Category Archives: Press Spotlight

Broadstone Books

Spotlight on Broadstone Books

Broadstone Media Logo

“Tell us something interesting, or tell it in an interesting way – or better yet, do both.”

Reviewed by Nettie Farris

Broadstone Books was founded by Larry W. Moore and Stephen L. Taylor in 2003 with the publication of Home Place and Other Poems, by Sheila Bucy Potter.  The press is  an imprint of Broadstone Media LLC, a company whose mission is to “promote cultural activities generally.” In addition to publishing books, the company curates the Jane Chancellor Moore Gallery, located in Frankfort, Kentucky. The Gallery (named in honor of its former curator, who died in 2012) exhibits work by contemporary visual artists.  The name Broadstone is a portmanteau of Broadway and Limestone, the streets of the two men’s colleges: Transylvania and the University of Kentucky. Naming is a significant act at Broadstone, where the use of language is highly regarded. Submission guidelines ask for poetry that uses “fresh and compelling language,” and fiction that “uses language in an original and compelling fashion.”  In an interview with Nin Andrews, Moore reveals that, in a manuscript, he looks for “interesting theme, interesting language. With the emphasis on language.” In sum, the press is “far more interested in how you write than what you write about.”

Annually publishing about four full-length books per year, Broadstone Books requires no manuscript fees, and promises that each submission will be read by a minimum of two readers. In addition to Moore and Taylor, staff now includes Sheila Bucy Potter as a principle reader and Christopher Taylor as an Associate Editor. Jeremy Dae Paden, author of  ruina montium, reports that “working with Broadstone has been a very good experience.” Paden describes Larry Moore, who suggested his full-length manuscript be whittled down to a chapbook,  as being “quite honest.”  Moore himself confesses that experience in publishing has taught him to be realistic about the slim market for poetry, and suggests that “the most effective way of selling poetry is through the one-on-one connection that poets make with an audience through readings.”

ruina montiumruina montium (Broadstone Books, 2016), by Jeremy Dae Paden, is a chapbook of twenty-seven poems that pay homage to the  2010 Copiapó mining collapse. Thirty-three minors were trapped for sixty-nine days in the San José copper and gold mine (located in the Atacama desert region of Chile) before rescue. The collection’s title, ruina montium, is Latin for “the wrecking of mountains,” an ancient Roman mining technique using hydraulics, and is documented in the historical record by Pliny the Elder. The second poem in this collection, “ruina montium i,” ends with a quotation by Pliny: “how dangerous we have made this earth.” This poem, and also the first poem of the collection, “the harrowing,” (with their use of corporal images) compares the mine, the bowels of the earth, to the human body. So, in effect, what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

Paden is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Transylvania University (located in Lexington, KY) where he also serves as Program Director for Foreign Languages.  He has recently published his translation from the Spanish of the chapbook Delicate Matters, by  Juan Carlos Mestre and Alexandra Dominguez (Winged City Chapbooks, 2016). In addition to his time spent in Italy, the Caribbean, and the United States, he has also spent time in Latin America, so this place of the earth is no stranger to him.

The sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases in this collection is like the sprinkling of holy water, and Biblical references are numerous. “the taken & the left,” for example, (fluently) references the fall from the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, the Wedding at Canaan, and the Rapture after the Apocalypse in just twelve lines. Other poems provide images of baptism, burial, resurrection. Eight of these poems are dedicated to specific miners involved in the tragedy. Most of these address the miner directly through the use of second person. These are the most heart wrenching poems of the collection. Reading these particular poems, I was reminded of Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. It may be the closest I’ve come to feeling my heart pierced by the arrow of a poem.

“holding cell,” dedicated to Mario Gómez Herrera, demonstrates the sense of movement that permeates the collection. The poem begins at this miner’s introduction to the mine as a child:

twelve when you first descended
holding father’s hand.

The skillful use of nouns and spacing suggests the movement of both time and distance:

holding-cell

The poem ends with the tragic accident, when the miner is sixty-four, and the use of a periodic sentence intensifies its closure: “but there, above & below you, like a dead / & dying star, bright, the collapse.”

“icarus” grounds the collection in myth and ancient history, and, perhaps, introduces the sin of pride.  It flows out of the image of burial. The poem begins:

there is a moment when the revelation darkness
brings, being buried seven hundred meters below, shines

brighter than any molten ball of metal in crucible[.]

The poem then contrasts the loved ones grieving above ground—

icarus

A major strength of this collection is its rich multiple contexts, a series of widening concentric circles, like a set of nesting Matryoshka dolls: trapped minor(s). . . loved ones . . . mining industry . . . Presidents of countries.  “matters of state” narrates the rescue of the only Bolivian minor, Carlos Mamani, who arrives above ground to greet, not only wife and children, but cameras and diplomats at odds with one another:

& you will be brought up from the depths,

from volcanic warmth to frozen night,
from the darkness of the earth to lights

blinding & you will be whisked away
to triage & before cameras, before

wife & children wanting to smell you,

to climb on your lap to kiss you, to lie
against your chest & try to match

their breathing to yours, to certify
through touch that it is you; presidents

will come, stand over you, each choosing
a side[.]

As indicated by its epigraph from the Book of Job, ruina montium is a collection about suffering, but is not without hope, for it is also graced with images of birds, glints from copper and gold, and a series of resurrections.

aleph-brokenAleph, broken: poems from my diaspora (2016), by Judith Kerman, traces the search of a secular Jewish woman for heritage through ancestry, history, and culture. The title of this full-length collection of poems refers to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; and, from the mystical Kabbalah tradition, origin. The title poem, one of the saddest poems in the collection, begins:

Aleph, broken

slides from her
warm soup into bitter air;
breathes but does not cry,
the start
of a life without promises[.]

