Monday, January 30, 2023

CSPS Poetry Letter No. 4 of 2022, Part 2 - Reviews of Books by Croce, Zawinski and Dolphin


 Beach Sunset Blossom by Maja Trochimczyk

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. 


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

     broken English,

     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


ISBN 978-1625494160, 130 pages, $20.00

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

Andrena Zawinski

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 ----

     drawn-out summers

     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. 


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                                  

Beach Sunset by Maja Trochimczyk


Friday, January 27, 2023

CSPS Poetry Letter No. 4, 2022, Part 1 - Featured Poets Kathi Stafford and Susan Rogers

Ladybug Luminous by Susan Rogers

 The CSPS Poetry Letter No. 4 of 2022 included six poems nominated for Pushcart Prizes (published here in December), as well as two featured poets, Kathi Stafford and Susan Rogers.  The book reviews published in the Poetry Letter 4/2022 will be posted separately.


Kathi Stafford is the author of Blank Check, a poetry collection, and co-editor and contributing author of Grateful Conversations, an anthology of Los Angeles poets. She previously served as Poetry Editor and Senior Editor for Southern California Review for many years. Her poetry, reviews and interviews have been published in many journals, such as Rattle, Hiram Poetry Review, Connecticut River Review, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, and Southern California Review. Her poetry has been anthologized in Chopin and Cherries and Sea of Alone: Poems for Hitchcock. Stafford is a corporate attorney who is also a  violinist with Brookwood Strings and a banjo player and alto for the Staffords, a bluegrass band.


March 1st     Rabbit rabbit 
Rabbit doesn’t help this time      In a hospital
Room I’m on the floor      Day of my disaster
Cancer in gut     Foundations of earth and my
Life laid bare       Bible on the nightstand
Cords of death pull tight at 2 am       I am so
Alone       the disease my powerful enemy
I am on a fine line in the dirt      I’m only mud
In this moment    on an edge between being and
   Nothing left and yet
Supreme love     reaches down  rescues me
Cords loosened   I still breathe air mixes with
Dust      He brings me into a spacious place of
Beauty    Ferns orchids lantana spring up under
These feet     the day of rescue and
Clean hands lifted in praise for eternity


On the edge of sleep, here sits the yes
In the magic space between now and maybe
Between the star and its implosion   I find 
Joy too much    Music the bridge between
Galaxy’s edge and this mild heart of mind
Opposite sides of the glass
I wish for a tiny denouement
I kiss the raccoon and he turns into a
Fish     Or a ruddy prince
He sniffs the air     On his hind legs
He wants in    He thinks he wants to be tamed
If he only knew 

Waiting for Us by Maja Trochimczyk 


One year ago today: My first go 
At radiation. The tech with his arms
Flu of blue tattoos and scars eases me 
Into place. The quiet clicking

Machine drones on as I hold still
In its shadow. A thin red light razors
Below my skin, down to an ocean of
Cells and fear. In a few weeks, my skin will

Scale off—each strip delicate
And lacy. So individual, each layer
With its sheer story of my past. Some women
Much stronger than I am

Thirty-three times I go home after and burrow
Into sleep, so hard and final.

I win the lottery. One year come
And gone
With no new lumps. This is a gift 
And a wonder yo me. Will there always be
A blank check
Made out 
To future scars?

May I never ask the right questions.
There’s a tale for every traveler.

The tech guy talks about his newborn,
Jimmy, three months old, while shines
With joy. Jimmy almost in the room with us
Talcum powdered and fresh
The man is trying to distract me.

I laugh and
Take it all in.

My pain held up on all four corners
By the prayers lifted by my saints, my friends, toward
Gentle sky, oh Metta, oh peace of my Lord.   


