The Missing Ones

The Missing Ones, Poems by Lauren Davis

Review by Risa Denenberg

I’ll start with a disclosure: Lauren Davis and I are friends and often share our poetry with one another. The first review at the Café was my review of Davis’s chapbook, Each Wild Thing’s Consent, and Lauren has been a guest reviewer on this site. In The Poetry Café Guidelines For Reviewers, I say,

I am not at all reluctant to publish reviews of books from poets known to the reviewer, as long as the review is credible.

Reader, I promise, credibly, that I am besotted with The Missing Ones, and would urge you to order one of the limited press run of 40 copies, if any were still available. But it appears they are all gone. Befitting the poems, they have disappeared.  


The Missing Ones (Winter texts, Limited edition, 2021) by Lauren Davis,is a tour de force narrative of persons lost at sea. More specifically persons lost in the glacial-fed, crystal-clear body of Lake Crescent, a lake which reaches a maximum depth of over 1000 feet, is algae-free due to the water’s nitrogen content, and has an average temperature of 44 degrees.  Davis’s interest in the stories of these lost lives is also compelling to me as we both live on the Olympic Peninsula, near this iconic lake. Davis’s poetry is equally enthralling, and a remarkable lyrical match for the story she tells in these poems.  

In the book’s preface the reader learns,

On July 3, 1929, Russell Warren picked up his wife, Blanch … They drove U.S. Route 101 along Lake Crescent towards their home in Port Angeles, Washington. They’d promised to celebrate the Fourth of July with their sons. But the couple did not arrive home. The two boys never saw their parents again.

In the poem, “Seven Thousand Years Ago,” the story’s history opens,

            The earthquake cut a drowned country
            xxxxx for us to rest.
            In these depths, God laid out a marriage bed.

The first poem in the book, “Blanch Says,” starts with the line, “There are dangers / in deep waters no one / speaks of.” The enormity and terror of nature as it unfolded and continues to evolve on the Olympic Peninsula is rendered skillfully in these lines. As humans struggle to stay relevant on mother earth, nature plods on, on her own course. In “The Missing Ones,” Blanch is an iconic symbol of that struggle when her voice says,

There is a stain on the rock
unfolding. I drink the lake,

All of it. I make it mine.   

And in “What Makes the Lake So Thirsty,” the plot thickens,

We are not the only mislaid ones.
They rest at separate depths.
            //
We are the republic of secrets
and missing person cases.
I wore my least favorite dress to our death.
The lake floor is a reversed sky,

And yet, there is a life in the depths, and in “Things That are Pleasing,” Blanch’s voice lists some of them,

Beardslee trout dancing.
A rainstorm I hear but cannot feel.
The small of winter in hidden splits.
My husband’s eyes in the depths.

Now I must tell you something about Beardslee trout: they are a species of rainbow trout that are endemic to and live only in Lake Crescent. If this piques your interest, read more at The Native Fish Society. It is this detail, among others gleaned from the long history of the lake, that deepen the emotional resonance of these poems.

Blanch also has her complaints. In “Things that Irritate,” she lists some of them:

Candy wrappers that float into my bedroom.
Friends who do not say goodbye after they are found.
Long weeks without rain.
Divers that swim past my outstretched hand.

And there are also “Rare Things,”

Minutes that I do not miss my sons.
Green herons.
Decades without new bodies.

Blanch’s voice tells her story in “I’ll Tell you What Happened,” a narrative of drowning that is precise and terrifying, and yet redemptive at the same time.

This is how it feels to drown:
You’ll try not to inhale, but you will.

Water will fill the lungs. When your beloved drifts by
you will be unable to reach your hands to him.
Just try to move a single muscle. Your eyes will

stay open. Your husband has something to tell you—
you can sense it in the cold. Wait until you are both done
drowning. Then build a new home.

The details here are stunning, make me want to believe in this afterlife of the drowned dead. I grieve for Blanch and the others when she says, in “When the Lady of the Lake Comes to Stay,”

Russell, we have a visitor
and nothing to offer—
 no cake, no coffee.

Let us share our home
with its many rooms of water.

These poems are not at all sentimental. I am not a sentimental person. And yet, even at the fifth reading of them, I have cried.

Why would I review a book that is currently out of print? In part because I want you to remember the name of the poet. Lauren Davis. The poet has other books for you to buy and you will find her poems on the internet in many places. You will be hearing more from her, I promise. And, as the first printing sold out, hopefully, a second printing won’t be far behind, so that you can have your own copy!


Lauren Davis is the author of Home Beneath the Church (Fernwood Press, forthcoming), and the chapbooks Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press, 2018), and The Missing Ones (Winter texts, 2021). She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, and she teaches at The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books. She is a former Editor in Residence at The Puritan’s Town Crier and has been awarded a residency at Hypatia-in-the-Woods. Davis lives on the Olympic Peninsula in a Victorian seaport community. Her work has appeared in over fifty literary publications and anthologies including Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Poet Lore, Ibbetson Street, Ninth Letter and elsewhere. 


Title: The Missing Ones
Author: Lauren Davis
Publisher: Winter texts (first edition, limited run)


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Readers and Writers ALERT!

A few announcements!

Thanks to the ever-on-top-of-it Trish Hopkinson, I would like to refer you to her Daily Digest updated listing of free chapbook contest presses! Support the presses that support you!

I’m looking for some help with The Poetry Cafe Online, in the following areas:

1) Reviewers. I have received so many wonderful chapbooks and cannot review even a small percentage of them. I welcome guest reviewers. You can choose a book from the listings, and I will mail it to you with guidelines for writing the review. Newbies are welcome, I’m happy to mentor you in the art of poetry reviewing! Interested? Let me know!

