Tuesday, August 16, 2022

hell of birds

I went on my first formal bird walk this year, though I enjoy birds in my own back yard and often spot herons and swans at local ponds and owls and hawks on road trips. hell of birds is no bird walk. It is its own thing altogether! A compelling chapbook by Kimberly Povloski (Driftwood Press, 2019) with compelling cover art by Alexander Landerman, that folds over onto the back cover, too. Interestingly, the book's title comes from another work of art, Hölle der Vögel, by Max Beckmann.

The gray swirl of birds in Landerman's cover reminds me of a phrase I love in one of Povloski's poems: "dark pearl of weather." Then a sad, moody poem called "pearl" begins, "The summer your parents planted a wisteria tree it died." Then a coincidence, a short poem called "painted bunting" reminds me of Thoreau burning down the forest in O'Nights.

     i could set fire
     to these fields

     i could burn

The book is about "bird gods" as much as birds, about saints and suffering. It ends with an interview with the poet about subject matter and process. I love her answer to the first question, about birds: "They exist and thrive in human-engineered environments--in the cities and suburbs that have destroyed their natural habitats." That's something I learned on my first bird walk! How my own community is actually a haven for birds that would otherwise be displaced. Povloski goes on, "That adaptability, that cunning, seems almost elemental. Birds-as-animal embody an extant wilderness in our daily lives. I think that's what makes birds-as-symbol so provocative."

Yet another wonderful find in the Sealey Challenge this August!

Monday, August 15, 2022

Rowing Inland

When I opened the book Rowing Inland, by Jim Daniels (Wayne State University Press, 2017) to the table of contents and saw a poem titled "Wishbone," I knew it was the book for today, following yesterday's The Wishbone Dress. And there's the first coincidence!

This is part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series, and I was eager to encounter some Pure Michigan (Yes, Michigan!--calling on various tourism slogans here...) as our family had annually spent a week together in Michigan for many summers, right up until this one, when we went to Nashville, TN (or just outside it, with redheaded woodpeckers, I am happy to report!), but this is not tourist Michigan. It is lived Michigan, with car factories, trailer parks, economic decline, smoking and drinking, streetlights (and streetlights out), and fireworks going off long past the 4th of July. The title poem and others have nostalgia in them, for lost childhood (and childhood friends), but it's a clear-eyed book, too, hard-hitting at times, with humor, light and dark.

In "Wishbone," we see the mother's windowsills with "potted violets" in tender light. "My mother dried wishbones on those sills." That happened at my house, too. "It was she who decided they were dry enough / to break. She never wished herself." My mother always gave the wishbones to her children. "If you find my father / in this picture, please let me know." Now there's a particular sadness. His father worked nonstop in the factories...and left unfinished projects in the house, went on one vacation, or went fishing (that was not fishing).

Yes, I found August: "Outside, August waits." That's in a poem with no day job. And I also found Labor Day, waiting just around the corner. And August again in that same poem, "Summer Weight, Labor Day":

     Anticipation is a dog that's already
     been kicked. Sad September.
     If only you could go back
     to school and do it right this time,
     or merely better.

     Pencils sharpened by August heat.

The poem continues with "Lawn mowers on the prowl," and that reminded me to tell my husband, after his most recent mow, that already the first yellow leaves of the sweet gum were landing. And then, in the last stanza, the word "Zoom" leapt out in its current resonance before receding into the past and fading summer:

     Zoom in on you sprawled on your porch
     issuing lame challenges to insects and sunshine
     to linger. Over a warm beer, you dream
     of the perfect cool hat that could've
     changed your life.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Wishbone Dress

In a terrible and ironic way, The Wishbone Dress, by Cassandra J. Bruner, is, again, the perfect book to read on a Sunday, given the presence of biblical quotations and a dubious pastor within. The Wishbone Dress, published by Bull City Press, was the winner of the 2019 Frost Place Chapbook Competition, and it is a stunning book, just like its excellent cover by Jennifer Thoreson, Flora 1, from her Flora series. My husband, a painter, loves this cover, seeing the cross in it. I also love the author photo, her hair, her choker, which, one of the poems tells me, can mask the Adam's apple.

