the author Sarah Stockton, as I do, who is a curator extraordinaire of the journal River Mouth Review where, in every issue, she places a set of striking poems by different poets next to one another into a collage of shared meanings. And, as I write book reviews for RMR, I wanted to have a chance to have my say about this chapbook.

I mention Sarah’s curator talent, because it is equally present in Time’s Apprentice. It is no simple task to seam together a life in its many facets in a way that signals to the reader that no one facet deserves all of the attention. There are memoirs that do this, of course, but a small collection of poems, if done well, can also bring a rich and many-sided life into view. A braid of living strands run through these poems, creating the kernel of a whole life—strands of time, seasons, and cycles. Attention to sequencing of poems in a collection—a dilemma all poets struggle with—is a talent she possesses.

Some of the poems here are dreamy. My favorites are the three poems titled “From the Diaries,” which are epistles to Anais Nin—a French-Cuban-American diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of short stories and erotica. I also read Nin’s “The Diary of Anais Nin,” back in the day. These poems are subtitled “Dawn,” “Noon,” and “Dusk,” and begin with “Dear Anais—”. Scattered through the collection, they mark a cycle of returning to the inner life. Written as unsent letter in a diary, they are the keepers of emotion-laden secrets. In “From the Diaries: Dawn,” she says, “Remember exchanging those lists of past lovers? / I left a few names out—revisions forthcoming.”

And in “From the Diaries: Noon”:

I fell overboard in disgrace. The houseboat leaks
but your diaries are still safe. I’m banned
from the docks until I pay the rent.

And in “From the Diaries: Dusk,” the letter writer asks, “Do you think it is time for me to go?” and implores, “please come back, / write me into your story.”

I love the allegorical meanings that I find in these poems (“fell overboard,” “pay the rent,” “revisions”) offering insight into the writer’s dreams, but with many possible interpretations.

There are poems harking back to childhood, such as “What Grandmother Ruth Taught Me” (“Take a raw egg and cup it / in your finger-painted hand.”), or “Summer’s Mouth” (The summer my parents / abandoned us, each other.”). A reminiscence about a father now grown old in “The Sailor’s Daughter,” gives this report: “My father has become a small boy demanding attention, tacking / across the lanes in search of whatever he forgot.”

Another facet here is chronic illness. In “Chronic,” the word becomes a metaphor for all the difficulties of a life.  Chronic is: “endless cups of bitter leaves,” “a transmogrification,” an “internet hoax,” “a chronic liar,” a “phase of aging.” Seeking explanations for what underlies chronic illness in “The Placenta Effect,” Sarah posits wide-ranging, often crank theories from her own research:

I’ve been studying the historical records of
hypochondriacs and wondering if my
religious doubts are a factor that only
medication or a thorough confession can
abate. Like every sick person I’ve cast
my symptoms wide over the internet, chasing
down desperate strategies, ludicrous
theories that at first, for a time, seem to
loosen the binds […]

Other poems evoke Sarah’s grown children. In “So Far Away,” the loneliness that a mother can feel once a child is thoroughly launched is expressed this way,

My daughter calls to say she has had an unexpected encounter
with a green iguana. I live in the north. She is far away.

As she talks, I look up iguanidae, knowing my textual knowledge
won’t persuade her to move back home, regardless of the facts.

“Whoever Goes First,” is a not-so-gentle reminder that we all will die, and those of us getting older should be planning for death, including having serious discussions with partners and children. I so appreciate this no-nonsense take on aging and death. And although, “we say that we hope to go together / (like all lovers do)” it is also wise to know that things may not go as we hope:

but secretly each wants to be
the first to cross
death’s unknown threshold
like a child at a new school
who looks back, hesitant, the goes on

comforted by the presence of the beloved
still standing at the dimming gate.

And lest I give short shrift to odes to the natural world in Time’s Apprentice, I will mention that there are “coyotes / down by the duck pond,” “one last naked swim in perfect / golden water, one last fling,” and “a swirling tidepool” with “kelp infused water.” In the poem,“In Every Season, A Shade of Blue,” there are “clusters of morning glory,” which are “bursting / bruised berries.” This ode to blue continues,

blue kisses the jelly fish’s tentacles
            struts across the western jay, shades
                        into mussel, whale, parrot, frog

It is rare to find so much depth in so few poems. I think you’ll like this small book that covers so much territory so well.

