The following four book reviews have been published in CSPS "Poetry Letter" no. 2, 2021.
Lucille Lang Day, Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place. Blue Lights Press, November 2020, 126 pages. Paperback, ISBN 978-1421836645
Lucille Lang Day takes us on a journey around the world in Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place. Starting in Mexico we are immersed in the colors of jacaranda and roses; we sit on a red tile floor and feel green. Day is a master of sense; perceptions float through her and then on to us, the readers. We are challenged by her knowledge of birds and stay with our fingers alert to Google: “kiskadee,” “cacique”, “chachalacas,” all chosen for sounds and the colors that move in and out of her poems like music.
The poet wanders through Central America and as far as the Galápagos before leaping across the pond to Europe. We dine with her in Greece, float on the Aegean, feel the dry air and get dizzy looking over the cliffs at distant villages. The modern and ancient merge as the poet weaves her personal narrative in with that of the gods.
“I order baklava to share with my husband, age
seventy-six, who waits, neither sick nor well,
back in our hotel room, and I complain
to the moon that even the gods are fleeting,
but I like that story. The tree. The goddess
who holds her own against the sea.”
We arrive in France, visit Monet’s “Water Lilies,” “Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles.” The poet has “entered the painting/to stand on the Japanese bridge/framed by bamboo” and so have we, personally involved as if we were reading a novel awash with colors and sensations. “Irises are out/in white and purple ruffles… Poppies swish red skirts/like flamenco dancers.” In Arles we are in Vincent’s bedroom, imagining the artist going “mad dreaming of sunflowers.” Again the poet’s own life intertwines with place as she describes trying not to panic when her husband drove away in Sarlat, France, inexplicitly not coming back for hours. We go through prehistoric caves, mourn the death ten-thousand-year child. In Belgium we find Pygmalion. Again art melds with the present reality in a way that never jars.
“A plant sprouts from her head; a flower
floats before her. She is abundance,
a garden. A man in a black hat and coat
hurries by the way men do, doesn’t notice”
We glide through Spain, stopping to view paintings and eat small green olive s.“The Lark’s Wing, Encircles with Golden Blue, Rejoins the Heart of the Poppy Sleeping on the Diamond-Studded Meadow After a painting at Funació Joan Miro, Barcelona” is only a title, but is a poem in itself. This poem is tight and rhythmic and resonates with beautiful images. “The lark’s wing: a black oval/floating, buoyed by/a patch of blue sky/small as an inner tube/in the sun’s yellow pool.” European voyages, having also visited Belgium and Amsterdam, end in Italy where “White chrysanthemums/bloom on the broken/terrace painted by the bed.”
Part II “Between the Two Shining Seas” no less eloquently sings us through the USA. “Names of the States” is a resounding validation of the Native American roots of our great country: The poet lists the 29 state names that have Indian derivations. As these poems weave through our own country, the love of family, loves and losses come more into them. Yet the power of the natural world permeates throughout. Lucille Lang Day is a wonderful poet who brings shivers of amazement. Her reverence for all that is living and that which has passed away makes us feel more alive.
“I am redwoods and rain,
stomata like green lips opening
for a kiss on the underside of leaves,
a leopard leaping high as a house,
it fur glowing with black-gold roses.”
~ Alice Pero, Los Angeles, California
Book Review by Kathy Lundy Derengowski:
Flourishing - Florescence by Elizabeth Yahn Williams
Flourishing – Florescence by Elizabeth Yahn Williams with Art by Marion Wong and French Translation by Edith Jonsson-Devillers. Guidelights Productions, 2020. 130 pages. ISBN 978-0-9967170-4-5
Poet and California State Poetry Society member Elizabeth Yahn Williams is premiering her new bilingual collection, written in English and French in collaboration with her gifted translator Dr. Edith Jonsson-Devillers. A display of the mastery of free verse and rhyme, Flourishing – Florescence includes evocative haiku and senryu, along with other poetic forms. Here, Elizabeth Yahn Williams investigates the many ways that life, enhanced by poetry, encourages each of us to FLOURISH.
Whether, as a reader, you are looking for inspiration or for motivation, one or more of her offerings will speak to you in words both lyrical and stimulating. With vivid imagery Elizabeth creates poignant vignettes that will relate to your own life in unexpected ways. You will find humor in the rhymes of “Perusing the Parrot,” pathos in “Grand Piano,” and a mix of emotions from haiku that capture, with brevity, illusions of time and space. With haunting and vivid language, Williams has a gift for choosing the right word for the right place. Opening with Flourishing’s backstory:
in mid-winter’s snow
birds eat berries, groundhogs dream
all await spring
Williams and Wong reveal Phoenix Preflight paired with:
fresh visions for an era
arise with phoenix
Time comes for this parallel reader’s mascot, Rare Bird, to announce:
“Victoire, le temps est venu!”
