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).

ALL ELSE FALLS TO SHADOW

All Else Falls to Shadow, by Amy Lee Heinlen

Review by Christine Orchanian Adler

For many, motherhood conjures thoughts of gurgles and coos, tiny clothes, pastels and talcum. The cover of Amy Lee Heinlen’s chapbook, All Else Falls to Shadow (Dancing Girl Press & Studio, 2018), with its pink and white candy-cane stripes and child’s rocking horse, give it as charming and harmless an appearance as those innocent perceptions. Yet Heinlen’s poems also explore the real and darker side of motherhood many women experience after baby arrives.

Postpartum depression, and its power to overshadow the joy of life with a new baby, is all-encompassing, and too rarely discussed. As a mother who experienced post-partum depression after my second child, I couldn’t see it when it was happening—but I could see myself in the pages of this book.

In every culture dating back to biblical times, motherhood has been depicted in art, poetry, and song as a transformative experience, as natural as the tides. Fittingly, the bible and the ocean are referenced in Heinlen’s poems, like touch points for the speaker to grasp, to keep from drowning in her new reality.

The book begins with a peek of life before, when the speaker’s power lies fully within her mind. In “Self-Portrait As The Apostle Paul”, she glimpses her reflection, her hair wrapped in a towel, creating,

an image of a man in a turban, God shining
through him. In the mirror, I don’t have a beard,
but I could grow one if I wished, like an erection,
strong and sharp as the sword of a man of God

Understanding what’s to come seeps in slowly. In “What to Expect,” the nursery is prepared. Fresh paint, alphabet flashcards, and a mural of Noah’s Ark on the wall create a peaceful setting for the coming baby. Yet we begin to sense something ominous looms, that reality will soon violently overtake the fantasy of motherhood:

I sit in the rocker, gift from the aunts.
Green parrots squawk and flap

their wings but can’t warn Noah’s wife,
who has fallen asleep beside the bull

below deck. Leopards lick
the blood of unicorns from their lips.

In “Birth Plan,” the preparation and expectations are paralleled through repeated lines, half of which are heavily redacted. This visual depiction of fiction versus fact—literally and metaphorically in black and white—reveals how little all the preparation mattered; how little registers in a woman’s mind in the throes of labor; how little power she has when the act of childbirth fully overtakes her body until, at last, a healthy baby emerges. Finally, it would seem, all is well. But then the fall begins.

In the poem “Light, Blue”, it has only been hours since her child arrived, and the speaker has already deemed herself an unfit mother:

The first hours of your life, I fail
To help you wash the yellow pigment
From your body.

xxxxxxxxAt the hospital,
xxxxxxxxjaundice is common.

My dumb breasts sit and stare.

Throughout the poem are all the perceived ways the mother fails her new daughter: the inability to fix her jaundiced condition; the frustration of being unable to feed her, and the helplessness of listening to her cry because she is too hungry to sleep. Reading these lines, I just want to hug her.

Doctors tell her of the jaundice, the trouble breastfeeding: this is common. But what of the mother’s mindset? Is this depressed state common as well? That this question is not explored by the doctor is the real failure.

Heinlen writes with authority and without sentimentality about what a woman is told to expect after giving birth, versus what she experiences. The speaker’s shifting condition is revealed, poem by poem, throughout the book. Through this larger picture, the reader can feel the mother’s mind changing by degrees, making it is clear how the slow descent into a seeming madness can be overlooked from the outside.

“When You Come Home” is not about the baby coming home but, rather, the mother and the changes she sees in herself:

You will mark the time by hours, minutes.
The last time you…

xxxxxxslept (not you, the baby)
xxxxxxate (not you, the baby)
xxxxxxbathed (not you, the baby)
xxxxxxcried (you and the baby).


