Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Word For It, poems by Warren Slesinger



A Word For It, poems by Warren Slesinger
Dos Madres Press. 50 pages. $16.00

Review by ED MEEK

One way to consider poetry is as an attempt at exactness of expression. It consists of le mot juste as the French call it when it captures a thought or feeling. “This is the hour of lead,” says Emily naming the feeling that follows a death or “great pain.” Dylan Thomas reminiscing about his childhood says, “Time held me green and dying/ Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” Warren Slesinger takes the idea of poetry as a means of defining words and feelings and runs with it. This slim volume has twenty-six poems arranged in alphabetical order (of course). Each poem begins with what sounds like a dictionary definition expressing form or function.

Glass (glass) n-es 1. A miracle that occurs
in the mineral world when a white hot mass
of silicates, oxides and potash fuses to form
a bright and brittle substance that is clarity
itself: a thin, square, rigid pane of glass

Slesinger goes through four definitions concluding with an example:

… 5. An object
made wholly of glass; hence, its’ contents:
Before he sipped the bubbles of champagne,
he raised his glass: “To Life!”

So, although the poems seem like dictionary definitions, the lines are arranged as a poem with attention to sound and rhythm and there’s a leap, as Robert Bly would say, to something insightful and often surprising at the end of the poem. You may have noticed the apostrophe after the s in the word “its.” There are a number of those in the book along with quite a few typos: a K missing from Knowledge, an e left off of secrete, an r missing from sandpiper. There should either be a comma or a hyphen between white and hot in the above poem. Proofreading is going the way of the dodo.

Some of the poems are self-contained and funny like this one called “Shirt.”

Shirt (sh.irt) n-s 1. An
article of clothing with
a buttoned frontal
opening, two sleeves,
a collar and a tail for
tucking into the trousers
thereby covering the
buttocks and the genitals.
2. One’s most prized
possessions. Self-
composure when exposed
to risk or injury: keep
your shirt on.

One’s most prized possessions indeed. One can also find comments on language in a number of poems. “Letter” begins with “a form of written expression, brings in a reference to Maupassant, goes on to “love letter” and ends with Letters … Literature in general. B. Learning and/knowledge esp. of literature: “In truth, / I prefer a pretty woman to all the arts/and letters.” That’s a paraphrase of a comment by Maupassant who said: “I prefer a pretty woman to all the arts.”

A few poems make political statements. It appears that the United States has finally woken up (or is woke) to the notion that poetry can be political. This poem is called “Vapor.” It succinctly captures the awful nature of the current state of warfare.

Vapor (vay.por) n-s 1. Something
in the air: a mixture of suspended matter
that makes it difficult to see down the street
in Baghdad. 2. A mist with a man in it.

Vaporize: (vay.por.ize) v. 1. Only
to convert into a vapor with the heat
of a high explosive. 2. To detonate
a mess of manhood high-strung on hate.

Vaporous (vay.por.us) adj. 1. What
is collecting in a cloud of Middle-Eastern
malice. 2. Rising from a blast of body
parts on the ground.


Many literary magazines today are obsessed with experimental hybrid forms that are often just a mash up of poetry and prose. New rule: art must evidence some skill in order to be considered good art. Slesinger’s approach succeeds at being experimental. Well worth a read. Just don’t pay any attention to those typos.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Nina R. Alonso


 
Nina R. Alonso's work has appeared in Ibbetson Street, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, U. Mass. Review, Sumac, WomenPoems, Constant Remembrance, Cambridge Artists Cooperative, Muddy River Poetry Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Black Poppy Review, BagelBards, etc. Her stories appeared in Southern Women's Review, Broadkill Review, Tears and Laughter, etc., and most recently in Peacock Literary Review. She works with Constellations a Journal of Poetry and Fiction.


 How I Win                 

If I insult you I win
if I kick until you fall I win
if I laugh at you I win

if I undercut what you say I win
if I put it my way I win
if you turn and look I win

if  you’re afraid of my words I win
if you’re thinking what to do I win
if you try to be subtle I win

if you can’t decide I win
if you go moral on me I win
if you stand on your head I win

if you try a clever angle I win
if you walk it backward I win
if you cry I laugh and win

if you attempt macho I win
if you argue I undercut and win
if you twist around to outsmart me I win.