That inner narrative, of a boy named Reid, wracked by medical problems in his youth, who transforms into a woman, is told with the perfect mix of a mother's empathy and confusion in the poem, "Demeter: The Poem As My Mother." Taking on her mother's voice, the poet/speaker, I am guessing, better understands her mother and, perhaps, herself. That the poet has chosen the name Cassandra 1) thrills me, as I identify with Cassandra, too! 2) is powerful and poignant, as the ekphrastic poem "Object Lessons: After Solomon J. Solomon's Ajax and Cassandra" shows us that painting. (Here, shown via photographic reproduction thanks to Wikipedia.) This poem, partly about the rape of Cassandra by Ajax in mythology, also tells the story of the rape of a girl in a parking lot--a story told by the dubious pastor:

     The preacher stresses this point
          as he reads newsclippings to rows
               of children. Their silence thick as gauze
          over a slit eye. A creature bent toward

     her destruction
he calls her. Just as Solomon
          paints Cassandra--straining over Ajax
               toward Athena's altar, rainbowed pinions
          of light pressing her against her assailant.

The preacher's "point" was to blame the victim with a detail of what she had been doing the moment before...as if to provoke/deserve the attack. We all know this old story, alas. And how powerful women are called witches, and burned. In "Cora, Bound to the Tree, Delivers Her Testimony," Cora (the Witch) says:

          ahead. Puncture my ankles with an iron rod & call them

     pillars of onyx when they refuse to shatter. Watch my
          hair flash into steel ribbons under your blades.
     Make a profane miracle of me---

It's a beautiful and heartrending book. From "Of the Night":

     We will kneel, unfurling
     our perfumed nests of hair in offering.        

Those who have been reading along in the blog re: Sealey Challenge connections will recognize the blue coincidence of "blue ribbons of humiliation" in "Poem of My Shame." Along with myth and the Bible, there is also Nature--birds and prairie, heron and milkweed. From "Apologia":

                                        Somewhere a goshawk
     descends & a pair of women

     dress themselves with wishbones in separate

In my separate room, reading of another woman's separate experience, I am connected, I am bound, I am wishing...       

Saturday, August 13, 2022


The wonderful title for this one, O'Nights, by Cecily Parks (Alice James Books, 2015), comes from a bit of dialogue quoted in Henry David Thoreau's journal, a Goodwin speaking, saying, after a bit of age guessing, re: Emerson vs Thoreau, "But he has not been out o'nights as much as you have." On this gorgeous, breezy summer day, I was outside for most of it, and so was this book, and, I gather, so was the poet, while writing it! Are these eco-poems? Nature poems? Or "postpastoral" poems, as in the poem actually titled "Postpastoral"? 

     I borrowed an axe
     so heavy I had to drag it
     through the woods.

This stanza from it reminds me of the movie we watched last night, Land, a Robin Wright project, recommended by a co-worker (a recommendation I heartily pass along to you!), even though the axe in the movie mostly stayed closer to home...in the wild.

I love learning stuff in poems, and, in "When I Was Thoreau at Night," I learned that "Peregrine," a human as well as falcon name, means "wanderer." In that same poem:

                                                  Oh, yes,
     I wanted the world to be wild again. I believed

     I might hold weather in my hands
     and mend it.

That, and the opening poem, "Hurricane Song," make me think that this is a book in tune with and in defense of the environment.

Now let me tell you about the random coincidii and the many mentions of the moon! (Sun & Moon is the theme of the upcoming open mic at the public library, so the moon is on my mind, as is the caveat against the moon in poems, which always makes me so glad to find the moon there!!) The moon:

     the moon said, You dream me (p. 3)

     low-slung moons (p. 9)

     the street's mechanical moon (p. 53)

     Some nights I beg the moon / to swerve and hit me. (p. 66)

The random coincidii:

     "I believe it's all this pollen that dizzies me." (It was a high-pollen count day in central Illinois today!)

     Just yesterday I heard the first/only (?) ice cream truck in the neighborhood, and here's a poem titled "Girls Ride Shotgun in the Ice Cream Truck."

     Lots of blue in "Blue Oat Grass Epithalamium" (as is some previous books!)

     I just read (outdoors!) in the current issue of Vanity Fair a reference to Virginia Woolf in the article about Joan Didion and Eve Babitz, and here in a Note at the end (p. 77), referring to the title of a particular poem (p. 5), "The Swallow Dips Her Wings in Midnight Pools," is, of course, Virginia Woolf!

     The book is published by Alice James Books, and there is a poem titled "Alice James" and a Note about William James. Er, more than coincidence?!

