Spotlight on Dos Madres Press
“Fine Books Pleasing to the Eye and Hand”: Dos Madres Press
Reviewed by Nettie Farris
Dos Madres Press (in Spanish, 2 mothers) is named in honor of both Libby Hughes and Vera Murphy, mothers to Robert and Elizabeth Murphy, who founded the press in 2004. Robert Murphy serves as editor and publisher, while Elizabeth Murphy serves as book designer and illustrator. Robert awards high praise to Elizabeth: “My wife Elizabeth designs and lays out all of our books, and so is the true doula or midwife of the press—she is the one who makes things tangible, and real, and beautiful to the eye.”
Since 2004, the press has published over 125 books, largely from word of mouth. According to Robert Murphy, “authors that we publish have fellow poets in which they put their books in hand, and these authors say to themselves, gosh (or some such, depending on their use of colorful language) that’s really a fine book.” Some authors show up in the catalog more frequently. Gerry Grubbs, Eric Hoffman, Rick Mullin, and Paul Pines have published four collections with the press. Richard Hague, Pauletta Hansel, Keith Holyoak, and Henry Weinfield have published three collections.
Still Life with Flies (2016) is a bilingual edition by the Spanish poet Eduarodo Chirinos, which opens with epigraphs by both a Spanish and an English poet. The epigraph by César Vallejo references flies. The epigraph by T. S. Eliot references poetry. Flies and poetry make a marvelous combination. Translated by G. J. Racz, the collection consists of 65 poems distributed among 5 sections. The collection’s title stems from the final section, which consists of only one, untitled poem. An exquisite poem it is. And truly representative. The poem opens with birds: “Fugitive bedsheets, ravens that flap their / wings in the night and are the night.” And closes with the self-consciousness mentioned by the collection’s back cover blurb by Don Boden, providing a sense of meta-poetry: “Someday I’ll write Still Life with Flies.” The collection, in fact, opens with this self-consciousness. The first poem, “Poem Written Under a Time Limit” opens: “I have one hour ten minutes to write this poem.”
Birds appear frequently. The poem “On Birds” opens the collection’s second section:
I type ‘bird’ and the word appears on my screen.
“Bird,” I say, “sing!” So it opens its beak and
sing it does, melodiously, its voice disquieting
“Dream with Pools” illustrates the narrative nature of these poems. The poem begins:
Last night I saw Christ at a public pool. He
was swimming lap after lap in various styles,
This version of Christ is rather ordinary:
His eyes red from chlorine, His fingers
gnarled and wrinkly, His face sorrowful as if
He’d lost the race. He swam on all the same,
lap after lap, never seeming to tire.
Nevertheless, the miraculous nature of Christ is implied:
Some cheered Him on with
gusto while others wondered where He could
have left His tunic, towel and crown of thorns.
“Feather and Mirror” demonstrates a more playful approach generated by the poem’s voice:
I don’t know why I chose these words. Neither
one seduces me, cooing, or lets me sleep at night.
“Feather” flaps both its syllables into my left ear,
which isn’t love or a tickle or even a caress, but
more like a dog whistle.
The voice, in fact, is the finest feature of these narrative poems. Though educated, wise, and cosmopolitan, it is companionable and not without humor. These poems revel in the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the miraculous, movement and stillness, action and thought. Anyone who loves poetry will love them.
Something That Belongs To You (2015), by Roald Hoffmann, is a full-length play; though, with its many scenes, this play seems quite similar to a long lyrical poem. Within these scenes (as well as across scenes) time is rendered fluid; for example, the character Emile, a child during the time of the Holocaust, appears frequently in the same scene as both child and adult. Though the play has two settings: 1943 in Gribniv, Ukraine and 1992 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, these two settings often merge. Catalyst for this merger in a more prosaic way, is Heather, daughter to Emile, who is constructing a school project on the Holocaust. Though Frieda, grandmother to Heather, and mother to Emile, wishes to forget, Heather prods her to remember: “Oh, dear Heather. It was a horrible time, OK? That’s all one can say. Why do you want to go back to it?”
Within this play, distinctions emerge. Distinctions between Poland and Ukraine. Distinctions between the labor camp and the ghetto. We learn about hiding in attics, about which we are somewhat familiar from reading The Diary of Anne Frank. We learn about anti-Semitism. We learn of the S. S. and the Nazis. We learn about distinctions between heroes and husbands: But in ’43 I didn’t need a hero. I needed my husband,” says Frieda, Emile’s mother. And, later, Emile’s wife, Tamar, says to Emile: “part of you is still in the attic . . . You’re worried still, now, that if your mother gets angry with you, you’d lose her love. And back there, in the attic, nothing, nothing would then protect you from the dark outside.” We also learn about forgiveness and forgetting: “You know, a little forgetting is not a bad thing,” says Tamar. “It has a role in getting people past trauma.”
Published in a time when Holocaust literature was quite popular, Something That Belongs To You takes its place within popular novels and films of its day: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, by John Boyne, and Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay.
