The Cows

The Cows, by Lydia Davis

Review by S.M. Tsai

One may be jealous of another being licked: she thrusts her head under the outstretched neck of the one licking, and butts upward till the licking stops.

Lydia Davis’s The Cows (Sarabande Books, 2011) brought me back to every instance in which I stared at my childhood pets wondering “what are they thinking about?” Anyone who has spent prolonged time with animals will get a familiar feeling when they read this chapbook: the desire to decipher an animal’s intentions in the absence of a common language (while sometimes projecting personalities onto them). How many of us have monologued in tandem with an animal’s mysterious actions, or held mock conversations with said creature as they went about their business?

This chapbook is not a collection of individual poems, nor does it feel exactly like a standard short story. I can only describe it as a 38-page poetic observation of bovine life—one that is interspersed with photos, taken by the author during her year-long observations.

Davis has written other stories about animals, including cats, mice, and fish. Upon comparing these stories, we see that each type of animal can provide a different viewing experience to the human voyeur, due to their varied habits and needs.

In The Cows the theme of stillness is pervasive. The various incarnations of this stillness are portrayed throughout, for example:

How often they stand still and slowly look around as though they have never been here before,

And,

[. . .] they are so still, and their legs so thin, in comparison to their bodies, that when they stand sideways to us, sometimes their legs seem like prongs, and they seem stuck to the earth.

In a lifestyle marked by stillness, what are the things that bring action to a cow’s daily routine?

As Davis demonstrates, their stillness is set against a changing landscape of seasons (white snow to green grass), disturbance of other animals (flocks of birds, snowball-throwing boys, gaping writers), and the birth of calves. Ever-analytical, Davis also itemizes their forms of play:

[. . .] head butting; mounting, either at the back or at the front; trotting away by yourself; trotting away together; going off bucking and prancing by yourself [. . .]

The Cows thus depicts an ambling, relatively tranquil (but quietly humorous) existence for these creatures, at least through Davis’s eyes. But when we read some of her other stories, we are reminded that other animals may experience a different momentum in their daily lives. In her story “Cockroaches in Autumn,” (from: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Picador, 2009)  the featured critter’s activities are marked by speed rather than stillness:

[. . .] when I empty the bag, a crowd of them scatter from the heel of rye bread, like rye seeds across the counter, like raisins. [. . .] he stops short in his headlong rush and tries a few other moves almost simultaneously, a bumper car jolting in place on the white drainboard.”

While I found The Cows to be a thoroughly satisfying read on its own, it was particularly enriching to meet Davis’s cockroaches, mice, cat, and dog along with her neighbors’ cattle. I recommend The Collected Stories as companion pieces to this chapbook.


Lydia Davis is a short story writer, novelist, and translator. She is the author of six collections of short stories, including Can’t and Won’t (2014) and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009); one novel, The End of the Story (1995); and a collection of nonfiction, Essays One (2019), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Davis is best known for her very short, micro- or “flash” fiction; many of her stories are a single sentence or paragraph long. She has translated novels and works of philosophy from French, including Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (2010) and Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way (2003). Her honors and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, as well as the Man Booker International Prize. She is a professor emerita at SUNY Albany.
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/lydia-davis


Title: The Cows
Author: Lydia Davis
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Sarabande Books (March 29, 2011)
32 pages
ISBN‎ 978-1932511932
Price: $9.95

          

 


S.M. Tsai spent many years doing archival research and writing, then turned to 9-5 jobs for a new learning environment. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in Ricepaper Magazine, Blue Unicorn, and the chapbook Bubbles and Droplets: 10 Poems of 2020. She lives in Toronto with her plants.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

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).

Ruth Crossman

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

Ruth Crossman

Phoenix Song

Phoenix Song, by LD Green

Published by Nomadic Press
Reviewed by Ruth Crossman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not alone
You are not alone


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


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


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


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Water Lessons

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

Review by Risa Denenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even oceans contain waterfalls
and your mother is inside

everything that you write—
sometimes as melody,

sometimes as mountain
or bone.