2) Features. Since the inception of this site, I’ve wanted to feature the wonderful small presses that publish chapbooks, but I honestly haven’t had time to do it. I’m looking for someone who would like to write features of small presses for publication here at The Cafe. Interested? Let me know!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!


Diane Elayne Dees

. . . . in conversation with Randal Burd

Memoirs of a Witness Tree by Randal Burd was reviewed at The Poetry Cafe by Diane Elayne Dees, and, in turn, Dees’s chapbook, Coronary Truth, was reviewed by Burd. These two poets found that they had much in common, as you will see in this interview between them.

[M]y love of formal poetry—which I often write—is probably somewhat inspired by some of the poets, especially the Victorian poets, I studied in school.

Diane Elayne Dees

Randal Burd: I was recently privileged to have the opportunity to interview Diane Elayne Dees via email regarding her latest poetry collection, Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books, 2020). That conversation informed a review of her chapbook, but her answers to my questions are illuminating in their own right.

RB: What inspired you to become a poet; to decide to write poetry and have it published?

Diane Elayne Dees: I always enjoyed writing, but didn’t start doing it seriously until later in life. I did political and tennis writing, and I wrote and published a lot of creative nonfiction and short fiction. Then, suddenly, I went dry—I ran out of story ideas. I began to write poetry because I was frustrated and wanted to write something creative. To my surprise, I took to it almost immediately and have written little else, in terms of creative writing, for several years now. And since I was already a published nonfiction and fiction author, it didn’t even occur to me not to seek publication of my poetry.

RB: Who are some of your favorite poets? Which poets have inspired your writing?

DED: My very favorite poet is Edna St. Vincent Millay. I also like reading Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Matthew Arnold, and Mary Oliver. Two of my favorite contemporary poets are Jennifer Reeser and Allison Joseph. I’m not aware of my own poetry having been directly inspired by any poet in particular, but I think that my love of formal poetry—which I often write—is probably somewhat inspired by some of the poets, especially the Victorian poets, I studied in school.

RB: What is your process for writing poems? Is it deliberate and scheduled or as the inspiration comes?

DED: It’s generally as the inspiration comes. However, I recently participated in two projects which required the scheduled writing of poems, and I was amazed at what that bit of pressure produced. I’ve no doubt that scheduling writing time would be a good idea—I just need to find the discipline.   

RB: I notice you draw a lot of inspiration from nature. Do you spend a lot of time outdoors?

DED: I grew up near a lake, with woods right beyond my back yard, and I now live in a natural setting. Just about every day, I go outside to observe the birds and insects and other creatures, and to photograph them. I don’t garden as much as I used to, but I still tend to a number of plants. Also, my house is filled with images of the natural world.

RB: Is the reader wrong to assume many of these poems have an autobiographical element to them?

DED: Many of them are indeed autobiographical.

RB: Do you personally find writing poetry to be a cathartic process?

DED: I do! I find several different kinds of writing cathartic, but the poem—by virtue of its distillation of thought, melded with sound and rhythm—creates a total body experience of satisfaction/relief that is hard to explain to someone who has never created a poem. My hope is that the reader will also experience some of that.

RB: You have published a “progressive” blog, written for Mother Jones, and authored political essays, yet your poetry does not seem to be overtly political. What do you think of politics as poetic muse?

DED: I write and publish a lot of political poetry, but none of it appears in this chapbook. For me, social/political issues provide an endless supply of topics for poems, and writing about topics important to me is now my way of contributing to the conversation. However, those topics about which I’m the most passionate remain difficult poetic subjects for me to write about; my emotions get in the way. And—to return to the last question—writing poetry about social issues is quite cathartic.


Diane Elayne Dees’s poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies. Diane is the author of the chapbook, Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books) and the forthcoming chapbook, I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died. Diane, who lives in Covington, Louisiana, 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.


Randal A. Burd, Jr. is an educator and the Editor-in-Chief of the online literary magazine, Sparks of Calliope. His poetry has received multiple awards and has been featured in numerous literary journals, both online and in print. Randal’s 2nd poetry book, Memoirs of a Witness Tree, is now available from Kelsay Books and on Amazon.





Risa Denenberg is the Curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals

Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals by Laura Cesarco Eglin

Review by Nancy Naomi Carlson

A whole body of literature exists that focuses on the body. Indeed, one might make the assertion that all literature does so, in one way or another— enraptured body, dying body, panicked body, betrayed body, and, as in the case of Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals by Laura Cesarco Eglin (Thirty West Publishing House, 2020), body as betrayer.

Because I, too, have gone through, and written about “the cancer experience,” I was particularly drawn to this chapbook. I was curious to see how cancer could be the subject of a collection of poems without it spreading into all aspects of what makes a book cohesive and alive, i.e., a sense of tension between themes, linguistic risks, and tone (to name a few). Cesarco Eglin contrasts her subject matter’s doom and gloom with the urge to live her still-young life despite the ever-present shadows. The dark humor infused in these poems also underscores the seriousness of their themes. For example, in “Articulating the Changes in My Body,” Cesarco Eglin, a fine translator herself, compares her scars to Morse code:

I’m thinking about the Morse code as a
possible alphabet to get through, to get by,
to translate.

She then gives a graphic representation of Morse-code-as-scar.

It’s easy for poems about illness to veer off into sentimentality or self-absorption, but Cesarco Eglin masterfully negotiates the geography of living an unconditional life, despite her multiple bouts with melanoma, and despite the need “to guard [each] new spot ‘like a hawk.’” In this pandemic year, many of us are directly experiencing the need to be extra-vigilant to avoid contracting the virus, which makes this new chapbook of poems particularly relevant. Cesarco Eglin can never escape “the doctor’s voice in [her] head: it will come back.” She reminds us that “there is no vacation from being alert.” Indeed, in an existential stance to confront the absurdity of the human condition, she instructs us on how to take control of the uncontrollable, and writing is her chosen strategy. She offers us this wisdom:

One scar, then another;
that’s two lines already:
a couplet written in five months,
a couplet that promises
to be the beginning of a lifetime
of poetry.