The speaker’s physical routine is gone, so she maintains some semblance of control by instead marking when she last accomplished these simple acts. Later, she considers how her mental norms have also changed:

You love your partner.
xxxxYou will hate him.
He will sleep right through it.xxxxxxNot at first.xxxNot
Every time.
xxxxxxYou will hate him for it.
xxxxxxYou will hate that you hate.
xxxxxxYou will be amazed by the heat of it. xxxThe spark.

The true understanding of how her foundation has been shaken, though, is most stark in “It’s Not That.” Here, the speaker considers the horrible fates that could have befallen her baby as a result of her postpartum depression, and how close the danger came:

xxxxxxIt’s not as if she sat secured
in the backseat on a hot day, overlooking a lake,
the Volvo left in neutral.
xxxxxxIt’s not even that I left
xxxxxxfor long, never came back, never made it home.
xxxxxxIt’s more that I could have,            
xxxxxxhow some mothers do.

When a baby joins the family, s/he becomes the sun around which the other members orbit. Because the infant’s needs are tantamount, a mother will often question whether her new struggles are real or imagined. Are they due to a larger problem with baby or merely her own inadequacies? More often than not, she will blame herself and press on. But by allowing baby’s day-to-day needs to trump her own, she unknowingly banishes herself into the darkness.

In a fitting parenthetical to the book’s first poem, a hopeful ray of light is eased into its last with the mother’s mind having righted itself, and her power finally returned. In “Considering A Second Child,” Heinlen writes, “I trade these / words for the chance to change my form once more.”

Ultimately, All Else Falls to Shadow is an introspective book about birth, both of a child and a mother. The woman births the child; the child transforms the woman into a mother. Heinlen brilliantly examines the multiple and complex threads among which the status of “mother” is tangled. By illustrating one woman’s experience—both the good and the frightening—she thoughtfully brings to light that which is too often left in the shadows.


Amy Lee Heinlen is a Pittsburgh-based poet and academic librarian. Her poems can be read at poets.orgGlass: A Journal of Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Houses, Wicked Alice, Rogue Agent, Pretty Owl Poetry, Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, and elsewhere. In 2016, Amy Lee received an Academy of American Poets University and College prize and Best Thesis in Poetry award from Chatham University where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing for poetry and publishing. She is a mad-proud member of the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops. You can find more about her current projects and poems at amyleeheinlen.com  


Title: All Else Falls to Shadow
Author: Amy Lee Heinlen
Publisher: Dancing Girl Press & Studio, 2018
Price: $7.00


Christine Orchanian Adler is a writer and editor whose poetry has appeared in Coal: A Poetry Anthology, Inkwell, Penumbra, Tipton Poetry Journal, and online at Bird and Moon, Damselfly Press, The Furnace Review, Literary Mama and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Undressing the Heart (Finishing Line Press, 2021), won an honorable mention in the Palettes & Quills 3rd Biennial Chapbook Contest. She served as a judge in the Greenburgh Arts & Culture Committee’s 35th Poetry Contest; The Harvey School’s annual Michael Lopes Poetry Recitation Contest, and as Editor and Managing Editor of Inkwell. Her articles, essays and book reviews have appeared in various publications throughout the Northeastern United States and Canada. You can read more of her work at http://christineoadler.com/.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Christine Orchanian Adler

Christine Orchanian Adler

Christine Orchanian Adler is a writer and editor whose poetry has appeared in Coal: A Poetry Anthology, Inkwell, Penumbra, Tipton Poetry Journal, and online at Bird and Moon, Damselfly Press, The Furnace Review, Literary Mama and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Undressing the Heart (Finishing Line Press, 2021), won an honorable mention in the Palettes & Quills 3rd Biennial Chapbook Contest. She served as a judge in the Greenburgh Arts & Culture Committee’s 35th Poetry Contest; The Harvey School’s annual Michael Lopes Poetry Recitation Contest, and as Editor and Managing Editor of Inkwell. Her articles, essays and book reviews have appeared in various publications throughout the Northeastern United States and Canada. You can read more of her work at http://christineoadler.com/.