Invoking the image of alphabet soup, this is one of several poems associated with food. “Cholent,” the opening poem of the collection, depicts a break in Jewish tradition:

Fridays, women in other houses
rush about, cleaning and cooking,
heating the oven to keep the cholent hot—
meat and fruit, a stewing sweetness
I’ve never tasted.

“Pumpernickel” reminisces:

It came home with Daddy
on the train from New York,
round and heavy
with a hard mahogany crust,
knobbly as stone.

The crux of Aleph, broken focuses on the dead. The frontspiece poem, “Liminal: After the Funeral” begins:

A book tells secrets
it’s dying to share
once the mourning ends.

The poem ends: “I don’t need anyone’s permission to tell the story.” “White Light” subtlety suggests the lingering presence of the dead among us by describing “an empty recliner” stained with body oils. Similarly, “White Light Again” reflects on the absent voice of a departed mother.  “Conundrum” calls forth a similar, though more emphatic, absence:

Someone is required to identify
the body before burial,
the golem without the sacred Name.
In the open coffin, red lipstick my mother
might have worn, white hair sprayed stiff
as she would never do,
only the bones of her face
perhaps familiar.

“Conundrum” is one of several poems using the structure of a definition. These poems begin by identifying the title as a noun, then provide a numbered list, which not so much defines the word, but describes it, using association. For example, “Israel” is aligned with “2. Dreaming” and “3 Jacob after he dreamed.” “Diaspora,” the concluding poem, begins with the following image: “1. A woman with a kerchief over her hair sits on a suitcase. Somewhere, going somewhere else.

A glossary of  Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and Spanish terms appears at the end of the book. Following “Diaspora,” and within the context of the collection as a whole, this glossary nearly appears as a poem itself. Developing its own alphabet and language of diaspora,  Aleph, broken is, ironically, very cohesive in terms of absence, fragility, and brokenness.

brain-in-a-jarAs indicated by its title, Brain in a Jar: A Daughter’s Journey Through Her Father’s Memory (2013), by Nancy Sterns Bercaw, is a memoir. Like the various published memoirs of both Susanna Sonnenberg and Mary Karr, the autobiographical material of this book is intelligently pruned toward a keen sense of focus: the Alzheimer’s of Bercaw’s father, Dr. Beauregard Lee Bercaw. The book is divided into three chronological sections titled “The Beginning,” “The Middle,” and “The Ending.” Each section consists of individual chapters titled for names of places.

“The Beginning” spans the decade of the 1970’s. The opening chapter is titled, “The Public Pool.” Nancy Bercaw, who will become a national championship swimmer, is five-years-old, and her father is teaching her to swim. Bercaw narrates this book in present tense, providing a sense of immediacy. The voice of young Nancy Bercaw sounds remarkably similar to the voice of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She, in fact, references Lee’s classic novel in chapter seven. At the age of fourteen, Nancy strikes a deal with her father. Instead of getting a summer job, she will voraciously read, earning a penny from Dr. Bercaw for each page read. Having read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness previously, she forms a conclusion after reading To Kill a Mockingbird: “The book makes me think that Beau is more like Atticus Finch than Colonel Kurtz. However, the relationship between Dr. Beauregard Bercaw and Nancy is not the relationship between Atticus Finch and Scout. This is a relationship fraught with conflict.

I wished my biology teacher were my dad.
I wished my swim coach were my dad.
I wished Ernest Hemingway were my dad.
Anyone but the silent man who had the job of raising me and who worried more about locked-in disease than his own daughter’s suffering. I had an acute case of locked-out disease.

A neurologist, Dr. Bercaw is a man obsessed with his work. His specific obsession: finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. He keeps the brain of his own father, who succumbed to this disease, in a jar of formaldehyde on his desk. He knows that he will likely succumb himself, and he is determined to prevent it. Unfortunately, his obsession absents him from his daughter. The Middle section of the book spans the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. The word journey in book’s title is not just a metaphor, for Nancy Bercaw travels the world in search of the man who is her father: the Serengeti, the 38th Parallel in South Korea, the Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia. What she discovers is herself.

Despite its tight focus, Brain in a Jar is not just about Alzheimer’s. Peppered with letters. as well as other forms of written text (the engraving on a tombstone, for example), it’s a story about familial relationships, world history, communication, love, and suffering. It’s a story about the power of the written (and spoken) word. And a beautiful story it is.

the-bounteous-worldThe Bounteous World (2013), by Frederick Smock, is a collection of poems that works as a series of still lifes. However, the best of these poems point us toward a scene outside of the poem. As Jane Gentry remarks on the book’s back cover: “Like the ophthalmologist’s just-right lens, Smock’s poems bring the blurry world into focus so that sight and insight become Vision . . . helping us see, doing the real work of poetry.” The world of these poems is, like the nature of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the world mediated by the mind, more specifically, the mind of the poet. “A Short Film” sets the scene for many of these poems. It presents “the poet sitting by a window.” The work of the poet seems rather a quiet meditative act:

The action would really get going
when the poet looks
out the window and then
looks down again,
pen in hand.

A similar act occurs in “The Archer:” “The archer sits in meditation.” She is seated in lotus position. Her straight spine is compared to an arrow. However, the result of this action is not a poem, but something more cerebral:

Across the way,
the target
is being reached.

Windows abound. In “Morning,” (vaguely reminiscent of Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” with its oranges) there occurs a window beside a table:

The window looks down
into a courtyard,
and sometimes up
into blue sky.

Another window appears in “Malmö.” This one presents us with an optical transformation. After visiting Malmö and having returned home, the speaker of this poem sees not what is outside the window, but an imagined scene:

And today, back home,
at my writing table,

it is Sweden that I see
out my window,

the sun a small flat kronor
in the sky.

The title of the collection comes from its opening poem, “The Gift”: “The less you want / the more bounteous the world becomes.” The collection as a whole plays upon a similar irony: that of largeness contained within the small. “Tranströmer,” a poem about the Swedish Noble Prize winning poet, ends with a description of a film “about a small Chinaman / who sets up a small tent / on the edge of town, / but step inside that tent / and it’s a three-ring circus.” The minimalist aesthetic of these clean, largely regularly-lined lyrics serves as a fitting vehicle for these ironies. As the poem “Meditative,” a mediation on a chair, suggests: “In its emptiness, it seems the seat of all wisdom.”

the-porcupine-of-the-mindThe Porcupine of the Mind (2012), by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, is a meditation on language and love, on the language of love. The short poem, “My name is Ov” from the middle section of the book entitled “The Ending of Slavic Names,” serves as a representative snapshot:

My name is Ov,
like the ending
of Slavic names.
I used to be called Love,
but as it turned out,
L was silent.

The word love appears repeatedly throughout these poems. Again, in the same section, it appears as a word: “You’ll Never Pronounce the Word / love the same / after you’ve kissed / a foreigner.” The beginning of the collection is inundated with kisses, as seen by a few titles: Kissing the Shell of an Egg,” “When You Kiss a Grape,” “Kissing the Tide, As It Pulls Back,” The Kiss of the Stone,” Kissing the Lips of Really Bad News.” Of course, all these kisses are not joyful: “One Should Exercise Caution / when kissing a daffodil. / Somebody could get hurt.” Similarly, “Kissing a Snowman” opens: “He loves you not,” and ends: “He loves you not. / Under his tin-pot hat / lives only ice.”

The poems in this collection playfully juxtapose the ordinary with the extraordinary. The opening poem, “O & I,” recounts the love story of a one cell organism (O), who befriends the speaker of the poem. After being rescued and placed in a glass of water, he spends the night on the speaker’s nightstand:

He pressed his tummy flat
against the glass and didn’t take

his eye off me until next morning
when I opened mine and saw him

smiling.

The story ends happily: “You mean the world to me, I told him.” “Mermaid in the Cornfield” narrates a similar rescue: “We found / a mermaid in the cornfield.” The mermaid is in need of care: “She had bite marks of animals, / fat lips and scabs.” The poem’s speaker takes her home, places her in the bathtub, “and drop[s] in a yellow rubber duck.” A similar sense of magical realism pervades “The Superhero Is Moving Out,” which recounts loss rather than rescue. The poem opens with the superhero packing “a toothbrush” and “a change of tights.” “His children stare at him” “with boogers and tears smeared / across their cheeks.” As he eats his last meal with his family “in silence,” “The dishwasher hurls / water from side to side.” When his wife asks if he needs a ride, he replies, “I’ll fly.”

The third, and final, section of the book, entitled “The Downside of Lucidity,” concerns prayers: Moth Woman, / turn off the light and pray. In the dark / you can ask for / just about anything.” “The Way I Used to Pray to St. Catherine” is one of the most beautiful poems in the collection. The poem opens with the lighting of a candle. The speaker of the poem, perhaps recalling a scenario from childhood, stands staring into the eyes of a statue of St. Catherine: “I’d look at her, / she’d look at me, / and we would stay this way / until she knew everything.” The final poem, “Food,” spreads the intimacy of the earlier poems outward, for “Corn is a generous mother”:

You cannot love thy neighbor
without eating your vegetables.

You can stop world wars
with the kindness of a single fruit cup.

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer has a gift for metaphor, for personification, for making the abstract noun concrete and particular. And she is blessed with compassion. It would be difficult to read these wise and delightful poems without feeling loved.
Although the “primary mission” of Broadstone Books “is the promotion of poetry,” the press also considers manuscripts of fiction and non-fiction. Nancy Sterns Bercaw, author of the memoir Brain in a Jar, offers that she heard about Broadstone through word of mouth, and that she thought her story might appeal to the publishers, despite the percentage of poetry books in the catalog. Manuscripts are accepted in hard copy only, though queries, which include sample work, are accepted electronically. Published authors are under no financial obligation, but are encouraged to promote their books. According to Bercaw, production of her book was “a true labor of love by both sides—publisher and author. We are a family now, brought together by story.” In the words of Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, “What Broadstone books does is rare and beautiful.”

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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 nettiefarrisreviews@gmail.com.

Glass Lyre Press

Spotlight on Glass Lyre Press

Glass Lyre Press

Tag line: “Exceptional Works to Replenish the Spirit”

Reviewed by Nettie Farris

This is the second in a series from our new Review Editor. Each Spotlight will focus on a different press. Check out the first one!

Interested in distinguishing a publishable manuscript from one that is not? Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Associate Editor for Glass Lyre Press, looks for “poems with emotional anchors, a pulse, a deepening, but also reticence, some mystery—poems that reach further than the page.” She wants poems that make her “see or feel something new in language” she wishes she “had written.” There’s more: “However, a handful of excellent poems does not a manuscript make. Every poem must be strong. Every. Poem.” She wants every nonessential poem gone. Remaining poems must be in the proper sequence: “The ordering is very important, too; there should be cohesion. How does it open? Does it drag in sections? Does a sequence of poems take me out of the reading experience?”

You can see why the most striking aspect of the publications of Glass Lyre Press is coherency. Glass Lyre publishes both chapbooks and full length collections, though full-length collections dominate the catalog. Yes, even these full-length collections form a coherent whole. Submission instructions indicate: “Individual poems must stand on their own merit but complement each other, and work together to present a cohesive and well-ordered manuscript.” A random sampling of the catalog reflects this sense of harmony.

