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).

The Oriole & The Ovenbird

The Oriole & The Ovenbird by Angela Patten

Review by Jeri Theriault

Like an experienced birder, the speaker of the poems in Angela Patten’s The Oriole & The Ovenbird (Kelsay Books, 2021), practices patience and careful observation while amassing an impressive list of species—nearly 30 in these twenty-one poems. The poet moves far beyond a lyrical description of birds, however, as she examines a human’s place in nature’s rich tapestry.

Patten delights in painterly descriptions, presenting such images as a “cardinal fully incarnadined,” in “Spring Comes to A Dying Decade”; and a swallowtail settling on a “feathery dill stalk,” in “Slow Time.” She captures the mystery of birds’ “inscrutable errands” and their music—“teacher teacher, peter peter, pretty girl” in “Evening Light at Oakledge”.

In “After Cataract Surgery” the speaker’s observations grow more metaphoric. Though she sees more clearly the “deeper yellow” goldenrod and the “tiny basket” of Queen Anne’s lace, the removal of a “gauzy cataract” also triggers a deeper understanding of her Irish father who lost an eye “to clerical brutality.” She hopes her clearer vision might restore “some crucial balance / in the universe.”

Another poem featuring the speaker’s father includes one of several references to corvids. In “Crowtime” a mass of crows gathers “into a solid-color jigsaw puzzle.” The crows’ impressive reliance on community reminds the poem’s speaker of the ritual of pub musicians, especially her father, who,

showed up night after night
to take his place in an ancient ritual
to play his fiddle, not by standing out
but by fitting in

“Crowtime” also suggests that death is part of nature’s great “jigsaw puzzle.” By the poem’s end, the narrator’s father has settled into the “collective darkness,” echoing my own quiet settling in among the birds throughout these poems.

In “Tracks,” surgery scars on the speaker’s arm are raven tracks that lead backward to the “battlefields of childhood” and forward to “my mother’s crowsfeet / inching toward my eyes.” This poem calls to mind the twin corvids in another poem, “Ravens, with one raven “forward-thinking” and the other, “memory” looking back. The speaker places herself squarely into this continuum.

“A Cacophony of Crows” contrasts the community of crows– “the sky full of their feathered shapes”– with solitary humans who “choose condominiums” to indicate their “place in the pecking order.” “Species-ism” also shows humans keeping their distance from one another and from the natural world behind “invisible fences.” “The Thing with Feathers” offers a non-corvid image of avian community. A greedy starling at the bird feeder “ascends to almost holiness” when he joins “a murmuration of thousands.”

Full of vivid description and quiet introspection, The Oriole & The Ovenbird offers a strong message about the power of stillness and observation, awareness of the creatures around us, and above all, the importance of realizing we are already a part of nature’s “jigsaw puzzle.”


Angela Patten’s publications include four poetry collections, The Oriole & the Ovenbird (Kelsay Books), In Praise of Usefulness (Wind Ridge Books), Reliquaries (Salmon Poetry, Ireland) and Still Listening (Salmon Poetry, Ireland), and a prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories From An Irish Childhood (Wind Ridge Books). Her work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she now lives in Burlington, Vermont, where she is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Vermont English Department.


Title: The Oriole & The Ovenbird
Author: Angela Patten
Publisher: Kelsay Press, 2021; 40 pages
Price: $16


Jeri Theriault is a Maine poet. Her publications include the award-winning In the Museum of Surrender (2013) and Radost, my red (2016). Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Texas Review, The American Journal of Poetry, The Asheville Poetry Review and Poets Reading the News. She has published reviews in The Collagist, The Adirondack Review and The Rumpus, among others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Rise Up Review and a reader for Vida Review. A Fulbright recipient and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jeri holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.Her thirty-four- year teaching career included six years as English department chair at the International School of Prague. She won the 2019 Maine Literary Award for Poetry (Short Works). www.jeritheriault.com


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe online.