John W. Bing

John Bing has spent some of his lifetime building metaphorical bridges, but most of his time amazed at and appreciating different cultures and peoples, from a number of countries in Africa and Europe and Latin America to his years—years ago—in Afghanistan as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  From these wanderings, and now from his perch in the American southwest, he has come to love both the peoples he has met and the lands that they inhabit.  Just as each person and each group have their own characteristics and belief systems, so every place has its particular geography and set of living things. John Bing’s Time Signatures is forthcoming from Kelsay Press.

Atlas of Lost Places

Atlas of Lost Places, by Yamini Pathak

Review by John W. Bing

Yamini Pathak’s first chapbook, Atlas of Lost Places (Milk and Cake Books, 2020) explores memories of a childhood in India and adulthood in the US, raising American children. She reminisces, weaves in myth and narrative, and blends theses elements into a lovely, lyrical whole. Beginning with the title, this is a series of poems that has echoes of many different kinds of lost places, lost but remembered maps.

From the opening poem, “Ahimsa,” representing the kinship of all things (from Sanskrit, meaning the absence of injury), come brilliant images:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxCanyons are hewn
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxby a licking stream                                   
a tongue worrying stone after stone
like loosened teeth

Pathak’s “Ghazal for the Children Born Far from Home” describes one of the directions of her Atlas:  “I’ve severed you from old ways, this is my sorrow,” as the atlas points to a lost home.

In “Elegy for the Way Home,” Pathak continues her exploration of lost places:

Where shall you go my sons?  How will you ask for
answers. . .

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxyour meridians
lined on your palms and your
genomes, meaning you
were birthed from a language where parsaun, the day
after tomorrow wheels around to point at
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe day before yesterday

There is humor in this chapbook as well.  “In My Own Skin,” for example, fantasizes the strength of one’s own culture as a weapon to overcome office enemies:

I wear my Goddess skin to work
at the Monday morning meeting, I ride in
on a muscled tiger. . . .

When Petunia from Credit Policy goes into Striking Cobra
pose and venoms her questions at me with a hiss, flames
from my forehead laser forth and raze
her to the ground.  She makes a soft pile of ash.

In the last poem in this chapbook, “The Long Goodbye,” Pathak’s strength of incorporating the quotidian, daily events and objects, strews the poem with little jewels:

uncurl the leathered cheek
xxxxof an over-ripe pomegranate, spill rubies into our laps

Pathak is adept in various poetic forms:  Triolet, Ghazal, prose poems, and free verse for examples.  But the reader tends not to notice her technical competence because it is almost always at the service of bringing the reader to her side, to see her perspective, to share her vision and her losses.

While much of the poetry in this enchanted chapbook memorializes a lost homeland, it will speak to all of us who have managed the art of losing, whether it be a lover, a parent, a child, our youth, our mother country, or an ideal.  Being human means both to gain and to lose.  To us all, Pathak speaks words of deep understanding.  In sharing with us her lost places, she may help us with ours.


Yamini Pathak is a former software engineer turned poet and freelance writer. She was born and raised in India and now lives in New Jersey. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in Waxwing, Anomaly, The Kenyon Review blog, Jaggery, and elsewhere. A Dodge Foundation Poet in the Schools, she is poetry editor for Inch (Bull City Press) and an MFA candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Yamini is an alumnus of VONA/Voices (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation), and Community of Writers.