     In a way, the poem "Pilgrim" confirmed my connection to the movie, Land:

     Then I'm going to tell him how I lived
     in the wild: I ran out of electricity
     one autumn and camped outside,
     sleeping by a stump whose rot
     coincided with my idea of discipline.


                                    When I ran out
     of conversation, I came inside and made amends
     with my home, my socks, the length
     of autumn. I doubted the winter
     so fiercely that my electricity stayed lost,
     I was going to practice being a pilgrim forever.
     I was going to worship my head lamp
     until its battery ran out. I thought better.

I enjoyed this book. I did not know that Thoreau set fire to the forest. Yikes! I love how, in "I Have Set Fire to the Forest," and other poems, she wears a dress on her walks in nature:

                                                        If I were
     Thoreau, Spring would make me want

     to destroy something.

LOVE that stanza break! And how the poem is quietly, insistently, erotic:

                                       Like the pussy willows
     I know I'll bloom eventually
     and when I do, people will want to touch me.


Friday, August 12, 2022

Hard Damage

This one had poem after poem of gripping intensity and experience unlike my own, so I read it as if looking into a new world. Hard Damage by Aria Aber, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and the Whiting Award (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). But it is my world--America with its covert actions elsewhere in the world (once her parents' homeland) and full of privilege (of which she and I both partake). And it isn't my world: it is refugee camp, Afghanistan left behind, and languages I don't know but deeply appreciate, as explored in these poems.

Cover image: Moa, 1911, Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Here in Hard Damage I find grenades compared to turtles and also "grenade" connected to pomegranate in etymology:

                        Grenade, its shape
     so much like the fruit they named it after,
     pomegranate, from Latin pomum granatum
     (apple with many seeds), something
     I can harvest and pick from a tree--
     a comfortable taste in my mouth, and yes,
     fruit of the dead, or of fertility, depending
     on whose sustenance to listen to.

I find connections, of course, to the other books I've been reading here in August for the Sealey Challenge--for instance, a mention of the month of August itself, in the poem "Foreign Policies," one that moves from and shifts back to the more personal poems in the book to the more political: "August, too, was a mastermind, distracting me / toward your lima bean eyes."

And the color blue: "the blue uncertainty" of "Asylum" in a refugee camp, and "Rilke, blue prince of the lyric I, comes to me often." In "Operation Cyclone," a father, "his voice is blue shards of a dinner plate / atop a compost heap." In another part of that same long poem, a brother-uncle-son, lost, imagined in the section called "Interrogation Chamber": "The blue light censoring his face." And the sentiment that might somehow save us all: "If, despite relentless blue, despite snow, you dared to hold me / and I dared to be held"

Connections to Here, by C.S. Giscombe, in a way, to the idea of "here," as in Aber's poem titled "Here," "We sip Arabic coffee and warm our faces / by the oven, which glares at us with its black snout." (Also, a poem that contains this fabulous simile: "ice / falling from fir trees like books pushed off a shelf.") And in the poem "Alles/All," how "there" compares and contrasts to "here," creating two kinds of place:

"From the back, in my car seat, I'd protest: No, AFGHANISTAN IS MORE BEAUTIFUL. IT HAS EVERYTHING THERE.

You'd laugh, somewhat confounded: You have never been there.

There: green macaws, AK 47s, feces in water pipies, schools in clay huts, tiny crocheted shoes, market men sitting on upside down crates, landmines, mud, an abundance of apples, pomegranates, watermelon, flies, mosquitoes, that little house behind the river--does it still exist?

Here: You and I in a car, green fields of cattails, the summer night warblers gossiping, the sky lowering its clouds like marbled ham toward us.

There: I love you, I love you.

Here: All that there is."

I find it remarkable that this poet so deeply remembers a world she can't really remember--too young, gone too long--through her relatives' memories, stories, and her own research. And creates it here so well! She loves and honors her mother, who spent time in prison for revolutionary action. In "Lass/Let," one of the poems that examines meaning via a single word in German and in English, we learn:

"My mother let me happen to her. She let prison happen to her, simply because she believed in Women's Rights and Afghanistan as a sovereign state. She went to prison with her little sister, and she emerged." The story continues in the poem "dir/You": "You, I said to my mother, have been to prison. But she cooked on in the kitchen, ignoring me. Or, she scratched and peeled the wallpaper, weeping...."