 ----Nina Rubinstein Alonso

“Prayer For The Misbegotten” by Julia Carlson



 


“Prayer For The Misbegotten” by Julia Carlson, November, 2017, Oddball Publishing.
Review by Lee Varon

In her new collection of poetry, “Prayer For The Misbegotten, Julia Carlson takes us on a journey. I delighted in this journey as Carlson brought me fresh perspectives and opened new vistas. In the first poem in the collection, “October,” she begins this journey: “…we walk on/ from season to season/ our thoughts stiff and heavy/ betrayed/ by the autumn sun/ slipping faster every day.”

There were so many gems in this collection but many of my favorites were set in far off landscapes. In the poem, “Gare, Villeneuve-Sur-Lot,” she brings us to the idyllic “Sunflower fields” in the south of France and yet the scene suddenly turns dark as the poet notices a plaque at the train station “From here, in 1943, 50,000 Jews/ Were sent to prison camps.”

Carlson closely observes the world and she invites her readers to do the same. Things are not always as they appear on the surface. The sinister and tragic often lurk at a deeper level. In “Spring In Rome,” we smell the “odor of honey grass/ From high windows” and yet “Sin swells the air.”  Reading this poem, I couldn’t help thinking of the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church behind its opulent surface.

In the ekphrastic poem, “At The Museum,” Carlson muses on the scene behind the 15th century painting of an engagement banquet. Behind this flowery scene of a wealthy affianced couple, the poet shows us another scene in the background: “a woman, shift torn/ Perhaps a peasant or a slave/ Runs for her life from a mounted warrior.” Carlson asks the chilling question about the young woman about to marry: “What will happen to her/ If she does not, in all ways, submit.”

There are also more intimate, psychological poems in this collection, such as “Eyes” which is a poem of unrequited love where: “If your eyes did not speak/ I would never have thought/ About you or us…” We are left with the wistful poignancy of this love that bore fruit and yet was deeply felt.

In one of the final poems in this collection, Carlson explores growing older as in “Ague,” where the poem ends “…my mind still courts love’s arrows/ As my body slowly turns to gone.” As a reader I felt I had full circle in this scintillating poetic journey.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Aeneid By Virgil Translated by David Ferry




The Aeneid
By Virgil
Translated by David Ferry
University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London
ISBN: 978-0-226-45018-6
416 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Whether carrying his father and leading his son out of a burning city, navigating his fleet through a tsunami, escaping a Carthaginian seductress, visiting the forbidden realm of Hades, or engaging in mortal combat with a Latin prince, Aeneas, in David Ferry’s new and superbly rendered translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, conveys the destiny of civilization forward into its ordained future. This epic journey with episodic tragedies, and mythological wonders still captures the imagination of modern readers perplexed by their own earthly impediments and those nasty, ill-deserved thunderbolt strikes from above.

Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil) wrote The Aeneid for Octavian Caesar Augustus during the last ten years of his life (29-19 BC). He at first ordered his executors to burn the unedited manuscript. Octavian apparently intervened and countermanded that directive. Some critics argue that the book’s purpose was to justify Augustan succession and ultimately Pax Romana. Others believe that Virgil turned his work into something much larger, an allegory of man’s destiny and independence in the face of intruding forces emanating from a panoply of misanthropic and whimsical divinities. In any case, the narrative seems to take on a life of its own, at times brutally realistic, at other times strangely comforting.

Whereas John Dryden in 1697 provided the coming eighteenth century with a glorious translation of The Aeneid to match that historical era and temperament, Ferry contributes a comparable achievement during this onset of the twenty-first century. Dryden’s heroic couplets both expanded and compacted the original text based on his understanding of Virgil’s intent. Ferry does much the same thing going with, not fighting the natural flow and intricacies of modern English. Additionally the method Dryden employed bestowed a smoothness and a halting beauty, his couplets neatly completing images and thoughts. Ferry, using loose blank verse with anapests and other feet substituting here and there for iambs, accomplishes much of the same beauty with added speed and elongated elegance. The elongation reminds one of and occasionally flirts with the original hexameter instrument, and the strategic irregularity accommodates itself very well indeed to the modern ear. In Book One Ferry’s word choices describing the fierce storm, instigated by Juno, the queen of gods, to obstruct Aeneas’ fleet, leaves the reader both breathless and awestruck,

a sudden violent
Burst of wind comes crashing against the sails,
The prow of the ship turns round, the oars are broken,
The ship is broadside to the waves and then
A mountain of water descends upon them all;
Some of the men hang clinging high upon
The high-most of the wave and others see
The very ground beneath the sea revealed
As hissing with sand the giant wave recoils;
Three of the ships are spun by the South Wind onto
A huge rock ridge that hulks up out of the sea
(The name the Italians call it is The Altars);
Three other ships the East Wind runs aground
And carries them into the shallows, a wretched sight,
The sand heaped up around them. Aeneas himself
Saw how a monstrous devouring wave rose up
And struck the stern of the ship the Lycians and
Faithful Orontes rode in…