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

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

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

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

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

My daughter, neither born nor conceived,

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Olivia Loftis

Olivia Loftis studied Writing, Literature, & Publishing at Emerson College. They appreciate the value that a strong author-editor relationship brings to the creative process. Olivia enjoys live music, trying new recipes, visiting local landmarks with friends, and doing their best not to fall off their Chicago Manual of Style–branded skateboard.

Geri Mendoza Gutwein

Geri Mendoza Gutwein, Ph.D., professor emerita of English at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College taught English, creative writing, and Native American Literature there for many years. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the author of three chapbooks of poetry: Every Orbit of the Circle, The Story She Told, and An Utterance of Small Truths.

Deborah Bacharach

Deborah Bacharach is the author of Shake & Tremor (Grayson Books, 2021) and After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015). Her poems, book reviews and essays have been published in Poetry Ireland Review, New Letters and Poet Lore among others. Find out more about her at DeborahBacharach.com.

Bite Marks

Bite Marks, by Heidi Seaborn
Winner of The Comstock Review Chapbook Award, 2020

Review by Deborah Bacharach, Christine Dooley Ellis,
Geri Mendoza Gutwein, and Olivia Loftis

Heidi Seaborn wrote poetry as a teenager, stopped after college, and then came back to it just where Bite Marks is set, in mid-life where, as she writes in “In Menopause I Lose My Sense of Direction,” it’s “Such a muddle this middle this road failing to fork or cloverleaf.” The speaker may feel lost, but Seaborn has been rushing forward with two full-length collections and three chapbooks, this one winning The 2020 Comstock Review Chapbook Award. In Bite Marks, Seaborn is not afraid to plunge straight into the taboo, whether it is menopause, women’s relationship to their beauty, or death looming, and she does so with a delightful cheekiness.

Many taboo subjects get air time in these poems—vaginas, affairs with married men, violence against women—but Seaborn focuses in on menopause. “That was menopause the butcher said” begins the first untitled poem. It’s a forced menopause brought on by a hysterectomy, and clearly the word choice “butcher” instead of “surgeon” lets the reader know the speaker feels attacked and dehumanized. 

Seaborn returns in several poems to the dehumanization surrounding menopause and how it ties to women losing their beauty. In “In the Mirror” she writes:

I blanket my body
in bedclothes, in the tall
meadow grass. Come look!
I’ve already disappeared.

The speaker who flaunted her gorgeous body as a young person, now, post-menopause, hides herself. Seaborn provides a double meaning: the speaker both protects herself and yet internalizes what happens to women as they age—they disappear. Meadow grass is alive, so this is not a condemnation of wrapping up; more so, it’s an acceptance. The speaker provides some beneficence to herself in the softness, but ironically, she is still juxtaposing this body in a blanket with the body in a bikini, earlier. She recognizes that she has internalized becoming a disappeared one. Her work speaks to our impermanence.

These poems look at impermanence, our impending death, with a sense of hopelessness and wonder. They remind us “we all grow long and tired” (“Cresting Bone”) and that we are as perishable as a radish (“The Perishable Nature of a French Breakfast Radish”).

In a poem titled “To Do Before You Die,” the speaker is riding a bike up a mountain:

where deer nibble long grass where now I climb slowly
asking nothing of the trees or of this dog day in August

but everything of me
pedaling Mt. Constitution 2399′
 
to its peak where I arrive thirsty for the glittering expanse 
of the Salish Sea and hungry for the knuckle ride down. 

The poem is rich with detail of the natural world “where deer nibble long grass,” so the first thing the speaker is telling us to do before we die is notice the world around us. The tone also tells us to approach death full of confidence and joy, “hungry for the knuckle ride down.” 

Seaborn captures the tonal range of late mid-life. From great confidence, like above, to the heartbroken, like when the speaker carries “severed / lilacs by the             armful / as if an    injured / child” (“The Neighbors Request a Tree Removal”), to the intimate “I need to sound you, know / your fathoms. Know we’re truly sisters” (in, “I’m in Conversation with the Sea”), to the most surprising and delightful—cheeky self-mocking. When the speaker says, “Recently I asked my oldest son and his wife about baby names. / They are not pregnant,” I laughed out loud. I appreciate how much fun Seaborn has making fun of herself. In “When the Stars Align,” she writes:

In my dreams, I am leaping off
a star and then I’m a starfish sparkling in a turquoise sea— 
a celestial cleansing for a woman
who just wanted to have sex most of the time. 
Skirt hiked over my hips. My ass, mooning the universe. 