It's a beautiful book, with terrible things happening in it:

"the woman, 34, revolutionary socialist, killed by the mujahedeen, was found with her head in her lap: wearing an earring, red lipstick, a book of poems in her jacket"

Because it is a beautiful world, with terrible things happening in it.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Genesis Machine

It had to be a skinny one this time--full day. The Genesis Machine, by Jeanne Wagner, winner of the 2016 Sow's Ear Chapbook Competition. Beautiful play of sounds in the very first poem, with its intriguing (yet perhaps repressed?) title of "Revising My Mother Who Always Undressed in the Closet"! Delicious wordplay, delicious revision. Not so repressed, after all!

Colorful. "Baptism in Blue." "Shipwreck Blue." "When I was a child, I drew as a child, crayoned strips of a horizontal sky..."

The wonderful coincidence of Mary Anning (1799-1847), encountered in a poem by Jessy Randall and the movie Ammonite, and here in the poem "Why She Wasn't Invited to Join the Geological Society of London." The whole book is such a great mix of science, language, the personal, and the perfect detail. Glad I found it in my Sealey Challenge pile!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022


I'll be telling you about the connections and the coincidences from here on out in this Sealey Challenge, I know! Yesterday's poet, S. Brook Corfman, mentioned today's poet, C. S. Giscombe, in epigraph and notes! Here, by C. S. Giscombe, is a beautiful book of place, and I intersect with two of his places--Ohio and Illinois--and, more specifically, central Illinois. He taught at Illinois State University for a time, and I have been hearing about him...forever, and this book is published by Dalkey Archive Press, which was here

And, here in central Illinois, it was another beautiful day to read a book outside.

In this one, "the melodious southern wild comes into the cities" on visits to the South in 1978 and 1962. The speaker is "old enough to remember Jim Crow" and

     encsonced in Dixie I am piss elegance,
     nameless dread, I am the route of escape

In Section 4 of a long poem titled "Blue Hole, Flood Waters, Little Miami River," after a painting by Robert S. Duncanson, living in another time of terrible tension, I feel the tension in the air...and how it can dissipate...even in "1960-something, way

     across Wolf Creek w/a white boy my age
     the 2 of us---waiting for buses---reclined
     on some lawn, at
     some intersection:

                                    nothing happened
     my bus came first

I was so glad to read that "nothing happened." The same artist of Blue Hole... is the cover artist here, with View of Cincinnati, Ohio from Covington, Kentucky (1848). So gorgeous, so detailed, such a perfect fit for these poems.

And, in a poem about a dream, I found language that describes one of my own (very scary but also beautiful) dreams: "to mystify landscape into what else but death" so now I don't feel so alone in my scary dreaming...

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Luxury, Blue Lace

Today's book for the Sealey Challenge (a book a day in August) is Luxury, Blue Lace, by S. Brook Corfman, winner of the 2018 Rising Writer Prize (Autumn House Press, 2019). It's one I read outdoors on a beautiful afternoon and early evening, knowing I just needed to immerse myself in it and would not exactly understand but simply experience this identity journey with a wonderfully collagey feel. The Notes at the end mention some of my faves!: Sarah Ruhl, Emily Dickinson, Chekhov. Here are some lines I love:

"The shock of the person walking around when you realize: the person is you."

"Here's the space between two people, which is the same as the space between three, between four, between one."

Somehow the cover image (by Sarah Walko) does that, too, the spacing magic. While I was reading, the neighbor children came out to play in their fort, on their deck, on their trampoline. 

" I can feel myself saying, I used to want     to be a girl---" 

"Only beauty still moves me     a dead man writes."

Monday, August 8, 2022


That thing is happening, as it did last year, and probably in previous years of the Sealey Challenge, where I find I am reading poems in the month mentioned in the poem--that is, August. In "Elegy," the very first poem in Thrall, by Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), it is late August, and we are still in early August, but still... 

And other coincidences continue. Yesterday, I told you about finding my friend's pencilled notes in the book I was reading. Today, in "Illumination," the last poem in Thrall, I find "this secondhand book   full / of annotations   daring the margins in pencil."

It's a beautiful elegy, by the way, for her father. It recounts a day fishing together, his "defeat" casting, his boots heavy with water, and her small success, the catch and release of two small trout. But a coincidence that stood out for me was her awareness of using him, in a way, for poetry, and how that connected to Diane Wakoski's commitment to poetry and complicated connection to family. Trethewey says,

         I can tell you now

that I tried to take it all in, record it
   for an elegy I'd write--one day--

when the time came. Your daughter,
   I was that ruthless. What does it matter

if I tell you I learned to be?