Glass Lyre Press was founded by Ami Kaye in 2013, and originated from an act of compassion. Kaye had established the international journal Perene’s Fountain in January 2008. Readers of this journal have compared the quality of its contents to the quality of a typical anthology. In addition to its other fine writers, Perene’s Fountain has published work by Jane Yolen, Jane Hirshfield, and J.P. Dancing Bear. In 2011, Perene’s Fountain published an anthology, Sunrise from Blue Thunder. The proceeds from this anthology benefitted those affected by the Japan earthquake and tsunami. According to the story, Kaye and her staff, were so smitten with the publication of this anthology, that they began a press, and the press was Glass Lyre.

Ami Kaye, of Indian heritage, was born in Paris and traveled widely with her parents, who exposed her to the arts. While still in elementary school, she began stapling together stacks of paper filled with poetry and prose, adding a painted cover, and calling it a book. Glass Lyre Press is a continuation of this childhood activity, but at an entirely new level.  The work of the press is distributed throughout a multi-generational team. It consists of: Mark McKay, Lark Vernon Timmons, Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Elizabeth Nichols, Steven Amussen, Katherine Herschler, Royce Hamel, and Paul S. Kim. Though this staff reflects a global presence, the press largely resides in Chicago, Illinois.

The quality of Glass Lyre’s work speaks for itself. Patricia Caspers, author of In the Belly of the Albatross heard about the press through word of mouth. A fellow poet had read a work in its catalog and suggested “GLP might be a good home for [Casper’s] manuscript.” Caspers refers to the team as “delightful” and praises its members’ patience: “They were all very gracious about letting me take the time to get every word right.” Robert S. King, author of Developing a Photograph of God, expresses a similar sentiment: “Not only is the entire staff a pleasure to work with, but Glass Lyre Press editors want to make sure you’ve done your best and will work with you until you have achieved that goal.” The press is also willing to take a risk on work it finds exceptional, as emphasized by Raymond Gibson, author of Speak, Shade: “Mark McKay and Ami Kaye took a chance on me when no one else would. It’s been both an honor and a privilege to be published by Glass Lyre Press, and to be in such good company.”

The press’s motto is “exceptional works to replenish the spirit.” Kaye emphasizes that “now more than ever we need the arts to help us restore balance and nourish our spirits” and indicates a goal of the press to serve in this restoration. “It is our hope that our books will rejuvenate and restore the spirit, and provide inspiration like meditations people will return to and feel replenished.” In addition, Kaye suggests the practicality of short forms in this endeavor: “Sometimes it is difficult to find time to read a novel, but most people can manage to read a couple of poems or a short fiction piece, and feel replenished or experience a mood lift much in the same way one does in hearing a piece of music.” The following four collections, at least, truly do replenish the spirit.

Speak ShadeThe chapbook Speak, Shade (2013) by Raymond Gibson is a meditation on the senses and the inadequacy of those senses. Though most of the collection reflects on the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, “Cardinal Senses” alludes to our other, uncounted, senses:

This number will not do

What of the senses of movement and time
and lacklove that pain
we fill with which does not answer
to either of five wounds

It is a difficult collection to decipher, much like a koan, but more lyrical than narrative. As we learn from “Blind Timescapes,” the divine / masks the unknown.” Masks occur as a repetitive image. The opening poem, “The Cataracts” ends: “what are the eyes if not complicit / not a glass shield but the holes of a mask.” The visual image of a mask appears on the title page, and the image of the mask is also invoked in “If”: “The way statues are called lifelike and the living statuesque the way life mask and death mask are synonyms.”

In addition to masks, the collection plays on the concepts of dreaming, absence, silence, ghosts, memory, and echoes. It attempts to speak without speaking. “Echo of Light” ends: “yes here is light / though the star’s years dead.”

“Hand in Emptiness” pronounces: “to know loss / is to first know possession.” “Distance” begins: “How describe sight to the blind.” Then later continues:

how explain
to a four-fingered man
absence
without a knuckle or stump

to tell is to amputate the very digit

It’s as if knowledge of a lack makes the lack. And we prey on this lack, with our knowledge of it. “Blind River” ends:

Still they bore sons and whispered that their small age would not see the chaos yet

Cowards sending children ahead of them in the dark

The concept of blindness occurs throughout this collection. “Peregrination” directs our attention:

look a deaf-mute leading the blind by hand

both are neither ghosts nor memories but
ourselves at a dream’s mercy

here in the gateless fence of horn and ivory[.]

And eyelessness. “Sculpture Garden” begins: “The eyeless bust of a god without a mouth” and ends: “none can enter nor see at all.”

Still, within this paradox, within this irony, there is a protest. The list poem “Against Futility” offers solutions, though they seem rather ineffectual; for example, “the ink is clear and dries blank . . . the book not yet felled planted.” And “The Night Shore” concludes:

GLP These thoughts dream

These are difficult poems indeed, but the journey is worth it.

AquamarineAquamarine (2014), by the Japanese poet Yoko Danno, is a full-length collection of poems infused with water imagery. Water, in these poems, comes in many forms: pond, river, sea, waterfall, and seems to have magical powers. As we learn from the conclusion of “tell it to the stone”:

GLP Careful not to speak

Water is also often associated with spiritual beings. In “fire meets water,” the speaker of the poem

GLP Plunge right

In “catfish in the woods,” “the giant / fish-god tosses and turns / in the deep ocean bed.” In “water city,” we meet not gods, but angels: “what’s happening below / the glittering surface / of the canal water? dust / falling from smiling angels.”

