When I first became aware of the poet Kari Gunter-Seymour, it was through Gyroscope Review’s submissions for the spring 2016 issue. Her poems about having a son who served in the US military in the Middle East took my breath away, as it did for my co-editor, Constance Brewer. We ended up publishing some of her work in that spring issue, as well as in our fall 2016 special Honor Issue. We could see that her poetry sprang from a deep well of extraordinary experience combined with a vast reservoir of strength and love.
So, when a physical copy of Kari’s chapbook, Serving (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2018) arrived in my mailbox at home in Minnesota this spring as a gift to both Constance and me, I was absolutely surprised and delighted. I texted a photo of the book to Constance, who lives in Wyoming, and told her I would mail it to her when I was done.
Then I left for Switzerland. I didn’t have time to read Kari’s book before I left. That’s how the week after the Fourth of July found me on my deck in my own peaceful back yard reading her poems, my heart clenched. These 17 poems, including the three we published, create a heartbreaking picture of how a parent lives with the choice of their child to serve their country only to return home with pieces of themselves shattered. It talks about how parents then serve those adult children – giving them a couch to crash on, helping with childcare, listening – while the memories of earlier years flash in and out of each day. The child a parent remembers never disappears, but is overlaid on this grown child with adult needs, adult worries. The juxtaposition is jarring. This work examines how all of us serve each other throughout our lives, one way or another, when we love each other.
As I sat on my deck that afternoon, trying to figure out how to talk about this book, I realized it wasn’t just the book that needed to be discussed. There are a lot of ways to serve – military service, parenthood, emergency response, volunteering, and making art that reframes issues. Poetry can be a powerful vehicle for getting stories out there in a way that reporting and fiction cannot; the way words are shaped into a glimmer of something more, the way they bullet through a page, can bring a reader to their knees. The moments, seemingly disconnected, that come together in a final stanza can vault the way a reader thinks into an entirely new place.
That was certainly my experience as I read Kari’s gift. My thoughts were shot off into new territory, my awareness of PTSD increased. Our servicemen and women deserve more from us – more listening to what they need, more immediate services for health issues including mental health, support that is not just a panacea that makes those who offer it feel better. As poets and writers, we are called upon to offer a vision that speaks beyond ourselves. As human beings, we must never walk away from the chance to serve each other.
I am grateful for Kari’s gift of poetry that makes us understand, just a little, how sacrifices ripple far beyond the people making them.
You can find a copy of Kari Gunter-Seymour’s chapbook, Serving, HERE.
Read her work in past issues of Gyroscope Review HERE.
Arclight, by poet John Biscello, is an intriguing book brimming with possibilities. The book is divided into six diverse sections that carry themes through each section and tie them together with spirituality and attention to the relationships between people and creator, people and others, people and self.
I enjoyed the mix of short little poems that captured the intricacies of love and relationships, as well as the longer poems that delve into what it means to be connected with the spiritual, and the complications of love. Arclight is always drawing comparisons, answering and composing questions. Some of my favorite lines were about the Self, and its bonds to the heart.
The hidden vocabulary
of my heart
is reduced to essentials,
For many years
I asked Grief to
wait outside my window,
a peripheral guest
from I See Myself
He was my father,
still is. The bond between us thick
as viscous chains,
the sort that perpetrate magma,
and rattle and clank
when carried by the blue shivery breath
One of my favorite poems in the book, Funky Monk, describes the Muse as monk, an eccentric character breaking the bonds of solemnity to revel in life, to ponder the vast mysteries of the universe, causing bright introspection in the poet.
from Funky Monk
peer through the peephole
and see my monk
amidst the parchment
that is now whirling
confetti-like around the room
Throughout the book, there is a concentration of poems concerned with love, miracles, and religion that opens the reader’s eyes to how marvelous the world can be. The poems ask a lot of questions, sometimes answering them, sometimes leaving the mystery up to the reader to decide. In one section are lots of poems about women poets and other famous women, tributes to their importance and uniqueness, then poems about male writers that do the same. It’s an interesting look into people we hear about, but never imagined what their inner world could be like. The concluding section is a long dance between poet and personal mythology, a fitting end to an intriguing poetry book. Definitely worth a read.
