Monday, July 11, 2016



Traces: Poems to Paintings with poems by James Wagner and paintings by Nava Waxman
(Ceratonia Siliqua Press, Toronto, 2015)

Fire Tongue by Zvi A. Sesling 
(Cervena Barva Press, W. Somerville, MA, 2016)

Dearest Annie, You Wanted a Report on Berkson's Class: Letters from Frances LeFevre to Anne Waldman, edited by Lisa Birman 
(Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, 2016)

(Midwest Writing Center, IA, 2016)

SPINE by Carolyn Guinzio 
(Parlor Press, Anderson, South Carolina, 2016)

Collected Poems 1957-1982 by Wendell Berry
(North Point Press, San Francisco, 1985)

THE ARGONAUTS by Maggie Nelson
(Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minn., 2015)

Stanzas on Oz: Poems 2011-2014 by David M. Katz
(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2015)

Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket, Shiva by Leonard Gontarek
(Hanging Loose, Brooklyn 2016)

Algaravias: Echo Chamber by Waly Salomao, Trans. by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2016)

I consider the following "mini-reviews" in that I could have said much more about them, but am just selecting some highlights from these publications, all of which I enjoyed. Please click on any image to enlarge.

Traces: Poems to Paintings with poems by James Wagner and paintings by Nava Waxman

Traces is a collaboration described as “Poems to Paintings.” The paintings by Nava Waxman use a palette of mostly white, pale blue, gray, pale pinks and greens and some black—at first, it can come off as muted palette but there’s a depth that evokes the sense of teeming life. It’s a bit tough to gauge that effect based on reproductions but the images suffice for giving forth a sense of energy and motion. This explains (at least to my eye) why James Wagner’s poems are so detail-enriched. The poet imagines of what the paintings (which can be categorized as abstractions) are traces. The collaboration results are intense, vivid and/or passionate.  Such impression speaks well of the power to this project due to the immense talents of the poet and painter. Here’s one example, the poem “A Bird Has A Face for You” to the painting of the same title.


Fire Tongue by Zvi A. Sesling 

Fire Tongue gives an impression of being an earned collection, by which I mean that these poems were made possible by the poet's experience and not only imagination. I may be wrong since I don't have any information, actually, on how these poems were made. But the impression I have is based on the underlying wisdom throughout these poems—a wisdom, it seems to me, that the poet came to have through experiencing something, even if the experience is only observation. The wisdom, of course, is not in the experience but in what one takes from experience—many of the poems offer lessons that a receptive reader would do well to consider.  Here’s an example, the poem “Street of No Return”:

This poem reminded of that moment in my life when I switched out of a banking career for a life as a creative writer. Specifically, I recall when I resigned from my last banking position and was making the rounds saying goodbye to various colleagues. More than once, I was asked where I was going, as people assumed I was resigning for a position at another bank. To them I replied, “I’m not going anywhere except for home—I want to write a novel.”

At the time, I thought the form I wanted to practice was the novel (vs. poetry). When I told some people I wanted to see if I could succeed as a writer, there was a pause and I could see their eyes turn inward. It was as if (1) they were recoiling from someone who no longer valued the lifestyle we once shared, and yet they were still in that lifestyle, and/or (2) they were remembering some dream they once had but never had a chance to make the attempt, as I was attempting then, to attain that dream. Whenever I remember my last banking days, I always remember the discomfort of others whose “street” I deliberately left. “Street of No Return” vindicates my choice made 20 years ago. After 20 years, I know I will not return to that street (of, in my case, “What ifs….”, e.g. what if I’d been a writer, et al) because it no longer exists.  For me, that street of a non-writing life is a parallel universe that’s moved light years away and will not again intersect with the universe being a writer created for me.

Part of the power of Sesling’s poems is how they evoke such meaningful memories in the reader’s life. It’s an effect made possible only because this poet is a good enough writer to share what he has learned from his experiences. In turn, the receptive reader empathizes.  Thank you, Zvi Sesling, for writing these poems. To quote from the title poem "Fire Tongue," "your tongue spoke truth."


Dearest Annie, You Wanted a Report on Berkson's Class: Letters from Frances LeFevre to Anne Waldman, edited by Lisa Birman

Dearest Annie is such a pleasurable and satisfying read! I might not have picked up this book were it not a review copy as I didn't know about Frances LeFevre, Anne Waldman's mother, before I read this book. But I generally like reading bodies of correspondences and there was much meat in this collection. The featured letters were sent to Waldman while she was a 21-year-old away from home as she studied at Bennington. Wonderfully-edited by Lisa Birman, the book is organized around the premises of a mom writing to her daughter, a poet writing to another poet, and the letter-writer giving a report of a class she was taking with poet Bill Berkson.