Sarah Stockton is the author of the chapbook Time’s Apprentice (dancing girl press, 2021) and Castaway, forthcoming in 2022 with Glass Lyre Press. Her poems have appeared in wide-ranging publications including EcoTheo Review, Glass Journal, Psaltery & Lyre, About Place Journal, Rise Up Review, and many more. Sarah has an extensive background in university teaching, workshop facilitation, freelance writing and editing, and is the author of two books on spirituality and spiritual direction. Whether reading, writing, studying, or teaching, poetry has been a part of Sarah’s life for over 40 years.

Title: Time’s Apprentice
Author: Sarah Stockton
Publisher: dancing girl press & studio, 2021

Cover Design: Kristy Bowen

Price $8.00

Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state where she works as a nurse practitioner. She is a co-founder of Headmistress Press; curator at The Poetry Café Online; and an avid book reviewer. Her most recent publications include the full-length collection, slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018) and the chapbook, Posthuman, finalist in the Floating Bridge 2020 chapbook competition.

Music Speaks

Music Speaks, by Bill Cushing

Review by Charles Farmer

Anyone who has spent time making a mixtape understands there is an undercurrent of autobiography threading the song selections. Whether the tape’s intention is to woo a crush or introduce bands to the uninitiated, mixtapes tell the curator’s story.  Bill Cushing’s handsome Music Speaks reads as a reverently annotated playlist, a love letter honoring the music and artists who have provided the soundtrack to his life. While some curators might be more concerned with showcasing their eclectic, rarefied tastes, Cushing’s poems are never pedantic or pretentious; they are tender homages—sometimes exuberant, other times more subdued, depending on their subject—that reveal a mutual appreciation for music and the written word.

So often, critics argue about the use of the word poetry, whether it can be used in a discussion about music. Here, there is no hierarchy, only a mutual appreciation.

Music Speak opens with “On Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Bydlo,’ ” a response to a piece from Mussorgsky’s 1874 suite, Pictures at an Exhibit, the composer’s sonic interpretations of Viktor Hartmann’s pictures. The piece is especially significant to Cushing as listening to his father’s 1960 LP of Fritz Reiner’s recording of the suite is among Cushing’s formative musical experiences. Mussorgsky’s own work captures the trudge and resiliency of a wagon team, its oxen bearing a load of hay; Cushing’s poem captures the solemnity of music and the picture. There’s something admirable, something worth celebration as

Beast and wagon pass,
as if solemn
and then recede
out of sight

Music and images combine as the processional offers its own percussion, a “rhythmic hammering, / dull thunder / as hooves pound the earth”; the organic beat causing the ground to move “to the sound / of these hardened / timpani.”

This opening poem establishes the origins of Cushing’s lifelong relationship with music, a connection that blossoms and intensifies as he moves on from his father’s LP and discovers jazz— the focus of most of Music Speaks. Cushing’s poems conjure images of iconic Blue Note album covers, nightclubs both suspicious and sophisticated, bartenders gracious with heavy pours, the sounds of aural abandon that fueled The Beat Generation.  Jazz, Cushing says in “Jazz Salvation,” is “my country’s / only true art.” It transcends “geometric” pop and “classical’s calculus.” Jazz is “our chance / to dance / in a stereotomy of confusion,” and “a road to refuge— / becoming our savior / from too many / mundane days.”

When he was young, Cushing’s heart was elsewhere. In the fourth grade, “Rock and roll was my world,” he says in, “’Music isn’t about standing still and being safe.’” Cushing, like countless others, eventually discovered Miles Davis’s cataclysmic catalog, its re-imaging of music’s possibilities. Describing his first encounter with Davis, Cushing speaks in the language of revelation:

[…] you brought me back
to music
I walked all the way home

from that train station
my head pounding with sounds
frantic-fast as the subway

Cushing also writes in awe of Charlie Parker (“Listening to Bird”), who staccato pulse is replicated in two-line bursts:

He founds places
in his search for every note

not imagined:
leaving chromatic gravity,

breaking confines,
shooing up into infinity;

And the in “Ode to Nina Simone,” whose own musical journey resembles Cushing’s, as she “[left] beloved Bach behind.” Anyone who’s seen Simone’s fiery set in 2021’s documentary Summer of Soul will recognize the goddess in Cushing’s poem, who’s “transforming us with blues, boogie-woogie / using training in classics to quash rage.”