These are poems of fluid transformations. Within the middle section of “moon appearing,” one dream slides into another:

wade through waves of light
to the place of your birth,
where white flower petals fall
without a breeze, sweeping

into a next dream—a pair
of white tigers appear
in a dewy gardenia bush
flirting with each other[.]

In addition, the closing of this poem reverses the opening. The poem begins: “a dream is just behind the door—, and ends: “it was over / before i knew when / a door was just behind the dream.” A similar reversal takes place in “fire meets water”:

GLP The sky is below

Several poems in the collection play with transformations of time. “narrow pathway” closes: “i am / prepared / for the birth / of my own mother.” “at sea” closes similarly:

GLP Blindly heading home

Finally, the opening of “eater is eaten” cautions: “if grains / of sand / get / into your / shoes / don’t / look back / your unborn / will get / injured.”

One of the most interesting poems in the collection is “all around, slow death.” The tone of the poem contrasts that of its title:

GLP Bubbles rise

The poem experiments with the same sort of effervescence in the context of fireworks, blood vessels, a balloon. This repetition suggests that living and dying are, in fact, the same thing. The opening complicates the poem:

GLP A flash

Perhaps the poem is demonstrating that life without death is not really life. Nevertheless, this is certainly an example of a title that adds something to the poem.

These are poems of continuous motion, poems which, though fluid, and in constant transformation, rely on crisp, clear images that appeal to the senses. “at random” opens:

GLP Volumes of vibrant

It’s as though they are enacting the advice of the tea master in “Morning Walk (a poem that associates a morning walk with the Japanese Tea Ceremony): “Perform the ceremony as if you were in a dream, but mind you, let your brains respond vividly to the sound and smell and light in the room, as in meditation.”

Listening to Tao Yuan MingAs its title suggests, Listening to Tao Yuan Ming (2015), by Dennis Maloney, is a collection of poems about conversation. Conversations across time. Conversations within time. The collection consists of three parts. Part 1, “Twenty Poems After Drinking Wine,” gives us twenty poems translated from the ancient poet Tao Yuan Ming, but stripped to their essence, as the Forward informs us. Part 2 consists of thirteen poems in the form of letters to Tao Yuan Ming. Part 3, “Listening to Tao Yuan Ming,” consists of twenty-three more contemporary poems influenced by Tao Yuan Ming. So the collection, largely, is a conversation through, with, and about this ancient Chinese poet. In addition, many of the individual poems in this collection reference companions, and sharing conversation with these companions, sometimes in the form of poems. The notebook, the writing desk, is ever present.

Understandably, for a book grounded in the Taoist tradition, many of these poems are grounded in travel metaphors. Images of roads, paths, and trails abound. Poem #17 in Section One advises: “Traveling on and on, one loses the path— / but trusting the Way, one might get through.” Poem # 19 cautions: “The world’s paths are vast and many, / so decisions are difficult at every crossroad. Poem #20 warns: “Sages flourished long before our time / and few today remember the Way.” “Be Drunk” is more positive: “An invisible wind carries / us through this world / but who says you can’t choose the road”; though still advises prudence: “Don’t be like the traveler / who walks all day / but doesn’t feel / the earth beneath him.”

One follows the Way with others. From “Not Hermits But Householders” we learn about “the heart’s happiness, / at having another / to share this trail.” From “If Tao Yuan Ming Came to Visit,” we learn that the speaker of the poem and the Norwegian poet Olav Hauge “shared a poem or two.” Similar, we learn from “Old Friends from Far Away”:

When I meet an old friend
we catch up on news
and memories
of days gone by,
share strong tea
and new poems.

The most important others sharing our path are teachers. Tao Yuan Ming himself is a teacher shadowing this collection, but the first time we hear explicitly of teachers is in Poem # 11:

One teacher was praised for his compassion,
another as a sage.
One fasted so often he died young,
the other carried hunger all his life.
They left their names in our memory
but at the cost of what suffering?

“One Day We Will Vanish” links the speaker of the poem with teachers; the speaker becomes a teacher: “Roaming through / old books, I join / timeless teachers.” The entire poem “Gratitude to Our Teachers” is dedicated to teachers:

They were the majestic
oaks and maples
in our forest,
teaching us to
write and sing
our own songs
by hearing theirs.

“The Voice of the Bell” makes teachers of our environment, our surroundings:

Scent of damp pine needles,
incense and oranges,
the dance of rain on the roof,
children rolling in the grass,
a sip of tea, a frog
croaking in a nearby pond
as dusk approaches.

These are our teachers,
and we are the petals
unfolding on the flower
that is our world.

Ultimately, this is a collection about aging, and the wisdom that comes from experience. “All Those Nights We Harmonized” contrasts innocence with experience:

Su Tung-po said your
poems were withered
on the outside
but rich within.

That coming of age
reading your poems
was like gnawing
on withered wood.

Reading them after
experience in the world,
it seems that the previous
decisions of our lives
were made in ignorance.

The collection is pulled together by this concern with aging, experience, conversation with teachers across time, and concern with the future. “Crossing the Yangtze” depicts a journey through time rather than space: “We cross the Yangtze / on the new concrete bridge / into tomorrow.”

In the Belly of the AlbatrossIn the Belly of the Albatross (2015), by Patricia Caspers, is a full-length collection of poems undivided by sections. It tells the story of a journey, not through the familiar belly of a whale, as in the Book of Jonah, but, as the title suggests, through the belly of an albatross. The title poem, “In the Belly of the Albatross,” begins with an epigraph by poet/environmental activist Victoria Sloan Jordan on the demise of the albatross. These birds, when they die, litter the Hawaiian Islands with tons of plastic they have consumed and held contained in their bodies: “A Hawaiian elder counseled us not to view the albatross or the islands as victims of plastic pollution. They have called this problem to them, she said, to deliver us a message. We are hit with this message every day. When can we say we’re receiving it?” The poem equates our own demise to that of the albatross: “Each day we fill our bellies with lack . . . until we are anchored with nothings.” Consequently, we are damaging ourselves, our environment: “Our bodies swell with sorrow, / and the albatross heavies herself / on the bright remnants of our grief.”