Emotions well up and manifest themselves in Book Six when a perplexed and remorseful Aeneas in Hades meets Dido, his temptress and lover, who caused their forbidden dalliance in defiance of fate. Distraught, he questions the circumstances of her suicide. Departures like this from The Aeneid’s epic tone and majesty create the emotional depth that captures the reader and makes Virgil all the more compelling. Here’s Ferry’s splendid rendering of the scene,

Is it true, what I was told, that you were dead,
And with a sword had brought about your death?
And was it I, alas, who caused it? I
Swear by the stars, and by the upper world,
And by whatever here below is holy,
I left your shores unwillingly. It was
The gods’ commands which have brought me now down through
The shadows to these desolate wasted places,
In the profound abysmal dark; it was
The gods who drove me, and I could not know
That when I left I left behind a grief
So devastated. Stay. Who is it you
Are fleeing from? Do not withdraw from sight.
This is the last I am allowed by fate
To say to you.” Weeping he tried with these,
His words, to appease the rage in her fiery eyes.

Notice the meeting of pathos and white-hot ire at the end of the selection. As a suicide Dido was condemned to live in the past, forever enshrining her tragedy. Seems a bit unjust! And, paradoxically, quite suitable for our age.

During his quest Aeneas loses quite a lot: his wife left in Troy’s flames, Dido, his lover, succumbing to suicide, and Pallas, the Arcadian boy he was guardian to, felled by the prince of his enemies. All sacrificed to destiny. Along the way circumstances seem to alter “pious” Aeneas’ psychological makeup. In his climactic battle with Turnus, his Latin antagonist, Aeneas shuns the mercy asked for by his remorseful rival and lets vengefulness rule the day, perhaps even prospectively setting the precedent that influenced the history of Rome with strife and civil war down to Octavian’s time. After some hesitation the deal is sealed when Aeneas glimpses Pallas’ sword belt on Turnus. Ferry feels the building wrath and translates part of Virgil’s last scene this way,

When Aeneas saw it on Turnus’ shoulder, shining
Memorial of the dolorous story, and
Of his own grief, the terrible savage rage
Rose up in him, and he said to Turnus, “Did you
Think that you could get away with this,
Wearing this trophy of what you did to him?
It is Pallas who makes you his sacrifice. It is Pallas
Who drives this home!” And saying this he ripped
Open the breast of Turnus and Turnus’ bones
Went chilled and slack…

No hyperbole needed in praise of David Ferry’s translation of the Aeneid. Truly astonishing.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Sunday Poet:Celia Merlin


Celia Merlin

Celia Merlin was born in Lexington, Ky., grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and moved to Tel Aviv where she now lives, writes, teaches and enjoys her family.  Her work has appeared in various anthologies, receiving numerous honors and recognition. Her debut collection of poems, "Of This Too", recently came out, much to her long awaited delight.






Ships

            “..so on the ocean of life, we pass…”   —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


We sit in the mall café

talking photographs.

The air is plastic,

the music benign.





In a booth near the restroom,

holding tall ice coffees,

you say you’ll be leaving again.

And I know.


In your photos, purple feathers,

headdresses of Kings,

fat crocodile teeth,

plush carpets of pines.


There are women with weavings,

brown children on boats,

angles of blue and

the rust of red soil.


I am losing my breath.

I am nauseous with awe.

I am inside the lens

of your eye.


There are shadows of green,

spreading fingers on rocks, and

Einstein-like webs

in the trees.


I am covered with waves.

I am licking a cloud.

I am climbing a

steeple of slate.


—Is there anything else..?

            the waitress asks.

-No, thanks.

            We pack up and leave.



Each to the corners

we’ve picked for ourselves.


You to your knapsack,

your travel-worn boots.

Me to my words

and the mall.