Spring has blossomed, buds appear,
Life renews, the future’s here.
It is also time to enjoy one’s special secrets that may arrive at dawn as in “I Have Loved Mornings.” …And mornings seem to be a favorite theme throughout the year, whether written in Santa Fe at Easter:
poppies bedeck hills
golden at sunrise
or at the poet’s Oceanside home in Yuletide:
dawn’s rose light softens
fronds that fringe valley’s cradle
Her senryu on “Mornings at Oceanside Harbor” lead to another frequent theme of water —whether at a dock or on a river where the author contemplates life’s changes in “Celebrating Mid Century” as she writes from a paddleboat
in the wake of years
of white-capped currents;
and, as the stack’s steam dissipates,
our concerns do, too.
Changes occur in relationships, too, as one sees in “Watching the Water” and “My Reign in Spain”:
He’s giving up his hike today
to meet my plane.
I’ve been away
and, perhaps, missed?
But, as children may observe, it seems some familial relationships never change, as the poet’s dad displays in “Sundays Are for Preying.” (Williams had to keep this fruit-filled petit theft secret until her family had safely moved from Fresno’s Fig Garden, CA, back to their hometown of Columbus, Ohio.) When asked about a favorite poem, she frequently quotes the following, as she loves Dr. Edith’s alliterative translation as well:
finely feathered fog
fluffs away from croaking frog
morning is broken
brouillard bigrement brouillé
un batracien bigarré se balade
Williams comments that she especially enjoyed writing to Wong’s Birth of a Sea Princess who backs into adulthood. As to other art besides mascot, Rare Bird, she’s especially fond of Treasure Eddy and Fan Flair. Also, the author values Marion’s inclusion of her peaceful symbol, Bird with Sprig. It would appear that “winged things” are a theme as well. In fact, a flip through the index of illustrations reveals that one has such a title.
Enhanced by the art and illustration of Marion Wong, as well as the French translations by Doctor Edith, this collection appeals on multiple levels. Returning to pages to recapture an insight, you will want to rediscover a turn of phrase, or the hint of a memory from this skilled and acclaimed trio whose idyllic renditions will remain with you long after you have closed their book.
~ Kathy Lundy Derengowski, San Diego
Book Review by Toti O’Brien
Figures of Humor and Strange Beauty by Kath Abela Wilson
Figures of Humor and Strange Beauty, by Kath Abela Wilson, Glass Lyre Press, 2019, 68 pages, paperback with illustrations. $16.00. ISBN 978-1941783566.
Figures of Humor and Strange Beauty is Kath Abela Wilson’s first full-length collection of poetry, following two chapbooks of political haikus, and a number of poetry anthologies she curated and edited. The poems forming this original and delightful book emerged “inexorably, in this exact order,” and were polished by the author for over twenty years. They describe (in eighteen variations, distinct yet intimately linked), a brief stroll the poet takes from her house to the shore, following an unvaried path, a street bordered by trees, a flight of wooden stairs. On the beach, she is attracted by stones, driftwood, flotsam that she assembles in various shapes, giving birth to strange creatures she sometimes returns to the ocean, sometimes the ocean reclaims.
Twelve drawings intersperse the poems. They are small, yet they enlarge even smaller diagrams the author sketched on her notepad as she planned her sculptures of rocks, algae, shells. Fluid shapes, spontaneous yet accurate, sometimes they are accompanied by a date, or a caption. A location, “at the ocean,” or just the word “ocean,” suggesting a topography, a map. Or else a dedication, an offering, “to the ocean.”
On her way to the sea, on the beach, or on her way back, Wilson pays attention to things. Very small ones… the imprint of a round pebble on sand. Very large… “ocean and sky, unobstructed, as far as she could see.” Beware of the poet who carefully looks, listens, breathes in the world! More seeps into her vision than what meets the eye. If she stares too closely at anything, it turns into a poem.
There had been a week
of hot clear days
when things had been all too visible.
Everything was dry;
ready to crack open,
like those pine cones
that were popping seeds
all over her doorsteps.
As she walks, as she stops, trapped within an ecstatic moment of deeper insight, her state of receptive porousness leads her to a discovery of voices, a deciphering of calligraphies made of mineral, wood, wind and water. Stones, trees, birds, clouds, waves rhythmically crashing on sand speak a tongue that becomes intelligible by the mere act of tuning, harmonizing with the micro and the macrocosm, letting herself be a diapason. Nature’s idioms, then, become poems spontaneously writing themselves in the notepad she always carries along.