Elsewhere in Music Speaks, Cushing writes about the effortless suave of Eubie Blake, whose “long fingers, doing what few can hope to, / creating perfect stops,” propelled classics like “Raggin the Rag” and the essential “Memories of You.” Also subjects of affection are: the contemporary, almost genre-less band, Too Many Zooz (“Three spheres of instruments—percussion, sax, / and trumpet: brass, reed, and skin—become / a discussion of brash banging fun); Dire Straits’ Mark Knopler, who’s always been more than a rock ‘n’ roller; and the recently departed and greatly missed Leon Redbone, eternally cool “decked out in black, Ray-Bans perched on / a Syrid nose,” / “ageless as a harvest moon.” Music Speak fittingly closes with “So Long, Dr. John,” a poem-as-obituary for the late, inestimable Dr. John,

Most interesting is Cushing’s poem to jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, “Singing with Both Hands,” a testament to the mystery behind the creative process. We can try to quantify and analyze creativity, dissect the muse, but creation remains a mystery. Considering the source of Robert’s virtuosity, Cushing asks, “With eight-eight steps to choose, / how do the pianist’s hands / decide which to use?” It could be that “each acts alone: one as the heart” while “the other wanders free.” Yet for of all this analysis, search for a behind-the-scenes explanation, the answer could be a simple, “Or not”—perhaps there is no conscious choice; perhaps it’s a matter of mystical surrender.

Music Speaks is a welcome to addition to my home, where I am often torn between devoting my time and heart to poetry and music. Here, my loves coalesce; there is no guilt trip. The collection succeeds as a testimony to music’s and poetry’s ability to breathe life into the everyday, where notes and words comfort, clarify, confirm, and reassure what it means to be alive.

Bill Cushing has lived in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Maryland, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and currently lives in California. As an undergrad, he was called the “blue collar” poet by classmates at the University of Central Florida because of his years serving in the Navy, and working as an electrician on oil tankers, naval vessels, and fishing boats. Bill earned an MFA in writing from Goddard College in Vermont and has recently retired after more than 20 years of teaching English at East Los Angeles and Mt. San Antonio colleges. Bill was named as one of the Top Ten Poets of L.A. in 2017, and in 2018, he was honored as on the ten poets to watch in L. A. His 2019 book, A Former Life, was released by Finishing Line Press and recieved the Kops-Featherling International Book Award. He won the San Gabriel Valley Chapbook Competition with Music Speaks.

Title: Music Speaks
Author: Bill Cushing

Published by author, printing at‎ (October 2, 2019)
32 pp $25
ISBN: ‎ 978-0359827015

Charlie Farmer is a Georgia poet and professor who loves his wife, Erin, his daughters, his friends, his cats, his students, his books, his LPs, and everything else a poet should love in life.

Risa Denenberg is the Curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Jar of Plenty

Jar of Plenty, by Ruelaine Stokes

Review by Cheryl Ceasar
Cover Art by Barbara Hranlovich

As a child, I dreamed of exploding gift boxes. Not the tame ones you see online, those which simply unfold—although they can be quite lovely. I wanted to find a box that would spray its marvelous contents into the air like the novelty cans that unleash coiled snakes, but with no danger of a chipped front tooth or a poke in the eye. When I opened a manila envelope from my friend Ruelaine Stokes a few days before Christmas, I finally got my wish. The book Jar of Plenty is not only a gift, but a reminder of what a gift can mean.

Start with the cover art by Barbara Hranlovich. On an indigo-chakra background, a white-outlined jar is releasing beads, runic stones, flowers and feathers. An opened pomegranate discloses its secret rubies. A cup of coffee in a plain white mug flourishes its artisanal swirl of foam. A wise raven lifts its beak as flames flicker and steam rises. It recalls the childhood pleasure of plunging my hand into a cookie tin full of variegated buttons.

Open the book; the gifts continue to stream out. Ruelaine draws on her own gift, her talent, to fashion these small parcels of delight. Like a smiling hostess, she guides us through the rooms of her various names, arising from her deep self.

Rue: a street or a regret
Lynne: like a brook or small pool, from her father’s friend
Stokes: from her ancestors, as in the line, “Keep the fire burning,” from her poem, “The Story of a Name”

Alongside black-and-white photos, she introduces her family: The grandfather who fell like Icarus from the sky in “Sailing through Time”; the pretty mother who fled to Tijuana with the priest in “Hard Times for Free Spirits”; the Monster who “sits by the door” and tells the writer she was “never designed to fly” in “Monster”; and then, the writer herself, out the door and flying.

Ruelaine picks up the ordinary artifacts of our lives, one by one, to show their marvels. Here is a pomegranate with its seeds: “each translucent / each bearing the fate of the world,” in “I remember the far-off sky, blue and blazing.” Here are memories of the senses, vividly evoked in “Yellowstone”:

the low moan of the wind  
the hungry grass
the gray stones

I think the gift she is sharing is this: the gift of attention. Attention to every small object, attention to our movements through the world. In “The Priest of Coffee,” the passing of the cup becomes a sacrament, reminding us that every sharing of food or drink is a potential communion.

As I read, another gift appears: a series of meditations, or perhaps a liturgy. Before the Communion comes the reading of the Lessons. “I am turning my sorrows into water,” she writes, with wisdom, in “Intangible Effects.” In “The Poet’s Prayer” is the artist’s petition to the universe: “let me cast these notes / into the wind.” And, the poem, “From the Book of Common Prayer,” grants absolution: “wash my heart and call me clean / the hard time is over.”

A real gift is a moment of connection, passed between outstretched hands. Ruelaine’s life so far has been gifted to poetry, and especially to the local poetry scene in Lansing, Michigan. For decades she has worked here as an “architect of reality”–her own phrase—building the structures, readings, and workshops that bring poets together for a moment of communion. What a joy to find a collection of such moments made tangible and lasting, an artifact of her life’s gift.

Ruelaine Stokes is a poet, spoken word artist, teacher and arts organizer based in Lansing, Michigan. She has a BA in English literature from Stanford University, an MA in English literature from Michigan State University, and an MA in Teaching from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. She worked for many years teaching English as a Second Language at Michigan State University, Lansing Community College, and in community ESL programs. She has also taught classes in English literature, Poetry, Women’s History and Writing. For many years, she has organized poetry performances, readings, open mic events and workshops within Mid-Michigan. She is currently the president of the Lansing Poetry Club.

Title: Jar of Plenty
Author: Ruelaine Stokes
Published by Author, 2019 (Printing Services at Michigan State University Libraries)
pp. 74    $15
ISBN is 9780578339085

Cover Art: Barbara Hranlovich

Cheryl Caesar lived in Paris, Tuscany and Sligo for 25 years; she earned her doctorate in comparative literature at the Sorbonne. She teaches writing at Michigan State University. Some of her COVID-era poems appear in Rejoice Everyone! Reo Town Reading Anthology, and in The Social Gap Experiment, both available from Amazon. Her writing and artwork will appear soon in Words Across the Water, a joint anthology by the Lansing Poetry Club and the Poets’ Club of Chicago. With co-editor Ruelaine Stokes, she is gathering a volume of reminiscences of the Lansing poetry scene in the 70s and 80s.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Make for Higher Ground

Make for Higher Ground, Diane Lee Moomey

Published by Barefoot Muse Press
Review by Laura Schulkind

Diane Moomey is one of those masterful form poets who uses structure to challenge boundaries. Her new collection, Make for Higher Ground (Barefoot Muse Press, 2021), does just that. Throughout, it is evident she has drawn on I Ching: #57, Penetrating Influence, which she speaks of in the introduction and riffs on in the opening poem, as the collection both offers a path to higher ground, and persistently urges us to take it.  

Her path begins with “Small Wild Things,” a group of poems that leads us into the high grasses that lie just beyond the road. In the poem, “in tall red grasses once,” “she finds “a nest / not far from where we’d parked the Chevy.”  She creates similar images in “Wearing Snakes,” where she finds sleek snakes, “In summer’s green beside the fence, / by long stems my father’s mower doesn’t / reach,” and in “Time Share at the Country Club,” where she imagines wild cats in the forest abutting the golf green:

So now you’ll bide your time
until the dusk, hiding in the rough.
I pack my clubs and seek the car, slam
the trunk. You hang around, shadowed. Eyes:
it’s your turn, now. You’ve waited long enough.

In juxtaposing human activity and wildness, she urges that we not forget our connection to the wild—even as we mow and drive and golf and stay indoors with the radio blaring. As she concludes in “Chaparral,”

turn up the radio,  
blot out the yucca and the sage,  
the calls
of all that’s feral. You know the wild
is out there. Sometimes
that’s all you need.