Melanoma, her muse, has provided her with the motivation to be “aware of any little change in color, shape, texture, dimension, state, mode or mood of any mole or stain or spot on [my] body.” Cesarco Eglin, who was born in Uruguay and is fluent in Spanish and English as well as other languages, is open to melanoma teaching her the language of the body—learning it well enough to eventually call herself “a native speaker.” She’s trying to learn to embrace her scars, and compares them to bridges, as she brilliantly transforms the threatening juxtaposition of “bridge” and “attempt” to a life-affirming choice:

Many bridges, an attempt
to keep me in one piece;
an attempt to keep me
alive long enough
to cross them all.

In these days of COVID-19, we could all use something to help us cross these bridges—something to remind us to keep believing there are still “skies and wonders.”

The Reviewer posed some questions to the author about her book:

Nancy Naomi Carlson: What about Life, One Not Attached To Conditionals is uniquely suited to the chapbook form?

Laura Cesarco Eglin: I felt that a shorter form would suit Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals as a way to, at least in language, be able to finish the cycle, end the struggle psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally. Intense, short, and move on to life, one not attached to conditionals.

NMC: I notice that “translation” is one of the themes of Life. How did your work as a translator (and an author who is translated) impact your writing this chapbook?

LCE: Experience translated into language. Poetry as a means to question, challenge, and rearrange thoughts and experiences. Translation as a form of reading deeply, analyzing.

NMC: Writing about illness seems to be a tried-and-true genre, but is also an emerging one, as the landscape of disease is ever-shifting. Were you influenced by other writings on this topic?

LCE: More than influenced on writings on this particular topic for this particular chapbook, I would say that I am always influenced by all the books I read. I think that goes without saying. But there are two books in particular that I’d like to highlight. They deal with overcoming a loved one’s death or suicide: Ghost of by Diana Khoi Nguyen and Instead of Dying by Lauren Haldeman.

NMC: Can you say something about your wonderful title (e.g., how it came about; when, in the process of writing, it came to you…)

LCE: The title comes from a line in “Recovery,” a poem in Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals. I did not set out to write a poetry collection about having melanoma and skin cancer repeatedly and what that meant. I was writing poems and they, understandably, had that focus. The process of editing, rereading, changing, rewriting brings new perspectives, and when I read that line I perceived that it encapsulates the compass, as well as the power I think language has.

TITLE: Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals
AUTHOR: Laura Cesarco Eglin
PUBLISHER: Thirty West Publishing House, 2020
PRICE: $11.99

BUY IT !!

Laura Cesarco Eglin is a poet and translator. She is the author of three collections of poetry: Calling Water by Its Name, translated by Scott Spanbauer (Mouthfeel Press, 2016), Sastrería (Yaugurú, 2011), and Reborn in Ink,translated by Catherine Jagoe and Jesse Lee Kercheval (The Word Works, 2019). She has also published three chapbooks: Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals (Thirty West Publishing House, 2020), Occasions to Call Miracles Appropriate  (The Lune, 2015) and Tailor Shop: Threads, co-translated with Teresa Williams (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her poems, as well as her translations (from the Spanish, Portuguese, Portuñol, and Galician), have appeared in a variety of journals, including Asymptote, Modern Poetry in Translation, Eleven Eleven, Puerto del Sol, Copper Nickel, Spoon River Poetry Review, Arsenic Lobster, International Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Blood Orange Review, Timber, Pretty Owl Poetry, Pilgrimage, Periódico de Poesía, and more. Cesarco Eglin is the translator of Of Death. Minimal Odes by the Brazilian author Hilda Hilst (co•im•press), winner of the 2019 Best Translated Book Award in Poetry. She co-translated from the Portuñol Fabián Severo’s Night in the North (EulaliaBooks, 2020). She is the co-founding editor and publisher of Veliz Books.

Nancy Naomi Carlson, poet, translator, essayist, and editor, has authored 10 titles (six translated). An Infusion of Violets (Seagull Books, 2019), her second full-length collection of poetry, was named “New & Noteworthy” by the New York Times. A recipient of two NEA literature translation fellowships, she was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award, and the CLMP Firecracker Poetry Award. An associate editor for Tupelo Press, her work has appeared in such journals as APR, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review, and Poetry. www.nancynaomicarlson.com

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Interviews: A New Feature at The Poetry Cafe!

Big thanks to all who have been following The Poetry Cafe Online and reading our reviews of poetry chapbooks. I continue to receive chapbooks from near and far, and am amazed at the quality of what I am reading. I am forever grateful to guest reviewers: Sarah Stockton, Jerri Frederickson, Siân Killingsworth and Lennart Lundh who have written such superb reviews. I’m always on the lookout for new reviewers, so please get in touch if you are interested.

Today, The Cafe is opening a new reading room for interviews with authors of poetry chapbooks. We’re starting with Lauren Davis’s review of Jeff Santosuosso’s chapbook, Body of Water. Take a read and enjoy the winding path through the process and rewards of writing.

This means we are open for your interviews too. Please contact me if you want to pitch an interview with your favorite chapbook poet!

Contact me at: risa@thepoetrycafe.online

A Nation (Imagined)

  10/14/19

A Nation (Imagined) by Natasha Kochicheril Moni
winner of the 2018 Floating Bridge Press chapbook contest   

Review by Linera Lucas 

   

A Nation (Imagined) (Floating Bridge Press, 2018) is a lyric poem about love, grief, nature, and graceful endurance. The format is one long poem bookended by two short poems, and the story is a simple one: a man and a woman love one another, he goes off to war, she stays home, he dies and she continues to think of him. But the way Moni tells this story is anything but simple. Just because a book is short does not mean it is not profound.