Trethewey's "Elegy" is all love, despite the named ruthlessness, but the poems speak of other complications, notably the mixed-race marriage of which she is the product. Many poems in Thrall are about paintings that depict black and white mixings of family, painter's model, or even, in "Miracle of the Black Leg," body and limb--"black donor, white recipient"--an astonishing thing/"myth" to consider. "Taxonomy" discusses, using the language of the past, "mestiso," "mulato," "castiza." And the title poem, "Thrall," is about Juan de Pareja, "the slave of the artist Diego Valezquez," as the note at the end tells us, and an artist himself, as well as "the mulatto son / of a slave woman

as if    it took only my mother
   to make me
      a mulatto
      any white man
could be my father

In the touching poem "Enlightenment," father and daughter discuss Thomas Jefferson over time, revising their understanding of him, his relationship to Sally Hemings, and each other. On a tour of Monticello, she teases her father:

                                     This is where
   we split up. I'll head around to the back.

When he laughs, I know he's grateful

I've made a joke of it, this history
   that links us--white father, black daughter--
even as it renders us other to each other.

As heartbreaking as the "Elegy."

And maybe I needed a little joke, too. Something made me pick up The Poet's House, by Jean Thompson, from the new shelf at the library today. Probably the title, right? After reading about Diane Wakoski's pettiness and jealousy yesterday in Greed, Parts 5-7, the epigraph made me laugh: "...and thus cruelty, envy, revenge, avarice, and the passions purely evil, have never formed any portion of the popular imputations of the lives of poets." --Percy Bysshe Shelley, "A Defence of Poetry." Mmhmm.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Greed, Parts 5-7

This signed copy of Greed, Parts 5-7, by Diane Wakoski (Black Sparrow Press, 1971) comes from my friend Bill via his widow, Ellen. He has underlined parts in pencil and written a few marginal notes, so reading it is also reading what Bill found important, salient, about it. On page 11, the word "greed" is circled. A section beginning, "What is that greed?" is half-bracketed, with "parenting" written in the margin where Wakoski is suggesting the "greed" for "repeating ourselves" in children "could make

     these same people
     produce beautiful objects
     benevolent institutions
     or write books and religions.

But, usually, it doesn't. In this deeply confessional book she tells us she gave up her own children, in part because she was poor and had no husband and in part to pursue her poetry. She says we would understand if we gave up our sentimentality. And she likens our greed to sharks, at one point listing their beautiful names: "when I start listing beautiful names / it is because my own pain is so deep."

As this has been quite the summer of shark headlines, shark attacks, injuries, terrible wounds, I know I am reading it at the right time. Also, though yesterday's book by Shane McCrae, seemed right for a Sunday, it's fine to be immersed in one of the seven deadly sins instead. Also, like McCrae's book, Wakoski's is part of a larger, ongoing project, with other books devoted to (other parts of) greed.

Part 6, about Jealousy, adds leeches to the water creatures in the book. It is so confessional, she writes it mainly as a "Dear Diary" entry, and it explains "how goodness, or the desire for it drives us mad." Also pertinent to Sunday, but irreverent to some, she says, "I am very melodramatic. I see myself hanging on a cross..." and confesses her petty jealousies, meanness, nastiness, and hypocrisy, mainly toward other poets when they get what she wanted. It's pretty shocking! Bracketed by Bill:

     A good man is one who sees no cause for bitterness in this. Who does not find himself demeaned or hurt by such things. But what is it that protects him, keeps him whole, gives him transfusions of plasma to replace his evaportaing blood?

     Perhaps faith in himself? A belief that art or love or anything valuable and beautiful is beyond the temporal?

Yes, I would guess that's it, and in Part 7, Self-Righteousness, she blames her mother for knocking her down, jealously, for any accomplishment, with the warning, "Pride goeth before a fall." And she brings the Lion Fish, a poisonous, spiky, threatening but "magnificent creature" into the already dangerous waters of life. Wakoski continues her astonishingly honest self-critique and rescues Pride in this section--distinguishing the deadly sin aspect from the pick-yourself-back-up-and-survive aspect. She knows she tried to be a good girl growing up, and how it hurt her:

     Oh you false teacher,
     letting me think if I were honest
     and clean and straight,
     the world would just be all right,
     and that if it weren't I could sit righteously
     in my chair of innocence and look back
     at it
     and somehow triumph.
     But the world only admits it is wrong,
     when you make it admit it is wrong;
     and where is the poetry in that?