From there, she takes us to our beginnings in a section titled “Tap Roots”— suggesting we can’t get much of anywhere without understanding our origins — such as in “The Other Attic,”

I’d only need a ladder. I’d reach
and push that square aside, unseal
that other attic—not the one
that holds our bedrooms—and reveal
what must be hidden! Once inside
I’d open trunks and boxes, pry;
so certain that I’d found the place
where all the family secrets lie.

The intimate details of these poems, as in “Her Screen Porch,” also convey a loving eye.

the wicker chair with yellow chintz
that curved to fit her, cabbage roses curved
around her; mother’s mother.

This gentleness suggests we can cherish where we came from without getting trapped there.  In “Carousel,” she considers her own mother’s choices, and in so doing perhaps explains her own:

crimson wheel is spinning
‘round a center of mirrored tesserae, flashing
tails and faces, scent of cotton candy.
You could get off. You may have wanted something
else: the purple unicorn, that pearly
horn, the tail swept high across an arching
back, a gilded halter. Instead, the grey mare.  

Now grounded, the book offers us “Fractals,” a series of poems on how to navigate a dangerous world. Here we find perfectly placed at the middle of the book, “Water Above Water Below,” (a riff on I Ching “#29 —Danger”), which gives us these final lines:

The lamps are going out, dear
one by precious one and it’s for us
to choose to live in darkness or, blind
and trembling, make for higher ground
and set ourselves alight.

Then, in the last two sections she suggests a way out of the darkness. In the series called “Coming Up For Air,” the poems remind us to find delight in the world we have. In “Kiss Kiss, 2020,” dear friends embrace amid the pandemic:

Tomorrow afternoon we’ll meet outside
your house. I’ll squeeze Purell into my right
palm and gently stroke your left cheek;
you’ll do the same for me, from lip to ear.

In “Pandemic Picnics, a Proposal,” she plans: “We’ll take a fender each. I will reach across / with love and gloves / to pass you opener and Anchor Steam.”  And in “At the Dollar Bins,” she delights both in the treasures that can be found there and the fun of rummaging for them:

She’ll gather not
because she must eat crumbs or take
whatever comes, or lick the final
jelly from the jar and not
because somebody somewhere may
be starving. Gather, glean—to keep
or give away—because something  
in this skirt, that sequined vest,
those purple gloves, is still alive.  

In “Lights Above the Poles” she adds, and ends, with love.  A gorgeous series full of sky and light, these poems tell stories that remember, long for, miss, and sustain love. “Ode, with Wings,” almost soars off the page:

I loved you in the air, the air. You wore
new wings, and in your father’s plane so proudly
lent, you flew me upside down. Because
I loved you there, all skies belong to you—

Importantly, there is nothing saccharin here. The last poem, “Deciduous—ballad for Tim,” ends ominously:

Making coffee, breaking camp—
we do this well together,
but whitecaps, winds and lowered skies;
promise heavy weather.

And that’s the point. Higher ground is not a panacea; it isn’t even a place. It is a way of being in the world that Moomey gently urges in this compelling collection.

Diane Lee Moomey has lived and wandered around the US and Canada, and now dips her gardener’s hands in California dirt. She co-hosts a monthly Poetry series in Half Moon Bay. A regular reader at San Francisco Bay Area poetry venues, her work appears, or will soon appear, in Light, The MacGuffin, Mezzo Cammin, Poetry, California Poetry Quarterly, Caesura and Red Wheelbarrow, and has been nominated for two Pushcart prizes. She has won prizes and Honorable Mentions in the Sonnet and Creative Non-Fiction categories of the Soul Making Keats Literary Contest, and in the Ina Coolbrith Circle.

Title: Make For Higher Ground
Author: Diane Lee Moomey
Publisher: Barefoot Muse Press
ISBN-13: # 9798509619205
Page count: 62
Price: $10.95

Laura Schulkind has two chapbooks with Finishing Line Press, The Long Arc of Grief (2019) and Lost in Tall Grass (2014). Her work also appears in numerous journals, and published pieces can be found on her website,

Versions of this review have also appeared in Poetry Letter No. 4, 2021 of the California State Poetry Society and Compulsive Reader.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Our Lady of The Flood

Our Lady of the Flood by Alison Pelegrin

Review by Diane Elayne Dees

The entire region around New Orleans embodies a certain sensibility, born of geography and weather and a unique heritage that is hard to define and even harder to translate. When I first moved to the city decades ago, I was both curious about and amused by the many “Our Lady” names of schools and churches. “Can you imagine what their fight song is?” an acquaintance once asked when we drove past Our Lady of Prompt Succor School.