The opening poem “And what if everything” makes it clear that this is going to be about death and memory. We are going back in time. First we are in a field of daffodils, and then we are in a minefield. The transition is brief and shocking, as if the reader is the one who is blown up. We start with sex and move to death where,

the pause after love
before love which is
now     You are in a field
of daffodils
– no –                                   
a field of living            mines 

If you bend left, death. If you bend right, memory. This is the prologue, the poem that teaches the reader how to read the rest of the work. Thank you, much appreciated. It’s good to have a guide, even if I’m not quite certain just how much I can trust the poet who is leading me onward. The long poem begins,

Remember the year you forgot to water my jade

and ends with,

Do you remember this?

Next, we are going to have the catalogue of what happened, in poet time, in real time, and in a mix of the two. I feel as if I had been given the chance to open a secret box, to read letters I am not supposed to know about, and I feel a little guilty, but I don’t want to stop reading.

Now the poet writes to her lover, telling him what has happened since he left, how she wishes he would write to her, then I turn the page and she says a letter arrived three years too late, that their tree will be firewood,

 Tomorrow
 our madrona
 becomes a cord
what will keep

                                      (our heat)     

And what will keep their passion alive, now that he is dead? This is a poem about coming to terms with grief, also about not coming to terms with grief. She wants to send him his chickens, tries not to weep, gives him a list of what she saw on her daily walk in the woods. She saved a wildflower from a young girl who wanted to cut and press it.

“They” (the ever present outside world), would like her to do various things, to be more like someone else, to behave in a recognizable manner, but she wants her lover to “enter and with care //   strike the lantern” . . . taste the apricots,

on your favorite plate              your favorite plate

the one                        chipped                       
from too much             loving.              

   

This might be my favorite passage in the whole book.

Then there is the bargain she wants to make at the end of this poem: “unwind your voice / from my inner ear and I will ” not steam open the letter written to him, which started this whole story. What is in that letter? I am not going to find out, and I like that.

And now the final poem, the other bookend, “Letter to a Lover Whose Name Spells Dark Bird.” This is, of course, a letter to Corbin, the dead lover. Corbin is a variation on Corbie, which is another name for crow or raven, birds of intelligence connected with death and messages from the dead. This poem has the kind of bargaining that deep grief brings, past pleading and near madness, but such resigned madness. Here’s how it starts,

Look, when you call – bring the basket

and here’s how it ends,

Meet me and we
will forget our bodies were ever anything but

a little salt, water                                   
waiting to be stirred. 

and in between is,

the year we spent a lifetime
sailing in the boat of our bed.

So that’s the last poem. I have read the story, and have been changed by it. What makes this chapbook so fulfilling is how real the grief and love are, how tender and fierce the poet narrator’s love for her dead Corbin, and then the ending, with the unopened letter. Because at the last, we never really know another person. We can guess at them, follow the clues from how their lives cross ours, but each person contains many mysteries.

Natasha Kochicheril Moni is the author of four poetry collections and a licensed naturopathic doctor in WA State. Her most recent chapbook, A Nation (Imagined), won the 2018 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Natasha’s writing has been featured in over sixty-five publications including Verse, Indiana Review, Entropy, The Rumpus, and the recently released Terrapin Press anthology, A Constellation of Kisses. As a former editor for a literary journal, a panelist for residency and grant award committees, and a chapbook contest judge, Natasha loves supporting fellow writers. She owns and operates Helios Center for Whole Health, PLLC, which offers naturopathic appointments, medical writing, poetry manuscript consultations, and writing and wellness lectures/workshops.

natashamoni.com 
helioswholehealth.com

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods

Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods by Emily Paige Wilson,
Glass Poetry Press, 2020.

Review by Emily Mohn-Slate

What if hypochondria is not about fear but rather love? In her chapbook, Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods (Glass Poetry Press, 2020), Emily Paige Wilson observes in harrowing yet loving detail the secret truths a body can hold. Wilson’s chapbook investigates illness anxiety disorder, also known as hypochondria, which is worrying excessively that you are or may become seriously ill. This chapbook also explores language, power, and empathy in poems that exhibit a range of formal and sonic play. As someone who has suffered from chronic migraines for most of my life, I found myself nodding and underlining while I read as Wilson articulates the weight of invisible pain—mental, emotional, and physical—and its ability to fray not only one’s sense of self, but also one’s relationships with others.

Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods is framed by a series of concise poems titled “A Treatise of Hypochondria.” These poems use archaic spelling and capitalization (i.e. “Vapours”), which roots the reader in a time when doctors relied on the outdated theory of the “four humours.” The first of these poems, “A Treatise of Hypochondria (i),” serves as a prologue poem, and ends, “our Ancestors / rising / to make Complaints.” These lines ground us in the stereotypical image of the hypochondriac as merely a world-class complainer, while they also nod to how we are all bound by our ancestors’ genes. This framing begs the question: how far have we really come over the last few centuries in our understanding of women’s illnesses in particular?  The next poem, “I Am Constantly Seeking Reassurance,” is a first-person lyric that introduces the anxiety of the speaker and considers the limits of others’ support in the face of her illness:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxMy boyfriend
can only xxxxxxxxxxreassure me

so many times before trees grow
in his ears,
xxxxxxxxxxxtheir roots forming his red
beard.

One of Wilson’s poetic gifts is an uncanny ability to render emotional complexities via imagery. Here, the leap from narrative into image evokes a visceral, physical limit to the boyfriend’s empathy; the trees, trunk, and roots seal his ears against the speaker’s legitimate complaints. We begin to understand the isolation and loneliness felt by the speaker—a double insult to contend with—the way even those who love her most are closed off to her reality.