Jeri Theriault

Jeri Theriault is a Maine poet. Her publications include the award-winning In the Museum of Surrender (2013)and Radost, my red (2016). Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Texas Review, The American Journal of Poetry, The Asheville Poetry Review and Poets Reading the News. She has published reviews in The Collagist, The Adirondack Review and The Rumpus, among others.She is an associate poetry editor for the Rise Up Review and a reader for Vida Review. A Fulbright recipient and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jeri holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.Her thirty-four- year teaching career included six years as English department chair at the International School of Prague. She won the 2019 Maine Literary Award for Poetry (Short Works). www.jeritheriault.com

Jeri Theriault

Suzanne Simmons

Suzanne Simmons’ poems, essays and photographs have been published in the NYTimes, Fifth Wednesday, Rattle, Smartish Pace, The Baltimore Review and numerous other journals. Her chapbook In September They Draw Down the Lake was released by Alexandria Quarterly Press in 2020. She volunteers for Monarch Watch, The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, and lives in Eliot, ME. Visit her at http://www.suzannesimmons.net

The Donkey Elegies: An Essay in Poems

The Donkey Elegies by Nickole Brown

Review by Suzanne Simmons

Nickole Brown’s The Donkey Elegies (Sibling Rivalry Press 2020), is a beautifully written and instructive sequence of numbered poems about donkeys, and by extension other overlooked and under-appreciated beasts of burden.

The book begins intimately, as the poet describes a particular donkey, its ears “like single petals of Dahlias at full bloom, curled, firmly upright, but always soft, always open.” It’s an apt image for a book that asks us to listen deeply as Brown lays out the history of these creatures who have served humans for thousands of years.

In the second poem, the poet is on her knees, carefully cleaning the underside of the donkey’s hoof in her role as a volunteer at an animal shelter, and in this position of humility and service, she invites us to join her. She gives us the vocabulary for a donkey’s body: “fetlock, withers, eel stripes, heel, hoof wall, sole, toe, frog,” as opposed to the language used in later poems—stereotypes and jokes about asses, because,

behind their jokes
is not the animal
itself but the animal
they see, not the animal they know
but the animal they think.

She endures the scorn of a fellow worker at the shelter:

the community service punk clocked for speeding with a rattle of beer cans on his floorboards can’t get over the fact I clean the barn for free because I want to.

She notices the “subtle flinch of visitors, their pity seeing a grown woman shovel shit.'” But, she writes, “this grunt work is the repair of my soul.”

The middle section of the book catalogues the dismal assortment of grunt work that has been assigned to donkeys over centuries. This is a fascinating and appalling history, and a reminder that seeing any living being as inherently less than and disposable dehumanizes the perpetrator. Many of the of poems in this sequence begin with the phrase: “On your back,” and so begins a long list of people and things donkeys have carried, including the laboring Mary, later her son Jesus, untold numbers of soldiers, and burdens ranging from dead deer to pallets of bricks until, finally:

your back, it sways, it bends in the middle as does a shelf
that’s been asked to hold more than it possibly can, before it eventually splits

exposing spine. Overloaded, the cart
tips back, suspends in the air
the limp donkey.

The use of donkeys in our World Wars, something I was completely ignorant about, is particularly heartbreaking. As many as 80,000 donkeys were in the trenches during World War I, with their vocal cords cut to silence them, and in World War II donkeys outfitted with parachutes were dropped from planes only to shatter their limbs upon landing and be shot. Brown weaves scenes of her own upbringing throughout the unfolding of the the donkey’s tale so as to describe how she could,

sense the life I was born into, the one I was meant to have. . .
I’d be trapped with too many babies and a shit husband to boot. . .
But what they couldn’t imagine is though I escaped all that, all those years behind the desk have unstitched me from my body in another way . . .

She shows us the girl she once was, who smiled and apologized to men behaving badly, concluding that:

Fawning is one way to dodge what’s coming when you’ve no other way to fight.
Tractable is one way a domestic avoids extinction.
It took me decades
to step into the barn and ask these questions
of a donkey who learned to survive
as I did, who placidly moved forward,
regardless, in spite of everything,
just like me.

The language throughout the book links the poet and the donkeys to hardscrabble working worlds: “The truth of my family was buried in their talk.” In one poem Brown describes Mary as “tupped by the Almighty,” in another she refers to Pooh’s donkey friend Eeyore as a “stitched-back-together low note of Prozac.” In tone, these rich phrases are the offspring of the country sayings she grew up with, such as one she quotes in poem #14: “about as good as putting a steering wheel on a mule.” My own father, a Western Pennsylvania farm kid whose education ended when he dropped out of high school to work in a steel mill, peppered his own speech with similar talk. As cliched as it may sound, rural language is indeed wise, often poetic and has an earthy humor you can practically smell. Brown’s book is infused with this language, and coupled with her intellect and keen observations she spins plenty of her own wisdom: “Do we dismiss sturdy, useful beings / because we despise what we’re afraid we’ll become?”