After you’ve lived here a long time, though, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady Star of the Sea (which we called “the tuna fish church”) all become part of the sometimes bizarre linguistic landscape of the city.

I’ve also lived through many Louisiana hurricanes and floods, so I approached reading Alison Pelegrin’s Our Lady of the Flood with relish, and I was not disappointed. In this collection, Pelegrin skillfully cuts through the difficulty of cultural translation with a collection of poems that puts the region’s eccentricity in the colorful and sometimes absurd context that it deserves. Moreover, she does it—often with delicious humor—by using language that gives new life to the tasks and customs that are part of daily life in and around New Orleans.

The collection opens with the eponymous poem, “Our Lady of the Flood”:

Some saints are untouchable behind glass,
but you ride in open boats
with mildew on the edges of your gown,
a calm commander of the Cajun Navy’s fleet.
Your devotees worship outside
in a circle of ruined pews,
no incense but bug spray

This is a perfect introduction to the parade of “Our Lady” poems that are to come, as well as the other poems in Our Lady of the Flood, which include an ode to ambrosia (“confection snubbed by food snobs as a [. . .] meringue of shame”), a meditation on local bridges, and a commentary on the removal of New Orleans’ Lee Circle statue of General Robert E. Lee.

Hurricane Katrina, as one might expect, is an ongoing theme in Pelegrin’s collection. In “Anything We Want,” she expresses the longing of all Louisianans who were displaced by the 2005 storm:

They won’t quit asking, What do you want?
I want to be somewhere besides Mississippi
with its highway that splits fields
of cotton and soy and blackbirds.
I want art supplies and to read a book
in my old bed, to ride the streetcar by myself


I want my mom to say something
in the Walmart, where we have gone to spend
a gift card from some church
on anything we want.

And in “Quicksilver”:

[…] quicksilver visions wrinkle
and then they vanish. But
this water is absolute. It remains,
though the hurricane is over.
I have studied from my exile
in this hotel room, witnessed
rooftop rescue, the folly
of mammoth sandbags. This water
is no silvered mirage. It clings like tar.
It swallows everything we are.

The “Our Lady” poems are a special treat. “Our Lady on the Half Shell” celebrates “Bathtub Madonna, Lily of so many gardens, Queen of Heaven in a scalloped shell [. . .]”:

White-washed, with marble chips, or pansies, at your feet,
you have many faces in New Orleans—so many incarnations—
alabaster, hand-painted Creole or coffee or midnight skin,
your ghost eyes peering out and you motionless

And then there’s “Our Lady of ‘No Regerts’ ”:

Our Lady of No Regerts, prevention of bad tattoos
must be your side hustle, a part-time ministry,
because, queen of inky heaven, with respect,

a few too many permanent atrocities
have escaped your intervention

My personal favorite is “Our Lady of Whatever,” in which the poet fantasizes about being one of the many Ladies revered in New Orleans.

So many lakes. So many Ladies of the Lakes.
Maybe I could be Lake Pontchartrain’s Lady
of the Longest Bridge, Lady of Cicada Tea Parties,
of Lighthearted Marvels, of Sand Mandalas,
Reduced to Cerulean Ash. Our Lady of Shrinky Dinks.

A special gem in this collection is Pelegrin’s “Soliloquy against a Kudzu Backdrop”:

 Audience of none, superstition dictates
that I peek through the kudzu curtain
like a starlet before making an entrance
and speaking yet again on the theme
of ignorance observed in waking life.
I would like to believe these are actors I see—
rednecks so loud in their stupidity
that rather than being frightened by their antics
I find myself waiting for the punchline


How can we be
so different when the same trees
rustle in all of our dreams?

It isn’t easy to move readers beyond the clichéd images of jazz bands, wrought iron balconies and roaming alligators, to the sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious, and always evocative images that represent what life is really like in New Orleans and its outlying regions. But in Our Lady of the Flood, Alison Pelegrin provides a charmingly authentic portrait of a culture that is like no other in the nation.

Alison Pelegrin’s latest collection, Our Lady of Bewilderment, is forthcoming from LSU Press in 2022. Other books include Waterlines (LSU 2016), as well as Hurricane Party (2011), and Big Muddy River of Stars (2007), both with the University of Akron Press. Pelegrin is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and the Louisiana Board of Regents. She is Writer-in-Residence at Southeastern Louisiana University. 