            “Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods” is the first poem of a series that serves as a second layer of nesting dolls, which situate the human speaker’s concerns in a larger mythological framework. Wilson’s tacking back and forth between humans and the gods draws out tensions around ideas of power and agency in the world. One would think that the god-figures would be able to exercise more authority than the human speakers, but that is not always the case. In “Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods (i),” we see Hypochondria from a distance as the poem is narrated from a third person point of view. In these poems, Wilson gives us the god adapted for our modern time with sharply funny lines like, “Hypochondria once had lunch duty with Hades and he told her, ‘That’s some thorough grief you have.’” She is a complex, human-esque version of a god whose favorite color is beige: “She lets the other gods think it’s because she’s boring, but she loves it—this, the first color clouds turn when they finally let the light in.” Wilson’s speakers are always fighting to turn toward the light, toward connection, even in the midst of impossible odds.

One of the specters haunting this collection is the legacy of women’s pain being seen as insidious or dismissed as mere hysteria. In the second poem of the series, we see the risks of being a woman, even as a god: “Hypochondria was once called a slut by a satyr because she wears barely-there dresses drawn from river water and weeds, but she needs to see her body clearly.” She wears thin dresses in order to see her body clearly for a purpose that is her own, not to entice men; but again, her intentions and her body are misinterpreted. Hypochondria “wishes she could treat pain like a coin purse—something spare, sparse, to be exchanged for something else,” but instead she has to bear it again and again. Gender also shapes our understanding of pain and our acknowledgement of it as real. We see this in the poem, “Hypochondria and Her Estranged Half-Brother Sisyphus,” in which “Hypochondria knows he’s never taken her / symptoms seriously, the panic she’s attracted, / aches born less in the bones than the brain.” Sisyphus responds, “I hold my pain in a way others can believe. / See how it fits neatly in my hands. So visible and clean.” Boyfriends, family members, and doctors minimize and ignore her pain, as in “My Doctor Told Me There was Nothing There.” The speaker says, “They didn’t know how practiced I’d become / in distraction—deeming every discomfort / unworthy of concern.” Here, her secret pains are articulated against the forces that would silence her. And, we experience the way pain is subjective, shifting, and unknowable for others.  It takes a new doctor who had to “hold me / down while she checked the wreckage of the cysts / on my Bartholin glands,” apologized while she “milked blood / and pus from the thin skin of my labia, /gentle yet firm as if she had mouths to feed.” In the world of this book, and we are to understand, in the larger world, it is rare for the hypochondriac to be believed. What if the girl who cried wolf is telling the truth? Who will help her then?

In this collection, Wilson often lifts up the curative powers of language itself. Language is crucial to our ability to connect with others, to rise out of the murk of loneliness. But especially for the hypochondriac, language is also the locus of deep misunderstanding and damage. One of the most compelling aspects of this chapbook is the tension between the limitations of language that the speaker faces within each poem, while the language of the poem on the page is lush, precise, and exhibits transformative properties of observation and sonic beauty. In “On the Wall,” Wilson pursues a fuller understanding of language and reality: “In ancient Egypt, /only scribes were allowed to write—the belief that putting a word on paper was to summon the thing itself.” This is an argument for language’s power to create something real in the world beyond expressing an idea; this tangible power names why many fear sharing certain truths, and would prefer silence. The poem ends: “I’m not interested / in the etymology of a word, but the entire / music behind it. Not the origins, / but the tambourine.” It matters that the speaker is not interested in parsing the word; she wants to experience it—to hold it up to her ear and play each word, through the tidal waves of loss and silence.

The collection’s first epigraph, by Fleetwood Mac, is “I have no fear; I have only love.” These poems stare fear directly in the face with the gaze of love. The second epigraph, “I did not fear them until I wanted to be afraid,” by Sabrina Orah Mark, frames hypochondria in terms of wanting; the speaker has agency and has decided to feel fear. This agency is no small thing; combined with love, it amounts to the exact opposite force needed to dispel the silencing and pain caused by the dismissal of the speakers’ own pains throughout the collection. The final poem, “A Treatise of Hypochondria (iii),” lays out a bridge to another place from where we have come: “persist in all that / Pain and / Patience.” We trust that the speaker will continue carving a path forward, with god-like strength in her vulnerability, through mythology, music, and the force of her own will and love.


Emily Paige Wilson is the author of the forthcoming full-length collection Jalubí (Unsolicited Press, 2022) and two chapbooks: Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods (Glass Poetry Press, 2020) and I’ll Build Us a Home (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Her work has been nominated for Best New Poets, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Connect with her at www.emilypaigewilson.com and @Emmy_Golightly.


Title: Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods
Author: Emily Paige Wilson
Publisher: Glass Press
ISBN: 978-1-949099-09-6
23 pages




Emily Mohn-Slate is the author of THE FALLS, winner of the 2019 New American Poetry Prize (New American Press), and FEED, winner of the 2018 Keystone Chapbook Prize (Seven Kitchens Press). Her poems and essays have appeared in AGNI, New Ohio Review, Muzzle Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She teaches high school English by day and poetry workshops by night for the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online

Emily Mohn-Slate

Emily Mohn-Slate is the author of THE FALLS, winner of the 2019 New American Poetry Prize (New American Press), and FEED, winner of the 2018 Keystone Chapbook Prize (Seven Kitchens Press). Her poems and essays have appeared in AGNI, New Ohio Review, Muzzle Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She teaches high school English by day and poetry workshops by night for the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University.

Pre-Posthumous Poems

Pre-Posthumous Poems, by Lawrence E. Hussman

Review by Carmine Di Biase

Luminare Press, 2021

When I first met Lawrence Hussman, in 1981, he was teaching American Literature at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I was a graduate student in his seminar on the naturalists: Stephen Crane, Frank Norris and, among others, Theodore Dreiser, the writer who inspired one of Hussman’s most important books. The austere outlook of these writers, for whom the human experience is governed almost entirely by heredity and environment, suggested great courage and a fierce devotion to the truth, and for that reason they drew me into their worlds. Now, nearly forty years later, I have discovered that what drew Hussman to the naturalists was his own kindred sensibility. That sensibility informs every line of his first chapbook of poems, Last Things (Inkwater Press, 2019). And such is the case with this second chapbook, Pre-Posthumous Poems, only here the poetic voice seems more assured and, in some ways, more bracing.

