Forever & a Day

Author: Matthew St. Amand
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

An alternative title to Matthew St. Amand’s book would be “An Ode to Deirdre” because all of the writing within its pages deals with his feelings for finding out that she’s pregnant. This isn’t so much a traditional book of poems as a kind of diary in poems (which read more like songs), essays and letters. We learn for example from the very first page that Deirdre is actually the seventeen year old sister of one of Matt’s former girlfriends. When he hears that she is pregnant it stirs a tumult of emotions within him:

“Your news has come like a knifethrust.”
(from Beginning, pg 12)

And this book was born. As he says himself:

“I cannot let this passing of affection happen without a word. My thoughts on you have lain like a buried, burning river, and must now flow into the light – yet away from you, where you might never know.”
(from Beginning, pg 11)

The poet is in a dilemma, and as such so are his readers. Does he fancy his ex’s sister? Does he regret that he’s not the father of her unborn child? Is there the pang (a favorite word of this poet) of unfulfilled fatherhood, of the what-could-have-been? Or is he just recognizing a kindred spirit in the girl?:

“Who had a moonsweet stare Long candleflame hair,”
(from Away: Ballad composed & sung while on the tear in Dublin, part III, pg 27)

Many of the offerings here do read like love poems. St. Amand repeats his observations and thoughts to the extent that you feel like you are reading the same lines over and over again, like you truly are “Under the Sea” (as one of his poems is titled). He likes to see himself as Deirdre’s friend, while at the same time recognizing that:

“You are a stranger & maybe that’s the appeal. Someone new Who has no idea.”
(from Poem for the Girl I don’t have the guts to talk to, pg 19)

We are being taken on a journey here – from the moment he found out about Deirdre’s pregnancy, to the days just after she gives birth. Memories mixed with regret. As we travel through the book, St. Amand seems to move from curiosity to almost obsession:

“… I go By your house late at night with no business being in your neighborhood.”
(from While Standing on the Sidewalk Outside of Your Apartment Late One Night, pg 44)

We later learn that these late-night forays to her house aren’t a one- off:

“I wish I had more to offer than handpainted postcards that glow in the dark, which I leave in your mailbox after you have gone to bed.”
(from Forever & a day part I, pg 47)

St. Amand admits in a handwritten note at the front of the book that his writing is “more Lou Reed than William Wordsworth” and this is a true reflection. Throughout I caught myself constantly thinking these would make good songs, but poems? I’m not sure. The language is at times thought-provoking yet at the same time familiar:

“…life is more than Planning. It is luck & loss & stumbling Through the dark. Bruised shins & much Guessing.”
(from Poem After Reading Anne Sexton’s “The Abortion”, pg 39)

There are also some lyrical lines here:

“You hovered within yourself in waxy, waveless silence Numbing the air around you.”
(from At the Drive-in, pg 36 – note: Deirdre is 12 years old at the time…)

On the whole the poems are written in straightforward language (with some flights of fancy here and there). This is a light read, pleasant enough to wile away an hour or two. I’ve just one question left to ask though – did Deirdre or her sister (Matt’s ex) ever read this book, and if so what were their reactions? Inquiring minds want to know!


December 1, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hemlock Suicides Planned By Well Dressed Men In Suits

Author: L.B. Sedlacek
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

10090402This self-published poetry chapbook is on first glance hard to miss: neon pink paper cover, the front pictures grainy images of men’s torsos, hands holding briefcases, heads and feet cut off, their suits just visible. Sedlacek has published a number of chapbooks and continues to publish on the Web. The contents of this offering, twenty-seven poems in all, are on the whole well laid out. The poet provides a title page, an acknowledgments page, a biography and a useful Table of Contents. The pages are irregularly and superfluously (in my opinion) illustrated by what could best be described as “pop- art gif images”.