Title: Atlas of Lost Places
Author: Yamini Pathak
Publisher: Milk and Cake Books, 2020
$14



John Bing has spent some of his lifetime building metaphorical bridges, but most of his time amazed at and appreciating different cultures and peoples, from a number of countries in Africa and Europe and Latin America to his years—years ago—in Afghanistan as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  From these wanderings, and now from his perch in the American southwest, he has come to love both the peoples he has met and the lands that they inhabit.  Just as each person and each group have their own characteristics and belief systems, so every place has its particular geography and set of living things. John Bing’s Time Signatures is forthcoming from Kelsay Press.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Elijah B Pringle, III

Elijah B Pringle, III, Artivist. A former Training Specialist and Director of Training, currently on sabbatical, is focusing his time on writing and editing. He is an advisor for Moonstone Art Center and a poetry editor for ToHo Journal.  Elijah has appeared on Stage, Radio and TV and was one of the hosts for Who Do You Love? a talk show on PhillyCam created by Warren Longmire to discuss writers.  He has been published both nationally and internationally.  Elijah comes from a strong tradition of educators and has facilitated numerous workshops.  He is finishing pre-production work on his play “Should Be …”  

Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship

Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship, by Erica Abbott

Review by Elijah B Pringle, III

Erica Abbott’s debut chapbook, Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship (Toho Publishing, 2020), is replete with fresh observations and imagery. From her brilliantly conceived “Darkness and Hope” to her manifesto “How to Stargaze Through the Light Pollution, ” Abbott demonstrates she possesses a pen with a different kind of ink.   

The opening poem, “In Darkness and Hope,” dazzles with its playful construction. It can be read one column at a time or horizontally or, as I would suggest, both ways. No matter how you read it, it reveals reassurance and survival and sets the stage for a collection of poems that offers a buoyancy that belie the chapbook’s title. In this poem, the first four lines are about waiting for wishes. Or is it how the world was created?

future me tells ……………..the me of today
how an entire world………is created from stardust
once belonging to…………..this heavenly body
the sky………………………….holding infinite
waited in wishes……………possibilities

Abbott divides her offerings into two sections: “Darkness” and “Hope.”  In “Darkness” the imagery of water and cloaked-ness is most prevalent.  I’m not sure about her decision to include “10 Things You Should Know About Mental Illness” in this section.  I found this poem to be an artist enlightening her readers without hitting them over the head.  Instead of darkness it offers “ah ha’s” and actually removes the darkness of ignorance. One of her insights appears immediate in Section 1 of “10 Things You Should Know About Mental Illness”:

A façade is what makes me acceptable. It keeps
hidden everything that would otherwise scare
if it were to lie in plain sight

This is one of the most obvious and overlooked issues about mental illness—the hiddenness of it. Each section reveals a secret. The last section states the biggest obstacle I have found with mental illness.

You see what you want to see and none
of it is me.
It is not me.
Not from where I stand.   

The remaining poems in this section do not always further the theme of darkness but this does not rob them of their beauty.  The hidden gem for me is “Sandcastles and The Sea.”  The movement of the poem is like the crashing of waves:

I try to blink the saltwater away –
 …….      make my eyes flutter like that of a seabird
in flight – make no mistake

This image is so layered and simple.  “Not The Fire That Kills Me” is a great read. I especially loved seeing anxiety as smoke and fear as the fire which created it:

It is not the fire that kills
me – it’s the smoke
settling in my lungs

This section ends with the title poem “Self Portrait as a Sinking Ship” which is more reassuring then ominous:

No distress signals were ever responded to.
But somehow, against all odds,
I am still staying afloat.

The final section, “Hope,” starts with a beautiful poem that appears to be misplaced in this section.  “Days Like Today” continues the theme of the previous section.  The last lines declare,

You and me –
Because it’s all that’s keeping me alive.

………………..                That has to be enough for now.

These lines relay more of a sense of “oh well” and not the intentional resolve you would expect from hope.  The next poem “Sixty Percent Water” cymbals and boldly rings out survival and offers the hope this section is titled to be:

You are a life – sustaining force,
and you will rebuild yourself. You
hold more than enough power
to make it happen.

The momentum continues with “Saving Grace” and “Light in The Fog.”  How could anyone not love the imagery of “moonlight on a cobweb”? There is also great introspection found in “Stories on Our Skin.”  The last stanza is particularly moving.  It’s tattoo-worthy (albeit a painful one – LOL). The last three lines read:

When people look at me
What kind of story
Do I tell?

This wonderful debut collection crescendos with the manifesto “How to Stargaze Through the Light Pollution.”  Without being clichéd or trite, Abbott reveals to the reader that in darkness we can see the light through the obstructions:

Gaze into the eyes
of your lover. Lose yourself
in every shooting star and supernova
lighting up their face. This is how
you rediscover the universe.     

Erica Abbott (she/her) is a Philadelphia-based poet and writer whose work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic, perhappened, Bandit Fiction, and other journals. She is the author of Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship (Toho 2020), her debut poetry chapbook. She volunteers for Button Poetry and Mad Poets Society. Follow her on Instagram @poetry_erica and on Twitter @erica_abbott.

Title: Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship
Author: Erica Abbott
Publisher Toho Press, 2020
Price $12



Elijah B Pringle, III, Artivist, is a former Training Specialist and Director of Training, currently on sabbatical, now focusing his time on writing and editing. He is an advisor for Moonstone Art Center and a poetry editor for ToHo Journal.  Elijah has appeared on Stage, Radio and TV and was one of the hosts for Who Do You Love? a talk show on PhillyCam created by Warren Longmire to discuss writers.  He has been published both nationally and internationally.  Elijah comes from a strong tradition of educators and has facilitated numerous workshops.  He is finishing pre-production work on his play “Should Be …”  


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Passing Through Blue Earth

Passing Through Blue Earth, by Cynthia Neely

Review by Mary Ellen Talley

Caught up in the mishmash of creation, humans and animals arrive on this earth with natural proclivities of caring and of cruelty. Cynthia Neely begins her third book, Passing Through Blue Earth, with the poem “Hunger” which takes on this theme directly. Sometimes a hunger that leads to cruelty takes precedence. Neely is descriptive rather than accusatory when she acknowledges instinctual hungers that lead to cruelty. Stark images arise as we consider the “vultures // whose shadow-wings / mark the earth.” With Neely, vultures could be real or metaphorical. The last lines of the poem foreshadow grief to come in later poems: an “absence hollowed out / from a fullness in my throat.”

In the same poem, Neely’s frequent use of imagery stands out, such as “quills white as rib-bones”; a cougar’s tail “black and shivering”; “stubborn aspen leaves”; and how “ice gnaws the riverbank.” She gives a literary nod to William Carlos William’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” with the creation of what could be an adage, “So much / depends on hunger.”

What a fitting introductory poem to this pocket-sized gem of a book!

Arranged without section breaks, the poems in this chapbook move as a river of connections from words in one poem to similar wording in adjacent verses or poems. Neely finishes two back-to-back poems, “Tonight a Blue Moon Rises” and “Bone is Bone,” mentioning variants of time ticking.  Later in the chapbook, we feel there is real and metaphorical “Crazy weather” in “Forecast” with the last lines, “The storming / off. We are altogether too much / weather.” In the next poem, “Home and Here,” Neely writes of fog and place, noting that “These are the places / that pull me by each arm / like quarreling parents.” The connections resonate because they are straightforward and there for the taking. In the end, the speaker reports wandering with the Mother, “over moss and waves / and [I] wonder how I will find my way back.”

Water and grief traverse the long poem “Hopewell Bay” in its thirty-one numbered free verse stanzas. Besides being a writer, Neely is also a noted Washington State painter, so she comes naturally to using color to depict emotion. In #5, she asks,  “What if green (blue and yellow) expressed all grief?” Before naming colors, #4 describes how water flows and literally takes on “the color of its surroundings.” Presenting other reflections on the physical properties of water, Neely reminds us that we swim, we float and we are buoyed up in water before birth.