The title itself is revealing of Hussman’s wry character and his enduring belief that this life, the here and now, is the only certainty we have. These thirty-four new poems—most of them in free verse, some concluding with a rhyming couplet—fall into two main groups: poems about birds, fish, earth and water; and poems about people, their longings and their losses. In his retirement on the Oregon coast, as his poetry suggests, Hussman spends his days meditating on the lives, human and otherwise, he has observed, and pondering what drives them.

As if to introduce himself to the reader, he opens this collection with a poem entitled “Encounter.” The encounter in question is with a sea lion, but the poem does introduce us to Hussman’s poetic world. The speaker walks along a beach “veiled in fog, / so solid that only memory could see / the gulls.” Then all of a sudden “an outsized shape” appears, a “guttural bark” is heard, and “the truth” is revealed: a sea lion comes into focus, at rest, and readying itself to return to its “endless / quest for fish and groups to gather with.” The walker thanks the creature for proving “that death still / waited a ways away, and life again / was willing with its wonder.”

The unabashed alliteration here is characteristic of Hussman’s verse. This trait, however, never cloys, and indeed is an expression of the poet’s reveling in language, in its ability to recover human experience and protect it from the savage claws of time. This he does with economy and precision. In “A Gift Withdrawn,” the speaker recalls a dear friend, who was also a poet, and their time together in Poland. They visit a World War II cemetery “one dark autumn afternoon” and she weeps upon seeing the writing on one tombstone: “Soldier, Fourteen.” Not long thereafter, a deep vein thrombosis takes this poet’s life. “I chose not to join the familiar funeral folly,” says the speaker, who rails instead against “the clichés of preachers and priests.”

In this way, Hussman resuscitates his dead; they are to him what they were to the Shakespeare who wrote once, in a sonnet, of his “precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.” What is it, however, that keeps the people and the other animals in Hussman’s world moving onward during their natural lives? Is it, as the naturalist writer would say, the mere instinct to survive? One answer may lie in “Homeless.” Here Hussman directs his eye at what the unhoused, and perhaps the housed as well, all have in common:

They labor up the busy highway,

burdened with their shoddy gear,

pushing purloined grocery carts,

or crude rigs of wheel and box,

moving their all from place to place.

It is the journey itself, the need to journey, that drives us on. And given the images of domesticity and society—not only the grocery cart but also “an old man in tattered top hat and tails”—the implication is that the journey promises, as the sea lion does, the occasional “wonder” and perhaps a group “to gather with.”

“A Salmon’s Journey,” which bears a resemblance to Eugenio Montale’s “The Eel,” is one of Hussman’s rawest and most beautiful poems. The etymological link between “travel” and “travail,” words which he does not use here, nevertheless comes vividly to life. The journey literally makes its mark on these fish, which are left

starved and scarred, their once sleek bodies

discolored, deformed, backs humped,

jaws hooked and fanged.

The speaker laments “pitiless Nature,” which might have chosen some “kinder game plan,” but unlike Montale’s singular eel, Hussman’s salmon are plural: theirs is not a solitary journey. Here and elsewhere, moreover, the exactness and spareness of the diction, the sheer transparency of the images, and a masterful rhythmic control, all lead to a poetic experience that is at once arresting and redemptive.

A poem called “Grief,” which serves as the coda to this excellent collection, recounts the discovery of a man found “frozen to the hill that held his little cabin.” The chatter that follows—”worry for the way he died, / the life he must have led, no family, or friends, / not anyone at all to miss him, mourn him”—is pointless. “Save your tears,” says the speaker, “for those that ache, the living.”   

Even for a scholar of naturalism, then, there is more to life’s journey than heredity and environment. There is, in short, community, the reassuring sense that one does not travel entirely alone, or at the very least, the awareness that the strangers among us are themselves on an equally arduous journey, soldiering bravely on because “mere steps ahead,” as Hussman says in “Encounter,” might just reveal, if not a sea lion, then something just as wondrous. 

       


Lawrence E. Hussman is professor emeritus of American literature at Wright State University. Among his seven previous books are Dreiser and His Fiction: A Twentieth-Century Quest and Desire and Disillusionment: A Guide to American Fiction Since 1890. He lives on and writes about the Oregon coast. Pre-Posthumous Poems is his second book of poetry.


Pre-Posthumous Poems, by Lawrence E. Hussman.
Eugene, OR: Luminare Press, 2021.
$9.95 49 pages.
ISBN: 9781643886619


Carmine Di Biase writes about English and Italian literature, and his poems have appeared in various journals. Last year his English translations of thirteen poems by Cesare Pavese appeared in L’anello che non tiene: Journal of Modern Italian Literature. Occasionally he reviews books for the Times Literary Supplement. He has recently retired as Distinguished Professor of English at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. His chapbook of poems, American Rondeau, is due out from Finishing Line Press in August of 2022.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Carmine Di Biase

Carmine Di Biase writes about English and Italian literature, and his poems have appeared in various journals. Last year his English translations of thirteen poems by Cesare Pavese appeared in L’anello che non tiene: Journal of Modern Italian Literature. Occasionally he reviews books for the Times Literary Supplement. He has recently retired as Distinguished Professor of English at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. His chapbook of poems, American Rondeau, is due out from Finishing Line Press in August of 2022.