And have you ever felt like her in this?:

     My angers come from having lived as I was taught
     and not feeling the world honors or
     rewards me for any of my decency.

But the Lion Fishy response of self-righteousness cannot be the answer [as bracketed by Bill]:

     the greedy thought that when you are right
     you can burn others for their wrongness;
     it is a fire that could destroy
     the world.

If you are fascinated by Diane Wakoski, you may enjoy the work of filmmaker Jesseca Ynez Simmons, interviewed here at Escape Into Life, and her film Emerald Ice, in which Wakoski appears, discussed here, with a teaser. And now I am going to try to be a better person.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Sometimes I Never Suffered

Maybe I should have read this one on Sunday; it would have been like going to church! But I read Sometimes I Never Suffered, by Shane McCrae (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) on Saturday, Day 6 of the Sealey Challenge, and it was like going to graduate school,* re-seeing history in a multiverse, dreaming parallel universes, and visiting an echo chamber where I encountered my re-reading of Paradise Lost** this summer with an online group of white people. Shane McCrae's vision of it all is so large--Heaven and Limbo expanding, circular boundaries that aren't boundaries, train tracks/rides, ladder rungs, this book extending the large ongoing poem of his previous books--that I think/feel he would understand.

*preventing this from being a Slattern Day! 
**making it another Random Coinciday in the blog!

Sometimes I Never Suffered contains many poems about a "hastily assembled angel" shoved out of Heaven by his fellow angels--the Paradise Lost resonance (for me)--as well as many poems about Jim Limber, the mixed-race son of Jefferson Davis. History and theology collide, beautifully, making stars and circles, definitely expanding my mind. I read hungrily, voraciously (like the worst of humans), hardly stopping to write things down, but this I did write down, from "The Hastily Assembled Angel Also Sustains the World":


To be like God
he thinks must be the wrong way
To be like God

Got to agree with that! And in "The Hastily Assembled Angel Considers His Own Foreknowing" the angel, like Lucifer and all the angels in Paradise Lost, "Could see through time," which makes a mess, a glorious mess, of linear narrative! But McCrae provides the excellent reason:

          except he knew he was
Allowed to see through time because he was
Not God   and could be wrong   and saw through time
With many-chambered eyes   all things that might be
And God would see   only the one thing that would

Thank you, Shane McCrae! I see that I ordered and received this book back in December, 2021, probably after reading one of the individual poems published online and clicking the Bookshop Inc button to order the book, a sort of Christmas gift to myself for ongoing pandemic reading as well as the ongoing commitment to read more books by Black authors.

I love this cover art by Toyin Ojih Odutola. I love Jim Limber's view of God in "Jim Limber on the Gardens of the Face of God":

     For me   God is a woman   and Her face is
     Black as a bright black stone

The title of the book comes from a riding-the-train poem, "Jim Lmber on Continuity in Heaven," and here is its beautiful last stanza:

     But I mean share like prisoners
     Share loneliness   I ride the train now like I never suf-
     fered on a train   sometimes I never suffered in my life

You hear the folding of time, the immensity of compassion. And at the end is a long poem that climbs the rungs of the ladder to Heaven.

Friday, August 5, 2022

3Arabi Song

This one is a beautiful, lyrical--truly, as it captures many singers and songs!--chapbook that won the 2016  Rattle Chapbook Prize: 3Arabi Song by Zeina Hashem Beck, a Lebanese poet. Its lyric poems include ghazals and pantoums in many voices; we hear the favorite singers and songs of her generation, and more. There is lament, there is gratitude, there is joy, and more lament.

is sometimes a camera,
sometimes has a nom de guerre...

I learned that 3Arabi is the Arabizi way of writing "Arabic." Arabizi = Arabic + Englizi, and this is a whole language rendition out there in the world, especially the online world, that I knew nothing about before and am grateful to discover.

I am also grateful to discover this book in August, where, in the poem "Listen," I read "Viscous, this August heat..." and, right now, it is!