I drive toward the airport   3 am in a hot
Bengalaru night          I drive past a park
Full of banyan trees     where one man 
Sits beneath the         Strangler fig
Shared with a        swarm of wasps

No fruit without the sting     He is wrapped in
White robes       His sweat precious as he achieves
Nirvana        The columns of the trunk ricketed and
Etched with        Many rivers of joy in this
National tree of India 
Elliptical leaves  with seeds spread 
By birds  frugivores soaring through 
Branches and with mutual bliss
Move the fruit         Far from the parent
The man leaves behind his robes
For his next ascension

Hill Clouds by Maja Trochimczyk


Thou has lifted me
Thou has lifted me
And my foes have not rejoiced over me
Thou has lifted

I cried unto you
Cried unto you
Thou hast healed me
Pulled out the cancer cells
By surgeon hands
Thou hast healed me

You brought my soul out 
You brought this soul
Out from the grave  kept me from the pit
At 2 am on the March morning when my soul 
Almost slid away     I felt it going

Sing Give thanks at the remembrance 
Of His holiness
His gift of life
Weeping lasts a night
But with morning comes joy

I cried to Thee Lord
And in the morning you gave
Joy. Peace. My soul.

You turned my mourning into dancing and    
Thank you forever for this extra day to see 
The precious granddaughter faces you gave me.


I am on the edge of old and older
My land pushes up to his land
In the field     three horses   sisters
And one pony.        In the land next door they
Wait next to the gathered trees     In sacred shade
One kneels to me     Do they remember apples
I brought them last spring?  I forget their names
Except for Bear       The little one black and
Impetuous.      One suffers from the pain that
Will not end while       Three witches stir their
Cauldron in the borderland  Six geese float at pond’s edge
Under Oaks and slash pines and two crows
Fly to them         for no known purpose.
Jasmine on the gate      Still blooms 
Its scent and whiteness        Bring me home
Help me find level ground
I’m dizzy these days
Ground beside the blue red roses  a cliche of beauty


A tablespoon of honey and Aunt Ruth makes me
Swallow the comb  my throat 
Tickles.    Tiny wings scratch me close
Spit out the wax when she’s not looking
My little bee might miss his sisters     Or not
Let’s call him Fred for now      From Glad Hive
Next day Auntie steers the station wagon
Halfway across Oklahoma  encased in teak
Over to Glass Mountains. Though they are barely a
Mesa but we don’t argue    Free buzzes around
And my toe hurts
But I keep still
Auntie glows on the crest transformed
We scoot down the hill on our butts all the way
My cousins and I build an altar    One stone for each
Tribe    Near Rattlesnake Lake
Plains   Spread out every which way in a
Season of tall grass     
And barley rustling in the vicious
Wind where I am simply myself.   
 A very small girl in a big prairie.

Fuji Suddenly by Susan Rogers


Susan Rogers considers poetry vehicles for light. She’s a practitioner of Sukyo Mahikari—a spiritual practice promoting positivity. In 2013, 2017 she received nominations for Pushcart Prizes. She’s co editor of A Sonic Boom of Stars and was one of four international judges for the 8th Rabindranath Tagore Award. Publication Credits:Numbers,” Kyoto Journal, Issue 92; “Longing for October,” Kyoto Journal, Issue 81; “A Field of Winter Grass,” Interlitq: California Poets Part 2; “The Origin is One,” Saint Julian Press, 2012; “Grass” and “Grateful Conversations,”  Grateful Conversations, 2018; “Return to Muir Woods,” Altadena Poetry Review, 2019; “Sunflowers in Your Hand,” Quill & Parchment, May 2019.


Everything we have we’re given
in love to use in love, in grace.
There is nothing we alone have written.

We are but a conversation
of light, through this exchange we trace
everything we have. We’re given

sour and sweet, lemon, raisin
and grain to bind them into place—
there is nothing we alone have written.

We eat cakes but have forgotten
their origin. We have erased
everything. We have, we’re given

we look, we laugh, we love, we listen.
We welcome gifts we embrace.
Yet there is nothing we alone have written.

Watch sunset turn to a ribbon.
Remember honey and its taste.
Everything we have we’re given.
There is nothing we alone have written.


  ~ after a photograph by Peter Sheffler
      “Winter Field Grasses, Far Away Point, Maryland”

To be still in the middle of chaos
to be singular in the midst of multiplicity
to be a line in a series of lines
a note in a chorus, a voice in the marsh
a reed in a tangle of stalks
to be woven in a field of complexity
yet still a thread, an arrow, a direction
an intention, a clear heart, a hidden blade
a crisscross of here and there, a slender
reaching strand of light, an intersection
of possibility a dance of detail, a piece of
the weave, a pattern of everything,
a field of winter grass.