Grammars of Hope

Grammars of Hope by Chana Kraus-Friedberg

Review by Cheryl Caesar

As a friend, I encouraged Chana Kraus-Friedberg to enter her chapbook Grammars of Hope (Finishing Line Press, 2021) into the Mark Ritzenhein Emerging Poet contest, and I was not surprised when she won first prize!


“Grammar” has a hard sound: grasping, grinding. Few admit to loving this field of study. We, as members of this select club, see it as the skeleton holding up the flesh of words, the skin of imagery. There is no language without grammar. A modal auxiliary like “may,” in the title poem, indicates a whole universe of possible futures for a friend’s young niece. I am reminded of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and the Chinese servant Lee who works for years to find the best translation of the Hebrew word timshel, spoken by God to Cain. Did God say, “Thou shalt triumph over evil.”? That would be merely a statement of a predetermined future. Did He say, “Do thou triumph”? That is only a command. Lee finally concludes that God told Cain, “Thou mayest triumph over evil,” and that in the word “may” lies all the greatness of the human struggle. Likewise, Chana sees a great field of possibilities before her young heroine:

But I like to imagine
your niece’s grammar
as more hope
than mistake,
as though she’d been
shown two limited paths
and refused them both.
That’s not enough, and it can’t be
all there is,
she might (one day)
say.
May there be…?
There may be better ways.

But Chana is also a lover of words themselves, for their colors, smells, or moods, as in the poem “Authorial Intent”: “sickening” has an adamant, exceptional sound, / with that hard solid K in the center.

Or in “Sometimes You Ask Me,” where she reflects of the common phrase “what the day holds”:

I imagine it
like a pair of cupped hands
waiting to be filled.

This chapbook’s title, then, is important for at least two reasons. Words of Hope would have been merely banal. And the plural form lets us know that the author is the product of no one grammar, language or culture; she lives and finds her hope while moving between them.

In revealing these worlds, Chana shares a history that few of us will find familiar. She begins with her ultra-Orthodox Jewish childhood in Brooklyn, early becoming aware that her response to other girls is not the “normal” one, is not something that people speak of. “Brooklyn Lust” tells the poignant story of her “tender, insistent ache,” while standing behind a classmate, breasts pressed against her back, braiding her hair. Chana takes us through her life nearly to the present, to the years of COVID and Brett Kavanaugh. We hear of romances following her coming out–some with presumably real people, others with historical figures like Emma Goldman that she meets on library shelves. But we also follow her to Twelve Step meetings:

I didn’t know it would
feel like that,
all that pain with
no drugs to put on it –

//

But I’m grateful
for this chair
I’m sitting on.
I know if I stop being grateful
what happens

 With each new piece, the identity of the poet continues to take shape before us.

Chana’s writing is highly literate but never affected. It is strong and always searching. There is no lazy or pretty phrase. We feel that the poet is exploring the words, feeling the sounds, finding the meaning along with us. I can see her looking back, bemused, at the lines that have come from her. It’s the same expression that I see on poet Stevie Smith, with her cognomen of “peculiar”– the same wry shaking of the head. In the poem “Authorial Intent,” Chana concludes:

But lately I wonder
how a sentence survives
in the wild.
I could take it outdoors in
my pocket, speak it and see all
the words strung together like small shining orbs:
and I’d know what I meant,
why I’d placed them that way.
I’d know I’d said it.

I can’t guess what you’d hear.

Chana shares the puzzle with us and invites us to join the experiment. It’s an invitation worth accepting.


Chana Kraus-Friedberg is the winner of the 2020 Ritzenhein Emerging Poet Award. She grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. Since leaving that community at the age of 20, she has earned a Ph.D in archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania and an MS in Library Science from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She currently lives with three feline companions in Lansing, Michigan, where she is a health sciences librarian at Michigan State University. This is her first chapbook.


Title: Grammars of Hope
Author: Chana Kraus-Friedberg
Publisher: Finishing Line Press, 2021
ISBN: ‎ 978-1646624386
Cost: $14.99




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 Online.

Cheryl Caesar

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.

Cheryl Caesar

Tears on the Glass Desert

Tears on the Glass Desert: Speculative Poetry of Holocaust Fallout & Decay by Wesley D. Gray

Review by Don Beukes

As a secret childhood reader of horror—books such as The Rats, by James Herbert or It by Stephen King—and glued to the television watching films like The Birds or Carrie, I knew I was hooked on this genre from an early age.

In Tears on the Glass Desert (Marrowroot Press, 2021), Wesley D. Gray both establishes and earns the subtitle Speculative Poetry of Holocaust, Fallout and Decay. In his own description of the book, Gray invites us to “savor the final three seconds before Doomsday” and to “step through the shattered glass door leading beyond The End and walk through the veil of an apocalyptic dreamscape” in his chapbook of twenty-four poems that “speculate on both the inevitabilities and the impossibilities of nuclear holocaust, the fallout it brings, and the aftermath of its Decay.”

We witness an actual “countdown” over three sequences packed with astonishing and realistic poetic acumen in this cinematic literary journey, taking us to what we might fear the most—the end of this world as we know it.

In the first sequence, “Three to Ignition,” we are immediately plunged into the last three seconds of humanity in the first poem, “23:59:57.”  We are lulled into an almost hypnotic state by clever use of melodic near-rhymes such as chime/shine. Gray continues to lull us in the poem “Mushroom State,” in phrases such as igniting the nighttime, where assonance may conceal our awareness of the subject matter. This is also seen in this unique tug-of-words,

our bodies
flail within the flames
waving like an ocean of enraged kelp

In the second sequence, I found unique cinematic scenes in the poem, “From Corn to Sea” with each stanza using the first person, I see, I fear, I run, I sail, I feel, I fade, I wake, I pull, I shudder, I rise, I hear. This leaves us with a strange and effective sensory overload, willing us to also see, feel, shudder, run, fear and fade. This line reminds me of the Alien films,  

I pull
and my cheeks peel from the muscle, shreds
from bone

A revelatory moment comes upon the insight that perhaps the haunting figure on the cover might actually be the narrator. This awareness arrives in the poem, “Burning on re-entry,”

I was everything.
I was the gravity of a black hole
in the icy chars of a comet.
//
I hit the blue-domed atmosphere,
ready to split, ready to shatter.
//
I am ash,
a char upon the glass desert.

