Power in Simplicity: Poetry Reviewed in March/April
Poetry can be angry, ranting, aggressive. It can be evocative or poignant. Sometimes poetry has a quiet beauty. Simple words tell a story and layer their meaning carefully, veiling it. Reviewed in our March/April issue, this soft poetry is strong, but in whispers.
Wayne State University Press
Softcover $16.99 (136pp)
Dipped in acetate, these poems strip Detroit of any pretense and offer a flawless lesson in descriptive concision. But Rowing Inland delights because of Jim Daniels’s storytelling skills—a chronicle of incidents and anecdotes perfectly suited to poetic form. Born in Detroit, Daniels teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. He’s also a short-film maker and author of several books.
My mother commanded her kitchen corner—
two casement windows cranked open
in summer while she steamed above
sudsy dishes, her five kids shot
into dusk’s after-dinner space—
the street, and other kids like us.
Two potted violets from her dead mother
anchored the sills. If you find my father
in this picture, please let me know.
We still look for him far from that tiny house.
My mother dried wishbones on those sills.
It was she who decided they were dry enough
to break. She never wished herself.
Premium Press America
Softcover $20.95 (379pp)
The gentle nudge to pause, listen, look for deeper meaning or humor—especially at the worst of times—is ever present in Sue Scalf’s poetry. But her blood runs plenty hot, and that opposition between the thoughtful and the passionate helps to explain why she’s been a revered bard for more than fifty years. The author of eight collections, over her lifetime Scalf lived in a couple dozen homesteads around the US, including a long stint in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She now lives in Alabama.
Despair and fatigue travel together.
Neither believes in dawn or gods;
they plod but leave no footprints
in the slush of snow.
Around them black dots of soot
Aged and wizened, they breathe
asthmatic breaths; their skin
has the pallor of ash
and carries the stench
of cabbage and gin.
They are the rag and bone men
who pick through garbage cans
down alleys where only rats
grow fat, and darkness comes on
like sick-bed sweat.
Beneath street lamps
where poisonous fog
wraps entrails of gray,
they make their way
toward the yielding bed
of the hopeless heart.
Softcover $16.00 (80pp)
Her lines storm out of the gate and maintain a thrilling, cogent sense of direction, as if Rebecca Aronson has only recently been given permission to communicate and she is eager to share. A resident of New Mexico, where she teaches writing, Aronson’s first collection, Creature, Creature, was published in 2007, and her work has appeared in Tin House, the Georgia Review, and the Paris American.
Walking to School
The broken-loose dog caught scent and dove
for the cluster of puffed hens scattering fast
to hedges and railings; five escaped,
barely and not unscathed. The sixth
became a spent balloon deflating quickly. I wonder
how you’ll remember this morning’s walk.
That I dropped your hand and took off
calling after the run-away, breathlessly and too late,
or the collapsed chicken twitching slightly
before going still in the empty street?
No blood, just plumage drifting like blown leaves.
Nobody noticed you at first, one foot then another
edging to the sight of that first death.
Red Hen Press
Softcover $18.95 (160pp)
The universe’s most elusive truths and mysteries are primarily pursued by scientists—a dogged contingent of highly educated, inquisitive minds dead set on understanding how things work. (More than a few poets share these traits.) Alan Lightman, physicist, novelist (Einstein’s Dreams), Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at MIT, puts to use all of his knowledge base in this impactful collection. Terms like dipolar force, galactic clock, rectilinear, covalent bonds, codons, cortex, and catalysis find him at ease and brand his poetry rare and earthy.
Abbas brings me an orange from the grove,
Peels it and peppers it,
Swallows a piece and give me another.
I flinch at the bitter and raw,
Spit out the pulp.
“I’m out for the pruning,” he says,
Sweeps up the peel in his pocket.
“You spend too much time alone.”
“See if a letter has come,” I ask,
As I ask every morning,
My futile and vain prayer for the day.
He nods his head delicately,
Touches my arm
With his veined, mottled hand.
“Orange pudding I’ll make later this week.”
“What day is it?”
Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-eyed Susans, or, Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop
Softcover $16.95 (232pp)
Yes, poetry is pure feeling, the source of all beauty, a portal to hidden truths. Poetry is also drop-dead funny, and David Lee, side-splitter extraordinaire, is, in this sense, a serial killer. Utah’s first Poet Laureate in 1997, PhD, army veteran, and author of more than twenty poetry collections, Lee recently retired as chairman of the Department of Language and Literature at Southern Utah University.
Where I’m From
Where I’m from you served the overstayed preacher boiled
And sat him in a chair by a table post so he couldn’t cross
Where I’m from somebody at the breakfast table always
wanted a half fried still alive
sunny side up egg and poured ketchup on, beat up the yolk
and ate it with a spoon
Where I’m from at church parties they always brought baked
With pineapple slices atop the kids weren’t allowed to eat
Where I’m from the old people poured their coffee into
saucers and slurped
And the kids were told slurping their food is goddam bad
Where I’m from saying goddam out loud in public was never
Except by those who do, and more than admit they say, do
Hardcover $24.95 (94pp)
Pity the poet who writes of salt ponds and claw marks on beech trees without the requisite natural-world familiarity. Better: pity her reader. There is no doubt that Dede Cummings’s hiking boots have suffered the ravages of Vermont blizzards and the indignities of losing their way in muddy New England woodstocks. Her technically beautiful, dreamy poems span many years of memory and favor the cavorting of family life. The founder of Green Writers Press and a book designer, Cummings attended Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
I arise early morning in Vermont
Start the fire
And get the kitchen ready.
I wrap my scarf around my head
And gently around my neck.
I feel contained.
A warmth around me, halo-like, and soothing.
My mind wanders, as I clean mechanically,
Around the world
Wearing their own headscarves.