The last poem is a blessing that calls to these lines from Galway Kinnell’s “Saint Francis and the Sow”:

sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
/ /
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow

Brown ends her well-researched and deeply moving book with a similar blessing:

Blessed be. You know how it goes.
Inherit the.
/ /
a plain song of persistence, of hunger
met with plenty of time to chew.

Listen.
Can you hear it, too?

In his dutiful mouth, the pulp and resignation,
the grit and patience of every
thing grown by the sun surrendered
but saved, brought back
by the common, low-life, baseborn, absolute

holiness that is
this donkey.

I highly recommend this book. The language is often bracing and always delightful, the donkeys are as real as rain—purely themselves, intensely seen, and yet also metaphors for the suffering that happens all around us that we manage not to see.


Nickole Brown received her MFA from the Vermont College, studied literature at Oxford University, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She worked at Sarabande Books for ten years. Her first collection, Sister, a novel-in-poems, was first published in 2007 by Red Hen Press and a new edition was reissued by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2018. Her second book, a biography-in-poems called Fanny Says, came out from BOA Editions in 2015, and the audio book of that collection became available in 2017. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years until she gave up her beloved time in the classroom in hope of writing full time. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and teaches periodically at a number of places, including the Sewanee School of Letters MFA Program, the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA, and the Hindman Settlement School. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, in Asheville, NC, where she volunteers at a three different animal sanctuaries. Currently, she’s at work on a bestiary of sorts about these animals, but it won’t consist of the kind of pastorals that always made her (and most of the working-class folks she knows) feel shut out of nature and the writing about it—these poems speak in a queer, Southern-trash-talking kind of way about nature beautiful, but damaged and dangerous. The first of these new poems, To Those Who Were Our First Gods won Rattle‘s Chapbook Contest in 2018. The second chapbook from this project, an essay-in-poems called The Donkey Elegies, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in January 2020.

Title: The Donkey Elegies: An Essay in Poems
Author: Nickole Brown
Publisher: Sibling Rivalry Press, January 16, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-943977-71-0
Price: $12.00


Suzanne Simmons’ poems, essays and photographs have been published in the NYTimes, Fifth Wednesday, Rattle, Smartish Pace, The Baltimore Review and numerous other journals. Her chapbook In September They Draw Down the Lake was released by Alexandria Quarterly Press in 2020. She volunteers for Monarch Watch, The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, and lives in Eliot, ME. Visit her at http://www.suzannesimmons.net



Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Call My Name

Call My Name, by Heather Wyatt

Review by Diane Elayne Dees

It’s hard to ignore a chapbook that includes a poem whose first line is: “I saw my ass on the news last night.” Heather Wyatt’s Call My Name (The Poetry Box, 2019) is filled with such detailed observations, often delivered with skillfully detached humor, and always presented with rich and precise imagery.

In “File Footage,” the above-referenced poem, Wyatt writes:

Almost like a heart, it bobbled,
a teeter totter unaware of the camera.
This isn’t good. I said to myself.
I put down the cookie dough.
I predicted this would happen one day.

Call My Name is part memoir, in that the author sometimes takes us back to her childhood and some of the important characters who shaped it. It is also a collection of her keen observations of everyday events and objects—things that make up a major part of our lives, but which we may tend to ignore. Wyatt pays close attention to them, and reminds us that they have meaning, even if we have sometimes been unable to find the words to convey that meaning. In “Nostalgic Scroll,” she runs through a list of sensory memories:

miniature teapot I begged my mother for after Aunt
          Frances died
yellow crocheted purse from Great-Grandmother Maude
fallen hair from Barbie on Salon day
sand dunes perched on the coast of North Carolina
          littered with kites donning images of
          superheroes
sixteenth century forts, lighthouses bigger than life
          and miles of white beaches in St. Augustine

And in “Full of Grace,” she laments the unfortunate existence of a neglected statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Made of stone,
she stands prim,
high, cream
stone against
the brick wall,
nailed
to a black
L bracket
looking over
the leather
teal sofas,
and the television that never stops running
the news ticker.