The Gospel According to Judas (2015), by Keith Holyoak, is a collection of poems written in the voice of Judas, who sometimes adopts the voices of others. Several poems, for example, appear in the voice of Mary Magdalene. The collection is composed as a series of 27 chapters. An Executor’s Preface and Executor’s Notes serve as bookends to the chapters. These bookends are very much in the vein of Jorge Luis Borges, whom is actually referenced in the Notes: “Taking my cue from the exemplary scholarship of Jorge Luis Borges (author of the essay “Three Versions of Judas”), I made an effort to trace apparent influences.” The Preface narrates the history behind this “gospel”:
In accord with the authors’ wishes, I am now making this extraordinary document that has come into my possession available to the world. What it means is for each reader to judge. I, of course, have had my own reactions. But being neither author nor editor, but just the executor fulfilling an obligation that has been laid upon me, I will stand aside and let the author speak directly to you.
Wholly interesting in their own right, these bookends, written in prose, provide a rich context for the poems. The book itself is prefaced by an epigraph from the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas as well as an epigraph from T. S. Eliot: “Every poem an epitaph.”
“Judas Unmasked” appears as chapter 23. This short poem ironically, in light of its title, poses (rather than answers) questions about the nature of Judas. The poem plays on a sense of perhaps:
The figure of Judas becomes smaller and smaller in the scheme of things as the poem go on:
“Dialogue of Judas & Jesus” progresses just as its title suggests, taking up the formidable challenge of portraying a conversation between Judas and Jesus. The beauty of Jesus’ speech here lies in its concreteness:
For this concreteness is infinitely human:
Most prominent in this fictional gospel is the numerous references to the concept of love. One of the shortest poems in the collection, “Word” (serving as chapter 5) ends:
though man beats down man
since Cain raised his hand
the unchanging dove
knows God is Love.
OM shanti shanti shanti
and “Songs of Mariam Magdala: Lovesick” (serving as chapter 14) ends (with the note of the Song of Songs): “I am sick with love.”
Hurt, The Shadow: The Josephine Hopper Poems (2013), by Carole Stone, is a collection of ekphrastic poems in the voice of Jo Nivison Hopper, painter and wife of the American realist painter Edward Hopper. This voice is rather complex, for Jo Hopper was not only Edward Hopper’s wife, but sole model for his work after their marriage in 1924. The midsection of this book, the bulk of the collection, is based on the paintings of Edward Hopper, and the voice of these poems is an amalgam of the woman in the painting and the woman married to the painter. Serving as bookends to this midsection are two very short sections based on the paintings of Jo Hopper. Here, according to the book’s Preface, Jo Hopper speaks as both artist and wife, though “not subject to her husband’s gaze.”
Individual poems in the collection are titled from their prospective paintings. The title of the collection comes from “Sun in an Empty Room, 1963,” the first poem from the midsection. Jo Nivison Hopper does not appear as a model in this painting, yet the poem transforms the sense of American loneliness often noted in Edward Hopper’s body of work into a sense of loneliness specific to Jo Nivison Hopper:
My loneliness reduced
to this empty room
its sorrowful walls filled
The vacancy of my heart.
Hurt, the shadow.
A thematic refrain in these poems concerns the lack of conversation. For example, “Sunlight in a Cafeteria, 1958” ends:
I’d like him to come over
and chat with me,
seated across from him
with my white coffee mug,
But I’m sure he’s no good
at small talk,
More insidious is the recurring image of entrapment. “Room in New York, 1932” ends: Behind me, a door / without a handle.” Similarly, “New York Movie, 1939” ends:
on the dado rail
next to the red curtains
framing the stairs to the loge
that has no exit.
The women trapped within these paintings (reminiscent of the woman trapped within the wallpaper in Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s classic short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”) are not without desires of their own. “Office at Night, 1940” opens:
It was cruel of him
to create me
in this blue dress that shows off
my big rear and bust,
to trap my desire in this office.
The speaker of this poem suggests dissatisfaction with separation from the male figure:
I want to pull down
the shade, stop him
from adding up black numbers,
let him unbutton my dress.
The dissatisfaction expressed in “Night on the El Train, 1918” is more emphatic:
I’d like to be
in a room in this city,
in bed with this man,
instead of our foreplay
on this dirty train.
The poem ends rather threateningly: “The El’s straps / hang like nooses.” Yet the yearning remains. From “Nighthawks, 1942,” we hear of a desire for human connection:
my fellow nighthawk
to take my hand,
so near to his,
I want to stroll with him
on the empty town streets,
the night warm
as breakfast oatmeal.
The tone is somewhat different in the voice of Jo Hopper from one of her own paintings. The collection ends with “Jo Hopper, Self-Portrait, 1956.” Here there is no yearning of unfulfilled desire, for the painter is empowered:
How easy it is,
when I paint,
to speak of forgiveness
with it ragged clothes.
Part ekphrastic description, part commentary, these poems give voice to a woman whom both history and husband has otherwise silenced.
Pauletta Hansel, first poet laureate of Cincinnati, Ohio, has published three collections with Dos Madres. Hansel provides an intimate glimpse of the press: “I know that this is a labor of love for Robert Murphy, editor and Elizabeth Hughes Murphy, designer, and that they see their work as benefitting not just the poets and our readers (though that, too) but as their contribution to the promotion of literature. Dos Madres Press is a small, locally-based poetry press with an amazingly large reach—and even larger heart.” Dos Madres Press is known for service. It partners with Bon Bonerie Cafe in Cincinnati, Ohio to host poetry readings. In addition, the press collaborates with the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative to publish the literary journal Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.
Nettie Farris is the current reviews editor. She is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013), Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and the mini-chapbook Story (Origami Poetry Project, 2016). Her chapbook The Wendy Bird Poems is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She has received the Kudzu Poetry Prize and a Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences University of Louisville. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.