From such arises much: humor, advice on the poetry life, poetics, and always the charming care of a mother's love--all as a result of LeFevre's keenly observant eye.  Here's an excerpt:
Not much to report from this evening's class as BB [Berkson] mostly read poems by class members and discussed them. Some of the issues that came up were interesting, as the use of color in poetry, which he's against for the most part. This caused some consternation among the more visual minded people present, who almost think of a poem as a painting and mention green here, orange there, pink somewhere else, all in isolation as if they were dabs of pigment. BB says it's all right to mention color if it's an integral part of a description or of an object you want to specify, and the great color line of all time is "the dawn in russet mantle clad", but otherwise he thinks it's likely to be a false note and slow the poem down....Various people gave him an argument--[poet and art critic Peter] Schjeldahl (I finally think this is the way to spell it!) brought up Koch's constant use of color, but Bill defended that by pointing out KK's tricks. BB said he thinks the "yellow fog" in Prufrock is one of the most unpleasant uses of color in all poetry and he'd like to see it deleted. Hannah Weiner... was crushed and kept protesting that she can't write about anything else but color, and BB suggested that she might really be a painter. 
Amusingly, Berkson in his Introduction would ask (in a parenthetical), “Was I really so untoward as to discourage Hannah Weiner from using colors in her poems?”

This book is recommended for its wisdom and as a testament to maternal love (one blurber, Eileen Myles, asks if there is "another such mother/daughter correspondence anywhere else in the world, ever?" I, myself, don't know of any other and agree with Myles: "It is wonderful stuff."). It was also an apt and welcome move to end the book with actual poems by LeFevre.  Among LeFevre's poems, I most enjoyed "THE RECOGNITION" --

Perhaps a birdcall pierces through
the clear still air,
a twig snaps and falls,
or hoofbeats tap the hill.
These are signals
you may have heard before.
Now they are new.



I read the first poem and reacted with “This is classic Jason Bredle”!

I had the same response to all of the other poems in this 24-poem chap. But isn’t  Bredle too young for me to be applying the adjective “classic”? Probably. But that I responded this way attests to how I’ve read his poems before and found them memorable enough to recall. And they are memorable for their trademark (better than “classic”) hilarity, wit, punch and effect of just giving the reader (me, anyway) a good time. That’s special: to read a collection of poems and have a great time doing so!  Here’s one of the reasons, a poem I chose by opening his chap at random:

As you can see by the above, Bredle enervates language and his poems with pleasingly unexpected twists—good poets should also surprise and he does. And to belabor the obvious, that last line is as memorable as its inspiration. I recommend the other poems. As a read, they are a party to enjoy!


SPINE by Carolyn Guinzio

There are many strengths in Carolyn Guinzio’s SPINE: music, postmodern nature poetry, imagery (such lushness), ecodiversity… But I want to focus on something attempted by many poets who, cough, don’t really convince that they pulled it off successfully. I’m talking about when Guinzo writes diptychs (my term, not hers) with lines doubly-columned (though the column’s edges need not be straight). The tendency of the eye accustomed to normative reading is to read lines horizontally across the page, and sure this can be an effective way as well to read some of her diptych-poems. But the use of faded letters actually support the column-based reading. For example:

Guinzo’s approach attests to the nature of attention, specifically typical attention nowadays with technological intrusion into our lives such that attention is usually multi-taskiing. These diptych-poems are perfect for the multi-tasking read.  At times, the juxtapositions are leaps rather than reflecting a logical narrative flow, making more impressive Guinzo’s accomplishment in creating poems that cohere.  One can get a sense of the leaps from the titles of these diptych-poems, e.g. “Wiki June / Balcony at Evening” or “Spiders / The Plsr of the Text.”  Here’s an excerpt from the latter (imagine the indented couple to be in faded text)—

Voices stream into the house
of people who once were important to you
of people who once were important to me
                                                                 When you tear
                                                                 a sentence apart.

The other poems are strong as well due to the merits I mentioned earlier as well as an implicit wisdom throughout. Here’s a pleasure-inducing poem that also serves as an ars poetica for the diptych-poems:

“Behind this world, that other— / Where a spine divides the hemispheres.”  Indeed.  Thank you, Poet, for such a blissful read.