The poem “Hopewell Bay” describes and explores grief. We are given personal narrative verses with Latinate medical vocabulary not typically part of a poem. Whenever Neely does this, she offers enough surrounding information that the reader gets the gist, as in  25: “Dysgerminomas are extremely sensitive to / chemotherapy, as are all fast growing cells.” In #26, Neely adds:

This summer’s in a hurry
moving off on a gust. My only son
wants to swim to Hopewell Bay.
Today. A round trip of a thousand breaths.
Alone. And I don’t want to let him go
though I should know
no rotating prop will dice him up
slice those lovely legs, render him.
He wants this test, his will
against my own. Still
most days I would go
match him stroke for stroke
breathe his breaths if I could,
swallow air for him.

Neely’s use of Latinate words juxtaposes emotion and image with medical complexities that will give rise to grief. Laminaria is a seaweed that has uses both in cancer prevention and terminating a pregnancy. In #2, cysplatinum is “iridescent, lovely and cool as water.” It also triggers “cell death.” It becomes evident why this long series begins with “I fell in love with grief.”

The poem has a universal perspective, but I wondered if it was grounded in the personal, since Neely often writes in first person. A quick search led me to her poem/bio online at “Survivor’s Notebook,” which suggests that this long poem reflects the poet’s experience with ovarian cancer and an associated pregnancy termination.  

A lover of the environment who resides in the Cascade foothills and summers on an off-grid Canadian island, Neely excels at using nature metaphors to suggest the human condition, as in, “Some ecosystems have evolved with fire as necessary for / habitat renewal.”

The speaker in the long poem is a mother who has studied grief. In #13, she writes, “There are five stages to grief. Once through each / stage we are ready to let go. / This is myth.” There is the personal in #29, what a mother might have told an unborn child. There is also the sense of an end to grief, “now that I have almost stopped / mourning for what’s been lost.” We note a nod both back to hunger and to Emily Dickinson that arrives in the same verse:

If hope’s a finch
that lightly touches down
and leaves the earth for sky
then grief must be a hungry thing
that suckles and suckles
and leaves its mother dry.

Neely’s long poem satisfies all our senses. Her aural imagery rings true in #14, “Sorrowing I love best. It sings like a / saw – a poor man’s viola.”

Cleverly, we are given an entry to resolution with a poem that acts as a transition to the final poems.  In “Hope’s a Transitive Verb” Neely welcomes Emily Dickinson again, as hope becomes a “feathered shaft / air filled wing.”

When we arrive at the next poem, “What This House Knows,” we sense a shift, a door swinging open on a hinge to poems of place and to poems that move toward healing. There is a vacant house to leave, a dwelling that can be an empty house or a metaphor for moving psychologically toward resiliency and/or resolution. Neely has already stated that it is a myth we “let go” of all grief. This poem acts as a hinge poem in the chapbook. The subsequent poems are reflective and move toward hope.

“The Wrecked” continues the poet’s reflection on loss by way of metaphor, “You search for wreckage / then search the wreckage for clues.” In “Since the Return of the Massasauga,” the speaker is more aware of dangers behind her and the possibilities of future pain. But she is determined to move forward, “Give me something / I can face head-on, a black bear in the trail.”

This small book will grow on you. Loss and grief are described briefly and reflected upon. But the book again addresses hope, what Dickinson calls “a the thing with feathers.” After all, hope is another thing we all hunger for.

Who would have suspected that the “Blue Earth” of the title is a town in Minnesota that the poet passed through? The first line of the final poem, “Passing Through,” reminds us that our planet Earth is just another place. Neely has written a linear trajectory reconciling the particular with an existential grief.

This chapbook includes a mother’s worry for the natural and for her personal world. Neely alludes to climate change, aging, and pain while focusing on nature, the personal, and the strong pull of DNA. She admits to worrying about nature and her son. This small book is packed with lyric wisdom and is spoken in the voice of a mother who knows and loves nature. The speaker could be Mother Nature considering her planet as well as a human mother who is programmed to worry about her children.