The poem integrates three tones: the dreamy, lovely lyric with the gentle floating imagery of a starfish in a turquoise sea—so perfect as to be almost too much; the blunt frankness of “just wanted to have sex most of the time,” a voice that calmly wades into the taboo; and then the delightful self-mocking of a speaker who sees herself now not as that dreamy starfish but as the ridiculous, the mooning ass. As Seaborn takes on menopause and women enjoying their beauty, she brings the reader with her with this wink and a nod at her fallibility.


Heidi Seaborn is the author of [PANK] 2020 Poetry Award winner An Insomniac’s Slumber Party with Marilyn Monroe (2021), Give a Girl Chaos (C&R Press/Mastodon Books, 2019) as well as chapbooks, Finding My Way Home and Once a Diva. Her work has recently appeared in American Poetry Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Copper Nickel. She is Executive Editor of The Adroit Journal. www.heidiseabornpoet.com.


Title: Bite Marks
Author: Heidi Seaborn
Award: The Comstock Review Chapbook Award, 2020
Publisher: The Comstock Review, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-7337051-2-7
48 pages $16.00



Reviewers’ Note: This review was written collaboratively by the International Women’s Writing Guild book review course, taught by Deborah Bacharach, Spring 2022. I picked Bite Marks for our class project because I have reviewed Seaborn’s two full-length collections and expected this chapbook to be just as fulfilling in theme, structure, and craft. Seaborn was kind enough to donate electronic copies of her book to our class.


Deborah Bacharach is the author of Shake & Tremor (Grayson Books, 2021) and After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015). Her poems, book reviews and essays have been published in Poetry Ireland Review, New Letters and Poet Lore among others. Find out more about her at DeborahBacharach.com


Olivia Loftis studied Writing, Literature, & Publishing at Emerson College. They appreciate the value that a strong author-editor relationship brings to the creative process. Olivia enjoys live music, trying new recipes, visiting local landmarks with friends, and doing their best not to fall off their Chicago Manual of Style–branded skateboard.


Christine Dooley Ellis is a writer living in South County, Rhode Island, lands of the Narragansett. She writes with Grace Farrell’s Writing on Ninigret Pond and is a Muse and the Marketplace Literary Idol finalist. 


Geri Mendoza Gutwein, Ph.D., professor emerita of English at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College taught English, creative writing, and Native American Literature there for many years. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the author of three chapbooks of poetry: Every Orbit of the Circle, The Story She Told, and An Utterance of Small Truths.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy

How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy, by Joan Kwon Glass

Harbor Editions, imprint of Small Harbor Publishing, 2021
Cover art by Jen Stein Hauptman, Design by Claire Eder

Review by Risa Denenberg

If you haven’t lost someone close to you to suicide—and I haven’t—you can only imagine the range of emotions you might feel all at once: fury, wild grief, shame, guilt, regret, fear, deep affection, and how difficult it would be to give language to such complex feelings. Joan Kwon Glass translates these emotions into devastating poems in her chapbook, How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy. Harder to imagine is the death of a child by suicide; and yet these poems are dedicated “For my nephew Frankie, who died by suicide at age 11.”

In the eponymous poem, Glass mingles the ordinary, the wished-for, the memory, and the reality of her nephew’s death into the facade of simple instructions:

First, crack the egg
into a sinkhole of grief.
Measure the ingredients,
then stir until the lumps
no longer resemble bullets. 

A suicide may seem to come without any warning; seen more clearly in hindsight, there are almost always signs. Glass notes evidence of her nephew’s thoughts of suicide in the first poem, “Red Flags.”

He asked his grandmother about heaven twice
in one week, specifically whether pain
disappears or if we carry it with us.

