Category: review

Book Review – Blue Fan Whirring by Mike Jurkovic

Mike’s delightful book of haiku grabs a reader right from the start and never lets go. Powerful images are presented immediately, and unfold throughout the book, interspersed with a few black and white images that are very Zen in their juxtaposition.

Some haiku are full of alliteration that makes the mouth sing as you read the rounded syllables. There is a strong presence of nature in these haiku, but also little glimpses into man/woman sliding along the perimeter, pushing his/her way to the forefront. It adds a nice edge to the work, and keeps the poems from becoming predictable. God and everyday life co-exist on the page, speaking to each other. Life in this world and the next are examined, and given voice.

my earthly passage

through mountain laurel  my sweet

scented journey on

Jurkovic speaks of a “bouquet of haiku”, and this is what many of the poems are, little poems to savor and drop in your think-vase, where they can stay fresh and continue to wander the reader’s mind. One of my favorites struck me right away with the richness of the imagery.

the Hudson  quiet

each shore wakes  stretches  ripples

meet   kiss   disappear

Having lived along the Hudson in a past life, it summed up the mornings there perfectly.

One of the things that struck me the most about Jurkovic’s poems was his ability to use the 5-7-5 format without making the poem seemed forced into the form. Lines flowed from one into the next, carrying the reader along. I am a lover of American Sentences, but reading Jurkovic’s work makes me want to play and write haiku again. If you are a haiku lover, you may want to pick this little book up and immerse yourself in a thoughtful experience.

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Poetry Book Review: A Morsel of Bread, A Knife by Roberta P. Feins

 

 

A Morsel of Bread, A Knife
by Roberta P. Feins
Center on Contemporary Art
Occasional Monograph Series
84 pp., $18.00

 

Of all the topics poets tackle, the topic of the mother-daughter relationship ranks high on the scale of interest. Writers endlessly probe memories, conversations, events, inherited traits and objects, rights of passage. Mother, our first goddess, holds power over us for our entire lives. Even after she’s gone. Even after we think we’ve moved on.

Roberta P. Feins’ collection, A Morsel of Bread, A Knife, offers a series of images and moments that evolve from her connection to her mother and her mother’s connection to Feins’ grandmother. The poems weave pieces of each woman into the family tapestry, with each woman’s differing values and sensibilities glinting in the fabric. Artwork and travel overlay their significance within the family narrative, satisfying the narrator’s hunger for beauty in this world. The work raises the questions of what it is to be a mother, to not be a mother, to reclaim the self and walk away from pre-determined definitions of womanhood. The work goes beyond family history as that which shapes us in the beginning to the inevitability of our own paths into territories of our own choice. We move into a place where we let the voices of childhood fall to a whisper as we raise up what we know fulfills our deepest selves. And in that place, we find our own peace.

The thirty-nine poems in this collection dedicated to the author’s mother are divided into four sections: The Mother Country, Paysage, The Bitters, and Winter’s Bargain. The first section begins with the question of where sustenance might be found in, “The Cuisine of the Mother Country”:

My Romanian grandmother made mamalige —
pouring out a coarse yellow moon of cornmeal
onto a wooden board. I never tasted
this polenta from my mother’s hands.

The reader is immediately faced with complicated history and longing, food and love sought after from the start, as well as the sensory details that are part of every poem in this collection. Something as simple as polenta illustrates the connections of three generations. Placed between the sections are collages, both of the author’s own making and those of two other artists, offering another layer of imagery for the reader to consider. Feins’ understanding of visual art and her use of the language often reserved for that field make these poems explode in the mind’s eye. Feins demonstrates an ability to wield line breaks and caesuras at the perfect moments for heightened emphasis. Readers can see things clearly as they move from grandmother to mother to daughter, from New York to France and beyond. Feins’ understanding of feminism, the definition of the feminine from preceding generations to now, is also illustrated in stark terms as the daughter in the poems accepts that she will have no children of her own. Through it all, she never leaves behind the connection to the mother-daughter dynamic with its complicated gifts and frustrations. Several poems place the reader in front of famous pieces of art, while the mother remembers bits of what came before, as in, “Mother Muses at the Louvre – The Annunciation”:

Which aunt emptied the closet,
which uncle moved the double bed?
I lost faith, no longer worshipped.

Occasionally, the character of Aunt Sylvia shows up with sharp words for the daughter. In, “Aunt Sylvia’s Advice, 1971,” Aunt Sylvia cracks words like a whip to make the daughter behave after she has a fling:

Keep this up,
you’re wavin’ bye-bye to your family.

Aunt Sylvia’s appearance brings up the way older women might resent a younger woman’s definition of femininity when it goes against the norm, how it might threaten their own sense of balance versus missed opportunities. An aunt can say things a mother cannot or would not. An aunt can open old wounds, change how the picture looks. In another piece, “Kaffeklatsch,” the way aunts talk to each other in front of children has just as much chance of wounding as a direct conversation:

Minnie sniffs Yes, but she’s a liar,
as bad as her mother! Behind me,
they begin another round. And what about
 
her brother? I’ve always said
with that blonde hair, 
Bertie can’t be his father’s son.

But, ultimately, this is the daughter’s path, the daughter’s interpretation of history, and the daughter’s search for answers that make sense. 