The poems themselves reflect modern, everyday life. We are in familiar territory here with little to shock or surprise. Most of the images are concrete and immediately recognisable:

“The big white carcass of metal Hums its own tune” (from The Proper Way To Defrost A Freezer, pg 3)

“only after we re-bury
our bicycles back in the basement.”
(from Burying Bicycles, p 15)

The poet favors the use of numbers (digits are scattered like gunshot throughout these pages) and primary colors (some imagination would have helped on that score – you can only read color names like ‘green’, ‘red’ etc. so many times before you switch off.) Most of the poems are free verse with only one attempt (as far as I could see) at rhyme (the poem Aluminium Altitudes – which is, predictably from the title, about flying in airplanes).

On the whole the poems are interesting with attention-grabbing titles. The title poem doesn’t actually appear until approximately half way through the chapbook and is about a woman who kills herself at home in bed:

“It was only Joan and the instructions because her husband left her alone with a gun.” (from Hemlock Suicides Planned By Well-Dressed Men In Suits, pg 13)

It has to be said that sometimes the titles are more interesting than the contents (e.g. 12 Flamingoes & 2 Clowns on Horses).

Many of the poems capture the stereotype we all have these days – the notion that modern life is empty, somehow fruitless, often desperate. This is Americana in all its glory with 7-11 stores, Martha Stewart, T.V. and various States making an appearance:

“canned laughter sitcoms make the mind seethe reaching for aspirin to stop the migraine train.” (from Aluminium Altitudes, pg 19)

Some interesting images are to be found within these pages however:

“Imagining high rises like breaths
On a fire’s ashes…”
(from In The Middle of Nobody Cares, pg 14)

“The weed-infested hill
with its slick hands.”
(from When God Looks Out For Fools, pg 4)

“A clock of night shields the sun from its
desperation, rattling the human cage.”
(from Electric Zoo, pg 17)

Finally, a few of the poems (especially the last three in the book) hint towards a deeper meaning (a welcome diversion - there just wasn’t enough of them) while others are wrought with a light-handed, frothy humour. Unfortunately, many of the poems didn’t ‘stay with me’. I hate to admit this but I found the majority of the poems here to be quite easily forgotten. Still, for a self-made chapbook, this is a quick yet enjoyable read from Sedlacek.


October 28, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)

Up Bluen

Author: Donna Kuhn
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

At first glance this is a chapbook written as mobile phone text
messages. The poet doesn’t appear to believe in proper punctuation,
there are no capital letters and she barely gives the nod to grammar –
for example:

“yr cool enuf”
from a lot of money

The famous poet e.e. cummings also wrote in lower case and the jury
is still out about whether this format works or doesn’t. I’m not
convinced. It simply looks lazy to me. However, it is perhaps the way
communication is going.

My second concern is the title. What on earth does it mean? Ambiguity
can work, journalists use it all the time especially in gossip
columns in order to get readers to read further. Here, you’ll be none
the wiser after reading the title poem (incidentally the second, not
the first in the book). Does it mean stay positive blue/depressed
person or something else entirely? This ambiguity could lose readers
right from the off. Many will simply not bother reading further and
that would be a pity because there is much to enjoy here (once you
get used to the new language that is). The hand painted cover is
exquisite and the titles of many of the poems are simply heaving with
imagination (e.g. masculine flowers, the way winter speaks, sideways
cat meets cowduck girl and many more.)

Therein lies the rub however – the titles tend to be more interesting
than the contents. This is word-play at its highest level. Basically
take a list of words and combine them in as many permutations as
possible. Perhaps you too will create a new language, perhaps you’ll
just confuse your reader. Kuhn plays with language here, she is a
word conjurer and she has, like many poets, a number of favorite
images which recur again and again (e.g. chinese, traffic, blue, food
of various sorts, coffee, birds, dolphins, alligators, picassos
horses, ocean, stars, photocopies and many more.) Unfortunately, the
repetition grates after a while, for example:

“i like to make coffee
i like to make coffee”
(from apple moon)

Many of the lines are simply psychedelic:

“yr hands sound like she’s a judgment…
hand out lizard, i love that u made
aluminum intentions up bluen”
(from up bluen)