Much of the collection concerns itself with grief (the entire poem of “The Five Stages of Grief,” for example). though it is primarily the grief of females, females throughout history. As we learn from “ Hatsuhana Beneath the Waterfall,” based on a Japanese legend, Hatsuhana, the speaker of the poem “was a wagyu bride, sold / like prized beef.” There is a contrast between inner reality and outer appearance:

Under the harsh wrath of water,
there was silence, and I prayed
for one hundred days.

Such a good wife, the villagers said.

Izanami-no-kami, I begged, you too
know a wife’s grief. Please, wash this poison
from my breast.

Females in this collection find themselves imprisoned within tight situations. Nana, in “Nana Ivy’s Royal Typewriter,” types: “DON’T FENCE ME IN.”          “Baby Catcher” is in the voice of the (eventually) freed slave, Bridget Mason, who informs us of the advice of her mother: “When you’re tall as the corn, she said, / he’s gonna come for you. Don’t fight him.” “The Squeeze Inn” tells the story of a woman who has a one-night stand with her ex-husband. At the time, she is sort of in between two men, both losers. The evening begins:

You didn’t have to get all
gussied up for me,
he said,
and I smacked him between
those blue eyes with a rubber glove.

And ends:

I watched him sleep and realized,
all our knotted, married nights
this is where he lay, another woman
awake in his warmth, wondering
at the gold band on his wedding finger.

I’d never left a room so silently.

Some of these females have dreams of freedom. The speaker of “What Mama Said,” announces: “I told Mama I got dream wings. / She said you must be a ostrich, Girl. / You ain’t flying’ nowhere.” “Irene’s Goodbye,” from the point of view of a woman in a nursing home, displays a more positive perspective. She introduces her nurse: “she thinks / I’m some pansyfaced girl with pigtails / gotta learn to mind her manners—.” However, the speaker has plans of her own: “I wanna cozy down in the deep pocket / of some small town lounge . . . palm myself a glass full of fire / while the pool balls smackthud . . . Hell if I ain’t gonna roll me there.” The voice of “Unreported,” a poem in three parts, is the most aggressive voice in the collection. In section two (“The Woman I Intend to Be”) we hear:

Who am I kidding?

I am no goddess. There is no spring
to beckon me from the underworld.
That boy has long since forgotten
my name.

And in section three (“The Mother I am: An Open Letter to Demeter”) we learn: “The time for prayer has passed. / Gather the wronged . . .

we will not stop gathering the arsenal of our rage,
will not stop until we storm the fortress,
tear it down stone by stick, blaze the pyre,
and watch as every last fucker burns.

The voice of these poems is essentially female, concerned with motherhood, daughters, the place of women within the society of men. Images of water (contrasted with drought) abound (bath water, baptismal water), as do references to the moon.  “Ekphrasis: 36 Ghosts, No. 5” introduces both these images: “It was my old friend, Moon / and my wise rival, Water.” In addition, the collection references messages, “seers and shamans,” prayers and invocations. The collection opens with “Oracle,” about an oracle, who, ironically, doesn’t seem much of an oracle: “What if an oracle lived at the end of your street / in a wonky red house with yellow trim.” (Nevertheless, we must attend to these symptoms of the planet. The symptoms of women, of immigrants, of wildlife. The underclass.) The collection ends with “Piece by Piece”: “Tear apart the cosmos. Let there be a new kind of light.” In the Belly of the Albatross is a beautiful work of ecofeminism.

Glass Lyre Press publishes approximately eight works a year. Typically, the press attends the AWP (Associated Writing Program) Conference & Bookfair (“the nation’s largest marketplace for independent literary presses”) and is known for its use of social media (largely Facebook and Twitter). The press is currently soliciting work for its latest anthology, Collateral Damage, which will benefit victimized children. Glass Lyre publishes both benefit anthologies and anthologies of works published in Pirene’s Fountain. The Aeolian Harp Series includes anthologies of folios of up to six pages per poet. The press awards two prizes annually: The Kithara Book Prize and the Lyrebird Award. Submissions are open January through February and September through October.

Two of Cups Press

Spotlight on Two of Cups Press
 
Two of Cups Press

 

From Leigh Anne Hornfeldt:

“The idea of Two of Cups Press was something I had been toying with for several months in 2012. I’m a poet too and I know trying to find a home for manuscripts can be frustrating. I really wanted to create a space that felt welcoming and inclusive. My dream was for the poet to have lots of input in the publishing process – I want my poets to be in love with their books from cover to cover! I also wanted a platform to work with other presses and artists. It felt like a press of my own was the best way to do that. The final push came in late 2012 when my best friend (and amazing poet) Teneice Durrant and I decided we wanted to publish an anthology of bourbon poetry. (A subject near and dear to both our hearts.) That was really the birth of the press. Ever since it has been an absolute joy and privilege to work with so many amazing poets and artists.”

 

“Magic on Paper”: Two of Cups Press

Reviewed by Nettie Farris

Two of Cups Press takes its name from the eponymous Tarot Card, which signals union, or reconciliation. The press was founded in 2013 when Leigh Ann Hornfeldt and Teneice Durrant partnered in publishing the anthology Small Batch: An Anthology of Bourbon Poetry. This anthology consists of 62 poems by 53 poets. Approximately half of the authors are from Kentucky and half are from outside of Kentucky. The most moving poem in the collection is “The Housesitter’s Note,” by  Juliana Gray, a poem written in the form of a note from a house sitter who (in the process) has become part of the family. Upon hearing the news that the father of the owner of the house has died, the speaker of the poem responds:

I took the car, your good Kentucky bourbon
and drove out to the lake. I wept and drank
that warm bitterness, and when I smashed
the bottle on the rocks, the bits of glass
arced across the headlights’ yellow beam
like far-off shooting stars.

The Press is currently working on its second anthology, and plans to publish an anthology about every other year. Hornfeldt sees an anthology as “a sort of museum of poetry.” She appreciates a variety of “voices and approaches” and tries “to be a good curator of poetry when editing.”

Two of Cups holds an annual chapbook contest (between mid April and mid June). Hornfeldt, the press’s editor, likes the brevity of the chapbook form. She appreciates the way she can ”sit down and devour an entire collection and feel satiated yet also wanting more.” The Press has now held two annual chapbook contests. Things Hornfeldt looks for in a manuscript include: “fresh language, solid images, emotional honesty.” She also looks for “poems that take risks, poems that rattle around in [her] head long after reading them.” According to Gary Leising, finalist in the inaugural contest, Hornfeldt is “fantastic” to work with. She worked side-by-side throughout the entire publishing process with Leising, who concludes: “The press clearly cares deeply about its poets’ work.” This care shows in the product: beautiful flat-spine editions with exquisite cover art. Not only are these chapbooks aesthetically pleasing visually, they are quality collections of verbal art. Though diverse in theme and style, each chapbook promises a magical adventure through language.

This adventure is made possible through the partnership of poet and editor. Poet Christopher McCurry pronounces Leigh Anne Hornfeldt as committed to his book as he was. Leigh Ann Hornfeldt is herself a poet. She is the author of The Intimacy Archive and East Main Aviary and has received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. A Kentucky native, she (and her press) now resides in North Carolina. She confesses that she has recently let her own poetry go by the wayside, but she has not neglected promoting the voices of other poets. Her press is a small operation. She responds to all correspondence herself, and personally attends to  every poem and manuscript submitted. In the words of Megan Hudgins, author of Crixa, she is “a true advocate of the word and the poet.” 

CrixaCrixa, by Megan Hudgins, won the inaugural chapbook contest in 2014. It is a small collection of poems that addresses big subjects. These poems are about life and death. These poems are primal. How fitting that the collection centers on the image of rabbits, which we associate with fecundity. The collection’s title is borrowed from the novel Watership Down by Richard Adams. The word crixa, a lapine word from this novel, refers to “the center of the Efrafa warren” the warren from which females are recruited in order to ensure survival at the new warren Watership Down. In effect, the title refers to a sort of spring, or well, of fertility (or at least the possibility of fertility).

“Cumbersome” is the poem in which the title of the collection appears. It begins: “I press the tiny rabbit against my ear / to listen for its bean-sized heart.” It continues: This is the heart-thump / I hear, the rhythm of fear.” Yes. The tension between life and death expresses itself as anxiety: “I peek / into my cupped hands and see only an eye, / all pupil, an obsidian bead like pure glass panic.” The poem ends:

It fits in just one hand,
but I use two. Create a crixa of fingers

and think what a poor human equivalent
this is—I could never be a burrow.

The most interesting poems of the collection are the Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption poems. There are three of them. This is an actual biological process, which occurs when conditions are not optimal for birth, as indicated in the Notes at the end the collection. “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (1)” ends: “a baby doesn’t break like a tear; this womb sips it slowly. / Slowly, the resemblance of a paw, the curve of a spine, the Y of a nose.” “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (2)” ends a bit more comfortingly:

What has happened, what is wrong? he moves
close to her and rests his head against hers,
feeling her shiver in their warm room.

The antidote to this anxiety is compassion. However, “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (3)” seems not comforting at all (with its film like directions of zooming in, zooming out, and cutting to) but theatrical: “Inside BUNNY’S womb, BABY opens its bulging eyes. It sits still, head cocked to the side as if listening . . . BABY curls itself into a ball, smaller and smaller. Then—POP—BABY is replaced by a sprig of glitter.”

Human loss is suggested obliquely, in titles and images, as in  “Colposcopy”: “If you stare at something long enough—a cloud of smoke, / a knot in the wood grain, a carpet stain—you will find a human face.”

My favorite poem is “Why I’d Live in a Terrarium”:

Terrarium_Hudgins

This “enormous” “speck of love” is the antidote to “our pure glass panic.”

The Girl with the Jake TattooThe Girl with the Jake Tattoo, by Gary Leising (2015), is a collection of loose narrative poems (you never know how they will end, or how they will turn in getting there). These poems, set against a backdrop of figures from history and popular culture play with the looseness of identity. These poems are about transformation. These poems are about fluidity. As we hear in “Pentimenti”: “If it wasn’t / for the frames, I wouldn’t know where art / ends and where life begins.”

Largely constructed of long lines within long blocks of text, one poem of this collection gently flows into the next because of fluidity both within and across poems. A poem about a tattoo is followed by a poem about cosmetic surgery. A poem about the death of a wife is followed by a poem about the death of a marriage. A poem about an illuminated manuscript is followed by a poem about typeface. Although about is an inadequate word, as these concrete nouns: tattoo, surgery, illuminated manuscript, are really merely points of departure.

The title poem, “The Girl with the JAKE Tattoo,” ironically, is one of the tightest poems in the collection. Though the poem identifies two possibilities about the story of this tattooed girl, it really only explores one: that the Jake of said tattoo is now gone, but the girl is now happy with some other guy, with some other name, who’ll want her to “change her body / for him the way . . . she did for Jake.”