In all, A Morsel of Bread, A Knife, is a complex, rich read that will perhaps nudge readers to remember the sensory details that make up their own complicated histories, and how lovely and bitter it all is.

 

For more information or to purchase a copy of A Morsel of Bread, A Knife, click HERE.

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Book Review: Bombing the Thinker by Darren C. Demaree

For today’s post, we asked our assistant editor Joshua A. Colwell to review Darren C. Demaree’s new poetry book, Bombing the Thinker (Backlash Press, 2018). This is Josh’s first time writing a review for our website. We hope you enjoy it. 

Poet Darren C. Demaree writes from Columbus, Ohio. His works have won him numerous awards, including: 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, the Nancy New Taylor Award from Emrys Journal, among others. He has seven other collections of poetry and is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology, and Ovenbird Poetry. 

In his ninth collection of poetry, Demaree takes a deep and thoughtful look through the eyes of the sculpture, The Thinker, who feels more like man than marble. The Thinker reflects on life, the bombing that scarred him, and the “rust-belt brilliance” of Cleveland. Tenderly wrought, yet at times as harsh as the winter winds whipping off Lake Erie, this collection commands your attention from the outset. 

The poems, to me, often seem to reflect the grit and rust from native Ohioans. The poem A Damaged Thinker #2 is short in length, but not on message. “I was raised up to be / here. I was destroyed / to be here forever” (p. 15). As someone who grew up in western Pennsylvania, right across the border from northeast Ohio, I see the faces of those people in these words. A blue collar crowd shaped by the sleet and snow of harsh winters and unforgiving economic times, they were born and raised against the backdrop of forgotten steel towns and winters that the locals still talk about to this day. 

Another piece I really enjoyed to was A Damaged Thinker #24. The poem revolves around those who bombed the statue on March 24, 1970. The second and third stanza of the poem speak of being made into something worth being seen. “cruelty of time without / the punishment / of my assaulters. I want / them named, with Rodin / as the men that made me / something to be seen” (pg. 49). While this poem speaks directly to the attack several decades prior, this poem couldn’t be more timely. With the #metoo movement empowering women to come forward with their stories, they are taking control of their situations and making themselves not only heard but seen.

The collection is in many ways philosophical. Take for instance the lines from the poem Stabilized, Washed, and Waxed, “& the memory of how no art is ever / finished being made into more art,” (pg. 67). This is such a great way of showing how we as humans are always changing and evolving. We ourselves are works of art, damaged like The Thinker, forced to carry our scars and burdens through life as the onlookers snap their photographs. 

This was an incredibly deep and thought-provoking collection that I would recommend to anyone. While I only touched on a few poems in this review, the book itself is bursting at the seams with poetry you’ll find yourself thinking about long after you’re done. As the book came to a close I “was left / wanting / more bronze, / more marble.”

 

Find out more about Backlash Press here.

Bombing the Thinker is available from Amazon here.

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Book Review: Daphne and her Discontents

Book Review

Daphne and her Discontents by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Published by Ravenna Press 2017

Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s new book Daphne and her Discontents delves into Greek mythology to explore the trials of Daphne and her relationship to LaForge’s own life. One of the first poems in the book, Family Business, chronicles LaForge’s childhood as part of a family of Jews that sells Christmas trees during the holiday season, and their search to avoid falling into the circumstances of their less fortunate neighbors. I was drawn into what it felt like to be an outcast in a season that steamrolls every religion that isn’t Christian.

Oh, how my mother loved Christmas . . . God how I hated it, because I hated being left out. (page 3)

In the following poems, LaForge goes on to explain the difficulties of being “a compliant daughter(page  6). One who embraces her family’s past. One whose mother resembles a tree, whose branches long to curl around and protect her family from unknown threats. As LaForge lists her faults before the gods, the reader feels LaForge’s resemblance to her mother. Both long for the rootedness of trees while at the same time plotting their escape from circumstances. Gods are flawed beings like her father, holding out and withdrawing affection with impunity, as a training tool.

“. . . the only thing I blame him for is confusing the myths of stones and trees, and what fathers and gods do with their children.” (page 37)

A parent’s lessons are repeated generationally, unable to transform as Daphne transformed to escape her fate. LaForge also embraces the past through her children, as in her poem Explaining the Holocaust to My Daughter (page 64). How do you explain the unexplainable? With gentleness. Despite it all, children understand.

Trees move through LaForge’s poems like wind through the branches. Trees and books become the method of transformation away from the past. In one poem she states, “I am Daphne because I cannot peel myself open(page 68), when in fact the whole book is the peeling away of layers, of the way family influences our innermost thoughts, the push-pull of Christianity against Judaism, the sense of place as a grounding mechanism, and the self-imposed fragility of Daphne despite her strong roots. In the final poem, Burnt by the sun god, LaForge laments; When the Dutch ruled the world, and the best parts of Russian novels had to be in French, my people were a hitch above mongrel. . . (page 74). Despite this, the love LaForge has for her family shines through.

I enjoyed reading Daphne and her Discontents, pausing to savor LaForge’s deft phrases and raw honesty. The poems wend their way through family and gods with equal intensity. I highly recommend this book.

Constance Brewer, Editor, Gyroscope Review

 

Daphne and her Discontents

by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Published by Ravenna Press 2017

$11.95

Link to book

Web site, jane-rosenberg-laforge.com,

Author page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Rosenberg-Laforge-Author-269805766510206/

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