This is the second part of the CSPS Poetry Letter No. 4 of 2022; the first part included featured poets Kathi Stafford and Susan Rogers and the poems nominated to Pushcart Prizes 2022 were posted separately. There are three reviews of books by Shakira Croce, Andrena Zawinski, and Lara Dolphin.
MICHAEL ESCOUBAS REVIEWS LEAVE IT RAW BY SHAKIRA CROCE
24 poems, 30 pages, published by Finishing Line Press. ISBN 978-1-64662-265-8
As a reviewer the first thing I consider about a collection is the title. Leave it Raw. Who would use those words for a poetry collection and why? I don’t want my food served “raw.” I want it cooked according to the recipe. I don’t want my body rubbed “raw” by the clothes I wear. I want garments whose textures and styles are kind to my body. In conversation, I dislike “raw” language that irritates my sensibilities. Give me well-heeled vocabulary and good verbal manners. Leave it Raw. What is this?
Poet Shakira Croce invites her readers to join her on a journey. It is a pilgrimage of sorts. Croce visits familiar places and experiences. These include making sense out of life after losing everything in a fire (“The Remains”). “Homecoming” returns readers to those long ago days when:
King and Queen
walk down the 50-yard line,
but she feels the arena of eyes
still on her.
“Commuter’s Pastoral” studies a once robust man in the dim light of old age. I give these examples merely to point out that Shakira Croce is a gifted poet. Her poetry paints compelling pictures of reality. Hence, her title, Leave it Raw. When poets tell the truth, the results get our attention. I interpret “raw” in the sense that Croce takes a “fresh” perspective on her subjects.
Croce’s writing style is verse libre. She uses it well. Line break decisions result in pleasant reading cadences. Her poems look good on the page. She varies presentation between couplets, tercets, quatrains and poems without stanza breaks. Croce does not employ end-rhyme. I’m impressed by her craftmanship. Interlinear rhyme, assonance and alliteration are hallmarks of her work.
Earlier I used the term Pilgrimage. Croce includes a poem by that title. I reproduce it here as Exhibit A in my thesis that raw means “freshening of life”:
We can make up time in the air,
the captain explained,
or at least that’s what I understood
between the fuzzy intercom and
not mentioning we’d lose
six hours crossing the Atlantic.
They say animals have a different
internal clock, without feeling
passing weeks and years.
Yet the butterfly with a tear
across her right wing
returns at noon each day
to that same turn in the road,
darting between rosemary and dandelions drying
in the honeyed weeds.
The sense of smell is the strongest
for us all to find food, a partner.
Flowers waiting to procreate on a cliff above the sea
bring me back to where I was born.
After spending a lifetime thousands of miles away
that simple power lets me know my home
is not where I live
but a long climb up from Roman rocks and ruins
to the stuff springing from
the uncut earth.
In “Pilgrimage” the poet considers the meaning of place. During a tedious flight across the Atlantic she muses that even a wounded butterfly has a strong sense of belonging. The butterfly returns again and again to those environs which propagate life. The “raw” truth is that occasionally, if we’re looking, we gain a fresh perspective—and life can never be the same again.
This is precisely why Leave it Raw should be in everyone hands. The best poets take the commonplace and infuse it with freshness not thought of before. Best of all, Shakira Croce’s poetry reflects a good mind. Hers is a mind which takes a deep dive into her subjects. “A Second Honeymoon” demonstrates that Croce knows where her readers live. Two quatrains follow:
Last night I don’t know why
we were fighting.
I think you felt like
everything was on your shoulders.
. . . . . .
It’s time to plan
a break from working our way
up, shift scenery, and
rest our limbs from the climb.
We have come full circle. Leave it Raw is a pilgrimage down the road of life. Reserve your seat on the plane and buckle up.
~ Michael Escoubas first published in Quill & Parchment
JUDITH R. ROBINSON REVIEWS BORN UNDER THE INFLUENCE BY ANDRENA ZAWINSKI
ISBN 978-1625494160, 130 pages, $20.00 https://www.wordpoetrybooks.com/zawinski.html
Andrena Zawinski, author of Born Under the Influence, is a poet of time and place but that is clearly not all: This is a voice of great experience. Equally notable for this reader is Zawinski’s extraordinary skill with the many forms of poetry; this collection contains villanelles, pantoums, rondel. and sonnets, all brightly rendered. One of her specialties is the haibun: A haibun is a Japanese genre of writing that mixes chiefly autobiographical prose with haiku. Here is a beautiful example:
Summer’s long light swells with bright lemons, melons, corn, the silken thoughts, facets of sunlight cascading along waves, run of shorebirds sweeping the horizon.
It is for young mothers jostling babies in low tide or for dozing on the soft lull of water lapping the shore beneath an untamed sky feathered in oncoming sunset.
This time of day curtains billow at windows in soft light, sun squints in above a rippling bay as summer knocks at the door and we answer
a wail of seagulls
winging wild above a catch
eyes fixed past us
In addition to her range with form, Zawinski’s work can be quite lyrical, even when referring to gritty beginnings— From “Anchorless in the Light”
I cannot resist lingering here
in this veil of white light blinding with beauty,
reminding to hold onto this, hold it close and dear
as I was once stuck inside glass and brick, sight set
on neighboring city decks, their hubbub, drunken songs
brouhaha, all of it weedy with ivy, bats circling chimneys,
unlike these distant hills yet to be peopled.
