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.
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.