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.
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.
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
Web site, jane-rosenberg-laforge.com,
Author page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Rosenberg-Laforge-Author-269805766510206/
A Gyroscope Review Review:
The THIRD VOICE: Notes on the Art of Poetic Collaboration
by Eric Greinke
Presa Press, 84 pages, $13.95
Date of Publication: November 1, 2017
Did you ever sit at the feet of someone, say a grandparent or some other elder in your life, who shared stories of their long life/career/travels, bask in their memories, and perhaps learn from them? That was the feeling I had throughout my reading of Eric Greinke’s new book, The THIRD Voice: Notes on the Art of Poetic Collaboration.
Greinke’s poetic career reaches back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when he was, as he writes, part of “the local poetry avant-garde in Western Michigan” (p. 11). His poetry output skipped several years when he focused instead on his social work career, then picked up again in the new millenium with the publication of Selected Poems 1972-2005 (Presa Press, 2005). Collaborative work was, and is, an enormous part of Greinke’s poetry.
In The THIRD Voice, Greinke looks back on his collaborations with poets Harry Smith, John Elsberg, Hugh Fox, Glenna Luschei, and Alison Stone. In language that borrows from both literary theory and the social work/therapy realms, Greinke deconstructs those collaborations so readers understand how they came about, how the work grew out of his relationship with each poet, and what Greinke ultimately learned about poetry and the art of collaboration. He shares pieces that were written in those collaborations as examples of how two different voices may come together in a third, new voice. He also discusses the many ways poetic collaboration can be structured, beginning with dialogic collaboration, which is “a form where poets write whole poems independently but in specific response to each other’s poems” (p. 17). He later segues into collaborations in which poets alternate writing each line, where the process grows organically into invented forms and sequences, and exercises where one poet might write the first, last, and title lines while the other poet writes three lines to fill in the middle of the poem. He discusses haiku and tanka sequences as collaborative projects, and the invention of one-line poems in response to a title. He explores how collaboration may be influenced by gender and age differences, and relishes balancing differences with commonalities.
Greinke’s interest in collaborations was first influenced by the 1967 publication Bean Spasms (Kulchur Press), which was a collaboration between the writers Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett, with a little help from their friend, illustrator Joe Brainard. As Greinke sees it, Bean Spasms gave permission to have fun with poetry. And perhaps this idea is one of the biggest take-aways of The THIRD Voice. Poetry can be a lot of fun, word play is truly play, and who doesn’t like to have fun playing with others?
Poetic collaboration is more than play, of course. It offers poets so many opportunities for expanding their work and for working through tough topics. Greinke’s collaboration with his friend Hugh Fox offers a beautiful example of collaborating through grief; the two of them spent a year writing poetry together while Fox was dying of cancer. One of the resulting poems, Beyond Our Control, was constructed a line at a time, Fox and Greinke each composing every other line. Greinke considers this his best collaborative work. The poem, a 2015 Pushcart Prize nominee, illustrates how two poets might turn their grief into art and blend their voices into a third voice that good collaboration makes possible.
Overall, this gentle, nostalgic look at the poetic collaborations Eric Greinke has enjoyed over his writing life offers one of the best incentives of all for poets who are considering their options: joy. Collaborate with another poet, let it evolve organically, and reclaim the joy of word play that called to you the day you first fell in love with a poem.