Collected Poems 1957-1982 by Wendell Berry

I’ve read Wendell Berry prior to his Collected Poems, but focused on his essays. I, thus, come to his poetry late, and it is a revelation. It made me recall that question that pops up here and there: “If you were marooned on a desert island which book(s) would you bring?” I’ve never been able to answer that question with a poetry book.  Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems is my first poetry addition to the desert island list, which is to say, it’s a volume that will reward ongoing reads as the poems have a depth that make them applicable to many and varied situations or contexts.

Early on in the book which I read chronologically, I was struck by the poem “Boone,” marveling at its magnificence, and how its mature wisdom came to the poet seemingly at a relatively young age. Here’s an excerpt that I love:

Deservedly known as a master of elegy, here are two more excerpts from other poems that brought light to my day:

I don’t say this about most poetry books: I finished reading the book and look forward to reading it again … and again.  Fortunately, I won’t need a desert island to do so.


THE ARGONAUTS by Maggie Nelson

I’m so glad to have read THE ARGONAUTS by Maggie Nelson: not just smart but profound, witty, moving—all facets you can see in the excerpts below.

I was also struck by the structure of the book—I don't know whether it was an authorial or book production decision but it's brilliant; I mean the inputting of referenced philosophers and other sources on the margins of the page. For some reason, I find that the technique brings a focus that’s more relevant than if said references resided in footnotes. The manner also highlights one of the book's strengths, which is how philosophy is/can be personally relevant to the details, even mundane, that fashion a life.

Nelson’s mesh of memoir and criticism also means that the application (so to speak) of philosophical knowledge to autobiography, and/or vice versa, entails that the details of a life include but body-based details with all of its liquids, scents, and other such messiness. From such “messiness,” however, Nelson often effects rapture.

Indeed, I found THE ARGONAUTS to be a rapturous read. It's the best embodiment of philosophy I've read in a long while.


Stanzas on Oz: Poems 2011-2014 by David M. Katz

David M. Katz works as a financial journalist and it’s a role that serves him well in poetry when writing about power and money (among other things).  I enjoyed all of his poems but was moved to consider the combination of three poems in his Stanzas on Oz: “Schumpeter’s Dynamo,” “The Outcast” and “Schadenfreude.” If I were to say that “Schumpeter’s Dynamo” is a poem on “the dot-com boom go bust,” the titles of the 2nd and 3rd poems would make sense. There aren’t that many poetry books (in my reading experience) that address finance, and the nine-part “Schumpeter’s Dynamo” offers a useful look at the cycle, business cycle, facilitated by capitalism. The poem begins:

Although I’d hoped it was eternal,
I saw the dot-com boom go bust,
Vanishing without a kernel,
Without a crust of public trust

as it goes through how, per Joseph Schumpeter, supposedly “Destruction is the means most healthy / For economies to renew themselves, / Shoving deadwood off the shelves, / A boon to bourgeois and to wealthy. / If jobs are lost across the map / New jobs will rise to fill the gap.” That’s the way a business cycle is supposed to work—the poem begins with en epigraph by Schumpeter: “The process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.” But while we may still be in the short term and thus can’t know for sure, the post-Great Recession economy shows this assessment to be simplistic—most have been surprised, for instance, by how the “recovery” in jobs split from a recovery in wages and benefits (with the latter still in recession). Thus, the poem ends with the lines,

Your theory, Joe, leaves me in doubt.
We’ve got to find a brighter route.

No answer is provided for how to move this economy forward past stagflation but that seems appropriate to me. Any real solution requires, in part, political will and what’s the likelihood of such when every year is an election year—we’ve not seen many politicians successfully rise out of the context of implementing long-term solutions that require ignoring short-term vote-based constraints (“Easy money, anyone?”). Such is why I mentally combined “Schumpeter’s Dynamo” with the other two poems that seemingly are not related in terms of narrative content.

Specifically, I considered these lines:

And then flew by some little bird all filled with Schadenfreude
And twittered: “What do you matter? What do you matter?

As if from on high, he fluttered like a puffed-up philosopher
In profile, halted like a haughty hummingbird, a-hemming

And a-hawing to the point, which was my lack of consequence
In a universe where all the stars were the weight of kummel.
—from “Schadenfreude”

…it’s something to have loved,
To once have been so happy, to have moved
Within that garden, even for a day
—from “The Outcast”

It’s a centuries-old truism that the powers-that-be often ignore the rest. But the observations from “Schadenfreude” need not be the last word(s).  What “Schadenfreude” offers may be a truism but it’s a macro truism. I often say to others, We live in the micro as well.  Thus, “The Outcast” with its protagonist recalling Paradise from which s/he was cast offers relevant lines, too. Notwithstanding the larger forces that influence our daily lives, there often are moments and forces within (and smaller than) the larger forces where our living can unfold. Therein, “it’s something to have loved.”