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep

I sleep when I can, including on the couch, sitting up, mid-reading, with the light on, in the middle of the night. Not that these gripping, wise, clear-eyed, unflinching, masterful poems would put me to sleep. No, but they greeted my wakened self when most needed to re-direct my jam-packed mind in the wee hours. The cover is Portrait of a Woman (c. 1480) by Hans Memling. The title, The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep, found again as the title of the last poem in the book, refers to a photograph by Jeffrey Silverthorne. The amazing poet is Linda Gregerson. I'm glad I didn't die in my sleep, last night, but, otherwise, it might be the best way to go...

These poems look at the world, the body, the individual, the wars of the time (1990s), the personal difficulties, the global woes, the fleeting joys. "For the Taking" is a devastatingly honest poem (that reminds me of Yvonne Zipter's poem, "Daddy," from yesterday's reading) about a sister whose "bad uncle" abused her, from eight-and-a-half years old on, "for years, in the back of the car,

in the basement where he kept his guns,
          and we
     who could have saved her,...

                     ...we would be somewhere mowing the lawn

or basting the spareribs, right
          outside, and--how
     many times have you heard this?--we

were deaf and blind
                         and have
     ever since required of her that she

take care of us, and she has,
                          and here's
     the worst, she does it for love.

"Salt" shows us a botched suicide in a barn and a broken collarbone in a hammock. But "With Emma at the Ladies-Only Swimming Pond on Hampstead Heath" gives us the surprise of a pond in the woods, and, as the title promises, ladies swimming, safely, alone. "Target" returns us to fears for the safety of our children, via Medea, car crashes, the Serbian war. "Fish Dying on the Third Floor at Barneys," at first about a dramatic department store fashion display, compares the dying fish to a dying father. "Bleedthrough" compares menstruation to art, as when, in a painting, "we say // that the surfeited pigment 'bleeds.'" And "Luke 17:32" reminds us of Lot's wife and "the rigors of the backward look." How do we start over?! Get out of the basement with the guns?! Change course?! "Who // cannot read shall not / be saved."

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Patience of Metal

Two things to start off: 1) I can read poetry in the middle of the night 2) today's immediate coincidence is tools. In my first two Sealey Challenge blog posts this year, I've mentioned the men working in a neighbor's back yard, and here on the cover of The Patience of Metal, by Yvonne Zipter (Hutchinson House, 1990), are tools: hammer, saw, ax, and awl (?), in a photograph by Patricia Bechdolt. But I think the patience of metal might be how hot it can get waiting to be what it really is.

     And I am white hot,
     for a smithy,
     the careful taps and blows
     that leave me ringing...

I can't believe I hadn't read this book until now, as I am an admirer (and previous reviewer) of Zipter's work. True, in 1990, when it was published, I was busy having a baby. And I love the poems about various children in the "Learning to Dare" section of this book. So much joy and hope. Elsewhere, there is so much loss and grief, and a devastating "Daddy" poem of early trauma. And such beautiful poems about the death of a beloved mother. In "Oral History,"

     I hate talking to you like this,
     death between us like a stuck door.
     We should be sitting at a kitchen table,
     cups of hot coffee (decaf), steam
          curling across your dry cheek, you
     telling me about my childhood, yours,
     talking about operations, lovers, scars,
     asking questions
     we never dared or didn't know
     to ask. This is a tradition
     among women: oral history.
     So much irreplaceable
     has been lost.

What has been lost is somehow found in the poem "That Much," a happy memory that might be mostly imagined, a "frozen moment that most likely / never happened.

          ...We are smiling, silent
     except for love. That much
     is real.

And, speaking of reality, Zipter's poem "Reality" is a wonderfully prescient and pertinent philosophical ramble on it: "Reality / is as hard to pin down as a politician / or an angry kid."

I love this book, and love reading it late, as I know the newfound love, patiently waited for, was real, has lasted, has lived many anniversaries beyond its charming, goofy one-year "Anniversary Waltz." And I love how the last poem, "Loss," turns about to be a funny, sweet poem not really about loss!

     I don't want to lose you, I whisper.
     "Like at the mall?" you say,
     infusing the dark with light.
     Yes, at the mall.