I lived in New Orleans for much of my life, so I was immediately drawn to “After My Second Hurricane,” in which Wyatt perfectly captures the city’s sometimes shocking ambience:

The streets of New Orleans smell
like old trash filled
with aged, Creole spices. . .
. . . Purple and gold beads
were flying at my head.

The author’s childhood memories include finding her grandfather’s golf bag in the attic, digging “to China” in the red mud of her yard, eating canned ravioli and watching The Price is Right at her grandparents’ house, and losing control of her crutches and falling down twice at her great-grandmother’s funeral. In every case, these memories are enhanced by Wyatt’s keen use of imagery and her attention to detail, as they are in the poem, “The Price is Right”:

Grandpa would
pluck the strings
on his guitar
until he heard
creaking floor boards
that meant Grandma
was coming to tell
him to stop.

I spent every
summer this way,
reclining, looking
at the wood paneling
on the walls.

One of the most poignant poems in the collection is “A Caged Bird,” in which the author describes a sick bird:

Your curled beak and nails
grasp at the wires—
you squawk when you can
catch your breath,
The latch that keeps you caged
comes unhinged and the door opens.

You don’t leave.

Even more affecting is the haunting title poem, “Call My Name,” which is the first poem in the chapbook. In “Call My Name,” Wyatt describes the failing mental and physical health of her aunt, who is in a nursing home. But the poem is really about the author’s reaction to witnessing the demise of her family member:

This is not the first
or last poem I will write
about you.
This time I am trying
to decide what I want
from your house
that you can’t fit
in your tiny room.
How can I choose
what I want
to take with me?

We haven’t even had
a funeral for you.

The poet describes the patient’s condition in painful and startling detail, such as in this passage:

The closet is your refrigerator
and you are on the kitchen floor
and you are in the fabrics department
and you are working.
You fold the same stiff, sterile sheet
for hours and look desperately
at the oxygen machine to give
you a price for the discounted fabric.

Wyatt’s poetry is spare and focused, transporting the reader directly to the scene, and all of the emotions and sensations surrounding it. Call My Name is evocative, emotive and and often humorous. Heather Wyatt closely observes everything, including herself, in this beautifully written collection. The result is poetry that nudges our memories, validates our feelings about events large and small, and calls us to be observers of our own experiences.



Heather Wyatt is a teacher and writer by day and food TV junkie by night. Her first book, My Life Without Ranch, from 50/50 Press features that love of food, but also explores the dangerous relationship we can all have with it. She lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and has a slight obsession with her two dogs. She both graduated from and instructs English at the University of Alabama.

She received her MFA from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky in poetry. Several of her poems have been featured in a number of journals including Number One, Puff Puff Prose Poetry , The Binnacle, ETA, Writers Tribe Review and many others. Her short story “A Penny Saved” was published in Perspectives Magazine in 2018. Her essay “Self-Defense” is in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, September 2018 and her essay, “Hot AF” is in the magazine Robot Butt.

Follow her on Twitter @heathermwyatt or visit her website at heathermwyatt.com for more information.


Title: Call My Name
Author: Heather Wyatt
Publisher : The Poetry Box ( 2019)
Paperback : 40 pages
13 : 978-1948461283


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 chapbooks, I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died, and The Last Time I Saw You. 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.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Fossils on a Red Flag

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Diaz Ettinger

Review by Nancy Knowles

The US military has made a habit of using beautiful islands for target practice while also destroying animal life, fragile ecosystems, livelihoods, cultures, and even people. Bikini Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands, is one example, about which Marshallese poet Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner has evocatively written. Culebra, in Puerto Rico, is another.

Inspired by Jetn̄il-Kijiner, Amelia Diaz Ettinger wrote her chapbook Fossils on a Red Flag (Finishing Line Press, 2021) about the Culebra Island Naval Defensive Sea Area and Naval Airspace Reservation. The Navy reserve was created in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for training purposes. Culebra is an archipelago of 11.6 square miles with a population, according to the government website, of 1,868 people. The chapbook begins with the Executive Order 8684, establishing the naval reserve, and presents nineteen poems that move through time from 1941 to 2017, when deadly Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. Born in Mexico and raised in Puerto Rico, Diaz Ettinger writes from her own experiences visiting Culebra for scientific study as a teenager in the 1970’s and from her vantage point today as a retired educator and an expatriate Puerto Rican now living in Oregon.