Title: Our Lady of the Flood
Author: Alison Pelegrin
Diode Editions
ISBN: 978-1-939728-16-6
28 pages, $12.00

Diane Elayne Dees is the author of the chapbook, Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books) and two forthcoming chapbooks, I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died, and The Last Time I Saw You. Diane, who lives in Covington, Louisiana—just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans—also publishes Women Who Serve, a blog that delivers news and commentary on women’s professional tennis throughout the world. Her author blog is Diane Elayne Dees: Poet and Writer-at-Large.

ABOUT THE PRESS: Diode Editions is an independent press based in Doha, Qatar and Richmond, Virginia. Editor-in-Chief Patty Paine founded the press in 2012 as an offshoot of Diode Poetry Journal. To date, the press has published 37 titles of poetry, chapbooks and poetry-related nonfiction works and hosts yearly book and chapbook contests.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe

Slow Dark Film

Slow Dark Film, by Lynn Strongin

Review by Risa Denenberg

I’ve been a fan of Lynn Strongin’s work since 2014 when she submitted a manuscript to my press, Headmistress Press. I immediately fell in love with her poetry. In fact, Headmistress has published two of her poetry collections: The Burn Poems in 2015 and A Bracelet of Honeybees in 2016. So I was interested in reading her newly released chapbook, Slow Dark Film (right hand pointing, 2021). I’m happy to report that it has the same powerful, idiosyncratic, playful language and fascinating narrative that is found in the poetry and prose she has been publishing for decades.

Strongin’s work is often autobiographical, ranging from childhood when she was hospitalized with polio, to in-between years when she traveled extensively, and on to present day, where she suffers the debilitating late effects polio. Similar to other collections, Slow Dark Film follows a narrative line comprised of the poet’s lived experience. Also similar to other works, her lesbian lover is right by her side.

In the first poem, “LUMINOUS,” Strongin provides a map of the territory the reader is entering, when she reports, “Asylum, forever mine.” This is an artifact persistently embedded in the poems.

The slow dark film of the title is both a recollection from childhood and a gauzy scrim that forms a backdrop through which the poet’s story is shaded. The memory is of the “slow dark painterly-grained film[s]” that were shown to “Children twelve & under” who were “Wheeled in/ to our asylum.” Years exist in this metaphor of so few words—the excruciatingly slow movement of time and the bleak darkness of her surroundings.

The charm in the writing is how Strongin can travel from asylum to Elysium using her vivid imagination and agility with language. In the poem, “IT INTERRUPTS,” Elysium is paradise, but also a harbinger of death:

Stamen & pistil, flowering,
The earth is procreation:
Creation. In a cradle, the bee cups honey
            The longed for, the filmed over, a deep caress
            The last word is always loneliness.

Images—such as the dark film—repeat throughout these poems, conferring a dream-like effect. In “YOUR WORDS,” there is an image of a ladder which repeats in later poems:

I am going through a life-change
            that has ladders                   of grieving

I think of the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder when I read this, one of so many associations Strongin’s words invite me to imagine.  In “I KNEW I WAS,” the ladder reappears:

I comfort myself
With castles
Teeth-eaten by wind
Like raggy lace. These ladders, they do not lead
Out of the flesh.

Another repeated narrative is found in poems addressed to “YOU”—the delicately unnamed lover, as seen in “WHAT IS THIS”:

Many tiny upheavals in our lives
Have made them remote: yet what is this, you
            coming toward me with an embrace lowered eyes,
            sorrowing El                 Greco face?

Or this, in “GHOST OF DAWN”: “By the time you bathe me/ Morning’s gone.”

In Slow Dark Film there are many weighty metaphors of illness and death, such as in “DEFEAT”:

I make my dark nest,
I lay my bright dress
To rest.

And in the last poem in the book, Strongin returns to the original image of the film:

IF LIFE is a sadness that unspools, a slow dark grain
My rising up is my bending
Down in a dancer’s position.

Slow Dark Film unspools a quiet narrative, leaving me with much to wrestle with, and reminding me of the Dickinson poem, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.”

Lynn Strongin’s homeland is America. Her adopted country Canada. She has twelve books, work in over forty anthologies, and has been nominated for a Lambda Award and the Pulitzer Prize in literature.

Title: Slow Dark Film
Author: Lynn Strongin
Publisher: right hand pointing
, 2021

Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic Peninsula where she works as a nurse practitioner. She is a co-founder of Headmistress Press and the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online. Recent publications include slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018), and Posthuman, finalist for the 2020 Floating Bridge Chapbook Prize.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.