The major problem however is that so few of the offerings here tell
any kind of story, and those that do require a different thought
process to decipher them. It’s kind of like reading codes, lines that
ask more questions than they answer:

“… i just glared at her
(from her dolphins)

“get yrself dark urban pterodactyls, girls
(from i am the thing)

There are however some signpost lines along the way which can help
you feel grounded e.g:

“i loved serious correspondence”
(from pear mess)

“how can he come home anymore”
(from falling alligator)

and some of the lines are simply intriguing:

“i live like winter sings in a chair
that has a creek in every room”
(from fluid pearl)

“in january the waves move my eyes”
(from transparent (2))

“if u ask im a door on dreams”
(from her dolphins)

“her door to war falls, her lips burning out philosophy”
(from fenugreek)

‘faces’ is in my opinion the best piece of writing in the entire
book. It is full of emotion and dark underpinnings with references to
death, divorce and more.

Perhaps Up Bluen is an example of poetry which is better performed.
It would be interesting to witness it read before an audience. Kuhn’s
own view of poetry is:

“poetry is words making love in a funk…
poetry is words i dont know”
(from nectarine funk)

Most of the time it’s difficult to follow Kuhn’s frame of thought, to
know where she’s going. At times it’s simply too weird, too much of
an effort to keep reading. I persisted. I fear many readers won’t
bother, many will think that life is too short to make the monumental
effort required to read between the lines and attempt to figure out
what Kuhn is getting at. I never thought I’d say this but, here goes,
grammar, punctuation and capital letters are important, they really
can help the busy reader! The book also made me renew my belief that
images, story, a point, are all important in poetry.

There are times that the language is compelling but mostly I felt
like she was trying to convince me into thinking that this was a new
kind of poetry. Perhaps this is how experimental poetry is going. If
so I won’t be joining the trend. It was like reading words cut out
and pasted together in various montages, filmed and played on fast-
forward. Kuhn does tap in to modern society but the manner in which
she does didn’t strike me as entertainment. The txt-message/Play
Station generation might enjoy this book. I’m not sure it will appeal
to either the poetry ‘mainstream’ or to a general audience however.


August 8, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)

Calling All Animals

Author: Jeff Natha
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Karyn Walden-Forrest

cover artJeff Nathan has created this first book of "PunOETRY", Calling All Animals. It's filled with 47 poems containing puns. The book is intended for children aged 8-12 and will make a child smile.

Each poem fills one page and across on the next page is an illustration depicting a part of the poem. The length of each poem ranges from 4 to 20 lines, and, as can be expected from the title, they all have to do with animals. Poem titles include: Animal Food, Unherd Of, and Greeting Hyenas.

All the poems are loaded with puns and play on all kinds of word situations. Sometimes the word will be bolded, and if the word is harder to understand in context with the different spelling it will have the meaning in parenthesis to the right of the line. Here is an example from Animal Food:

The bird that's best of all is macrowni (macaroni)
And eggplant us the best of all the ants.
Cowliflower's yummy, (cauliflower)
with pigkles in my tummy, (pickles)
but choc'late moose can really make me dance. (mousse)

As you can see, there are puns throughout just this section of the poem, and it is representative of the entire book. A lot of the puns are really clever. I liked one about a moth named Pete who flew into a bug zapper and how children moths should learn from his mistakes and never “re-Pete” his actions. Others are rather ho-hum and even seemed like a stretch to me, such as one about a turtle's shell and the word shell being interchanged with the word shall. "Shall I pack up my shell yet again? Yes, I shell." It just didn't work for me.

For the most part the poems are all very different, even with the same theme. There is a lot of vocabulary, some that may be new to children, and a lot of information about animals in the poems that might teach the reader some things as it is being read. This is not a book that could be read to a child though, as that would defeat the whole purpose of the sound versus the word used idea.