When signals are misinterpreted, a death by suicide is tinged with unspeakable regret. There must have been something that could have, should have, prevented this tragedy.  In “What I Regret,” Glass mourns the lost opportunities, the “should haves.”

I should have filled your arms with a blooming
bushel of your favorite candy … 

I should have asked: What do dream of holding?
Before it’s too late, tell me what your heart wants.

Although they circle around the death of one boy, the poems in How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy also circle time and distance, culture and history, the way families try or fail to hold on to one another. In “Chuseok 추석,” a traditional Korean holiday is viewed simultaneously across generations and distances. Starting with “Today my uncle and his wife will visit / my grandparents’ tomb in Korea / the way they do every year,” Glass repeats this ritual of remembrance at a distance,

I think of my nephew’s grave in Troy, Michigan,
7,400 miles from my grandparents’ tomb,
his headstone flush to the ground.

The uncle and his wife, “leave trays stacked high / with persimmons and powdered tteok” while Glass regrets what she is unable to do for her nephew. “If I could go back, I would claim a summit / and build him a tomb.”

In “Keeping Watch,” are these mournful yearnings:

Frankie, if you were still alive, I’d shrink my world down
and keep watch. Grandma and I would set up camp

in your bedroom, bring a small light and leave it on all the time.
Even at night, you’d be the only thing in view.

Eventually I would see what needs to be fixed.

Remembrance may induce us to enact rituals of bringing back the dead that rely on tradition and belief. In “I Ask the Pearl Diver to Bring You Back from the Dead,” divers produce “creatures that grief pulls from deep airless places.” In an illusion that seems to be real,

You swim toward me,
race the [diver], and she almost beats you to the shore.
You look up at me like a field of canola opening in the sun.

Glass moves on, as she must, while holding on to her ever-present grief for her nephew. The language in these poems grows more and more lyrical as the poems progress, seeming to reflect the lyricism allowed by the passage of time. I love these lines from “Nocturne for Lost Sons,” where collections of mourners see “the boys coming home / in the dark,”

If they arrive, we will unthread their lips and nurse them
or lay forkfuls of lasagna on their tongues.
We’ll tell them their rooms are just as they left them.
When dawn comes, all of it will burn away.
We hold on as long as we can, hoping
the last sound we hear will be
of their sneakered-feet coming towards us,
dribbling balls or peddling bicycles
from wherever they’ve been.

The grief in these poems is as relentless as their beauty. But in “Taking My Daughter Out for Smoothies,” the focus shifts to acts of redemption for the living. In the car, in line waiting for smoothies, Glass admits that she spends this time hoping for “anything that will keep you / close to me a bit longer.” Parents may spend hours with a teenager feeling unseen and unheard, aware that no “14 year old girl believes that her mother / has answers to any of her questions.” Patience pays off when her daughter says out of the blue: “I have been thinking a lot / about God lately … Like when I pray, how do I even know if he is listening.”

Once on a long plane ride, I sat near a mom and a boy who was about the age of Glass’s nephew. The mom was tired, clearly wanted to zone out, flip through her magazine. The kid was enthusiastically trying to explain something to her about something—I don’t remember what—and she was pretty much ignoring him. It made me want to say to her, “Listen now. He may not want to talk to you later.”

In “How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy,” Glass is listening as hard as she can.

 

  

Joan Kwon Glass is the biracial, Korean American author of NIGHT SWIM, winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Book Contest, & is author of three chapbooks (Harbor Editions & Milk & Cake Press). Joan is a Brooklyn Poets mentor, poet laureate of Milford, CT & poetry co-editor of West Trestle Review. She is a proud Smith College graduate & has been a public school educator for 20 years. Her poems have appeared in Diode, Rattle, The Rupture, South Florida Poetry Journal & many others & have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize & Sundress Anthology Best of the Net. She grew up in Michigan & South Korea, & lives in Connecticut with her family.


Title: How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy
Author: Joan Kwon Glass
Publisher: Harbor Editions, imprint of Small Harbor Publishing, 2021
Cover art by Jen Stein Hauptman

Cover design by Claire Eder
pp.  44     $12
ISBN: ‎ 978-1735909097


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.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

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.