—and as we travel with her from a girlhood in western Pennsylvania, with its rivers, mills & furnaces where she reveals—
The milkman’s daughter
is what I longed to be.
I loved when the sun rose and buttermilk came,
pulled off the seal and foiled cap, ringed my finger
around chunks of yellow fat at the bottle’s lip, shook
and spilled it into a glass, salted and gulped it down.
(Interestingly, she reminds us in an endnote that a milkman’s daughter referred to a child of adultery, at a time when women were housebound.) --through an American, mid-20th-century childhood::
From those ----
sticky with sweat, bare feet stung
by pavement, racing inside to box fans
for a wash of syncopated cool, waiting
for something bigger to arrive…
—to young adulthood when:
Getting stiffed on tips waiting corporate parties, sweating out
mid-summer short orders of cheesy omelettes and fluffy pancakes
washed down with pitchers of Bloody Marys and Mimosas.
Grabbed by the throat by a drunken pill-popping veteran
for shutting him off from another Long Island Iced Tea.”
It is also worth noting that Zawinski has enormous knowledge of other people’s work, which she acknowledges as influencers throughout this collection. She generously tips her poet’s hat to Adrienne Rich, Maggie Anderson, Wislawa Szymborska, Gerald Stern, and many others.
Also impressive is the volume of solid work in this collection, much of it finding a place here after publication and awards from many fine literary journals. Finally, perhaps the greatest pleasure in reading Born Under The Influence, is the opportunity to participate in the fully realized life of an intelligent, engaging woman. In over 100 vivid poems, we live it right with her. There are even forms called cherita and landay, both new to this reader.
~ Judith R. Robinson
Judith R. Robinson is a visual artist, editor, teacher, fiction writer and poet.
MICHAEL ESCOUBAS REVIEWS CHRONICLE OF LOST MOMENTS BY LARA DOLPHIN
21 poems, 35 pages, Dancing Girl Press
Among the many aphorisms uttered by Wallace Stevens is this gem: "Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right." I have always treasured that quote because it gets to the heart of poetry and why people write poetry. As I immersed myself in Lara Dolphin’s latest chapbook, Chronicle of Lost Moments, I was impressed by Dolphin’s eye for detail and heart for the ironies of life. Her poetry demonstrates an affinity akin to Stevens. More on this later.
I lead with the poem which opens the collection: “As The Earth Regards the Anthropocene”:
All our stuff (the concrete the asphalt
the gravel the plastic) outweighs every
living thing on the planet from the Pando
aspens to the pygmy possum—
creation waits for us and while it’s easy
for gestures long-delayed like a greeting card
lost in the mail or a flight stuck on the tarmac—
it’s almost lunch and I’m at the donation center
chatting with Dave as he helps unload a trunk
full of gently-used clothes books and toys—
he’s told me that he’s five months sober
he won’t get the kids for the holiday
I tell him about my job the long hours
the low pay my car that won’t stay fixed
so there we stand among the stuffed animals
and kitchen appliances feeling
the weight of the world on our shoulders.
The title segues into Dolphin’s themes: “Anthropocene” refers to human activity as it relates to climate and environment. I researched Pando aspens and the pygmy possum. A large Pando aspen grove in Utah is in grave danger from several outside influences. I did not know that this tree grove, with its lovely yellow foliage, is the single largest organism in the world and has been around for thousands of years.
There are fewer than 2,000 pygmy possums left in the world. This cute creature is prey to several predators and suffers from a reduction in food supply. These potential losses may seem trivial to some but not to Dolphin. Moving into the heart of the poem, the poet chronicles a series of “ordinary” things common to daily life. These “lost moments” pile on and weigh us down . . . while “creation waits” for meaningful human responses to challenges that could have irreversible impact on life as we know it.
Stylistically, Dolphin writes in free verse. When she uses rhyme, she uses it well. “Lost In L.A.” illustrates:
There is no worry of wind or snow
or time or place in Godot’s Hyperloop below
sidewalks where children run and play
near streets where out-of-towners lose their way.
No trains, parades or fire trucks
no snapping turtles, so safe of ducks
will slow the traffic as it flows
to listen, for what, no one knows.
Where cars sail by on electric skates
and no one sees and nothing waits.
While a variety of environmental themes permeate Dolphin’s Chronicle, poetry as fun and entertaining is important to her. “Pace of Play” pokes fun at baseball. It’s slow pace is about as boring as waiting for the oven to heat. Don’t miss this one!
Dolphin’s heart for her husband showcases one of many tender moments included in Chronicle. Her innate pathos shines in “The Best Time To Plant A Tree”:
we were classmates in seventh grade
hanging out at band practice
riding the same bus home
we made out in high school
then went our separate ways
four years of collect passed
before we met again
and another five years would pass
before you got serious and I got smart
and you asked me to marry you
the fifth anniversary is wood
so let’s plant a tree to celebrate
we make a hole two times larger
than the nursery container is deep
for our hearty Appalachian Redbud
as we dig I try to remember
the last time I told you I love you
that you are my lifesource, my breath
I should have told you twenty years ago
the second best time is now.
I thought the author should have used the title, Chronicle of Lost Moments Recovered. The tenderness and maturity enshrined in the above poem is precisely why. In it Lara Dolphin understands that poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.
~ Michael Escoubas, first published in Quill & Parchment