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


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