This collection is not for the fainthearted; it displays gore, guts and grime, while at the same time displaying the beauty of language. This sensory narrative gives an almost tactile impression of a nuclear fallout and the aftermath of decay.  We see this in the poem, “Covet,”

When our bones
were crushed
into the asphalt dream,

as I watched you turn to liquid
and your marrow
soak into earth,

Other equally chilling lines include, ash caskets rain from Eden’s Skyline, in “Prisoner Zero.” And in “Witness to a Schoolyard Burial” we find, Atomic children stir below the grasses, / continuing education in soil spit.  And in “Impressions,”

gullies filled with flakes of flesh,
their fodder-formed whispers
curdled, weaved in dust.

In the last poem, “A Final Visitation to our Monumental Glass Desert,” Gray holds our attention with lines such as, bone canyons with web-nested eyes / spilling regret from cavernous sockets, and continues the spell to these very last lines,

Blood and tears
are encased within
like swirls inside a marble,
mixed with all that liquid skin,
curled in slithers of flesh-resin tongues.

Gray’s thoughts go beyond the poems, as we find in his own description of the book’s lingering questions:  Let us witness the horrors of an apocalyptic dreamscape. Let us witness the horrors that await these lucky ones called survivors . . . What will become of our Children of the Fallout? Will they live beyond Death’s second coming, or are they simply doomed to fade away?

In his first chapbook, Come Fly with Death – Poems Inspired by the Artwork of Zdzislaw Beksinski (Marrowroot Press), and in his horror novel, Feeding Lazarus (Jaded Books Publishing), Gray displays equally gruesome language and his great skill at writing horror. His work reminds me of Stephen King. In all of these books, he poses existential questions for humanity.


As an author of fiction and a poet, Wesley D. Gray is a writer of things that are mostly strange. He is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association, as well as a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. His other books include Come Fly with Death: Poems Inspired by the Artwork of Zdzislaw Beksinski, and the horror novel, Feeding Lazarus (originally published as Rafe Grayson). When he isn’t writing, Wesley enjoys geek status while claiming to be: a tabletop gamer, a reader, a dreamer, a veteran, a Trekkie, a Whovian, an amateur photographer, a radiographer, nature-lover, coffeeholic, boxed wine enthusiast, and an all-around nice guy, among other things. He resides in Florida with his wife and two children. Learn more at the author’s website: WesDGray.com.


Title: Tears on the Glass Desert
Author: Wesley D. Gray
Publisher: Marrowroot Press, 2021

Format/Price: Kindle Edition ($ 0.99), Paperback ($5.99)



Don Beukes is a South African, British and EU writer. He has written Ekphrastic Poetry since 2015 collaborating with artists internationally. He is the author of The Salamander Chronicles, Icarus Rising-Volume 1 (ABP), an ekphrastic collection and Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Concrete Mist Press). He taught English and Geography in both South Africa and the UK. His poetry has been anthologized in numerous collections and translated into Afrikaans, Persian, French, Kreole (Mauritius) and Albanian. He was nominated by Roxana Nastase, editor of Scarlet Leaf Review for the Best of the Net in 2017 as well as the Pushcart Poetry Prize (USA) in 2016. He was published in his first SA Anthology In Pursuit of Poetic Perfection in 2018 (Libbo Publishers) and his second Cape Sounds in 2019 (Gavin Joachims Publishing, Cape Town). He is also an amateur photographer and his debut Photographic publication appeared in Spirit Fire Review in June 2019.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Don Beukes

Don Beukes is a South African, British and EU writer. He has written Ekphrastic Poetry since 2015 collaborating with artists internationally. He is the author of The Salamander Chronicles, Icarus Rising-Volume 1 (ABP), an ekphrastic collection, and Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Concrete Mist Press). He taught English and Geography in both South Africa and the UK. His poetry has been anthologized in numerous collections and translated into Afrikaans, Persian, French, Kreole (Mauritius) and Albanian. He was nominated by Roxana Nastase, editor of Scarlet Leaf Review for the Best of the Net in 2017 as well as the Pushcart Poetry Prize (USA) in 2016. He was published in his first SA Anthology In Pursuit of Poetic Perfection in 2018 (Libbo Publishers) and his second Cape Sounds in 2019 (Gavin Joachims Publishing Cape Town). He is also an amateur photographer and his debut Photographic publication appeared in Spirit Fire Review in June 2019.

Don Beukes es un escritor sudafricano y británico. Es el autor de ‘The Salamander Chronicles’ (CTU) y ‘Icarus Rising-Volume 1’ (ABP), una colección de ekphrastic. Él enseñó inglés y geografía en Sudáfrica y el Reino Unido. Su poesía ha sido antologizada en numerosas colecciones y traducida al persa, francés y albanés. Fue nominado por Roxana Nastase, editora de Scarlet Leaf Review por “Best of the Net” en 2017, así como por el Premio Pushcart Poetry en 2016. Fue publicado en su primera Antología de SA “En busca de la perfección poética” en 2018 ( Editores Libbo) y su segundo ‘suena de cabo’ en 2019 (Gavin Joachims Publishing). También es un fotógrafo aficionado y su publicación fotográfica debut apareció en Spirit Fire Review en junio de 2019.

They Become Stars: History as Poetry

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

A Conversation with Deborah Kahan Kolb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exits

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Deborah Kahan Kolb

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