Terrain, by Gina Hietpas (Blue Cactus Press, 2020)
Cover art by Heather Romano

Review by Risa Denenberg

Before reading the poems in a new book, I always like to spend some time absorbing its essence in its entirety: cover art, back notes, poem titles, author’s bio, acknowledgements, blurbs. The cover art on Gina Hietpas’s “Terrain” is the remarkable work of the artist Heather Romano, who created it specifically based on “images from the text” and “the underlying themes of the poems.” In it, a naked woman is shown, mid-face to hips, tattooed with living symbols, hands at heart and solar plexus in a gesture of protecting a living landscape of vines, fruit, and birds.

Hietpas’s narrator lives up to that image— vulnerable, protective, patient. She brings the reader into her story with an invitation. In “Coyote Speaks to Me,” a coyote dares a human to accept the joys and hardships to be encountered throughout the poems in this work. It ends with coyote’s encouragement:

Stick with me!
I’ll show you persistence and the art of pounce.
Watch me shrug off disappointment.

In solitude you learn your story.
Only than can you riff on the moon.

In “What We Dreamed,” a couple buys a piece of land trusting their ability to make a life, “a reprised “go west” dream. Living the dream, they find themselves here:

Christmas Eve, drenched in the Milky Way,
we warmed ourselves with possibilities.
We assumed blessing in the winks of stars.

In “Dessert” an “After supper” . . . “walk through the orchard,” displays the abundance of life, in this case, fruits—apples, plums, blackberries.

The poems unfold the story of a marriage, early settling into “cold water living” while building a home and having children. The couple’s greatest hardship is yet to come in these early days of “Trim the wicks, light the lamps. / Feed the fire.” In the poem titled, “Coyote Chatter,” we learn that the coyote—a perfect spirit animal for this story—is “a trickster, hipster, predator, editor.”

Indeed, the “trickster” brings the unexpected; the “editor” revises the story. There is nothing sentimental in these poems, no paradise, just trust, love, and hard work. But there is also an unexpected trouble. In “Aria: We Are Introduced to Our Future,” a pain-filled night becomes:

Tomorrow, your morphine-laced body,
            splayed on steel-edged tables,
            pictured and probed,
will reveal in grainy images the seismic shift
            in our dreams.

Time passes, children grow, a home is built of “[c]edar, quarter sawn, straight grained/ layers of ancient cambium,” while a husband’s illness ties him to dialysis. Years pass, a family accepting this complication in their wake. In “The Ache of October,” the woman reflects,

I, now my mother’s age, wrap myself
in russet and gold, sit in the seen of sun.
Weep. Weep. Murmurs the nuthatch
caching bugs beneath the cherry’s bark.

These poems narrate a life, of which I’ve sketched some larger movements. Between signposts and events, the poems reflect a poet who is alive to the land, it’s foliage and wildlife. Each poem is vibrant with imagery and pays close attention to what is at hand, giving the sense of someone who lives faithful to the present moment.

In the final poem, “Credo,” Hietpas speaks of the harvest of endurance and acceptance:

Love is a stone.

It can fracture under pressure.
But yielding to wind or wave,
the sharp edges smooth.

Grain by grain, it gives of itself
to become the grit beneath your feet.

Gina Hietpas is a self-taught poet, born and raised in Tacoma, Washington state. Nowadays, she lives outside Sequim, WA, on a small farm with her husband, a few cows and a passel of chickens. Her land is a habitat for elk, deer, coyotes and an occasional bear. It is, for the most part, a peaceful coexistence. The opportunity to be a back-country ranger for several seasons shaped her connection to wilderness. Professionally she was a middle school teacher for twenty five years.  Now that she has retired, she focuses her efforts on writing. She has studied with Kelli Russell Agodon, Alice Derry, Holly Hughes, Susan Rich and Kim Stafford. Hietpas’ work has appeared in Minerva Rising, Tidepools, Spindrift and New Plains Review.

Terrain, Poems by Gina Hietpas
Blue Cactus Press, 2020
49 pages; $17
ISBN: 9781733037556

Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic Peninsula where she works as a nurse practitioner. She is a co-founder of Headmistress Press and the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online. Recent publications include slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018), and Posthuman, finalist for the 2020 Floating Bridge Chapbook Prize.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.