Raindrops and Reflections by Susan Rogers


                      for Kotama Okada

The dove knows the way
follow her.

Your heart knows the way
listen well.
Within your deepest self
are wings of light.

They cover the earth
with waves of love.
Do you remember?
You once knew.
Stand in the warmth
of sunlight and recall.

 The origin of the world
is one.
The origin of religions
is one.
The origin of all
humankind is one.
Circle back.
Imagine the great will
of all things
stirring in your fingers.
Reach out your arms
and open your palms
to the sky.
It is time.

Paradise Sky by Susan Rogers

When she thinks of her husband,
she thinks of a half-moon carrying a shadow half behind.
The moon never loses fullness,
even if it is draped by night.
Once she could see the moon's unsevered disc,
no matter what portion lit the sky, and in its one, cool light 
complete herself. Now she finds only broken shapes, 
sees semi-circles separated.  She does not know how
to live in two places at a time. For three or four months 
she thought she could be the sky 
suspended in space above their cities. 
But it has been five or six years; he has not appeared.
She feels hollowed like air inside a weightless cloud. 
Seven days a week, she composes letters in her head, 
but cannot find eight lines to explain emptiness. 
Her nine koi fish swim in bright scaled circles in the pond 
They cannot distract her. She thinks again about walking
ten miles to the pavilion, but has walked this road 
a hundred times before, envisioned him returning 
a thousand times and more. Today, it seems 
ten thousand miles separate them.

If she knew the words, the numbers, she would write a poem.
She thinks of ancient China, of Zou Wenjun
who waited for her husband at a pavilion
when he was sent to the capitol for months which spun
into years. Zou Wenjun waited spinning words and tears 
into a numbered verse and when her husband sought divorce
showed him the poem. Greatly moved, he changed his mind.

Where in this ordered universe can she find
the words to fill a heart? She will have to start again,
relearn the edges of a circle, reclaim the white light
     of her first moon.


Yesterday, someone I know
Looked through me
like I wasn’t there,
as if I were a field of air,
insubstantial and invisible.
Today, I think of my great teacher
who said,
 “Become a practitioner of genuine humility,”
and a modern saint who said,
 “A cyclone can destroy the mightiest of trees,
but even a cyclone cannot touch the grass.
This is the greatness of humility.”
So today I have decided to become like grass,
which needs no encouragement
but water, sun and sky,
which is invisible, often, as we walk by,
a genuine practitioner of humility.
It is true the grass is sometimes mowed;
but that just keeps it safe from storms,
close to the ground, close to you.
Oh God of all things great and small,
cyclone, trees, dirt,
let me strive to always be like grass,
cool comfort for the earth.
So that children may run through me,
barefoot on a summer day
and I may greet them, or catch them if they fall,
soft and green and sweet, with no resistance        
         to their play,
almost invisible, pure reason for their joy

Japanese Maples by Susan Rogers


In the cathedral of trees
sunlight christens moss-grown branches—
a sacrament.

I breathe in 
air of clear intention
purified, re-written.

In the cathedral of trees
I smile at each person I pass
sharing the wisdom of woods.

So many voices mingle:
English, French, Italian, Farsi.
Each harmonized in hope.

I caress a broken trunk on its side
a moment of camaraderie
thanking it for pointing me to sky.

In the cathedral of trees
I walk with you 
each tree 

a testament I read now
and save for later.
I do not know

if the path through
is straight or a loop
that circles back to myself.

Either way I return.

Muir Woods by Susan Rogers


I wonder if I will recognize you
when you return
in a different form.
I like to think your breath
so intimately part of mine
that when you are reborn
even if you wear
white organza as a bride,
or the black habit of a nun,
if you appear much younger
than you were
in a sweater striped in cyan blue
with wild sunflowers in your hand
I will remember you,
just as I remember the shine
of a sun dazzled stream
after it’s gone dry, the rhythm
of staccato rain when I swing
my hammock under cloudless skies,
or the sound of laughter
in a dream of exquisite joy.
Even if you choose to be my cat,
a hummingbird, a bright scaled koi.
And if you are born in another country,
don’t speak words I understand
if you are not female this time
but instead a boy, I hope there will be
some note of you that sings,
your music indisputably
through the differences of then and now,
so I will know you are the one
that it’s you come back
in whatever form you come.