This poet knows where she has been and where she is going, even as she knows we are mere blips in the currents of time as we respond to our hungers and pains. In her final poem, Cynthia Neely speaks of and to creatures, events, and places that literally and metaphorically become part of a life journey. With reflective precision, the final lines of this final poem hold the key to the book’s title:

this blue planet
this perfect earth
we are all
only passing through

Cynthia Neely is a poet and a painter. She lives with her husband and son up an unmaintained mountain road in the Cascade foothills of North Central Washington and spends her summers on an off-grid island in Georgian Bay, Canada. These places have been indelibly etched into her persona and so into her poetry and paintings. The natural world and her place in it have always been important to her and to her work. When she travels from these areas she invariably heads north. Neely is the 2011 winner of the Hazel Lipa Poetry Chapbook Prize for Broken Water published by Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. Her critical work has appeared in The Writers’ Chronicle, and her poems in numerous print and online journals including Bellevue Literary Review, Crab Creek Review, and Terrain.org, and in several anthologies. Her full-length book of poetry, Flight Path, was published in 2014 as a finalist in the Aldrich Press book contest. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University.


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


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Self-Portraits

Self-Portraits by Susanna Lang

Susanna Lang’s Self-Portraits is one of three poetry chapbooks included in a single Delphi Series volume from Blue Lyra Press.  Delphi Series Vol IX also includes the chapbooks Year of Convergence by Jennifer Grant and God of Sparrows by Christina Lovin.

Review by Albert DeGenova


I have been acquainted with and have respected Susanna Lang’s poetry for a long time.  As the publisher and editor of After Hours, a journal of Chicago writing and art, I have included her work in our pages several times and Lang’s poem “Shelter” was the winning entry for After Hours’ inaugural Mary Blinn Poetry Prize.  In her new chapbook, Self-Portraits, Lang presents an all-ekphrastic collection based on the work of 24 women artists across creative disciplines—painters, a sculptor, photographers, a designer, and writers.  Succeeding in the true spirit of the ekphrastic poem by going beyond a description of the subject work of art (where much ekphrastic poetry begins and ends), Lang powerfully offers her reader a physical sense of the artist with her own personal reaction and acute insight.  Indeed, Self-Portraits allows readers to see the inner self of the subject artist as strongly as that of the poet.

Ekphrastic poetry is a type of translation. Translating poetry effectively is an act of absorption by the translator.  To absorb the words, emotions, music and intention of the poet in her original language is only the beginning; the translator must then channel the original into the poetry of a new language with visceral understanding and craft.  Reading Self-Portraits I could not help but think of Susanna Lang as a translator (which she is) taking a work of art, absorbing it completely into herself, and offering us a new experience of that art through a fresh and personal re-seeing: a re-saying.

I have a longstanding habit of bending the corners on the pages of books that I read; with poetry, these are the poems in a collection that render a gut punch, poems I am moved by and will return to again.  Considering this chapbook’s size, my copy of Self-Portraits has more than a few bent corners and I felt that punch with each poem. Lang has the skill of nailing endings—knowing when to stop with an image that will not be soon forgotten.  This is where Lang most often lands her punches.

The first poem in Self-Portraits, “Terra Incognita,” opens with an epigraph that is a poem by the late poet Helen Degen Cohen (another Chicago poet with whom I am very familiar).  Cohen writes about the act of creating: “And I’m generating. I’m generating. / oh my babies by the millions where / will you sleep?” Lang reacts, echoing the etymological meaning of “poetry”:

we make things, as if we’d suddenly remembered
their flickering images projected on the walls of a cave.
(But we never entered the cave.)

Some of these things we make
inhabit our bodies,
then learn how to breathe on their own.

Some glow in the dark, poisoning our blood;

Lang closes the poems with:

the urge to put things together like red and blue Legos,
to make something not in the instructions that came with the box.