If my conclusion seems Pollyanna-ish, not to worry. It’s quite likely I’ll be more dour tomorrow.  But, for now, having read Stanzas on Oz, I appreciate Katz leading me to ponder what I’ve pondered. Such, too, is a legitimate role for poetry.


Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket, Shiva by Leonard Gontarek

There are many diamond-moments in Leonard Gontarek's new poetry collection, Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket, Shiva. That is, I most appreciated the very short poems--indeed, what they left unsaid made the stated words more powerful.  My favorite is


Night coming down, 
the way a waitress calls you Hon.

Here's another:


An odd light, it is.

They kiss long in the driveway of a church. 
They taste like lifesavers to each other.

The 2nd and 3rd lines above actually would have worked as a couplet. But that first line layers a mysterious complexity to the poem.

The longer poems, though none are really long, are worthwhile--the collection benefits from particularly strong first and last poems, respectively "Grace" and "Prayer." Both poems evoke one of Gontarek's strengths, his ease with melding religious invocations with--finding religion in!--the quotidian.

But, elsewhere, I had an experience of a different type. That is, the phrase "spread your legs" is so strong that I don't think it benefited the collection to have included two poems with that reference. I read the book chronologically and the first time I came across the phrase, in the poem "I Know,"  I found it powerful.  Fifteeen pages later when I read it again in a different poem, "Woodsmoke," I found it not only weak but it diluted my appreciation of it in the first poem.  The experience reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with another poet as regards editing a poetry collection, in part to reduce the repetition of certain words/phrases that may pop up too often in a book (I implicate myself: more than one person has observed I use the word "replete" a lot).  I'm not sure what to conclude about this point, though I wonder if extending the number of pages between the two might have improved the situation. Still, let me end with the poem "Woodsmoke" where I found my experience with the phrase to be unsatisfactory because I'd read the phrase earlier in another poem.  And, yet, when you take this poem on its own, it's actually damn good:

Woodsmoke, today, filled me
          with such longing.
Spread your legs 
like Jesus' message, for me.


Algaravias: Echo Chamber by Waly Salomao, Trans. by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi

Waly Salomao (there's that tilde-looking thing above the second "a" of his last name that I'm incompetent to replicate) (1943-2003) was, according to the book's press release, "one of the foremost 20th-century experimental poets of South America. In 1995, his fifth book of poetry, Algaravias: Echo Chamber, won Brazil's highest literary prize, the Premio Jabuti. Following the author's death, the Waly Salomao Cultural Center was established in Rio de Janeiro."

I'm delighted to be introduced to his work through the able translations of Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, an artist, poet and theorist. Through Algaravias, I also read meta poem-making poems that, for the first time, I actually relish despite the meta. As Algaravias is Salomao's last book, it makes sense that it would incorporate poems about poetry, and I enjoyed many of his observations such as, from "LAUSPERENE"

I've found that "brevity--not conciseness / brevity--camouflage / of a locked poem/ swallowed from inside" to be accurate as, upon reading these lines, I mentally recalled numerous contemporary poetry volumes.. But it's one of those things I didn't realize I'd been noticing until Salomao articulated it for me. I hope other poets take notice--that "locked poem" is a tragedy.

"LAUSPERENE" is presented relatively early in the collection, which may have focused my perspective on meta-poems. I enjoyed "I AND OTHER POEMS" for its killer ending stanza:

I'll share one more excerpt--this from "POEM FACTORY"--because I enjoyed what I thought was a surrealist passion in its words, but perhaps is more reflective of what blurber Ammiel Alcalay calls "tropicalismo-tinged." Either way, it works:

Marvelously resonant poems--I am grateful to Ugly Duckling Presse for putting out this volume!


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well).  She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: THE CONNOISSEUR OF ALLEYS was reviewed by Marthe Reed for The Volta Blog and Grady Harp for Amazon;  INVENT(ST)ORY was reviewed by  Neil Leadbeater in The Halo-Halo Review Mangozine #2Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole was reviewed by Monica Manolachi in The Halo-Halo Review Mangozine #2Footnotes to Algebra was reviewed by Chris Mansel in The Halo-Halo Review Mangozine #2; and SILK EGG was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza in Goodreads.

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