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.
Enter Here: poems by Alexis Rhone Fancher. Published by KYSO Flash Press, Seattle, 2017. Soft cover, 112 p., $18.00.
In January of 2016, Gyroscope Review published an interview with Los Angeles poet and photographer Alexis Rhone Fancher. Rhone Fancher’s unapologetic, sharp work graced the pages of our issue 16-1 and I’ve been enchanted with her ever since. When I read that her new book, Enter Here, was available, I ordered it immediately.
My fascination with Rhone Fancher’s work holds because of her strong voice and her willingness to take on the sordid details that many keep secret about sexuality in all its nuances, power between women and men, abuse of power/sexuality, what women learn from an early age, the joy of being a dirty girl, the dangers of being intimate. And, as I read the poems in Enter Here, I was overwhelmed with my own reactions to the work. This book is explicit. It is not for everyone. But it is well worth stepping outside of whatever your comfort zone may be as it nudges the reader to consider the power structures that constrict us even at our most intimate level.
I decided the best way to share this with you is to offer my raw notes about this book. You’ll see why. Stay with me.
1. The photo of the turnstile at Pershing Square Metro Station that kicks off the poems in this book – Okay, I’m ready to go for a fast ride beneath the surface of things. Do I have enough tokens to ride to the end?
2. Complicated. Complications. These poems are one, filled with the other. When they rocket me back to the ugly uncertainty of female adolescence with all that attention from others who want to claim my body, I’m not sure I like it. Funny, I sometimes liked it back then, when I was naïve. See: Daddy’s Friend, Stan, p. 18-19
Shhh! he soothes when I whimper,
afraid he’s gone too far.
He thumbs the fabric instead of me,
whistles the theme from
3. These women who only seem to do what men want – they’re playing them as much as they’re getting played. See: Spreading My Legs for Someone (Posing for Pirelli), p. 25-26.
I slipped off my dress.
Kept my stilettos.
Why don’t I own stilettos? Oh, yeah. They hurt my feet if I try to go anywhere. Might be handy as an ice pick.
4. I don’t use the word pudenda enough. It’s meaty. It makes me purse my lips. See: Tuesday Nights, Room 28 of the Royal Motel on Little Santa Monica, p. 29-30.
5. There! The book title is buried in the poem Tattooed Girl in a Sheer, White Blouse (Sushi Bar Fantasy) on p. 31-32. It takes a while to figure out where to enter anything. Figures this line that finally says enter here is in the middle of everything. Figures the entrance it refers is hidden, private, capable of great things, desirable. Is that tattooed girl the same one in the following poem? Does it matter? What about the one in Tattooed Girl: Slice/Shokunin on p. 59? I’m a slightly tattooed girl. Hmm. This fascination with tattooed girls – is this about the willingness to put so much right on the surface? Or is it the way the skin is covered up even when clothes are off?
6. In Tonight I Dream of Angelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rule of the Road… on p. 38, I zero in on this:
I admit, I’ve always been driven to sin.
And yet it’s all for love, we later learn. But love for whom?
7. Boy toys, sad waitresses, sisters. From For the Sad Waitress at the Diner in Barstow, p. 44-45:
the cruel sun throws her inertia in her face.
this is what regret looks like.
Regret haunts us, slowly kills us, doesn’t it? How do we forgive ourselves let alone anyone else?
8. I was right about stilettos having other uses. See: Stiletto Killer…a Surmise, p. 48.
9. See: Tonight I Dream of My First True Love (Ménage à Trois), p. 53:
I see what I’m not meant to see: I am disposable, nothing more than a deep hole.
Oh, I love that the narrator saw is what is eventually going to save her. Get out now!! If only we could teach our daughters how to see like this and redefine themselves as a result, be Wonder Women.
10. A nod to Joan Didion – what Los Angeles writer would miss the opportunity? Nice to see you here, Joan, in the cento, Play It As It Lays, p. 60-61. You’re still relevant.
11. Ex-husbands and ex-lovers: what have we learned? See: Tonight I Dream of My Second Ex-Husband, Who Played Piano Better than Herbie Hand-Cock, p. 67:
Why does the fantasy always best real life?
See also: Out of Body, p. 68:
Riddle: when is a promise like a bayonet?
And then see: Because He Used to Love Her. A Story in Photographs and Senryu, p. 69-73:
her hair like a whip
torturing him now, but once
he did worship her
All of it cuts our hearts out. All of it leaves big fat scars.
12. For Lynnie in the Dark, p. 76-77: Required reading. The abrupt ending that defines an abusive relationship.
For Lynn Cutolo who was murdered on October 3, 2007, by her husband. See: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?n=lynn-cutolo-richards&pid=96516634
13. I Was Hovering Just Below the Hospital Ceiling, Contemplating My Death, p. 79. Not sure what got to me more about this poem – the way the poems talks about unexpected loss and the unwillingness to let go, the author’s note on the next page that explains the poem’s origins, or the author’s statement that this is the first time she’s gotten this story right. Car wrecks and their aftermath are not something you can neatly tie up and put away. The last line will take your breath away. No spoilers here.
14. This book moves from being a young girl to a woman with ex-husbands, back to the young girl memories, zooms back up to womanhood, back and forth, forward and backward, rocking/rocky rhythm. Lovers of all types. And then there’s Housekeeping, p. 85:
I love you like the Swiffer loves
the dust, deeply, with an
Not the memory of an 18-year-old. But this funny little piece is the perfect spot for timid romantics, who aren’t sure about explicit poetry, to enter this collection. You, buttoned-down person, this is your door. Get on board.
15. Osculation – another word I never use. Why is that? Kissing, after all, has been overdone.
16. And the light slips away as the train nears the end. We exit with this small rain (no title case intentional) on p. 100-101. We all search for salvation wherever we can:
this small rain kamikazes
in the gutter
suicides on summer sidewalks
dreams of a deluge
that overflows the river banks
washes L.A. clean
Power. Abuse. Sex. Why are they so intertwined for humans? Savvy girls learn early how to navigate their way among them as a means of survival, how to wield their own power when they can. Sometimes joy and respect are elusive, knocked out of reach by other things that masquerade as the same. How long that road is to genuine love.
How well Alexis Rhone Fancher splays out, in all their raw and messy explicitness, the deceptively tempting detours.
Be brave. Step into this book.
– Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, Co-Editor, Gyroscope Review
If you are interested in hearing some of these poems as well as pieces from other books by Alexis Rhone Fancher, visit http://www.alexisrhonefancher.com/audio/ .
To order a copy of Enter Here, click here.