I'll leave the rest for you to find.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Greenhouse

This morning the guys were in the neighbor's back yard working again very early, there when I got back from Early Bird Lap Swim, but only hammering, not using power saws, so I could calmly read The Greenhouse (Bull City Press, 2014), by Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet, with my morning coffee. Such a lovely book, winner of the Frost Place Chapbook Competition, it's about the mother-child relationship from infancy into early childhood--the peaceful, gentle, exhausted, fear-and-love-filled time of bonding, getting the child to eat and sleep--that slips away from memory, so much about the present moment, unless captured or recreated in language, "the mommy-memoirs" of baby notes or, here, poems. The little details stick out--"red pajama top with the train"--and remind me of my own baby notes.

Of course, this mother is a reader--desperate to read a book again--and a writer--patient with herself from necessity--and happy to read books to her boy. And, if she can't get enough sleep, she can enjoy Dorothy falling asleep in the poppies of The Wizard of Oz, and "popcorn all over the rug." One's life is taken over until a small moment to reflect: "I was a bubble, a greenhouse, a lens..." from "After Dropping My Son Off at Preschool," "self being a place encompassing a small boy." And "the greenhouse encompassing three things: a mother, a gingko tree, a boy." In this poem, she Googles something, maybe. The gingko tree. In "Baby/Honey," the Internet helps her understand why you don't give a honey to a child under one. And in my blog, we celebrate coincidence--how yesterday's idiot was a man, and today's was a woman, both of them wise in their folly. Stonestreet: "It is a luxury and a privilege to be such an idiot." And "Charge," the giant poem, will break your heart.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Guilty Prayer

Steve Henn is reading for the library in September, so I am starting off the Sealey Challenge with two of his chapbooks from Main Street Rag: Guilty Prayer (2021) and American Male (2022). Don't worry, the latter is more a critique of "toxic masculinity" than any kind of celebration. I do hope I can keep up with the Sealey Challenge, and read a book of poems a day in August, but I am in a busy time of life, just off a week-long family gathering, just starting a board presidency, and re-situating myself, so we'll see! I have certainly enjoyed the Sealey Challenge in the past, and love the chance to read poetry sitting in a lawn chair in the back yard. Aha! I am already quoting from "American Male," making it a Random Coinciday, as well as a Poetry Someday in the blog:

     Isn't it true I'd rather sit out back
     in a cheap lawn chair reading poems
     than do the edge trimming
     or admire a full wall display
     of oppressively shiny tools?

So Steve Henn is exactly the right guy to start off with, and I've got to love a man who asks the question, "Why / do I always feel a surge of anxiety / stepping into a hardware store?" Meanwhile, guys are using power saws in the back yard that backs up to mine, and my husband is using one intermittently in the garage, so the plan may change and, since the heat has arrived, involve a ceiling fan.

Also, again from American Male, I've got to love a guy that starts a poem ("Hail Mary," after Frank O'Hara and for Anne Henn), "Mothers of America! / Take your boys to the library!" These poems are honest, bold, tender, and sad. They contain grief, suicide, treatment for mental illness, alcoholism, sobriety, teenagers, high school classrooms, dear, dear friends, and real, deep questions. Here's one, from "Columbia, Misery" in Guilty Prayer; "What is it the addicted are really addicted to?" and the possible, quite reasonable answer: "Feeling better?" Along with the confusing reality: "If I felt okay continuously / I wouldn't know how to take it." And here's another, related, question, this one from "It Goes All the Way Back to 7th Grade" in American Male: "what kind of deluded perfectionist thinks / he has a right to feel good all the time?" I am that kind, or have been. What am I now? These are the kinds of poems that encourage you to ask...

Henn's poems challenge us to face, and stop, gun violence. In "Role-Playing Games," in Guilty Prayer, we live through/imagine school trainings, for adults and kids, and it's awful. "Admit / that this is what we have become." But on the very next page, "In the classroom," we are reading a poem by Ada Limon, in touching togetherness--literally touching, one boy touching another on the arm "in a gesture of comfort." So lovely to see! 

Guilty Prayer is "for Zeb"--a good friend who appears in several poems--and "in memory of Lydia F. Henn, 1980-2013, American artist" and the mother of the poet's children, the terrible loss, the grief we feel throughout. A suffering that provokes compassion and care. I'm glad we get to see those kids growing up loved and feeling safe, as safe as anyone can feel/be these days, with their dad. And I'm glad their dad, in American Male, has a sense of humor as well as a sense of responsibility, so he'll help them get through. Enough of a sense of humor to say, about himself:

     because isn't it just like a man to require
     reassurance when pretty much the only problem is

     he's being an idiot?

Yep, gotta love him. Can't wait to hear him read.