All of the poems here stand on their own without a reference to the original art. However, understanding the references (which I was able to do with most by using Google), of course, strengthened my experience of the poems even further.  This was the case with “Icarus” which is a reaction to the sculpture of a naked torso (without legs, arms, head) by Jyl Bonagura.  Lang begins with the images of failed refugee crossings (first a man and then a toddler, both washed up on beaches), and imagining the torso on a beach, she asks: “What if it were // my son, nails gritty with sand and hair slicked back by the sea?”  From there she moves to the Icarus legend:

________He’d wanted everything, as every boy does.

The sculptor has felt that desire,

 //

_____________A light wind feathered his arms as he rose
Into the welcoming air, never doubting that it would carry him

home, to the arms that waited to draw him close and then
release him into the rest of his life, that expanding vista.

One of the Self-Portraits‘ poems most memorable for me is “Lost,” inspired by poet/singer/musician Patti Smith.  I am honestly not sure of the ekphrastic reference.  It may be the song by Smith titled “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.” Or it may be the story of a Smith reading/performance when someone in the audience returned sentimental personal items of Smith’s that had been stolen out of her tour van years before.  The gesture brought Patti Smith to tears.  But here is proof of the power of Lang’s writing, the ekphrastic reference is not necessary.  I found “Lost” to be haunting:

But neither the dead nor my dreams will stay with me,
and there are friends I have not seen in years.

            ****

Our lost do not come back like the cats
that walk into the next room in order to cry out

and wait for us to call.  It is tempting to think
that the lost return to the places we found them:

a favorite earring into the hands of the woman
who made it, the book with its marginal notes

to the dusty corner of a second-hand bookstore.

One of the starker poems in this collection, “Self-Portrait at 80,” after painter Alice Neel, may also be one of the richest.  Lang describes the artist’s self-portrait, “Yes, her breasts sag. / Her belly sits in her lap like a child.”  But Lang sees the artist in the image beyond the moment of sitting, sees her leaning forward eyes on her canvas ready to paint.  Viewing the actual painting online, I would not have seen life in this painting, but sadness.  Now, with gratitude to Lang, the painting and poem will stay with me as a testament to the unflagging “living” in art and the artist:

Even though everyone’s gone.
Left her with this body in its chair,

//

The work heals and heals
until it can’t.


Susanna Lang’s chapbook, Self-Portraits, was released in October 2020 by Blue Lyra Press, and her translation of Baalbek by Nohad Salameh is forthcoming in 2021 from L’Atelier du Grand Tétras. Her third full-length collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was published in 2017 by Terrapin Books. A two-time Hambidge fellow, her poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in such publications as Prairie Schooner, december, Delos, The Literary Review, American Life in Poetry and The Slowdown.  Her translations of poetry by Yves Bonnefoy include Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, and she is now working with Souad Labbize on new translations. She lives and teaches in Chicago. More information available at www.susannalang.com.


Title: Self Portraits
Author Susanna Lang
Publisher: Blue Lyra Press, Delphi Series Vol IX (2020)
ISBN: 978-17338909-6-0
Price: $13.99





Albert DeGenova is an award-winning poet, editor, teacher, and blues saxophonist.  He is the author of three books of poetry and three chapbooks. His most recent collection, Black Pearl, was published by Purple Flag Press in 2016.  In June of 2000 he launched the literary/arts journal After Hours, for which he continues as publisher and editor.  DeGenova received his MFA in Writing from Spalding University, Louisville. 


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Albert DeGenova

Albert DeGenova is an award-winning poet, editor, teacher, and blues saxophonist.  He is the author of three books of poetry and three chapbooks. His most recent collection, Black Pearl, was published by Purple Flag Press in 2016.  In June of 2000 he launched the literary/arts journal After Hours, for which he continues as publisher and editor.  DeGenova received his MFA in Writing from Spalding University, Louisville.