Echoing the protests of the culebrenses that took place in the early 1970s and resulted in the discontinuation of the Navy’s use of Culebra, Diaz Ettinger’s collection decries the extensive damage to the environment. She uses the motif of half-life, the scientific term that identifies the time it takes for a substance to decay to half its potency, to probe how long it will take for the archipelago to recover from being used as a bombing range. Among the damages done to the archipelago were destruction of bird and turtle nesting sites, destruction of coral reefs, radiation contamination of land and seafood due to leaching from munitions, and the threat of unexploded munitions. In the poem, “1968*half life,” Diaz Ettinger brings the reader right into the destruction of bird life:

They were parents here, and aunts
and siblings.
They knew and fed each other’s chicks.
//
The inferno that followed
charred the anxious waiting families
sitting peacefully at their nests.

The poem “*1970 half life” starts with the epigraph “I have my orders. / We will blow up some / more on Monday.” The poem depicts the detonation of missiles lodged in coral, a bombing that resulted in native fishermen’s loss of livelihood:

Two hundred feet from the explosion
the coral was sliced as by a divine indifferent knife,
white spots already spread, where life had been blasted.
The shore filled with the glassy eyes of fish.

Diaz Ettinger’s collection also depicts the culebrenses in protest against the US military. The poem, “Claro Feliciano, a citizen of Culebra” describes how this 74-year-old man experiences the “ghost” of the Navy’s radiation poisoning in the cells of his body. It is like “skeletal fingers,” or like “fishbones / that turned to steel.” In “*1970 half life,” the culebrenses, in response, stand outside the naval base within range of “sharpshooters / poised on the occupied hill” and sound “Seventy conchs strong / singing / with the willingness of a hurricane.”

The collection reflects the history of Puerto Rico as a colonial landscape—site of displaced native populations and imported African slaves, colonized by the Spanish, won as a US territory as a spoil of war, disenfranchised in US politics, routinely mistreated and ignored by the US government, and now essentially bankrupt. On behalf of this population, Diaz Ettinger’s work demands that Americans notice the pattern of destruction, both ecological and sociological, to American lands and to fellow American citizens.

A third strand in the collection is Diaz Ettinger’s own life experience in this landscape. She recalls herself as a teen oblivious to the politics of life on Culebra. In “Queen Conch I,” she arrives as a scientist studying “birds and turtles,” “wrapped in loud youth.” A highlight of the collection is “Cebu Poem: Loggerheads and Leatherbacks,” which depicts a youthful love affair among the science crew:

Once in the Caribbean brine,
away from the prying eyes of my father,
lost in the blue with the smell of fish-bones on our skin
I gave myself to you, soft as the inside of a mollusk.

The young people are oblivious to the destruction around them, this time other young people stealing protected eggs. The contrast between the lovers and the destroyers speaks to the irony of attempting to protect rare species in this devastating context. Here, even young love fails:

Plundered nests before the sun entered those waters,
under the fading eye of Yucayu,
just as you left without saying adios
leaving me alone on sand, ocean, and new discovered fire.

Fossils on a Red Flag ends with a poem, “Dedication: After Hurricane Maria,” that depicts the poet looking at Puerto Rico and Culebran politics from the vantage point of years and of the Continental US. Her mourning for the people and places of her childhood is palpable in “baskets of loss.” In this poem, she calls readers to “Witness!” With this command, we are instructed to notice destruction and cruelty. We should take action in helping those who are suffering, and to have sympathy–also for the poet, safe in Oregon, watching with grief the desolation of her home.

In the poems of Diaz Ettinger, as well as those by Jetn̄il-Kijiner, the personal is political and so is the poetry. Diaz Ettinger’s chapbook is art that both delights us and motivates us to live better.


Born in Mexico and raised in Puerto Rico, Amelia Diaz Ettinger has written poems that reflect the struggle with identity often found in immigrants. She began writing poetry at age three by dictating her poems out loud to her uncles who wrote them down for her. She has continued writing poems and short stories throughout her life. Her writing took a back seat while she raised two wonderful human beings and worked as a high school teacher. Now retired, she has renewed her writing with fervor. She has published three books of poetry: SPEAKING AT A TIME (redbat books, 2015), LEARNING TO LOVE A WESTERN SKY (Airlie Press, 2020), and FOSSILS ON A RED FLAG (Finishing Line Press, 2021). She currently resides in Summerville, Oregon with her husband Chip, her dog Oso and seven unnamed chickens.


