In an essay titled “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that in nature, “We return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” Throughout his latest collection of poetry, titled What I Saw, Jack McCarthy partakes in the same miracle of transubstantiation, becoming a transparent eyeball himself as he floats through the material world and records his observations with precision and clarity. From this perspective, McCarthy bears witness to a myriad of events: Adam and Eve inventing the concept of love, chipmunks making booty calls, elephants gone mad, a child drifting away on a leaky boat, a red sweatshirt gone missing, Hannibal Lecter singing the praises of fava beans and chianti. His poetry evokes our humanity and frequently draws attention to the mortality that we all share. He writes of animals and literary figures, poetry and wandering. He’s profound without being pretentious, a plain-spoken observer of the human animal. From McCarthy’s perspective, we’re all traveling somewhere, even when we appear to be stalled or meandering.
Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching is the handbook every poet and teacher of poetry should carry. This book brings awareness to not only the art of poetry but also to the voice of women. It is a tool for both the seasoned poet and for the new poet trying to make their way. Jenny Sadre-Orafai challenges the poet to enrich their writing life and consider other genres. Others guide us through family and career demands to make time for writing. We are nurtured to find our writing tribe as Kate Chadbourne suggests and given the tools to promote experimental poetry. It’s about finding voice, digging into life experience, and as Tracy L. Strauss suggests knowing how to “take the truth of tragedy and turn it into an art form.” Doris Lynch instructs how to cast our fishing line into the pool of ideas and begin our poems. Bonnie J. Robinson prompts us to “write a poem of protest; then, write a poem reconciliation.” Women on Poetry is an invitation to introspection and creative self-actualization, inspiring us to be both practitioners and mentors.
Christine Redman-Waldeyer, founder and editor of Adanna, a journal about women’s topics and issues is the author of two books of poetry, Frame by Frame and Gravel, Muse-Pie Press.
If there is one thing that vexes a woman, it is her sewing box. Carol Smallwood is the sorter, a poet who can enter a poem and untangle thread. “The Sewing Box” is only one example of how Carol uses language and listing to empty and separate the compartments of our lives. Paying attention to detail she enters myth and the mundane with the same eye. Echoing in Carol’s poem, “We Are Told,” is “It is Beauty alone that remained in Pandora’s Box when she opened it—not Hope as we are told.” Both poet and practitioner of this understanding, Carol relocates a spider from a gas station to Queen Anne’s lace in her backyard, considers ants and their inherent sense to venture out of their home, takes the risk of comparing the tiny creatures to Lewis and Clark and ventures herself into topics that question our femininity. She pushes back, wags her finger at women concerned with Avon or who have masked their voice as a man, revisits her childhood centering on women’s ability to gang up on one another, and enters the house behind the “white picket fence.” She flips our trained understanding of violence on women towards an understanding that cancer is just as violent. She never ceases to remind us of the ugliness that pervades society that keeps us from loving our neighbor and even seeps into our relationships with family. In “A Need to Know Basis” she puts a spotlight on our human instinct to look away. Carol can envy and love what is wild. She can shed light on what is cultivated and domestic where there is rain and gray sky. She does not disappoint and will keep your ear tuned to what is outside your window and what enters.
Christine Redman-Waldeyer is the founder of Adanna Literary Journal; her books include Frame by Frame (2007), Gravel, (2009), and Eve Asks (2011), Muse Pie Press.
Meditation on Woman is a collection of fifty-six prose poems to be read slowly, a few at a time, to fully appreciate their impact. Each, simply and economically written, begins with the two words, “A woman.” Some of the journals that published a version a few of these reflective poems include Kenyon Review, The Binnacle, and Poetry Midwest.
A recent Poets & Writers featured six articles in a special section in the magazine from leading writers about inspiration: the importance of slowing down, making room for contemplation, and the possibilities for discovery for the creative writer. Meditation on Woman supplies readers with examples of this in abundance as this poetry collection turns the ordinary upside down, leaving the reader, man or woman, to look at things differently.
In the opening work, “The Third Eye”, woman catches the cycles of her garden on video-winter cracks the lens, spring splinters it as the cycles continue. “In the end, the lens cracks again, into many parts, facing down, angling up, fractured. New shoots. The gardener’s boots. Ants. Blooms. All splinter, like a kaleidoscope. Her eye captures fragments of brown, green, blue, pink, the blinding yellow-white of the summer sun.”
The garden features in other poems too. “Eden” contrasts the garden dream with its reality; “Nature” addresses the distance between pristine and artificial nature; and the suburban attitudes in “Weeds” drives a woman into the city.
“Evolution” recalls the magical-realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende: the blending of what is real and unreal as it relates a woman who grows a tail, senses what animals desire, joins them, growing a coat of hair like them as winter approaches. A woman’s connection to the world recurs in “Far and Near.” One woman “gazes out a plane window at fields quilting the landscape thirty-five thousand feet below,” while the other “hikes a woodland trail and stares into the underbrush.”
The first sees the world at a distance: “The roads make squares and rectangles around the fields. Lakes are thumbprints pressed into the land. Rivers squiggle and canals angle in thin blue lines. Tree patches are dark and fuzzy. Little towns clump together; house roofs glint in the sun.”