The illustrations in this book are just pencil/pen drawings. They are appropriately representative of the poems. One fun thing about the illustrations is that in every one can be found a bee and a slug. The bee is generally easy to find, but the slug can be more a challenge. It is fun finding the hidden bugs in each picture. The illustrations were done by Liz Ball.

Overall this book is fun to read. But there were no poems that I thought, “wow this is going to be my new favorite poem.” It will give children some new ways of thinking about the English language, and can lead into further discussions about puns in general.


July 11, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Most Improbable Life

Author: Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Rachel Fischer Gladson

564Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs is a multi-lingual Chicana poet, essayist and author who teaches at Seattle University. Her collection of poems explores issues unique to her life. Recurring themes in this book include ethnic identity, family relationships and affairs of the heart. Mostly in English, with some French and Spanish, the poems vary in tone and subject matter. "A Most Improbable Life" and "My son thinks we are cows" offer a glimpse into the world of the Latina, her view of low parental expectations and of the Chicano farm worker's life. "The 12th Commandment by a Mexican Woman" infuses humor into the otherwise serious book: "When people see me, / they always think of food.../ I say, / ‘Please don't eat me I am not a taco.'"

As many poems deal with the life of an educated immigrant, this book has special appeal to ethnic and international audiences. Muhs provides an unconventional view of America from the inside out. Although the tone of the collection is uneven, some images linger in the memory like a fine wine.


June 13, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)


Author: Saiba Cassone
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Phillip B. Burton

56Romantic poetry, poetry of love and yearning. The best of it struggles with the duality of the presence/absence of the beloved one. Presence is many-splendoured: casual proximity, fond memory, or sexual intercourse. Absence is separation, abandonment, and death. The poet explores all of this and comes to some kind of resolution.

A particular resolution may or may not be comforting to the reader. Tristan/Isolde and Romeo/Juliet are examples of extreme resolution which offers the onlooker no consolation. That is, the poet says: "This is Love. Can it be suffered?" It is easy to casually be "in love" but difficult to actually Love, as the fact of Love is none other than the fact of death. To Love in its fullness is to lose one's life.

Echoes by Saiba Cassone is a worthy attempt to capture the multivalence (indeed, ambivalence) of genuine Love.

I know that nature can be cruel and in this way are her creatures; where I would like to see only beauty are happening frightening things ... ("The Last Goodby")

A false or immature lover would like to bind the beloved object and make it fulfill all desires. But Life does not allow this, at least in the long run. For every ecstasy there is a corresponding hangover. Pleasure and pain are inextricably joined.

So much love, so much love thrown at the wind, trampled, Tortured and finally after killed, buried and transformed in the dust. ("The Dust")

In Echoes Cassone begins the cycle of poems by exploring suffering.

Emptiness will become clear into the time of living; sadness will not be mortal into the time of loving. ("Useless")

In the acceptance of Love, transcendence is possible.

Let me not take, but let me give, and after I cross the desert, love
will Glorify in the infinity .... ("Small Growth") In the heart of
man there is a rose, a thorn; The rose is love, thorn is sorrow,
that together are taking us through the course of this life ....
("Man's Heart")

This collection includes a number of real gems, one of my favorites being "I Begin to Know You":

When you hold me in your arms I take the picture of your eyes and deliberately let it go to the freshness of your purity; and when you hold me more intensely my female nudity flies rapidly and enters in a fascinating world.

Also "With You":

In serenity, the universe seems to be a part of our cells.

The cycle here goes from an initial sadness through the give-and-take of romantic involvement, and through a shock back to anguish and torment. The joy and elation of love dissolve in a trauma:

Only an instant, and an atrocious contusion opened in my heart. ("A Moment")

The final note being:

I wish to die! ("Sadness")

What I enjoy in this poetry is its very complexity, which includes simplicity and lyricism as well as ambiguity.

There are a few weak moments: lines like"when the anatomy/accepts the physical connection" ("Obscurity") seem a little redundant. But overall this collection is to be highly recommended for its fascinating depth and diversity.


April 1, 2000 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)