Title: Fossils on a Red Flag
Author: Amelia Diaz ettinger
Publisher : Finishing Line Press (February 19, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 1646624424 ISBN-13 : 978-1646624423
Price: $14.99


The daughter of two architects, Nancy Knowles began her career in education as a school model, posing as an eager student in publicity photos for her parents’ business, which focused on designing K-8 schools. In addition to earning degrees from UCLA, Humboldt State University, and the University of Connecticut, she worked in business management in the entertainment industry and taught English at a summer camp in Japan. She has taught literature and writing at the college level for almost 30 years.


Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Nancy Knowles

Nancy Knowles

The daughter of two architects, Nancy Knowles began her career in education as a school model, posing as an eager student in publicity photos for her parents’ business, which focused on designing K-8 schools. In addition to earning degrees from UCLA, Humboldt State University, and the University of Connecticut, she worked in business management in the entertainment industry and taught English at a summer camp in Japan. She has taught literature and writing at the college level for almost 30 years.

MUCH

Much by Joel Peckham

Review by Charles Farmer

Embracing memory can be a tricky task for the artist. For some, remembrance realizes itself in the comforting gaze of nostalgia and sentimentality. For others, reminiscence belts us as a reminder of something lost, the unrecoverable better days. In his poetry chapbook, Much (UnCollected Press, 2021), Joel Peckham offers a different way to negotiate with our histories: the past as proof of our resilience. Grounded in the lucid and the circumstantial, Peckham’s autobiographical work turns past and present anxieties into narratives of focus and survival. Much confronts eventualities and catastrophes with a hard-earned durability characterized by love and empathy.

Much opens with “On Hearing a Scream Outside My Window,” a poem driven by a theme typical of Peckham’s best work –an unwavering trust in human connection fueled by recollection,

the way the mind desperately pieces things together,
xxxxxtrying to
follow its tracks as it bends into the woods, imposing
xxxxxxpatterns, asking all the
leading questions.

Peckham, a Whitman devotee, finds common ground and kinship in the everyday and the extraordinary, in this instance, a cry that functions as both bridge and catharsis. On one hand, the scream conjures the memory of a great grandmother he never met, the relative:


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx… my sisters feared, who, in
her last years would spend thanksgiving screaming that
xxxxxxher husband
was trying
to kill her, tearing at her hair and weeping in terror as
xxxxxxeveryone shook their
heads, staring at their drinks–

Giving purpose to the noise of agony, Peckham “imagined and reimagined the voice” and, if only briefly, finds some insight into the mind of the great grandmother who has become the stuff of family lore.

The scream also recalls Peckham’s childhood spent listening to John Lennon records, whose wails are more than rock and roll theatrics.  For Peckham, they are confirmation of the human condition, at times celebrating, pleading, suffering, or “harmonizing.” Lennon’s “voice split” is vitality manifested, universal, and prophetic:

it was all
for me and through me–those cries and those I hadn’t yet
xxxxxxheard
or would make myself
in time. Years later.

In Peckham’s hands, cries are a sonic purge, “terror turned to beauty. This force / freed from the sun.”

Other recollections that sprinkle Much’s first half eclipse the typical slice-of-life narratives, exploring labor and reward, success and failure. “Redemption Center” celebrates the “simple return[s]” of youth, when heaven is an uncomplicated exchange of a day’s hard work for an afternoon at the movies. Elsewhere, the struggles of adulthood reveal themselves. A group of boys playing in the woods in “Trembling in the Water” are left to reckon with discovery of an abandoned pinstripe suit. What are the young men to make of a man who has given up? Perhaps he “walked out of / a bank or some / cubicle in one of the office parks,” or emerged, hands in the air, from a “breakdown / lane off 95,” and stripped himself of authority and responsibility. The reality of an adult’s defeat leaves the boys, “Ready / to bolt.” Other poems demonstrate a young person’s realization of class-consciousness. In “You don’t know shit about shit,” the speaker finds camaraderie with the boss’s sister. Together, they are “the dropout and the washout, and the trust fund kid,” both “starving for blood.”

The poem, “Pavement: Jack Coffey Landscaping and Tree Service, July 1989” juxtaposes “the fine, manicured green of the lawn” with a truck bed of “black tar sloughing and / calving like a glacier, the scrape of iron on iron, and curses echoing,” as a three-person crew toil during a suburban summer. The working day ends not only with the satisfaction of a job well done, but also with a “deep breath, breathing the poison in.”