from 6. Intraverse, Epitaph for a Beginning
I, a perpetual guest
to my own seeds
feel at home,
happy prey to a luminous gust
Blackbird: Poems by Laura Grace Weldon (West Hartford, CT: Grayson Books, 2019) $15.95
The first time I read Laura Grace Weldon’s latest book of poems, Blackbird, I gulped it down all at once like a starved reader. I kept finding poems to fall in love with, lines that made me say, oh, wow, me too. I’ve felt exactly that, keep tissues around for that (Overflow). Oh, there is a name for that feeling (Call of the Void). Yes, yes, this is what mothers do (Overflow – again, Notice to Fibromuscular Dysplasia, Subdural Hematoma, How to Soothe, After Play). Oh, god, I love this world, too (Common Ground, November Morning at Dawn, Feral, Astral Chorus). I wish everyone loved this world and each other (Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc; Border Children in the News), wish privilege recognized its own pompous damage (Adjunct Accidentally Invited to the Club, Fine Furniture). We can do better starting now (the whole damn book). And I thought, yes, this is what poetry is supposed to do: make us feel like we’ve found nourishment we weren’t even aware we needed. Make us feel connected to this world that offers so much, if we would just pay attention. Make us feel grateful.
The second time I read Blackbird, I savored it. I sunk into the idea of connectedness that is presented in the very first poem, Earthbound:
The oneness between self and everything
is this planet’s secret, kept imperfectly.
This is the very glue of this book. Oneness with everything – our families, our neighbors, the prisoners and children and battered women, the cow who lays down to die after 17 years of offerings, the coyotes and birds and beech trees, the oracles that come to us through everyday objects, the bee that leaves her stinger in the bottom of our foot. These poems draw an ever-expanding circle of life that includes even the smallest organisms. There is no part of this life on earth that does not offer something for us, some insight or comfort or magic. How can we not be grateful?
And how can we not feel compassion for this earth and its beings, especially the damaged, the scarred, the ones in search of sanctuary? How can we not rethink our time here when its meaning shifts after a new medical diagnosis or a death? To understand how much there is to be grateful for is to also understand grief, loss, cruelty, fate, and to wield the bravery that allows passage through those difficulties. We have power to claim, as Clarion Reminder tells us:
The powerful provoke the powerless
to push against one another.
Their power grows by keeping us
in all kinds of prisons.
Yet we are not powerless.
When we rise up and gather our strength, as in Notice to Fibromuscular Dysplasia, we draw on power well beyond our own, especially when we are protecting our children:
I am a tornado, earthquake, tsunami,
I will knock your house into splinters.
I will drown you in my tides.
I will drop you into a fissure so deep
you won’t hear yourself cry for mercy.
I am the will of every mother
in every eon’s arduous crawl from sea to land.
Fierce love is an unbreakable bond. It is also the tissue connecting tender moments that lay bare our humanity. We treasure our memories, even as we leave them behind as in Moving Day:
The new people don’t know
we tucked blessings behind these walls.
On bare beams the kids crayoned
bubble-face stick figures
and I wrote poems
in thick black marker, dizzied
by vapors that make words permanent.
Power, love, grief, gratitude. We use all of it to become complete human beings, like compost, as in Compost Happens:
Nature teaches nothing is lost.
All that hard-won wisdom and gratitude and love brings us to the final poem in the collection, Anything, Everything. The poem closes the circle opened in the first poem. It reminds us of our “planet’s highest possibilities” and encourages us to start there. I would also suggest, as in the poem Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc, that we summon our will, like witches, to bring about a better reality. We have nothing and everything to lose.
To purchase a copy of Blackbird, visit https://www.graysonbooks.com/blackbird.html. A portion of the royalties will be donated to the Medina Raptor Center of Spencer, Ohio, where injured birds are rescued, rehabilitated, and released.
Laura Grace Weldon’s work has appeared in Gyroscope Review issues 17-1 and 19-1.
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.