The speaker (“just a man tired of seeing his own face in every mirror”) of the prose poem, “A Face Like Kate Winslet’s,” has his face surgically transformed into the face of—yes, you guessed it—Kate Winslet. His surgeon saves the nose for last; because, he says, Winslet has already had her nose done and might again. In an unexpected turn, the speaker, surgery complete, laments to his own (Kate’s) face in the mirror: “No one sees the real me. I hear their whispers. Finding Neverland. Revolutionary Road. They don’t know which you I’m with!”

All these metamorphoses makes one wonder why we bother to express ourselves (which are constantly in flux) in any permanent sort of way. Though it does make interesting reading.

An Animal I Can't NameWinner of the 2015 chapbook contest, An Animal I Can’t Name, by Raegen Pietrucha, is, a collection that explores naming. In contrast to feminist theorists, who have historically argued about the power of naming (and the subject who names), these poems suggest its difficulty as well as its futility.  The collection’s title comes from “The Ranch in California,” which appears toward the end of the book. The speaker of this poem lies beneath a man, while “clouds above unravel / sky like hides ripped, revealing red / tissue of an animal I can’t name.” This is a poem (this is a collection) about secrets.

The secrets in this collection are domestic. They are secrets about events that occur within the home. We learn in “Neighborhood Watch”: it’s not the neighborhood that is feared, but the household: “unless it’s what I feared, / which was inside this house.” In “5,” we hear about the unfortunate situation:

The family
is traveling
cross-country
in an RV . . .

he pulls me
over a bench seat
where the glass is shady
& no one can see
& puts his slimy
tongue in my
mouth.

Next, in “Collector,” we learn about the speaker’s “stained underwear” hidden, and then found by her mother. She claims to “[get] smarter” about hiding secrets:

I scribbled his name
on a notebook cover, then taped
magazine clippings over it,
decorated like other girls did.

She arrives at a conclusion: “The best place for anything to hide, / of course is in plain sight,” for the speaker has “put the shiny rock he gave me, / a gift for keeping his secret, / on top of the dresser by my bed, / Mom and Dad haven’t asked where / it came from.” Why not pronounce his name? Perhaps the speaker feels it useless. As proclaimed in “Sex Ed”: “naming things / commands nothing.” “Seeing Stars” cautions against the danger in speaking: “I couldn’t speak what I feared most” “believed speaking made real.”  She sees strength in the stars and resolves to be one: “stars are always quiet.” Similarly, in “Pray,” she resolves to “trust no one now or at any hour” and, in “Cheer,” she relies on ritual: “certain the right, / words paired with the right actions will someday / help me become too mighty to be vincible.” These are her tactics for survival.

The artistry of this collection goes well beyond theme. The control of the voice of these poems about childhood recollected in adulthood is remarkable. Most remarkable is Pietrucha’s gift for repetition, which is showcased in the villanelle “Mumfish.”

Nearly Perfect PhotographyChristopher McCurry’s  Nearly Perfect Photograph: Marriage Sonnets is a collection unified in both form and theme. It consists of 18 contemporary non rhyming sonnets, a sequence of unsentimental realist lyrics.  These are no Sonnets from the Portuguese. Their tone might be described as hard-boiled. Imagine Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, married, and with children. However, the crimes he investigates occur in his own home. The settings in these poems are most often bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. Dominant images are of sex and domesticity. The speaker clearly prioritizes sex rather than domesticity.

Sonnet # 1 sets the tone for the sequence. The poem begins: “With every wet towel left to soak into / the depths of my pillow, I love you / less.” Domesticity is taking its toll: “Gone is the romance shaving with a razor / dulled from the daily grind of your legs. / Get your own.” The speaker ends the poem by reinventing household life into a vision more tolerable:

If I ask you to bring home something
tasty, just once, come through the door
breathless, naked, flushed red with haste.

Traditionally, the sonnet is a form that hinges on counting, and the title poem, Sonnet # 4, a poem about the counting of grievances, is one of the strongest in the collection. Interestingly, the grievances being counted are against the speaker.   This is a poem about math: “ I don’t care if you / subtract the loads of laundry I’ve done / from your vindictive abacus of dusty / shelves.” And the math is against the speaker until the end of the poem, when he plays a rather dirty emotional trick:

Sonnet1_McCurry

Yet the speaker of these poems remains slightly, though quietly, vulnerable. Sonnet # 2 promotes the speaker as “a floundering coward by the end.” And, At least on occasion, the speaker considers himself “a gigantic / asshole of a husband.”

The marriage these sonnets explore appears much more solid when it comes to a shared daughter. In # 11, The couple act perfectly in sync at an “excruciating” “dinner” with a seemingly opposite couple who are “disturbingly / perfect together”: “we smile and eat while / we smile.” They remain in sync when the topic of discussion shifts:

But when the conversation
turns and they say, We’re not ready for kids,
we still want to live a little
, we both reach for the knife.

These are poems best read as a collection rather than individually. Their power, as well as their beauty, is cumulative.

Two of Cups Press regularly attends the AWP (Associated Writing Program) Conference & Bookfair (“the nation’s largest marketplace for independent literary presses”). It’s established a presence on Facebook and Twitter. The aesthetics of its website persuaded Nandini Dhar, author of Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations (Two of Cups Press, 2014) to publish with Two of Cups, despite an offer from a more experienced press. The adjective Dhar uses to describe her experience with the press is patient. “Everything turned out for the best,” says Dhar. As the website of Two of Cups professes: “We want to partner with poets, artists, other small presses. We want to capture magic on paper.”

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Reviewed by Nettie Farris who is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013) and Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015). 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.