Other poems find Peckham more political, but no less intimate. Peckham’s signature familiarity saves his poems from the relic status resigned to much of protest art. In “Jupiter, Desire, Hope,” he confronts the reckoning of COVID-era America. After years of “walking up the gang plank,” we are left to take shelter, “duck and cover,” and “adjust our masks.”  “The debt [has] come due.” The poem continues:

Did you ever think        this would happen in our
lifetime Rachel asks me as we adjust    our masks and
xxxxxxcross the lot
to the grocery store         Yes I hear myself respond

The poem “#naturalselection” tackles a country that reduces the substance abuse epidemic to bad statistics, and thinks that its casualties suffer a just-deserved fate as the “other”:

But the problem
is the gangs from Detroit and who cares, let those bastards
xxxxxshoot each other.
And let those druggies shoot themselves
up until they’re gone. Load the heroin and Fentanyl and
xxxxxxFuck the Narcan
anyway. It’s called natural selection.

Where War-on-Drug hardliners dictate with an either/or idea of justice, Peckham writes from the front-lines, giving names and a gentle humanity to the victims. Cool Chase, one of Peckham’s former student, “was beautiful in a quiet way that takes you / by surprise. He could reach you with his eyes without speaking,”

             But he had
nerve pain and a limp. And maybe he was
a little too thin and sometimes he shook a bit like witch
xxxxxxgrass in the wind.
But that was just Cool Chase, holding back
And leaning in, and who knew anyone or anything
xxxxxxcould take you suddenly
that way before you knew what hit you.

The poem, “America: Love It or Leave It,” is Much’s most vicious piece, addressing the absurd, “You’re with us, or you’re against us” mentality that has haunted post-9/11 America. Using the metaphor of a one-sided, abusive relationship, Peckham presents the country as a bully,

Just another
cracking-open-a-six-pack-
feet-up-watching-football-with-potato-chip-crumbs-
xxxxxxin-his-navel kind of
love asking what’s for dinner

In a country that traffics in blind patriotism, “There is no out,” no rescue or retreat, just:

you and all you us and thems and either ors. And
xxxxxxthat’right,
I didn’t think so’s. Don’t you know by now it’s been a long,
xxxxxxlong time since
This thing we have, had anything to do with love.

Much’s anxieties culminate in the title piece, dedicated to Peckham’s son, Darius, at age eighteen. The poem undercuts the easy romanticism of idealized youth, presenting a litany of too-much-too-soon experiences that test the resilience of young men and women living under the canopy of near-catastrophe. Reflecting on his own youth, Peckham offers a childhood that wasn’t just baseball cards, rock and roll records, or candy bars; it was also Regan-era angst, abusive parents, coked-up teammates, suicide, AIDS, Russia, sex, and questions about sexuality. His was a world punctuated by overexposure, breaking points, and muted suffering: “How much we hid from each other and ourselves and hid ourselves from / each other.”

“Much” is poem driven by the parental instinct to nurture and protect, and while it can’t do the impossible—guarantee a child’s safety—it articulates the confusing and difficult dynamic between parents and children. Peckham understands that parents:

Didn’t know us at all. And
Back then we all thought that was what they wanted.
xxxxxxxxxMaybe

they were a little scared of us, how much we had to
xxxxxxxxxface, and how much we
needed and how confused we were, how much damage
xxxxxxxxxwas being
done.

In confronting the realities of youth, Peckham gives us poetry-as-survival-kit, a lived-to-tell voice of experience: 

All that was coming, coming at us, all at once. That no
xxxxxxone
could protect us from. And maybe it was all

Too much.

Peckham concludes with the celebratory “Wow! Signal: Dredging Light.” Here, exhilaration fuels an anticipation of “Summer / when everything sings and stings with its need to be uncontained, and penetrate the skin.” A Whitmanesque kinship sends Peckham, tasked with the chore of dredging a creek, beyond the here and now, “insisting I am / not confined in … this body or this creek.” In an instant, his shovel “is not a shovel but a dish, glittering with stars that are future and past at once, sending their messages of birth and burial.” From there, a fabric of continuity reveals itself:

somewhere on the burning
sand of an ever-expanding beach, unmodulated waves
xxxxxxthat might have come
from a light-house beacons somewhere in the
xxxxxxconstellation of
Sagittarius strain…

Somewhere in Ohio the astronomer shot through
with wonder stares at the signal he’s been waiting for
xxxxxxwithout hope and
desperate with need, works out the coordinates, searching
xxxxxxfor the
source of what he sees.