The second sees it in close detail. “She picks a Queen Anne’s lace to take home. It’s umbel is so perfect, the white lace fans out in a curve that fits in her cupped hand, and the tiny black floret draws the gaze of her eye to the center of its lacy snow, like a single jet against a sky full of clouds.”
Making one’s own world is also reflected in “A Question of Balance” where a woman “owns the river, owns every bird that skims.” In the surprising poem about a woman being roasted on a fire: “And as she turns, her eyes shimmer in tune with the heat and see in every direction. The earth, all motion, spins with her and she with it.”
Readers can easily relate to: “A woman is good at guilt. Palpable and breathing, it lives in her house. It lies down and sleeps in her spare bed” and understand the mixed feelings the duality in relationships: “The woman looks at her sister. She loves her and hates her as much as ever.”
The familiar scene of waiting for an x-ray, the description of hospital gowns, the gowns spilling over in bins, the closed doors marked with signs, makes the 134 words in “Horizon” especially memorable:
Wait until called
Door to the outside world
In each poem the poet is seeing herself and in the process, the universal-an activity so simple and yet complex, full of surprises and reflections of wonder. I’m looking forward to her next collection to savor, open my eyes, enjoy the company of a uniquely gifted poet. She clearly is familiar with Doris Lessing’s advice: “Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?” Women will especially relate to this contemplative collection by Aline Soules, but they are so universal that men will appreciate them and be awed as well.
Carol Smallwood co-edited (Molly Peacock, foreword) Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women Poets (McFarland, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms was nominated for the Pushcart. Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing Key Publishing House is a 2012 anthology.
A sense of loss permeates Michele Madigan Somerville’s collection of poetry, Black Irish. Loss of love, loss of youth, loss of time, loss of life, loss of innocence. Yet never loss of hope. The collection opens with a funeral and moves ceremoniously through the gray landscapes of Irish diaspora. There are drinkers who fancy themselves writers, boxers who entertain thoughts of murder, and many nods to the secular saints, Irish and otherwise, of the contemporary world: John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Stern, Sarah Silverman, and even Spongebob Squarepants, to name just a few. Yet if this procession of saints gives Black Irish the feel of a prayer book while the heft of the poems contained therein conveys the gravitas of a lifetime of novenas, the poet’s sly sense of humor lends the collection a natural air of buoyancy. This humor is especially evident in a piece titled “Boob,” which finds the poet meditating on lactation, breastfeeding, and young love: “When my third child came, she knew exactly what to do;/she wasn’t fifteen minutes in the material world/before she started guzzling like a field hand./She was beautiful! I called her ‘Breastina.’”
Aficionados of Greek mythology will find much to love in Circe by Nicelle Davis. This collection of poetry deftly and movingly reimagines the mythic figure — best known for turning Odysseus’s crew into pigs in Homer’s Odyssey — as a woman scorned. Throughout, Davis blends elements of classical mythology with contemporary culture to create a vision of Circe that is at once timeless and timely. Additionally, Davis’s playful approach to the vaunted “loveliest of all immortals” allows her to breathe new life into Circe and to explore elements of her character that the Odyssey fails to consider. Case in point: Homer makes no mention of Circe buying scratch-n-win lottery tickets, whereas Davis does to great tragicomic effect. Beautifully complementing Davis’ moving and inventive approach to the Circe myth are a series of evocative and enchanting illustrations by Cheryl Gross. Together, Davis’s poetry and Gross’s illustration offer a magical blend that would feel right at home among the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, yet which more than stand on their own as a contemporary take on an ancient myth. An ingenious and heartfelt collection.
-Review by Marc Schuster
The first dozen or so poems in this charming collection by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz read like something a slightly more urbane version of Pam from NBC’s The Office might write if she lived and worked in New York City. Topics in this portion of the book range from the poet’s love for her morning cup of coffee to an odd talent for answering all phone calls with a sunny disposition. But then the collection takes a turn when a poem about 9/11 recasts all of the previous poems in a new light; there used to be something light and bouncy about working a dead-end job in NYC, this poem and those that follow seem to say, but in the wake of 9/11, it’s time to for the poet to get her priorities straight. In this case, it’s a matter of deciding to leave the relative comfort of a steady paycheck and health benefits in favor of the poet’s hand-to-mouth lifestyle. Needless to say, there’s no moment where the poet says, “And then I decided to focus on poetry because 9/11 put everything into perspective for me,” but the structure of the collection makes the lasting effect of that pivotal moment in both world and personal histories difficult to ignore. What follows, then, is a series of meditations on the place of the poet in society: poems about being a touring spoken word poet, poems lauding the efforts of baristas to hold off on making steamed beverages until there’s a pause between poems, poems lamenting the failures of other poets, and ultimately poems about falling in love with Shappy Seasholtz (no poetry collection is complete without at least a handful of these). Other topics covered in this collection include the “outsider” art of Henry Darger, college cafeterias, first words, abandoned words, and the exquisite sense of schadenfreude involved in seeing a rival poet fail. From tragedies both global and personal, Aptowicz expertly milks equal amounts of pathos, humor, and self-awareness. What’s more, there’s a story in this collection, a subtle narrative about priorities, about anxiety, about the myriad performances we put on throughout the day. And, ultimately, about finding one’s place in the world.
Oh, and also rejection: