Book Reviews

... Page 4           ...Page 1                      ...Page 2                                             ...Page 3                       ...Home

Madeline Tiger

WHAT MATTERS
By Adele Kenny
Welcome Rain Publishers LLC, 217 Thompson St., #473,
New York, NY 10012, 20 I I, 64 pp., $15.

I have been following the moon all through WHAT MATTERS, the new collection of poems by Adele Kenny. Her lines make sky trails and ways of wandering through her life in all seasons, , as the writer recalls her childhood and her complex adult years. Themes of strength and gratitude are illumi-nated by a motif of the traveling moon leading through these incandescent poems.

           There is sadness, there has to be, as the poems confirm; but a reader is kept in view of the sky, in touch with the earth, enlightened by the dawning of images and the insights of handearned wisdom. The poet finds the exact image for passionate tenacity: when she was five, she remembers, " ... something died in our drain spout.! Feather or fur, I watched my father/ dig it out, knowing (as a child knows)/ how much life matters ... " (from "Survivor").

           WHAT MATTERS is not about illness, suffering, and survival, although on first reading one may see it on this level. It is rather about making impressive poems from the immediate world and signifying visions.

           Rivers and trains run through the collection—motifs of motion, as life goes on; and a bove, the stars move, where first she saw how they "pressed/ their imprimatur against the dark." The speaker, with other children, gazed up: "Cold/ in our warm bodies,/ we stood in the trees' deep shadows and/ wished ourselves up, into that other universe/ of gradual light. .. " Human bodies con- nect with the "universe" by such fine ways of holding them together in words.

           That connection to the universe comes through "a language of stars ... " They render belief in something great, "larger than logic." This theme becomes more sure through the course of the book, but even the early poems rise in praise of what is amazing.

           Kenny describes how, when a fallen bird was released into the sky, an elderly neighbor,

Mrs. Levine, "breathing deeply, raised her/ numbered arm to the light" and moved her "thumb over each fingertip as if she could feel/ to the ends of her skin the miracle edge of freedom, of feathers, of flight." Small incidents layer these poems with historic paradox.

           "Held together by image' and music, these poems become celebrations--of the earth, of friendships and loves, of dogs too! of significant places; the more engaging because of the charm in the language, as in the last stanza of "Survivor":

"Morning breaks from sparrows' wings/ ... and I'm still here,/ still in love with the sorrows, the joys--/ days like this, measured by memory, the/ ticking crickets, the pulse in my wrist." The sounds-short vowels, internal rhymes, wittily complement what the poem is reporting.

           At the narrative level, the poems demonstrate the human "story"-the forces of life, courage,and endurance. The collection rises through life-threatening experience and grief to an astonished love of being here on earth, repeatedly signifying its beauties.

Tony Moffeit

TAKES GUTS AND YEARS SOMETIMES
( NEW AND SELECTED POEMS)
By Linda Lerner
CC Marimbo, PO Box 933, Berkeley,
CA 94701- 0933, 2011, 28 pp., paper, $12.

Her book begins with:

she was generation x/pretty
buying sneakers in footlocker/greenwich village
as I was on my way
to a poetry reading ...
nice I said of the black & white pair she tried on an
ugly clunky one in her hand / don't want
         nice ... pretty
/ want ugly
quietly slamming through a generation barrier
so fast I missed it ...

           Linda Lerner's voice is brand new, cut_ ting edge, with the ancient sound of the blues .. "Takes Guts and Years Sometimes" is the perfect' title for her lead poem/title poem which evokes:


ground breaking anarchist in her youth
generation before mine
chose black not pink
village hole in the wall jazz
to carnegie hall classical

            Linda Lerner is New York City and Linda Lerner transcends New York City. She is a new consciousness that says:

till I got back her nerve
& stuck out my verbal tongue at robotic minds
scribbling graffiti over dull
whitewashed thoughts pastel anything
trashing commas periods
took years before! could confidently say:
I choose ugly

           I love books which are not so much about reading as they are about feeling, about the visceral language, a voice that sings on the page. Ilove books where lines can be snatched out of the air like movie dialogue. I love books where the poems come together like one huge endless jazz solo. I love books about "What Remains": <>

my business is words
but I've another language my
poems only approximate a
sound picked up
like my lover's scent
that spoke to me hours
after he left ...
voice is what this language
                                is about
and touch and smell/that
lives in alphabet
and has none


TAKES GUTS AND YEARS SOMETIMES
is
one of those books I love.

Lucia Cherciu

THE EARTH WAS STILL
By Jan Zlotnik Schmidt
Finishing Line Press, POB 1626,
Georgetown, . KY 40324, 2011, 27 pp., $14._

By Jan Zlotnik Schmidts new chapbook THE EARTH WAS STILL weaves together local color, ruminations about her parents in old age, and a keen observation of contradictions, all under the feather repetition of syncopated, reflection, and humor.

           She chooses the indefinite, blurry contours between night and day, looking at the: world around her from a new perspective and capturing mystery and indecision. In "Collision of Worlds: With My Niece, Samantha," she opens up a different dimension—what is usually left out, what one does not tell a child:

And I don't tell her
What I know
During the bombing of Belgrade
At the zoo
The tigers driven mad
Devoured their young
The rhinos dazed and afraid
Bashed their heads
Against the cement walls of their cages
They banged their heads until
They cracked their skulls
And stoned themselves to death.

An everyday visit to the zoo becomes an opportunity to reflect on violence, pain, and mortality and make a difference through acts of kindness. Her poems alternate between the translucent surface of things and the hidden, unspoken side that is dufficult to get to, often obscured or avoided. The poet explores with courage this other dimernsion, taking risks and' defying convention.

           Her unique sense of humor lightens up the poems, brings rerlief from the awareness of aging. In "Photograph of My Parents in the Catskills, Circa 1937," after describing the couple, the voice wonders

And when did it change?
When did their smiles thin?
Their pulse slow?
When did sorrow add heft totheir bones?
When did they fall to earth?
An become my flesh and blood?

This reverential tone brings together irony and respect, compassion and curiosity. Similarly, in "Memories of the Kitchen Table," the child's memory brings back moments of doubt and fear. The poem resists nostalgia and celebration of childhood reveries. Instead, the poet captures unspoken moments of anger and fear:

My scrawny grandfather coughs and wheezes
in his alcohol and pee-stained nightshirt.
My grandmother with her round belly
swigs alka seltzer, belches, curses,
jabs at him with her crystalline blue eyes.

It is rather a sardonic look at the way memory has preserved the moments of childhood.

           Many of the poems bring this tone of rerconciliation and serene understanding at the sight of parents aging. "For My Sister" captures the tension and the fear of having to come to terms with the new image of aging parents. Looking at one's mother becomes a mirror for fears of aging and a lens for concern about the precarious condition of the aging in our society today. The powerlessness and the pain are captured in their full implications: "One eye opens/ She stares/ A bloodhound stare/ We close the lid." Here, the sisters come together in a moment of grief and, at the same time, of recognition and understanding. Watching their mother together, they reach across a wall of unspoken words. . The contradictions of these vignettes find a perfect space in the prose poems towards the end of the chapbook. The flexible form allows the poet to experiment with clashes between past and present, coming to a point of reconciliation between remembering and learning to embrace the present with its pressures and expectations. The final image of the book, from the poem "Pompeii," creates an opening towards hope and flight: "And what remains of life? A blackened egg petrified to stone. The tilt of a wing in the late afternoon light."

           Whether it's in short lines or the' music of repetition and parallel structure in prose poems, Jan Zlotnik Schmidt creates an atmosphere ot inner peace, coming to terms with the pain of watching her parents age and learning to use nature as a way to embrace the present moment. The unique rhythm of her poems comes from accumulation and an intriguing punctuation that avoids end-stops, favoring open-ended lines and a dreamy atmosphere of song. <>


Created on ... March 13, 2013