Back at the creek, Peckham implores the Old Gods to “sing the language of the sumac” and “play the notes in any sequence.” Grappling with memory, Much could end on a down note; however, “Wow!” finds Peckham alive, hopeful, transcendent, and untranslatable, “staggering / with light and heat.”

Much, along with Peckham’s other books, channels the sweeping, out-of-breath exuberance of Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. At the same time, he deals in a reassuring tenderness that recalls Carl Sandburg. Understandably, any work published during the chaos and loss and COVID will be read as product of its circumstances. Yet Much transcends the trappings of topical art by re-imaging how we live with memory, not as a crutch, but as a resume.  Here, a relationship with the past isn’t defined by what-ifs or senior yearbook superlatives; instead; it’s delicate dichotomy of thriving in the now and “letting go while holding to the line that links.”


Joel Peckham has published seven books of poetry and nonfiction, most recently God’s Bicycle and Body Memory. His newest collection, Bone bMusic, is forthcoming from SFA press in Spring 2021. His poems appeared recently in or are forthcoming in many journals, including Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, The Sugar House Review, Cave Wall, The Beloit Poetry Journal and many others. Currently, he is editing an anthology of ecstatic poetry for New Rivers Press, titled Wild Gods: The Ecstatic in American Poetry and Prose.




Title: MUCH
Author: Joel Peckham
Publisher : UnCollected Press (January 23, 2021)
Paperback : 45 pages· 
ISBN-10 : 1736009826

Cost: $15.00


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



Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Selling the Family

Selling the Family by Nancy Kay Peterson

Review by Bill Rector

Selling the Family by Nancy Kay Peterson (Finishing Line Press, 2021) is a book you should buy and read. My review of it will be brief, reflecting Nancy Peterson’s poetry. She writes with Scandinavian sparseness about her family, which is now reduced (and simultaneously enlarged by this book) to her. The cover is a photograph of the auction, set outdoors, in a meadow, of her parents’ estate. The poems are brief and in free verse. Peterson avoids excessive self-pity in the same way she does unnecessary modifiers. She doesn’t indulge (maybe a little) the subjective bleakness of mortality. She likes objects. They are part of her family. It reminds me of the deep relationship between kin and ken.

Here’s one of the poems from the book, titled, “Being Last”:

Imagine being last.
No one to call on Christmas.
No packages under a fragrant pine.

Little but
time to fill
day after day
after day.

Who will buy a coffin,
make final arrangements,
chance upon the writings,
save them for discovery?

My heart knows the work
will be simply discarded.
What stranger would read them,
a lifetime of poems?


Nancy Kay Peterson’s poetry has appeared in print and online in numerous publications, recently in Lost Lake Folk Opera, One Sentence Poems, Spank the Carp, Steam Ticket, and Three Line Poetry. Two of her poems were nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook, Belated Remembrance, (Finishing Line Press, 2010) is a series of poems telling the story of her great-great uncle Arne Kulterstad (1825-1902), who was convicted of murder in Oslo, Norway, and eventually exiled to Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Selling the Family, her second chapbook, relates her experience in auctioning off her family’s estate as the family’s sole living descendant. From 2004-2009, she was co-publisher and co-editor of Main Channel Voices: A Dam Fine Literary Magazine.


Title: Selling the Family
Author: Nancy Kay Peterson
Publisher: Finishing Line Press, 2021
Price: $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-64662-402-7


Bill Rector is a retired physician. He formerly edited the Yale Journal of Humanities in Medicine. His publishing credits include a full-length poetry collection entitled, bill, through Proem Press, and five chapbooks: Lost Moth, about the death of his daughter, which won the Epiphany magazine chapbook competition; Biography of a Name (Unsolicited Press), relating the death of Jimmy Hoffa to contemporary American culture; Brief Candle (Prolific Press), a series of sonnets in modern idiom about selected characters from Shakespeare; Two Worlds (White Knuckle Press), relating the transcendent to the ordinary, which the editors called one of the most beautiful collections they have published; and most recently, Hats are the Enemy of Poetry (Finishing Line Press).



Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.