Poems, or rather poem. A sole, delicate song, branching into fresh stanzas but woven with recurrent motifs, coming back to familiar choruses, such as the small stone the poet places under a red-leafed tree in “Spontaneous,” then she revisits, twice, in following poems. Oh, yes, it is still there… And her notebook has the accordion shape that so perfectly lends itself to a continuum. Once unfolded, it becomes a staircase, a road, or a rainbow.
She had hold of its cover,
but she saw it sway,
cloudlike, toward the sea.
It seemed almost to disappear.
Her head was full of the sound
of the rising tide,
and she felt that she too might vanish.
So the secret voices of nature self-write, become words, a book, thanks to the poet’s openness and surrendering. What they have to say is both mysterious and luminous. They explain how creation in its whole interacts, echoes and resonates. They articulate the connections between things, places, moments, demonstrate how all moves and transforms in concert. They bring under-standing of rhythms and cycles. They bring peace.
Something else occurs, though, as the poet, during her walks and stations, deeply listens, letting her senses expand beyond the usual borders. She starts borrowing the point of view of what she is observing... She starts seeing the world through the eye of the hawk, of the heron, in the flashing light of a falling star, from “the thin curved cup of the moon.” And from those levitating, shifting, mobile perspectives, she can perceive herself. A small dot, there, on the beach, shadowed by a solitary bird. Or else, in the past, moving across the maze of her memories. She can see herself as part of the universe, niched, cradled within it, simultaneously abided, and free.
the sky, awash with stars.
She watched until one,
with bold stroke, fell
from sky to sea,
And in its flash—
she saw herself
on her rock: She was
in her own book.
The refined, delicate surrealism of Figures brings to mind what Frida Kahlo used to say about her own art, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” Although Wilson’s verse has “dreamlike precision,” “dreamlike assurance,” it truly belongs “in the dark before dream,” the liminal chamber, the hinge where threads of reality come lose and a richer tapestry is woven, intertwining the mundane with the vision. Like when, at the far end of the estuary, fresh and salt water reunite, stream and ocean converge.
~ Toti O’Brien, Pasadena, California
Book Review by Ted Smith-Orr:
London Manuscript by Anna Maria Mickiewicz
London Manuscript, by Anna Maria Mickiewicz, 26 pages, Bristol: Poetry Space, 2014. ISBN 978-1909404182
The volume London Manuscript by Anna Maria Mickiewicz, which was published by Poetry Space in English, is not an extensive book packed with an unnecessary number of poems only to satisfy the expectations of the publisher. The book consists of twenty-six pages, where Anna Maria shares her reflections based on poetical journeys to France, Warsaw, Lublin, Oxford, London, Arkhangelsk, and many other places. In the poem Summer in Seaford, the readers are offered very subtle expressions: “The sun sheds it’s golden drops / The sea devours them instantly”. Whereas in the poem Another Alexandra Palace Spring, she presents the readers with a panorama of the city and, laying the false trail, she ends: “We embrace”.
Her profound insight into the English culture finds confirmation in the poem Reflected in Porcelain arguing that everything can be solved thanks to “tea only with milk”. These poems are refined and succinct, which we expect from an experienced writer. The poetess sits us comfortably between the East and the West. In her poem December the Thirteenth, she thinks of this day as a dire prediction, and she lived in Poland then: “A crumbling world order cries out for help”; “The voice of The Subversive faltered and fell [...] / another empire topples, just like that / Not even sheets of paper anymore”.
The volume also contains a piece titled Chocolate, which could be described as multidimensional poetic prose. Based on an unfulfilled profession of love made to chocolate by a woman, the excerpt starts in the Warsaw of the 60’s, reaches America and Italy, just to go back to Warsaw at the turn of the millennium. It is rich in paradoxes: pleasure and pain, the happiness derived from waiting and the bitter taste of contemporary changes.
Anna Maria Mickiewicz finished this period of her development as a poetess many years ago and she enriches the world of poetry generously by organizing literary events in London, editing, writing and choosing poems for publication. She accepts the challenge of translating poetry, but she is also inclined to ask Tom Wachtel to translate some of the poems. Nurturing a live memory of Poland, she simultaneously keeps discovering the United Kingdom. London Manuscript is a magnificent study written by a poetess – emigrant, living outside of her country but having a close look at new surroundings. Conscious of her past, she seems not to look back but tries to embrace the present and unknown future. The observations and associations of the poetess-foreigner from the post-dependent country are enlightening and bold.
~ Ted Smith-Orr, London, England